Monday, November 30, 2009

November Tour: Rue Montorgueil’s Embarrassment of Rich-Riches

I don’t mean to boast, but I chose my neighborhood well. At the one end of rue Montorgueil, you have Deliziefollie. At the other, Eric Kayser. And in between, it’s a sheer embarrassment of riches.

Let’s start with Deliziefollie (7 rue Montorgueil), the Italian gelateria. They have dozens of decadent flavors to ogle, from the savory (hazelnut) to the spicy (cinnamon); from fruity (mango) to boozy (rum raisin) to just plain sweet (strawberries and cream). And if a frozen dessert on an autumn day doesn’t cut it, you can get a piping hot Nutella crepe from their stand out front.

Just a couple doors up, Charles Chocolatier (15 rue Montorgueil) is a heavenly oasis of artisinal treats. The long-standing chocolate shop (since 1910) offers lovely dark chocolate bonbons and tablettes, plus killer hot cocoa.

Does Stohrer (51 rue Montorgueil) have the best chocolate éclair in the city? Despite the obscene number of times I’ve been in this gorgeous little patisserie—a historic gem, founded in 1730 by King Louis XV’s pastry chef, Nicolas Stohrer—I still haven’t tried one. Although Stohrer has received city’s best honors from Le Figaro, I can’t seem to get beyond the puits d’amour, tartelette aux figues or Neptune cake, which is like a giant Rocher chocolate.

I know Paul (63 rue Montorgueil) is a chain, and I can be a world-class snob when it comes to chains. But besides their heavenly baguettes, Paul makes a perfect pit-stop for pain au chocolat, tartes aux citrons and those pepito loafs that are chock full of chocolate chips and sweet pastry cream.

My love for dried pineapple is no secret. Nor should it be a surprise that A la Mere de Famille (82 rue Montorgueil) is my supplier. Beyond their luscious bins of dried fruit is a cute little store filled with caramels, marzipan, lollis, marshmallows and chocolates.

My incredibly rich mocha birthday cake this year came from Maison Collett (100 rue Montorgueil) so I have a soft spot for this patisserie.

Despite having all these delicious options, I will often walk by them to get to Eric Kayser. Another master breadmaker, Kayser also knows his sweets. With goodies like the chocolaty Opera cake, beautiful raspberry pistachio cake, and strawberry bressane—a round, flat pastry topped with cream, sugar and berries, from the Bresse area of the Rhône-Alpes—wouldn’t you?

Thursday, November 26, 2009


I love that I'm home for Thanksgiving. It was totally not planned but so wonderful as there is so much to be thankful for.

First, I'm thankful for my Parisian adventure. It's been a struggle lately, but it's been a brilliant year and I would change nothing. I feel so lucky, happy and proud to be living in the most beautiful city in the world. And I'm grateful for the lessons I'm learning while I'm here.

I'm so extremely thankful for friends - both old and new. It's extraordinary to think of the friends I've made in Paris and, that a year ago, they weren't in my life. They are such a big part of my life now. You are such a big part of my life now. Thank you, thank you.

And, of course, my old friends and my family. Coming back, being welcomed into everyone's home, being showered with affection and support, feeling the old bonds and connections - it's absolutely priceless. I know I sound so corny, but it's such a beautiful thing.

One of the nice things about holidays, in fact, is that it forces us to pause, break from routine, and actually get off our butts and reach out to friends and family. These are the key things in life. And coming to Paris has allowed - and forced - me to do that in spades.

So at the risk of sounding like a total drip, Happy Thanksgiving to everyone, and thank you to everyone. For sharing this with me, and for adding a little more light and love to this girl's life.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A girl can get used to this

I had to come to New York for work and have been staying at 60 Thompson… where the Times is delivered every morning, and, each night, turndown service includes a Fat Witch brownie. Where the bathroom is stocked with Kiehl’s and the minibar, with Dean & Deluca. Where they hold the door for you as you come and go and all of Soho is just outside. And I’m thinking I could get really used to this.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

37 say "oui"

Two days until the casting call for the big American/French dating show. 37 of you thought I should go for it, and I appreciate every one of you who took the time to weigh in and give me the nudge to be a big American dork in Paris.

