My Breakfast Obsession: Olibea – The Best Breakfast in Knoxville

Gorgeous Mis en place at Olibea in Old City
Gorgeous Mis en Place at Olibea in Old City

This article from Travel & Leisure recently came out touting Knoxville as one of the top ten places to visit in the US.  If you’d shown me this article even a year ago I would have probably laughed and said NO WAY is Knoxville worth it.  Spend your dollars and time in nearby cities like Nashville and Asheville.  Yet, the last year or so has brought significant changes to Knoxville, and I can see why its starting to get some national attention.  I appreciate this article, though I think it is very one sided (MEAT! and BEER!).

This grilled cheese! Made with Cruze Farm local cheese and topped with a duck egg.
This grilled cheese! Made with Cruze Farm local cheese and topped with a duck egg.
Knoxville's own Olibea early on a Saturday morning.
Knoxville’s own Olibea early on a Saturday morning.

Though, to be fair, meat and beer seems to be a real focus of the Knoxville area.  Which frequently leaves my husband and I feeling a bit left out.  We both came from larger cities where being a pescetarian was NO BIG THING.  Most every restaurant not only had options on their menu, they put as much thought into those veggie and alternative options as they do their carnivorous ones.  That just isn’t the case in Knoxville.  While Knox Mason is a superb restaurant, its not one I can really go to.  There is like A dish we could order, but we’d still have to get it tweaked.   Of course, Chef Matt Gallaher just opened Emilia, which I have not yet had the chance to try, but with a true Italian focus it already looks to be more promising for alternative diets.  You had me at mussels ya know?

Breakfast goodness at Olibea
Breakfast goodness at Olibea

Which brings me, with much preamble, to what I am writing about (and obsessed with) today, which is Olibea.  I’ve long wanted to write about Olibea, operated by Chef Jeffrey DeAlejandro.  Well, since 2014, when it opened in the Old City section of downtown Knoxville.  It is my husband’s favorite breakfast in Knoxville.  It is my favorite breakfast in Knoxville.  It is even my MOM’S favorite breakfast in Knoxville, and that’s saying something.  My point, here, is that this restaurant offers creative, quality, delicious food to a variety of diners.  Chef Jeff says on the Olibea website that:

“I always felt that breakfast was a fresh start to my day. That no matter what happened yesterday today was going to be good cause I had breakfast. My idea for OliBea is simple: to bring you the best local/fresh ingredients as I can without killing your pocket. A place for you to come every day and have a chef-driven breakfast. Let Olibea be your fresh start, from my great grandma’s homemade cinnamon rolls to my house cured bacon.”

And it IS that place for my husband and I.  This may seem ironic when their Chef is frequently posting photos and offering classes on whole hog butchery.  I have no issue with this.  I think pork is delicious.  I just choose not to eat it.  But I DO choose to eat at Olibea as often as possible, because they care about the quality of ingredients, the presentation of food, and serving a well rounded clientele.

Their house pickled Mossy Creek mushrooms are divine.  They have meat alternatives on the menu, and even offer a veggie version of their sausage gravy, which is delightful.  They have amazing daily specials, such savory carnivorous delights as brisket tacos, and pulled pork enchiladas.  The staff are friendly, and while the place itself is small, the atmosphere is always convivial, and people frequently share larger tables.

Biscuits, potatoes, and vegetarian herb gravy with fresh Cruze Farm butter.
Biscuits, potatoes, and vegetarian herb gravy with fresh Cruze Farm butter.
Olibea omelet with spicy pickled mushrooms and potatoes on the side. YUM.
Olibea omelet special with spicy pickled mushrooms and cheddar cheese and potatoes on the side. YUM.

And let’s take a minute to talk about their biscuits.  Crumbly, large, and with a hint of saltiness they are delicious by themselves, slathered with locally made Cruze Farm butter, or dipped in syrup.  Their omelets are always vegetarian adaptable, and they’ve even spiced mine up for me by adding more chilies.  I suspect that they don’t get may requests for that here – I once heard someone complaining about the “spicy mushrooms” and was baffled they thought the same mushrooms I was eating were spicy.  But for this New Orleans transplant they were simply FLAVORFUL.  Oh my God flavorful.  I can’t resist this omelet now, and I order it almost every time we go.  That plus a biscuit and I’m set til dinner!

Lemon pancakes made with Cruze Far buttermilk. They look so deceptively simple. But THESE. ARE. GOOD.
Lemon pancakes made with Cruze Farm buttermilk. They look so deceptively simple. But THESE. ARE. GOOD.

I should also take a minute to mention their pancakes.  How boring, you’re thinking, and I get it.  Pancakes are pancakes are pancakes.  Except they are not.  These lemon pancakes are made with Cruze Farm buttermilk, and are light, airy, and exactly the right size.  Drizzled with butter and syrup, or topped with some of their house made jam, they are irresistible.  I kept telling my mother, no, these pancakes are special, and she didn’t believe me until she tasted mine.  Now, that’s her order at Olibea, with a side of eggs, because sweet and savory together RULE.

The veggie dish from the fall featuring a duck egg, beets, and other goodness on a baked acorn squash. Pretty, pretty good for you, and delicious!
The veggie dish from the fall featuring a duck egg, beets, and other goodness on a baked acorn squash. Pretty, pretty good for you, and delicious!

And they have at least one dedicated vegetarian entree on the menu.  Their Grits & Escabeche is the plate du jour at the moment, and it is rich, hearty, and delicious featuring oh-so-creamy Riverplains grits, Mossy Creek mushrooms, bright, charred dandelion greens, and topped with a runny, yolky, sunny duck egg. I adore this dish and just lament that I can’t order it more, but because I’m pregnant right now, I am not supposed to have the runny duck egg.  And this is one dish that just isn’t the same without it!

Long counters and bright colors make this a cheery, convivial spot for breakfast or lunch.
Long counters and bright colors make this a cheery, convivial spot for breakfast or lunch.

They also have delicious Stumptown coffee and daily fresh squeezed juices.  And the place inside is beautiful!  They don’t serve alcohol at the moment, which is probably good.  If they did, I might never leave.

