“Demystifying the French: A Panel Discussion”

Alliance Française San Francisco (2017)

In 2018, I met author Mark Greenside at a local independent bookstore where he gave an entertaining talk and read funny excerpts from his latest book, (not quite) Mastering the Art of French Living. He signed my book, too!

On Saturday, August 28, 2021, I got a chance to hear him speak again during a lively online event called, “Demystifying the French: A Panel Discussion.”

The Bethesda, Maryland-based Federation of Alliances Françaises USA invited American authors, Mark Greenside, Janet Hulstrand, Adrian Leeds, and Harriet Welty Rochefort, to share their insights, perspectives, and experiences gathered over the course of many years of living, traveling, and/or working in France.

The panelists took turns answering the following four questions. Here are some of their replies:

  1. What’s the most important lesson in dealing with the French? “If you don’t ask the right question, you will not get the right answer.” (Adrian Leeds)
  2. What is the most embarrassing faux-pas you’ve made in France? “Taking the wine bottle and serving myself.” (Harriet Welty Rochefort)
  3. What do you like/admire the most about the French? “How parents nurture the love of art, history, and language in their children.” (Janet Hulstrand)
  4. What is the single most important tip for travelers to France? “Politesse. Everyone gets a bonjour / au revoir / s’il vous plaît / merci!” (Mark Greenside)

Speaking of manners and mistakes, a faux-pas I made in France while trying to be polite was when I greeted someone « Bonjour » twice on the same day! I’ve since learned that people could take offense to this thinking you’d forgotten that you’d already greeted them. Désolée!

Watch the recording of the entire hour-long panel discussion below (Federation of Alliances Françaises USA’s YouTube channel):

Have you lived, traveled, or worked in France? Now, I’m curious to know your answers to the questions above! If you’d like to share, please do so in the comment box below! Merci!

Throwback to 2018: Bastille Day SF

[Updated July 2021]

Wishing “Joyeux 14 juillet” to our friends in France who are celebrating their Fête Nationale! 🇫🇷

In 2021, the one-day Bastille Day San Francisco event is a week-long celebration.

“Bastille Week SF” runs from July 11 through July 17, 2021 and participants are encouraged to take part in their “Bastille Photo Week” contest for a chance to win prizes.

They want participants to visit French businesses, take photos there, and then share the photos on social media.

It’s a clever way to support and discover local French businesses in the San Francisco Bay Area!

Throwback to Bastille Day SF 2018

In 2018, I joined the Bastille Day SF volunteer social media team. My job was to update the event’s Facebook page (@14juilletsf).

Photo credit: Bastille Day SF (dot) org

Here are some photos I took at Bastille Day SF 2018 at Embarcadero Plaza:

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the line for crêpes was endless

Pétanque

Slideshow: Exhibitors, Performers, and Vendors

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[Originally published July 2018]

What are some of your favorite French or French-inspired shops, restaurants, and service providers? Tell me in the comments below. I’d love to check them out!

Getting Creative with Cassoulet in California

my cassoulet – January 9, 2021

The first time I had cassoulet, the hearty meat and bean stew from southwest France, was in 2018 when I visited my friends in Toulouse.

The cassoulet we had was made by the experts, La Maison Escudier, whose secret recipe has stayed the same since they opened in 1920. (By the way, if you live in Europe, they can ship jars of cassoulet to you, with or without the cassole, the clay pot that cassoulet is traditionally cooked in.)

There is much debate about the origins of the beloved “peasant” stew. Most people agree that it started in Castelnaudary in the Occitanie region of France. Other popular versions come from Carcassonne and Toulouse. There is also a slight difference in each city’s style of cassoulet.

While the traditional cassoulet is made with duck, other versions use lamb or goose. Some recipes call for breadcrumbs, smoked sausage, or tomatoes, which traditionalists would probably frown upon!

I’m in California and, unfortunately, I can’t get traditional cassoulet shipped to me. Not a problem! I love to eat, so I see it as an opportunity to get creative.

