Hello, summer! Or as we call it, the start of Rose´season.

Love finding a great bottle!

This spring has been cold and heart-numbingly rainy in the DMV–so many spring Lacrosse and field hockey games spent huddled in blankets and/or under umbrellas–that  a glorious Memorial Day weekend seemed to pop out of nowhere. Doesn’t matter, I’m still ready—I think I’m more excited about school almost being over than the kids. I do dread the multitude of texts that I’ll get for the next couple of weeks— “watching ANOTHER movie, please pick me up 🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻” Seriously, if they’re done teaching after the SOLs and AP exams, why do they have to go to school to watch movies for the rest of the year? The anticipation of summer vacation will keep me going.

Pink in the planters and my glass!

I love to channel my inner Lilly Pulitzer-palm beach vibe and fill my deck and pool patio with tropical plants. I’ve gotten better with over-wintering some of the larger ones in the house. I have  banana palms that are seeing their third summer and of course, my snake plants don’t seem to care if they are indoors or out, they just stand there. The bougainvillea and mandevilla vines need to be replaced every year, but I think they are worth it. Watering them in the morning while I have my cup of coffee is a great way to start the day. And if the morning got away from me, watering them with a glass of rose´ in hand is a great way to end my day.

Fairy lights, a fire, NHL playoffs–perfect, except for the Crosby jersey.

Without school sports practices, our summer afternoon and evenings are our own. We can swim every day and do crazy things, like go to a movie on Tuesday night. We’ve hooked up a monitor to our cable box (actually, I have no idea what my husband does!) and dragged it outside to the outdoor fireplace to watch the Stanley Cup Playoffs or the summer Olympics. Twilight rounds of gin-and-tonics, I mean 9 holes of golf, are enough to remind me why I stick to wine. The days that my kids love best are the days that only require pajamas and swimsuits. I think it’s the possibility of what we could do when every night is free that is so enticing. Much of the year, our time is not our own and these hours of freedom are so very sweet. Minus the hours spent washing all those beach towels, of course.

And this summer will be the biggest change of all. My oldest graduated college and is moving to New York. I’m not sure what that adjustment will be like for us as a family. I never really want to go back in time, but I’m always a little shocked at how fast the time went. She just signed a lease on an apartment and, I swear, it was yesterday that I was trying to corral her class to sign an end-of-year card for their teacher. But, much like opportunities of summer are stretching before us at home, her future, and all its wondrous potential, is right there for her.

Mood

This Memorial Day weekend, all 4 chicks are home and we’re spending it as a family with  pool time, games, good food, and rose´for those who are old enough. The kids who can drive will complain about multiple trips to Whole Foods or Wegman’s, but secretly, I think they love not only getting whatever I forgot on my list, but whatever treat caught their eye and they want to share with their sisters. Everyone will complain about the dishes, but they’ll end up collaborating on a playlist and my husband and I get to sit in the gazebo and savor the last glass of wine. And I want to enjoy this season, for all of us, and celebrate what is good for us right now. I’m excited and proud to have my first chick launched, and want to relish the time I spend with the younger girls at home.  Summer is a great reminder that while fleeting–after all, fall tryouts begin August 1–it’s the respite that we all need.

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Do you drink red or white with motherhood?

As Mother’s Day approaches, I thought I’d share the best things I’ve learned—mostly the hard way–on this journey.

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When you are making the baby’s crib, layer it with a waterproof mattress pad, a crib sheet, another waterproof mattress pad and a crib sheet. If the diaper leaks (and it will and it will be in the middle of the night), all you need to do is rip off the top crib sheet and waterproof mattress cover and, voila! A fresh sheet for baby and you didn’t even need to turn on the lights.

 

Until they are school-age, keep a set of clothes along with a diaper or underwear in the car. Not only for potty accidents, but for tumbles into creeks, mud puddles, and those “splash” areas that keep popping up and soaking kids in every new town center. And don’t forget a towel. Of course a towel can be used for drying off wet kids, but if someone pukes in the car, a towel can help clean it up or be used as a dry layer between the vomit-soaked seat and the vomiter.

 

Always keep an extra poster board or two in the house. It’s amazingly difficult to find poster board at 10pm for the project due tomorrow. I kept our extra taped to the back of a bookcase to keep the paper from curling.

