Category Archives: Uncategorized

Paris In Winter

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Well bonjour!! Thanks for taking my call after I so rudely ghosted you. I seem to be spending a lot more time on Instagram (@maihem)  than I do on this blog, which I suppose is a sign of the times. However, my husband asked that I post about our recent week in Paris, and it seemed the least I could do. This one’s for you, mon amour!

Paris calls to me in all seasons, but I have a particular weakness for her in winter, when the days and queues are short. The light, though elusive, is especially golden, and reveals the silhouettes of the trees normally clothed in foliage. The beauty is more austere than in other seasons, but no less compelling.

When I lived in Paris, the one inquiry I dreaded from friends was where they should stay. I was ill-equipped to answer, as we spent very few nights in hotels  before we moved into  our apartment. I have returned several times since we moved, however, and can now recommend several hotels, all of which I have stayed on more than one occasion and found to be consistently good.

The Marriott Renaissance Arc de Triomphe is short on atmosphere but was a great hotel for us the times we were there on business. It is surrounded by fun shops and is conveniently located in the 16th.

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I have loved Hotel Le Saint both times I stayed there. This is a small boutique hotel located in the swank neighborhood of Saint -Germain -Des -Pres in the 7th. The quiet street is a short walk from the lively Boulevard St. Germain, lined with stores and cafes and bars. The rooms are generously sized and very comfortable.

Who wouldn’t love staying in a boutique hotel just off of the picture-perfect Place des Voges in the Marais? La Pavillon de la Reine is a lovely 17th century building with fifty-six rooms, a quiet bar, and an enchanting terrace perfect for tea or cocktails. I love the calm, unstuffy elegance of this place. An added bonus is that you will never have trouble  finding your way back to the hotel because of the frequent signs pointing to the famous Place des Voges.

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This was taken when I was there in August- not quite as verdant in winter!

None of these hotels are inexpensive; however, we were always able to use credit card points or to find special deals on travel sites. Obviously there are many less- spendy places to stay in Paris- I am just sharing my experiences, which were all wonderful.

It’s always tempting to return to old favorite restaurants in Paris, but this time we made a concerted effort to try some new (or new to us) places to eat. Our favorite discovery was Le Rigmarole, a tiny place in the 11th opened in October by a French-American chef. The tasting menu was original and vibrant and crazy delicious. I am sure it will quickly get harder to book, and will also become more expensive than the reasonable 49 euros currently charged for the tasting menu. Go toute suite!

Another exciting find was Le Grand Bain, tucked away in the (sort of) gritty Belleville neighborhood. Despite our early 8:00 reservation, the place was packed with (mostly French) people enjoying the creative small plates. Two dishes we wanted were already sold out, which happens in these small restaurants that cook their food fresh and in limited quantities. Our waiter was most helpful in steering us toward other choices, and we thoroughly enjoyed our dinner.

For some reason we rarely ate Asian food when we lived in Paris, despite the abundance of good Asian offerings. This time we popped into a very popular Japanese restaurant in Saint Germain called Ippudo. Ramen and pork buns were the perfect antidote to the cold weather and to our empty bellies.

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I was even able to find a spicy one, which is not easy to do in Paris!

We did make the required return visit to one of our enduring favorites, Ellsworth, where we have dined many times and never been disappointed. Americans Braden Perkins and his wife Laura Adrian moved to Paris in 2007 and soon opened Verjus (another of our darlings) and then Ellsworth, both of which were received  with much approval by Parisians and tourists alike. The Ellsworth menu is shared plates from a fairly limited menu that packs a lot of flavor and food into a small space. The only savory to remain a constant on the changing menu is the fried chicken with pickles, and we wouldn’t dream of not ordering it. This time the raw scallops made my eyes roll back in my head.

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Hey- looks aren’t everything.

The malt ice cream with crispy bits is a regular among the desserts and for good reason.

I understand that the owners are in the process of opening a third restaurant, so we will have another place to add to our rotation. This reporter looks forward to giving you the scoop on it as soon as she possibly can. I’m here for you. mes amis.

We only had six days, but we hit several museums, a few parks, walked our Fit Bits into ecstasy, saw some old friends, and drank way too much vin rouge. It was glorious.

