Let’s be honest, for those of us living in parts of the world where “Feb” means “the dead of winter,” it’s hard to feel fab. Our skin dries out, our noses run, our pant legs drown in slush and we go into hibernation mode (see: it IS possible to watch an entire season on Netflix in one sitting). So, for some tips on surviving this snowy, (un) sexy season in style, I turned to my fit and fabulous friends across the (frozen) pond, namely the French! (OK stop rolling your eyes. I know the Gallic people may be more well known for smoking cigarettes, eating croissants and sitting in cafés instead of exercising, but I promise there are things we can learn!) Voilà some France-inspired “très green, très clean, très chic” tips for living la vie en healthy this time of year.
**Note: let it be known that these are generalizations and do not apply to every single human living in France. The author does not take responsibility for those of Gallic origin who are stressed, wear ugly scarves, skip lunch, work too much, forego chocolate and avoid croissants...
1. Don’t rush.
In Paris, arriving 15 minutes after a designated rendez-vous time is not considered “late.” After 15 minutes, you’re late, but still, as long as you arrive within the hour, you’re good to go. Sure, this means you’ll be “late” to your next meeting, but likely whomever you are meeting will be too. “Tant pis!” as they say (“oh well!”) What shocked me most when I first came back to NYC was this “rush” – everyone is in a rush, all the time! Some things can be organized – leaving your house a bit earlier, anticipating “rush hour” (see what I mean?) traffic or not overscheduling – but for everything else out of your control, C’est la vie!
2. Wear a really cool scarf.
Keeping warm is a must this time of year, so make sure your neck and ears are covered. According to Chinese medicine, the sides and back of your neck are an extension of your lungs, so if they get cold, you can get sick more easily. These “wind points” affect your immune system, so bundle up, say the wise ancient masters. While you’re at it, why not make sure your scarf is très chic? (OK the wise ancient masters didn’t say that, but I do.) French women – and men for that matter! – are born with an innate ability to tie their scarves perfectly and effortlessly. Even if you don’t have any Gallic blood, you can still look the part (just maybe ask your French amie to tie it on for you?)
3. Take your lunch break très seriously.
Mealtime is sacred in France, particularly the lunch hour. Lunch tends to be the biggest meal of the day and one not to be taken – literally or figuratively – lightly. Instead of grabbing a sandwich and eating it at their desks, most French people leave the office, get some fresh air, head to a nearby café and enjoy a 4-course meal complete with red wine. OK, so perhaps that is a bit passé, but most do have a full, balanced meal involving some kind of protein, carbs and (seasonal!) vegetables. Even if you can’t take a full hour or deux for lunch, try to disconnect from whatever you’re doing for at least a few minutes, savor your food instead of simply scarfing it down on the go and make sure to nourish yourself with foods that will power you through the rest of the day. Skipping lunch will only make focusing and working all afternoon that much harder, not to mention will likely cause binge eating late at night when you get home. And why not try taking a longer lunch break then staying in the office just a bit later or arriving a bit earlier? You never know what may happen. The 1 PM glass of rosé, however, can wait.
4. Take a vacation...
Before you roll your eyes (oh yes you), I don’t mean quit your job and head to Bali for two weeks (though if you do have that possibility, do it and take me with you, merci beaucoup). In France, people take “RTT” which can be a full day or just a half day of work off from time to time. If you don’t have that luxury either, then even treating yourself to a late-night bath when you get home or turning off your phone for a few hours over the weekend and heading to your favorite yoga class or treating yourself to your favorite restaurant with friends counts too. The idea is to hit the pause button so you can head back into the world in full play mode later.
5. Eat chocolate.
Apologies, this should have been #1. What can I say, I am fashionably late in true French style. Clearly chocolate is not simply a French phenomenon, but they do like it and theirs happens to be quite good. (Plus, le chocolat just sounds fancier, doesn’t it?) Tiny squares of dark chocolate are typically served with coffee after a meal. Dark chocolate, as we know, is rich in heart-healthy, skin-beautifying antioxidants, minerals like magnesium, iron and potassium and also helps blood flow to warm you up in winter. Chocolate contains phenylethylamine, which you don’t need to know how to pronounce, just know it makes you HAPPY. It encourages your brain to releases endorphins so you feel like smiling. Plus, the caffeine in chocolate will give you an energy boost, perfect for this time of year.
