A DIY Food Tour, Paris Edition Part 2: How to Overdose on Chocolate in Paris

I did a fair amount of research online about the best chocolate shops in Paris before we visited, and had in mind some of the ones I most wanted to see, based on blogs and reviews, and the fact that a lot of them show up in multiple articles.  I foolishly thought I’d be able to visit more than three.  But it is, in fact, seriously easy to overdose on chocolate in Paris.  Because the chocolate there at some of the world’s finest chocolatiers is so intense, so rich, and so powerful that really, one or two is enough.  But we were wide eyed, and our first stop left us giddy for samples.  It should be noted, though, that we went to this shop before we had breakfast, and by the time we left, my head was spinning from a sugar high already.  We had so much amazing chocolate that, when we were leaving on the Eurostar and the kind lady at the Pierre Herme counter there (and lets all just take a moment to appreciate that there is a Pierre Herme chocolate counter AT THE TRAIN STATION) offered us a sample my husband turned a little green and walked AWAY.  Friends, I took one for the team, and had one last bite of decadence.  And it was worth it!

Buying a box of chocolates at Jacques Genin.
Buying a box of chocolates at Jacques Genin.

At Jacques Genin, they are pretty free with the samples, especially once they know you’re both new to the store, and ready to buy something.  We sampled a host of delightful and some unusual chocolate blends; a Szechwan pepper chocolate, a Brazilian nut chocolate, the best salted caramel I’ve ever had in my life.

The shop is also gorgeous.  When you walk in, you think you’ve wandered into Chanel, or maybe a fine jewelry store. All the chocolates are behind glass, and the presentation is gorgeous.  We ended up purchasing a box of 12 chocolates for friends in Edinburgh, and coworkers at home.  At about 18 Euros a box, they are not cheap, but they were worth that, and the enjoyment, surprise, and delight from our friends was priceless.  If I had to go back, I would definitely visit this store.  I will buy gifts from there again, and I will sample their wares again myself for sure!

Our next stop, though, was Patrick Roger.  Patrick Roger has won the Meilleur Ouvrier in 2000, which is awarded every four years to the best craftsperson that field.  So its basically the Olympics of food.  Wouldn’t you love to be the judge of THAT?

The Thinking Man done in chocolate at Patrick Roger.
The Thinking Man done in chocolate at Patrick Roger.

Anyhow, I also think Patrick Roger is basically the real life Willy Wonka.  Check out the image to the right here of this sculpture he did.  It’s The Thinker done entirely in chocolate.  ENTIRELY IN CHOCOLATE.  It makes me think of the little chocolate rabbits we had as kids for Easter and how I could never eat them because I thought, on some level, that I might be hurting the poor wee rabbits.  I’m older now, though, and if given the chance I’d of taken a bite out of THIS thinking man!

A yuzu chocolate at Patrick Roger, aka, a pretty perfect bite.
A yuzu chocolate at Patrick Roger, aka, a pretty perfect bite.

We also got some chocolates as gift here.  This store amazes me.  If Jacques Genin is like Harry Winston, then Patrick Roger is Tiffany’s, right down to the beautiful blue of the bags, boxes, and décor accents.  Here, the Yuzu chocolates are not to be missed.  They are delicate though, and the little domes crack easily.  I don’t recommend transporting those across the Atlantic – but I DO recommend sampling them in the store.  While you’re walking.  Maybe while your husband is in the bathroom brushing his teeth…. Ahem.  They are bright, chocolate, and deceptively decadent.  I love the combination of chocolate and citrus, and to me, these little chocolates are a near perfect bite of chocolate.  Much as I enjoyed the trip to Jacques Genin, and appreciated the more relaxed atmosphere there, if I could visit only one chocolate shop in Paris, it would probably be this one. This is the one I’d take friends to, or out of towners.  This is the one you go to for visual wow as well as chocolate wow.