 

Daughters wearing similar sizes? Never buy them the same character underwear! To avoid spending forever checking the size tags, make sure one gets Disney princess and the other gets Hello Kitty.

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Keep a pack of pre-sharpened #2 pencils hidden. That way when someone needs one on their way to an 8 am AP exam, no one has to desperately search for a school supply aisle at the gas station convenience store at 7:45 am.

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Sending someone to camp or college? Make sure they take a photo of the insurance cards with their phone—we know they will always have their phones handy!

 

Before your kids goes off to college, make them a medicine cabinet in a box. Include bandages, anti-bacterial ointment, hydrocortisone cream, Benadryl (oral and topical), pain reliever, anti-diarrheal, Pepto-Bismol, cold and flu remedies, and a digital thermometer.

 

Back to what wine pairs well with motherhood? Whatever the hell you want to open, because one of your kids just told you she promised her French teacher she could bring in crème brulee for 30 tomorrow morning (True story.)

 

 

French homework

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The world is filled with books and blogs built to pay homage perfect French (or Parisian) lifestyles, homes, capsule wardrobes, and/or waistlines. I can be a curmudgeonly sort and on occasion point out that the wardrobes and waistlines are the product of a lack of closets and an abundance of ashtrays, not moral superiority. But, I too get sucked into the fantasy and have enjoyed the reading about life in France in three books I picked up recently: Dinner chez Moi by Elizabeth Bard, Home Sweet Maison: The French Art of Making a Home by Danielle Post-Vinay and L’Appart:The Delights and Disasters of Making Paris My Home by David Lebovitz.

I love anything centered around food and home. And sometimes I spend so much time reading about cooking and recipes that we have to eat out because I never got to the grocery store or made dinner. I am, however, well-prepared to think about what I could make for the next meal. All the recipes in Dinner Chez Moi sounded delicious, and, more importantly, accessible to a home cook. Reading through the recipes (a favorite pastime second only to scrolling through Pinterest for cleaning tips), I was reminded that side dishes do not have to be complicated and vegetables with olive oil are not only good enough for the dinner table, but to be included in a cookbook!

The recipes that conclude each of the chapters of renovation misadventures in David Levovitz’s L’Appart are a bit more involved and sound to me more like projects than dinner, but the if you’ve ever had any work done, you’ll commiserate with David. His dealings with contractors, plumbers, neighbors, and hardware store salespeople are fraught with laughter and foreboding–as a home reno survivor there were many times in the retelling that I wanted to scream, “No! Don’t do it! Don’t believe him!”–and give great insight about real life in France.

Home Sweet Maison by Postel-Vinay, an American who married a Frenchman, shares her stories about what makes a French home special and everything she has had to learn to implement the best parts of French life in her own homes. She outlines the dedicated purpose of French rooms and how each room having its own purpose is not only historical, but how French culture survives today. Like Danielle, I believe in eating dinner in the dining room most of the time. With four kids who wouldn’t quit touching and poking each other during meals, we began eating in the dining room because I could spread the kids out enough so no one could touch anyone else. Amazingly, we could hold conversations if I wasn’t scolding anyone to keep her hands to herself every two minutes, and we started going around the table to share the best thing that happened that day. Thankfully, sister-poking has ended (and I think the battle royales over who gets the purple velvet chair have died down to skirmishes), but we still eat in the dining room and spend time talking.

I thoroughly enjoyed each of the books, but I’m still searching for that elusive je ne’ais se qui. For me the French fantasy that I’m trying to unravel is how they find the time: the time to shop every day, prepare and cook a three -course meal, dine leisurely, and clean up afterward. Something as simple as how do you serve (and eat) the first course if the second course is not something that can sit on the stove? I get that a cassoulet is fine simmering in the oven or on the stove, but what about a sole meuniere? Does the cook get up from the table and go cook the fish while everyone waits? This is what keeps me up at night.

Cabs and Copycats

Instead of souvenirs, I’ve started bringing back one thing I really liked about the place I visited. We’ve been very fortunate to have traveled to some great places and stayed in amazing hotels and I try to figure out what I could do at home that would remind me of how a place felt.