With all due respect to cassoulet purists out there, I decided to use creative license in making cassoulet.

For example, instead of duck, I used chicken. To save time, I used canned white beans. (Normally, the recipe calls for dry beans to be soaked overnight.) I didn’t use tomatoes, nor did I top it with breadcrumbs and bake it. In place of traditional pork Toulouse sausage, I used smoked chicken sausage made with roasted garlic and gruyère cheese.

Here’s my interpretation of cassoulet:

Ingredients (Serves 4)

  • 1 cup of baby carrots
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 2 T butter
  • 1 can (15 oz) of low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 cans (15 oz each) of white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 4 skinless and boneless chicken thighs
  • 5 strips of hickory smoked bacon, sliced
  • 4 smoked chicken sausages with roasted garlic and gruyère cheese, sliced
  • 1 T of Herbes de Provence
  • parsley, for optional garnish

Instructions

In a Dutch/French oven or similar large pot, melt the butter and sauté the garlic, until brown:

Brown the chicken on both sides, then remove, slice into cubes, and set aside. Don’t worry, the chicken will finish cooking in the final step:

Brown the sausage on both sides, then remove and set aside:

Brown the bacon bits, then remove and set aside:

Add the chicken broth to the pot and bring to a boil. Add carrots, onions, celery, beans, and return the browned meats to the pot:

Add the Herbes de Provence. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally:

Et voilà ! Serve with a warm, crusty baguette and your favorite beer or wine!

Overall, I liked how my cassoulet turned out. The fragrant dish brought back pleasant memories of my visit with friends in Toulouse, not to mention the beautiful pink Toulousain sunset…

May 2018

Let me know if you try this recipe. Enjoy your meal. Bon appétit. Or, as they say in Occitan, « Bon apétis! »

Donut Petit in Alameda, California

I learned about Donut Petit a few years ago when I spotted their float in Alameda’s 4th of July Parade in 2017 (see above). This weekend, I finally got the chance to visit the cute little bakery.

A little word about petit

Recalling the handy acronym BAGS (beauty, age, goodness, size) that I learned in my French classes, I know the word petit (meaning small or little) should go before the noun.

So while I’m tempted to call the charming little donut shop Le Petit Donut, I just tell myself, “Do not (be) petty!” (Donut Petit!)

Just a guess, but perhaps the name is supposed to sound like “bon appétit”…?

The pale blue paint, gold accents, and wicker bistro chairs give the shop an elegant, French-inspired appearance, as well as an inviting atmosphere. However, due to physical distancing protocols, there’s currently no dine-in, only take-out.

Behind the glass, I could tell they had creative flavors, such as lavender, lilikoi (passionfruit), and Mauisadas (Hawaiian sugar donuts filled with pineapple).

They looked appetizing, but I wasn’t in an adventurous mood. Instead, I ordered pastries that looked familiar: a brownie croissant, a chocolate twist, and a pair of French crullers – one glazed and the other with chocolate icing sprinkled with rainbow nonpareils. As a lagniappe, they gave me a blueberry cake donut.

I’d never seen a brownie inside a croissant before. It tasted OK, but it felt a bit strange to bite into a baked good inside another baked good. Sadly, the glazed French cruller was disappointing. I was expecting it to be light and airy, not greasy and dense.

Maybe next time, I’ll get out of my comfort zone and give their matcha or guava donuts a try! 🍩

Do you like donuts? I love maple bars. 🍁 Tell me your favorite flavor in the comments below!

Book Review: “The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux”

The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux

Author: Samantha Vérant

Publisher: Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House (New York)

Publication Date: September 8, 2020

Genre: Fiction; 352 pages

Synopsis

As a child, Sophie Valroux spent summers visiting her grandmother in southwestern France. Sophie credits “Grand-mère Odette” for instilling a love of food and cooking in her.