Olibea in knoxville, Tennessee
Olibea in Knoxville, Tennessee

There are a couple of places in Knoxville I think stand out from the pack, and I’ll write more about them.  But for me, Olibea is above and beyond, and I wanted to give it a whole post of its own.  I appreciate it that much.  And I hope other Knoxville area restaurants will follow suit, with creative non-meat focused dishes as well as above board carnivorous options, quality ingredients, and deliciousness for more than just the barbecue crowd.

My Perfect Day in Edinburgh, Scotland: DIY Food Tour Edinburgh Edition Part 1

Plaque near Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh.
Plaque near Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh.

I absolutely adore Edinburgh, Scotland.  My husband and I met in Edinburgh, I have amazing, close friends in Edinburgh, and I have never failed to have a lovely time in that atmospheric city.  Just walking around is a treat – the vistas are stunning, the alleyways and stairways are mysterious, and the people are friendly.  If I were going to live anywhere abroad (and my husband and I frequently have this conversation) Edinburgh tops the list.  Seriously – I love it that much.

Just so you know, none of the places mentioned below have given me free ANYTHING.  I am describing these because I genuinely love them, and think that if you are looking for something to do, eat, drink, gift, or buy in Edinburgh you might be interested.

Unlike this recent article, I think there is delightful food to be had in Edinburgh.  Perhaps it’s right that they are lacking a bit in haute cuisine, but there are any number of farm to table restaurants serving good, quality, delicious food.  I am going to write about a day I spent in Edinburgh, with a fabulous breakfast spot, a cozy, scrumptious lunch spot, and a place where you can go to bottle your own gin.  That’s right, I SAID BOTTLE YOUR OWN GIN.  And yes, there will be whisky!

To begin the day, my husband and I stopped very early at The Water of Leith Cafe, which was on our short walk into the heart of New Town.  The cafe is nothing fancy, but it is cute and cozy and sits right next to the Water of Leith.  From our table in the corner we could watch the water flowing by as we sipped our coffee and our tea.  We had the full Scottish Breakfast for under ten pounds, which we shared, because it was enough for two.  I ordered an extra side of toast, because when in the UK, jam is my jam.  Seriously, berries in the UK are delicious, which leads to scrumptious jam.  I was not about to share that with my husband.  I dig him, you know, but not that much? 😉

The Full Scottish Breakfast! This one even came with fried bread. #caloriesdon'tcountonvacation
The Full Scottish Breakfast! This one even came with fried bread. #caloriesdon’tcountonvacation
My extra side of toast and jam #selfish
My extra side of toast and jam #selfish

After this we wandered around a bit, taking our time to work our way to the Royal Mile.  These photos don’t even do the place justice, it is THAT gorgeous.  We walked for several hours (one should do this as a rule after a full Scottish breakfast actually) and visited Dean Village, a fabulous little town on the Water of Leith that sued to be a milling center.  Now it is just absolutely picturesque.  While you can be on Princes Street in five minutes, its also possible to wander for hours along the water, exploring the village and its surrounds.  We took our time, enjoying the quiet of the early morning, and wandering wherever we felt like.  There’s always another gorgeous view around the next corner in Edinburgh. But finally we wound up in Old Town, and visited The National Museum of Scotland, which is a great place to wander around if you have spare time, or if you’re killing time.  They also have a lovely gift shop.  Have I mentioned how much I love museum gift shops?

Dean Village, Scotland
Dean Village, Scotland
Dean Village, Scotland, in the early morning light. It's like being transported to another time and place!
Dean Village, Scotland, in the early morning light. It’s like being transported to another time and place!
View from inside the museum. SUCH a great place for kids!
View from inside the museum. SUCH a great place for kids!

After this my husband went off to do some research, and I met my friend for lunch at an Edinburgh favorite, Under the Stairs.  It is literally under the stairs.  A basement restaurant with all kinds of cozy oozing from the stone walls and candlelight reflecting shadows on those same stones.  Its a great spot for romantic dinner, but we thoroughly enjoyed our lunch here.  They have delicious food and affordable bottles of wine and bubbly.  My friend and I indulged in the bubbly of course, because why not?

Prosecco, Candles, and Atmosphere a go-go at Under the Stairs!
Prosecco, Candles, and Atmosphere a go-go at Under the Stairs!

After lunch, we headed out to wander and shop, and also bottle our own gin at Demijohn’s.  Yes friends, I BOTTLED MY OWN GIN.  I know when people think of Scotland they think of whisky, and with good reason.  But gin is also incredible there – its the home of Hendricks after all.  So it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that just off the Royal Mile there is a distillery where you can sample (ahem, yes, sample as much as you like) and bottle your favorite.  They also have a selection of olive oils.  This makes for a fabulous gift for a wedding or any event really, as you can also etch or inscribe a message on the bottles.  Friends, I sampled.  And I purchased.  I brought home a lovely gin with hints of orange and citrus in it, that I can actually drink by itself, though mixed with a rosemary simple syrup and a splash of tonic or club soda makes THE BEST COCKTAIL.

Demijohn's - where you can bottle your own gin and olive oil!
Demijohn’s – where you can bottle your own gin and olive oil!
It's like an apothecary's shop inside!
It’s like an apothecary’s shop inside!
They take care to help you inscribe your bottle and wrap your gift carefully.
They take care to help you inscribe your bottle and wrap your gift carefully.

The fun isn’t over, though, because next door to Demijohn’s is Ian Mellis.  What is Ian Mellis you ask? Why, cheese and wine.  Yummy British cheese and wine!  They have an amazing, well curated selection of British cheeses and fine wines.  You can wander in this store and select a cheese or three that they’ll wrap for you, pick a bottle of wine, some oatcakes (which I’ve never seen outside of Scotland but are hearty little things between crackers and dry toast that are PERFECT for a wide variety of cheeses), tuck it all in your bag, and head up Arthur’s Seat, the extinct volcano that overlooks Edinburgh.  Thats a different favorite Edinburgh activity though.

Give me all the cheese!
Give me all the cheese!

This day, I purchased some jam (I DID tell you I had a problem) and a bit of cheese to take home (yeah that bag smelled AWESOME by the end of the night), and mostly drooled over the selections. If you don’t know British cheeses well, you should, and this is a great place to get an introduction to the varieties, styles, and regions.  The staff are friendly, and they are happy to help you make your selection.