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One of my favorite places in the world is the Malibu Beach Inn–I love the waves crashing under my balcony and eating dinner over the water. The vibe is luxurious, but so laid-back. Alas, the only natural water feature at my house is the short-lived river that runs through the swale in my yard after a hard rain, so I can’t mimic the relaxing pound of the surf. One of the treats at MBI is the fluffy white robe in the bathrooms, and I ordered myself one. It’s the best thing ever and I’m transported back to the mornings of having my coffee on the balcony in the hotel’s robe and watching the sunrise (thanks to my east coast internal clock) as the surf churns below.

Last March we visited the Dorado Beach Resort and we had personal Nespresso espresso machines with Demi-tase china cups in our suite. The delight of the small cup of espresso with just a touch of cream changed this latte-for-life afficianado and I packed away my 12-cup coffee maker and unpacked my espresso maker. Now, in the morning, I enjoy two cups of espresso with a splash of cream that I need to savor and finish before they get cold instead of drinking a pot of coffee and cups of creamer, mindlessly warming it up with the coffee left in the carafe.

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L’Eau in Palm Beach reminded me how nice is to have turn-down service with chilled water on the nightstand. Since our current home lacks staff, I’m the one who has to either take the extra pillows off the bed or (shhh…don’t tell the housekeeping police) make the bed for turning in. There are days when I’m up and out before my husband ever gets out of bed and then I don’t go back to our room until evening. It makes a huge difference if I fluff the duvet, straighten out the sheets and blankets and fluff the pillows and then turn down the sheets. I’ve made it a habit to fill my insulated S’well bottle with chilled water and what I don’t drink before bed, I finish first thing in the morning.

Paris, Paris, Paris. There’s a lot to love there. Two things that I try to incorporate more is  serving a meal in courses and not walking around looking like a schlump. At cafes, every glass is given a coaster and your bowl of salty snacks is placed when your drinks arrive and whisked away before your dinner is served. I’m trying to stop myself from the mindless nibbling on cheese and olives from beginning (I’m still very American and mostly serve the cheese before dinner) until well after the meal is over.

There are enough books about how to dress Parisian, that I won’t go into it here, but you’d be hard-pressed to find one who looks like they just rolled out of bed from a 3-day Netflix binge. I’ve got plantar fasciitis so I can’t wear most flats for a lot of walking and I fell into the trap of wearing sneakers and workout pants everywhere. Europe is less casual than the States. I wanted to be respectful of the culture and follow the dress code for the places we visited, but I didn’t want to ruin my trip with a flare up that would render me unable to walk very far. Out of the 5 or 6 pairs of causal sneakers I ordered, I kept two pairs (one black and one blush from a French designer) and wore them with black pants or cropped jeans, a sweater, and a a necklace and earrings. We walked for miles everyday, my feet didn’t hurt, and while I didn’t fool anyone into thinking I was French, I felt confident enough about how I looked that I wasn’t hesitant about going into any establishment during the day. I switched to a black low-heeled loafers for evening dinners, but we kept the walking distance short. My point being, it was really no more effort to put on a pair of pants and a sweater than it was to pull on a pair of yoga pants and sweatshirt, but it changed a lot about how I interact with others and felt about myself all day. And I was just as comfortable!

Barcelona is more ephemeral, while I loved the food, (especially the tapas!)I haven’t figured out how to incorporate that into my life yet. Mostly because while I enjoy cooking, I’m ungodly lazy and I don’t want to wash all those dishes! While in Barcelona, we stayed at the Hotel Arts and upon arrival, the lobby smells amazing. After a long day of touring, the scent of the hotel became a signal to relax, slow down, and enjoy our evenings. Now at home, I’m trying to work on a signature scent for our home. I’ve invested in Dyptique home scents, I burn the lavender and the bois candles together and use the St. Germaine scent in a diffuser in our foyer. After a stay several years ago at the Chateau Marmont, I found the same scented candles that are burning in your room when you check in. The luxurious scent transports me back to the state of mind of a relaxing, hedonistic weekend and I can forget for a while that I have to get up before 6am to take my kids to a tournament or early practice.

Our visits to Napa are all about the food and wine with friends, and we certainly bring enough wine home with us to remind us of visits! Opening a bottle from a winery we visited really is different than one I’ve bought at the store because of a recommendation, or more likely, an interesting label. We’re reminded of the land, the winemaker, and the anecdotes we shared with our friends. The sharing of a meal and good wine is the part of Napa I remember at home—it’s a blend of food that’s in season and simply prepared and the chance to catch up and reconnect.

