Tour de France

Note: This post is WAY overdue.

So, Andrew and I went to France for a month last year.  (I actually uploaded all these photos last year after we got back, and then we threw ourselves into so much summer projecting and landscaping that I never got around to actually writing the post.  Blog fail if there ever was one.)

We left from Toronto International Airport about a week after I graduated from Buffalo State with my Nutrition and Dietetics degree.

We stayed for a few days in Paris after we arrived, and this was the view out our window:

  Andrew is quite the photographer (for real) and I made sure to get some shots with him in action.  While in the city, we did lots of sightseeing, including a trip to the Louvre, a chateau where we got to walk the grounds, see it lit up with hundreds of candles at night and a fireworks show, as well as all the other ‘Parisian’ things, like lunches at a sidewalk cafe and many, many museums.    One of our favorite things to do is buy ingredients for a picnic lunch and sit down somewhere surrounded by locals.  Here we are, behind the giant Sacre Coeur church (Basilica of the Sacred Heart), lunching on cherries, a baguette and a roasted chicken.  Gelato is and ESSENTIAL part of an European vacation.  On a daily basis.  The Centre Pompidou, which is a modern art museum and one of my favorites.  Sadly, not all the collections were open at the time of our visit…guess we’ll just have to go back!  The Eiffel Tower at night.  Truly one of the most amazing sights you could ever see.   Macarons from Gerard Mulot in Paris.  I don’t care whether they’re from Mulot or Laduree–they’re delicious.  After leaving Paris, we took a train to Rouen where we rented our car.  This was our first trip not relying solely on public transport and we loved it.  (At least I did.)  Andrew did an excellent job getting the gist of European cars and traffic signs, and I did my best to navigate.  Thankfully, Andrew loaded our GPS with our entire itinerary before we left, so all we had to do was select each destination.  I cannot even tell you how much that helped. Not only did it save time, it may have saved our marriage vacation–can you imagine us fighting over not finding a destination in the GPS every time we went somewhere??

Rouen is where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. Rouen is in the north of France, in Normandy. Our trip basically took us counter-clockwise around France, started in the north and moving west, then south-central, then southeast and back north again.

    From Rouen, we drove to Honfleur.  The village surrounds a little basin on three sides and we had beautiful weather for walking and dining.  Honfleur is home to Saint Catherine’s Church, which is the largest church made of wood in France. Next, we headed to Bayeux, home home of the Bayeux Tapestry, which is a VERY long tapestry, embroidered by nuns, that shows the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England.  Very famous. When we travel, we often stay in small bed & breadfast-type places, or hostels, as opposed to what we would call a ‘hotel’ here in the states.  Check out our bed! While in Normandy (where we had very good weather, BTW), we stopped at the D-Day Beaches and American Cemetery and other sights. Breathtaking.  Emotional. Moving. I’m not usually one of those read-everything-in-sight at museums, but this one was different.  I could have stayed all day.  Their written descriptions, minute-by-minute timeline, displays and footage are incredible. 

While in Normandy, we also saw Mont St. Michel, and I can’t believe I don’t have a photo in here of that!  It’s basically a fortified island famous for the tides that used to prevent access during certain times of the day.  Read more about it here.

After Normandy, we headed south to the Loire Valley, we splurged and stayed at the Chateau de Pray.  Their Michelin-starred restaurant was perhaps the best meal of our lives.  It was so nice Andrew didn’t even bring his camera, so (sadly) there are no photos, but it was the most memorable dining experience of our lives.  Think little bits and bites of barely-recognizable foods that tasted so unique and delicious you could identify everything in it, but was unlike anything you’d ever had.  And that was just the pre-appetizer ‘amuse bouche.’ Four hours from start to finish.  The servers do everything but feed you; I don’t think we poured our own wine or even had to LOOK like we needed something before our waiter was at our service.

 Here’s a garden at Chateau Villandry: From the Loire we went to the Dordogne River Valley, which is known for its scenic topography, prehistoric caves and foie gras. We stayed at La Roque Gageac, which made us fall in love with France all over again.   One of the highlights of the Dordogne is visiting the market at Sarlat.  Our hotel in La Roque Gageac overlooked the river and we dined multiple times with this view:   In addition to canoeing along the river one afternoon, we also  visited a foie gras ‘farm.’ We were able to watch one of the feedings (definitely an experience–no ducks were harmed in the process) and bought some tins of foie gras to take home.

We climbed high in the mountains (in our car) and then climbed more on foot to reach Peyrepertuse, a Cathar castle in the Pyrenees.  We were SO HIGH.  And people were letting their children run wild all over the place.  Andrew and I joked that if this site were here in America, there would be guard rails all over the place, someone would die every year and there would be a lawsuit.