Today, 26-year-old Sophie is a chef living in New York City. She dreams of being part of the 1% of female chefs running a 3-star Michelin restaurant. At the restaurant where she is a chef de partie, Sophie is sabotaged by another chef, causing her to lose her job.

She is in the process of figuring out her next steps when she learns that her grandmother has suffered a stroke. Sophie travels back to France to care for her and finds out that the home where she spent her childhood summers is now a château with two restaurants and a vineyard.  

My Thoughts

As a Francophile who also loves good food, I couldn’t wait to read this book. Usually, in this type of novel (or, at least, the ones I’m drawn to), the main character moves to France, specifically Paris. In this novel, the main character is actually French-born; Sophie and her mother, Céleste, moved to New York when Sophie was a baby.

In addition, this story is set in the Toulouse area in southwestern France, bringing a welcome change. Lively descriptions of the Place du Capitole and surrounding areas reminded me of my own visit to La Ville Rose, or the Pink City.

I also liked how Sophie is not obsessed with romance. She’s not coy or playing hard to get either. She merely has a pragmatic and take-it-slow attitude toward relationships.

However, Sophie is indecisive and she gets in her own way at times. Her pride doesn’t let her easily accept gifts that she didn’t work for (namely, the gift of running the château’s restaurants while her grandmother recovers).

Nevertheless, the one area that Sophie does not waver in is food. For example, she knows exactly what she wants when developing menus, which I noticed almost always includes a velouté (a velvety savory sauce) and daurade (sea bream fish)!

Apart from Grand-mère Odette, the other characters in the novel were well-developed. I got the sense that they’re more like family than staff working at the château. Rémi and Jane provide tension throughout the narrative, as they weren’t thrilled about Sophie’s arrival. Fortunately, Sophie has supportive friends in Walter, his boyfriend, Robert, and Phillipa, who happens to be Jane’s sister.

The loose ends are tied up rather quickly, but happily-ever-after isn’t what you’d expect it to be. It’s Sophie’s own indecisiveness that keeps her happy enough.

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading about good food, family secrets, and supportive friendships. (Content warning: mentions of sexual harassment, depression, and suicide).

Not to miss: At the end of the book, Sophie shares a few recipes, including one for crème brûlée, which I’m inspired to make one of these days!

About the author

Samantha (Sam) Vérant is a travel addict, a self-professed oenophile, and a determined, if occasionally unconventional, at home French chef. She lives in southwestern France, where she’s married to a French rocket scientist she met in 1989 (but ignored for twenty years), a stepmom to two incredible kids, and the adoptive mother to a ridiculously adorable French cat. When she’s not trekking from Provence to the Pyrénées or embracing her inner Julia Child, Sam is making her best effort to relearn those dreaded conjugations.

You can find her on Twitter and Instagram. Visit her website or Amazon (this is not an affiliate link) to order the book.

Thank you to Berkley/Penguin Random House for inviting me to read The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux by Samantha Vérant. I received a digital advance review copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: “Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop”

Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop 

  • Author: Roselle Lim
  • Publisher: Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House (New York)
  • Publication Date: August 4, 2020
  • Genre: Multicultural Interest; Fiction, 320 pages

Synopsis

Vanessa Yu is a 27-year-old accountant from Palo Alto, California who possesses the gift of seeing people’s fortunes by reading tea leaves. After seeing someone’s misfortune at the bottom of a cup, Vanessa decides that she no longer wants this supernatural ability. Her enigmatic Aunt Evelyn, who also has the rare gift of clairvoyance, offers to help Vanessa get rid of her special skill. Aunt Evelyn invites Vanessa to stay with her for three weeks in Paris, where she is in the process of opening a tea shop. 

My Thoughts

Unlike similar novels set in the City of Light, Vanessa does not have an overly romanticized notion of Paris — I found her perspective refreshing! As a Francophile, I certainly appreciate that this novel was set in Paris, but the story could have taken place anywhere in the world.