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Don’t go changin’, Paris. I”ll be back.

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Filed under Arc de Triomphe, Belleville, Paris, Paris dining, Paris hotels, Paris in winter, Paris photos, Place de Vosges, Saint Germain des Pres, Uncategorized

Free Fallin’

I am awake early in Telluride, Colorado, watching the sun illuminate the golden aspens in total silence. I cannot bear to watch any more of the horrific footage of what happened in Las Vegas, so the television will remain mute. Perhaps there are new details this morning, but none of them will explain how a human being could commit such an atrocity. There will be more angry voices demanding changes in our ridiculous gun laws, but since the innocents at Sandy Hook were unable to make that happen, I have serious doubts about anything being done on that front. So for now I will honor the victims by sitting in silence and being thankful for another day of life, and for this beautiful fall morning.

Fall is always sooooo slow to arrive in central Texas. It seems as though the rest of the world is already knee deep in pumpkin baking and falling leaves and nubby sweaters before we even turn off our air conditioners. So it’s a special treat for me to be in Telluride this week, where the aspen trees are still clinging to their glowing leaves and the air is crisp enough for a light jacket and a fire in my fireplace (even if I do have the windows ajar).

I took a long walk on my first morning, to shake off the travel stiffness and acclimate to the altitude.

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First I enjoyed this amazing ride down the mountain to the town. I don’t think I had ever seen it so lovely.

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Follow the yellow brick road!

This trail goes right into a forest and up to a waterfall. It was early and I met very few other walkers, although on my way down I passed several crazies jogging up this rocky path. I wondered what terrible thing they had done to deserve such a punishment.

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Yesterday brought a change in the weather. The clouds gathered and sat atop the mountain village like a wooly cap.

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Finally the clouds began to drop a light mix of snow and sleet, and continued to do so for several hours. This Texas girl was beyond delighted.

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I stayed inside most of the day, captivated by the unexpected drama outside my window, and horrified by the inconceivable drama on the television screen.  I also finished reading M.F.K. Fisher’s , The Gastronomical Me. Fisher is perhaps the most famous food writer ever, is frequently referenced by current writers, and I had never read any of her work. I was happily surprised that these essays, written about her life from the 1920’s to 1941, were about so much more than the food she ate. They were about the people she shared food with and how she felt during those meals, and how we all hunger for so much more than what is on our plates.

The bitter topping on yesterday’s tragic news story was the death of Tom Petty.  I will never forget the night my college roommate and I took the bus from Reading to London to hear Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers at Wembly Stadium. We were horrified to realize that we didn’t have enough money to pay for our tube ride back to the center of London, where we were to catch the last bus back home. There was nothing to do but to get on the tube and throw ourselves on the mercy of the ticket attendant as we exited the underground. Turned out that attendant had no mercy for us AT ALL, and was probably about to throw us in the dungeon when a very nice man came to our rescue and paid for our freedom. Thank you, kind English gentleman, wherever you are. And rest in peace, Tom Petty.

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Filed under Colorado, Telluride, Uncategorized

Europe, Anyone?

Bonjour y’all! Did a big poof of dust fly off your screen when this page popped up? My site has been quiet for a while, but I am on my way to Paris and other fun places and will be sharing it here with any of you who want to tag along. It will be in the 60’s and rainy when I land tomorrow, so grab your umbrella and a light jacket! Here are a few past photos to get you in the mood for Paris.

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I”ll be back soon, so don’t go far!

 

 

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Filed under Paris, travel, Uncategorized

Farro Friday

It’s the freakin’ weekend, friends! Do you have big plans for this first weekend in June? We plan to try out a new (to us) restaurant and have some family lake time. Isn’t summer the best? Totally the best until mid-July, when it becomes the absolute worst. So I will enjoy today, and I hope you will, too.

My weekend will definitely be enhanced by a bonkers good recipe I made from Smitten Kitchen this morning.

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Deb (Smitten Kitchen) calls this Broccoli Rubble Farro Salad. I think “rubble” refers to the finely chopped broccoli, or in my case, broccolini. Not a very sexy name for such a perfect dish, Deb.

