Saturday, September 03, 2011


Only about a week ago did the boulangerie stop smelling like toast. I was concerned that it would always carry the faint odor that comes from 150 contiguous years of bread baking in one place, a pleasant aroma at first that reminded me of rich history and artisan dedication. But one morning, quite out of the blue, we were seated at the breakfast table, and at what is usually a calm, relaxed meditative moment in my day, I was gripped with a feeling that something was terribly wrong. Why this fear and loathing, I wondered? Have I forgotten something? Loic in his thoughtful way had just brought me a steaming generous slice of toast from a freshly baked loaf of half kamut with that fresh Jura butter and the salt grinder as is my preference, along with my coffee. The warmth of spirit that comes from such olfactory pleasures wafted squarely to my senses and then it hit. "We'll run out of steam" a quiet smug inner voice crooned, and my chest tightened. Going to the site, seeing the dust and piles of rocks and broken things and bundles of wires that aren't moving and breathing the aroma of ancient toast that exudes from the walls and beams over and over again has conditioned me in some way. I feel slightly nauseated at the smell of bread or toast these days. Strange. No better time like the present to switch to fruit and keep climbing stairs, I suppose.

So far in the project there have been times when I could not make decisions because of a missing element, or missing passion. Missing something, anyway. This summer we marched through the cookie cutout kitchen showrooms of all the big manufacturers, and I kept ordering myself to pull myself out of it and make some kind of decision, any decision. I held out for awhile and just at the beginning of this week when I could pinpoint why I can't stand these kitchens, the ideas came easily. I can't stand them because the spirit and chaos of really good cooking straight from living things and the earth is missing from them. The lines are too straight, too many ball bearings, sleek things that match, stainless steel racks and spotlights, and not enough spirit. Even the expensive ones. Like meat in styrofoam and plastic, I don't want them. I don't want ceiling high wood veneered particleboard armoires decked with ball bearing baskets that slide out in ergonomic blissful perfection, I want old oak cabinets that creak a little bit and that came from the back landing of a Savoyard chateau with the direct knowledge that they were used to keep linens until the chateau was sold to someone who didn't want them anymore. Even if I have to bend down to get to the bottom shelf. I don't want marble because it's expensive nor do I worry about stains or etching, I want old marble that has been etched and honed with time and not by machines. A slab that tells a long friendly story to keep me company while I flip and roll pastry and dough. I want my kitchen to welcome like-minded people in this way, to tell a story of Lyonnais and French cooking. I suppose it's the story I'll have to insist on, like I always have. I hope you don't mind me telling it.

During times of waiting, or inactivity on the site, I go up there and do what I can. I occupy myself by measuring things again (my father always said to measure 3 times, I'd never be sorry), or with little tasks like removing layers of old paint from some drawer handles I recuperated from an old counter left behind by the boulanger, or wiping down the marble slabs we have, still not sure if we're going to be able to use them, due to technical questions that came up yesterday.



Blogger racheld said...


I have no words for today's post, except to say that I've devoured---actually EATEN all the words of this. I've only SEEN your cooking, but I've tasted your writing, and it's sublime.

Any endeavour---ANY---is going to be splendid. I find myself wishing that the immense rustic cabinet of drawers which covers a whole wall of our garage---the one still filled with inky old typewriter parts from the former owner, were on its way to you by express.

6:08 PM, September 03, 2011  
Blogger L Vanel said...

Wow Rachel, thanks. I can say the same about your writing. I completely understand your having held on to inky old typewriter parts, having a weakness for them myself.

7:51 PM, September 03, 2011  
Blogger SmitoniusAndSonata said...

You have to feel really at home , if you're going to feel happy working there and combining it with family life . So it's well worth the struggle now .
Your attention to detail means you'll succeed , too ! Good luck with the search . You already have the beautiful neighbourhood , anyway.
I'm so looking forward to watching it all grow .

8:35 PM, September 03, 2011  
Blogger Kelly said...

I have a similar struggle with the kitchen in our 1970's era brick house in Germany. For two years I have been avoiding deciding. I need a functioning space, but I want one with heart and soul and a feeling of use-ability. Shiny, sleek, modern stuff is as not right as fake 'Landhaus Stil' moldings and fixtures. Everything I see in the showrooms and ships just feels so soulless and un-useable. I just can't make myself drop a pile of cash on something I really don't love, especially in the kitchen!