And finally, I want to mention one chocolatier whose chocolates, chocolate truffles anyhow, I didn’t get to sample.  I did, however, sample the chocolate tartelette at Jean Paul Hevin, which is bar none the best I’ve ever had.  So rich, and yet so seemingly light, I couldn’t imagine chocolate could be that smooth, or that intense yet creamy.  It was literally divine.  And the thing I like best about this chocolatier is that upstairs from the chocolate shop on Rue St Honore there is a small restaurant, serving amazing brunch.  As this is near some pretty amazing shopping, not to mention the Louvre and the Musee d’Orsay, it’s the prefect place to begin with a late breakfast, or early lunch, and then explore.  Have the goat cheese toast.  No, seriously, HAVE THE GOAT CHEESE TOAST.

Chocolate Tartellete and Praline Feuilleton.  Feuilleton means many layers, and both of these desserts were AMAZING.
Chocolate Tartellete and Praline Feuilleton. Feuilleton means many layers, and both of these desserts were AMAZING.

There’s no shortage of amazing chocolatiers in Paris.  We visited but these three.  I intend to go back until I’ve tried them all.  How about you?  Have you been to Paris, or are you planning a trip?  What chocolatiers make your list?

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Happy Jolabokaflod! Or, Giving Books for the Holidays

JOLABOKAFLOO
Meme from Lit Lovers Facebook Page.

There’s a meme floating around Facebook right now that I first saw linked on LitLovers, which is a great Facebook page to follow by the way.  It talks about Jolabokaflod, or the Icelandic tradition of giving books on Christmas Eve.  Most new books are published during the Christmas season in Iceland, apparently, and therefore Jolabokaflod means ‘Christmas Book Flood.’  The tradition in Iceland is that everyone spends the rest of the evening reading.  I first heard of this tradition long ago, and to me, this sounds like heaven.

Every year I always ask people to give books.  They aren’t just presents for kids, they are presents that, hopefully, anyone of any age can enjoy.  I know not everyone likes to read as much as I do.  But most everyone I know reads something, and if you can choose a book that speaks to the person, that says something about who they are, or where they have been in life, or might be going in life, then I think you have given a tangible object that can still be unwrapped, and that carries a far weightier meaning.

That’s why I’ve appreciated some of the great posts from other book bloggers out there.  I found this one, from Books on the Table, to be very well thought out, and speaks to the idea that you don’t just pull a bestseller off the shelf and call it a gift.  I’ve actually purchased two of the cocktail books mentioned as gifts.  I was also inspired by this post from River City Reading, that talks about giving some love to some smaller presses.  Since I run one of those, and have enjoyed at least one title in the list she gives, I’m all for this.  And over at Book Riot, they’ve just put up a post about some great recent releases in fantasy in 2015.

If I were to add something, I might suggest the mystery series by Robert Galbraith, aka JK Rowling, for fans of mystery and suspense.  For the history lover, and the literature lover, and I would suggest NO Lit, which, I will explicitly say is compiled by friends of mine, but is what I consider a pretty great book for perusing on Christmas Eve or Day.  There’s lots of gorgeous tidbits about New Orleans writers (think beyond Tennessee Williams) that you can share with friends and family over coffee, cocktails, and canapes.  For the nonfiction lover, or the fashionista, perhaps a biography of the fascinating life of Coco Chanel?  My point is, there is a book out there for every interest.

I would tell you what books I’ve selected for my family this year, but I don’t want to ruin the surprise.  I can give you a hint, though – they all involve food!  But what books will you give this holiday season?  What books do you recommend as gifts?

DIY Food Tours, Paris Edition, Part 1

We got married inside an old barn, around sunset.  The light was spectacular, and it was magical for us!
We got married inside an old barn, around sunset. The light was spectacular, and it was magical for us!

