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I have this love of perfume. In a way, I equate it to an awakening.

As a university student, I was feeling broke, so broke you could hardly convince me to buy new socks, and if I did, they’d be simple, cheap, black socks. My girlfriends knew this about me, I would become paralyzed by the idea of buying anything special for myself, especially given my pragmatic nature. One evening we went out and I’m certain they saw me come alive surrounded by such beautiful fragrances. It was a bottle full of white flowers that did me in. It was the first time I was willing to buy myself a gift. I didn’t need it, I was gifting myself something more meaningful, I was telling myself I was worth it.

Several years later I moved to the riviera. A simple car ride could just woo you with the scent of jasmine and orange blossom as you drove the winding roads overlooking Nice and Cannes. I understood why Grasse, the neighbouring town, was the perfuming capital of the world, with fragrances in abundance like this, how could you be anything but inspired? I felt like the universe was lavishing on me a big gift. 

When I heard there was a new museum of perfume that had opened in Paris, Le Grand Musée du Parfum, I knew I had to go. I went solo since this was for my enjoyment and I knew I’d need extra time to see every last bit, and I did. 

For someone who loves history and science, it’s a great little gem and you can even do it in English if you like. From ritual use in the Egyptian era, to Catherine de Medici who brought her favourite perfumer from Italy to France to mask poison with lavish scents or the famous four thieves blend originating in Marseille as a way to protect them from the plague while they looted the dead.grand musee du parfum parisgrand musee du parfum parisAfter an interesting history lesson and beautiful artifacts I moved into the next portion of the visit. How does the body process fragrance in the brain?  This level even has a few tests to try out. Of course I wanted to know if I had the genetic makeup to smell some very particular scents. For fragrances that can’t easily be distilled or otherwise, they’ll even show you how they create artificial fragrances. Did you know it can take up to 300 molecules to compose the scent of a rose yet you only need 3 of them in order to know you’re smelling a rose?

Finally you can smell and learn about several individual scents that are found in little spheres which are suspended from the ceiling in a beautiful art piece.grand musee du parfum parisOf course once you’re finished in the museum, you’re bound to want to find something for yourself. One such place if you’re looking for a boutique experience is Nose. Located a 20 minute walk alway, this shop offers incredible service to help you find something you’ll love. If you have the chance ahead of time you can head on over to their website and fill out their diagnostics which then give you some ideas of where to start. Once you arrive (they ship as well!) they will allow you to smell and rate each fragrance and continue to narrow down what best suits you. I will, however, note that you must give yourself lots of time. You’ll be asking for olfactory overload if you try to rush this and a good fragrance should never be rushed.

Do you have a favourite perfume or a great scent memory to share? I’d love to hear about it.nose perfume boutique

Eiffel Tower in SpringOne of my favourite memories of experiencing Paris was by bike. It was spring or summer of 2012 and myself and a couple colleagues rented the velib bikes you see around the city and our method was simple – turn in whatever direction looks most interesting. In theory it’s a great plan… but somehow we still managed to end up in probably the biggest construction zone of Paris. All that bumping up and down on my leather bag, which was housing my very heavy camera in the front basket, didn’t live to tell the tale. I drove a nice big hole right through it. A favourite memory it may be, with my little french scarf blowing in the wind – but I’m pretty sure my colleges and my bag would have rather stayed in the hotel!

So instead of making the same mistake I did, I propose to you a better option, if for no better reason than just to make the most of your visit, because not everyone lives here year round and time is precious!

Just last week I was fortunate to be invited by Fat Tire Tours to enjoy their best of Paris bike tour. You’ll be busy most of the day but you’ll be filling it with some beautiful sights, great guides who will help you to understand some of the stories of former kings, queens and the antics that make this city what it is today. 

You’ll start your day by meeting one of your great English speaking guides and picking out one of their iconic red bikes to comfortably peruse the streets through many different neighbourhoods (called arrondissements) to get a feel for the different types of architecture and lifestyle they have to offer. They’ll accompany you through the Luxemburg gardens, inside Notre Dame, past the hotel de ville, a stop in Tuileries for a picnic lunch, skip the line access into the Louvre, riding along the seine towards the Alexandre III bridge, and past the Eiffel tower all before 5pm.

If you’re able to make them one of your first stops you’ll be able to see what areas interest you most, ask a few questions perhaps and make a really memorable trip beyond just this one day adventure. While it may sound like a long day on a bike, you’ll find that most of the trip is flat and there are many stops so this is very accessible to anyone who’s ridden a bike before. If you’d rather something a little different they have many other options (walking, cycling or by Segway and several skip-the-line options so you don’t spend your entire vacation waiting to get in) on their website! I’m hoping to one day experience their Versailles tour. I’ve heard it’s incredible!

I’d love to know what has made your travels memorable, whether in Paris or beyond. Leave a comment below to tell your story.

*Please note that while I was invited on this tour (thank you!) all opinions shared are my own. 

