Week One, Take One — How France Has Inspired Me

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Melissa d'Arabian in Paris, France

Last week FN Dish announced that Melissa d'Arabian would be joining the roster of writers. Starting today, she'll be answering fan questions, as well as sharing her own experiences as a working mom raising four young girls.

First, thank you for the incredible response via Twitter, Instagram, email and here on FN Dish — and for all of your questions. I’m eager to dive in:

Several of you asked about living in France, like Dawn and Linda T., and how that influenced me. As some of my fans know, I moved to Paris for my job (I worked in finance for Disney), and I was scheduled to stay 18 months. I met Philippe, fell in love, married him and stayed for four years. (Which leads me to share some quick advice: When you are single and in your 30s, be careful to only to travel to places you like because you never know when suddenly you’ll find yourself in love and having to stay there.) Lucky for me, I adore France, so I’m quite pleased to have it permanently etched into my life as a Franco-American-bicultural-bilingual family.

I can barely scratch the surface on the impact France has in our lives in one blog post, but perhaps the two main influences from my French life (and husband) are:

1. I have become more ingredient-driven in my cooking.

2. Our meals have become more about the people around the table than simply what is on the plate. If that sounds contradictory, read on. (No one ever said the French were a simple lot.)

(PHOTOS: Speaking of France and my family, here's a peek inside our most-recent trip there.)

I find my inspiration in the ingredients.

Paris is a food-lover’s dream. Yes, exquisite restaurants abound, but I’m talking about the extraordinary markets, each with its own specialty. Just doing “regular” grocery shopping usually entails a visit to a butcher, the fishmonger and cheesemonger, a boulangerie (bakery) and a fresh produce stand. And at each market, I would find the most-gorgeous ingredients — food that begged to be bought, treated oh so simply, then served (that night, not next month, which explains the almost-nonexistent freezer compartment of most Parisian fridges). Arriving at the market with a cookbook recipe often felt like putting the cart before the horse. Don’t believe me? Next time you’re in Paris (you're going next week, right?), head over to some of my favorite market streets: Rue Cler (in the 7th arrondissement), Rue Montorgueil (2nd arrondissement) and, for a truly local (read: non-touristy) experience, head over to the 17th arrondissement to Rue de Levis. And if your trip to Paris is foiled, try your local farmers' market for ingredient inspiration.

The focus of our family table is family.

The French notoriously spend hours at the dinner table, eating, laughing and debating, enjoying course after course (which means a good hour is spent on washing dishes — more time to bond). And the dinner pace in the South of France is even more leisurely. When we visit my in-laws, it's not uncommon to follow this pattern: have a meal, clean up from said meal, segue straight into prepping the following meal. (I do not exaggerate here for effect.) Life is busy and we have four little girls, so clearly these unrushed holiday-type affairs aren’t usually possible. But we can sit down around a table and take the time to connect. Here is what I know: It takes longer to connect than it takes to eat. Quite simply, our dinners last longer than our forks are moving. And our family is stronger for it.

Thanks to the French, I also developed a cheese and green salad habit, but I’m out of space for today.

I'll answer more questions on June 6 — email me now if you already know your next question!

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