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Frenchie and Chinon

29 May

When a friend buys a hotel in a small serene historical town nestled in the Loire Valley, you just have to go!

I arrived in the very petite gare de Chinon during a foggy morning.

Bleak and oppressive.

I knew my train was surrounded by a very lush bright green nature as it made its way to the station but I could not enjoy any of it.

The cawing crows seemed to follow me as I made my way to the hotel.

A bit eerie yet exciting to be somewhere I had never been.

A quick walk. Already seized by the quaint homes and color accents in the old streets.

It’s very promising I thought!

Jamie and I know each other from blogging.

I’ve followed her life, adventures, thoughts and recipes for years now.

Her words, her stories. Sa vie.

They are tiny glimpses into her heart and soul.

They make me strive to write differently and better every time.

They take you on a journey – a slice of someone else’s life.

And it’s no secret she has a sweet tooth, which means her blog features delightfully enticing recipes.

We always talked about meeting when I am visiting family in France.

It never happened. C’est comme ça.

Until now…

As the sun started to peek through the thick Chinon morning fog, the hotel courtyard appeared.

I don’t even know where to start to describe the place.

The outside white spiral staircase, the second floor terrace with swinging French doors, the roses, the garden, the stylish arbor with climbing plants, the open bedroom windows under the eaves with curtains floating in the morning breeze.

I know I am forgetting a thousand other details.

The first thing you’ll notice when stepping inside Hôtel Diderot is how warm and cosy the place is.

The second thing I noticed, of course, is the armoire à confitures. 

Hundreds of home-made jams of various colors, each carefully labeled and piled up in an open armoire for everyone to admire.

Made avec amour by Hôtel Diderot” some of the labels read. Is it time for le petit déjeuner yet?

And in true Frenchie and the Yankee style, multi-colored serving spoons were adorning each open jar still decorating the breakfast tables as the last guests were leaving the dinning room.

Appetizing names such as gelée de cassis, pêches rafraichies à la menthe, fraises et framboises, bananes aux raisins did indeed keep me good company during breakfast.

I unfortunately hit my sugar intake for the month and did not get to taste all 20-some variety of jams on the breakfast tables but if you read this site you know that I’ve been obsessed with banana jam since Tahiti so Jamie’s impressive range of banana-based jams were a hit.

And I could have pocketed some of the orange cocoa marmalade jars.

No shame. Non, non.

Chinon was everything I could have hoped for.

An attractive architectural wonder with Gothic and Renaissance gems to discover.

A sprawling wine country and tastings available pretty much everywhere.

A warm welcome by Jamie, her husband Jean-Pierre and the staff at the hotel.

A cosy, fun and colorful room – a home away from home in a charming setting.

Private castles to admire in the countryside at every street corner.

Surprisingly good seafood.

Winding streets to discover and the enjoyable game of getting lost in a medieval setting.

Roses, roses and more roses. I don’t think I’ve seen that many roses in one place. Various shapes and colors. A delight for the eyes.

Meeting a friend for the first time and already looking forward to reading more of her new adventures as a brand new hotel owner in Chinon in her upcoming book.

Congrats Jamie!

If you go:

– from Paris, take the train to Tours and change for Chinon

Hôtel Diderot

– follow Jamie’s blogs: Life’s a Feast and Plated Stories – you can also catch her on Twitter and Instagram

– for a wine tasting in a historic family château and vineyard: Le Château du Petit Thouars

Pierre and Bertrand Couly also had an interesting wine tasting worth a visit

– walk the historical streets in the old town leading up to the Château de Chinon because the view from above overlooking the old roofs is breathtaking

L’Océanic for seafood

La Part des Anges for a more intimate dinner either with a loved one or to catch up with a friend – merci encore Jamie!

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Frenchie and the Mint-Infused Quinoa Tabbouleh

7 Jun

The move to Charlotte still fresh in my mind and France was already calling me.

A quick trip for a milestone birthday, a family visit and to recharge my French batteries.

And despite the gray, rainy, drab spring weather covering Europe throughout the month of May, we found the time to cook, visit, laugh, eat and use our umbrellas.

Many photos, memories and the story of a tabbouleh.

Magically, the sun came out at two distinct times during the trip.

As we were about to sit down for the birthday lunch – shinning brightly in the garden, calling us to delay lunch time and play in the garden.

And during a Parisian weekend as I explored new places and discovered new bites.

The feeling of being stuck inside when it’s cold and rainy outside.

The joy in everyone’s eyes when the call of the first sun rays hit the windows.

Tous dehors !

And with the amount of bouton-d’ors – buttercups – sprinkled in the fields showing us yellow dots all around, it was a celebration of all things yellow, happy and bright.

Despite all this, I still managed to enjoy the changing seasonal menu of L’Alchimie.

The quaint and quirky setting of Colorova Pâtisserie along with their tempting pastries.

The elegant design and honey-roasted pigeon at Le Quinze.

A very green matcha (green tea) financier in a newly opened 1950-1960s vibe Café Loustic for a quick goûter with my twin from another life – the lovely Lost in Cheeseland.

And an unusual mango éclair sprinkled with pansies at L’Éclair de Génie. When art meets food.

And then came the tabbouleh.

A secret but not-so-secret recipe.

Inspired by a recipe from “T.”.

A spring dish, a green plate, a yearly tabbouleh to prepare around that time of year.

A tabbouleh inspired by many springs. By a lifetime of many springs.

Rain, cold and gray – et si on faisait un taboulé ?

Yes, let’s make a tabbouleh! Un taboulé de couscous.

I knew I had to make something similar when I got home. A quinoa version.

And a southern maple cider vinaigrette with mustard was truly a good pairing as a way to celebrate new influences.