But after all, for better or worse, I won't be around the participate. I'm off the New York for two weeks for a mix of work and fun. I probably won't be writing as much due to all the chocolate chip cookies I'll be consuming. But maybe I'll find time to find an American boy while home. Maybe not. In any case, let's all keep the adventures going!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Velib to the rescue

1:14 > Should I do it?

1:14:30 > F-it. I have to.

It’s Friday. I’m leaving for New York for two weeks tomorrow. Oh, you know, just a couple small things going on like a photo shoot with two creative geniuses and my best friend’s wedding. Plus, I’ll be working in between those events. So I have a lot to wrap up before I go. And work is crazy as always.

I got my dress for the wedding yesterday. Which made it very clear that I needed shoes to go with it. Which meant, yes, I should go back to the 7th arrondisement for that pair I tried on on Saturday but deemed too expensive. I might be able to find a pair in New York, but I might also be too crazed. Did I mention it’s my best friend’s wedding? And I’m giving a toast? I need to look and feel great.

I had a meeting at 2 and had been planning to dash over at lunch but suddenly it was after 1. Should I try to scramble across town, or put it off (and stress overnight) until the morning, before my flight?

1:14:30 > F’it. I have to.

1:20 >
Hopped on a Velib and pedaled over to the seventh. Waoh. Fast, fun, what a gorgeous day!

1:28 > Grab that last free opening at the Velib station and ditch the bike

1:33 >
Am trying on the shoes for a second time. Yup, still love them.

1:39 >
Oh, okay, pop into another store real quickly.

1:44 > Back on a Velib! Back to the second!

1:52 > Rats, no openings at that Velib station.

1:53 > Merde, no openings at that one either.

1:54 > Yay! Opening! Ditch the Velib, three blocks from the office

1:55 > Grab a salad a emporter from the “design your own” place I found the other day.

2:01 >
Back in time, fortification and shoes in hand, for the meeting. Though the rest of the crew is still at lunch.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Viva la France!

What's bigger and louder than New Year's in New York? Rowdier and more exciting than Halloween in the Castro?

Apparently, Paris when Algeria beats Egypt in the World Cup qualifiers.

I was meeting JP and Kyoko for dinner in the ninth after a looong day at the office. As there wasn't a direct Metro route, I decided to pick up a Velib. Oh Velibs, I love you so. I forget what a rush it is to bike along, switching from major boulevards to abandoned side streets, barely registering the cafe terraces, pinkish street lights and autumn smells. It was so fun pedaling away at breakneck speed. But then I had to slow down a little. For there were all these people walking down the middle of the street. And, what's that? More people, sitting on the hoods of honking taxis and dancing in the intersection? Horns were beeping, crowds were chanting, and apparently every North African immigrant (except Egyptians of course) and diehard soccer fan was out in the street celebrating their victory.

And with France's victory over Ireland, I'm not sure that I'm going to sleep in peace tonight.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Paris for the first time

The Eiffel Tower is amazing, it’s true. And the Louvre and L’Arc de Triomphe are massive and impressive. All the things you’ve heard about Paris, in fact, are true. It’s a city of immense beauty and wonder and rarely does anything disappoint.

But still, many of its charms are in the small nooks and lesser-known areas. If you wander off the beaten path, you’ll be rewarded with small delights like hidden courtyards, homemade ice cream and cute old-timers shuffling down cobblestone streets with their baguettes in one hand and French bulldogs in the other. Here are a few small ways to guarantee you’ll fall in love with the city.

• Walk around the residential neighborhoods. Get away from the first and sixth arrondisements (not that there’s anything wrong with them) that, head for head, probably have more foreigners than locals. When you stumble into Parc de Monceau, on the border of the eighth and seventeenth, or climb the hills of the thirteenth instead of the tourist-clogged eighteenth, you’ll get a true sense of Paris’ charms.

• Stroll through the flower market on Ile de la Citie.

• When it comes to art, think small: museums (l’Orangerie), fondations (Cartier) and galleries. Going to a vernissage (gallery opening) gives you the bonus of great people-watching, too.

• Take a Velib for a spin.

Markets, markets, markets. The produce, the cheese, the flowers, the soap, the honey, the rabbits getting skinned right in front of you! It’s an orgy of sights and smells, and it’s one of the best things in the world.

• Get dolled up and visit a salon de thé like Fauchon or Maxim’s.

