18.11.14

Eating, Drinking & Seeing in Paris: 5 favorites in October

Paris in Autumn: Tuileries Gardens

I may already be gearing up for another expat Thanksgiving and mapping out my itinerary for a trip stateside in December but October is still on my mind. Though there were moments of frenetic activity, the opportunities for work and play made it a truly unforgettable month. Here are five highlights:


Meeting Frank Gehry at the Fondation Louis Vuitton 
After working on a story on Bordeaux for Australian Gourmet Traveller Magazine, my editor offered me the opportunity to cover something far more timely.

The highly anticipated Fondation Louis Vuitton in the Bois de Boulogne is a veritable work of art inside and out thanks largely to the creative acumen of its architect, Frank Gehry. I'm not an acolyte of contemporary art but I do follow developments in French culture that propel the country forward, this cultural hub included. Gourmet Traveller sent me to the pre-opening where I had the chance to ask one of my many questions to Frank Gehry directly during the interview session. In fact, I was seated only a few feet from him, acutely aware of how much this moment meant to both many of the writers in the room and those who share Gehry's love for France.

To read my piece, check out the December issue of the magazine!

Lunch at 52 Faubourg Saint-Denis
Charles Compagnon is one of my favorite restaurateurs in Paris right now. As evidenced by the success of Le Richer and L'Office, his neo-bistrot hot spots within a few meters of one another in the 10th arrondissement, he has a firm grasp on what casual dining should be about: accessible prices, seasonal dishes free of pretension but high on technique and an environment that is welcoming. Now that experience extends a few blocks away at 52 Faubourg Saint-Denis where I lunched earlier in the month. The menu was in the same spirit as Le Richer - fresh, flavorful, creative - but the dining room more spacious and breathable.

For photos of Le Richer to give you a feel for what you might expect over at 52, check out David Lebovitz's latest post HERE.

Tea time with Christophe Michalak's Religieuse at the Plaza Athénée 
I may not be able to offer myself many (or any, let's be realistic) nights in Palace Hotels, but I can splurge a bit on cake and a moment of luxury. In the re-opened Galerie tea room and lounge, I tucked into pastry chef Christophe Michalak's signature (and sinful) treat: a salted caramel Religieuse. Ordinarily I find myself gravitating more toward fruit and chocolate-based desserts but this fell within the spectrum of 'perfectly sweet' without slipping into cloying territory.


Halloween Pumpkin cream puffs, Gâteaux Thoumieux

Pumpkin cream puffs for Halloween at Gâteaux Thoumieux 
Paris doesn't DO Halloween. Locals have a passing knowledge of the festivities but ask them when it falls and you'll hear crickets. While you won't find supermarket shelves brimming with Halloween-specific candy or decorations, some attempts have been made to integrate subtle nods to its auxiliary autumn symbols into local culture.

One strong initiative I was most pleased with was the limited edition pumpkin pastries at Gâteaux Thoumieux, Michelin-starred chef Jean-François Piege's 7th arrondissement pâtisserie. He and his head chef Ludovic Chaussard didn't just fashion their cream puffs to look like pumpkins (that would be far too elemental), they crafted a sophisticated treat that also tasted like Halloween - a touch of buttery cinnamon spice from the Speculoos cream filling and a pure pumpkin center. With a decidedly Parisian twist,  this was the perfect way to satisfy my Halloween nostalgia.

(If you visit the shop, try the tarte au citron). 

Paris in Autumn: banks of the Seine

A weekend reconnecting with an old friend 
My friend Sally and I used to have sleepovers, go on vacation together and gossip about our classmates for the better part of our childhoods and then college came and threw off our groove. We drifted and fell completely out of contact until reconnecting last year when she came to Paris for a weekend with a friend. As the only one she knew in Paris, it was a chance to see if the friendship flames could be rekindled. We had such a ball that she came back again this year over Halloween weekend to walk (and eat) the city on what turned out to be the balmiest October weekend on record. What I realized after she left was that Paris has often served as the backdrop to reunions of many kinds. A geographical blessing.

For shots of Paris in gorgeous autumnal colors, check out my Flickr photos HERE. How was your month?



