French of the Week: Où sont les toilettes?

ousontlestoilettesThis is THE question to know.  You’re running around a foreign city, soaking in as many sites as possible and you just simply forget to use the bathroom.  Its already hard enough to drink water and stay hydrated, but when you do, that stuff goes right through you.  Not to mention, if you’re having any extra fun, that alcohol needs to go somewhere eventually, so where do you go?

The phrase:  Où sont les toilettes?

The meaning:  Where are the toilets?

The breakdown:   – pronounced “oo,” this is the French word for “where.” The little line above the u is called accent grave (gr-ah-v) and when it is used in French language, it usually signifies that there is another word out there, spelled the same way, but with a different meaning.  So as in English, we have there, their, and they’re, generally spelled in similar manners (therefore always confused) and sounding exactly the same, but three very distinct different meanings.  Here, with the accent, the Où is “where” without the accent, ou is the word for “or.”

Sont – pronounced “c-oh,” with a slightly silent “n” and completely silent “t” – this is a verb, conjugated from the Être family for “are”.  Être means “to be”, and in English we say “I am” or “He is” and “We/They are.” In French “sont” is the form taken on when you refer to a multiple group of others who are, even if its an inanimate object.

Les Toilettes – pronounced “leh t-wol-eh-t”, if you can’t already tell, this is the term for the toilets.  Not to be confused with bathroom, a toilet is not a bathroom in France. Those two deeds are entirely separate, and if you need a bathroom to wash up, it would be “la salle de bain” (the room of the bath) “lah c-ah-l duh ben”. For now, the article, “Les” signifies multiple toilets with the “s” at the end of the word, but do NOT pronounce the “s.” It is meant to be there in writing so if you were reading the word, you would know which one is meant. When spoken, the words around what you are saying tells the recipient what to expect.

Questions? Comments? Totally confused? Post a comment below!

À votre santé!

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Catering Basics: 7 Tips from a Professional Caterer

Parties. They are always a blast, but the stress of planning, buying, preparing and serving food is just not worth the work. You can’t mingle with your guests or enjoy your own party because you’re slaving away in the kitchen with your closest friends constantly asking you if you need help (because you do!).  For some, hiring a caterer can be a daunting experience, particularly if you don’t care for the Subway sandwich platter or another plastic drop off service that is still somewhat pricey yet completely mediocre. But you don’t need to shell out thousands or create even more stress for yourself if you want to make your event just a little nicer.

Having run my own catering business for close to 4 years now, I know how challenging the process can be. I have seen the faces of my clients at our first meetings go from uncertain and apprehensive to relaxed and comforted knowing that not only will I deliver quality food, but I have my clients’ back. Whether you are local (hire me!) or live throughout our delightful US of A, these top ten tips will help you choose the right caterer, make sure you have every dime accounted for, and feel at ease knowing you can throw your party and enjoy it too.