• Picnic: pick a prime spot along the Seine. Or settle on a hill in Buttes Chaumont. Pull up a chair and watch the mini sailboats racing at the Luxembourg Gardens. Any excuse to pack some bread, cheese, chocolate, wine and fruit and sit and watch the world go by.

• Pick a public bus route and ride it from end to end. In this city, chances are you’ll see at least one gorgeous monument, plus all the cafes, boutiques, parks, markets and restaurants you’d never know otherwise existed.

• Bonjour, chocolate tour! Pick a neighborhood and follow a trail from one chocolatier to another, sampling just a bonbon or two from each. Go from Jean-Charles Rochoux to Pierre Hermé to Pierre Marcolini in the sixth. In the first, start with Jean-Paul Hevin, to Michel Cluizel, followed by cocoa at Angelina. In the eighth, a Maison du Chocolat, Patrick Roger and Neuhaus all peacefully coexist on rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré.

• Linger on a café terrace. Have a single café crème or coup de champagne. Or get a chevre chaud salad or poulet roti with frites. Imagine yourself in a Bresson photograph. Paris. Perfect.

French phrase of the day: l'embarras du choix

Def: an embarrassment of choices.

We could all be so lucky.

Monday, November 16, 2009

More beautiful art

If you're lucky in life, you have really good friends. But when those friends introduce you to new art on a regular basis, then you're really, really lucky.

Tonight, Mel introduced me to Elger Esser. There's a lovely little exhibition at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac that is as small as it is fleeting, here until Saturday in celebration of Paris Photo. Catch it while you can. And thank Mel for it. xo

Allons-y à Asnière

Asnière. Chances are, you’ve never heard of this town. Unless you grew up north of Paris. Or are a Vuitton fan. Since I’ve been drinking the Vuitton Kool-Aid for eight months now, I count myself a fan. And my visit to their atelier/museum/home last week in Asnière only made me more so.

I guess the fete was to properly kick off a new beginning for us—moving to the Vuitton space, starting on this new project, etc. Plus a good brand will do everything it can to bring its heritage, beliefs and sensibilities to life for its adherents.

I had taken the online tour, but there’s no way you can appreciate the immaculate detail of the historic Vuitton house unless you’re there in person. Three generations of the family lived there; now it’s a private museum—an Art Nouveau gem.

The day began in the late afternoon, with the museum director sitting us down for tea and cookies, while giving us a little family and company background. Genial! Herbal tea from fine china, surrounded by plushness on all sides? I could get used to it. I couldn’t help but notice that the sterling silver serving set offered that new, fake sugar stuff in addition to classic sugar cubes—a prime example of the company’s balance of tradition and innovation.

After our indulgent moment, we were taken inside the atelier—a fancy word for factory because this factory is indeed fancy. We weren’t allowed to take photos, but all I can say is it was sort of thrilling to see spools of multicolor monogram canvas, stacks of hard-frame briefcases, and special order wardrobes, trunks and cases in progress. It was really too cool.

On the second floor of the home, there’s a small but significant museum devoted to the company’s founding principles on travel. After all the months of research and writing I’ve been doing, it was inspiring to see some of it brought to life.

After a proper team-building meeting, it was onto aperos and dinner. Veuve Cliquot was passed. A beautiful yet casual buffet dinner was served. And I got my fill of dessert.

Details are everything.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Battle of the bulge

“C’mon! You didn’t come here to watch the morning news and eat croissant!”

This was the gem my yoga drill sergeant offered this morning. I can always count on one great zinger from her. I love it.

And it’s true. In fact, I’ve missed several weeks of yoga due to work and traveling and am suddenly looking at a new pooch that I’m desperate to get rid of. So I’ll try to go back to yoga on both Thursday and Friday. And no morning croissants, no afternoon pastries, no après-dinner chocolates in the meantime. This sweet freak needs to reign it in.

Getting gyped comes in threes

The fucking French. Pardon my French, but really.

Thursday night, it was the taxi driver. I don’t often take cabs here but I would say at least 20% of time when I do, they try to take me for a ride. On Thursday, my driver turned right off rue Saint-Honoré, towards the Louvre in order to bring me to Boulevard Sebastopol. I asked him why we were going towards the Left Bank instead of continuing on, straight, and he started freaking out, they way defensive taxi drivers do, so I started freaking out back at him. But, at the end of the day, I’m the jerk who doesn’t speak the language and doesn’t know the street names. It’s hard to win an argument when the other person can't understand you.