10.11.14

5 Reasons to Love Bordeaux

Place de la Bourse, Miroir d'Eau

There are countless reasons to love Bordeaux - its languid pace, balmy climate, 290,000 some acres of vineyards and its storied architecture. But what's most interesting about the wine capital today is less the ways in which the past is being preserved and rather how the city is defining its future, driven to earn the spotlight as a cultural fixture among leading European capitals. 

In the years following Mayor Alain Juppé's venerated urban regeneration project, which effectively revived a lifeless, soot encrusted town from irrelevancy, Bordeaux has been gestating ambitious plans for continued cultural improvements. 

In 2015, the region will inaugurate a striking new multifunction stadium (the largest on the French Atlantic coast) for sporting events and concerts, a space already set to host the EURO 2016 (European Football Championship). In 2016, their Center for Wine and Civilization will open to honor its century-long tradition of winemaking and 2017 will mark the completion of the TGV high-speed train line, putting Bordeaux only two hours from Paris. And that's saying nothing of the expanding dining and artistic class. 

Last summer was my first introduction to the city and we returned for a long weekend in early September to explore what we missed the first time around, including the obligatory vineyards. We returned to Paris even more smitten with Bordeaux than before and with an updated life plan that includes, down the road a few years, a relocation. Here are a few reasons why:

Bordeaux V3 Bike-Share System

1// The Pace
Bordeaux doesn't have a truly southern pace but the vibe is decidedly more relaxed than in Paris where locals are perpetually agitated and over-hurried. Bordeaux's speed is aided largely by an emphasis on reducing dependence on cars and their attendant disruptions.

As one of Europe's most bike-friendly cities, cycling is widespread as a primary means of transportation. Those who don't bike, walk or use the city's electric tramway. It's all very appealing and certainly pried loose a latent desire for a change of rhythm.

Bordeaux Sunrise in Bordeaux

2// The Architecture 
As beings on the perpetual path to personal distinction and singularity, uniformity is the antithesis to self-achievement (fashion trends come in to complicate this but let's roll with it). Ordinarily I would agree that sameness is dreadfully dull - after all, life in Paris is cosmopolitan, cultural differences legion. But from an architectural perspective, my feelings err toward harmony and consistency. When stainless steel and glass behemoths that lord over the population are lauded in modern, urban architecture, a more vintage interpretation does hold value.

In Bordeaux, that is especially true. The former Sleeping Beauty city underwent a laser scrubbing some years back as part of the mayor's urban refurbishment efforts and revealed 18th century limestone façades fit once again for marveling. They're low-lying (by law, new construction must respect strict height regulations), never obstructing the view, and punctuated by medieval vestiges which are equally as enchanting - one of the oldest belfries in France, the 13th century Grosse Cloche bookends the ancient city centre on one side, the Place des Quinconces on the other.

Most of the newer constructions are emerging on the other side of the river, lending a harmonious balance. For a glimpse at what is to come, check out this recent article in Wallpaper Magazine.

Saint-Emilion, France

3// The proximity to nature 
The city's proximity to the Atlantic Ocean is a boon for its winemaking, to be sure, but it's also an appealing attribute for those happiest with a blend of big-city zeal and country calm. The Arcachon Bay, with its beaches, pine forests and tallest sand dune in Europe (La Dune du Pilat) is less than an hour by car. The 8th century village (and UNESCO World Heritage Site) Saint-Emilion and its 5,500 hectares of vineyards are within a 30 minute drive and Barcelona is a mere 1-hour flight.

4// The beating heart of winemaking 
Grapes at Château Figeac
Château des Laudes, Saint-Emilion


With some 8,000 wine producers, the region's rich tradition in winemaking attracts 5 million visitors a year and is climbing rapidly. Chinese youth intrigued by the wine trade are flocking to Bordeaux to learn, then stick around after their studies to guide Château owners with the daunting task of selling to deep-pocketed Chinese wine aficionados. It's lucrative business that solidifies Bordeaux and its wine region as the world's oenological hub.

We visited the very successful Château Figeac, among the top 15 of the 8,000 producers in the region and ranked the 1er grand cru, toured the grounds, compared their wines from three different years and learned about what makes their vineyard so unique (you'll have to visit to find out!). Having gone into the experience with nary a passing knowledge of reds or how to articulate their distinct flavors, the visit made clear why so many people around the world construct careers and passion around Bordeaux wines. But our second Château visit of the day made a much different impression.