My husband and I got married last year the day after Thanksgiving.  Yes, that means we got married on Black Friday.  We eloped to a lovely little winery in Banner Elk, NC, and it was gorgeous.  There was an unseasonably early snow, so we got to have the most amazing wedding pictures taken.  But because we eloped, we decided to have a subsequent ceremony and small brunch in New Orleans over the holidays so that we could celebrate with family and friends.  It occurs to me I should write more about this, because, in the end, I’ve decided that no matter what my budget for a wedding was, this is exactly how I would do it again.  But what it did mean was, for this and other reasons, we had to delay our honeymoon.

Friends in New Orleans helping to celebrate our wedding.  We had a 12 hour wedding brunch party.  This was close to midnight.
Friends in New Orleans helping to celebrate our wedding. We had a 12 hour wedding brunch party. This was close to midnight.

So this year, we left on November 14 for a trip to Paris, Edinburgh, and London.  The first part of the trip was supposed to stand in as a honeymoon.  Since no fewer than three close friends got married this past year as well, and we travelled to all of those weddings, we were both a bit broke and a bit low on vacation days.  But we had to visit the UK to see family, and for my husband to do research on his novel, so we tacked a few days in Paris onto the schedule and decided it would be a minimoon, to be properly followed by an actual real vacation and honeymoon for just the two of us at some point in the hopefully-not-too-distant future.

And so frequent flyer miles were used, and two tickets were procured to Paris round trip.  And then the Bataclan terrorist attacks happened.  I wrote about that here, so I won’t revisit it now, but needless to say, it changed the trip.  Because I had planned a pretty hedonistic tour of Paris.  Originally, we had planned on taking a few food tours and cooking classes.  But as our time was short, and as we had such a limited budget, we changed this.  I ended up pouring over Pinterest, articles online from Conde Nast and Bon Apetit, and other blogs and putting together a DIY Food Tour of Paris.  I wanted to do it all – chocolate shops, creperies, fromageries, patisseries, and restaurants.  In three days.  It was, indeed, too ambitious.  Especially considering much of our plans had to be altered and amended because of closures due to the attacks.

That said, we still managed to hit a number of the places we’d planned to on my list.  We walked an average of ten miles a day.  Which was great, because then you feel less guilty about all the eclairs and pastries you’re eating!

So I’m going to post in each of those categories about what we liked best, and maybe even a bit of what we didn’t get to see, but will next time.  Because we will definitely be going back.  I have at least seven pages of notes and places we didn’t get to!  And that’s just a start.  I have plans to do a deeper study.  I lvoe that I cna call my plans to eat myself silly all over France a “study.”  But thats just what I want to do.  I want to eat in paris, I want to drink wine in Burgundy and Bordeaux, and I want to snack on mussels in Marseilles.

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Eclairs from Le Eclair du Genie, aka, my kryptonite.

Of course, falling in love with Paris and French food is hardly a new thing.  It has, in fact, transitioned from de rigeur to passe, one might argue.  But thats an argument I would happily take up.  Especially since, as pescetarians, much of French food is off limits to my husband and I.  Still, I think its possible to carve out your own, unique Parisian experience.  And hopefully, what we did this time will heklp you do the same whether or not Paris is your destination.  I’d pretty much do the same thing if I were going to Lima or Hyderabad.  Because I’m a bit obsessed with delcious food, and because I think food is the best inroad to a culture there is.  And also because its fun.  All the research I did for the trip helped me through a difficult time, and transported me to the banks of the Seine even though I was in prosaic pyjamas at home.

She says, navigating over to Pinterest to start planning her next trip to France.

 

Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller

Our Endless Numbered Days was released by Tin House Books in the US.

I have so many books to read and review right now that I am practically SALIVATING at the thought of my holiday break.  In five business days friends, FIVE AND COUNTING, I will be a lean, mean, reading and baking machine.  But in the meantime, I wanted to let you know about a book I read on our trip that was absolutely haunting.  Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller is a page turner of a tale.  It manages to be both lyrical and susepenseful, which isn’t an easy thing to accomplish.  But this is EXACTLY what I’m looking for in a book.