Then last night, I had an appointment at a new hair salon. Don’t ask me why I didn’t go back to the place, Coiffure & Nature, where I’ve been twice and had good cuts. For some reason, I’m never satisfied. I always think there’s something better, so I decided to try Jean Louis Déforges, which I had walked by a few times.

I came prepared for my 6 o’clock appointment with my notes: “une coupe e’entretien avec des dégradées.” It worked at the other salon—they understood that I wanted a trim with layers. But this hair stylist told me, “non.” He jabbed his hand at my shoulder, indicating where he wanted to cut my hair. We all know how long it takes to grow hair. I wasn’t interested in cutting it that short. I wanted to keep my length. I tried explaining this to him and kept pointing to my notes and repeating out loud: “une coupe e’entretien avec des dégradées.” We were glaring at each other in the mirror.

Then the artistic director came over, who luckily spoke English pretty well. He had a really nice disposition and calmly pointed out that my hair was thin and therefore straggly in the back. It could use a little less length. He’d recommend doing more than a trim. When I told him I wanted to keep the length, he asked why I was there, then. What was I doing getting my hair cut? I couldn’t believe these two hairdressers were basically refusing me the cut that I wanted. It was so outrageous. And I was like a (furious) deer in headlights. I had already waited too long to make the appointment (I put off every little action here in Paris—everything is too difficult and requires to much effort. Although, I am finally going for my follow-up doctor appointment this week and really, really hope to replace those glasses that I lost in June by the end of the year because it’s really hard to see sometimes. But I digress.), and knew this week was going to be hell and I wouldn’t have a chance to make another hair appointment. I convinced myself that, hey, you’re in France. They’re style gods. Let this man do what he thinks is right. He was quite convincing and was telling me he'd cut my hair and he wouldn’t take too much off. I finally succumbed.

Silly girl.

One of the assistants washed my hair (which, as always, was heaven. Ah, I love a scalp massage) and brought me back to the chair. Where I sat, waiting, with a wet head, for nearly 45 minutes. I was irate. And to make matters worse, I had a date at 7:30 to meet the woman who’s potentially minding Milo and the treehouse when I’m in New York. It was nearly 7 o’clock, I was on the other side of town, and I was freaking out.

Finally, the artistic director came over and started trimming my hair. And then the layers came. He cut the shit out of my hair. At 7:20—with me, red-faced, but just wanting to get the hell out of there—he asked one of the assistants to dry my hair with the diffuser. I told him I was late and had to go and he said, “Just a leetle, just a leetle.” So the girl blew out my hair, upside down, with a diffuser (Are you asking yourself what the hell is wrong with me?? Why was I still there? Because I was asking myself that the whole time, muttering like a crazy old lady). I sprang up and, voila! An afro! Thank you, Jean Louis Déforges, thank you so much!

I gritted my teeth, paid my 60 euros and bolted from the salon. I really wanted to cry, but I didn’t have time—I had to find a taxi to usher me to my date in the Marais, for which I was now late. But of course there were no taxis. It was one of those hours when they’re all unavailable. So I ran. I ran past l’eglise Saint-Germain, I ran to the Seine, and I ran across the bridge (pretty views, at least). I ran to the Louvre-Rivoli Metro stop, took one train, transferred in the hell that is Chatelet, took another train, and then ran from Arts et Metiers to rue Bretagne. I had a frizzy afro, sweaty face and no breath when I finally busted through the door of Café Charlot.

Luckily, the woman whom I was meeting, Nicole, was great. Hopefully things will work out with the apartment, so after a couple glasses of wine, we decided to go to Hotel Costes. Pourquoi pas? I mean, I looked and felt so chic, why not take that haircut out for a walk? (Kidding, of course. By now, my hair was back in what I was hoping looked like a French updo.)

