Rebecca Miller Ffrench wants to nourish you.
Bolstered by a lifetime of loving healthy food, the onetime magazine writer and editor for publications from Condé Nast Traveler to Town & Country began authoring cookbooks almost by happenstance. Her success with that moved her to launch The Upstate Table, “a convivial, thought-provoking, enchanting dinner series” inspired by the Hudson Valley’s bounty. (She splits her time between New York City and the Catskills.)
This past spring marked the launch of her third cookbook, Whole Protein Vegetarian (Countryman Press, 2016). She has been featured everywhere from Good Morning America to Martha Stewart Weddings.
Here, the author and consummate hostess explains why laughing, continual growth and good food are the root of happiness:
Live The Process: Have you always loved nourishing food?
Rebecca Miller Ffrench: Yes, even when I was a kid, I loved vegetables. My mother made dinner every single night (I still don’t know how she did it), and the meal always included one, if not two, vegetables. She mostly steamed or boiled them though; she rarely roasted them, which is my go-to preparation. I did cook as a child, but usually not dinners. Every now and then, I would make a celebratory meal, exploring some complicated recipe that took hours to make.
Food has played a starring role in my life—I have always enjoyed it fully. From family meals to parties to vacations, food has always been a major focus. I’m lucky because I have a super-high metabolism and have always been able to enjoy great quantities of food. As I grow older, though, and my metabolic rate slows, I’ve learned to rely on food quality versus quantity.
LTP: Can you describe your transition from the magazine world into cookbook writing?
RMF: I was a contributing writer for Conde Nast’s Cookie magazine when it folded (the same day as Gourmet). I wanted to use stories we’d shot to publish a kids’ party book, but my agent persuaded me to write a dessert cookbook instead. At that time, I entered the wonderful world of cookbook writing. I came at book writing differently than most. Unlike those who have solid platforms when they begin, mine has evolved as I write. It just goes to show, there is no one way to publish a book.
LTP: When did you launch The Upstate Table and what exactly comprises the experience?
RMF: I launched The Upstate Table in spring 2016 as a way to bring our upstate community together for food-focused dinners and events. There are many local farmers and purveyors doing great things in our area; I wanted a way to highlight them, and single out individual ingredients and products. I’m progressively focusing on the cultivation of home cooking using those foodstuffs, preparing meals together, then sitting down to enjoy them. Every ingredient and menu item is thoughtfully procured and developed. The Upstate Table is different from dining in a restaurant because it’s more communal, the location changes and the menu is always new. Not only do guests leave with full bellies, but hopefully full hearts as well, nourished with exchanges of ideas and conviviality.
LTP: Can you let us in on your favorite go-to recipe from your newest cookbook, which came out this past spring?
RMF: Whole Protein Vegetarian launched in spring 2016. Naming a favorite recipe is like choosing a favorite child: You just can’t. You love them all for different reasons. There are two crowd-pleasers though that I like to recommend in fall/winter because 1) you can make them in advance 2) they are complete meals 3) they make a great weeknight supper, but can easily be served at a dinner party.
First, Portobello Mushrooms with Freekeh and Artichokes, which is a hearty and satisfying meal. These mushroom caps are filled with smoky-tasting freekeh and creamy artichokes. A touch of melty fontina cheese on top adds a bit of decadence.
Roasted Acorn Squash wtih Quinoa is another satiating dish. Squash halves are filled with seasoned quinoa and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds for a pop of color and crunch.
LTP: Aside from eating well, do you practice any wellness rituals to keep yourself feeling balanced and healthy?
RMF: Physical exercise is something I cherish. I used to look at it as a luxury, which is ironic, because all humans need activity. I now view it as a necessity to my well-being (while still understanding it’s a luxury!). I feel so much better when I move, and I do all kinds of things to keep myself challenged. I practice yoga and mix it up with other classes. I take my dog for a walk or run in the park every morning. My family and I take full advantage of our surroundings in the Catskills and hike right out our backdoor. On weekends, we ski or swim, depending on the season, and bike. For me, getting out in nature is key to feeling balanced. Sleep is also something I never take for granted. I feel so much stronger with a good night’s rest. And laughing. The day I don’t find humor in things will be the end of me.
LTP: What does happiness look like to you?
RMF: Happiness is so many things: It’s good health, my family, a beautiful sunset, a babbling brook, a favorite song, a perfect peach, a hug from someone I love. Mostly though, happiness is inner peace for myself and those around me—so we can share joy and enjoy the present moment together.
LTP: What does it mean to you to “Live The Process” and how can we all do that more each day?
RMF: For me, to “Live the Process” is to constantly evolve and not get stuck in any one place. I thrive on growing and learning, constantly bettering myself. It’s taken me a while to learn that under no circumstances can I let the fear of failure paralyze me. Once you’ve fallen, you realize it’s okay. There’s always another opportunity; you just have to let yourself be open to it. Staying genuine, following your gut and being authentic is a big part of that process, as is having gratitude. But it’s not just about me; it’s about doing good and making the world a better place for all—if even with small daily acts of kindness.