The Perks of Keeping a Dinner Diary

March 14, 2017

The Perks of Keeping a Dinner Diary | Modern French Blog

There’s nothing I love more than wining and dining. Oh wait, I love documenting things in obsessive detail!

As a teen, I wrote pages and pages about boys and best friends. In my twenties, I filled travel journals with adventures in far off places. There was a brief phase where I weirdly kept inventory of my closet in Excel. And now, as a woman in her thirties, I present you with the dinner diary.

A dinner diary is not an entirely new concept.

For many years, hostess books were all the rage. High-society women used them to plan dinner parties keeping details on seating arrangements, shopping lists, decorating notes, and guest preferences. On the other side of the spectrum, there are those who keep it simple like Jenny from Dinner: A Love Story who finishes every evening by writing a line about what she just ate.

My dinner diary lies somewhere in the middle serving as part documentation and part soul.

How to Keep a Dinner Diary

First, you’ll need a blank book. I prefer a classic Moleskine journal because I’m an aesthetic snob and a hipster. But seriously, the small version fits perfectly in my purse and the hard-cover keeps it from getting beat up. Ultra minimalists may opt for a digital space to document like the DayOne app, Evernote, or Google Keep.

Each page will detail the who, what, where, and when, plus a few notes about your dining experience. Start with the date at top (aka the when) and a list of who was there. Then, write down where you were dining and what you ate. Finally, finish the page with a few notes about the evening.

Your notes can be functional. For instance, noting dishes that went over well, a cooking tip picked up from a friend, or inspiration from a restaurant menu. You may also choose to write details about the dinner party like funny stories, heated conversations, or tender moments.

It’s best to document everything while it’s still fresh. This usually means the evening of or the day after. Although, sometimes life gets in they way and I don’t update my dinner diary until a week or so later.

Why You Should Keep a Dinner Diary

If you are like me (aka an uber planner and constant chronicler), then keeping a dinner diary will satisfy the deepest part of your OCD soul. For all the normal people out there, keeping track of these details will help you take the guesswork out of entertaining.

You’ll quickly realize which dishes are crowd pleasers and who brings the best bottles of wine. Invite someone over regularly? Now you can remember what you served them last time and a) make it again if they loved it or b) cook something new to switch it up.

If you keep track of when you eat out, the dinner diary is like your very own Yelp. You’ll easily remember your favorite places and the dishes that a restaurant does best.

Hands down, the very best part about a dinner diary is that it’s a reminder of the deliciousness of life.

Things happens at the dinner table, people! There are big moments, small moments, funny moments, and all those in-between. In the last month alone we celebrated my parent’s anniversary, discussed a friend’s potential move across country, watched in awe as my tiny niece spoke full sentences for the first time, and toasted the announcement of a friend’s pregnancy. Not to mention lots of jokes, laughs, and tasty meals, of course.

La vie est belle, non? And flipping through a dinner diary is like taking a trip down memory lane and getting a chance to relive it all.

Best Modern Cheese Domes

February 28, 2017

Best Modern Cheese Domes | Modern French Blog

To be French, one must love cheese. And to enjoy your cheese in the best way possible, you need a cheese dome in which to store it. This is something I feel very passionate about and, in fact, I’ve already sung the praises of the mighty cheese dome in this post.

Already convinced? Then, here is a bunch of modern cheese domes that would look right at home in your fridge. In order from top to bottom: 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.

P.S. Some cheese to put in your cheese dome and some French-inspired food to put in your fridge.

French Connections

February 21, 2017

French Connections |

Ah, le three day week-end. Is there anything as sweet as having Monday off? I spent most of my weekend weathering the storm by listening to old podcasts from The Minimalists, flipping through old issues of Cherry Bombe magazine, and reading the book of poetry by Rupi Kaur pictured above. Hope you too had a relaxing time!

An ode to France’s beloved Boursin cheese.
• Awesome advice on dinner party music from restaurant owners.
The New Essentials of French Cooking.
Clean the zero waste way with these tips from Chloé (aka one of my favorite French Girls).
• Make a freezer care package for someone going through a tough time.
• Molly nailed it with this easy, modern way to organize a spice drawer.
All the best appetizers from Trader Joe’s.
• Bought this nasty keychain and I heart it.
• Garance Doré gets advice from on expert on dinner party etiquette.

Long Beach Wall Crawl

February 13, 2017

Long Beach is having a bit of a renaissance and with Valentine’s Day on the horizon it seemed like the right time to show a little love. Mitch Maher and I set out to explore the best walls in Long Beach this past weekend. I wore outfits in black, white, and navy while he played the role of art director and photographer.

