A Weekend in Barcelona Spain

Culture, Food, Food Photography, Photography, Travel

My trip to Barcelona was taken somewhat on a whim. After plans to go to Norway to try and see the Northern Lights failed, the hubs encouraged me to enjoy a weekend in Spain instead. I had long talked about going to Spain and was itching for a visit to somewhere warm. Knowing that Jacob couldn’t travel anytime soon, I happily took him up on his suggestion and started researching my options. A few hours later I had purchased my plane tickets, and not long after that, I was on my way.

Having never been to Spain before, and having never taken an international trip alone, I wasn’t really sure what to expect for my long weekend away. I wasn’t nervous about traveling by myself, more so just anxious about whether I would get lonely or bored, and if I am being totally honest, concerned about just how many tapas I could realistically consume on my own. ūüėČ

I am happy to report that I never found myself longing for company, and I had absolutely no trouble at all putting away countless plates of food. My time alone was exhilarating and refreshing, and Barcelona had a certain charm that made me never want to leave.

My trip started with a visit to La Boqueria, a massive covered food market which is truly any foodie’s dream. I spent a few minutes wandering through a maze of cured meats, colorful juices, and fresh fruits and vegetables, before grabbing a spot at the bar at El Quim de la Boquer√≠a for my first round of tapas.

Struggling to keep my Spanish and French (and English for that matter…) straight, I ended up with a plate of patatas bravas that I didn‚Äôt mean to order (this wasn‚Äôt the only time that I would order incorrectly), but in the end, this was totally okay. I ate quite a few spuds that weekend, and those were certainly the best I had, so good in fact, that I can‚Äôt even remember what it was I was trying to order initially.

Alongside my patatas bravas were a plate of fried artichoke hearts, which are easily one of the best things i’ve eaten since moving abroad. I nearly cried tears of joy after my first bite. As I washed them down with a ‚ā¨3 glass of local cava, I couldn’t help but to think how coming to Spain was definitely a really great idea.

After picking up a bright pink juice from one of the stalls nearby, I rushed off to the next stop of my journey where I toured Antoni Gaud√≠’s eccentric and unfinished church, the Sagrada Fam√≠lia.

There is a lot that I can say about Gaud√≠’s unique masterpiece, but i’ll just leave it at this: Sagrada Fam√≠lia is an interesting church, and indeed beautiful in many ways. However, in short, it’s not my cup of tea. There’s something about Romanesque and Gothic churches that really inspire me, and I just couldn’t find that same sense of awe in Gaud√≠’s modern design. The construction probably had something to do with it, as well as being asked more than once to move for someone’s selfie, but hey, that’s not Gaud√≠’s fault‚Ķ

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I found it slightly ironic that I left for this trip same day as International Women’s Day. To me, International Women‚Äôs Day represents many different things, but this year, it was a time to celebrate aloneness. So often I think women associate being alone as being a bad thing. We’re not complete without a significant other, we’re not capable of exploring a new place without a companion by our side, we’re not as strong of a leader or an influence on our own, etc.

As I wandered around Barcelona, a city of 1.6 million people, in a country where I don’t speak the language, and in a town where I knew no one, I didn’t feel alone. In fact, I felt very much in the warm company of the 1.6 million Catalonians who surrounded me. I didn’t pity myself as I sat alone at a bar with enough tapas to feed three, or as I drank half pitcher of sangria on my own (the second occasion where my Spanish ordering abilities failed me). Instead, I felt exhilarated. I was visiting a place I had always wanted to visit, and enjoying something I truly loved. Why should being alone prevent me from doing that?

As I walked back to my hostel from the Sagrada Familia, I stumbled across thousands of other women as they celebrated all that International Women’s Day means to them. With the march taking place right in front of where I was staying, I first watched for a while from the street, and then spent my evening, alone, in the hostel, celebrating from the window. Again, something was telling me that coming to Barcelona was a really great idea‚Ķ

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Sagrada Familia 

I started the following day with a visit to Park G√ľell, another Gaud√≠ project. Though I enjoyed the main part of the park (the paid area), I loved the free trails and natural gardens that surrounded this area even more.¬†Much of Gaud√≠’s work takes a naturalist approach, and what better way is there to experience nature in a large city than with time spent in a park? Being a perfect 70 degree day, I found a secluded bench with a great view of the city and relaxed in the sun until my next appointment.

Next came what was quite possibly my favorite experience of the trip – a paella cooking class in a lovely private garden just down the street from Park G√ľell. Originating from Valencia, a town about 200 miles south of Barcelona, paella is a regional dish that‚Äôs approached by Spaniards much the same way that Americans approach a backyard barbeque. ¬†It is meant to be leisurely prepared over a glass of wine or sweet vermouth, and enjoyed alongside family and friends.

This “class” was actually called a “cooking experience,” and appropriately so, as an experience was exactly what it was. There was no formal training, per se, just 10 or so strangers who quickly became new friends, enjoying wine and tapas together, and learning a bit about paella along the way.

Our wonderful host shared with us her grandmother’s recipe, and we all cooked together in the backyard of her childhood home. We ate tapas, shaved fresh slices of Ib√©rico and Serrano ham, and learned the art of drinking from a porron, all before enjoying the fruits of our labor with a large plate of paella. I look forward to taking what I learned from this experience and to one day enjoying a backyard, paella barbecue with family and friends back home.

Full and sleepy from so much delicious food, I enjoyed a leisurely walk down a lovely route recommended by my cooking experience host, and then spent the next couple of hours resting at my hostel before venturing out to the old Gothic Quarter of Barcelona to see what I could discover there.

