For Houston and Dickinson and Rockport and Port Aransas and all of Texas

I didn’t find it appropriate to write about food and books when so many of our fellow Texans are anxiously watching water takes over a whole region of their home state, in the aftermaths of Hurricane Harvey.

Texas is so gigantic that most Americans living away barely scratch the surface. My family drove several times through the state on our way from California to Maine and vice versa. We’ve stopped in Dallas and Amarillo and Tyler.

In Amarillo, we ate a couple of times at the Big Texan Steakhouse where a guitarist serenaded us once with Yellow Roses of Texas.

In Tyler Municipal Rose Garden, we admired gorgeous roses which survived an unusual cold, stormy winter.

Their resilience is just my small message of compassion and hope to anyone in Texas now and also to anyone who loves someone in Texas.

 

 

 

 

 

French Friday: The Language my Daughter and I Speak Besides English and French

As soon as my mother-in-law knew that a fourth child would join the family, she sent a big package to my three daughters. Inside were three realistic-looking baby dolls. All of them were boys, anatomically correct.

Always eager to contribute to the girls’ education, my mother-in-law had written a note: “So the girls learn how boys look like, in case this baby is not a girl.”

My five and four-year-olds played house with their dolls, but my sixteen-month-old cared for hers as well as a parent would for her baby.

“Bébé,” she whispered tenderly as she dressed and undressed her baby doll all day long. She even practiced with the tiny diapers I had received at the recent baby shower.

Figuring that it would be good for our daughters to see for themselves that there really was a baby inside my big belly, my husband and I took the girls to my third trimester ultrasound. Our youngest, of course, took Bébé with her.

“Would you like to know if the baby is a girl or a boy?” the nurse asked, moving the probe over my jellied belly.

“Yes!” my husband shouted. He had never liked surprises.

I, on the other hand, loved the idea of a surprise baby. “I don’t want to know.”

“Oh, come on,” my husband insisted. “We all know the baby is a girl anyway.”

“So?” The nurse held the probe up like a magic wand. I nodded yes.

“I’m happy to announce that the baby is a boy,” the nurse said.

“Like Bébé?” said my youngest daughter, trying to climb on the exam table.

I peeked at Bébé, sans diaper that day. “Like Bébé,” I said, holding my little girl’s chubby hand.

My husband had remained silent. I imagined a father could only want a boy. “Aren’t you happy?” I said.

“I am,” he mumbled. “But I’m scared. Can I take good care of a boy?”

“I will,” said our youngest, her eyes glued to the outline of her little brother displayed on the screen of the ultrasound machine.

She was exactly two years old when my son was born, but she kept her promise. Holding Bébé, she helped me change her brother’s diaper, willingly disposing of it in the garbage, while her sisters made disgusted faces and shrieked. Bébé was soon abandoned in the carriage.

“You are mon Bébé,” she told her brother.

That’s how she spoke when she was little, in this perfect blend of French and English. Already straddling two languages, two worlds.

My two-year-old is now a young woman in her early twenties with two Masters under her belt. To pursue her business endeavors, French fluency is an asset.

Lucky she, you are probably thinking. She’s fluent, of course, because of her parents. Well… Not exactly.

A mother once told me that my kids should not be allowed to take French in high school because it would be such an easy grade for them in comparison to the other kids.

Really? I asked her. Imagined if you had moved to France, had a baby there and only spoke English at home. Do you think your child would be fluent in English? Do you think that she would ace English only because you’re American?

She admitted that she had no idea. Her one-shoulder shrug showed, however, her lack of conviction.

I told her that my kids had the advantage of any child born in a family where another language is spoken: they perfectly understood oral French and had a perfect pitch, but without proper teaching they would never write and read French properly. So they would not be fluent.

Then, why don’t you teach them proper French? she asked. Her one-shoulder shrug morphed into a rolling of eyes.

It’s harder than you think to teach your mother language to your own kids when you live abroad. It’s like living on your own island with its own language. At some point, any decent parent wants her child to venture in the real world where a common language is spoken and master this language. Which is the only access to possibilities. 

It’s complicated, I said and didn’t elaborate.

After early childhood when a child’s brain absorbs anything new without auto-censure and self consciousness come the more challenging years of middle and high school where being noticeable is the last thing a teen wants to be.

My kids were no different. They really had very visible parents who were constantly asked to explain their accent and immigration story. So whenever I suggested formal French lessons, their response was unanimous, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Until an opportunity knocks at the door and the child who never thought she would have to deal with French away from her tiny familial island asks her maman for formal lessons.