Louvre Napoleon III apartments

Coconut Pot de Creme with Raspberry Coulis

Have you ever opened a fridge and it just looks like a bachelors fridge? You know… the one that has pickles, some beer and a couple stray items here and there. Well when I first moved to France that’s how the fridge always felt and yet somehow my (now) husband could always whip something up and he wouldn’t consider himself too interested in cooking either.

It’s a French thing, I swear.

Thankfully, I’m learning and while I don’t consider myself a master of it yet, my skills in this department are growing.

So what does this have to do with dessert? Leftovers.

I believe it was Jacques Pepin who talked about when growing up it was his job to come up with a way to reinvent the leftovers amongst his family. He would look at what was available and find a way to create something new. It’s a way to maintain a relatively empty fridge and your creativity expands at the same time. So what was it that was needing used up you ask? Strawberries. There weren’t many but they have about the shortest shelf life known to man and these were no exception they were dropping like flies and wasted food is something we try to fend off around here.

I know, I know I call it a raspberry coulis… they’re a favourite around here. Not mine particularly, though I do enjoy them all the same but we’ve often got a few tucked away in the freezer for an impromptu smoothie. I’m more into the deep earthy nuances when you bite into a blackberry or a blueberry. But moving on… This was a chance to try something new. A pot de creme! The french do desserts so well and I think this one is about the easiest to make and a total show stopper. It’s beautiful and dead easy, you just need a little time to let them set. Try it out and if you don’t have any strawberries or raspberries on hand, go French! Try and see if you can use up a little of whatever fruit you’ve got taking up space on your counters or in your fridge! What are you waiting for? Tell me how yours turns out! 

Coconut Pot de Creme with Raspberry Coulis
Serves 4
A quick and simple dessert loaded rich with flavour
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
5 min
Total Time
15 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
5 min
Total Time
15 min
Ingredients
  1. 400 mls Coconut Milk
  2. 30 g sugar
  3. 2 sheets of gelatin
  4. 200 g Raspberries
  5. 100 g Strawberries, sliced
  6. 15 g Sugar
Instructions
  1. Combine coconut milk and 30 grams of sugar in a pot and bring to a low simmer.
  2. Place two sheets of gelatin in a bowl of cold water to soften.
  3. Once coconut milk and sugar have heated through and sugar dissolved remove from heat and add in the two sheets of gelatin, stirring until dissolved. Pour the mixture evenly into approximately 4 glasses (or glass yogurt pots.) If your glasses are heat sensitive you may need to let the mixture cool a bit before pouring. Leave on the counter to cool to room temperature before covering and placing in the fridge to set.
  4. Place Raspberries, Strawberries and remaining sugar into a sauce pot and heat through until the berries soften and sugar melts. If your berries need a little more sugar go ahead and add a little more (I prefer my fruits a little tart!) Once it has cooled down, put in the fridge until serving time.
  5. When it's time to serve pour the berry coulis over the coconut cream.
  6. Bon appetit!
Vine and the Olive http://vineandtheolive.com/

vine and the olive ratafia

If there’s one thing that I can appreciate about having a husband from Champagne, it’s that whenever we gather with family and friends there’s always a flute of bubbling champagne in my hand. But while that’s what you know of Champagne, there’s another the drink in the region you might never have heard of. 

Ratafia. 

But let’s give this all some context. In the beginning family dinners were exhausting. What felt like a thousand conversations were all taking place at once and I never seemed to catch much more than a couple tidbits. Something about politics, sports, maybe hunting and always one of the kids who wasn’t happy about something on their plate. Maybe you can imagine the headaches that would ensue? 

But family dinners have a fairly common rhythm around here.

First glass – that bubbling flute of champagne either white or rosé. Check!
Second glass – Whoa! Sweet! What!?
Third glass – a smooth, sultry glass of tawny red old, old (borderline too old) Bordeaux from his dads collection. More please!

This was something I could get my head around. I love wine, but you probably already knew that. While everyone was chatting, I was in my own bubble thinking about these different flavours. Except of course that second glass. At first I hated it. It’s not that the wine was bad, but I always thought sweet wines were just some way producers were covering up some fatal flaw instead of appreciating what was in front of me. 

Eventually I gave up this cynical outlook and I decided to just enjoy glass number 2. I’d like to say that I was open and ready but it didn’t happen so fast, and even at the beginning I couldn’t have repeated what we were sipping on, but over time I started to learn and one such sweet apéritif wine, specifically from Champagne is Ratafia.  

Ratafia is made from the ripened leftover grapes of Champagne which have been left to dry before being rehydrated with marc brandy and then the juice is fermented in oak barrels for a minimum of two years giving it this rich amber colour that is sure to grab your attention.

We were fortunate to have received a bottle recently, a gift from a producer, who was kind enough to share with us and I couldn’t wait to have a sip. 