  1. How much is enough?   The number one question I always receive is: How do you know how much to make?  There is a reason we ask all the questions we ask as caterers.  Its not to pry or be curious or even to bother you with details that may seem insignificant, its because these questions are crucial in our planning process. Raise the red flag if your caterer misses out on any specific details. I particularly like to schedule site visits, very early in the process, to make sure the facility is up to par with the menu we choose. If not, we can plan accordingly to either make the menu work with what we have or haul in equipment we need to make it work. Caterers are the ultimate planners so find the 5 Top Questions for Caterers to get your event on track.
  2. Regulating Food Temperatures.  Your event location plays a big role in the type of food a caterer can serve. I prepared  lunch for 100 guests in a hospital auditorium for a non profit organization two years in a row. The only facility we had to work with was a not so nice looking janitor sink. So with a little party planning magic, we draped a closed off area and planned our menu around items we could manage to “heat” without too much effort. We created a couple soups as well as salads meant to stand at room temperature, that we kept warm with chafing dishes. Not the most ideal situation, but making sure that we had ample time for the soups to heat was key. On the flip side, keeping perishable ingredients cold is equally as important.  Make sure your caterer has the know how and resources to help you keep your menu as hot or cold as it needs to be.
  3. Will I or my guests get sick?  Caterers are required in ALL states to have a food handler’s permit or license to operate. We are trained to know the proper temperature of all kinds of foods, particularly meat products and mayonnaise laden salads that are at the root of food borne illnesses. Not to mention, rules for proper cleaning and handling of equipment to avoid cross contamination are just as important. If you are concerned, ask your caterer for a copy of their food handler’s certificate, but I guarantee they can’t be in business if they don’t have one. Your guests will most likely get sick from that potato salad your very sweet neighbor brought over than from something your caterer served.
  4. Consider who your guests are and why you are serving them.  Event planners are trained to know their audience and make sure a caterer isn’t serving foie gras to a California PETA event in Alabama. Even for your own small event at home, knowing a group of guests are allergic to gluten is crucial in making your event a success. While it is impossible to turn a party for 30 or more into an individualized event, make sure you communicate with your caterer about allergies and other dietary specifics to make sure every single one of your guests has something to eat.
  5. Don’t forget to plan the details.  While your caterer had the food and perhaps some beverages set and ready, that doesn’t mean the party planning stops there. Give yourself ample time to plan as many details as you can, in addition to the basic questions we need to know from point number 1 above. 6 Crucial Catering Questions You Need to Plan.
  6. Communicate, communicate, communicate.  While it is crucial to communicate with everyone in the planning process, this goes particularly for your caterer. Just because we have experience it doesn’t mean we can read your mind. We want to meet every expectation you have so be clear about what you want, how you want it and when to get it done. If you want the event to flow as seamlessly as possible, you have to communicate with us.
  7. Be as flexible as possible.  There is nothing worse than a crying bride on her wedding day because something major fell out of place. As the host, keep your mind as open to as many missteps as you possibly can. Realize that perfection is not real and while you can count on your caterer to produce the results they promised, not everything can go according to plan. As professionals, we have the ability to bounce back from problems and make things work as much as we can. Trust that we will do our jobs and keep your cool if changes need to take place.

To have your event catered by the French Girl, visit Olivia’s Catering Shop and browse some sample menus! Email us at info@oliviascateringshop.com or call 760-845-6967 to get started.

French of the Week: The Art of Saying Bonjour!

IMG_0597There’s nothing worse that arriving in a new country for business or pleasure and not knowing how to communicate with the culture. Sure, the majority of the world can speak English, but wouldn’t it be great to plant your feet in a country and at least get your way to the hotel? Or maybe find the bathroom?

These days there are so many ways to get the info you need with cell phone apps and electronic devices that can do the translating for you. What if you can’t connect? What if your service is having trouble or you ordered the wrong international plan and all of a sudden you’re facing a $1,500 phone bill?? In the next few weeks, I’ll help you get what you need to make sure you won’t be 100% stranded. Later, I’ll post more words and phrases related to food and cooking to impress your friends, but for now, lets get the basics down.

This week:  The initial greeting: Bonjour! 

I bet you’re laughing. Seriously? This girl is telling me about a word that everyone knows?! CLICK (as you aggravatingly click away to something more useful). The fact is this:  the French take saying hello VERY seriously. Here in the States, no matter how laid back you think your state is, we don’t always say hello. We walk up to the shelf stocker at the supermarket and bark, “Where do I find the breadcrumbs!?” or we immediately scream to the waitress, “I’ll have an arnold palmer and a water please.” No “Hi, how are you” or simple “hello.” In France, if you act like that, you’ll likely be given wrong directions or made a fool in some way that keeps you thinking how much the French hate Americans.  The lesson here is simple: Say BONJOUR! You don’t need to follow with a “how are you” or similar statement, just say hello.  How? Here’s the breakdown:

Bonjour | boh-ZHOOR | Literally translated as “good day.” The formal means of saying hello.

Bon soir | boh-swahr | Good evening.  Appropriate to greet if it is after 5pm. Saying “bonjour” at an evening hour might incur some bizarre looks.

Bonne journée | bohnn-zhoor-neigh | More of a parting greet translated as farewell, if departing in the day time.

Bonne soiree | bohnn-swahr-eigh | Similar to bonne journée for the after 5pm crowd.

Salut | sahl-00 | The informal greeting or “Hi” as we know it in English. Not to be used with strangers, so keep this one as a bonus amongst yourselves.

Post your comments, questions, and requests in the sections below! I’d love to hear from you and am happy to answer more questions, as you need them!

À votre santé!