Château des Laudes, Saint-Emilion

A moment I'll never forget from my visit to the Château des Laudes in Saint-Emilion was an exchange during the tasting. Owner Christian Gombaud, an older gentleman with a messy shock of gray hair and a cheeky sense of humor, schooled us on the right ways to taste wine (evidently, entire sets of the wine-drinking population have been doing it wrong for ages, including at nearby Châteaux). First, you must smell the wine within the 6-7 seconds that follow the pour, a golden window of opportunity before serving. Then, briskly swirl the wine for a solid 20 seconds to aerate before smelling again and taking the first sip. Before the second, a 10 second swirl and sniff. The difference in taste and aroma, he promised, would be remarkable. He was right.

He continued with his instruction by advising that any wine not for drinking yet (matured) be decanted one hour prior to consuming. Pour into the decanter, put on the top, shake for a few seconds and let settle. After 30 minutes, remove the top and let in air until serving.

All these bits of instruction piqued my curiosity and led me to ask a question that, I'm ashamed to say as a French citizen, attests to my oenological inexperience.

"Do you have to decant white wine too?", I asked with shaky confidence. Either I'd offend him with my sheer ignorance or he'd be amused and react pedagogically. His response fell somewhere in the middle. 
"Ehhhh", he whined "don't drink white wine, it's poison!" 

The entire group, myself included, erupted into laughter. Christian clarified his remark.

"Red wine is the only medicine you need. Both of my grandmothers lived to be over 100 years old and drank a glass of red for breakfast everyday. No bread, no fruit, just wine". 

He smiled widely as he shared his story but he was entirely serious. As his family's lifeblood, wine as a salve for all that ails was anchored in firsthand experience - and became a compelling argument for me to develop a taste for red. I have Christian of Château des Laudes to thank for such an enlightening experience.

Appetizer at Une Cuisine en Ville, Bordeaux
5// The cuisine 
What pairs beautifully with superior wine? Superior eats. Fortunately, Bordeaux is shaping up to be a worthy destination of its own for culinary travelers. Gastronomic tables have always had a presence but lately, it's the accessibly-priced neo-bistrots, wine bars and canteens that have been shaping the city's dining scene. Among my favorites:

La Cagette: a hip canteen at the Place du Palais that plays up seasonal produce on an ever-rotating, eminently affordable menu. Inspired by the abundance of fresh flavors in Californian, Lebanese and Italian cuisines, the owners blended a host of influences to craft a style of their own. On the plate, this translates to veggie-focused salads ($12), hearty baguette sandwiches (Bayonne ham with sheep’s milk cheese and pesto from $8), flavorful mains (think beef tartare with pumpkin, truffle oil and potatoes from $16) and a tapas-style offering in the evening with locally sourced wines.  

Une Cuisine en Villethe Michelin-starred restaurant from chef Philippe Lagraula he moved from Dax to a residential pocket of Bordeaux in 2012. The dining room’s pared back design (think paper napkins, hand-illustrated wallpaper, and Scandinavian-inspired furnishings) keeps the focus on a colorful, market-fresh offering spiced up with South American flavors like rocoto and Aji Amarillo chili.

Miles: a one-year old neo-bistrot from an international crew of young chefs trained at Ferrandi in Paris. The surprise menu varies every two weeks and is entirely inspired by each of their family backgrounds. More on this spot coming soon in my review for the NYT!

For coffee: head straight to Black List Coffee which overlooks the Hôtel de Ville and brews Belleville Brûlerie coffee straight from Paris. 


For more photos, check out my Bordeaux Flickr album. 
Many thanks to Bordeaux Executive Travel for an excellent Château visiting experience! 

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28.10.14

Crèpes au Froment recipe by Ann Mah



One of my favorite books of the last year, 'Mastering the Art of French Eating' by Ann Mah, is now available in a paperback edition! 

In honor of this new release, I've invited Ann Mah to share a recipe from her edible journeys through France that didn't make the final cut. Below, a simply delicious recipe for crèpes au froment (dessert!), as shared with Ann by Hervé Floc'hlay, a cooking professor with whom she spent time in Brittany over, bien sûr, a feast of delicate crèpes. See below! 