So,I am not yet ready to commit, but I found inspiration here:

Taking a lesson from that house and the old German kitchens that had no built-in cabinets, we now have a plan to build rustic shelves and a few cabinets, and repurpose a giant apothecary chest we found on Ebay classifieds, buy a freestanding oven-stove insetad of built-in, freestanding fridge, either concrete or zinc (or plywood!) countertops, all with the goal of trying to create an incremental and diverse but cohesive space. It will take more work and time, but I am finally excited about getting started.

Maybe that would be an approach to try? Look for cupboards and buffets and even dressers the right height and format, and repurpose. Lay it out so that the working spaces function in harmony, and then just add furniture. That's my plan, anyway. (As soon as we finish the rest of the work on the first floor...sigh.)

8:37 PM, September 03, 2011  
Blogger Kay said...

I admit to anxiously checking your blog every day for a new post. Today's post is why. Beautifully written, a testament to your faith in yourself & your project. Thank you.

9:03 PM, September 03, 2011  
Blogger L Vanel said...

Thanks for your encouragement S&S! Thank you Kelley for that link and the inspiration. What a cool kitchen and house. Oh to be a carpenter. I will be getting some tools to take care of some finishing work in the house, and we have an ebiniste on the case doing some things including some doors since they're all funny sizes although he's very very expensive so we have to keep it to a minimum. Sweet of you to say, Kay.

9:39 PM, September 03, 2011  
Anonymous Julie said...

When I read your words I feel like we are sitting at a table together in your kitchen, drinking coffee like old friends. I look forward to every post!

5:53 PM, September 04, 2011  
Blogger L Vanel said...

Thanks Julie, what a nice thing to say.

7:00 PM, September 04, 2011  
Anonymous chaumama said...

It's so nice when you can incorporate old things into your home and work space to give your surroundings "soul".

9:55 PM, September 04, 2011  
Anonymous janie said...

I can only imagine the endless decisions that you have to make with your project.I love your ideas and cannot wait to hear more about your progress and in a perfect world I would come over and take a class with you when you're all done!

5:43 PM, September 05, 2011  
Blogger L Vanel said...

I guess that's what it really boils down to: Soul.

9:58 PM, September 05, 2011  
Blogger L Vanel said...

Janie, one day maybe you can come!

10:19 PM, September 05, 2011  
Blogger Adele said...

It seems to me you're able to put into just-the-right-words the feelings that tug on your heart and occupy the recesses of your mind. But most of all in this post, I love the picture of your big boy looking at the rubble and you can tell he's just itching to go in there and get to work!

3:45 PM, September 06, 2011  
Blogger L Vanel said...

Thanks, Adele. When we go up there and start going to the door he always says "non, pas la!" which means "no, not there!" and then when we get inside he says "what a mess, maman." He says "Au revoir, mess." when we leave.

6:35 PM, September 06, 2011  
Anonymous Elissa said...

I'm with you: who wants to cook in an operating room? At what point did sleek and ergonomic become a good thing? Give me warmth; give me humanity; give me the good ghosts of scratched marble and creaking cabinets.

9:20 PM, September 07, 2011  
Blogger Katie Zeller said...

I can completely understand. Mon mari has built almost everything for our kitchen - some of it years ago. It's not antique; doesn't tell an ancient story, but it does have our history attached. We have picked 'inherited' a few things from the former owners of this house, which is fun. Good luck!

8:21 PM, September 10, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Lucy,
i've read your blog from the start but never left a comment. I love your blog - its authenticity, your voice, your very beautiful photos,your recipes that feel real, your adventures and stories. I don't even mind that it's not as frequently updated as some other blogs. It just means you're a normal human being with many other things going on in her life, c'est normal! I check in once in a while and find you have moved on to something new - WOW - and im happy for you, like when you hear from an 'old friend', if i may be so presumptuous. Bravo, you've come a long way!
What made me write today is that your post struck a chord. Very soon, i will be facing the same problem as you. I have to renovate a kitchen and i've nver done this before (well, actually the entire house awaits me, but it's the kitchen has preoccupies me the most). And i'm reeling at the thought. So many choices and i'm afraid to make the wrong decision - which very unhelpfully one only realises when everything's set in stone!! But like you, i want the place to have heart and soul. I don't know how to put my finger on it but you know when you step into some people's houses, either you can feel the warmth — or you can't. I think most of it comes from being lived in - so it can only come with time - and from things that mean something to you, not just because it's pretty. THere is no shortcut. But i'm very very sure that with your exquisite taste, antique collection habit, good eye and good sense, you will find yourself in a place you love. And i look forward to seeing the photos! And all the activity that will come out of it!
maybe you should post a post-renovation tips for pp like me! BON COURAGE!

