A socially distanced Christmas in France

Hello, Emily here – ready to celebrate the holidays! We were supposed to be spending this Christmas on the beach in Australia (where I am originally from) but with travel not possible, we’ll be spending it at home in Paris. Holiday traditions in France are so different from Australia (the weather for a start – it was 39ºC/102ºF in Brisbane the last time we spent the holidays…

Hello, Emily here – ready to celebrate the holidays! We were supposed to be spending this Christmas on the beach in Australia (where I am originally from) but with travel not possible, we’ll be spending it at home in Paris. Holiday traditions in France are so different from Australia (the weather for a start – it was 39ºC/102ºF in Brisbane the last time we spent the holidays there) and I’ve had a wonderful time discovering French holiday customs over the past few years. The food, the wine, the decorations, the language. Oh, and did I mention the food?!

This year we’re in semi-lockdown and with most of the activities on my Things to do in Paris at Christmas list off-limits it’s the perfect time to finally try all those creative projects that I never get around to. The Christmas carols are on repeat, we are staying home en famille (with our family), counting our blessings, and beginning to get festive.

Last weekend I simmered some spiced vin-chaud (mulled wine) while we decorated our Sapin de Noël (Christmas tree). The smell of cardamom, cloves and oranges wafted through the apartment as we unpacked our decorations, each one holding sentimental memories. I added some new ones to represent our 2020; a paintbrush and wrench, to remind us that we did a full renovation, during a pandemic, while I was heavily pregnant, and a personalized ornament for our baby girl who we welcomed in July (mid-renovation – it was a lot!). My daughter and I picked the biggest tree we could find and now it sits, quietly dropping its needles on the floor, by our window so the neighbors can enjoy it as well. We are taking bets on who will attack it first – the toddler or Noisette, our dog.

We’ve cracked open the chocolate advent calendars and light an advent candle in the evenings. Each year I also print out a selection of photos of especially funny and memorable moments from the year, my daughter decorates some envelopes they go into and at breakfast my husband opens them day-by-day. They hang along a strand of tinsel until at least the end of January and then we bundle them all up and they go into a memory box, along with the ones from previous years. 

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Holiday Gift Guide: Bringing France to You and Others

Hello, Emily here, from day 29 of the 2nd confinement (lockdown) in France. I never thought you could miss the city you live in, but I miss Paris. Physically she remains present and although stores are allowed to reopen tomorrow, restaurants will remain closed, the streets are quiet and the soul of the city is sleeping. The old Latin motto of Paris is ‘Fluctuat nec mergitur’…

Hello, Emily here, from day 29 of the 2nd confinement (lockdown) in France.

I never thought you could miss the city you live in, but I miss Paris. Physically she remains present and although stores are allowed to reopen tomorrow, restaurants will remain closed, the streets are quiet and the soul of the city is sleeping. The old Latin motto of Paris is ‘Fluctuat nec mergitur’ which roughly translates to ‘tossed by the waves but never sunk’ and wow, has 2020 done some tossing. 

During the second lockdown we have been restricted to a 1km (about half a mile) radius from our homes with a permission slip needed (that you fill out yourself) to go out for essentials (food, medical appointments, etc.) or to exercise. While my little radius included some of my favorite places, most of the city has been decidedly off-limits. 

Over the past 4 weeks we made the most of our allocated hour of ‘exercise’ each day in the nearby Jardin Du Luxembourg, letting the dog do her daily investigating, and letting our kids play in the fresh air. When possible, I also enjoyed a solo walk along the banks of the Seine, whose calm current reminded me that the history of France is filled with challenges that have been overcome. 

I never realized how much of the city I took for granted – perhaps a fitting metaphor for 2020? A quick stop at my local terrace for a coffee or chilled glass of wine, and a quiet exchange with the impeccably dressed waiter. The cultural institutions, who remain shuttered, their beauty and history waiting patiently to be frequented once again (although you can visit many online like the Louvre, Versailles, Centre Pompidou or the Musée d’Orsay). And the small boutiques and independent bookstores that I visit as much for the conversation with the owners as the books. But most of all, I am excited to return to the specialty food shops spread all over town, which were beyond my 1km ‘border.’  Continue Reading Holiday Gift Guide: Bringing France to You and Others...

