How Making Lunch the French Way Is Making My WFH Days Better than Ever

published Jul 18, 2023
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Credit: Cathy Pyle

I dabbled in TikTok only for a brief moment. Thankfully the rumors of endless hours of scrolling never took hold, but there was one account that quickly grabbed my attention: Simple, calming videos of salads, tartines, and baked eggs in rustic ceramic dishes sprinkled across my screen. Often titled “What I made for lunch as a French girl living in London,” these beautiful recipes seemed so easy yet so full of purpose and care — a far cry from the quick lunches of cheese, crackers, and fruit that I normally threw together.

The home cook behind the videos is a woman named Manon Lagrève, the author of Et Voilà!, a book that promises the same elegantly uncomplicated recipes I’d enthusiastically saved on TikTok. Watching videos where she made taking 10, maybe 15, minutes to prepare a lunch made of vibrant produce, rich dairy and butter, and tasty breads look so effortless, made anything else seem pointless. Why would I spend five minutes putting together an uninspired sandwich, if I could throw together a colorful salad in just a few more?

So I decided this summer will be my season of “What I made for lunch as an American girl pretending to be French,” and I’d dabble in my own variations of the dishes that Lagrève makes seem so incredibly easy. Here’s how it’s going.

Because I’m a big believer in approaching a new challenge with the right tools, the first thing I did was track down the tiny ceramic dishes that she uses for some of her most savory and creamy egg recipes. Le Creuset mini cocottes, something I had no idea existed just last month, are now a staple in my kitchen. Not only are they perfect for baked eggs with crusty bread (the first recipe of hers that caught my eye), but they’ve also encouraged me to experiment with various baked fruit recipes each evening. With only a few ounces to fill, none of these recipes are complicated. They call for only four or five ingredients at the most (plus patience while it bakes), and the result is delightful. 

Credit: Heather Bien

The process feels indulgent, too. It doesn’t take long to dice fresh herbs or chop summer stone fruits and berries, but taking a few moments to pull out a cutting board and a knife feels like an occasion. Slowing down for a midday break where I carefully select a few veggies from the fridge, place them in a pretty Falconware salad bowl with bright fruits, and top with a bit of burrata and Parmesan makes me pause to recognize the seasonality of the food and how it’s different from last month or even last week. I pick up produce at the farmers market specifically to add it to a slice of bread, creating a tartine out of whichever colors catch my eye in the stand that week. 

I started down the road of cooking like the French because I wanted to create beautiful, simple recipes that would feel like a treat of both time and flavor in the middle of the day. But what I actually found is that they help me slow down not only during the busy workday, but also on a more macro level. Realizing that strawberries are best in June and dill bolts by the time summer’s heat sets in gives me more reason to embrace these flavors when they’re at their best. 

Somehow, in its endless scroll, TikTok taught me to slow down, pause, and learn that savoring seasonality is the true French way.