---
Crêpes au froment

Ingredients
2 cups white flour
3 cups milk
2 eggs (Hervé suggests free-range)
2 tablespoons salted butter, melted
1/2 cup granulated sugar

In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients, mixing them together as
little as possible. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest
overnight in the refrigerator.

The next day, stir delicately, passing the batter through a sieve to
remove the lumps. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high flame.
Distribute a small amount of batter in the pan, swirling and turning
it to create a very thin crêpe. Cook for 30 seconds, turn and cook the
other side for just a few seconds. Spread liberally with salted
butter, fold and eat.



Bonus! Win a paperback copy of Ann's book by heading to my Facebook page for details and entry! 

13.10.14

Chez Nous with Galaxie Andrews

Chez Nous - Photo by Galaxie Andrews

It's been two years since I've returned to America. Two years since the officers at Philadelphia International Airport last questioned my residence in France these last eight years, two years since they last stamped my passport and sent me on my way with a steely half smile and a dry 'welcome home'.

Two years is just enough time to feel stripped of nostalgia, of want for what once was. The longer I'm away, the more my life in the States feels obscure; those memories relegated to a part of my mind that feels like it belongs to someone else entirely.

For Franco-American photographer Galaxie Andrews, the reverse scenario has shaped her story. Born in France, she called Phoenix home for over fifteen years. When she visited this summer, it had been six years since she felt the French soil beneath her feet or embraced old friends. Her return was momentous and fraught with emotion, much like my visits stateside.

The only reason I know Galaxie or the story of her journey 'home' is because she reached out to me prior to her trip, hoping to connect when she arrived in Paris. She had seen glimpses of my little life here and wanted to capture a moment of it on camera. Since we finished renovations on our living room, where we spend the most of our time, I thought it would be nice to invite her into our newly-comfortable home to get to know one another. As it turned out, we had more than just a love for France to connect us.

We love the selection of photos below not only because Galaxie captured the afternoon in our home beautifully but because we're reminded of how far we've come. In eight years, in two years, in a few months. She came along at just the right time.

Chez Nous - Photo by Galaxie Andrews
Chez Nous - Photo by Galaxie Andrews
Chez Nous - Photo by Galaxie Andrews Chez Nous - Photo by Galaxie Andrews Chez Nous - Photo by Galaxie Andrews Lost In Cheeseland Galaxie Andrews
Chez Nous - Photo by Galaxie Andrews Chez Nous - Photo by Galaxie Andrews Chez Nous - Photo by Galaxie Andrews

All photos by Galaxie Andrews. Visit her website to see more of her work or connect with her on Instagram HERE

10.10.14

Seven Things I've Learned Living with a Frenchman (Guest Post & Giveaway by author Samantha Vérant)


First-time author Samantha Verant's story has all the trappings of a fairytale; from the setbacks (in her case, the dreaded Ds: divorce and debt) to the uplifting life turnaround that emerged from reconnecting with a former flame (her own personal Prince Charming). The plucky 40 year old was desperate for change but struggled to visualize her next move. Happening upon seven old love letters from a Frenchman she met in university some twenty years prior put the wheels of change in motion. Several years later and now the wife of her romantic pen pal, Samantha has documented the story in her memoir 'Seven Letters From Paris', just released this week. 

Inspired by her story, I asked Samantha to share seven life lessons learned from pursuing this 'second', much happier, life with a Frenchman. Check them out below:

1// Make l’amour, not war.
In the five years I’ve been living with my French husband, we’ve maybe had five arguments. And I honestly can’t remember what they were about. That old adage “never go to bed angry?” Yep, it’s true. Of course, aside from intimacy, communication is also the key to a happy relationship. From politics to religion, the French love to talk, to discuss, and to evaluate what’s important to them without the fear of hurting somebody else’s feelings. I’ve learned to never let problems simmer under the surface until they boil over; Jean-Luc and I talk about our issues and work things out. And then we...cuddle.

2// There will be communication mishaps, no matter the language.
Me: I had a great time at the château today. I met an adorable orange cat. Mr. Simpkin. He sat on my lap.