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Jacob and I have this thing when we travel in big cities where we will go out of our way to “get lost.” We intentionally take roads which aren’t the main route, and more often than not, our efforts pay off. Taking that same approach as I wandered around this historic part of town, I found myself in a number of quiet squares, and discovered many quaint streets. Eventually, I stumbled across the beautiful 14th-century Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar, and settled in at a fantastic little wine bar across the square. Making friends with the bartender, I tried two fantastic Spanish wines, and jotted notes about my day on the back of a receipt while I let my phone charge behind the counter.

After a quick tour of the church, I stopped in for more tapas at a recommended spot down the street for yet another memorable meal. As I took a seat at the bar, the server‚Äôs first words were “I have just the perfect meal for one person.” After I made it clear that there aren’t really any foods I don’t like, the plates started coming…and it took a long while before they stopped. Some plates of tomato bread, clams, patatas bravas, fried squid, and a couple of other unidentified things later, I left overly full, but again, so happy for yet another great experience.

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Gothic Quarter and Playa de la Barceloneta

The last day of my journey started with, you guessed it, more good food. Having read about a place known for their croissants, I figured I would give it a try. I had been outside of France for three days at that point, and had started missing my favorite breakfast pastry.

Having the bar set pretty high after seven months in Paris, I was skeptical and only purchased one pastry. However, after just one bite, I regretted not buying two. Glazed and filled with mascarpone cheese, my croissant from Hofmann Pastisseria was one of the best things I ate all weekend. Half way through my first one, I had already made up my mind to go back for a second…

To burn off my pastries, I spent the next couple of hours walking around a new area of the Gothic Quarter, and toured another beautiful gothic church, the Barcelona Cathedral. Though there was a short line to get in, this cathedral was quiet, and evoked that sense of awe I couldn’t find at the Sagrada Familia. A ‚ā¨3 elevator ride to the roof made me love it all the more. Offering a fantastic view of the city, and no crowds, I spent half an hour or more on the roof enjoying the views and sunshine, and thinking about how I wasn’t ready for my weekend in Barcelona to end.

Growing hungry, I left the roof with plans to head back to La Boqueria for another round of tapas, but ended up stumbling in to a very Austin-esque coffee shop and decided to enjoy lunch there instead. I don’t know exactly what it was that I ended up eating (story of my life that weekend in Spain), but it was some sort of Asian rice bowl that was utterly delicious, and the kombucha I washed it down with also wasn‚Äôt bad.

Energized and ready to finish my off my weekend strong, I made my way to the beach to dip my toes in the Mediterranean Sea. After half a pitcher of sangria (I swear I only ordered a single glass – and no, I did not drink the whole thing), I headed back to my hostel to get ready for one last memorable Spanish meal.

I think my first meal in Barcelona was probably my favorite, but what I loved about my last was the fact that many of the tapas served were actually meant for one person. Because of this, I was finally able to try a large variety of things without feeling like a total glutton (but really, what did I care?). After one more plate of fried artichoke hearts (which didn’t hold a candle to my first plate from El Quim de la Boquer√≠a), I toasted myself with one final glass of cava to commemorate a such great solo weekend away.

10-Minute Chicken Coconut Soup

Food, Recipes

I’ve been quiet on here lately as i’ve truly not had the time, nor the energy, to write.¬†

After a lovely trip to Spain (post coming soon), I unexpectedly had to head home to Arkansas just two days after returning to France. Four days later, I came back to Paris where I was greeted by my mother-in-law, a dog with a sprained tail, and a hubs with a hurt ankle. Before I could even recover from jet lag I had to prepare the best that I could for my upcoming French proficiency certification exam (which I passed Рyay!), and then hit the ground running again showing my mother-in-law around town. My mother-in-law left Saturday, on Sunday the hubs and I visited Disneyland before our gifted tickets expired, and then on Monday, just when I thought I could return to normalcy, you guessed it, I woke up sick. 

The best way to test if I am truly sick is to assess my appetite. If I have been awake for four+ hours and still don’t feel hungry, you can pretty much guarantee there’s something wrong with me. Returning from class just after noon, I skipped lunch, and headed straight to bed.¬†

After a three hour nap my appetite returned, and I woke up craving something comforting. With nothing to eat in the fridge besides carrots and some stinky cheese, I sent the hubs on a quick errand to pick up a few ingredients for homemade soup. 

While I like chicken noodle soup as much as the next person, it’s not something I ever feel like cooking when I am actually sick. There’s too much chopping involved, and I find it really has to simmer a while for the flavors to richly develop. Therefore, homemade chicken noodle soup in this household is usually reserved for days when others are sick. Chicken coconut soup¬†(Tom Kha Gai)¬†however, is something that requires very few ingredients, minimal preparation, and can be ready in under 10 minutes – making it one of my very favorite sick day soups.¬†

There are dozens of recipes out there for chicken coconut soup, but truth be told, I don’t think I have ever followed any of them. Therefore, I can’t tell you exactly how authentic this recipe is. I believe I first saw a¬†Tom Kha Gai¬†recipe in a magazine and then just whipped up what I could with the ingredients I already had on hand. Apparently it worked, as the recipe below is how I have made this soup ever since, and furthermore, it tastes mighty similar to the¬†Tom Kha Gai¬†from my favorite Thai restaurant back home.¬† It’s simple, quick, and tasty, and it always leaves me feeling better than I did before.¬†

coconut chicken soup - 1

10-Minute Chicken Coconut Soup

Yields four bowls 

1 tbs coconut oil

8 oz mushrooms, sliced*

2 cloves garlic, sliced

2 stalks green onion, sliced

crushed red pepper

salt

1 tsp fish sauce (optional)

rotisserie chicken**

1 13.5 oz can coconut milk

32 oz chicken stock or bone broth 

lime wedges, for serving

In a large pot, melt coconut oil over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and cook until slightly softened. Lower your heat to medium and add garlic slices and a pinch of crushed red pepper. I like a large pinch (or two) as I find spicy soup to be great for a cold. Cook until fragrant, or about 1 minute. Add sliced green onions (reserving a few pinches to use for a garnish), add a pinch of salt, and cook for one minute more. 