7:42 AM, September 15, 2011  
Blogger L Vanel said...

Thanks for your great comments, friends. I believe I have finally found a solution I can live with, will post about it bientot!

8:15 AM, September 15, 2011  
Blogger Robyn said...

Hi Lucy -- A friend just directed me to your blog, and I feel we have some connection even though we've never met and live half a world away from each other. I'm an American food writer in Malaysia and my husband and I are renovating an old shop house in George Town, Penang. The kitchen will of course be a focus though I don't teach classes.
We've only just started on our project revabut I am loving that I can read the story of someone going through something similar in France. Best of luck to you!

7:11 AM, September 18, 2011  
Blogger tamzie said...

Ohhh your blog has given me the most intense blast of nostalgia. I found you by chance in my quiet ongoing mission to find a peche de vigne tree for my garden here in Mebourne Australia. I discovered peche de vigne while living in Lyon in your quartier. I shopped at quai antoine, coffee-ed at Cafe de la Mairie most days (did you know Monsieur Robert - I'm told he moved on), ate half pain au chocolat from the boulangerie in the trompe l'oiel. My small son spoke his first ever word, au revoir, as we exited Antoine et Lili. I have marvelous memories of our little urban French life. It's great to be reminded that it really happened. With luck and careful planning I hope to be there for a short trip next year. It will be great. Thank you for the refresher.

2:53 PM, September 27, 2011  
Blogger L Vanel said...

Oh how wonderful. You're going to be sad to hear that Bob, the baker at our your pain au chocolat bakery also passed away this year. Hold on to the memory of his lovely pain au chocolat (how could you only eat half?), no one in the whole city did them better.

5:41 PM, September 27, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I fully understand how you feel about your kitchen. I just went through a lengthy remodel that I had been planning in my mind for 21 years! I also do not care for sleek and shiny. My home was built in 1928 (relatively "new" compared to homes in France). I feel the finished kitchen fits the surrounding elements of the house, plus a workspace I have always dreamed about.

2:27 PM, October 05, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, love your blog. Like Tamzie I am looking for a peche de vigne tree for my mornington peninsula garden. Tamzie I would love to know if you have had any luck.....

12:28 PM, October 21, 2011  
Blogger tamzie said...

Hi there Mornington peninsula person. No luck yet really. Although I read on one site that a variety called Pleach (awful name) is the same as a peach variety from New Zealand called Black Boy there. The photo looks right. I THINK it was the Daleys Fruit Trees discussion forum. Sadly the name Pleach has scared ne off a bit. With time I may come around to investigating further.

Lucy. Thanks for your reply. Great sadness to hear about that wonderful boulanger. I used to buy two demi size. One for me and one for my little lad. As an Anglo I couldn't make croissant my breakfast. To attached to my bowl of muesli which was difficult to source in Lyon. So the pain au chocolat was merely an indulgence and best limited to keep the hips somewhat limited too.

9:39 AM, October 22, 2011  
Anonymous Frank said...

I have been reading your blog for years, but I just now subscribed to your RSS feed.

On the RSS feed, "Some Like It Hot!" is the most recent post, yet it is not available on the blog. I just wanted to see if you were aware of this.

6:11 PM, October 25, 2011  
Blogger L Vanel said...

Hi Frank, thanks for reading my blog for years! It's people like you that have built my readers' visits to over one million. Sometimes I post things about events that I remove when the event is over. This was about a raffle they were holding at Comptoir de Famille, where you could have a chance to win one of my cooking classes. I removed the post when the raffle was over, to keep people from getting confused.

7:58 PM, October 25, 2011  

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