I’ve spent the last week testing my daughter’s comprehension skills, mostly written. To make the practice more enjoyable we’ve worked around countless cups of tea, bottles of Perrier, and a variety of exercises.

Above all, I did exactly what I did when she lived at home: I only spoke French.

“When did we stop talking French together?” she asked one afternoon.

“We’ve never really stopped.”

“Right,” she said. “You always speak in French, but I always answer in English. Like now. I was so stupid to think my laziness would not kick me in the butt one day.”

“You are everything but stupid. And you’re not lazy or you wouldn’t want to improve your French.”

“Still,” she insisted. “Why did we stop?”

“Because it is hard to live between two languages,” I said.

“I feel like I will never speak French like you,” she went on. “You speak really well.”

Aww…”Your French will be better than my English,” I said.

“No way!”

“You won’t have any accent.”

“But people love your accent!”

“The French will love yours, then.” She frowned with concern. “I’m kidding,” I said. “Lucky you, you don’t have an accent. You just need to get to those grammar books you never wanted to open back in the days.”

She sighed.

“Think about it,” I concluded. “You’ve got a terrific advantage in comparison to your American friends. The exams will be a breeze for you. You’ll ace them.”

I almost heard another mother smirk behind me.

“Thanks for boosting my confidence,” my daughter said.

“Don’t worry. You’ll be fine. Besides, you can always text me or call me if you have a question.”

“I wish I had never stopped speaking French with you, though.”

“We never really did,” I repeated. “There was no way to keep up with French while living in the US, that’s all.”

“It’s so hard to only speak in French,” she admitted. “I’m tired. I have a headache. Even my jaw hurts. Also I’m so self-conscious ! I hear myself talk and it’s weird. I don’t feel this way when I speak English.”

“I know,” I said.

“You mean, it’s the way you feel when you speak English?” she asked with a concerned frown.

“I’m no longer tired when I speak English. My jaw used to hurt when I was a new comer. Not anymore, of course.” I laughed and then searched for the right words. And for once I chose them in English. “But yes,” I went on. “There is a slight distance between the person I am in French and the one I am in English. I can hear this distance. Even now with you. But I can live with that.”

In Other Words, Jhumpa Lahiri’s most recent book written in English and Italian, a language that Lahiri is still acquiring in adulthood, the author writes,

“When you live without your own language you feel weightless, and at the same time, overloaded. You breathe another type of air, at a different altitude. You are always aware of the difference.”

This is how my daughter and I feel when we speak each other’s native language.

A pause settled between us. And in this pause we spoke something entirely different. We spoke a language that straddles two languages that we both master impeccably. We spoke a language made of understanding for each other.

“I think I get what you mean,” my daughter said finally.

“I’m sure you do,” I said.

 

P.S. By the way, my husband was perfectly capable to care for a boy and he became an amazing father to his son. My daughter has remained very close to her brother. They only converse in English but love the addition of French slang and occasional bad words that they aways find more hilarious than their English counteparts.

Monday Miam-Miam: A Slice of Peru and Post-Hurricane Matthew in Saint Augustine

Most people who visit historic Saint Augustine, Florida eat in one of the many restaurants in the compact downtown. Only the beautiful Bridge of Lions separates the old city from the rest of Saint Augustine, and yet this fairly short and walkable distance seems to stand between tourists and locals. This is why eating at Llama feels like entering local residents’ dining room.

I had my first taste at Peruvian food with Limon, which has three locations in San Francisco and Fresno, and immediately decided that Peruvian food was one of the most flavorful and unique in the world.

Like Limon, Llama was born from a family initiative. Unlike Limon it remains small with only one location. Which is charming from the second you park and catch a glimpse of the tiny backyard where herbs grow, of the painted murals, and the galvanized tubs filled with seasonal plants, all set steps away from the adorable and comfortable restrooms located in an adjacent small building.

Upon entrance a lovely bar, lit by low suspensions, faces the guests.

Courtesy Tripadvisor

Small means also intimate. And it’s clear that Llama had the comfort of their guests in mind when they decorated. The mix between Peruvian art and the modern feel of wood, aged bronze, and lighting provides a warm, clean, simple setting. I like the presence of llamas depicted through paintings and photographs displayed throughout the restaurant and even restrooms.

Courtesy Tripadvisor

I often draw inspiration from restaurants when I look for lighting, space, china, glassware, and silverware ideas for my own home. At Llama, I especially love the rustic yet elegant china. Asheville restaurants impressed me with their plates and bowls imported from local pottery studios. But Llama sets the bar even higher with stunning slabs of thick slate, dish lined in pale-blue or green, or still wooden slabs used to serve the appetizers.