I had never bought broccolini and thought it was high time to give it a try. These two bunches have been steamed for a couple of minutes to soften them up. Isn’t that the most gorgeous shade of green?

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Next I chopped them up into small pieces and tossed them into a saute pan with some olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, lemon zest, and seasoning.

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When it all became tender and redolent, I added it to the farro, which I had cooked in the same pot of water as the broccolini. Some hits of lemon juice and additional salt and pepper, and then a heavy toss of fresh Parmesan Reggiano, and voila.

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I am not kidding you- this is amazing and you must make it very, very soon.

Here is the link.

In other news, I paid a guy $65 to tell me to change my air conditioning filter. But I also saw baby owls in my neighborhood, so it all balances out.

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Enjoy your weekend, mes amis, and remember to keep looking up.

And to change your A.C. filter.

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Hotel San Cristobal

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We spent a week in Cabo San Lucas recently, a departure from our regular Mexican beach destination, the Yucatan. The stunning views and dry desert air were lovely, but my heart belongs to the friendly beaches of the Riviera Maya, where I can happily bounce between the clear waters of the Caribbean and the shade of my beach umbrella. Swim-able beaches can be found in Cabo, but they are not the norm, as cold water and dangerous currents make much of the coastline inhospitable. I was happy to have finally visited the Baja, however, and can certainly understand why many find it so appealing.

A highlight of our trip was checking out the new boutique Hotel San Cristobal, located fifty miles north of Cabo San Lucas and just outside the sleepy village of Todos Santos. I was eager to see the newest project by Austin’s own hotelier Liz Lambert, who owns the uber- cool San Jose and the Hotel Cecelia (both in Austin), as well as Hotel Havana in San Antonio and El Cosmico in Marfa. The San Cristobal is the first hotel outside Texas for Lambert’s development company, Bunkhouse Group. My visit was limited to just an hour, so I can only attest to its being very peaceful, tasteful, and photogenic. Oh yeah- I can also vouch for the cocktails served in the open air lounge by the pool.

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The hotel has thirty-two rooms and overlooks the Pacific. No one was on the beach when we were there, and the beach is not touted on the hotel website, so I suspect it is not particularly swim-friendly. It does make a lovely backdrop, though, doesn’t it?

The glittering green-tiled pool was most inviting, surrounded by chairs and loungers that were equally tempting.

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We had a summer cocktail in the open-air lounge next to the pool, and I wasn’t the only one who wished we could have lingered all afternoon.

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I was crazy for this tile!
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The entrance had me at “pink wall”.

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Well hello there, gorgeous.

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Of course I shopped the merch, which was limited but enticing. I really wanted one of these great towels, but resisted.

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The hotel has barely been open a month but so far has great reviews. It would be a great spot for a small wedding, and I would love to nab a place on that guest list!

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Save this seat for me!

Adios, amigos, and thanks for stopping by!

 

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Filed under Mexico, travel, Uncategorized

La Cuisine!

We moved into our newly remodeled house several months ago, but many of the finishing pieces are still trickling in ever. so. slowly. The arrival of the banquette  marked the (almost) completion of the kitchen and breakfast area, which I am happy to finally share with you. The kitchen was my favorite part of the remodel, and the part I thought about and researched the most. I wanted to make absolutely sure it suited my cooking style as well as my aesthetic. Because mine truly is a “working kitchen,” it was imperative that the lay-out of appliances, sinks, and storage were well planned and made sense for me. I am thrilled to report that so far I am totally loving cooking and baking in this space, and have not yet discovered anything I wish we had done differently.

This “before” picture shows the kitchen, which was about half the size of the new one, and flanked by a tall pantry. We ripped everything out and added two more windows on the right wall. This left us with a big open space to play with!

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The two additional windows add light and fresh air on those rare days we can open them here in Austin. The window panel looks out onto a gravel courtyard surrounding a magnificent oak tree, and we plan to turn that area into a dining/entertaining space reminiscent of those we loved in Provence. Pass the wine and cheese, please.