Hotel Costes on a Saturday night was like being at Hotel Gansevoort on a Saturday night. That is, cool if you like fake tans, muscle-y men and total posturing. But no matter—Nicole and I had a great time. I ordered a sidecar for 19 euros, Nicole got a 19-euros glass of champagne, and we plunked ourselves down at the small bar. The drinks went down quickly and easily and the atmosphere was lively and we had no other agenda. We ordered another round, with me switching to champagne. Sometime later, I turned and the bartender—who was channeling Tom Cruise in Cocktail all night—was refilling our glasses. Zut—my fifth drink of the night, without any supper in my belly. Not good. But hey, who am I to refuse a free glass of champagne?

Except that it wasn’t free. Even though we didn’t ask for that last round, he still charged us, making my grand total for the three drinks nearly 60 euros—the same price of my fabulous haircut.

The f'ing French.


Jo and I had a drink at the bar of Chez Prune on Friday night. There were two cute men behind the bar, one of whom introduced this genius trick to us.

Since there were no hooks on which to hang our bags, he slid the strap of each of our purses over a spoon, and then positioned them in the gap between the brass rail and the zinc bar. Voila, instant bag storage.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

School me

I cooked up a storm this fall (well, it’s all relative). After my first dessert-making course at Atelier des Sens, I was pretty hooked and took six subsequent classes. I highly recommend it for anyone living or visiting Paris.

Art Home
Delicious two-hour workshops in the sleek white, modern kitchen inside the Palais de Tokyo. Made coriander-crusted sardines and plum clafoutis. 2 hours, 20 euros.

Atelier des Sens
Two darling locations and a boatload of themed classes. I pigged out on rhubarb-raspberry crème brulée, pistachio sabayon, and a rich and fragrant lavender-peach trifle in my summer desserts course. 3 hours, 90 euros.

Les Coulisses du Chef
Loved Chef Olivier Berte’s warm, welcoming kitchen and his gentle but confident teaching style. Made parsnip soup, sole meunière (channeling Julia!) and fig and strawberry carpaccio. 3 hours, 100 euros.

Eye Prefer Paris Cooking Classes
My fellow Americans Richard Nathem and Charlotte Puckette offer super fun and intimate classes in Charlotte’s seventh arrondisement townhouse. Asparagus and goat cheese tart, duck breast and apple galette. 4.5 hours, 185 euros.

Elegant Home Cooking

Sylvie Barbazanges now leads this cooking school inside a renovated farmhouse in Suresnes (about 15 minutes on the RER). Made zuchhini millefeuilles, chicken breasts stuffed with ground veal and was treated to a third-course cheese tasting. 3 hours, 120 euros.

La Cocotte

Delicious banana cream, lemon meringue, apple cheddar and pumpkin tartlettes? Just another night with Rachel Khoo at Andrea Wainer’s charming salon de thé/foodie bookstore that hosts the occasional cooking class. 3 hours, 35 euros.

Atelier des Chefs

Japanese, cocktail mixing, molecular gastronomy and more at multiple City Center locations. I took a down and dirty 30-minute class in which we made risotto with peas and squid. They say 30 minutes (15 euoros), but it’s more like 60, once you’ve eaten.

Details of my cooking adventures will come out in the March issue of National Geographic Traveler.

Witty & wise

“In Paris they simply stared when I spoke to them in French; I never did succeed in making those idiots understand their own language.”
—Mark Twain

(Who's our modern day Mark Twain in terms of wit and talent??)

Friday, November 13, 2009


Convenient little parcels of peanuts, yours for a euro at the Montparnasse bowling lanes.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Homemade kouign amann

Is it a sign??

As my thoughts (and cravings) keep getting swept away by sticky-sweet cakes and bits— thanks to articles like the one by Melissa Clark about Molly Killeen’s St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake and posts by Dorie Greenspan and David Leibovitz—my partner and his wife, the great Lionel and Sylvia, baked a kouign amann and shared a slice with me.

It wasn't as oozingly gooey as the kouignette I tried in Nantes last month. But nor was it a dense, mushy and sweet that would have made my head spin into orbit. As everything they make is, it was quite tasty. But I'm still on the hunt for that achingly perfect treacly bit of magic.

Sex and the CIty

I am such a cheeseball.

I watched the Sex and the City movie last night. For the third time. And I still bawled.

When I saw it the first two times in the theater (back-to-back on a Saturday with girlfriends and by myself on Sunday), I was smitten. Last night, it seemed so much more over-the-top than I remember, but I still loved every minute of it.