Most wines on the wine list come from Spain and Argentina and glasses are priced below average. The list of non-alcoholic cocktails is longer than average and the Chicha, made of homemade purple corn, pineapple, spices and key lime punch, is a must according to my daughter’s boyfriend. She chose a litchee flavored Mimosa and enjoyed it to the last sip, something unusual for a young woman who drinks very occasionally.

My daughter’s mimosa

A glance at the menu will make any mouth water. Anyone spotting a dish brought to a nearby table will want to have the same. Our table of four spends a considerable amount of time debating over the choice of appetizers we would share, based on everyone’s favorite entrée.

Can I have one more minute to decide, please?

We ended up opting for the Causas Trio, which offers three chilled golden potato cakes seasoned and marinated. Each of the potato is stuffed with a mix of chicken and avocado, shrimp and avocado or octopus with avocado. Even the potatoes are small this is very easy to split them in half so everyone at the table can have a taste. This is a very unique and delicious appetizer, also served beautifully.

We also ordered Choros, which are chilled mussels served in their shells with leche de Tigre, Chalaca salad and Andean corn. They can be eaten like oysters, basically swallowed from their shell like a shot. None of us had ever eaten mussels prepared this way, despite the fact that we are all lovers of international food.

When our appetizers arrived we all began oohing and aahing

A Trou Normand as we call it in my native France is typically a tiny shot of Calvados (apple-based alcohol) served in the middle of a copious meal in order to cleanse people’s palate and restore their appetite. Even though Trou Normand is a staple from my native Normandy, I loathe Calvados. But I absolutely loved the fruity shot brought to our table after our appetizer at Llama. My family insisted that it was also alcoholic, but I mostly tasted fruit. And the glasses were thumble-sized.

Peruvian Trou Normand

Lovers of ceviche and seafood in general, but also anyone who favors meat will find the menu tantalizing. It took me a while to decide. It happens to me quite often, so I’m always happy when I’m eating with my kids and their boyfriends and girlfriends in addition to my husband. Although waiters and waitresses usually ask me to order first since I’m the oldest and a woman, I always volunteer to go last. Just to give a chance to the battle fighting inside me. But this is an almost impossible task at Llama.

This is what I ended up ordering.

Amazonian arapaima seasoned and wrapped in plantain leaves cooked over hot coals, yucca, plantains, hearts of palm and a passion fruit-cilantro sauce

This is what the rest of the table ate.

Peruvian version of a Spanish Paella, with shrimp, octopus, calamari and scallops

Traditional Ceviche with sweet potatoes, crispy chulpe corn, and giant Andean corn

Sweet tooth Evelyne was on cloud nine when our waitress brought the dessert menu. “One dessert, two spoons, please,” worked well after the sumptuous meal we had just enjoyed.

Passion Fruit Tres Leches of Triple Milk and Passion Fruit Cream Sauce Moist Cake

My daughter and her boyfriend were intrigued by the description that accompanied one of the desserts. The cryptic sentence. “In memory of a very hard beginning” refers to Hurricane Andrew that battered this part of the east coast in October 2016.

Llama had in fact just opened when water rose above the Bridge of Lions and flooded streets and businesses, damaging pretty much everything in its path.

In memory, Alfajores Aftermath is symbolically served in a broken plate.

Traditional Peruvian soft cookies filled with Dulce de Leche and edible blossoms

Food at Llama is authentically Peruvian. The people in the kitchen and behind the counter are immigrants from Peru. Their story is not mine, but I understand where they come from. They built a life from scratch in a new land and brought with them their culture and skills for all of us to enjoy. The hardship they suffered after the hurricane was huge, but they decided to stay and rebuild, from scratch again.

Trying. Failing. Rebounding. That’s this American trait of character that I love most.

If you happen to visit this part of the country and love unique food, cooked and served with unusual attention to detail, don’t hesitate. Llama won’t disappoint you. I promise.

My daughter’s memory collage

The dining room being small and the attention to service being obviously a #1 priority, the staff doesn’t overbook, so reservations are strongly encouraged. My only regret there was to have to pick between too many tempting options.

But this sunset preceding our after-dinner stroll in Saint Augustine compensated.

California and Maine’s sunsets are quite spectacular, but Florida comes close

P.S. For once, the photos but two are not courtesy of Evelyne’s husband but of their daughter #2

French Friday: Post Charlottesville

On Saturday, as I was selecting the photos for my Monday post about Blacksburg, Virginia and the peaceful gardens set on the campus of Virginia Tech, despicable acts of violence hit Charlottesville, Virginia. Retrospectively, the Hahn Horticulture Garden seemed even more peaceful.