Jean-Luc: Oh, I remember him – the Frenchman with the English last name. He’s the production manager in charge of all the renovations.

Me: (???) Honey, are you serious? You realize I’m talking about an ORANGE CAT?

He wasn’t hanging on to my every word? Oh well. I’ve learned there are bigger problems in life. Yes, indeed, I can get over this. I, of course, burst out laughing. So did he. Repeat number lesson number one. And then laugh. On that, you should hear my mangled French.

Side note: Jean-Luc wasn’t jealous that Mr. Simpkin (a.k.a. the construction manager) sat in my lap. And he should have been because he’s pretty darn cute.

Top Photo Credit: Karina Waters of Chateaude Gudanes

3// Life your life with passion.
In one of Jean-Luc’s seven letters, he writes: “It would be a disaster if we stop this passion between us. And I am a man who cannot live without passion. It’s the nerve of my being, the best we can do.”

He really lives by this sentiment.

To those naysayers who say that passion in a relationship dies, I’m here to tell you it doesn’t; it just changes a little bit. I’ve learned that, yes, passion is a way of life, but you also have to put some effort into it. To keep the spark between us lit, Jean-Luc and I explore each other’s passions. In my case, I took up Jean-Luc’s favorite sport: scuba diving. I now have my PE-40 license, which means I can dive forty-meters (over 120-feet) with my moniteur fédéral dive-master husband. At first, diving gave me panic attacks (because I could run out of air and DIE!), but I learned that with love on my side I could do anything. I’m thinking of signing us up for tango lessons. Intimacy and sharing are paramount!

Viva la passion!

4// French culture is a way of life. Eat it up.
Wine. History. Food. It’s all up for grabs. (I try to avoid discussions on politics. I’m a lover, not a debator). Anyway, French men are supremely proud of anything French. I have to admit it’s infectious, and every day I learn something new. Plus, I can now cook up the most amazing flambéed shrimp you’ve ever tasted. Who taught me how to set fire to my kitchen? One guess. You can check out the recipe on Ann Mah’s (author of Mastering the Art of French Eating) blog, where I popped in for one of her Tuesday dinner posts.

5// Happiness is more important than material possessions.
My French hubs is not a consumer and I’m no longer one. We work within our budget and with what we’ve got. There is no credit card debt, no unnecessary spending. We only buy what we truly need. This is the French way. And I wish more Americans would catch on. After all, most fights between couples are about money. I’ve learned to keep my yearnings in check, and I ask myself: “Do I really need it? What purpose would it serve? Would I still be happy without it?” The answer to that last question is always a resounding yes.

6// Don’t rush.
Dinner parties in France last about five-seven hours. Wedding celebrations go on all night. French men don’t rush through meals; they savor them. They dress well. They take care of their appearance. (Okay, fine, sometimes mine wears his collar up like a 1980’s Dracula wannabe. I just push it back down. So does Elvire, my stepdaughter.) And, sorry, that was a tangent. As an American, I notice we move fast, fast, fast! I’ve leaned to take things slow and appreciate the finer things in life. Even the little things. Like cheese! And wine!

7// Balance.
I don’t know if it’s because Jean-Luc is French, or if he is just an incredible man, but he did bring balance into my world. As a Libra, I’m all about the scales. Through him, I’ve learned to live a passionate life, to not let little problems to weigh me down, and, most importantly, to love myself fully and completely. In any relationship, it’s important to bring out the positive aspects of a person. Just as much as he supports me, I support him. Life is about balance. I’ve found my equilibrium with an incredible French man. Did I mention he vacuums and mops? Relationships, no matter what country you are from, are about give and take. Yep. Balance.

--GIVEAWAY: WIN A COPY OF 'SEVEN LETTERS FROM PARIS' !-- 

To win a copy of Samantha's just-released memoir 'Seven Letters From Paris', please:
1/ Share 1 thing love has taught you about life in the comments section below 
2/ Follow Samantha on Twitter or Facebook and leave an additional comment specifying where you're now a follower. 

Winner will be selected at random and announced at the bottom of this post on Friday, October 17. Good luck!