Next, stir in fish sauce, and then add coconut milk and chicken stock to pot. Simmer for 5 minutes before adding 1-2 cups of pulled chicken.** Heat for 2-3 minutes more, add salt to taste, and serve with lime wedges, green onion, and a crispy baguette. 

*I almost always buy whole mushrooms as they’re typically the better value. However, slicing mushrooms is time consuming, so when I am sick, I am happy to spend a few cents more for some pre-sliced mushrooms.¬†

**You can certainly boil your own chicken, however, I find that a rotisserie chicken makes a great alternative as it saves time and energy, and makes a great meal for those who are not sick, and who do not want to eat soup for dinner. I just remove the skin from the breasts and tear pieces into the pot. I’m usually a dark meat fan, but with this recipe, I feel as the broth keeps the chicken nice and moist.¬†

Bon appétit! 

Where to Drink Hot Chocolate in Paris + a Recipe

Food, France, Recipes, Travel

The first of March usually has me thinking about spring, especially when we lived in Austin¬†and I knew that intolerable heat was just around the corner.¬†However, here in Paris, the first of March greeted us with snow, and there’s no sign that spring is on its way.

February was a bitterly cold month. The last week or two featured highs that were barely out of the 20s, and though the sun finally came out, it was really still too cold to enjoy being outdoors. With that said, I often found myself perched in caf√©s, either with my journal or a good book, and enjoying Paris’ best cups of hot chocolate.

Ever since I had my first cup of Parisian hot chocolate a few years ago, I haven’t quite felt the same about hot chocolate in the states. It never lived up to that richness and quality that I found in that first cup abroad.¬†When we lived in Boston, L.A. Burdick always came close, but in Austin, nothing even compared, which really was also okay since there aren’t many good months in Austin to enjoy hot chocolate anyway…

Drinking hot chocolate, or chocolat chaud, or simply chocolat, as the French say, has been one of my favorite things about being in Paris this winter. An afternoon cup of chocolat here is just like drinking a cup of coffee, and is totally acceptable for adults and children alike. Not that I needed an excuse.

While you can get a cup of¬†chocolat¬†in almost any caf√© in Paris, they’re not all created equal, and some spots will leave you sorely disappointed. For a truly good cup of¬†chocolat,¬†I find that tea salons, and naturally, chocolate shops, are usually the best bets. Typically (though not always)¬†chocolat¬†in caf√©s and brasseries is thinner and easier to drink, while¬†chocolat¬†in tea salons and chocolate shops is more of a delectable treat.

I have to first say that many of these spots are not unique finds. Most (all besides La Chocolaterie Cyril Lignac and Claus) I found on other “where to drink hot chocolate in Paris” lists. I did drink several cups outside these list suggestions, but they didn’t stand up against what’s mentioned below. I also left off several places that were recommended on said lists, as I didn’t think they were worth the honor. I can however attest to the fact that every place i’ve mentioned makes a mean cup of chocolat,¬†and I would highly recommend a visit to any one of these spots (though some more than others) on your next trip to Paris.

La Chocolaterie Cyril Lignac 

Cyril Lignac is a very well-known name in France, and while his restaurants, and more so his¬†p√Ętisseries,¬†are likely known to some tourists, his¬†chocolateries¬†probably are not. La Chocolaterie Cyril Lignac was the first and last place I visited in my research, and I am tempted to say it was my favorite.

Each cup of¬†hot chocolate¬†I had during my quest tasted slightly different, though I would never be able to say which one was best without tasting them all side by side. However, I found my Cyril Lignac cups to be slightly more memorable, because of the fact that they were a bit creamier, and a little sweeter than the rest. Though still rich and full of flavor, I’d say Cyril Lignac is probably the best choice for those who don’t like their hot chocolate too dark or intense — I do — which is why I hesitate to declare it the best.

The main shop is located on a cute corner in the 11th¬†arrondissement¬†and is a very nice place to spend an afternoon. The atmosphere inside is bright and welcoming, and the small heated patio outside is perfect for a warmer day. There’s also a small location in the¬†Saint-Germain-des-Pr√©s neighborhood in the 6th, which is great for a quick break or for takeaway.

25 Rue Chanzy, 75011 Paris ; 34 rue du Dragon, 75006 Paris

 

Mamie G√Ęteaux

Again, I am not picking favorites, but Mamie G√Ęteaux also received multiple visits. At Mamie G√Ęteaux, it feels like you’re dining in your grandma’s kitchen, and therefore, is a very comfortable space to call home for a morning or afternoon.

The¬†chocolat¬†here is great, and is made even better with a serving of their homemade whipped cream, or¬†chantilly.¬†They also have a large selection of fresh-made cakes (which I still haven’t tried), and incredible quiche. This is a great spot for lunch or an afternoon pick me up, and is conveniently located just down the street from one of my favorite gourmet food stores, La Grande Epicerie.