At the heart of it all, I’m trying to make the life I live every day more enjoyable and re-create the feelings I get on vacation. So much of it is reminding myself to take time to do the little things every day that make life brighter. By borrowing lifestyle tips and not bringing back souvenirs from vacation, I don’t have to dust any tchotchkes, which is a reward in and of itself!

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Barca, Barca, Barca…Everyone loves Barca

In the days leading up to our trip to Barcelona, every time I mentioned our destination, people who had visited promised us we would love the city. From family to the ticket agent at airport, everyone wanted to tell us their favorite sight and thing to do–and eating topped the list of things people wanted us to do!

One of the best part about Barcelona is the food–especially the tapas! Our favorite at Vinutus was the french fries with fried Iberian jamon, and a fried egg.

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Homely–but delicious! The server cut the egg and mixed the fries, ham, and egg table side.

The bar at the hotel Arts Barcelona had the best non-traditional interpretation of patatas Brava with paper thin rectangular slices that were stacked in layers with the traditional sauces. Their riff on Iberian ham was unbelievable—slices of ham wrapped around a bit of puff pastry and topped with olive oil “caviar.”

 

We had our best dinner at Boca Grande and next time we are planning to go back to have drinks at Boca Chica—the unbelievably cool bar upstairs from the restaurant. The tapas at Boca Grande were adventurous, the service was outstanding, and the wine recommended to us was spot on.

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Rice with wild pigeon—we laughed about what made a pigeon “wild”

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Goat ribs–don’t judge

The vibe of the restaurant was definitely hip and cool, and while very busy, welcoming. And, trust me on this one, you’ve got to make a trip to the restroom when you visit.

We tried the Michelin-starred restaurant Enoteca, we couldn’t try the degustation menu because one of the girls would not have eaten any of the courses except the beef. We compromised and did the appetizer, bread service, and petit four add-on and ordered several dishes. That plan gave us some of the courses of the degustation menu img_7317img_7316

and we were able to get the meat dishes the girls liked (and my selective eater got bread until the beef course.) The best thing that night was the Catalyan peas.

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Why are the best-tasting dishes the least photogenic? These Catalan peas were the bomb!

I forgot to take a photo of the menu, but I think the peas were like 38 euros and, as crazy as it sounds, they were worth it! If someone really loves raw seafood and has some room on the old AmEx, Enoteca is a great place. Overall, however, the dinner was very expensive and my personal recommendation would be to eat at Boca Grande a few times for the same cost. We ordered bottles of wine and my husband’s first glass had a white chunk on the outside of his glass that he didn’t notice until after his glass had been poured. He pointed it out to the waiter who gave him a new glass and he apologized, but we lost a glass of wine out of our bottle and nothing was said about it. And I hate wasting wine.

I channeled my inner Jackie-O at lunch on the Costa Brava. We had a beachside table, waiters in striped sailor shirts, and 3 euro wine. If I go missing, look here first.img_7486We enjoyed amazingly fresh seafood (mussels, then cod) for lunch and a million dollar view.

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Dem bones and that Mona Lisa smile

The difference between knowing that the catacombs are full of bones and seeing that the catacombs are full of bones

Saturday–the Catacombs, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and the wheel-Roue of Paris

We met back up with Cedrik on Saturday morning and he had pre-purchased tickets for us to tour the catacombs. Without advance tickets, be prepared to come early and wait in a line that can stretch around the block. Despite knowing that the catacombs were full of bones, it was quite jarring to see the remains of six million people stacked in the walls. We descended a surprisingly long spiral staircase into the catacombs where the passages are narrow and the ceiling is low. At 5’5″ and under, we weren’t hitting our heads, but our taller guide had to duck at points throughout the tour. Parts of the path were quite slippery from water leaking in and some tiny stalactites were growing from the ceiling. I was glad I took the tour because it was fascinating works project, but I’m not sure I’d want to do it again–and never in the dark, or on Halloween… The return to the street is via spiral staircase as well, but while steep, it’s not herculean.

After a quick coffee and late breakfast, we headed back to the Louvre for our guided tour.

