We are currently in the throes of an unprecedented worldwide pandemic that has dramatically upended our everyday routine. As the novel coronavirus makes its way around the world, it’s taking down economies and overwhelming healthcare systems. In a desperate effort to stem the spread of infections, countries have been forced to bring non-essential commerce to an abrupt standstill. People around the world have been ordered into isolation by remaining in their homes and abstaining from social contact. Never have I witnessed anything that has impacted humans on the entire planet as this virus has.

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The thought of baked cakes had always conjured to my mind sweet confections savored as dessert. Here in France though, I learned that baking cakes extends beyond the confines of sugary sweets. Among the simplest of these baked goods is cake salé, which translates to savory cake. The French refer to anything baked in a loaf pan as cake, sweet and savory alike. Whereas, pastries that we Americans know as cakes are called gâteau(x) in French.

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Time is a luxury that many of us are often short on these days. While juggling work and competing priorities throughout the day, what to cook for dinner frequently becomes a distant afterthought. When the dinner hour rolls around, we’re left standing in the grocery store aisle starving and without a clue as to what to put on the dinner table. At least that’s a moment that I have lived countless times – peevishly hungry, yet paralyzed with indecision. Whipping up a satiating weeknight meal, however, doesn’t have to be a complicated affair.

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Bitter melon drew the short end of the stick when it came to looks in the gourd family. Visually, this veggie doesn’t have much appetite appeal. Wart-like bumps cover the oblong veggie’s outer green surface, which doesn’t look like much of a delight for the taste buds. If its jarring physique doesn’t deter the curious eater, bitter melon’s taste most certainly will turn them away. The veggie’s rough exterior is on par with its intensely pungent bitterness, which some may find difficult to swallow.

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I put roots down in France nearly a decade ago. Initially, I struggled with how unlike home France felt to me during my first few years here. My surroundings, the language, cultural norms, and my daily routine had all suddenly become foreign to me. The ocean separating me from my friends and family further exacerbated my sense of isolation. I fixated on elements from my former life that France didn’t have, and I was constantly seeking any and everything that was reminiscent of the familiarity of home, especially food. I was living in Austin, TX before moving here, so tacos, Texas BBQ and Whole Foods were constantly on my mind.

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After returning from my first trip to Asia this past spring, I let essentially all of my passion projects fall to the wayside. My life has been veering further and further away from the path that I had envisioned for myself during the course of this past year. The bumpy detour jolted my equilibrium and obliterated my sense of joy and optimism for a good part of the year. Rather than avoid the gloom though, I buckled up and embraced the tumult that came my way. I leaned hard into the ugly, uncomfortable darkness, and it was in these quiet moments of solitude that I recognized that my completely depleted glass needed refilling.

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A couple of years ago, I had this nutty idea that I could master French cookery within a few short months. Or, at least enough to pass an exam called the CAP de Cuisine. Students who pursue a career in the culinary arts in lieu of the traditional route culminating in a high school diploma followed by college must pass the CAP before embarking on their careers in the kitchen. In preparation for the CAP de Cuisine exam, students enroll in a 2-year program that equips them with food industry skills, such as French culinary techniques, the science of ingredients, kitchen and restaurant management, and food safety.

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Did y’all know that Hainan Province formed several million years ago in the South China Sea after breaking off from what is now the northeastern coast of Vietnam? Fast forward to the mid-1800s, many people from the Chinese island province started to migrate to nearby Southeast Asia in search of more prosperous economic opportunities. When they left the island, they also brought with them one of the province’s most notable culinary exports, Hainanese chicken rice. The Hainanese immigrants forged roots throughout Southeast Asia, and their eponymous dish made a mark on essentially all of the cuisines in this region. Each of these countries has a variation of this delectable chicken and rice dish.

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