The result is a love letter to our fair city in digital form, i.e. the Long Beach Wall Crawl complete with artist recognition and locations so you too can spend a couple hours taking in this beautiful art. A big merci to POW! WOW! Long Beach for bringing these artists to our hometown!

Long Beach Wall Crawl |

James Jean Mural
The Varden Hotel
335 Pacific Avenue
Long Beach, CA 90802

Long Beach Wall Crawl |
Long Beach Wall Crawl |

Gail Werner Mural
Super Suds
250 Alamitos Avenue
Long Beach, CA 90802

Long Beach Wall Crawl |

James Haunt Mural
La Bodega #1 Market
6001 Atlantic Avenue
Long Beach, CA, 90805

Long Beach Wall Crawl |

Long Beach Wall Crawl |

Sarah Joncas Mural
Toxic Toast Records
757 Pine Ave
Long Beach, CA 90813

Long Beach Wall Crawl |
Long Beach Wall Crawl |

Hitotzuki Mural
Intertrend Communications
228 E Broadway
Long Beach, CA 90802

Long Beach Wall Crawl |
Long Beach Wall Crawl |

123KLAN and SLICK Mural
The Liberty
435 Alamitos Avenue
Long Beach, CA 90802

Long Beach Wall Crawl |

Dragon76 Mural
East 1st Street and Alamo Court
Long Beach, CA, 90802

Long Beach Wall Crawl |
Long Beach Wall Crawl |

Tristan Eaton Mural
The Varden Hotel
335 Pacific Avenue
Long Beach, CA 90802

Long Beach Wall Crawl |

Brendan the Blob and Evah Fan Mural
Toxic Toast Records
757 Pine Avenue
Long Beach, CA 90813

P.S. Learn more about Long Beach in The Unofficial Guide to Long Beach. If you pay your talented friends in wine, then this is a great place to start.

British-Inspired Dinner Party Menu

February 7, 2017

British-Inspired Dinner Party Menu |

Sometimes all you need in winter is a warm hug. An embrace is a great way to greet your dinner party guests but you can also extend a hug by serving a dish that almost seems to give you a hug from the inside. The Brit’s certainly know a thing or two about bone-chilling winters so it’s no surprise that their world-famous Sheperd’s Pie is the perfect antidote for a dreary evening.

Dinner Party Menu

Toast with Lemony Pea Mash
Gin and Tonic

Main Dishes
Vegan Sheperd’s Pie
Arugula Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette
Lazy Bones Cabernet Franc

Earl Grey Panna Cotta

Dinner Party Tips and Tricks

Start your British-inspired night off with two UK classics: 1) pea mash with a kick thanks to lemon and hit of red pepper flakes and 2) gin and tonics garnished with sliced lime or cucumber rounds.

Though Sheperd’s Pie is traditionally made with lamb or ground beef, lentils are a healthy option for those still keeping their new year’s resolutions. It’s also nice and hearty, which will satisfy the appetite of meat eaters, vegetarians, and vegans alike. As usual, I like to combine heavier dishes with a lighter salad like an arugula lettuce dressed in a crisp balsamic vinaigrette.

For those who are drinking, the main course pairs well with an easy drinking red like the Lazy Bones Cabernet Franc or your favorite pinot noir.

Finish off the meal with a creamy panna cotta infused with Earl Grey tea. Make your life easier by making this dessert a day ahead and storing in the fridge. Don’t have time to make dessert? Make life even easier by subbing the panna cotta for a some tea and a packet or two of Walker’s Shortbread Cookies at Cost Plus World Market.

P.S. If you are more of a Francophile than an Anglophile, you’ll love this French Winter Dinner Party Menu or a menu of Vegan French Classics.

Wine Review: G. Chevalier Sauternes

January 24, 2017

Wine Review: G. Chevalier Sauternes |

Wine: G. Chevalier Sauternes
Region: California
Retailer: Trader Joe’s
Price: $12.99

I’ll never forget the look in his eyes as our friend recounted the first time he drank a Sauternes. It was a lazy afternoon in France and the local winemaker had poured some of the sweet liquid into a halved, fragrant melon. He almost shed a tear as he explained the perfect pairing and how delicious it tasted.

My first experience with a Sauternes was quite different. First, it was the middle of winter. Second, we were in good ole Southern California. Third, this affordable Sauternes from Trader Joe’s was served at the beginning of the meal along with foie gras and toast points. The only similarity in our stories was the sweet, delicious taste of the wine.

The nose of the G. Chevalier Sauternes starts off with a sweetness of honey dew melon and, well, honey. There is also a light citrus note at the end of the inhale that is more orange-like than lemony.