L’Instant Cacao: Bean-to-bar Chocolate Shop

If you’re old enough to remember, the Grateful Dead had a song that went, “What a long, strange trip it’s been.” (There are other reasons you might not remember things back then, especially if you were the type that listened to the Grateful Dead.) But that could be the tagline for a number of things, some as recent as 2020, the Covid crisis, and others…

If you’re old enough to remember, the Grateful Dead had a song that went, “What a long, strange trip it’s been.” (There are other reasons you might not remember things back then, especially if you were the type that listened to the Grateful Dead.) But that could be the tagline for a number of things, some as recent as 2020, the Covid crisis, and others that stretch back longer, such as the bean-to-bar chocolate movement.

I was there at the beginning of it in the United States, and I clearly remember when Robert Steinberg handed me a melting wad of freshly-made chocolate he pulled out of his pocket at a baking event, that was folded up in a little foil packet, as if it was a part of a drug deal. That eventually bloomed into Scharffen Berger chocolate.

They were the pioneers of bean-to-bar chocolate making in America, back in 1996, and now there are close to two hundred artisan chocolate makers in the States. That’s amazing, considering when Robert and his business partner John Scharffenberger, told me they were going to make chocolate from scratch, I thought it was a crazy idea and would never get off the ground. Thirteen years later, they sold the company for a reported $50 million. So if you want to ask someone for business advice, you might want to ask someone other than me.

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Top Ten Favorite French Cheeses

France is, of course, knowns for its spectacular cheeses. As we moved into lockdown in early spring, I asked my friend Jennifer Greco, who is an expert on French cheeses as well as being a culinary tour guide in Paris, if she’d share her ten favorite French fromages. While waiting for the country to open back up again for visitors from everywhere, I was holding…

Camembert de Normandie

France is, of course, knowns for its spectacular cheeses. As we moved into lockdown in early spring, I asked my friend Jennifer Greco, who is an expert on French cheeses as well as being a culinary tour guide in Paris, if she’d share her ten favorite French fromages. While waiting for the country to open back up again for visitors from everywhere, I was holding on to this terrific post, where she presents her favorites top ten favorite cheeses. I know many are disappointed they can’t make it back to France at this time, but when things return to normal, you might want to bookmark this post for your next visit! – David

10 Favorite French Cheeses

by Jennifer Greco

Cheese is recognized throughout the world as one of France’s most prized contributions to gastronomy, and tasting exceptional French cheeses is usually high on the list for visitors. France produces somewhere between 1400 to 1600 cheeses (according to the French dairy farmers), so shopping at a fromagerie or a market means being faced with shelves and cases of all shapes and sizes of cheese. You will likely spot a few familiar names such as Swiss Gruyère, Brie de Meaux, and Roquefort, but it can be an intimidating experience.

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The Tunnel Cocktail (from Cravan, Paris)

Note: Join me and Franck as he mixes up this Tunnel cocktail today on my IG Apéro Hour, live from…Cravan! Join us at 6pm CET, Noon ET, and 9am PT. Go to my Instagram profile at that time and click on my profile picture when there is a red circle around it, which means we are live. You can also watch us in replay on…

Note: Join me and Franck as he mixes up this Tunnel cocktail today on my IG Apéro Hour, live from…Cravan! Join us at 6pm CET, Noon ET, and 9am PT. Go to my Instagram profile at that time and click on my profile picture when there is a red circle around it, which means we are live. You can also watch us in replay on my IGTV channel. More information about how to tune in, and watch live, as well as in replay, here.

One of my favorite spots in Paris is Cravan. It’s not right in the middle of town, nor is it in the popular St. Germain area, or the trendy 10th or 11th arrondissements. But a few métro stops is all it takes to find yourself at one of the loveliest little outposts in the city.

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French Grated Carrot Salad

If I had to compile a list of the top five National Dishes of France, right up there would be salade de carottes râpées, or grated carrot salad. It’s everywhere. You’ll find it on many café and bistro menus, Charcuteries sell it by the kilo, and even supermarkets sell it packed up in rectangular containers, ready to go, which office workers and others enjoy for…

If I had to compile a list of the top five National Dishes of France, right up there would be salade de carottes râpées, or grated carrot salad. It’s everywhere. You’ll find it on many café and bistro menus, Charcuteries sell it by the kilo, and even supermarkets sell it packed up in rectangular containers, ready to go, which office workers and others enjoy for a quick lunch.

romano

Romain, my French partner, makes a great version of this salad. It’s not difficult to make. All you need is a bunch of fresh carrots, ingredients for the dressing, and a little bit of effort, to grate the carrots.