66 Rue du Cherche-Midi, 75006 Paris

Claus

Claus is a very cute and popular breakfast spot, especially for those who need more than just coffee and bread in the morning (the standard French breakfast). I’ve only eaten there once so I won’t judge their food based on my one experience (my eggs were cold, but my croissant was one of the best I have had in this city), but I will say their chocolat chaud¬†was one of my favorites on this list. The Palais-Royal location is usually really busy, but on the morning I visited the¬†Saint-Germain-des-Pr√©s location with my mom, we basically had the place to ourselves. I look forward to returning on a quiet afternoon one day soon for another cup of chocolate, and for sure another croissant.

14 Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 75001 Paris; 2 Rue Clément, 75006 Paris

Café de Flore (and Les Deux Magots)

Two of the oldest caf√©s in the city made famous by their high-profile¬†clientele (think Hemingway, Albert Camus, Pablo Picasso…), these caf√©s are no secret. Caf√© de Flore and its rival neighbor Les Deux Magots are located in one of the prettiest sections of the Saint-Germain-des-Pr√©s neighborhood, and are very popular with tourists.

Though I have only actually enjoyed a cup of hot chocolate from Caf√© de Flore, I felt that at least mentioning Les Deux Magots was necessary, as I have been told by trusted sources that both offer an almost identical experience, and one¬†‚ā¨9 cup of hot chocolate is enough for me.

Despite it being touristy, if you can plant yourself in a comfortable spot on the patio on a nice day, I still recommend visiting Café de Flore at least once in your lifetime as it offers prime people watching, and though expensive, a really solid cup of hot chocolate.

172 Boulevard Saint-Germain, 75006 Paris ; 6 Place Saint-Germain des Prés, 75006 Paris

Angelina

Angelina is another very touristy spot, but it was here where I fell in love with European-style hot chocolate. I think Angelina’s hot chocolate is best described as “melted chocolate cake,” or at least that’s what I said the first time I had it. In all honestly though, good French hot chocolate really does just taste like a melted chocolate bar with a splash of cream, which as you’ll see in my recipe below, is essentially how it’s made.

Though I have never dined in I can only imagine the tables are 100% filled with tourists, and there’s usually always a line. I advise grabbing a cup at the stand outdoors if it’s there, or from the counter inside instead. Then you can enjoy your¬†chocolat¬†on a walk through the Tuileries Gardens, or while admiring the nearby Place Vend√īme.

There are a few locations, but I know for sure that it is easy to get a cup for takeaway at the main tearoom, which is located at 226 Rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris. 

Un Dimanche à Paris

Though I wasn’t crazy about the interior of Un Dimanche √† Paris, it’s located on the loviest little street, so if you can get seat by the window, the rest won’t really matter. I hear this place can get really busy, but when I was there in the middle of the week it was relatively empty. However, on that note, be aware that the tearoom is only open from 15h-18h (3-6pm).

The¬†chocolat¬†here is delicious, and I really liked the pot in which it was served. They serve pastries here as well if you want to visit for more than just something to drink, but I can’t comment on their quality, as the¬†chocolat¬†was enough of a treat for me.

4-6-8 Cours du Commerce Saint-André, 75006 Paris

Carette

Located on one of my favorite squares in the city, the Place des Vosges, Carette has the perfect patio for spending a good portion of your day. I spent a very cold January afternoon here, but you’d never know how cold it was outside thanks to the restaurant’s powerful heaters. With my small pot of chocolat, I¬†stripped off my coat and cozily settled in, people watching, and reading nearly all of Hemmingway’s¬†The Old Man and the Sea.¬†If you’re lucky, you might even hear an accordion playing nearby, adding to the charm of this already charming city.

There are two locations, but I have only ever visited the one in the Place des Vosges, and highly recommend that you do too. However, the second location might offer you a glance of the Eiffel Tower, which wouldn’t make a horrible view either. 2 Bis Place des Vosges, 75004 Paris;¬†

La Charlotte de L’Isle

I spend a lot of time on and around the¬†√éle Saint-Louis walking Heidi, but it’s rare that I actually stop anywhere except for an ice cream cone at Berthillon, and then on a bench along the Seine. However, one chilly evening instead of wandering about with the dog, I changed things up and wandered around with the hubs, stopping in at La Charlotte de L’Isle to warm up along the way. La Charlotte de L’Isle is a cute and cozy tea room with an impressive tea list, and a very delicious¬†chocolat chaud.¬†There’s no patio so I won’t return here with Heidi, but maybe I’ll make it back solo, or with the hubs again one day.

24 Rue Saint-Louis en l’√éle, 75004 Paris

La Maison du Chocolat

La Maison du Chocolat makes fantastic chocolates, and though they don’t have a tea room, their location in the Carrousel du Louvre does offer¬†chocolat chaud¬†for takeaway. Being a chocolate shop, I expected their hot chocolate to be really thick and rich like everywhere else on this list, however, I found it to be a bit more “drinkable.” By that, I mean it’s something I can see myself having more often, as opposed to the other options on this list which are a once in a while treat. It wasn’t my favorite as I prefer a thicker cup, but it was certainly still delicious, and really the perfect way to warm me up as I walked around one freezing cold day last week.

Carrousel du Louvre, 99 Rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris

Jacques Genin

I am actually mentioning Jacques Genin as a place that I do not recommend. Come for their fantastic chocolates and¬†p√Ętes de fruits,¬†but don’t stay for a¬†chocolat chaud.¬†This shop pops up on a lot of lists, which is why I chose to bring it up. I left other places off as well, but since Jacques Genin seems to appear often, I figured it was worth mentioning.