Originally I thought I wanted a white marble countertop, but I was concerned about its durability. I am not a fastidious cook, and splashes of stuff have been known to sit on my counters longer than I care to admit. After much thought we opted for quartzite, a natural stone that can look much like marble but is more forgiving of cooks like me. We liked it so much that we put it on the backsplash as well. So far I have not had any problems with etching or staining, and  I love the veining and the shine.

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The wall of windows meant that we couldn’t have many upper cabs. I have gotten used to the drawers, though, and use them to store dishes, glasses, and pots and pans. The slightly restricted storage was a good exercise in culling my cooking implements to the ones I really use. All duplicates went into boxes for the kids, or went to the lake, or were given away. I love opening a drawer and seeing exactly what I need, with no unstacking required. Less truly can be more!

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This hand-me-down from my grandmother made the cut, though.

This freestanding open shelf unit was made from counter remnants and steel. The white stone shelves remind me of a display from a French patisserie (alas, without the pastries). I keep some of our every day dishes and glasses on it, and plan to rotate decorative pieces on it, as well.

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I  love these two “floating shelves” on either side of my range. They are also steel, and were attached to the sheet rock before the stone backsplash was threaded over them. Amazing, non? I am glad I wasn’t there to see it happen.

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Mark loves the look of clear counters, so we built a little storage area to keep our frequently used appliances hidden but still accessible. Not visible but also there are a toaster and a blender.

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I kinda like these sleek electrical outlets, which are covered and lie flat along the back of the counter top.

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Voila

My pantry space is to the left of the refrigerator. The pull-out unit takes some getting used to, but is an efficient use of space. I store a few extra items in an upper cabinet.

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All of my dry goods live in this shallow cabinet next to the pantry. I found the containers at a restaurant supply store, and they have kind of changed my life. No more partially- used flour bags zipped up in plastic bags. No more dry beans slipping out of open packages. No more wondering what lurks in the depths of deep dark shelves.

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This pantry is still evolving. I need some more containers (like one for that sad bag of powdered sugar) but haven’t made it back to the store for those yet. I really love that I can dip measuring cups into these wide containers without spilling contents onto the counter. It’s the little things, you know?

Another thing I planned out ahead of time was my spice drawer. I cannot stand pulling out bins of spices and lifting countless jars up in search of the cumin or the cream of tartar. I found these little cuties on-line, and they please me greatly. I like buying my spices in small quantities, so this small size works well for me.

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My island is the size of a sedan. I KNOW. But it is so nice being able to spread out several kitchen projects at the same time. It also makes it very comfortable for more than one cook to be in the space. Also if we ever want to turn out house into a disco for a night, it will make a great dancing stage. Just gotta watch out for the prep sink.

The island is home to the microwave and the wine refrigerator and the trash/recycling/dog food bins. IMG_9153

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To the left of the wine fridge is a handy lift for my mixer (which is heavy as hell). I can crank it up, slide it onto the island, and then say goodbye to it when the cookies are baked.  Sweeeeeet!

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Thank you for your service now go away.

The banquette was a subject of debate, as Mark was not crazy about the idea of blocking the windows. He relented (thanks honey!) and I think it looks fine in that space.IMG_9147

So that’s it- my shiny bright brand new kitchen! Thanks for stopping by and please come again. And if you enjoyed your tour, please don’t forget to tip your guide.

 

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Filed under Austin, cooking, decorating, design, kitchen, Uncategorized

Springtime in Paris

Bonjour y’all! Who doesn’t love April? NO ONE. That’s who. Here in Austin the  jasmine is in full flush and wildly redolent (all except the jasmine on my fence at the lake, which was burnt by the freezes and looks really skimpy and sad). Iris are still standing proud and roses have loved the recent rain and are showing off bigly.

My Paris-heavy Instagram feed has reminded me how much I loved springtime in Paris when I lived there. Of course, spring in Paris was well-earned and frequently took its sweet time getting there, making it even more of a celebrity than it is here. Hooray for spring everywhere, whenever it chooses to arrive.

I think we all deserve a little Paris this morning, so I gathered some of my favorite pictures of Paris pink, a color that embellishes Paris in springtime like pink frosting on an elegant confection. Enjoy.

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Have a good week, my friends.

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Filed under fashion, flowers, France, Paris, springtime in Paris, Uncategorized