After this, we stopped for a drink, where my husband joined back up with us.  We wandered our way back down from the Mile to New Town, where we went to what I nearly consider my home away from home in Edinburgh, The Scotch Malt Whisky Society.  Wait, whisky and gin in one day you’re thinking? YES.  Whisky and gin IN ONE DAY.  Because why ever not?

My husband appears to be enjoying his wee dram!
My husband appears to be enjoying his wee dram!

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society is a members society that recently opened up their Edinburgh Queen’s Street location to the public, at least part of the time.  I have big, deep love for this place, because its the first place I actually LIKED whisky.  You’re talking to a girl, here, who was fed moonshine mixed with honey when she was sick as a kid (yeah, I’m from THAT kind of southern family), and also the girl who, in her 20s, drank a lot of Jameson because it was the done thing.  I still remember some of those hangovers.  Jameson hangovers aren’t pretty!

The bartenders are friendly and the selection is extensive at The Scotch malt Whisky Society!
The bartenders are friendly and the selection is extensive at The Scotch malt Whisky Society!

I thought all whisky was like this, rough and ready, and until I experienced the nuance – well, I didn’t understand that there was nuance.  But a friendly bartender at TSMWS helped me learn how to drink it properly.  I thought it was weak if you had it with ice.  I thought it ruined it if you added water.  I thought it all tasted like a peat bog.  I thought many, many wrong things.

Sample tasting notes. ADORE their creativity! Also, their whisky. I also adore their whisky.
Sample tasting notes. ADORE their creativity! Also, their whisky. I also adore their whisky.

This bartender patiently helped me.  He explained that some single malt whiskies are MEANT to have water added, as it helps release more of the aroma and flavor.  Some are not, but no one bats an eye if you add a bit of distilled water to your whisky.  In fact, most pubs have a spot on the bar with a distilled water spigot that patrons can help themselves to, and TSMWS itself places little pitchers of water on the table for their patrons.  EYES. OPENED.

He also had me go through their menu – which is extensive, and select a few whiskies based on their tasting notes for me to sample.  You can check out their flavor profiles online here.  I sampled several, and started out in the light and delicate arena, but fell in love with a very honied light to medium bodied whisky called Jar Jar Binks in Trouble Again.  No, seriously, the names for their whiskies ALONE make me love them.  I ended up buying a bottle of this whisky.  It ain’t cheap, but damn, it’s worth it.

I also love TSMWS for their food.  Not only do they have great fish and chips, which is to be expected, they have great veggie haggis.  You didn’t know there was such a thing as veggie haggis?  Thats to be understood.  Haggis, which is made of sheep’s lung and other offal, traditionally, has a reputation of being an “adventure food” and one Americans dare each other to try when they’re in Scotland.  I’ve tried the real thing, before I became pescetarian at least, but I didn’t really like or understand it.  Thankfully, my friends enlightened me that there is much more to haggis than one would expect.

Haggis is not JUST sheep’s lung.  It’s also mixed with spices and oats, and there are many different kinds.  By using a veggie protein, and the same mix of spice, oats, and sauce, one can make a delicious veggie version.  And on a cold day in Edinburgh (which let’s face it, most of them are) a warm plate of haggis, neeps (mashed turnips), and tatties (mashed potatoes) is pretty near perfect.  And the SMWS has my favorite version, probably because its topped with a WHISKY CREAM SUACE, though there are lots, and while this is a hearty dish by any definition or protein inclination, I can’t resist it on a menu most anywhere.  If the real thing isn’t your thing, or even if it is, do give the veg version a try!

Ok, so this is from their OTHER location in Edinburgh, which isn't open to the ;public, but I wanted to include it because I adore it. If I lived there, I. Would. Be. A. Member.
Ok, so this is from their OTHER location in Edinburgh, which isn’t open to the ;public, but I wanted to include it because I adore it. If I lived there, I. Would. Be. A. Member.

The SMWS has a restaurant area, but I prefer the coziness of the bar/lounge. You can order food there, and its such a great atmosphere.  They also have a good selection of wines, and a full bar, if whisky just will never be your thing.  Thus, it caters to every adult, and is just my favorite way to spend an evening in Edinburgh!  I hope you check it out next time you’re there!

And finally a favorite scene of Edinburgh. The castle as seen from the top of the mile. I think its impossible for me to not be happy here!
And finally a favorite scene of Edinburgh. The castle as seen from the top of the mile. I think its impossible for me to not be happy here!

Two Reasons You Should Visit Knoxville, Tennessee in May: International Biscuit Festival and Market Square Farmer’s Market

Egg and Cheese Biscuits from Cruze Farm Milk Bar
Egg and Cheese Biscuits from Cruze Farm Milk Bar

Yesterday was a lovely, unseasonably cool day in Knoxville.  It was also the annual biscuit festival that takes place here each May, the International Biscuit Festival, which is done in conjunction with a southern food writing conference.  A biscuit festival you may be asking?  That’s right, a festival in honor of BISCUITS.  It seems pretty much tailored for me.  And probably you.  Because who doesn’t love biscuits?

This was the first time I have ever been able to attend the biscuit fest though, as for the whole time I’ve been living in Knoxville I’ve been traveling during the biscuit festival.  Last year I was actually in Shanghai during the festival.  I know, I know, woe is me.  This year, though, pregnancy is keeping us stateside, and I was eager to check out the festival.  However, at 8:30 the line for tickets opened it was already blocks long. Then we discovered that of the five biscuits the ticket gets you (out of maybe 8-10 options), only two of them were veg friendly.  Whomp whomp.

Still, my husband and I were excited to walk around and see all of the vendors, biscuit sellers, and in general, the biscuit fueled hullabaloo.  After you eat your biscuits from the various tents, you vote for your favorite by placing your ticket in one of their jars supplied for that purpose.  My husband and I wandered by all of the tents, peeking at the biscuit prep, sad that we weren’t going to be able to participate.  While I think ten dollars for five biscuits is a pretty good deal, and perhaps even for just two, a two hour line for only sweet biscuit options was just not something we were going to do this weekend. I think, in the end, we discovered that three were actually veg friendly, but two were sweet biscuits – bourbon, blueberries, and cream (which we later found out won the People’s Choice Award) and apple butter and gouda, I believe.  The third option I couldn’t tell for sure if it was truly veg or not – it appeared to be a caprese salad biscuit (ho hum).  The Blue Coast Bar & Grill sponsored this one, and their booth won for best booth display.  Though personally, I was with Marble City for that one too – check out their display below.  They won the People’s Choice for Best Biscuit, and as you can see in my photo from below, they definitely had a good style game going.