The book is set in 1970’s London, when our heroine, Peggy Hillcoat, is 8 years old.  She is taken by her survivalist father, James, to a cabin in the woods, and held there.  He tell her the world has ended, and with the guilelessness of a child, she believes him.  The tale is dark, a modern fairy tale.  It ends in the modern day, when Peggy returns to her mother in London, and the world at large.  Its ending lingers.  It follows you for days after you finish the book.

There are some reviews of the book that say they wish this part of the book was longer, and while I think the present tense bits of the book, which intersperse the narrative and help to drive the suspense, COULD have been elongated, I like the book as it is.  Its brevity in the modern day heightens its fairy tale, epic feel.  I think its pretty masterfully done, and can’t wait to read Ms. Fuller’s new book, which comes out in the UK in 2017, I believe.  And I’ll be getting my UK buddies to send me a copy stat!

Four Bees. 

Knox Whisky Works, or, A Place Worth Visiting in Knoxville

Tennessee Valley Vodka
Tennessee Valley Vodka

The posts about our trip are coming soon, friends, I promise.  At the moment I have been inundated in all things day-job, as well as with the piles of laundry and cleaning that accompany every homecoming from a long trip.  However, I did get out last Friday night to a new place I thought might be worth a mention, in case anyone is ever traveling through Knoxville.  Last weekend was the grand opening of Knox Whisky Works, the new, and only, distillery in Knoxville.  While recent visits to Seattle and Nashville and other major metropolitan areas have involved my husband and I sampling the wares at a variety of micro-distilleries, Knoxville itself has had nothing to offer on that front. There are craft breweries here, but we’ll get to that in a future post.  I’m honestly much more of a wine and cocktail drinker than a beer drinker anyhow.  I’ve made no secret of the fact that I find Knoxville frustrating on the food front.  After so long in New Orleans the endless strips of chain restaurants are, to me, sad.  There are a few notable exceptions to this, and I’ll post about those sometime soon.  But when I heard about the opening of the distillery, I told my husband that I didn’t care how poor we were post-Paris, we were going to support a local distillery.

 

So I made a reservation online for $10 per person for a tour plus tasting, and we invited a few friends to come along.  They are currently offering four spirits: a clear whisky, a vodka, a gin, and a coffee liqueur.  There are apparently twelve partners that came together to make this happen, and the guy who took us through the distillery part of the operation told us he was a nuclear physicist during the day, and a distiller on nights and weekends.  Chief distiller Stan Webster poured our tasting after the tour, and spoke with much enthusiasm about the spirits.  They focus on using only locally and sustainable sourced ingredients, even though that often is not the most cost effective means of production.  Their emphasis is on quality, though, and loyalty to the east Tennessee region.

The main still on the distillery tour.
The main still on the distillery tour.

The distillery is an interesting operation to see, especially if you haven’t ever seen one before.  They tell you about the different steps involved in making the spirits, and infusing them with flavor, like the gin and coffee liqueurs.  The gin has a variety of botanicals that give it a very smooth, easy drinking flavor with a hint of juniper but not so much you feel like you’re sucking Christmas Tree juice.  I’m a fan of gin, as you’ll probably be able to tell if you follow me on Instagram, and this one is pretty great even on its own.  They described it as “a gin that’s good even for people who don’t like gin.”  And I agree.

And the coffee liqueur was phenomenal.  It was rich and robustly caramelized, which they mentioned in the tour was a priority, and I could just about drink it on its own, but it had me contemplating variations of an affogato (replace the espresso powder with this liqueur I think?) and tiramisu I might make with it.  Honestly, if I could have afforded it that night, I would have walked away with a bottle of gin and the coffee liqueur both.  And at around $30 each, they are not unreasonably priced.  I’ll be back soon, for both, though, because I am still contemplating a tiramisu…. and Christmas without a gin martini? Psshhh.