  From there we headed south to have a ‘vacation from our vacation’ in Collioure, which is close to Spain.  Swimming in the Mediterranean is phenomenal (you can see right down to the bottom!) but beaching it while traveling is always problematic–how do you get a towel? What about sunscreen? Will anyone steal your stuff while you’re in the water? We managed, although the rocks on my feet were particularly uncomfortable. And we did have the most excellent paella bought at the market minutes before it shut down for the afternoon.  We swung into Avignon, where we saw Pont St Benezet, a famous medieval bridge.  We spent a few days in Provence, where we fell in love with our b &b (L’Ecole Buissonniere) and dined at La Bastide Bleue.    Leaving Seguret, we stopped at a little cafe in Faucon to have lunch:  Our next stop was Beaune (pronounced like ‘bone’), in the Burgundy region, where we enjoyed sightseeing and lots of wine, including buying some to bring home with us.  Annecy is in the French Alps and is located at the northern end of Lake Annecy.  We rented bikes and took a boat tour around the lake.  It seemed like the kind of place you’d want to rent a house for a week for a vacation.  The French Alps were one of my favorite stops on the trip.  Chamonix, the little village below the Alps and a home base for climbers, was both quaint and a bit metropolitan.  It’s located where France, Switzerland and Italy meet; in fact, we drove through Switzerland to get there from Annecy. You could buy top-of-the-line climbing gear and outdoor apparel, yet find a hold-in-the-wall bistro for a bite and some beer with locals.

On our first day, we took the cable car up half-way up and then hiked from there to the glacier.

  Glaciers really look blue and we were able to walk around inside.  Crazy!  The next day, we got up SUPER early and were blessed with good weather (if it’s cloudy, it’s not even worth going up) and went all the way to the top of the Aiguille du Midi observational deck.  Other than in an airplane, this was the first time I’ve been above the clouds and it was absolutely breathtaking.  Perhaps the most amazing travel experience of my life so far. I couldn’t believe how high up we were, the thinness of the air–we were truly up above it all at the tops of mountains.  In fact, Aiguille du Midi is the starting point for climbers who ascend Mont Blanc, which is the highest peak in Europe.        From Aiguille du Midi, we hopped on another cable car and rode over glaciers to…   …Helbronner station in ITALY.    Unfortunately, Helbronner was experiencing white-out conditions, so no great views from here.   So we grabbed a cappuccino. In Italy.

After taking the cable car back to Aiguille and then riding the other cable car halfway down, we decided to grab lunch at one (of the few!) mountainside hostels.

  These hostels are mostly designed for hard-core climbers who have to get up to the mountain at wee hours, and are minimally (but surprisingly well) equipped.  I remember eating a giant salad topped with olives and cheese and melon and salmon, and then had a piece of homemade blueberry pie. And wine.   We stayed in Eguisheim in the Alsace region, which is also known for its wine. Also for the storks that make nests atop their highest peaks.  Check out the postcard-worthy photo below…Goggle ‘Eguisheim’ and you’ll see many like it.  Our hotel room windows are the ones in the upper left corner with the blue windows.  Colmar, which is also in Alsace and super quaint:  Kaysersburg, another super quaint village in Alsace:  Our last true stop was Strasbourg, which is on the eastern edge of France on the border with Germany.  It is most famous for the gothic cathedral that houses the astronomical clock.     We returned our car in Strasbourg, checked our giant bags for our flight home and took a train to Paris. I dined on thai food, Orangina soda (not super sweet) and a container of apple/chestnut sauce.     Outside of Paris, we stayed in our first (in like four or five trips!) actual ‘hotel’ in Europe. Ibis is a chain of discount hotels (similar to a Super 8 here) and we were astounded at the austere amenities, but all we really needed was a bed, a bathroom and the included breakfast was nice.  The next morning, as we arrived at the airport and approached the exact same Cafe Paul at which we grabbed coffee and sweets upon arriving a month earlier, I was incredibly emotional.  We’d just spent an enormously long amount of time together, on vacation, somewhere we truly love.  I’m almost embarrassed to say I shed tears, but I did.  The thought of leaving all of this behind made me so sad, but I take comfort in knowing this wasn’t my last visit to our beloved France. 

new & improved

It’s finally here!

(Note: Before I get too far, I want to warn you/ask for your patience up front…  While the blog is up and going, I’m still tweaking some of the categories and playing ‘catch-up’ with all the blogs I’ve been meaning to write for like, a year. Right now, some of the categories are still empty… If you’re an email subscriber and you happen to get a bunch of new posts in one afternoon, don’t panic!  I promise not to blow up your inbox every day—my plan is to blog a few times a week, max.  Also, I’m still ‘improving’ my iPhone photography skills, so bear with me as I try out some editing apps and such. Recommendations welcome!)

Now, back to the NEW BLOG!

I’ve been mentally planning/designing/dreaming of re-vamping the blog for more than a year now.  Once graduation (almost a year ago!) was getting closer, I realized I wanted to take the blog in a more nutrition-related direction.

And then school was over.  And we went to France. And I took on three year’s worth of landscaping in like three months.

So, the blog’s been on the back burner for about a year.  I recently gave myself a deadline to finish (April), and I put the pedal to the medal.  (And got a lot of help from my neighbor—thanks Beth!)