Bourbon, Blueberries, and Cream biscuits. Gorgeous! And winner of the People's Choice Award for 2016. By Marble City Kitchen.
Blueberries and cream biscuits with a bourbon maple syrup. Gorgeous! And winner of the People’s Choice Award for 2016. By Marble City Kitchen.
Blue Coast Bar & Grill won for best booth!
Blue Coast Bar & Grill won for best booth!

I really hope that next year will bring a few more veg and pescetarian friendly options that include the savory.  There are so many possibilities.  It’s not that I even want a fake meat substitute.  Fake meats are pretty generally boring.  But that is hardly where protein begins and ends for alternative diets.  Can I get a fried green tomato and pimento cheese biscuit? A sea salt ricotta and strawberry chipotle jam? An over the top egg and cheese?

Still, we thoroughly enjoyed walking around, seeing the different vendors, and, in general, soaking up the scene.  Check out the vendor below, Y’allsome, whose t-shirts and onesies sales help to support southern foster kids.  I want the hush puppy onesie for our coming wee one!

15% of proceeds to go help children in need!
15% of proceeds to go help children in need!

And here is the famous Blackberry Farm, who not only had a biscuit offering, also had set up as a vendor.  They were offering a sampling of their jams and pickled products, as well as premade mixes for pancakes and waffles, etc.  Their pimento cheese?  Oh my goodness.  Delicious!

 

Blackberry Farms goodness.
Blackberry Farms goodness.

There is also a pageant, an art exhibition, live music, and a biscuit baking contest.  We missed the biscuit baking contest this year because I think we didn’t wander far enough and were there too early (hint – a festival map as well as a bit more info on what you need tickets for and what you don’t would be SUPER helpful fest organizers).  I am definitely checking it out next year though.  If you’re not in the area, but like to bake, they publish the winning recipes online for each category of biscuit.  I think I’m going to try one or two myself.  How about you?

 

Cruze Farm Milk Bar! Can't wait til it's warmer because they have lavender honey ice cream, which is - mmmmmm.
Cruze Farm Milk Bar! Can’t wait til it’s warmer because they have lavender honey ice cream, which is – mmmmmm.

And never fear, we did NOT go hungry.  Because one of the best things about biscuit fest is that it takes place adjacent to the Market Square Farmer’s Market.  MSFM is one of my FAVORITE things about Knoxville.  It gets a bit bigger each year, and is chock full of vendors selling locally harvested fruits, veggies, meats, cheeses, eggs, plants, jewelry, pottery and more.  There are local bakers tempting you with everything from focaccia to cannoli to pasties.  The east Tennessee region boasts a long growing season, and because there’s such a mix of climates in the area, there’s a wide range of product available.  Yesterday was a wealth of fresh strawberries and greens of every kind imaginable.

I CAN NOT get enough strawberries this year!
I CAN NOT get enough strawberries this year!
Gorgeous heirloom lettuce.
Gorgeous heirloom lettuce.

 

Look at all the pretty!
Look at all the pretty!

I have been known to overdo it at MSFM before.  I am sooooo tempted by all the delicious veg.  Sometimes when I see a new or different variety of eggplant or pepper I can’t resist and MUST try it.  So now I invest what I want to spend in MSFM cash.  These little tokens can be purchased with a card via the market’s Square reader at their information table, and exchanged with most of the vendors for their wares.  This helps me stay on budget (kind of, sort of, not really, but it helps? 😉

Tokens you can purchase end exchange for goods at the Farmer's Market. They never expire!
Tokens you can purchase end exchange for goods at the Farmer’s Market. They never expire!
Delicious locally roasted coffee from Three Bears.
Delicious locally roasted coffee from Three Bears.
Get your hands off my hand pie.
Get your hands off my hand pie.

MSFM also boasts a number of food trucks, and many of the vendors sell prepared foods.  My husband and I indulged in an iced coffee from Three Bears, a local roaster, and a blueberry hand pie from  a vendor to kick off our morning, and then later a delicious egg and cheese biscuit (in honor of the day!) from the Cruze Farm Milk Bar food truck (pictured at the top).  ALL were delicious, and the many baby kicks seemed to indicate the wee one approved as well!

Crooked Road Farms CSA
Crooked Road Farms CSA
Fruit and veg from our two CSAs
Fruit and veg from our two CSAs

We also were able to pick up our goods from our two CSAs.  It was, for us, a near perfect morning.  I am excited that the MSFM is back, and look forward to all the upcoming Saturdays spent wandering the aisles.  If you make it to Knoxville, you should definitely make sure you stop by the Farmer’s Market on Saturdays!

Wild Love Bakehouse, or Where to Eat in Knoxville, TN

Gracie might be watching her girlish figure, but I. Need. Pastry.
Gracie might be watching her girlish figure, but I. Need. Pastry.

It’s nearly 7 am and my husband and I are scrambling around getting ready.  I am putting the finishing touches on my makeup, he is trying to coax Gracie, our husky, to eat her food quickly, so that she can be walked before we leave.  Gracie is stubborn, and has never been too interested in food (I swear she is the reincarnation of some sort of early Hollywood Grand Dame), so this can be a daily ordeal.  This morning, though, we are in a hurry.  Because we want to get to the bakery in time to have first pick of the goodies.  Which is becoming a regular thing for us, and I MIGHT have a bit of an addiction problem.

Prior to the recent opening of Wild Love Bakehouse, though, my husband and I felt a bit starved for coffee shops.  When we first moved to Knoxville we lived in what I call the Wasteland of the West, aka, west Knoxville.  We were surrounded by chain restaurants and box stores, and couldn’t safely walk anywhere.  The closest “coffee shop” was Starbucks. Cue whining. Last year we moved to North Knoxville, though, and were at least close enough to a bus route that my husband could commute to and from campus on his own.  He doesn’t drive – but thats another story for another day.  And suddenly, in the last year, a number of new places have opened that have been helping assuage our we-don’t-live-in-New-Orleans-or-London-anymore sadness.

I'll take one of everything please.
I’ll take one of everything please.

