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


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.


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:


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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Relais Desserts 2014: Bûches de Noël Preview

Relais Desserts 2014 : Bûche de Noel

Nearly thirty of France's top pastry chefs and twenty-six Bûches de Noël make for one indulgent afternoon well spent. As an insatiable gourmande, I jump at the chance to meet and speak with pastry chefs so you can imagine my excitement when the country's top talents are together in one room.

My blogging pal Carol Gillott kindly invited me along to one such opportunity a couple of weeks ago at the Relais Desserts 2014 Prix d'Excellence, held at the luxuriant Peninsula Paris Hotel, which awards the industry's best pastry chef, best rising-star pastry chef, best pastry book and best pastry blog. And preceding this prestigious ceremony was a presentation of the Relais Desserts members' Bûche de Noël creations for the forthcoming holiday season, each more aesthetic than the next.

Among my favorites was the polar bear (below) from Frédéric Cassel, Relais Desserts president and award-winning pâtissier with namesake boutiques in Fontainebleau, Tokyo, Kyoto, Berlin and Casablanca. Unlike the other yule logs presented, Cassel's was an ice cream cake, composed of a hazelnut crumble, soft caramel and two ice creams: vanilla caramelized pecan and salted butter caramel. A rich-sounding capstone to what is likely to be an already heavy Christmas feast, to be sure, but I was pleasantly surprised by its lightness upon first bite - refreshing with dialed back sweetness. When asked about the form - which he called 'Ourson de Noël', Cassel smiled widely and replied "it's for all kids, big and small. How can you not feel happy when you see it?".

For a sneak peak of some of the other creations, check out a few additional photos below and others on Carol's blog here. (ps. two big wins of the evening: Pierre Hermé took home best pastry book of the year for 'Ispahan' and Claire Heitzler, head pastry chef at the Michelin-starred restaurant Lasserre, won best pastry chef of the year!)
  Relais Desserts 2014 : Bûche de NoelRelais Desserts 2014 : Bûche de Noel
Relais Desserts 2014 - Chocolate Bûche de Noel
Relais Desserts 2014 : Bûche de Noel
Relais Desserts 2014 Cakes
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New Paris Restaurant: Porte 12

Before September even began, reports of new openings on the Paris dining scene began trickling in, creating an almost unbearable anticipation. But the spot I was most excited to try was Porte 12, a new 32-seat neo-bistrot in the 10th arrondissement just a few blocks over from other standouts in the category - Albion, Abri, Le Richer and L'Office.

Chef Vincent Crepel presides over the narrow open kitchen where he inventively plays up seasonal produce in a style greatly informed both by his travels through Asia and Europe and his experience under the tutelage of venerated chef André Chiang whose eponymous restaurant in Singapore was ranked 6th best in Asia for 2014. Chiang's cooking is anchored in French technique and hinges on a number of tenets - Unique, Texture, Memory, Pure, Terroir, Salt, South, and Artisan - many of which have followed Vincent into his own kitchen.

Tucked into a quiet pocket off the rue Faubourg Poissonnière, the space itself is discreet, subdued in style but with a few design statements that instantly catch your attention, chief among them the corset-shaped light fixtures that recall the structure's former incarnation as a textile and lingerie atelier. This pared down focus translates to the plate where the chef avoids pomp and highlights simplicity in aesthetic. His strength, however, is in the complex marriage of unexpected flavors and a profound respect and command of the local terroir.

I had an opportunity to try Crepel's multi-course meal last week prior to the official opening Tuesday September 16th, my first introduction to his cooking and vision. Each dish was more creative and thoughtful than the next but the meal truly reached a crescendo with a short rib cooked sous vide for 24 hours at 56°c, wonderfully tender and covered in a thin veil of bamboo ash and black tea. No detail of the experience was left unconsidered, right down to the coffee which, thankfully, required more thought than a simple push of a button, and had its own story.

I highly recommend the wine pairing for a complete experience- you'll be in knowledgeable hands with the sommelier Thibault Passinge who showcases artisanal wine producers. Alternatively, reserve time at the end of lunch or dinner for a postprandial drink in the mezzanine lounge.

Porte 12 officially opens its doors tomorrow, make a reservation now!

Lunch: two courses at 28€, three courses at 35€
Dinner: Five courses at 58€, six courses at 65€
Wine pairing option: 30-35€

Porte 12
12 rue des Messageries, 75010 
Métro: Poissonnière (line 7) 
+33 (0)1 42 46 22 64

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Paris Restaurant Report: Café des Abattoirs

As vegetable-driven menus and Anglo-inspired comfort food predominate the Paris dining scene, the future of classic, meat-focused restaurants is ever uncertain. When food trends become inextricably and narrowly tied to how young and innovative the presiding chef is, do classic grills and brasseries still have a place among the rest?

Caroline and Sophie Rostang, daughters of the Michelin-starred chef Michel Rostang, offer a resounding YES! to that ever-abiding question. And because they believe so strongly that steakhouses old and new should and can be preserved in the pantheon of French dining establishments, they opened their own. Cafédes Abattoirs is the Rostang update of a Lyonnaise bouchon with a menu dominated by little-known/forgotten cuts of meat and old school dishes. 

When I asked Caroline Rostang about the decision to create such a venture when what diners appear to seek out these days are lighter, healthier fare, she explained that they don't need to rely on culinary trends to stay relevant. "Meat has always been a fixture of French gastronomy and is still loved, despite periods of unpopularity. We wanted to give it the attention it deserves". 

Can you really argue with that? For more on Café des Abattoirs and what you can expect when you go, check out my full review for New York Times Travel! 

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