The French Girl’s 100th Post! A Fitting Guide to Life

SAMSUNG CSCOver the last several months, I have learned so much about exercising gratitude.  Harder than choosing what to eat or wear every day, remembering to be thankful for what I have has been such a challenge. Incredibly, as if a switch were turned on, it seemed to take over just in the last few weeks. Every reflection of negativity or otherwise unpleasant situation has been followed by a phrase of gratitude and thus, discovery of the silver lining. So in the end, nothing ever really seems so bad. Annoying, frustrating, unpleasant, perhaps. But no longer earth shattering or so devastating that crawling into a minor depression is even necessary anymore. How did I do it?

I have this thing about obsessing over things. I know I said “thing” twice, but hear me out. My thoughts on negative situations always stayed negative because I worried and became overly stressed about them. The worry would compound on itself and I would fester and wallow in self pity. Uh, who wants to live like that? I got sick of it really. I’m almost certain that any of you out there reading this might know the feeling. While reading up on how to change it all, I found an incredible number of research on how simply exercising gratitude on a daily basis could alleviate symptoms of depression. I thought, ok, lets give this a shot. Of course, always wanting instant gratification, it didn’t do much for me right away, but I stuck with it. Any time I could, I would try to remember to put things into perspective and just be thankful that I am well nourished, have a roof over my head, and the opportunity to do great things. More and more, it just became easier, I cared less about insignificant details and more about following what makes me happy the most.

And so, here we are. My 100th WordPress post only 4 very short years after beginning this blog; almost to the day actually. To think of where this blog started, my intentions, my goals, my life as it was and now… well lets just say I never thought I would be here. All the while, call it soul searching, but I was looking for myself in a place that I knew of all along. Learning to be grateful has, without a doubt, brought me here. To a place in which I feel so confident that I will find success and happiness. So whether you are trying to lose weight, looking to start your own business, or achieving another goal that you’ve been struggling to accomplish, start by being grateful for what you have. Always strive for something great, but never forget what you have and what has brought you to this very moment.

Congratulations to me for making it this far!! And I absolutely can not wait for the new people I am about to meet, the new adventures I am sure to embark on, and the thrill ride of life that begins right now.  Thank you to all of you who follow and support me in everything I have done and will soon get to do.

A votre santé!

A New Guide to Salt Intake: What Now?

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Photo credit: Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Released this week, a new study turns how we look at sodium on its ear.  Yes, that is correct, another study is out there telling us that something we used to avoid before is now not so bad.  Before  you start completely revitalizing your daily routine, here are a few of the facts.  Most studies and dietary generalizations fit the profile of all around healthy individuals, relatively young, and without any preexisting family history of something serious.  Those of you reading this that have already been diagnosed with high blood pressure, or another condition that requires you to focus closely on what you eat, please keep consulting your physician before making any changes.

This latest study surveyed the sodium intake of healthy individuals, indicating that too little salt may be just as harmful as taking in too much.  But what exactly is too much?  I’ll set myself up as the example.  My blood pressure is always low, still considered safe, but generally lower than the 120/80 average.  It seems some days that I can’t get enough salt; I find myself craving it in as many forms I can get my hands on.  Yet, no matter how much I consume, my blood pressure doesn’t change.  That doesn’t mean that it will never change, but for the moment, I could likely consume close to 10,000 grams of sodium in a day and feel little to no effect For someone with blood pressure concerns, 10,000 grams of sodium might put them in the hospital, so a diet comprised of 1,500 grams, the number recommended by the American Heart Association, is much more appropriate.  The study revealed that the original 1,500 recommendation for a low-sodium diet may actually be too low for the average healthy individual, aka not me nr my hypotensive counterpart, something else the study did reveal.  What is considered high levels to one person, may be way too low to another.

For more on this study, click here for the latest on this morning’s story on Today.com

Overall, the studies released about new dietary recommendations are not meant for everyone.  Needless to say, what should be for everyone is one word: MODERATION.