First of all, the blog has a new name.  My first domain, thefrozenpineapple, will always hold a special place in my heart.  It’s where I started, and it was very personal.  You can find highlights in the ‘frozenpineapple favorites’ category, under the ‘More’ category.

Second, the blog looks a lot different.  It was time for a new look, and I’m so grateful my friend—who is a web designer—was willing to help a girl out.  I love it.

Perhaps the biggest change is the navigation…in that the blog actually HAS SOME.  The blog re-vamp was especially complicated because I hadn’t properly categorized any of my past posts!  Thankfully, reorganizing them was a pleasant trip down memory lane and a chance to do some purging.  Here’s a bit about the new categories:

Recipes: I love trying new recipes!  Find them categorized by meal (Breakfast & Breads, Mains, Sides and Sweets), and other blog-worthy eats are under #fabfood.

Nutrition: This includes past school-related posts (read the final ‘how to become an RD’ post here), random nutrition-related posts, my take on the latest trends (Book Reviews) and Meal-Planning, which is a simple way to remove the stress from healthy eating.

Fitness: I love to work out!  Don’t get me wrong—I didn’t always love exercise; in fact, I was a couch-potato kid who liked to read more than anything else.  However, I’ve learned to love exercise and hope you do, too.  I teach body conditioning and cycle on Wednesdays at our local YMCA (#workoutwednesdays), and I’ll share some of the workouts I try—both in and out of the gym—with you here (@thegym), as well as some of my runs and races (I ❤ running).

More: There is so much more to my life than just food and exercise that it’s hard not to include it on the blog.  My husband and I love to travel, whether it’s across the pond or just a weekend with friends in Ohio (Travel); we’re EPIC house project-ers (Home & Garden); and I love sharing (Things I LOVE) with others.

In Print: My first passion is writing, and I’m working on breaking into the (terrifying/impossible/scary/crazy hard work) world of freelance.  <Gasp.> One day.  Check out this category for things I’ve written, including my Buffalo News Refresh blog posts.

Lastly, I’m truly glad you’re here–thanks for stopping by!

Buffalo News Refresh Blog – March 2016

Make your child’s Easter treats healthy and fun

by: Holly R. Layer

With Easter – and those baskets – fast approaching, I thought I’d offer some alternatives to candy and chocolate in the interest of promoting healthier choices. It’s OK to grab a bag of jellybeans and a Cadbury Egg while you’re at the store picking up all these fun ideas. After all, Easter comes but once a year. But make sure your child’s basket isn’t a sugar rush.

First, kudos to whoever came up with dying eggs at Easter. Not only is it a fun pastime to enjoy with your kids, hard-boiled eggs are packed with nutrition. One egg packs 12 grams of protein, 10 percent of both your daily vitamin D and B-12 needs, all for only 78 calories.

Because eggs don’t have carbohydrates – unlike yogurt, which has both carbs and protein – they’re an excellent source of protein if you’re going low-carb or pairing them with toast or pancakes in the morning.

Secondly, be aware of added sugars this time of year. Candy for Easter baskets is on sale at every store, and even I fall victim. In fact, I have bowls of jellybeans and chocolate eggs sitting out in the dining room right now. … That may not have been the wisest choice.

Small splurges aside, did you know that a medium McDonald’s Shamrock Shake costs you 660 calories and has a whopping 93 grams of sugar? That equates to approximately 23 teaspoons, or almost ½ cup, of sugar in one beverage. Even the 19 grams of protein (from the vanilla ice cream) doesn’t justify that kind of splurge.

Still craving that minty green drink? Make your own! Blend ½ cup plain Greek yogurt, 1 scoop vanilla protein powder, half an avocado, 1 handful spinach, one to two drops mint extract and a splash of milk for a healthier version. Top with whipped cream and a cherry if you’d like!


Better-for-you goodies: Reach for items that aren’t 100 percent sugar, such as trail mix or nuts. Opt for small, individually wrapped pieces of dark chocolate, rather than large bars or eggs. Limit your child’s candy haul by portioning small amounts of sweets into a few plastic eggs, instead of giving them the entire bag.

Non-food items: Fill plastic eggs with small toys, like stickers, Legos, bubbles, art supplies or even loose change. Consider giving each child a portion of puzzle pieces so they can put it together as a group later.

Special surprises: Instead of a giant chocolate bunny as the centerpiece of the basket, put something more lasting inside, like a kite, a book, or seed packets for planting. Plastic eggs could hold clues for a treasure hunt.

Happy Easter!

Holly R. Layer, of East Aurora, is a registered dietitian who provides nutritional counseling to students at SUNY Buffalo State and teaches cycle and fitness classes at the Southtowns YMCA. She loves running, reading, fine stationery, colorful kitchen gadgets and ALL things food-related. An avid cook and baker, you can find her in the kitchen most days whipping up something yummy. Too bad her husband, Andrew, an East Aurora native, is the pickiest man alive! You can also find her writings at