There are coffee shops in the downtown area, however, they were typically packed and required a trip downtown.  I like going downtown, but it IS a trip from our house, and the whole point of your neighborhood coffee shop is that it is close.  So when Wild Love opened last November, we were thrilled, before we even saw the place.  It is, in fact, run by the proprietors of one of the downtown coffee shops, Old City Java.

So. Much. Pretty.
A rainy Sunday morning view of what is usually a sunny and bright patio.
A rainy Sunday morning view of what is usually a sunny and bright patio.

We went early on its first morning, and let me tell you, it was love at first sight, and heaven at first bite.  Inside it is full of light, with light wood tables, elegant picture windows, and a glass wall into the bakery portion of the shop where you can watch all of the tasty things being made.  It has a large selection of outdoor tables, and people frequently bring dogs with them to enjoy the outside area.  It has a distinctly northern European feel.  Its design is functional though – while there are several new coffee shops open in Knoxville now, Wild Love is far and away our favorite space to WORK.  Two long counter provide multiple outlets, and several long tables provide many work stations.

Window to the baking world.
Window to the baking world.

Its not just a place for students, writers, and their ilk though.  Strollers and toddlers can frequently be seen throughout the day.  Do I mention this just because I find it reassuring? As we have a baby on the way and I’m the kind of writer who tends to only be productive in a coffee shop? Maybe, she says, blushing, but I also think it is a testament to how much Knoxville NEEDED this kind of space for people of all ages. It is one of the major things I have been missing in Knoxville, and it is now practically in my backyard.

Strawberry Almond Frangipane Croissant. AH-MAZING. #noiwillnotshare #selfishpregnantlady
Strawberry Almond Frangipane Croissant. AH-MAZING. #noiwillnotshare #selfishpregnantlady

It is also simply delicious.  I swear, this Strawberry Almond Frangipane Croissant is one of the best I’ve ever had, including in my travels through France.  Check out the layers of dough in your croissant.  It’s looks properly laminated enough to even impress the judges of the Great British Bake Off right?  That’s right, fan girl here, and I AM NOT ASHAMED.

The quiche is velvety soft, and their savory scone du jour, the Green Onion, Feta, and Creme Fraiche is nearly irresistible.  They also serve a small selection of sandwiches, salads, and soup at lunch.  Ingredients are seasonal, locally and ethically sourced (check out this Instagram photo of the bakers picking their own strawberries), and they always seem to have a great vegetarian option.  Everything is made from scratch, and in small batches, which is why my husky needs to eat her food quickly!  Because I want to get there before they run out of insert-delicious-dish here.

Hot black loose leaf tea with a wee delectable shortbread cookie on Valentine's Day.
Hot black loose leaf tea with a wee delectable shortbread cookie on Valentine’s Day.
This is a sea salt ricotta and strawberry jam biscuit. YUM.
This is a sea salt ricotta and strawberry jam biscuit. YUM.

Their coffee is also impressive, single origin, and they have the best iced coffee/cold brew in town I think.  My husband loves their pour over, and I am fond of their lattes and cappuccino as well.  They serve Counter Culture coffee, and they care about each cup.  I once thought mine tasted off, and they quickly replaced it.  They also serve a good selection of hot teas, and their Rose Lemonade is so popular they have a hard time keeping it in stock.

In short, it seems this place was dreamed up with me in mind – and its mine!  All mine!  I’m kidding, of course, I am happy that the place is such a success, and hope their success continues.  And I will continue to get there as close to opening as possible, because that strawberry croissant!  And the Black Sesame and Sea Salt Bagel.  And the strawberry, rhubarb, and rose water hand tart.  And…  You get the picture.  And the next time you’re in Knoxville, you should get the real thing.

Wild Love Bakehouse.  Seriously.  You won’t be disappointed.

Strawberries, Cupcakes, Hops, and Caffeine: A Fabulous Spring Birthday Weekend for My Husband

The first birthday surprise I ever gave my husband. Of course, he wasn't my husband then!
The first birthday surprise I ever gave my husband. Of course, he wasn’t my husband then!

My husband’s birthday is today.  Birthdays on Mondays are awful things, though, so we celebrated this past weekend.  I always try to give my husband a birthday that makes him feel special.  We share a childhood history of disappointing birthdays.  We were neither of us very popular children – bookworms both, and birthdays can be a sore spot.  After my years of living in New Orleans though, where every adult I know celebrates their birthday somehow, often with week long series of events that range from fancy dinners to rolling skating to casual drinks and intimate gatherings.  This seems to me to be RIGHT.  We don’t celebrate enough in life, and why should kids get to have all the fun?  Plus – any excuse for CAKE right?

This year, though, I’m pregnant.  Which means my energy isn’t up to par, I can’t share a bottle of anything with him, and I am, basically, a lame going-out-on-the-town partner.  And yet – we had a fabulous weekend.  We kicked it off Friday evening with a beer for him and a ginger beer for me at a new brewery and restaurant in town, Balter BeerWorks.  This place recently opened, and we hadn’t yet checked it out.  They seem to have a great happy hour, and we were eager to sample their menu, but since we were meeting friends for dinner shortly thereafter, we restrained ourselves.  We pledged to come back soon – though soon ended up being later that night!

Inside Knoxville's Balter Beerworks.
Inside Knoxville’s Balter Beerworks.

After Balter we headed to Woodlands Indian restaurant.  My husband and I share a love of Indian food, and Knoxville actually has several great options for Indian.  We shared a dosa with our friends, and then several dishes.  I have been craving Mattar Paneer since pretty much the moment I got pregnant.  Eating it only makes the craving go away for a short time, though, so we’ll definitely be back.  It’s scrumptious!  We finished the evening with an after dinner drink at Balter – our friends hadn’t been there either and wanted to check it out.  I think we’ll all be back again soon, as we would like to sample the food.

Oloibea's grilled cheese with a duck egg and smashed potatoes on the side.
Oloibea’s grilled cheese with a duck egg and smashed potatoes on the side.

Saturday, though, was my favorite day.  We kicked it off with breakfast at Olibea, which is, in my opinion, far and away the best breakfast in Knoxville.  My husband had the grilled cheese with a fried duck egg you see pictured there, which should be enough for any human for a single meal, but it was his birthday, so he got smashed potatoes too.  I love Olibea so much it is soon going to get its own post.  Stay tuned!