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Crepes Dentelle cookies (Gavottes)

These may be the best cookies in the world. Okay, they’re not really cookies, per se. At least not in the French sense. Les cookies refers to chocolate chip cookies and these ultra-thin, ultra-crisp, and ultra-buttery tasting crêpes dentelles are so different, yet so good, you’ll find yourself eating your way through several of them in no time. To prove that point, as a courtesy, the…

These may be the best cookies in the world. Okay, they’re not really cookies, per se. At least not in the French sense. Les cookies refers to chocolate chip cookies and these ultra-thin, ultra-crisp, and ultra-buttery tasting crêpes dentelles are so different, yet so good, you’ll find yourself eating your way through several of them in no time. To prove that point, as a courtesy, the company that makes them places two crêpe dentelles in each shimmering foil packet because they know that it’s impossible to eat just one.

The other great thing about these cookies (let’s just go with that, in English), is that you can pick up a box in any French supermarket, yet the cookies are grand and elegant enough so that restaurants in France have no problem serving store-bought cookies to customers. At least I’ve never heard any complaints. French grandparents and others are known to crumble cookies over a dish or bowl of ice cream to dress it up at home. (For the record, I like to think that I still fall into the “others” category – even though a young man offered me his seat on the métro the other day.)

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Weekend Reads

Thanksgiving is (kinda) just around the corner and you can check out this round-up of Thanksgiving Recipes here on the blog. Rather than getting all stressed out, though, maybe think of making less…and having more fun. As a French friend once told me, “We don’t go out to eat for the food. We go out to be with our friends.” Another friend in Paris told…

Thanksgiving is (kinda) just around the corner and you can check out this round-up of Thanksgiving Recipes here on the blog. Rather than getting all stressed out, though, maybe think of making less…and having more fun. As a French friend once told me, “We don’t go out to eat for the food. We go out to be with our friends.” Another friend in Paris told me that when she entertains, she serves only three things, which may not pan out for T-day spreads; I can skip the marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes…but not the turkey, stuffing, purée (mashed potatoes), and cranberry sauce.

Every November I get asked by a few people, “What do the French do for Thanksgiving?” Since it’s an American holiday, I don’t think they want to be in the mishigas of cultural appropriation, sp they’re fine to let us have it, and don’t do anything to celebrate. That said, some butchers in Paris stock whole turkeys (pro-tip: Stay away from butchers in upscale neighborhoods. The prices some of them sell them for are insane), and go to a regular butcher shop elsewhere. Even better, if you order in advance, some butchers may be willing to put the turkey on the same rôtisserie they use for roast chickens, to cook for you, which is a godsend if you have a petit apartment oven.

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10 tips for a tasty weekend in Biarritz 

Biarritz had been on my travel bucket list for as long as I can remember. In my 20s, working the office grind in London and going for days without seeing any discernible sunshine in winter, I dreamt of buying a van and moving there to surf the endless waves and drink Ricard (pastis) around a beach bonfire. Instead I stayed in my safe job and…

Biarritz had been on my travel bucket list for as long as I can remember. In my 20s, working the office grind in London and going for days without seeing any discernible sunshine in winter, I dreamt of buying a van and moving there to surf the endless waves and drink Ricard (pastis) around a beach bonfire. Instead I stayed in my safe job and displayed the surfboard my friend left behind our sofa in the living room (being Australian by birth, it is a shame that I cannot actually surf).

When I finally got around to visiting the ship had well and truly sailed on the camper-van fantasy, however it was still very easy to embrace the surf town vibe that Biarritz offers. Built on the Atlantic coast with a view to the Pyrénées, in the French Basque countryside, it is around 35 kilometres (22 miles) from the border with Spain. There’s a vibrant food scene and the town is a mix of high-low with luxurious boutiques (there is a Hermès boutique just behind the seafront) and chic homeware stores next to surf rental outlets and oyster shacks.

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Twentieth Anniversary of the Blog!

I know I should have baked a cake, or rather, someone else should have baked a cake. But no matter. (Okay, so it matters a little…) I’m happy to celebrate the blog turning twenty this month! I’m not sure how the twenty-year mark snuck up so fast, but it did. Who knew when I started posting a bunch of random thoughts, ramblings, and recipes online…

I know I should have baked a cake, or rather, someone else should have baked a cake. But no matter. (Okay, so it matters a little…) I’m happy to celebrate the blog turning twenty this month!

I’m not sure how the twenty-year mark snuck up so fast, but it did. Who knew when I started posting a bunch of random thoughts, ramblings, and recipes online in October of 1999, that I’d be doing it this long. But here I am.

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