Beyond the premise, the setting, the fashion and the characters, I love the show because there’s so much honesty in it. As outrageous as it is, it is tender and smart and nuanced. Every episode makes me laugh out loud and most also make me teary.

I also love how, now, the show makes me remember different chapters of my life. When it first debuted on HBO, I was living with Zack in San Francisco. Sunday nights, Jessica and Alex would come over to watch, and it seemed like such a fantasy to all of us. Then I moved to New York. I didn’t have cable but I watched episodes again and again on my VCR with Mitchell (this is eight years ago, people!), the fantasy just a wee bit closer. And then, when I bought my own place in the East Village, well into my 30s, staying home with Sex and the City and a side of either Teuscher truffles or dried pineapple was the ultimate way to spend Saturday night.

If I had all of those seasons on DVD now, I know I would be holing myself up in the treehouse all winter to watch them for the 28th time. So I guess it’s a good thing that I have only the movie, which is nowhere near as good as the series. I gotta get out there and meet my Big.

Should I, or shouldn't I?

We are looking for single Americans living in Paris for a new dating game show to be filmed in Paris. Casting takes place Nov 23-25 in Paris. Filming takes place early December. 15/16th in Paris.
Open casting, all welcome to attend. Have to be single, not married. Age range 21 minimum. American nationals only. No pay for the pilot.
Extroverted, Americans who live in Paris are encouraged to apply. Pilot show for an American TV network. No TV experience needed.
Please email for details or call
212 507 9700
Embassy Row Productions

So... should I, or shouldn't I? Please weigh in on the poll to the top right.

French phrase of the day: C'est pas sorcier

Def: It's not rocket science

It's important that I remind myself this when I'm banging my head against la mur, trying to come up with interactive concepts for a luxury brand.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Another walk to work

We’re going to be moving to LV any day now. While I am thrilled that my commute is going to now be a 10-minute walk, I am a little heartbroken to leave the grandeur of our Champs-Elysees office. Yesterday, shrugging off a day at the gym, and embracing the brisk autumn temperatures that usually leave me shivering and complaining, I walked to work instead of cramming myself onto the Metro. It did wonders for my spirits.

(Gee, I wonder why?)

(Still want to take pastry classes here)

Later, reflecting on my recent moods and struggles with Julie, I realized that I am now at a point of being in Paris as if I were in a relationship (yes, I think I remember what that feels like). It’s been eight months. The first six months were nothing but bliss; the city could do no wrong. Then I went to New York and felt alienated, tormented and just plain weird. I couldn’t wait to get back to Paris.

And since I’ve been back, in twisted karmic revenge or something, I’ve been having a hard time. I’ve realized that the love of my life has its faults. The bureaucracy and pace kill me, as do my current workload and the exchange rate. When it’s cold and dark out as it is in November, it’s a little less magical than when everyone is sprawled out in the park or on café terraces until the sun finally sets at 10 o’clock, like it does in July.

This walk reminded me of my first days here in Paris, when I would find my way from the crummy hotel to the office. Mingling with the locals, going about my new routine, I felt so inspired, happy, in awe. Just plain lucky to be here.

I guess it’s inevitable that you can’t hold onto that high forever. But it’s just as important that I remember those feelings and try to see the beauty and magic with fresh eyes, an un-jilted heart and all the appreciation that this incredible city deserves.

Home on a Wednesday

It’s Armistice Day today. A sad holiday of remembrance. But man, am I happy to be home.

I went to the gym this morning and had another funny/surreal aerobics class with French men bouncing around to Estelle and Coldplay in white tank tops and black tube socks.

Then I hit up rue Montorgueil for some fresh bread and veggies from the markets. Still working on that sugar detox.

Now, I am devoting myself to writing and just enjoying being home in my treehouse with Milo, with no crazy agenda. Laundry and blogging are hardly exciting or sexy things to do on a day off. But I get a sick pleasure out of days like these.

In season: clementines

Is there anything better than these sweet, little self-contained snacks?

I love taking a moment in the afternoon, grabbing two or three, and eating them as I watch the crowds shuffle down the Champs-Elysees. Since my days at the office are numbered and they’re a seasonal fruit, I will relish this little ritual while it lasts.