In a way, the novel does take you around the world — through food! The book is filled with flavorful descriptions of various cuisines, including Chinese (char siu bao, or steamed BBQ buns), Filipino (sinigang, or tamarind-based stew), Vietnamese (gỏi cuốn, or spring rolls), and Italian (cacio e pepe, or cheese and pepper pasta). In Paris, Vanessa enjoys an assortment of iconic French treats, including buttery croissants, crispy tuiles aux amandes, and decadent mille-feuille.

So very sweet – much like how Vanessa is with her large family. They say “I love you” to each other so much though that it sometimes borders on saccharine. It was mind-boggling at times because Vanessa often seemed annoyed by her family, especially her meddling aunties.

But Aunt Evelyn is the exception. It’s clear that Vanessa has great respect for her. As the story progresses, Aunt Evelyn opens her heart, making her more likable.

I also liked how vivid descriptions of symbols, like red threads of fate, sudden gusts of wind, and Menelaus blue morpho butterflies give the novel a dream-like quality. Although the tropical blue butterfly specified is not likely to appear in Europe, you’ll believe it’s possible. That’s magical realism for you!

Overall, this breezy novel is a welcome escape from the pandemic lockdown doldrums. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys art, romance, cultural traditions, food, tea, and Paris, bien sûr!

About the author

Roselle Lim was born in the Philippines and immigrated to Canada as a child. She found her love of writing by listening to her paternal Lola’s (grandmother) stories about Filipino folktales. Growing up in a household where Chinese superstition mingled with Filipino Catholicism, she devoured books about mythology, which shaped the fantasies in her novels. She has a degree in humanities and history from York University in Toronto. 

You can find her on Twitter and Instagram. Visit her website or Amazon (this is not an affiliate link) to order the book.

Thank you to Berkley/Penguin Random House for inviting me to read Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop by Roselle Lim. I received a digital review copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: “Paris, Part Time”

ParisPartTimeCover

© 2020 by Lisa Baker Morgan 

 

Paris, Part Time

  • Author: Lisa Baker Morgan
  • Publisher: ciao yummy! (Los Angeles, California)
  • Publication Date: June 1, 2020
  • Genre: Memoir, 396 pages

Paris, Part Time will appeal to readers interested in food, parenting, photography, travel, France, and specifically, the process of buying property in Paris!

For author and personal chef, Lisa Baker Morgan, her affinity for France began in her French class at her Southern California high school. She later dreamed of visiting France, but her college classes and job offered little free time for her to travel or take part in study-abroad programs.

But thanks to her father, who gave her a plane ticket as a college graduation gift, Morgan finally got the chance to visit Paris! Soon after, she went to law school and fell in love with a fellow aspiring litigator. Eventually they got married and had two daughters.

After several years, however, the marriage ended. Morgan’s child custody arrangement allowed her to travel to Paris while her daughters were on school breaks and staying with their father in Los Angeles.

During one winter break, Morgan spent the holidays with friends in the south of France. During that trip, she contracted a bacterial infection that required surgery. While recovering in a Monaco hospital and consumed with thoughts of her mortality, Morgan decided to transform her dreams into an active “To-Do” list. At the top of that list were her dreams to become a chef and to move to Paris.

The book moves at an urgent pace illustrating Morgan’s determination to reach her goals. For instance, while her daughters were at school, she attended early morning cooking classes or created new recipes. While she was in France looking at Paris apartments, she took the opportunity to visit other parts of France to do some food research.

On occasion, she would unwind by meeting friends over cocktails or having dinner with a love interest. It seems that meeting new people was easy for her; she became acquainted with well-connected people wherever she went.

Through it all, I found myself cheering her on, much like a supporter on the sidelines handing out cups of water to runners at marathons, which Morgan also likes to run.

While she admits to having moments of doubt and wonders whether she was acting selfishly in pursuit of her dreams, she remained focused and optimistic.