You know when you walk past a flower shop and your nose is flooded with that intoxicating smell of fresh, floral goodness? Well let’s say it has a similar effect only what you smell is candied fruit, honey and oranges. When you finally take a sip it’s got this viscous quality, thick and similar to how caramel coats your mouth and you get a punch of juicy dried fruit and candied orange peels. Soon you’ll probably feel a little heat in your hands as it works through your body. It’s quite an experience and one you must try if you make a trip to Champagne. 

Just a note of caution – this drink is strong so while it might go down easy, you might want to use moderation. If you can, have your glass of Ratafia with a slice of foie gras! The good news is, with this, you can survive all those french conversations whirling around you! Hopefully you’ll be more open to this beverage than I was because it’s not to be missed! If you have tried it, or have another great specialty drink from another region I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

parc buttes chaumontIf you’re in North America,  it’s probably starting to get a little chilly out and I can almost bet you’ve been thinking about where you’ll go next. I know the feeling – we’ve been doing lots of it ourselves, though I had to remind Jérémie that Lapland only gets 2.5 hours of sun a day in winter so… maybe we could find a better time to go and that doesn’t even touch on the fact that we’re in full reno mode over here. Who’s got time for vacations!? We need a staycation!

Well I can’t say my recent jaunts to Paris have been about a staycation, but I’ve been wandering and enjoying everything it has to offer lately as much as I can. While I may have been living in France on and off since 2012, you might be surprised at how much I still have yet to explore. Of course, I’ve seen A LOT of this country, and I’m really grateful for it, but there is just so much that I’ve yet to see. 

Last week I visited Buttes Chaumont. I’ve only had it on my list for a few years now… You see, this park is a bit awkwardly situated (or so I think anyways) and so getting there by metro usually means a transfer or two which I just didn’t always feel like doing. Lazy? You betcha! Let’s be honest though, with so many things to see, I had other places I could more easily visit first. Anyways, you’re probably wondering why this place was important, or at least I hope you are.

The park of Buttes Chaumont is a little to the north east. If you’ve got a trip to see Jim Morrison or Edith Piaf at Père Lachaise on your list then you’re in the right area to finish off with the park . I was reading a biography of Paris some time ago and I stumbled upon a piece of history that was rather gruesome. It’s not really the kind of thing I enjoy reading, but it certainly had my attention. Back in the 13th to 18th century, before even being within city limits, this site (though now they say “next to it” but maybe that’s creative re-marketing… but who can know?)  was believed to be where criminals were put on display nice up high after death or torture as a symbol both poignant and odorous, as they were apparently they were left for some time to…. decay… to remind the people to keep order.  Of course we all know France has a bit of a story in world history, but this was one tidbit I’d never heard about. It was also a major quarry which helped supply the massive building of Paris and in keeping with the stinky history also had a part which was a refuse dump. Just lovely right?  So let’s just say, this place wasn’t exactly known as an attractive place to go, that is, until Baron Haussmann decided in the mid 1800’s to convert it into the beautiful and attractive park it is today. He’s also responsible for the major renovations of the city creating the major boulevards and squares, adding arrondissements and the very uniform Haussmann styled apartments Paris is famous for, all in just 17 years! 

So this interesting history had me curious what it could look like now. Well I have to say, it’s probably one of the most comfortable parks in the city. Parisians aren’t usually so fond of you sitting or walking on the lawn but if you’ve got a nice day you’re going to find people truly enjoying this public space and you are more than welcome to put out a blanket and re-live a piece of art with “a luncheon on the grass.” (but please – be clothed)  The site is full of joggers, strollers, and folks talking about philosophy everywhere. It’s so relaxed and perfectly green and very hilly, which is a rare city treat! We took the opportunity to have a casual picnic lunch thanks to the little tapas restaurant, Rosa Bonheur, that is housed in the park (they also have events in the evenings from time to time that are known for being pretty fun.) Don’t be surprised that it’s not a lavish looking place, the tapas is wonderful! Just order a couple things, a bottle of wine and they’ll supply the bread!

In fact do the picnic first and then go walk it off. The most famous spot to visit is the temple of sibylle, modelled after one in Italy. and it overlooks the park but you’ll also get a great view of Sacré Coeur on Montmartre. 

Hope you’ll love it as much as I did!

If you’ve got some ideas of places I should visit in the city or would like to share a memory of your own, please leave it in the comments below.parc buttes chaumontparc buttes chaumontparc buttes chaumontparc buttes chaumontparc buttes chaumontparc buttes chaumont

  • November 17, 2016 - 05:57

    Lesley - I went for a bike ride with my friend Anna on the weekend and she told me she was pretty sure she saw you when she was in Paris last month. I asked her where it was and she said Buttes Chaumont so I think she must have been right! Small world! (She remembered you from our wedding 🙂 )ReplyCancel

    • November 17, 2016 - 13:53

      Christina - Oh crazy! That’s so unexpected. It might have been… Did she say much? Was I alone or with Jeremie? Eating our picnic? Too bad she didn’t say hi – though I might not have known her…ReplyCancel