Winged victory

In my admittedly limited experience,  knowledgeable tour guides can add so much depth of history and understanding to viewing art and historical sites like the Louvre and Versailles that they are worth every euro. In addition to the descriptions of the paintings and their place in art history, our guide pointed out features in the Louvre that showed its past purpose as the palace of the king and its evolution throughout history right up to the leftover catwalks from Fashion Week in one of the courtyards. Not to mention, a good guide will put you in a position to see the Mona Lisa clearly, without having to wade through the sea of humanity and selfie sticks to get to the front of the line. Hint, it’s a magic spot diagonally on the Mona Lisa’s left.

For our final afternoon, we said farewell to Cedrik and decided to walk to the Eiffel Tower. From our hotel, we walked through the Place de la Concorde and headed along the Seine river. The falling snow made what is always a picturesque walk even more magical, at least until our feet got wet on the way home. The top of the tower was closed because of snow and we did not pay to enter the monument, but it’s still a fun visit to walk around the outside for our Eiffel Tower photos. On previous visits we bought tickets to enter the base and definitely recommend entering the park at least once.

View from the Wheel looking across the Tuilieres Garden towards the Louvre

Looking at the Place de la Concorde

On our way home, we finally rode the Big Wheel at the Place de la Concorde. While the epitome of touristy kitsch, the Wheel has great views and was a fun way to wrap up our trip.

We returned home to the U.S. on Sunday morning and I had checked many of the boxes for what I wanted out of this trip: I had gotten to see some of the French wine country, toured Versailles, explored different parts of the city, visited the Musee d’Orsay, and I was coming home with the same number of kids that I had brought with me.

Let them eat cake…it’s a really long cab ride.

Leaving Paris

Friday- Versailles

We took a taxi to Versailles, it should have taken about 40 minutes and cost (based on my internet sleuthing before we embarked) about 45-50 euros. Just outside of Paris, traffic ground to a halt for at least thirty minutes before our driver was instructed by the police to put his car in reverse and join the slow-moving train of cars carefully backing down the motorway to the previous exit. A terrible accident ahead had blocked the road and we had to basically return to Paris and go to Versailles via longer, alternate routes. It took us over two hours to get to Versailles and the between the fare and tip, about 100 euros.

The Purple Trufflehttp://www.purpletruffle.com had obtained reservations for us at Ore, the restaurant recently opened by Alain Ducasse at Versailles for one o’clock. We called the restaurant twice on our prolonged journey to let them know we were running late, and then very, very late, and they were able to hold our table for over an hour. You do not need a ticket to Versailles to eat at the restaurant-the entrance is to the left of the ticket queue. Because we were meeting our guide Cedrik, who had already purchased us tickets for a 3:00 entry to Versailles, our lunch was very hurried, but so delicious.  A bowl of pasta –Coquillettes with jambon, comte, and black truffle was the best thing I had to eat in Paris. We ordered a nice half-bottle of Margaux to go with it.  My oldest daughter and I basically had to cannonball the 75 euro bordeaux (and remember, it was only 375 ml) because somehow our food came out before the wine and our guide was at the table waiting for us to finish. Still worth it. I would have loved to have tried more on the menu, but entry times are strictly enforced.

I’m still dreaming about this bowl of nursery food–if your nursery shaved black truffle on everything

The sheer size of Versailles boggles the mind and then the elaborate decoration and art on the walls and ceilings add to its awe-inspiring grandeur.  Cedrik explained the various stages of waiting to see the king that the rooms served and even pointed out some centuries-old tags on the window frames.

Graffiti is classy if it’s old

We were lucky enough to rent the last golf cart to tour the grounds and visit Marie Antoinette’s “little” mansion where she could play milk maid. The gardens, even in the last days of winter, were so beautiful.

The fountains were still turned off and much of the smaller statuary was covered (we were told the end of March is when the outside gardens start to come out of hibernation), but I really enjoyed our tour. Since it was a beautiful sunny day in the fifties, many locals were on the grounds biking and running.

Marie Antoinette’s little house to eat chocolate with her friends.