I could eat my weight in strawberries!
I could eat my weight in strawberries!

After breakfast, we went strawberry picking!  The season is just beginning here in Tennessee and Saturday was a perfect day for it – cool, sunny, and text book spring.  It was a lovely drive out to Mountain Meadows Farm, where they have pick your own strawberries for $3.75 lb.  While a bit early, we still managed to pick 5 lbs, and plan to go back next weekend for more.  Not only have I craved berries like mad with this baby, but I also want to make some strawberry lime jam.  Because yum.  It was a seriously lovely morning though, and the drive alone was pretty, though the farm is only 30 minutes from our house!

Cupcake toast! Daniel is having their seasonal key lime cupcake, and I am having the Chocolate Raspberry cupcake.
Cupcake toast! Daniel is having their seasonal key lime cupcake, and I am having the Chocolate Raspberry cupcake.

After strawberry picking we came back and left our strawberries, and then got ready for phase three – coffee and cupcakes in the Knoxville Botanical Gardens.  While you may have noticed I like to bake ;), I also like to support local bakeries.  When I was a kid I always wanted a store bought cake for my birthday, with pretty decorations, and I didn’t get one until my sweet sixteen.  So for birthdays, I like to go to local bakery extraordinaire Magpies, and get our goods.  We picked up 18 mini cupcakes (the better to sample more flavors!) and then headed to grab coffee at our favorite local coffee house, Wild Love Bakehouse.  Then we met up with friends at the park, where we lounged for hours enjoying the gentle breeze and bright sunshine.  This I could do EVERY DAY.  But as it happened to also be National Picnic Day, it worked out perfectly.  We may even make a picnic party a Daniel-Birthday-Tradition!

Salted Caramel Porter and Watermelon Limeade at Last Days of Autumn Brewing.
Salted Caramel Porter and Watermelon Limeade at Last Days of Autumn Brewing.

We ended the evening by checking out a new local brewery that is actually conveniently near the Botanical Gardens.  Last Days of Autumn Brewing is a great space.  They had live music, and my husband loved their salted caramel porter.  I loved the fact that they had a nonalcoholic watermelon limeade.  Forks on the Road food truck was there, which was also part of our reason for going last night.  They specialize in sliders, wings, and fries, and do offer a veggie slider.  I was disappointed that though the truck tweeted they’d be there from 6, they didn’t show up until almost 7, and weren’t ready to serve food until more like 7:30.  My pregnant self had not eaten anything but a cupcake and a couple of strawberries since breakfast, and it was 8pm by the time we had food in hand.  This equals bad.  Even when not pregnant I have a tendency to get hangry, and I definitely hit the danger zone last night.  My husband brought me a delicious veggie slider and sweet potato fries, and I DEVOURED them.  There are no pictures of this meal, because HUNGRY.  After, though, we were both tired, and so we called it a night.  We headed home and curled up with blankets and watched a bit of mindless tv and I fell asleep shortly thereafter.

Strawberry Almond Frangipane Croissant. AH-MAZING.
Strawberry Almond Frangipane Croissant. AH-MAZING.

Sunday  morning we headed our for coffee and pastry at the aforementioned Wild Love Bakehouse.  I actually can’t express how much we love this place.  For me, it has changed significantly how I feel about living in Knoxville.  It’s beautiful, elegant, and DELICIOUS.  They make the best croissants I’ve had outside of France.  In fact, I’ve had croissants in France that were not as good.  This is another placer that more than deserves its own post, but it has become our Sunday morning ritual.  After breakfast and coffee shop time, we did a bit of grocery shopping, and then headed home where I did use some of our strawberries to make my husband a special strawberry galette.  Recipe coming!  And for dinner a simple meal of a spicy carrot ginger soup and crusty bread.  Because moderation!

So basically, it was a low key weekend full of sunshine, sugar, hops, and friendship.  What do you like to do for you birthday?

My husband, chilling at the botanical gardens for his birthday.
My husband, chilling at the botanical gardens for his birthday.

A DIY Food Tour, Paris Edition, Part 3: Ten Tips for Trying Cheese in Paris

Slicing and preparing cheese in a Parisian fromagerie.
Slicing and preparing cheese in a Parisian fromagerie.

I don’t know about you, but I adore cheese.  In my single days I would frequently make a meal off a creamy hunk of brie, a crumbly blue, some fresh berries, and light water crackers.  How frequently?  Only my dogs know, and none of us are telling 😉  But seriously, I don’t think a cheese can be too strong, or too stinky, or too creamy, or too soft, or too anything.  I like it all.  I like flaky fresh parmesan, triple cream brie, soft crumbly goat cheese, and strong, potent bleu.  I love gouda on a grilled cheese.  So when we decided to do our DIY food tour of Paris for our mini honeymoon, I wanted to explore fromageries.  I in fact wanted to explore these more than I wanted to explore the chocolate shops.  But I was intimidated by the idea of walking in to a Parisian fromagerie. There. Are. So. Many. Choices.  And there’s that infamous Parisian attitude to contend with.  After all, fromageries do require a bit more knowledge than a boulangerie, or a bakery, where one can see a cake or bread, and pretty much imagine how it will taste.

But I did a fair amount of research online, on Pinterest, and on other blogs. This post from Paris by Mouth is great, and any food trip to Paris is not complete without referring to the inimitable David Lebowitz.  Add to an exploration of those, this article from Conde Nast Traveler, and this blog from a woman who made it her mission to explore ALL the French cheeses, and you’re on your way to understanding that there is SO MUCH to understand about French cheese shops that you might feel its best not to even start!  But that would mean missing out on the actual French cheese, and this I would not do.

Honestly, we should not have waited til the last day, as I had about 30 shops I wanted to visit, and we only managed to visit two.  We only had three days, and I have SUCH an ambitious list of places to eat at in Paris.  Le sigh.  Again, I was intimidated when I went in – I wasn’t kidding with all the choices.  Also, I’ve read that the shopkeepers can be dismissive and impatient, perhaps more so than is the norm. But we hit up two shops, and both were pretty friendly in the end, and helped us select a few cheeses that we later shared with friends that were blow your mind good.  The first was one of the oldest and premier fromageries in Paris, Androuet.  The second, Laurent Dubois, was in the delightful, eclectic Marais district, and while both were small, I rather preferred it because I felt more at ease with the shop itself.