“While it seems I am juggling a thousand things at once – from escrow and raising children on one continent to cultivating contacts and researching food and apartments on another – I know things will come together” (p.79)

Before reading this book, I had no clue about the process of buying property in Paris. The bottom line: learn all about the notaire (notary) process before you start. It’s helpful advice should you ever want to buy your own pied-à-terre in the French capital.

I liked how Morgan provides a realistic view of the process. Things didn’t always go as planned. There were misunderstandings. There were delays. There was even a stubborn lamp that just wouldn’t work, even with fresh lightbulbs! Since she was splitting her time between Los Angeles and Paris, coordinating telephone meetings across time zones made the process extra challenging.

In her writing, you do get the sense of Paris being part time as chapters alternate between her life in Los Angeles and her life in France. Throughout the book, Morgan sprinkles in some French words and expressions, which are followed smoothly by English translations. In addition, she tells time using the AM/PM 12-hour clock system that’s used in the United States.

Furthermore, she employs arrondissement numbers when describing movement from one Parisian district to another. This presumes the reader has prior knowledge of the snail-like configuration of the City of Light. Pas de problème! It’s not a problem, though – just keep a Paris map handy.

In the book’s slower parts, she effectively conveys the sense of calm she feels in certain moments, like shopping for fresh produce then slicing celery, onion, and carrots, or mirepoix, to make a flavor base for soup; tucking her daughters into bed, or folding and packing her daughters’ summer clothes into a suitcase.

Her writing contains beautiful descriptions. When she talks about the dishes she prepares, it makes you wish you had the recipes. Then, as if she’d just read your mind, voilà! The recettes (recipes) appear like tasty hors d’oeuvres in between chapters leaving you wanting more.

The book also features over 100 photographs taken by Morgan. Like the recipes, the black & white and color photographs are in between chapters so you can enjoy them in batches.

The book includes images of her young daughters, food from the marché, and the varied landscapes of the places she’s visited, like the French regions of Alsace, Normandy, Loberon, and Provence. Other French cities she’s traveled to include Gordes, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, and Colmar.

The takeaway from this gripping memoir is: You must follow your dream – if not now, when?

About the author:

Lisa Baker Morgan graduated from the University of Southern California with a degree in English literature. She obtained her Juris Doctorate from Southwestern Law School and her culinary degree from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts. Today, Morgan continues to divide her time between Paris and Los Angeles. Her eldest daughter will begin college in fall 2020. In 2022, her youngest daughter will follow, and Paris can then be “full-time.”

For many years, Morgan authored a travel and food blog. You can also find her on Facebook, TwitterPinterest, and Instagram.

Visit her website or Amazon to order the book.

Thanks/Merci to Lisa Baker Morgan for giving me a copy of her book, Paris, Part-Time, in exchange for an honest review.

A Touch of France in Yountville, California

The town of Yountville is located along California Highway 29 about 56 miles/ 90 km north of San Francisco. With Calistoga to the north and Napa to the south, Yountville is truly in the heart of Wine Country.

The town was named after George Calvert Yount in 1867, two years after his death. In the 1830s, Yount was considered one of the first settlers in the area to plant wine grapes in Napa Valley.

Public Art Walk Along Washington Street

“Chaos Pamplona” by Jedd Novatt

“48” Orange Sphere” by Ivan McLean

“Rock Mushroom Garden” by Rich Botto

“Marigold” by Troy Pillow

“Phoenix” by Andrew Carson

Award-winning Restaurants

Chef Philippe Jeanty of Epernay, France opened Bistro Jeanty in 1998:

Signs on the windows indicate they serve cassoulet, saumon fumé, bouillabaisse, paté de lapin…

soupe de poissons, crème brûlée, steak frites, moules au pastis!