When drinking, it’s very caramel-forward with notes of melon, apricot, and pineapple. Though sweet, it’s not cloy and the syrup-like flavor adds to it’s smooth qualities. You may even notice a bit of funk on the backend, which is likely from the famous botrytis of 2011 when this wine was made. Google “noble rot” and you’ll know exactly what I mean.

In regards to food pairing, a Sauternes is surprisingly versatile. It can go the sweet route with desserts like a creamy custard or carmelized stone fruits over a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Heck, you can even drink it as the dessert itself.

Savory-wise, foie gras is a classic pairing and oh-so-française. Otherwise, it’s pretty hard to go wrong. Choose a creamy pasta, strong cheeses (i.e. Roquefort or blue cheese), cured meats and ham, or any creature of the sea from oysters to crab, shrimp, and lobster. Fried foods like fried chicken and panko-crusted porks chops also pair well.

P.S. More ways to be oh-so-française at the dinner table and some great cheeses at Trader Joe’s.

French Words: Gourmande

January 17, 2017

French Words: Gourmande |

The first couple times we went back to France my language abilities were, shall we say, lacking. Outside of bonjour, au revoir, and oui, I couldn’t say much nor carry on a conversation.

This made it tough to dine with our French family and friends. At first the monsieur would translate for me, but at one point it became a chore and interrupted conservation so I was left to my own devices. This usually meant intense focus on the plate in front of me or excusing myself to the couch where I’d promptly fall asleep.

During one dinner, two family members were in a deep conversation. It looked fascinating so I nudged the hubs and asked him what they were talking about. After listening in for a few moments he said, “Oh, they’re talking about local chefs and their impressive repertoire.” Forty minutes later they were talking so much more intensely that I was sure they had moved on to another topic. “Non,” Arnaud reassured me, “they are still talking about local cuisine.”

That’s one of the many things I love about the French; they are deeply passionate about food and find great joy in eating. So many of the French people in my life have self-defined as a gourmande (pronounced gore-mahn-dd) that I’ve lost count. By the way, gourmande is the feminine version of the word; the masculine version is gourmand and is pronounced similarly but without the “d” at the end.

You’re probably familiar with this word since we also use it in English. However, our definition of gourmand has a negative twinge and conjures up the image of a glutton eating copious amounts of food, which says a lot about our culture’s issues with food more than anything.

Moi? As we all know, I’m becoming more French by the minute so I’m going to continue embracing the more positive definition of gourmande. This means less weird American food issues and more delicious French meals in my future, which is definitely something I can get behind.

P.S. How to say cheers when you’re dining à la française and a fancy dinner party menu for a celebration.

French Girls Aren’t Perfect

January 4, 2017

Being obsessed with the French is a full time job, or at least a very busy part-time job.

During my free time, you can most likely find me a) reading about something French, b) watching something in French, or c) hanging out with some French person and creepily trying to usurp their identity.

Okay, I’m kidding about that last part, but I will admit that I unknowingly file away the super Frenchie things my friends do and end up writing about it later.

The “French Girl” Doesn’t Exist

This brings me to something I alluded to in this blog post and have wanted to write about for a while. The French Girl, as we’ve come to know and define her, doesn’t really exist.

There is no French Girl who spends zero time on her appearance but is forever chic, who eats nothing but bread, cheese, and butter but never gets fat, and who is the perfect parent bringing up bébé but also a naughty kitten in the boudoir.

Elle n’existe pas. She is a figment of our imaginations.

The Irony of it All

This might seem funny coming from the person writing a blog that often aims to unravel the mystery of the all-mighty French Girl. Believe me, the irony is not lost on me.

When I write about French Girls, I know that I tend to make sweeping generalizations and romanticize the best bits of their culture while totally avoiding the not-so-great parts of it.

Are some French women incredibly chic? Oui oui. Do others have well-behaved children who eat alongside adults at dinner parties where the food is insanely delicious? They sure do.

But some wear color and many don’t have banging bods, and I even know a French woman who hates wine! Blasphemy, I know.

A Petit Grain of Sel

My main point here is to take all this French Girl stuff with a grain of salt.

French girls aren’t perfect. We aren’t perfect and, really, nobody is perfect. Thank god for that! Wouldn’t the world be a boring place if we were all the same?

Of course, I’ll still be here writing about wining, dining, style, and funny French things because I genuinely like this stuff and it makes me happy. If you are here reading this, I guessing you like it all too.

The important thing is that we go on liking and doing this stuff because we choose to do so, not because we’re trying to live up to some unattainable ideal!

A Call to Action for All Women

It’s going to be a tough year where women will need to fight hard to defend our most basic rights.