Don’t get me wrong, the flavor of the¬†chocolat chaud¬†was fantastic, but after about three sips, it was way too much to drink, and once it started to cool, I could only “drink” it with a spoon. I am one for rich hot chocolate, but my cup here was almost overwhelming. Furthermore, I really didn’t dig the space. It felt like a dated, modern hotel lounge, and there was an awful draft that didn’t encourage me to stay long. However, my¬†p√Ętes de fruits¬†were worth every penny, and I will definitely return on occasion for a special sugary treat.

133 Rue de Turenne, 75003 Paris


If you’re traveling to Paris soon, I sure hope you’re able to try a cup of¬†chocolat¬†from one, or several, of the shops listed above. If you try them (or have tried them before), comment below to let me know what you think!

Meanwhile, to tie you over until your trip abroad, or to keep you warm for the remainder of this chilly winter, i’ve included my go-to hot chocolate recipe below for when I really want to enjoy a good cup at home. It’s not quite as rich as what you’ll find in some shops in Paris, but it’s still delectable, and is always a very nice treat.

French-Style Chocolat Chaud

Yields two mugs

16 oz. whole fat milk

1+ bar of high quality chocolate, ideally 60% cacao or more*

Homemade whipped cream (recipe)

Finely chop your chocolate, and with your milk, add it to a small saucepan over low heat. Continuously stir until chocolate is thoroughly melted and well-blended with your milk. Continue to cook over low heat until warm. Be careful not to rush this as you don’t want your milk to scald. Divide evenly between two mugs and top with a dollop of fresh whipped cream.

*Don’t cheat yourself here. For a really good cup of hot chocolate, you’ll want to use a ¬†high quality bar. I usually don’t use anything too fancy (like chocolates from La Maison du Chocolat or a bar from Cyril Lignac), but I will always use something solid, like a good 70% cacao bar from Lindt, or something like that. French hot chocolate is usually pretty dark, and often, places will serve it with sugar in case it’s too bitter for your liking. You could always set out sugar cubes when serving if you don’t like your hot chocolate too rich, or you could choose a lower cacao percentage. I would do this before adding less chocolate.

For a thicker, richer hot chocolate, add a bit more chocolate to your pot. For two cups of hot chocolate, I will use anywhere from one full bar to a bar and a half. If you don’t want it too thick though, stick with just one bar. If you want it really thick, go crazy and use a full two bars.¬†

Bon appétit!

36 Hours in the French Riviera

France, Photography, Travel

A day and a half really isn’t enough time to see all the great sights that the French Riviera has to offer, but with a little research and proper planning, one can make the most out of a quick visit to almost any region of France.

With just a week to spend in France, lots to do in Paris, and a quick trip already scheduled to the Christmas markets in Alsace on the French and German border, I had no idea if I would be able to meet my mom’s request to also see the south of France during her all too short visit back in December. However, after finding very cheap tickets and discovering that Nice is only an hour and a half flight away, I decided that for the price, and distance, even 36 hours in the sunny Riviera would be worth it. My mom and I left Paris on a wet and cold Sunday morning, and by lunch we were sitting on a sun-soaked patio overlooking the¬†Cours Saleya flower market in Nice,¬†eating pizza, salad Ni√ßoise, and sipping a crisp ros√©.

Wanting to make the most of our short visit, after a quick stroll through the market, we headed back to our hotel room overlooking the Ligurian Sea, changed, and set out for a four hour, private tour of the coast.

On our tour we walked the sleepy streets of the medieval town of √ąze, toured the Fragonard perfume factory, walked a section of the Grand Prix race route in Monaco, and played a few slots in Monte Carlo. We were back in Nice by dinner where we enjoyed ravioli and pork mignon in a cozy space in Vieille Ville,¬†the city’s colorful old town center.

On Monday, we woke to cloudy skies which turned the water into a new, beautiful shade of blue, took a stroll along the¬†Promenade des Anglais¬†and stuck our toes into the sea,¬†browsed the stalls of an open air antique market, enjoyed a delicious Mediterranean sandwich for lunch, and checked out a few of the shops in Nice’s¬†New Town,” all before hopping a plane at 3:00.

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(Snowy) Snapshots From Paris

France, Photography, Travel

I had plans today to finally post about my trip to Nice, taken when my mom was here in December, however, the weather in Paris had other ideas. As I sat next to the radiator, watching snow fall out the window, I couldn’t quite get in the mood to talk about somewhere warm. Instead, as giddy about the snow as a small child, I sat there wrapped in a blanket, sipping hot chocolate, and scrolling through the pictures I took in Paris this week.

They say even a dusting of snow in Paris uncommon, and that a few inches, like we received this week, is very rare. I would have been happy with a dusting, but I am certainly not complaining about the few inches we did receive. Each morning I would wake with eager anticipation, peaking out the window to see if, as forecasted, the sky actually dumped a blanket of thick snow. While this was never the case, snow did indeed come during the day, leaving me distracted and excited, putting off other obligations, and running around town taking it all in.

My favorite views were of the backside of Notre-Dame, as I would wander down the Île Saint-Louis, and see that majestic cathedral jump out around a corner. I could see that  every day, and it would never get old. This week, I found my already favorite view to be even more beautiful, covered in fresh, white snow.

Photos of Nice will come soon, but for now, enjoy with me this month’s round of snowy snapshots from Paris.

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Not Home for the Holidays

Culture, France, Photography, Travel

The hubs and I have missed a lot of big family events since we first moved away from Arkansas, however, we’ve always done what we had to do to make it home for Christmas. 