Selection of cheeses at fromagerie in Paris.
Selection of cheeses at fromagerie in Paris.

At both I found helpful shop attendants who clearly knew every one of the cheese intimately, and were willing to answer a few questions.  They were not, however, eager to volunteer information.  I had to ask a ew questions to get them warmed up.  Once I asked the lady who helped us at Androuet for something “melty and strong, good to share with a party of four or five, and ready in three days” she loosened up, and showed me a lovely selection of cheeses.  I had fun choosing from amongst them, and once she relaxed, I did too.  The beauty of Laurent Dubois is that they also vacuum seal cheese for you if you wish it, and since we indicated that this was something we wanted to take on the train with us the next day, they sealed our cheese for us, which is good, as no one wants their bag to smell of a strong bleu cheese.  If you’d like more info on transporting cheese, check out David Lebovitz’s post on the subject here.  There are a lot of rules about what you can and can’t take into certain countries, so do do some research first.

That said, I do have a few tips for how to conquer the I-clearly-don’t-know-what-I’m-doing feeling you will have, and looks you will get.  Most of it boils down to be polite!  Bear in mind, I am by no means an expert on French cheese.  Quite the contrary.  The below tips are culled from the research I did online, a bit of what I discovered while there, and some basic common sense.  They are not in an order of importance.

  1.  Be honest.  You’ve never done this before?  They can appreciate that.  Don’t saunter in like you know what every one of those cheeses are.  You don’t.  I didn’t.  There’s no way.  Its a country of over 200 unique varieties of cheese.
  2. The first bleeds into the second.  Ask questions.  If you don’t know what something is, ask.  But don’t ask about every cheese.  They’re there to help you, but don’t monopolize their time.  Also, please ask before taking any photos!
  3. Say bonjour (hello), sil vous plait (please), merci(thank you), au revoir (good bye).  Even if you don’t speak French, you can say bonjour.  And they appreciate it.  It shows respect, and its typical to greet the shop owners and attendants when one enters the store.  To not do so is considered rude.
  4. If they are super busy, be willing to wait.  If there’s a line out the door, that’s maybe not the best time for an educational trip.  That said, a popular fromagerie can be busy any time.  I let several customers go ahead of me so that I could ask my questions and choose my products without feeling rushed.  Also, then I got to spend more time looking at the cheese! Which I could do for long enough to age a cheese.
  5. Don’t touch!  It is not ok to touch products in most European food stores, including grocery stores, without assistance.  After I had assistance I was invited to touch several cheeses to see their consistency.  But only after I had assistance and was invited.
  6. If you take up their time, buy something.  You don’t have to buy everything you ask about, but don’t waltz out after 20 or 30 minutes of asking questions and browsing without a single purchase.
  7. Don’t assume you know a cheese.  My husband rolled his eyes when I purchased a Roquefort at Androuet, which the attendant recommended as a strong blue that would be perfect in two days.  “We can get that at home!” he protested.  He was wrong.  He ate his words, and half of the cheese.  We DO NOT have Roquefort that good at home.
  8. Try something you’ve never heard of.  That’s the whole point right?
  9. Make a note of what you tried.  If you like it, you will want to buy it again.  I mistakenly thought I would remember exactly what I got at both shops.  I did not.  I’m not too bothered by it, because all the more reason to start over when I go back, but I have this dream of trying all 200 types of cheese, just like this blogger.  Hey, its important to have goals in life, right?
  10. Don’t be afraid to tell them what you like.  When I asked for something specific the shop attendant lit up.  “Ah!  Here’s what I think you’ll love.”  Also, tell them when you plan on eating it.  Tomorrow?  Three days?  A week?  They can help you choose a cheese that will be at its perfect devouring point for your consumption timeframe.

    The basic moral of the cheese story is to be polite, confident, and a little adventurous.  You never know what you may find!

    Do you know more about cheese than me? What are your tips?

    Cheese plate in Paris by candlelight.
    Cheese plate in Paris by candlelight.

DIY Food Tour, London Edition: Foodie Stops You Must Make on Your Next Trip to London, Part 1

Selection of cold offerings and bread at NOPI.
Selection of cold offerings and bread at NOPI.

My husband is from London and has been extolling the virtues of Yotam Ottolenghi since pretty much the day we met.  Every year we get one of Ottolenghi’s cookbooks for one another as a Christmas gift, and we have favorite go to meals from these cookbooks that have made our regular meal rotation.  To put it simply, I adore Ottolenghi’s approach to food.  Ottolenghi is an Israeli born, Cordon Bleu trained chef who’s famous for his unusual-to-the-west Mediterranean and Middle Eastern ingredients.  He’s also particularly notable for his incredible aesthetic, from the design of his restaurants, to his plating of food.  He writes a regular column for The Guardian (from which I wish to make basically EVERYTHING), and has published numerous cookbooks, including two dedicated entirely to vegetable cookery, Plenty, and its sequel, Plenty More.  Ottolenghi is not himself a vegetarian, which I actually appreciate.  I think his approach to vegetable-as-main courses are heartier and sturdier because of it.  I think he is the premier vegetable chef at the moment (though hardly just that).  His dishes are poetry on a plate.

This past November, I finally got a chance to visit not just one but two Ottolenghi restaurants in person.  I pretty much want to move in to NOPI, except the bathroom rather terrifies me.  It’s all mirrored – even in the stalls, and gives one a sense of inertia.  Especially when one is a bit (or more than a bit) hungover.  Not that I was.  Not at all (blushes).

roasted eggplant with lemon yogurt, harissa oil, rose petals, and coriander.
Roasted eggplant with lemon yogurt, harissa oil, rose petals, and coriander.