Unable to find us a taxi at any of the taxi stands right outside the palace, our guide bought us tickets (which we reimbursed him for) and we rode the RER C train from Versailles to the Musee d’Orsay. Having done it and despite a little anxiety when our guide changed his mind from getting off with us at his regular stop at the Musee d’Orsay to getting off at an earlier stop to run errands, I can say it wasn’t difficult to take the train. The upcoming stops scroll on the message board in the train and the station to which you are arriving is plainly displayed on the walls of the station as you roll up to the platform. And, there is a decent interval from when the train arrives to its departure. I was glad that I had noticed that the train doors do not open automatically, but need to be opened by the first person leaving the train car. The ride took about 40 minutes (we were very lucky and were able to walk onto a departing train)  and it was literally just a few blocks from the palace grounds to the train station and, for us, we just had to cross the Seine to our hotel from the Musee d’Orsay station—and WAY cheaper than 100 euros!

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A day looking for the original selfie…

Thursday at Musee’ D’Orsay

On previous visits to Paris, we were unable to get tickets for the Museum D’Orsay, but had no problem on this visit. With proof of age, visitors under age 26 can get a discounted ticket and the museum accepts U.S. driver’s licenses as proof. The museum also has a coat check, free of charge, They only accept coats, no hats or scarves. My daughter tried to check a pullover as well, but the coat check personnel declined because whatever is checked has to be put on a hanger.

The museum is housed in a former railway station and the building is notable from the street by the huge clocks that I’m sure were useful for the early twentieth century commuters running late for their trains. You can get some spectacular views of Paris through the clock, be patient (it was field trip day and we had to wade through an ocean of French high schoolers) and you can get next to the clock face.

Looking out over the Seine

Their collection of Impressionists is like a who’s who of  19th-century art and they have many of the masterpieces of Monet, Manet, Gaughin, Rodin, Pisarro, Degas, Cezanne, Renoir, and VanGogh.  For me, the collection of Monet’s winter landscapes was a revelation. The collection of sculpture is also very impressive. Unfortunately for us, the museum’s two floors of Art Nouveau were closed.

Me, most days, rendered in marble

Museums + wine = art enthusiast

We ate a light lunch at the Cafe Campana. The setting is marvelous and is a nice break from touring. It has sit-down service and, especially by Parisian standards, our soup and salads came out very quickly. Alas, they forgot our bread basket–sacre bleu!–but they did have Lillet by the glass, so I still give it two thumbs up. The museum has a quick-bite food counter and what looks like a more formal restaurant on the first floor as well.

Crossing the Seine at night

The Purple Truffle had recommended and made reservations for us at Semilla in St.-Germain-des-Pres for Thursday evening. It was a nice walk across the Seine from the Westin through a neighborhood of art galleries and restaurants and wine bars. The menus are only in French, but we used our phones to look up the foods we weren’t familiar with. The kitchen is mostly open, and if you have a table against the wall, there are hooks for your coats on the wall behind you! I decided on what was basically a deconstructed lamb tangine followed by a cheese course and a pear and gingerbread dessert. As I vacillated between two bottles of wine, the waiter recommended I go with the much less expensive bottle. So points for that. He may have given up on us when my daughter ordered a glass of dessert wine from the “Stickie” section of the wine list for dinner.  One of my daughters ordered the sole and said it was the best thing she ate in Paris. New post tomorrow!

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Rolls of lamb meat in seared fat on couscous with a tiny falafel patty. The vegetables and broth are in the cast iron pot

Pear ice cream with dried pears and gingerbread

If I were a French woman, I would definitely get fat.

Wednesday

Brioche with sweetened almonds

The Purple Truffle http://www.purpletruffle.com arranged for us to  join food blogger and cookbook author Marion Flipo for a foodie tour in St. Germain. Our first stop was Eric Kayser where we enjoyed brioche with red-colored almonds, almond croissant, and a raspberry financier. Marion taught us that the boulangerie must be good at two things: bread, of course, and viennoiserie (what we would call breakfast pastries in the U.S.) We can vouch that Monsieur Kayser is definitely good at the viennoiserie. The Diana Ross of the trio was the financier. It’s unlike any pastry I’ve had in the US–it’s a dense moist cake filled with a dollop of raspberry jam. I have no idea how French women don’t get fat if this delight is in their gustatory repertoire!

The funniest thing I heard in Paris: Marion explained that the beef cuts were for special occasions due to price and that the French do not have outdoor grills. In a city where it seems like everyone is lighting up a cigarette next to you while you’re trying to eat at an outdoor cafe, it would be too rude to grill a steak outside where the smell of cooking meat might bother your neighbors. Vive la difference!