This holiday season (2017) I felt a bit torn. In many ways I was my same ole jolly self, starting my Christmas playlist the day after Halloween Thanksgiving, watching Christmas movies on repeat, eating festive holiday treats, etc., but in others, I was slightly dreading my favorite day of December. 

Knowing, that for the first time ever, I wouldn’t be home for the holidays, I found myself a bit anxious over what’s otherwise a wonderful time of the year.¬†Anticipating that I would need a good distraction on Christmas day, ¬†I set out researching.alps hike - 1.jpgalps hike 2 - 1.jpgalps hike 3 - 1alps hike 4 - 1Alps - 38Alps - 43Alps - 54Alps - 34Alps - 18Alps - 36

Alps - 51Alps - 92Alps - 57Alps - 30Alps - 23A few years ago Jacob and I watched a Rick Steves’ Christmas special where Steves’ and his family spend Christmas day in one of the prettiest places we’ve ever been, Gimmelwald Switzerland, high up in the Swiss Alps. After finishing the special, in awe, we pledged to one day return and have a white Christmas in those lovely mountains. Little did we know then that that Christmas would come so soon.

Though it wasn’t the Swiss Alps where we spent our Christmas, i’d say the French Alps are sufficient for fulfilling that pledge, and they were just as pretty, if not even better, than the region of the Alps we explored a few summers ago. Alps - 41Alps - 35Alps - 26Alps - 59Alps - 27Alps - 2Alps - 52Alps - 15Alps - 17heidi alps 2 - 1.jpgWanting to have for the first time in my life a relaxing holiday, I got to work finding a place to stay where we could truly unwind. However, unfortunately, I quickly came to find that everyone else seemed to have the same idea. 

For a while it looked like we had two options: we could either stay in a small condo in a major ski town, or in an even smaller cabin in the foothills, likely away from the snow.

Wanting two things, well, really three, a fireplace, guaranteed snow, and seclusion, I persevered until the perfect option came about: Ma Cabane en Montagne, a lovely little traditional, eco-conscious log cabin located in the stunning Vanoise National Park. Alps - 8Alps - 65Alps - 61Alps - 62Alps - 73Alps - 77Alps - 66Alps - 68

heidi alps - 1.jpgAlps - 82Alps - 78Alps - 73Alps - 72Secluded, covered with a beautiful blanket of thick, white, sparkling snow, and containing a wood stove,¬†Ma Cabane en Montagne was the perfect spot for us to spend our quiet holiday. The location was unbeatable, the cabin was cozy, and best of all, dinner (unfussy, yet delicious, traditional French Savoyarde dishes – think raclettes, fondue, sausages… basically good, hearty, and comforting mountain food) was included each night, taking any hard work off our hands, and allowing us more time to relax.

Though there were ski resorts nearby and plenty of Alpine activities available, we decided instead to take things as easy as possible, and really enjoy a low key Christmas break. Alps - 91Alps - 85Alps - 93Alps - 94Alps - 90Alps - 86Alps - 87Alps - 74Alps - 70Alps - 76Alps - 80Alps - 79Alps - 75Alps - 67We watched Christmas movies, read books, drank hot chocolate by the fire, went sledding, played with Heidi in the snow (who had never before seen such a thing, making the whole experience that much more fun), explored nearby villages, and on Christmas day, took a lovely hike through the mountains.

On Christmas Eve, the big night to celebrate here in France, we drank champagne and ate foie gras, steak, potatoes, chestnuts (literally roasted over an open fire), and cheese, and then fell asleep half an hour into Elf. On Christmas day, we slept in (a first for me!!), enjoyed a quiet breakfast, and then set off for our hike. We FaceTimed with family later that day, enjoyed dinner, and then fell asleep by 10. For the first time ever, it was a quiet, relaxing holiday, and really such a perfect way to spend the day.

Though I wouldn’t want to do it every year as we certainly missed family and friends, this peaceful way of celebrating was incredibly memorable, and such a nice change of pace. Here’s to more relaxing holidays in our future, and though a little bit late, a very happy new year for us all!

 

Snapshots from Paris

France, Photography, Travel

While September took us to Normandy, and October to the Loire, November was spent exploring Paris, falling even harder for our new home. From cathedral and mosque tours, to numerous cafe visits in search of Paris’ best hot chocolate (blog post on this coming soon), to early evening walks around Montmartre sipping warm wine, to Christmas tree shopping and our first Parisian snow, our first November in Paris was a lovely one.

Now with the days growing even shorter, the weather colder, and the city all the prettier with decorated trees and sparkling lights around town, my focus has shifted to Christmas, and all the fun our December will bring. Nice and Alsace next week with my mom (yay!!), and then to the French Alps with Jacob and Heidi for our first ever quiet holiday.

For now, here are snapshots from Paris, highlighting some of our favorite November memories.

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A Weekend in Normandy France

Culture, France, Photography, Travel

This time last year we were eating tacos in Mexico and hiking 14.5 miles through the beautiful Big Bend National Park. Today, I’m celebrating the holiday in my pajamas, reminiscing about the trip we took to northern France in September, and thinking about the BBQ we are going to eat tonight.

