If you have ever picked up a French book recipe, and not necessarily the one written by Julia Child, you may have noticed right away that the French almost do nothing, not even the most basic recipes, without reaching for butter. For anyone who does not live in France, the amount of butter in French recipes seem to be at suicidal levels, and the biggest shock is learning that despite all this, the French are actually pretty thin, pretty slim and pretty happy. I have so far experimented firsthand how people in Provence do not even think about cooking without butter. I have just stocked on butter, too, since I am aspiring as being capable to cook just like a real French cook, even if one that is home based.

The French say, and they are right, that everything tastes better with butter. No one can really say anything else, because, well, this is an absolute truth. Nothing can replace butter for real in any French recipe. Try the same thing using oil, or some low fat replacement, and you will see that you are not getting exactly the same thing. And do not even attempt to tell a French person they should use less butter. Unless you really enjoy being scolded and given a lecture on how French people know how to enjoy life, while the rest of the world seems to be hung up on just feeling guilty all the time for whenever they get a chance to feel happy.

I was taught, like any other person living in the Western world, and not in France, that saturated fats are bad for your health. But, according to some studies, nothing can be further from the truth. Butter, which is a great source of saturated fats, is not responsible for clogging your arteries, or for causing obesity. If anything, the type of saturated fats in butter are good for you, and they help you lead a healthy, happy life. These studies show that actually eating more butter helps protecting the immune system, and its saturated fats are essential for the nervous system. Did you know that butter is a source of linoleic acid, well known for its anti-cancer properties? Apparently, the French know, or at least, their tradition of including butter in almost all their recipes is based on something that is healthy and tasty at the same time.

There is another secret to why the French are much thinner than others, while eating so much butter. For the French, snacking is not a thing; actually, if you do not care about eating full meals and you prefer to snack here and there, you can never be French. But, if you do like them, and you treat meals as an occasion to bond with others and eat small portions without ever overstuffing yourself, you will discover why having too much butter is simply impossible.

 

Photo: aspca.org

Lavender is well known as a plant used in making soaps, perfumes and other cosmetics, so it may come to you as a surprise that it can also be used in cooking. Ever since I moved to Provence, France, I have learned a lot of things about using lavender, whether for cooking or for decorating my home, so I can enjoy the beautiful smell through the entire house. I want to share with you a few ideas that I have already tried.

A new friend I made since coming here taught me about how to make wonderful tea using lavender and other herbs from the garden. Almost anyone around here seems to be growing bushes with all kinds of herbs, so making a bit of tea is never a problem. The recipe recommended to me by my new friend involves lavender flower heads and chamomile. Just make sure that the heads of the flowers are well dried, to avoid your tea smelling and tasting of soap. The thing with lavender is that this herb is rich in natural oils, and it can make your food inedible, if you are using too much of it, or if the lavender you are using is not sufficiently dried. The tea I am telling you about now has a great calming effect, so I recommend it for drinking late in the evening, before going to bed, or while you are reading a book and you wait for sleep to come.

Another great thing I learned to cook using lavender is ice cream! Come on, you surely want to hear this! You basically prepare the cream for the ice cream as you usually do, with the difference that you infuse it with dried lavender buds. After bringing the cream to simmering temperature, you just need to stop the fire and let it cool with a lid on top for about half an hour. I don’t think I have ever had an ice cream with such an interesting taste, and I also seem to be getting good at it, too. Here is something I do to make my lavender ice cream recipe even more delicious: I add honey to the cream, replacing some of the sugar, for a healthier alternative and one that even tastes better!

As far as other home uses for lavender are concerned, I learned how to make lavender scented candles. In the heated wax, I mix a bit of lavender buds and a few drops of lavender oil. I am also fond of the lavender potpourri I made; it is practically a sachet filled with dried lavender buds that smell wonderfully. You can use the sachet as a central piece on furniture, or you can place it somewhere close to your head, for beautiful dreams.

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