Chef Thomas Keller opened The French Laundry in 1994. Since 2007, it has been a Michelin 3-star restaurant:

Can you see the restaurant sign? I can’t, so let’s zoom in:

Its unassuming exterior means that you could miss the award-winning restaurant if you blink or drive past it too quickly. Which is exactly what we did…

That’s The French Laundry to the right:

Chef Thomas Keller opened Bouchon Bistro in 1998:

V Marketplace

The Groezinger Winery was built in 1870 and operated as a winery through 1955. In 1968, it was converted into an upscale retail location. There are tasting rooms, restaurants, art galleries, and boutiques surrounded by a picnic garden. A popular hot air balloon company launches from an adjacent lot near V Marketplace.

Two restaurants owned by Chef Michael Chiarello, Bottega and Ottimo:

Keep walking through the courtyard (above) and you’ll arrive at the beautiful picnic garden. Here’s my favorite flower, the white rose:

Pioneer Yount School Bell

This bell hung from Pioneer Yount School from 1890 to 1947. Today, it is in front of Yountville’s City Hall.

If you need to send someone a postcard, you can drop it off here:

For more information:

Yountville Welcome Center

These photos were taken by my older daughter and me during our family’s day trip to Napa Valley on New Year’s Day 2017. 🍇

Let These TV Show Episodes Transport You to France

While actual travel is out of the question for now, you can still indulge your fantasies of traveling to France.

For example, you can watch French movies. You can watch travel videos. You can view French museum exhibitions online. You can strap on a virtual reality headset and get a bird’s-eye view of various chateaux in the lush French countryside. You can read Francophile blogs. 😉

These days, I’m doing a bit of armchair traveling by watching a few lighthearted TV shows with French-inspired episodes!

Here are some of my favorites:

Friends (Season 10, Episode 13) – “The One Where Joey Speaks French”

Joey needs to learn French for a role he’s auditioning for and Phoebe offers to teach him:

How I Met Your Mother (Season 9, Episode 16)

This flashback episode is from the show’s final season:

Key & Peele on Comedy Central – “French Restaurant”

A man tries to impress his date with his knowledge of French language and cuisine:

The Late Late Show with James Corden – “Crosswalk the Musical in Paris: Les Misérables”

The funny talk show host and his theatre company perform a famous French musical (in English) in a crosswalk with a view of the Arc de Triomphe:

Modern Family (Season 11, Episode 13) – “Paris”

The Pritchett-Dunphy-Tucker clan heads to the City of Light. Here’s Mitchell trying to fit in:

The Office (US adaptation; Season 5, Episode 8) – “Frame Toby”

Dwight describes his perfect crime involving the Trocadéro:

Tiny House World on FYI Television Network (Season 1, Episode 5) – “Petit Chateau in Paris”

Follow Shari from Brooklyn, New York to Paris, as she looks for her new home in Le Marais:

I hope these TV shows with French-inspired episodes will make you smile. I’m hopeful things will be back to normal soon. Until then, take care and stay safe.

📺

* YouTube videos | All rights reserved

DNA: French Newspaper of Alsace Region

Flashback to Nov 2012: I spotted this wagon cart in South Lake Tahoe, California

Dernières Nouvelles d’Alsace (“Latest news from Alsace”) is a regional newspaper based in Strasbourg, France.

It was founded in 1877 by a German publisher named Heinrich Ludwig Kayser. It was originally called Neueste Nachrichten (“Latest news”).

🗞

I wonder if issues of the newspaper used to be sold from wagon carts like the one above?

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

I want to share a few of my favorite things that I discovered this year (2019). These things are not the most expensive, most popular, most beautiful. These things are simple. But they bring joy to all my senses and that’s what matters! Check ’em out – they might just make you happy, too!

For fun, I wrote this list set to the melody of the Rodgers & Hammerstein song, “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music.