It has been a few years since we’ve celebrated Thanksgiving the traditional way, with huge plates of food, naps, and watching football with family and friends, but that’s okay. Though I miss loved ones back home, being in France certainly makes up for the lack of turkey and stuffing on our agenda today. However, I still intend to make a pie and a nap is definitely in the plans…

With that said, reminisce with me for a moment with snapshots from our trip to Normandy, where we admired Monet’s lily pond in Giverny, sipped calvados where the Seine river meets the English Channel in Honfleur, visited the D-Day landing beaches and paid our respects at the Normandy American Cemetery to the 9,385 Americans who were killed during the invasion of Normandy, learned about the Battle of Hastings admiring the Bayeux Tapestry, toured the beautiful Bayeux Cathedral down the street, wandered the narrow, sloping streets of the medieval island town of Mont Saint-Michel, swooned over eerie, foggy views of the surrounding mudflats, and lastly, toured the magical Abbey of Mont Saint-Michel, an early-medieval monastery perched on top of a hill in the center of the island.

Whether your day is full of food, adventure, relaxation, or reminiscing, may it be a day of gratitude and love. Happy thanksgiving!

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P’tit Weekend in the Loire Valley

France, Photography, Travel

“Parisians all get sick of Paris after a while. So they regularly choose to leave the city for a few days. Those expeditions are called p’tits weekends…

It is important to realize that in the Parisian’s mind,¬†le p’tit weekend¬†is not a luxury or treat. It is a necessity. A need he feels deep inside his body. A sound door to escape momentarily the oppression of the big, fast, and loud city:¬†J’en peux plus, faut que je parte m’a√©rer. Tu veux pas qu’on se fasse un p’tit weekend?¬†(‘I’ve had enough, I need to leave the city to get some air. You want to go on a¬†p’tit weekend?’)”

Olivier Magny, Stuff Parisians Like: Discovering the Quoi in the Je Ne Sais Quoi

The idea of a¬†p’tit weekend¬†is a universal one. A long weekend, quick escape, weekend getaway, short vacation… whatever you call it, the idea behind it is the same.

Jacob and I know all too well the importance of a¬†p’tit weekend.¬†When we first moved to Boston back in 2011, as excited as we were to be there, it didn’t take long for us to desperately crave a weekend away. We were newlyweds, newly employed, newly in graduate school, and biggest of all, newly living in a big city. After just the first few weeks of settling into our new routines, we needed some time away. A time to rest. A time to reset. A time to step away from our new norm, and as Magny says, “to leave the city to get some air.”

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Though city life quickly grew on us, we still deeply valued those long weekends each time we were able to sneak away. We’d leave Friday after work or bright and early Saturday morning, and head back to the city late Sunday night. Every chance we got we were leaving the city. Not because we hated where we lived, but instead, because we understood just how much of a necessity those weekends away truly were.

Now, living in a new, and even bigger city, we value¬†p’tits weekends¬†all the same, if not even just a little bit more.

I think this time around we handled the transition into city life a bit more easily, however, I will say that our first¬†p’tit weekend¬†in Normandy, taken shortly after we arrived in France, was just as refreshing as that first trip we took out of Boston quickly after rolling into town. Arriving in Paris was exciting, yes, but after a summer full of stressful planning to get us here, and then an overwhelming first few weeks once we finally arrived, a relaxing weekend away was called for. (Belated blog post about Normandy coming soon…)

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Having traveled back to the states early October, then fighting jet lag and a nasty cold for the week or so after I returned, by the end of the month, I was eager to get out and explore somewhere new. Not wanting to throw off Heidi’s routine now that she finally seemed settled, we decided on an easy dog friendly destination that could quickly(ish) be reached by car so that we didn’t have to introduce her to another new and potentially scary mode of transportation, the train, so soon after flying.

Jacob and I had already spent some time in the eastern portion of the Loire Valley on our last trip to France, but being a large area, we figured there was still plenty left to discover. This time around we headed to the western side of the region which was just as lovely as the area we had already explored. ¬†It was geographically similar with the Loire River gracefully meandering through the region and a number of stunning ch√Ęteaux littering the countryside, but what was different this time were all of the golden vineyards decorating the hillsides.

Following a quick trip into town to pick up provisions for lunch, our weekend kicked off with a visit to one of these beautiful vineyards, where we were able to take a peaceful, self guided tour around the property, and walk through the rows of vines. Being the only two on the tour, we took our time, enjoying the lovely, cool morning and stunning views, while Heidi sniffed around for the cat. After the tour we enjoyed a generous tasting and left with three bottles of organic wine. It’s easy to do when the wine is delicious, and incredibly cheap… (Or at least comparatively. One bottle we bought, a nice 2011 Cabernet Franc, was only ‚ā¨15, or about $18. Maybe we should have purchased a few more… ūüėČ

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After our winery tour we enjoyed one of our new bottles of wine and a simple picnic lunch on the banks of the River Cher, a tributary of the Loire. It was slightly chilly, but sunny, and really such a perfect day to be outdoors. From lunch we headed to the nearby town of Villandry, where we spent the rest of our afternoon walking through the impressive ch√Ęteau gardens.

Finally, after a long day of exploring, we headed back to our Airbnb to finish off our lunch wine and watch the sunset from our balcony. Heidi, exhausted from such a big day, quickly fell asleep while Jacob and I snuck away to a local farm for dinner where we enjoyed more local wine, wild boar, venison, and cheese from the goats next door. Eaten in a lovely old farmhouse warmed by a crackling fire in the fireplace, this meal was the perfect way to end our relaxing, yet busy day.

On Sunday, we got an early start and drove 45 minutes west to tour a monastery. It wouldn’t be a weekend away with Jacob if we didn’t do such a thing… After a few hours at Fontevraud we headed back to our Airbnb to pick up Heidi and our bags, and moved on to the final stop of our weekend getaway, the lovely town of Chartres, where we toured the massive Chartres Cathedral. We had to tour it in turns since we had Heidi, and the stained glass wasn’t at its best since we arrived after dark thanks to daylight savings (which comes earlier here than in the states), but still, we were both blown away by this Gothic masterpiece.