The distillery has a lovely tasting room and bar, with a number of craft cocktails available.  You can take a tour plus tasting for $10, and do just the tasting for $5.  Or you can sample their wares in fine cocktails and skip the tour.  With hours ranging from 12-7 Monday to Wednesday, 12-10 on Thursday and Friday, 11-10 on Saturday, and 12-7 on Sunday they are pretty accessible.  They recommend booking in advance for a tour, especially on weekends, which you can do via their website, here.  While they don’t serve food at the moment, I hope that at least a few bar snacks will come soon, because this has the potential to be a pretty nice cocktail hour spot.  This has made my list of places-I-will-take-out-of-towners.  And it’s definitely a place I myself will return too.  If you go, let me know what you think!

Poppies in Paris: A Brief Introduction to our Trip


This is the lovely restaurant where my husband and I had our first, minimoon celebratory meal, which was delicious.
This is the lovely restaurant where my husband and I had our first Minimoon celebratory meal, which was delicious.

Sorry for the long delay in posting!  I have just traveled to Paris, Edinburgh, and London on a trip that was part honeymoon, part work, and part family vacation.  Which is to say, basically, a trip that was all of the things!  This won’t be a long post today, but I thought I’d share a few teaser pics from the trip.  I will soon post tips on how to do a DIY food tour of Paris, or anyplace really, and a few tips for both London and Edinburgh as well.

I should also note that we arrived in Paris less than 48 hours after the attacks that terrorized the city on November 13, 2015.  It certainly would not have been our choice to have our honeymoon in the wake of, and even during, such an event, but as these things go, our trip had been long planned, and was already coming nearly a year after our wedding.  And the city was indeed more somber than I have ever seen it, though not, perhaps, as much as you might think.  But in the end, after vacillating a bit about whether or not to keep our trip as planned, we decided that it would be better to #StandwithParis.

Our reasoning behind that is that if you give in to fear, then you have given the violent attackers exactly what they were hoping to accomplish.  The best thing we could think to do was to continue on with our lives as we would have.  So the posts you’ll see are me focusing on the good about our trip, and the DIY tour I had planned for us for our short, three day Minimoon (which is what I am calling a honeymoon of less than a week, and a year overdue).  But we also watched doves being released over Notre Dame, and hordes of people streaming toward the cathedral with poppies in hand. Walking the streets with my husband I was very aware that now that I have him in my life, I understand what that loss must feel like in a much more visceral way.  To lose him in any way would be devastating.  To lose a loved one to such a random act of wretched violence would be enraging, stultifying, and traumatic in ways I am certain I cannot imagine, and hope I never will. My heart aches for the victims.

So when you read the forthcoming posts, please read them with a grain of sea salt.  There are poppies and prayers for peace behind every syllable.

Dean Village, Edinburgh, Scotland.
Dean Village, Edinburgh, Scotland.
A view of the Botanic Lights exhibit at the Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh.  I love how the moon hangs over the trees here.  We strolled through the gardens looking at the lights with mulled wine in hand.
A view of the Botanic Lights exhibit at the Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh. I love how the moon hangs over the trees here. We strolled through the gardens looking at the lights with mulled wine in hand.
Edinburgh Castle, on a very cold, rainy day.  As most of them are, I think...
Edinburgh Castle, on a very cold, rainy day. As most of them are, I think…
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View of Tower Bridge from a lovely bar on the 32nd floor of The Shard. Pricey drinks, but the view is worth every penny. Next time, I’m going there to watch the sun go down and the city light up.
And finally, because its me, and because food makes life worth living, a view of the food at Nopi, one of the Ottolenghi restaurants I ate at in London that was just to die for.  There is definitely mroe to come on Nopi!
And finally, because its me, and because food makes life worth living, a view of the food at Nopi, one of the Ottolenghi restaurants I ate at in London that was just to die for. There is definitely more to come on Nopi!