Come sing along with me:

🎶 Gratitude bracelet and pecan tea cookies

Tiramisù kit and ‘Big Island’ shortbread

Two ‘Frozen 2’ songs that I love to sing

These are a few of my favorite things…

 

Lavender chamomile probiotic tea

‘Typo’ metal pens with monogram ‘D’

Organic deodorant that will not sting

These are a few of my favorite things…

 

Croissants from ‘Tartine’ and ‘Topdrawer’ postcards

“Dreaming Time Again” and “Reasons I Drink” –

Feelings of nostalgia these new songs bring

These are a few of my favorite things… 🎶

Gratitude bracelet from Energy Muse:

from Energy Muse

Image: Energy Muse

Pecan Tea Cookies from Specialty’s:

Tiramisù kit by Forno Bonomi:

From World Market

Image: World Market

Assorted Shortbread from Big Island Candies:

From Big Island Candies

Image: Big Island Candies

Initial Ballpoint Pen by Typo/Cotton On:

From Cotton On

Image: Typo/Cotton On

Organic deodorant by EO:

From EO Products

Image: EO Products

Croissants from Tartine Bakery:

 

Postcards from Topdrawer:

Music:

What are a few of your favorite things? Tell me in the comments below!

Note: this post is not sponsored and the links provided are for informational purposes only

Halloween Costume: Coco Chanel 🦁

For Halloween this year, I dressed up as the one and only Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel!

To imitate the fashion legend’s style, I wore the hat I bought from a souvenir shop in Montmartre:

… and the black and white blouse I wore in Toulouse:

me at Le Capitole in Toulouse | photo by my dear friend, François

Then I added a faux pearl necklace and earrings.

I got a sample of Chanel No. 5 Parfum and put some on my inner wrists.

Finally, I bought some mints, sugar cookies, and mini chocolate bars from a party store and glued on a clip-art logo.

Voilà! DIY Coco Chanel-inspired costume and sweet treats!

What was your Halloween costume? Tell me in the comments below! 🎃

“Picasso at the Lapin Agile” at Altarena Playhouse

When I heard the local theatre was putting on a play set in Montmartre in Paris, my Francophile ears perked up like a nimble little bunny’s ears!

According to the playbill, Steve Martin wrote “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” in 1993, but this production would incorporate updates from his 2017 revival version.

Set in 1904, the play imagines the famous Spanish artist, Pablo Picasso and German-born theoretical physicist, Albert Einstein having a lively debate about what they think the 20th century will bring. Of course, each man thinks he will change the world with his art and science, respectively.

The pre-show announcer said over the PA system that the play would be performed in English and “without accents” like the French one he was affecting.

I’m not sure if Monsieur Martin wrote it that way or if creative license was used by the Altarena Playhouse in Alameda, California, a cozy theatre-in-the-round. Regardless, it worked for me – it was hilarious.

history of Lapin Agile Cabaret in Paris

Crispian Bakery, a small-batch bakery that produces French-inspired American breads and pastries in Alameda, provided refreshments with a suggested donation of $2 per item. I got a chocolate chip cookie with coffee and my daughter opted for a ginger cookie. She said it tasted like Christmas!

As we settled in, they played Pink Martini’s song, “Sympathique,” as well as accordion music. The sweet melody helped set the mood — it made me feel like I was in Paris!

The character, Sagot, snaps a photograph of his fellow bar patrons

Along with the leads, Asher Krohn (Picasso) and Peter Marietta (Einstein), my favorite performances were by Jean Cary, who played three roles (Suzanne; The Countess; Female Admirer).

Without spoiling the ending, I want to mention that I didn’t particularly enjoy the part toward the end when, after brief smoke and light effects, The Visitor, appears.

It was a bit cheesy visually, but I could grasp the social commentary being made: It was suggested that The Visitor, doing something less profound, would experience greater fame than either of the geniuses, Picasso and Einstein, despite their world-changing contributions!

The playwright promoting his play

Without a doubt, Steve Martin is a genius himself, with comedic acting roles, like one of the obnoxious Wild & Crazy Guys from Saturday Night Live and the likable Dad in the “Father of the Bride” and “Cheaper By the Dozen” movies.