After some annoyingly heavy traffic, we returned home late Sunday night a bit tired but also so glad for a nice weekend away. I love living in Paris, but Magny says it best when he says “Le p’tit weekend¬†is not a luxury or a treat. It is a necessity. A need he feels deep inside his body.”

Two¬†p’tit weekends¬†down¬†for us, one for Heidi. We look forward to where our next journey¬†will take us next!

Until next time!

Caramelized Onion “Camemburgers”

Food, Food Photography, France, Recipes

Life in our 193 square foot apartment seems ages ago, even though we’ve only been in our new home for less than a month. Or for me, just one week…

Last month, living in that tiny flat, Paris felt like an extended vacation. Now, in a slightly larger space, and with Heidi asleep next to me on the couch as I write, Paris feels like home.

On those nights where we felt somewhat displaced and homesick, what helped us to feel rooted were the meals we cooked in that little apartment almost each night. With a kitchen smaller than most people’s pantries, and a fridge similar to what you’d find in a college student’s dorm room, daily trips to the market were required, but honestly, that was half the fun. Each day I would walk around the corner to the organic market, or one block over to¬†Rue Montorgueil, one of Paris’ best market streets. When I wanted something that felt a bit more familiar, I would walk just a bit further to the British grocery store, Marks & Spencer, a place that felt much like Trader Joe’s, and sells the most wonderful flavors of crisps (the cornish cruncher cheddar and pickled onion, and the chicken mustard and worcester sauce crisps are where it’s at).

IMG_1088.jpgWorking with just two small burners, a microwave, and a toaster, I couldn’t get fancy with what I cooked, but each night that we ate at home, we ate well. With meals like French onion soup, bangers and mash, pot roast, pasta bolognese, and I kid you not, one of the best burgers I have ever had in my life, we didn’t go hungry. For dessert, we’d drink wine and eat chocolate, or enjoy a treat from one of the incredible patisseries nearby. Who needs to bake when you live in Paris?

Heidi and I returned to Paris a week ago today, but unfortunately, I came down with a horrible cold from all of my recent traveling, so while I now have a larger kitchen to cook in, I haven’t yet had much time to play. I made ratatouille earlier this week, and a delectable, buttery quiche the night after that, but since then, it’s been homemade chicken noodle soup and cup after cup of hot tea. Tonight, I think i’ll move on to a spicy curry, and then as soon as I feel 100%, these “camemburgers” will definitely find a place on our dinner menu.

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A play on the word hamburger and camembert, the hubs thought calling these burgers “camemburgers¬†” would be appropriate and cute, and I fully agree. Rich and gooey, these burgers melt in your mouth, and definitely require the crunch of a cornichon and deserve to be washed down by a good red wine. Though we try and limit how often we eat red meat, we ate these guys twice last month, and I can’t wait to get over this cold so I can fully appreciate another one soon.

Cornichons, which are basically just little baby pickles, should be available in your local grocery store, and are for sure available at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods if you have one nearby. If you can’t find camembert cheese, or find the flavor too strong, brie cheese would work wonderfully as a replacement. And while we love a good strong camembert, for this particular recipe, I recommend a milder one as the strong flavor could overpower the taste of the caramelized onions, which no one wants to miss. If you do use a strong camembert, cut off the rind before melting the cheese on your burger.

Caramelized Onion Camemburgers

Yields two burgers 

1 lb ground beef

Brioche buns*

Camembert cheese (or brie if you prefer a milder flavor – see note above)

Cornichons

1 yellow onion, thinly sliced

Butter

Mayonnaise

Dijon mustard

Sugar

S&P

Melt a pat of butter in the bottom of skillet over moderately low heat. Add the onion, and stir until your onion slices are well coated in butter. Cover the pot and reduce the heat to very low and let the onions steep for about 10-15 minutes.

After about 15 minutes, uncover the pot, raise the heat slightly, and stir in a pinch of salt and sugar. Cook onions, stirring frequently, for about 30-40 minutes, until they have turned an even, light golden brown.

Meanwhile, prepare your burgers by forming two patties and sprinkling each with salt and pepper. Next, add a little butter to a skillet and cook your patties until they reach your desired doneness. For this recipe, I like the burgers to still be a bit pink. I believe our burgers were probably cooked to medium. Before you pull your burgers from the heat, top them with a couple of slices of cheese, and cover the skillet so your cheese can quickly melt. If your onions have finished caramelizing, you can top your patty with onions before adding the cheese to help everything nicely meld together. Otherwise, you can add your onions later.

Once your patties have finished cooking and your onions are done caramelizing, it’s time to assemble your burgers. Spread both buns with a bit of mayonnaise, and one side with a little dijon mustard. Add your burger patty, your caramelized onions (if you haven’t already), and a few cornichons. You can either slice your cornichons in half (long ways) or add them whole. The cornichons we buy here are rather small, and we love the acidity and crunch that they add, so we don’t bother cutting ours.

Serve with some herb seasoned fries and fry sauce (we love saut√©ed garlic and herbs mixed with mayonnaise) and a bottle of red wine (really, most reds will go great with this, but we particularly love a good Pinot Noir or¬†C√ītes du Rh√īne) and¬†bon appetit!

*Sure, you could use regular buns, but really, I don’t recommend it. I used regular buns the first time I made this recipe and the burgers were good, however, the second time I made them, with brioche buns, they were GREAT.¬†