UPDATE: Congratulations to Anne! I'll be in touch soon to arrange delivery of your prize. 

More about Samantha: 
Photo credit: Stephen Fisch
 
Samantha Vérant is a travel addict, a self-professed oenophile, and a determined, if occasionally unconventional, French chef. She lives in southwestern France, where she's able to explore all of her passions, and where she's married to a sexy French rocket scientist she met in 1989, but ignored for twenty years.
Connect with Samantha:

5.10.14

Eating, Drinking & Seeing in Paris: 5 Favorites in August / September

Summer in Tuileries Gardens

The habitually languid month of August ran its course as it usually does. Parisians returned from vacation in one, thronging swoop, rush hour metro squabbles commenced where they left off and the specter of fall (and the temperatures that go with it) loomed large before it was officially back to school. Then, September rolled in hard and strong, effacing the hard-earned zen of summer but thoughtfully bringing with it balmy, blissfully sunny weather. The key to a painless rentrée, I find, is making the most of every moment, rain or shine. Here's how I fared the last two months:

6th Wedding Anniversary Tea at Hotel Le Meurice 
The threat of rain showers botched our plans of spending our sixth wedding anniversary in the gardens of Vaux le Vicomte for their candlelight evenings (la visite aux chandelles), when 2,000 candles illuminate the estate and precede an impressive fireworks display. Skipping town last minute in August wasn't an option so we opted for a leisurely afternoon over high tea in Le Meurice, the rococo palace hotel overlooking the Tuileries Gardens. Tea sandwiches, bite-sized desserts and champagne did the trick and we were pleasantly surprised by the gigantic raspberry millefeuille the wait staff brought out with a candle at the end to properly celebrate our anniversary. It was truly the wedding milestone that kept on giving - we picked away at that millefeuille for days! I can highly recommend the high tea at Le Meurice for a special occasion.


Le Perchoir Marais 
The drinks aren't cheap but the view is certainly sweet at Le Perchoir. After an astoundingly successful first year, the rooftop bar-restaurant in the 11th arrondissement took the concept on the road this summer with a pop-up bar atop the BHV Marais department store. Cushions, high wood tables and flea-market stools are snatched up fast so early arrival is key to getting a drink and a seat before the crowds descend. The bar closes October 12th, only a few days left to take in the view!

Entrance at 37 rue de la Verrière, 75004
20:15-2:00am Mon, Tues, Thurs + Sat
21:15-2:00am Weds
12:00pm-2:00am Sunday

Relais Desserts 2014 : Bûche de Noel

The holidays came early to Paris with an indulgent presentation of this year's collection of Bûches de Noël (Christmas yule log cakes) from a brigade of the country's top pastry chefs. I won't be staying in France for the holidays this year so the yule logs won't be making an appearance at my dinner table. I will, however, be making a stop this fall at the Fontainebleau pastry shop of Frédéric Cassel, President of the Relais Dessert organization, whose work I discovered at this presentation. See a few delectable highlights HERE

Place de la Bourse, Miroir d'Eau
A weekend in Bordeaux
My husband may be convinced that I have become enamored with Bordeaux because it's like a miniature version of Paris but with proper summers and a storied history of winemaking. But that would be a reductive interpretation of my feelings for the former Sleeping Beauty city. After an incredible few days in Mayor Juppé's town last summer, we took the train down early in September to cover the areas we hadn't explored over a long weekend. The experience merits its own post but suffice it to say we both foresee a future there. (A few visual reasons why in my Bordeaux Flickr album).

Coming soon: you can read some of the top places to sleep, eat, drink and hangout in Bordeaux in my article in the December issue of Gourmet Traveller!

London Getaway: work and play 
With six trips in a year, London is truly beginning to feel like a second home. Fortunately, it's not only a fun city to visit but home to some of my dearest friends. Work was the primary reason for this stop over but I went a few days early to spend time with Will and Toby in their adorable cottage on the outskirts of the city. As true friends do, they catered to my belly, introducing me to Berners Tavern, The Grocer, Fleet River Bakery, and Hally's. For a few visual highlights, check out Will's colorful recap on Bright Bazaar.

How has la rentrée been treating you?

-- For more updates and highlights from Paris and beyond, follow me on Instagram! --

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