Love in London

One of the nice things about having a birthday away from home is that you get to extend the celebrating.

First, Dad, Lo and I had our mini celebration. Dad’s birthday is the day before mine so every year since I moved to New York, he’d come in for the weekend and we’d go out for a fancy dinner and nightcap at the Beauty Bar (lol). This year, they were in Paris the week before our big days. No Beauty Bar in Paris, but we had our fair share of fancy dinners, and they also surprised me with cake, flowers and gifts one night.

Then, I had my lovely dinners with Mel and Jo and Pierre. It’s not been easy being away from my dear friends back home, but new friends like these make life a whole lot sweeter.

And finally, over the weekend, I hopped on the Eurostar and went up to London to celebrate with Chris, Dana, Annika and Aidan. It was also Annika’s birthday on Monday; between the two of us, we celebrated 43 years (I’ll leave the math to you).

As usual, Dana whipped up incredible food—a lovely family dinner Saturday night and all kinds of dishes on Sunday for Annika’s Hello Kitty party. At our “adult” dinner, Chris poured the champagne, and the kids passed my camera around to get some stunning family portraits.

The rest of the weekend was equally wonderful. Lots of hugs and affection (Annika and Aidan are the biggest love bugs). Nice gifts and good conversation. Craziness at the kids’ party, and relaxation in between.

As much as I love the eating, drinking and partying that a birthday inspires, the best thing about them is hearing from everyone you love, reflecting on your life and relationships, and realizing just how lucky you are.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Essential celebratory elements

Delicious kir royales and Nutella crepes were part of this year's birthday festivities. More important were all the happy wishes and sweet thoughts from friends and family. Thank you everyone for making my day very special.

Friday, November 6, 2009

A big week for New York

I can’t stand the Yankees, but I’m excited for all those eggheads who love them and were no doubt puking their brains out after celebrating their World Series victory.

I do like Mike and think this third term will be a very interesting one for him and the city.

Plus, it’s been one happy year since Obama’s election! I remember sitting in a dark East Village bar last year with Trinity and Mel, holding back tears, gulping down lumps in our throats and staring at the TV, disbelievingly. What a year it’s been!

Ho hum

It was a good week. But good is all. Not terribly exciting or inspired. Not down and out. I’ve been treading water in a very blasé place these past couple of months, trying to tap into the excitement and gratitude I felt at first for being here in Paris and for having been given this opportunity. But the reality is, it’s been hard to find the energy or enthusiasm. I’m more often tired, grumpy and indifferent. I don’t mean to sound depressed because I’m not. I guess I’m trying to make sense of my feelings as much as I am apologizing for not posting more often lately.

So, the week in a nutshell:

I focused on recouping a little, sleeping, getting to the gym, and weaning myself from sugar, booze and three-course dinners.

Which I did successfully, save for my one fabulous date with Mel at La Fidelité that entailed decadent dishes and kir royales. I do love eating and drinking!

I wrapped up a couple articles and am hoping to have a little more space inside my head as a result.

Work is going well—just really busy. I’m excited for the upcoming projects and potential opportunities, though staying at the office until 8 o’clock really saps my energy.

But it’s Friday. It’s my birthday. The sun is out after a week of rain, and I’m off to London tomorrow morning to see and party with family.

Monday, November 2, 2009

A culinary weekend

Saturday night was a five-course Mexican fiesta, cheffed up by Sylvia of Chez-Lionel & Sylvia. Chips and guacamole, baked cheese and chorizo soup, tamales and tortillas, chicken mole and refried beans, Corona and Desperado… olé! (And oh my!)

The table dressing was adorable, the dogs were well-behaved and everyone was very kind about my bastardized French.

Sunday afternoon was a totally different scene. Out in the 20th arrondisement, Rachel played host to a muesli-tasting party. Cranking away on a cookbook for this “healthy” subject, she needed to test her homemade granola recipes. For me, it was all about the spicy ginger plum, yum.

And bookending the weekend was dinner at Café Moderné Friday night with Dad and Lo and Sunday night dinner at Louis Vins with Bruce and Meghan. While Friday was the last binge of Dad’s visit, I didn’t let it stop me from indulging with Bruce and Meghan last night: goat cheese salad, grilled tuna and buttery mashed potatoes, tarte tatin, plus these cute little shooters of lentil soup.