Mint-Infused Quinoa Tabbouleh with Peas and Maple Cider Vinaigrette

for 4-6

2 cups + 1/3 cup (553 ml) of water

50-60 mint leaves (whole) + 30 extra leaves (chopped)

3/4 cup (110 g) of peas, fresh or frozen

1 cup (200 g) quinoa, uncooked (white, red, or mixed)

1 Tbsp of summer savory, chopped

1 Tbsp of lemon thyme, chopped

1.5 Tbsp of flat-leaf parsley (or chervil), chopped

7 Tbsp of olive oil

1 teaspoon of strong French mustard

2 Tbsp of maple syrup, medium amber

4 Tbsp of apple cider vinegar

sea salt and pepper

4 Tbsp of unsalted, dry toasted slivered almonds

zest of 1 organic lemon (optional: add the juice of the lemon for an extra lemony flavor)

Prepare a mint herbal tea-like water as a base for cooking the peas and quinoa later.

Bring the water to a boil with 50-60 mint leaves in a saucepan. Boil for 5 minutes. Cover with a lid, remove from the heat and infuse for 15-20 min.

Squeeze out the excess water from the leaves with a spatula or a spoon and discard the leaves.

Bring the mint herbal water back to a boil. Cook the peas for 2 min, if frozen, or 3-4 min if fresh.

Strain the peas in a colander and over a bowl – do not discard the mint water and keep it aside in the bowl.

Run cold water over the peas in the colander to stop the cooking process. Set aside.

Put the mint water back in the saucepan. Rinse the quinoa throughly in cold water. Place the rinsed quinoa in the mint water and bring to a boil.

Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until all water is absorbed – about 10-13 min.

When done, fluff the quinoa with a fork and let cool in a bowl.

Prepare the vinaigrette in a small bowl by whisking the summer savory, lemon thyme, parsley and oil together. Whisk until well mixed.

Add the mustard, maple syrup and apple cider vinegar, sea salt and pepper while continuing to whisk.

Pour the vinaigrette over the cooked quinoa and mix well.

Add the peas, almonds, remaining chopped mint leaves and the lemon zest. Mix delicately so the peas don’t get mashed.

Cover and place in the fridge for at least 2 hours before serving. Serve cold.

Frenchie and la Belle France

11 Dec

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La belle France !

I’ve been back for a month now and I’m finally sitting down to post some pictures and a new recipe directly inspired by this recent trip.

A journey in France under a soothing and warm fall sun.

Where red and green intertwine and the light coming from the sky is pale and white.

A color combination to remember in the kitchen when preparing a special seafood dish to impart this experience.

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The greatest of adventures in Paris is to discover new things, new places and new sceneries.

My latest kick? Walk through as many cours intérieures as possible.

Ever wanted to see those lovely small inside courtyards behind those big Parisian locked doors?

And despite the digicodes – those entry control systems with numeric pads outside every main doors in Paris – one might be sneaky enough to press the entry/exit button during the day when most systems are not turned on yet.

Between rue de Charonne and rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine.

Or as you stroll rue Pigalle and around rue des Martyrs.

I discovered gems.

Even behind 17 rue Bleue where the Cantine de la maison de la culture arménienne – a small restaurant at the Armenian Cultural Center – hides at the back of the courtyard.

And if you surprisingly run into la gardienne, just say Bonjour Madame !

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So many treasures to uncover.

And in these enclosed courtyards, protected from the outside world and noises, it’s the discreet and muffled sound of Parisian life that is distinctly heard through the few open windows.

A certain mood floating around as I stand in the center, looking up and around.

Demure. Calm. Unassuming. Yet full of life.

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The pastoral French countryside.

A bucolic side trip where the same colorful reds and greens kept revealing themselves in a scenic patchwork.

A wealth of trees and grass.

Farmers’ markets filled with distorted red orangish gourds and bright squash varieties.

The whispers of the market – a light hubbub of friends and neighbors babbling under a pale and transparent morning light.

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This new recipe was not only inspired by the color scheme following me throughout the trip but also by L’Agrume, a restaurant in the 5th arrondissement of Paris.

A bowl full of white pale clams.

Sprinkled with green onions.

A touch of red chorizo.

And a simple after taste of lemon.

It made for a perfect dish to enjoy throughout November.

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Clams, Chorizo and Green Onions with Creamy Lemon Broth

serves 4

3.5 cups (80 cl) of water

1 cube of vegetable bouillon (I use vegan vegetable bouillon cubes with sea salt)

the zest and juice of one organic lemon

2 Tbsp of chopped thyme

1 Tbsp of fennel seeds

2 green onions thinly sliced (green and white parts) + 2 more for sprinkling

sea salt and pepper

2 lbs (1 kg) of littleneck clams

1 Tbsp (15 g) of butter

2 heaping Tbsp of crème fraîche

about 3 oz (75 g) of chorizo – thinly sliced

slices of bread

In a big heavy pot, combine the water, bouillon cube, lemon zest and juice, thyme, fennel seeds, green onions, salt and pepper.

Bring to a boil.

Place the clams directly in the boiling water, reduce the heat, and cook until the clams open.

In the meantime, remove the casing around the chorizo and slice it thinly.

When the clams open, remove them from the pot and place them in a separate bowl covered with foil or a towel to keep warm.

Drop the butter and crème fraîche in the clam broth and stir until melted and well-combined.

Add the chorizo slices to the pot, stir and remove them as soon as they start to release a brightly red tint.

Serve the clams in bowls, top with the warm chorizo slices and scoop out the creamy lemon broth with a spoon. Drizzle all over the bowl and clams.

Sprinkle the last green onion slices on top with an extra dash of freshly ground pepper and some more thyme if needed.

Do not forget the slices of bread to soak up the broth.

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