I just made extremists cringe by capitalizing that word, but there is no denying that the true news story should be this:  Stop worrying about how much or how little you should be consuming.  The constant studies flip flopping ideals about high and low, too much, too little, over indulging, or depriving ourselves of, well, everything is utter nonsense.  Quit paying undivided attention to all of this information and start taking it in stride.  There is no such thing as one number for ALL of us.  If you have to watch your sodium intake, then follow your doctor’s recommendation and take it easy.  If you can’t get enough of the stuff, well, take it easy but feel free to enjoy without as much guilt.  This is my philosophy for every single thing I eat, daily.  I don’t count calories or milligrams or any other measurement of food, I eat (period).  The key is making better choices, such as whole wheat replacing simple white grains, and healthy dose of fruits and vegetables, and limiting the amount of “fake” or processed foods.

I am thrilled to be working with Livestrong, launching their new Livestrong Woman
series with a new cooking show, soon to be titled.  I’ll show you how to follow my philosophy of eating well and making the right choices with some delicious recipes that you will want to eat.  Check back soon for links and posts to get you on the French way of living life and loving food, the healthy way.

A votre santé!

The 12 Weeks of Christmas

If you’re anything like me, among the every day stresses of work and life, plans for the holidays are whirling in your mind.  From gift ideas, menus, decorations, crafts, and more, there is always so much to do starting this early is really the only option.  But we never do, do we?  We assemble plans of grandeur but, ultimately, find ourselves scrambling at the last minute anyway.  So this year, think of this article as the friendly reminder to get started, NOW.

First and foremost: STOP biting off more than you can chew.  Since starting my catering business this year, I have learned the very wonderful value of enlisting help.  I don’t just mean hiring extra hands, but stopping the endless notion that I need to do everything myself.  I know that I have written about this before, but I really can’t stress this enough.  Cut the right corners where you need to.  Olivia Saez & Padma Lakshmi @ Endo. Found. Lunch & Learn Oct. 2011I’ll give you an example.  Last year, I had the unbelievable pleasure of cooking for Top Chef host, Padma Lakshmi for her Endometriosis Foundation event at Lenox Hill Hospital.  I pulled out EVERY stop for that breakfast/luncheon, and although it completely paid off, it was overwhelmingly exhausting.  The foundation personally requested “the chef from last year” to participate in this year’s event (that would be me!).  So, of course, I was honored to participate.  Although, this year,  I didn’t roll 100 croissants by hand, or try to create tray after tray of cinnamon buns, baked the morning of (4:30am) to be super fresh.  Helloooo! How ridiculous I was!  This year, I purchased pastries from a local bakery that I know make a perfect chocolate croissant and I put my focus into creating a delicious and hearty lunch.  Who would have thought! I not only saved hours of time, but, particularly, my sanity.  You will not be or feel rewarded any more if you make EVERYTHING, versus just making MOST things.  Learn to cut the right corners. If that means Thanksgiving is going to be a pot luck affair, then go for it!

For our first of 12 Weeks of Christmas, the first task is to set yourself up with a binder or notebook.  Keep the book handy to jot down notes as you go.  If you are out shopping and a potential gift catches your eye, write it down.  Or better yet, we all have smart phones these days, right?  How about snapping a picture and saving it to a “Holiday gifts” folder.  Even if you start buying now, make a note of what you buy so you don’t find it buried in your closet next June when you’re looking for that 2-piece.

Whether virtual or hard copy, separate your binder into 5 categories:  Food/Recipes,  Gifts,  Decor,  Card Recipients & Guests, and ToDos. Add a sturdy plastic enclosed folder towards the back for receipts, so you can keep track of spending.  Use the same binder for every holiday, so if you’re hosting Thanksgiving with friends this year and then have the family over for Chanukah, switch out any recipes or decor ideas as they come along.  Or if you feel you’ll have way to much going on for each event, have a binder for each holiday and color code them so you know which is which.

I’ll be putting my binder together to get started on planning and prep for my holiday, Christmas.  Even if you don’t celebrate the holiday, follow along for your own festivities, and, of course, the events from now until then.  I will be setting up 2 binders, one for personal and the other for business;  the pie orders are already starting to fill in.  Don’t go crazy spending more time putting your binder together than doing what’s inside it. Just a simple 3-ring binder, page dividers, and plastic inserts will do the trick.  Check out some binders from other bloggers:

  

The important thing to remember is to go towards every task individually.  If you try to do everything at once, you will most certainly be overwhelmed and miss out on actually enjoying the holidays.  Stop stressing about how much stress is coming your way, start with this task, and next week, we can work on the next one…