Here’s a recipe for a warming haute chocolat drink that will warm your insides and your soul on a cold February day.
¼ cup of cashews
1 cup of coconut water
1/8 tsp of vanilla powder
1/8 tsp of cinnamon
1 très generous heaping over-the-top tablespoon of cacao powder
2 teaspoons of mesquite powder (optional)
1 Medjool date
**Soak cashews for at least one hour, preferably for around 3-4 or overnight. Drain and rinse, then add to a blender (preferably a Vitamix for the creamiest consistency) with the coconut water and vanilla. Soak the date in hot water to soften, then pit and peel. Add the date to the blender then blend until creamy. Voilà, your very own lait de cashews! You can make extra and use for many things – smoothies, chia pudding or just drink it alone. Add the cacao, cinnamon and mesquite to the blender and blend again until smooth and creamy. Pour into a saucepan and warm gently over the stove. Pour into a mug, sit down, relax and … you can call and thank me anytime for this moment of pure, warming bliss.
6. Have your gateau and eat it too.
Oh that “French paradox.” They eat cream, butter, croissants and éclairs and they look fabulous. What? Oh, oui. Pourquoi? you are thinking. (Congrats, you’re thinking in French!) The French don’t deprive themselves, but they do everything in moderation. A dollop of crème, a tiny pastry from time to time (and not every day) and a small bite of le chocolat (see above) to round out a good meal.
7. Eat seasonally.
French chefs and farmers hopped on the “farm-to-table” trend in around the year 20… actually, more like in the 18th century and haven’t changed their habits since. Most French restaurant menus change seasonally. Ask for blueberries at a French farmer’s market in February and you will be pointed at and laughed at (I speak from personal experience, trust me. Also note: do not ask for a tarte tatin in the summertime in a fancy French restaurant. You will likely leave in tears.) Even if you’re already sick of squash and sweet potatoes by February, have an alarm set on your iPhone announcing the start of pea season (what? This isn’t a thing?) and are dreaming of strawberry fields forever, stick to seasonal foods. Your body will thank you. So will your wallet for that matter, they’re usually cheaper! Now you can spend your hard-earned (gluten-free) dough on … a new scarf? (see above) Foods in season in February (and yes, I know, I know, the list isn’t very long!) tend to be grounding and comforting, like winter squash or starchy root vegetables. They also tend to be heartier and heavier, perfect to warm up on a cold winter day. Whip up a big batch of butternut squash soup and enjoy for a few days, roast some kabocha squash with coconut oil, salt/pepper and a pinch of cinnamon and add to salads or wake up to a warm bowl of oatmeal or quinoa topped with some roasted sweet potatoes. Greens are always in season, so make sure to add some kale, spinach and chard to anything and everything.
8. Express your emotions.
While it can sometimes err on the dramatic side, the French don’t hold back when it comes to falling passionately in (and out of!) love, expressing their opinions or being (sometimes brutally) honest. Holding in emotions can be dangerous both for mental and physical health so, in the words of our favorite animated feature, “Let it gooooooo…” Cold, wet and sad? Cry. Scream. Let it all out. Feels good, right?
9. Balance your plate.
The typical French meal features a protein, some kind of starch and vegetables. Portions are moderate, so you can really enjoy every flavor. A good French meal is simple, but elegant – quality protein and produce, finished off with a delectable sauce. Try replacing traditional crème with a cashew cream, use coconut oil instead of butter and try my Escoffier mother sauces revisited !
10. Make l’amour, not war.
Love is always in the air in France, even if the air is bitterly cold. Love has been scientifically proven (not by me, but do some research – it has been done) to be beneficial to health. Love means less anxiety, more dopamine to the brain and even a stronger immune system. So give your heart a prescription for a large dose of L.O.V.E. this month. Cupid may have his shining moment on the 14th, but open your heart all month long. Your health depends on it!
Photo Cred (4, 6, 10) : Sandra Mahut