Our second stop was at a neighborhood butcher. Coming from the land of pre-packaged meat, or at least the butcher counter offerings sealed off under glass, it is novel to see raw meat open without a barrier between the customer and the product. The butcher block for the cutting of your purchase is right in the middle of the shop. I’m not sure how American safety regulations would deal with a knife wielding-butcher hip to hip with his customers. The butchery also had house-made ham that was delicious, and while I usually don’t care for ham because it is very sweet and usually kind of slimy, the ham we tried was almost as dry as a prosciutto but not salty.

Delicious selection of charcuterie

From there we headed to a Corsican deli to sample the charcuterie. While the French may not have considered Napoleon truly French, they do consider Corsica part of their culinary terroir. We had delicious sheep and goat cheeses, as well as cured hams from the flank and shoulder. Since we were in a real, working deli we could not spend time with the proprietor because he was quite busy with an influx of students. And here’s a great tip about water–all the bottled water we tasted in France was quite soft (it all tastes like Evian) but you can buy spring water at Pasta Luna that tastes like American bottled water.

The Paris chocolate shops always have the best Easter candy!

From savory, we moved onto to the sweeets. We stopped at the world-famous Patrick Roger for his chocolate. From sourcing the cacao to the one-of-a-kind flavor profile of lime and basil, every step of the chocolate making process is controlled for the best quality and inimitable flavor. Look out Hershey’s Chocolate World – I kinda think it would make one hell of a ride. And last, but certainly not least, we visited the chocolaterie of world-famous chef Cyril Lignac. We feasted on a chocolate flan made without eggs! Marion shared that they used corn starch to in place of eggs in the chocolate flan—truly a piece of culinary wizardry. The marble cake we tasted was simple, but rich.  New post tomorrow!

A whole lotta yum on that plate

Radicalized by champagne, and I liked it!

Even in the winter, the vineyards are beautiful

Tuesday

Today was orchestrated by the Purple Truffle http://www.purpletruffle.com and Francois, our driver for the day, arrived at our hotel to take us to the Champagne region of France. As Francois drove through the outlying suburbs of Paris that turned into picturesque countryside,  he elaborated on the history of the region and pointed out monument markers for WWI cemeteries, pastoral villages, and, of course, the vineyards. Everything that grows in Champagne is controlled, from how much juice you save each year to who can buy or sell the harvest. We learned there are different ways to run the vineyards. The big houses both grow and buy grapes to make their wines, some vineyards sell their grapes and do not make wine under their own label, and the last type of champagne houses control their wine from planting to bottling.

Our first stop was at Le Gallais in Boursalt and we were lucky enough to meet winemaker Charlotte Morgain. What is now the domain of Le Gallais at one time belonged to Veuve Cliquot, and the real Veuve Cliquot built a castle for her granddaughter as marriage gift that resides on the Le Gallais property. The tasting was fun and delicious!

The house that Veuve Cliquot built for her granddaughter. Thanks, Nana!

We had lunch at Brasserie La Banque, a restaurant and champagne bar in Epernay . I’ll confess my oldest was battling a cold and I was exhausted from a jet-lag induced sleepless night, so we did not enjoy any of the champagnes available by the glass with our meal.

Our next visit was at the family-owned Paul Dethune house in Ambonnay. Our tour was led by Sophie Dethune and we had to step over the hoses of her husband as he tended the tanks-the very definition of family run! Their champagnes are aged in barrels and, for me, gave the champagne the body and structure I’m looking for in wines. Sophie is passionate about both the history and future of Champagne, and convinced me that it is worth the time and effort to find the bottles from the smaller houses. There really is something to supporting anyone who is tilting at the windmills of globalization.

Our last visit to was shortened because of overrunning our time at lunch and Paul Dethune, but we were graciously hosted by Henri Giraud Champagne in Aÿ. The Giraud house is investigating how using barrels made from the wood of different sections of the nearby Argonne forest can influence the taste of the wine. The Giraud Brut Naturale was my daughter’s favorite. Our driver Francois kept us entertained and learning more about France as we drove the ninety or so minutes back to Paris.  New post tomorrow!

The barrels are stamped with the plot of the vineyard and the section of the forest from which the wood for the barrel was harvested!

The house collaborates with artists and thanks to that, the tasting room has a truly eclectic feel.