We first went to Ottolenghi, because its the original, and it was our anniversary.  Ottolenghi’s restaurants are noted for their clean, elegant, open feel.  One can either eat at a long table, which to me is reminiscent of a medieval banquet table, updated, and made elegant, or at a few small intimate tables or a counter.  Despite the white tables, counters, and walls, the restaurant has a convivial atmosphere.  Perhaps its because when one enters, the windows are bulging with tasty dessert offerings, and one is also greeted by a feast-for-the-eyes cold selection.  Ottolenghi’s restaurants and delis feature a selection of daily cold offerings of small plates and salads, and a selection of made to order hot dishes.  But don’t let the “cold dishes” fool you – they were my favorite of the night.  Check out this eggplant dish: roasted eggplant with lemon yogurt, harissa oil, rose petals, and coriander.  Oh. My. God.  Ottolenghi does things with eggplant (called aubergine most everywhere else ion the world) that will blow your mind.  And since its probably my favorite vegetable, this was already going to be a match made in heaven.  A lemon yogurt and rose petal heaven.

Dinner is served at Ottolenghi in Islington.
Dinner is served at Ottolenghi in Islington.

That wasn’t all we had though.  Ottolenghi serves up small plates, and we also sampled the yellow fin tuna with mixed sesame seeds, and soy, honey, and spring onion ginger sauce.  It was stunning – the fish itself practically melted in your mouth, and the brightness of the sauce with the delicate bite of ginger was outstanding.  I could eat this fish every day.  Seriously – I don’t know how the employees here don’t just stand around eating from these bulging platters of goodness all night.  That any paying customers ever get served is surprising.  OR, I’m just a greedy, greedy girl.

We rounded out our meal with pan fried sea bass with basil mayonnaise, avocado and tomatillo salsa with olive crumbs, and pumpkin and puy lentil mash with fried shallots, goat’s cheese, and fresh herbs.  For a final selection we had the red, golden, and candy striped beetroot with clementine, yuzu yogurt, and spicy macademia nuts.  I am a sucker for anything with goat cheese and avocado.  Seriously, give me eggplant, avocado, and goat cheese and I could probably live happily with nothing else to eat for a long time.  And those beets were so pretty to the eye, and so tasty on the palate.  Yuzu yogurt is brilliant.  Bright, citrusy, fresh – I want to recreate this at home.

Fresh berry and almond financier with vanilla custard.
Fresh berry and almond financier with vanilla custard.

But we didn’t stop here.  There was also dessert.  At Ottolenghi restaurants you can order dessert a la carte, or select from the colorful, tempting concoctions that sit in the street facing window, beckoning to passersby.  We chose a little cake from the window – a financier (pronounced fee-non-see-ay).  I had never had a financier before, but they are French in origin, and sort of a cross between a muffin and a cake, and are traditionally made with an almond base of either ground almonds or almond flour.  They are not too sweet, but are just sweet enough, though this one was served with a warm vanilla custard.  My husband and I shared it, but next time, I’m getting my own.  Once your pour that piping hot custard over the fresh berry and almond cake you suddenly have something elevated to out-of-this-world status.

I would also add that as far as price point goes – I think it’s possible to have a very reasonable meal here, or a very extravagant meal here.  My husband and I shared a bottle of wine, the dishes mentioned above, including dessert, for about 75 pounds including tip.  Let’s pretend like the dollar/pound sterling difference doesn’t exist for a minute (cause insert expletive here, that one hurts), and we’ll compare it to our fish and chips night.  Granted, this wasn’t from a “Chippie” or stand, but rather a sit down restaurant, and also included wine, we came out at about 68 pounds.  And while I love me some fish and chips, the quality, elegance, and precision of Ottolenghi is not to be compared.  Indeed, most of the meals we had out (all of which typically included a bottle of wine, so if you don’t drink, it could be different) ended up somewhere in this price range, but none compared for taste or quality.  It’s no surprise, then, that while we sat at the Ottolenghi in Islington and there was a constant, steady stream of people popping in to get a few of the cold items for take out.  My husband and I are jealous of their ability to do this.  It has to be the best take out EVER.

Which is why I begged, pleaded, and cajoled my husband to let us sample NOPI before we left as well.  I didn’t really have to cajole – my husband loves Ottloenghi as much as I do.  On our last day we headed out to NOPI, which stands for North Piccadilly, where it is located. NOPI’s head chef is Ramael Sccully, with whom Ottolenghi co-authored NOPI the cookbook.  NOPI bears similarities with the original Ottolenghi restaurants, yet also features full main courses one can order.  The menu also has  a somewhat more Asian inspired feel.

Inside it is a bright, open, airy place, much like Ottolenghi’s original restaurant, except here instead of chalk white contrast you get gleaming brass and copper accents, which give the place both a warm and bright atmosphere.  Here though, they offer the more casual, communal dining downstairs, where you get a full view of the kitchen, and slightly more formal dining upstairs.  My husband and I actually chose to eat at the bar, even though we had a reservation for a table.  The bar was available when we arrived early, and our table was not, and in any case, I enjoyed chatting with our bartender/server.

image
Valdeon Cheese Cake with pickled beet roots and thyme honey.

Here we had another blow-your-mind eggplant dish.  But what I am really head over heels for is the Valdeon Cheese Cake with pickled beet roots and thyme honey.  I want to go back to London RIGHT NOW and have this again.  Its a savory cheesecake, a BLUE CHEESE CHEESECAKE served in its own little hot copper skillet, so it impresses visually as it arrives.  But then you taste it.   And then you taste it again.  And then you try to eat it all before your husband can get more of it.   Because this cheesecake, while rich, is perfectly proportioned for sharing.  Ahem.  The bartender told us it is one of the items that is always in demand on their menu, and has been there since opening.  I can so see why.

NOPI also has an interesting cocktail program, and their bloody mary was perfectly curative for the aforementioned hangover.  They also have a great selection of nonalcoholic concoctions, or mocktails, which pair perfectly with their menu.  After the cheesecake, though, we couldn’t quite face dessert here.  But with two cocktails, and several small plates, our meal came to about the same as our dinner at Ottolenghi, so pretty fair I’d say.

Cocktails for lunch at NOPI.
Cocktails for lunch at NOPI.

In all honesty, I won’t make a trip to London again without a stop at these restaurants.  And they serve brunch at some locations a well – so next time I’m in London, that’s where you’ll find me, bloody mary in hand.  But a word of caution – these restaurants are popular, so plan to book ahead, or wait.  Or you can do as we did and arrive early – we got to Ottolenghi just before 6pm, and got seated at the counter right away.  But I won’t count on that happening again.  We will definitely book next time.

If you go, do tell me all about it and let me live vicariously through you?

 

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?

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.

 

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!