He’s also a talented dramatic actor. In the 2001 dark comedy called “Novocaine,” Steve Martin portrays a dentist who leads an ordinary life until he is seduced by a patient. It’s one of my favorite films and not only because a couple of characters in the film move to France. I promise!

Although it doesn’t hurt having a French setting, like in “Picasso at the Lapin Agile”!

I visited Montmartre in May 2018. Can you spot the actual “Cabaret Au Lapin Agile”?

Have you seen any good plays lately? Do you like Steve Martin movies and plays? Tell me in the comments below!

Gift Ideas for the Francophile in Your Life

[Updated: October 7, 2019. This post is not sponsored.]

Do you have someone on your holiday gift list who’s a fan of all things French? Need help finding something they’ll love? Look no further – I’ve made a short list of gift ideas that are sure to please!

  • Fleur-de-lis bookends, like these:
  • advent calendar: 24 limited-edition mini jars of jam, spreads, and honey (like these by Bonne Maman, available through Simply Gourmand)
  • chocolate-covered caramels (like Michoko, available through Simply Gourmand)
  • for budding Francophiles/Francophones — French first words language workbook for kids in Grades 1-3. I bought one from Target:
  • subscription to a magazine (like this bilingual English/French magazine, France-Amérique)bilingual magazine
  • blank journals and notebooks (like these by Rhodia)
  • Paris notecards, like these:

  • triple-milled soap (like these by Le Petit Marseillais, available through Monoprix or Amazon)

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these soaps have a light and fresh scent and make lots of bubbles

  • short stories or novels set in France (available at bookstores everywhere)

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bargains at Barnes & Noble

  • Celebrating France’s World Cup 2018 victory, these reusable drawstring bags are both stylish and useful. I found these at Soccer Post, but you can purchase them from online stores, like eBay

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  • Another one for budding Francophiles — Children’s books, like the Fancy Nancy series:

Need more ideas? Check out my related posts:

  • Are You Looking for Things with a Paris Theme?
  • French Perfume
  • Got ideas for gifts that a Francophile might appreciate? Let me know in the comments below!

    Yay, I Got My Glossier

    [This post is not sponsored]

    When I first read about American skincare and makeup company, Glossier, I read it as Glossy-er. When I learned it was pronounced Glossy-yay, I thought, Oh la la! C’est très chic, non?

    The brand is currently all the rage with millennials, beauty gurus, and, ahem, Francophiles! Go to YouTube and you’ll find hundreds of videos of excited Glossier fans opening their boxes of goodies, like this short unboxing/haul video I made with my younger daughter:

    Glossier recently released a new product called Bubblewrap. It’s one cream that does double duty as an under eye cream and a lip plumping cream. How efficient! I was sold! So I went to their website and placed my first Glossier order.

    I decided to forgo my daily iced matcha green tea latte for a week and spend $26 on a 0.74 fl oz/ 22 ml tube of Bubblewrap!

    Good thing a little goes a long way! I squeezed a 1/4 cm size drop of Bubblewrap onto my ring finger and I was able to apply three dots under each eye. After rubbing it under my eyes, the area looked smoother. I didn’t try it on my lips, though, as I wanted to try Glossier’s lip balm.

    I ordered the Balm Dotcom Trio in Birthday, Mint, and Rose (four other flavors are available). I love each tube’s minimalist design. It looks like a small tube of toothpaste!

    Again, a little goes a long way. After applying a tiny bit of Mint Balm Dotcom, my lips felt hydrated and smooth, just like Glossier said they would! I also like to apply the universal skin salve onto my cuticles. It’s a convenient way to pamper them until I can get proper manicures (which for me are few and far between!)

    Glossier currently has stores in New York City and Los Angeles. They also ship orders to the 50 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, and France.

    To learn all about their cruelty free products, like serums, face masks, lipsticks, highlighters, and more, visit the Glossier website.

    Send me a message and I’ll give you my code to get 10% off your first Glossier order!