I would say the detox began today, but I have one more big dinner one the horizon: La Fidelité tomorrow night with Melissa. Yay!

Restaurants of the week, part I

Café Panique: 12 rue des Messageries, 10eme

Went with: Dad and Lois on a Monday night (A great option if you’re ever looking for a restaurant that’s open on Mondays.)
Had: The fantastic three-course 35 Euros prix-fixe menu. It started with an amuse-bouche of lobster tartar, topped with foie gras. Then I had a beautiful sablé of goat cheese, cherry tomatoes and arugula; progressed to magret de canard with spinach and parsnips and finished big with a crazy caramel crème brulee. Wow.
Impressions: I would definitely go back. The proprietor, Odile Guyader, is a genuine and warm presence—very attentive without being cloying or pushy. The rotating art is really cool, as are the mismatched chairs that make the converted textile fabric factory feel homey and charming. I don’t know if it’s because it was a Monday night or if it’s the vibe the small restaurant cultivates, but it was super discreet but friendly—a great mix of people, atmosphere and food.

La Grille: 80, rue du Faubourg Poissoniere, 10eme

Went with: Dad and Lois on a Tuesday night
Had: More Bordeaux and bread. A salad of mixed greens and roqueforte. And one of the house specialties: a brochette of scallops cooked to perfection, drenched in butter. There was also a communal plate of this beautiful potato and onion gratin, and we helped Lo with her flan—a giant portion of delicious eggy custard.
Impressions: I wanted to sample a range of restaurants with Dad and Lo and going to La Grille definitely fit that bill. This place is super old-school. You walk in, and it’s like being in your grandma’s house. The front room is just a reception area with a spiral staircase going to some unknown world upstairs. The back room only has nine tables and you’re all crammed in together, under the slightly disconcerting (don’t think about the hygiene) clutter of knickknacks. Husband and wife team Yves and Geneviève are as classically French as the food and décor, making the whole experience unforgettable.

Itinéraires: 5 rue de Pontoise, 5eme

Went with: Dad and Lois on a Wednesday night (see a trend here?)
Had: Thinly sliced salmon, topped with a lemon vodka sorbet, sprinkled with dill; and… I know this is crazy but I can’t remember what I ate. Dad had risotto, dyed black with squid ink, and topped with fresh seafood. Lois had roasted chicken and leeks. I know I had fish, and I know I loved it. But I can’t for the life of me remember the dish. C’est bizarre.
Impressions: I had wanted to go to Itinéraires since I read about it last summer and, after a year-and-a-half of anticipation, it didn’t disappoint. This was probably the most “happening” (e.g. chicest and most bustling) restaurant we went to. The décor was simple but refined; the service, a titch more absent than normal in a French restaurant. But it’s definitely a restaurant that’s worth going back to again and again.

A good piece of advice

Sometimes I really want to throw in the French towel. It’s been nearly eight months that I’ve been living here, trying to develop some proficiency with the language. And yet I still feel clumsy and tongue-tied. In fact, more often than not, I feel I’ve regressed. It’s like I’m never going to learn the language; I’ll never be able to say what I want, how I want, when I need to.

Saturday night, for example, I was at a dinner party with nine French people. I couldn’t understand the conversation for most of the night. And when I tried to participate in the conversation (don’t laugh), I couldn’t find the right words or form the right thoughts.

And on Sunday, I attended a conversational French class but was so frustrated by my inability to understand the others foreigners’ accents and articulate my own thoughts in French that I left early. To have dinner with my American friends.

It makes me wonder why I devote so much time to studying when nothing seems to stick. It’s like my brain has holes in it and all the French leaks out. I know that’s defeatist thinking, just as I know I have indeed picked up some French while living here, but still—I wonder what the point is sometimes.

So I was a little heartened by Josephine’s support during our lesson this morning. She reassured me that I am making progress and that sometimes you do have to step back in order to move forward. But the most encouraging thing she said was to focus on talking about what I love. For example, at my next dinner party, I should talk about visiting towns like Nantes and Biarritz and French food and restaurants. She said that when you talk about things you love, this little “internal motor” makes us process things quicker. Speaking becomes easier. It’s good advice. I’m going to become the American who’s obsessed with food and travel.