In light of this monumental task, I propose we stop striving for perfection whether it’s veiled in the idea of the French Girl or whatever version society is serving up to us these days. It’s not really worth it. Plus, I think we’re all pretty amazing just the way we are.

So, here’s to women in 2017!

May we band together and fight the good fight. I promise to be right here beside you in my striped shirt and with a wine bottle at the ready so we can celebrate our successes.

P.S. You can get more information about the Women’s March on Washington and Sister Marches planned in other cities. I’ll be at the one in LA, hope to see you there!

French Connections

December 13, 2016

French Connections |

T-minus 6 days until the monsieur and I are on a plane headed to Kauai. Can you believe that in five and a half years of marriage we’ve never taken a vacation with just us two? It seems as if we are long overdue and we can’t wait for a week of beautiful beaches and romantic candlelit dinners. Hawaii here we come!

• This French-inspired print would make the perfect holiday present.
A gal can never have too many tote bags, right?
• If you have any French-loving cooks in your life, then this gift guide has you covered.
5 hosting hacks from a top blogger and fabulous hostess.
• Holiday parties = small talk central. Get some tips here.
Some thoughts on learning French.
• A wine and cheese map that is freakin’ magical. Seriously, try it!
• Garance Doré chats about entertaining with her friends.
• Wine extraordinaire Marissa A. Ross nails it with this short series.

French Winter Dinner Party Menu

December 6, 2016

French Winter Dinner Party Menu |

There is a time for casual get-togethers and a time for a fancy fête, and the holidays are the perfect time to bust out Fancy with a capital F. This is a meal that we usually make a for a small dinner party with French friends on Christmas Eve. It would work equally well for a NYE shindig.

Dinner Party Menu

Potato Chips with Crème Fraiche and Caviar
Veuve Cliquot Brut Champagne

Main Dishes
Coq au Riesling
Mashed Potatoes
Butter Lettuce with Classic French Vinaigrette
Blue Fin Rieseling

Camembert Cheese
No Knead Bread
Ravenswood Zinfandel

Dinner Party Tips and Tricks

Nothing says fancy like champagne and caviar, so why not start your meal with them? I love easy appetizers like this one where you basically spoon a little caviar and crème fraiche on a potato chip and call it a day.

As you may have already figured out, a slowly cooked stew or braise is my dinner party secret (see the Moroccan stew and vegan beet bourguignon from prior dinner party menus). These types of dishes are the best because you can cook it the day before and reheat the next evening, which leaves you with time to focus on the rest of the menu the day of the dinner party.

I started making this take on coq au vin with Riesling after watching Juliette Binoche cook it in Elles, a French film on Netflix that is worth your while if you find some extra time this winter break. The coq au Riesling is as deliciously decadent as the mashed potatoes, so bringing in a fresh salad with bright dressing is a nice complement to all that creamy goodness.

Unsurprisingly, the best wine to pair with this dinner party menu is a Riesling; I like the Blue Fin Riesling at Trader Joe’s. Once you get to the cheese hour, I highly suggest you turn to a Californian Zin. The heartiness of a wine like the Ravenswood Zinfandel (also available at ole Trader Joe’s) cuts through the creaminess of the Camembert and helps highlight the cheese’s herbal notes.

Of course, homemade bread is an ideal companion for wine and cheese. It’s also a great thing to pop into the oven right before the dinner party so that your guests are welcomed with the wonderful smell of fresh-baked bread and you get awarded 100 hostess points. No knead bread takes about two days to make because it needs to rest for long periods of time so plan accordingly.

Almost everything for this dinner party can be purchased from Trader Joe’s with the exception of the caviar, purple potato chips (unless you sub for regular potato chips), and yeast for the no-knead bread (unless you forego homemade bread and pick up a loaf of Pain Rustique).

Trader Joe’s offers a superb Camembert cheese in a circular wooden package from mid-November through the end of December. They also have another Camembert cheese that is sold as a triangular wedge wrapped in plastic almost year-round.

If you are wondering how and where to buy caviar, I found this article to be helpful. Brace yourself for the price though, caviar ain’t cheap and the appetizer recipe requires three tins (or upwards of 90 grams of caviar). You can probably skate by with two tins for a smaller dinner party group.

This is probably a good time to point out that this is not a cheap dinner party menu at all. Fancy with a capital F can lead to lots of dollar signs! If you want to keep your costs down, I suggest keeping the guest list small (4-6 people being ideal) and asking your guests to bring the champagne and wine should also help save a few bucks.

P.S. A French dinner party menu for vegans or you could just go out for dinner in Long Beach at one of the restaurants on this list.