Do you have a person who, whether they know it or not, you think of as a mentor? A person whose work is so beguiling, it makes you want to try something similar? I do, and her name is Clotilde Dusoulier. As the voice behind Chocolate & Zucchini—the first food blog I ever read, the one that inspired me to launch my own site back in 2004—she’s charmed her way onto countless fans’ must-read lists. Clotilde lives and writes in Paris, but thanks to an extended stay in the States, her English is as good as (probably better than) ours.
True story: Years ago, long before Harry came along, Clotilde was visiting New York and arranged a meet-up for her local fans. I was all gangbusters to attend, since I’d admired her for so long, but in the end I chickened out. The thought that she might not be exactly as she seemed online—or worse, that she might think I wasn’t as appealing in real life—made me so nervous, I didn’t go. How stupid is that? [Clotilde, I’m sure I gave you a stupid excuse for my no-show. Please consider this an extremely late apology, assuming you even remember what I’m talking about.]
Anyhoosie, when I was working on the Easy Indulgences chapter of my cookbook, I remembered a lovely, dead-simple recipe for French Yogurt Cake from Chocolate & Zucchini. I asked Clotilde if she’d let me include an adaptation in the book, and she agreed immediately. See what I mean? She’s awesome.
And now she’s got a sweet little boy of her own, Milan. And a brand-new cookbook, her second. It’s called The French Market Cookbook and it’s gorgeous. Ninety seasonal, vegetarian recipes, all inspired by her local markets—and all completely doable in your own American kitchen. I’ve made a handful of recipes already and (no surprise) they were all lick-the-bowl wonderful. I couldn’t wait to tell you about it. But rather than just write a review of the book, I asked Clotilde to share a little bit about her life with Milan, and how having a baby affected her cooking, and cookbook-writing.
Milan turned one recently. You finished writing The French Market Cookbook just before he was born, and went through the editing process while he was an infant—mazel tov for pulling that off, sister. I’d love to hear what it was like to develop recipes and write a cookbook while pregnant, and then as a new parent. Any weird pregnancy food issues? (I ate approximately 1,000 plain mini-bagels during my first trimester—they held the nausea at bay.) How did you handle making bleary-eyed recipe revisions?
Writing a cookbook while pregnant was really only challenging during the infamous first trimester: I was feeling nauseous and jetlagged for a good three months (my own anti-nausea weapon was McVities digestive cookies!), and obviously this isn’t the way you want to feel when you’re cooking, testing, and tasting recipes. What I did was that I simply embraced the situation and worked mostly on other things, or other aspects of the book, for that period of time. Fortunately, I was a little ahead of schedule, and I also talked to my editor and negotiated a short extension to account for the delay.
I was lucky enough that the rest of my pregnancy went super smoothly: I was feeling great and energetic up until the birth (which took us by surprise a little bit) so I was able to complete the work on the manuscript serenely.
The great thing about working on this cookbook was that it focuses on simple, colorful recipes highlighting fresh produce, so it was exactly the kind of food my body was craving, and the kind of food I was supposed to be eating anyway. Definitely a theme my doctor could get behind, probably more so that if I’d been writing a book about fifty kinds of cronuts!
I was also very aware, throughout the pregnancy, that I was in an enviable position: working from home and on my own time meant that I could choose to nap or even work from my bed on the days I needed to, and make up for it on subsequent days, without needing anybody’s permission. I feel this flexibility was key to my sanity—and still is now with a one-year-old who doesn’t always sleep as well as I wish he did.
You only took six weeks off from blogging after his birth (!!! I didn’t post a new recipe until Harry was seven months old). Did you struggle, like I did, when Milan was a newborn? How did you manage?
Well, it’s complicated. I did find the early weeks of parenthood very challenging, in many more ways than I had anticipated, and it took me a long time to adjust and find my groove. But a big part of my struggle—beyond the sleep deprivation—was the fact that at first, life as you know it seems to be over (good news: it’s not!), and I actually craved time to do the things that I love, which for me meant cooking and writing. So it felt good to not be away from the blog for too long.
Still, it is one thing I would handle differently if I were (or ever am) to do it again: I would have prepared better to make room for an actual maternity leave. I had planned to write blog posts in advance, and to complete a couple of months’ worth of my regular assignments before the birth, but somehow I never got around to it. And although I didn’t have an enormous pile of things to do, these few deadlines still weighed heavily on my mind during those first weeks when I should really have been “sleeping when the baby was sleeping.”
How has your cooking changed since he came along? What’s Milan’s favorite food these days?
Initially, I practically stopped cooking. Maxence took over or got take-out on his way home from work (it felt like such a treat!), and my mother brought me strawberries and buttery heads of lettuce and rhubarb compote. I ate a lot of cold pasta with zucchini, and a lot of dark chocolate. Then I gradually started putting together simple things while Milan was dozing in the wrap. We frequently had dinner with him in there, too, and often found crumbs and little bits of chive in his hair afterward. [Say it with me: Awwww.]
Nowadays, my cooking has more or less come back to normal, though I break down the prep a lot more than I ever did. It’s taken me this long to wield the power of mise en place! I’ll take a few minutes here and there during the day to clean and cut up vegetables so they can be popped into the oven or quickly sautéed for dinner, because I never know how much I’ll be able to get done after Milan is home from daycare.
One big thing that’s changed is not so much in my cooking as in my eating: it used to be really (really!) important to me to eat hot food while it was still hot. But this is one of the first things I gave up as a new parent. Now I couldn’t care less whether the food is as hot as it’s meant to; I’m just stoked that I’m sitting down and eating.
As for Milan, the food situation with him is still in flux. I was completely on board with the baby-led weaning approach, and sharing our “normal” meals with him worked really well for the first few months, then came to a screeching halt when Milan stopped eating anything we offered that wasn’t either spoon-fed or a piece of baguette.
So we’ve been going along with that, while still offering “real foods” when we have the opportunity. We like to eat out with him, and he will eat things off our plates then—we love that he loves the spicy Szechuan eggplant at our favorite Chinese restaurant. And I was very happy to feed him his first nectarine (possibly my favorite fruit of all) today: I was planning to just give him a taste of mine but he enjoyed it so much I hardly ate any. He did feed me the juices from the tip of his tiny finger afterward.
Which recipes in your new book would you recommend for a time-strapped new parent? What’s your go-to vegetable for a busy weeknight meal?
There are lots, but since this is the summer, I’d recommend the eggplant and fresh herb tabbouleh: you can break down the prep into small steps and the recipe makes a big batch that will sustain you for a few days—always good to plan meals this way in the early days. The tomato and tarragon bread soup is also quick and easy, requires few ingredients you have to shop for, and is super comforting for a summer weeknight.
I think you know, Chocolate & Zucchini inspired me to start my own blog back in 2004. The blogging world is so different now—what advice would you give to someone launching a blog today?
I do remember that, and I’m so honored, Debbie! The world of food blogging is indeed a very different place, but I love that there’s so many of us now. When I started out ten years ago, there was a slight sense of, “Um, you’re devoting an entire site to what you’re eating?” I feel we’ve normalized the idea that you can live your life constantly dreaming about or plotting your next meal, and still be a balanced, sane person. But I think the secret remains the same now as it was then: be genuine, focus on bringing value to your readers, find your voice, engage with the community, and be persistent!