We all know that flowers, plants, and trees alone won’t bring peace between people. But if they could talk I want to believe that this man-made landscape realized in total harmony with nature would say they are the proof that humans can always choose gorgeous over ugly, peace over war, love over hate.

 

I’m not familiar with Charlottesville. My family stopped there only once, in 2012. We had dinner at the lovely Ivy Inn, near the University of Virginia, after visiting Monticello.

This is the link to the posts I wrote back then. One is written in French and the other in English. I re-read them and didn’t want to alter their content since they reflect my state of mind back in 2012.

I live in the US but emigrated from France with my husband and our first-born child. Her three siblings were born in this country that we all consider home now. As any fairly recent immigrant I still discover the entrenched roots of the complex violent history of my adoptive land. My native France knows its share too. Including racism, xenophobia, and antisemitism.

As a child I didn’t study the American Civil War at school and didn’t live through the Civil Right Movement. What I studied, though, and moreover lived through “true lived” stories told from my parents, relatives, and neighbors is WWII. Great moments of pride with the resistance and moments of shame due to the hateful acts perpetuated against Jewish people.

Seeing the Nazi flag on the American soil, hearing the bearers of such flags shouting words that ooze so much despise against anyone who’s not them is bone-chilling and untolerable.

There are too many powerful articles and exceptional blog posts that have been written since Saturday. I only selected two articles from the New York Times, my primary source of info. This one is written by a Charlottesville resident and is a must-read since all of us, Americans, are in this. That particular one moved me to tears.

 

 

Monday Miam-Miam: Peace and Tranquility on Virginia Tech Territory

The lovely town of Blacksburg, Virginia and the college campus of Virginia Tech breathed so much peace and tranquility in these early summer days that it was hard to imagine violence striking there. As we strolled through the Hahn Horticulture Garden that stretched on the opposite side of the college buildings, the shooting of April 16, 2007 seemed to have never happened.

Any college town comes with its array of bars, breweries, and restaurants. Our pick for the night was 622 North Restaurant and Wine Bar. The restaurant is housed in a renovated Victorian building in Blacksburg’s historic Downtown District. I’ve already eaten in a few restaurants, on both coasts, also located in former houses and have always liked their warm atmosphere.

The weather was gorgeous that night and it was tempting to join the young crowd gathered on the large deck/patio that opens on the Blue Ridge Mountains. Retrospectively, I’m glad we ate inside.

I suppose that when sun is not granted, you seek it

It was a sans music night, but I imagined the pianist on a winter night

Only two years ago, if anyone had asked me where to eat great cheese in the US I would have thought of Wisconsin, Vermont, and California, but not Virginia. With one daughter studying and living in Baltimore, I’ve been lucky to sample excellent local cheese through the upper part of the Southeast. At 622 North, the trio of cheese was served with toasted sourdough, apple butter, pepper jam, and fresh berries. Miam-miam.

The first time I attended an American girlfriends’ night I was asked to bring cheese. Yeah, it happens when people know you are from France 🙂 I showed up with a small goat cheese, a slice of blue cheese, and a piece of Gruyère, a green salad with its dressing on the side, and a baguette. The host seemed a tad puzzled when I set everything on the counter and told her that I would toss the salad at the last minute when we would be ready to eat the cheese. Then she started to slice the bread that she toasted. Meanwhile, she displayed the cheese on a large platter and brought it to the living room where everyone gathered. I watched my new friends dig through. So I followed in their steps. That’s how you learn a foreign lifestyle.

Now my husband and I also love cheese as an appetizer. Only when we eat out, though. Never at home, where cheese is always served right before dessert or a fruit and often as a dessert. Like my father, who didn’t have a sweet tooth, did. It often surprises me to watch our own American-born kids follow in our steps as well. Early life traditions stay with us.

I would do anything for sweet potatoes, which I discovered in the US over my first Thanksgiving. So I chose the snapper only as an accompaniment 🙂 The salsa on top was amazing too. 

My husband’s sweet potatoes is called tuna. He loves tuna in all its forms.

I should no longer be surprised to meet friendly, professional waiters and waitresses in the US. Yet I am. Things have changed a lot in France where service used to be sometimes intimidating and even condescending. I’ve met young French professionals who are now extremely pleasant and helpful. But I still find the American big smile and down-to-earth attitude exceptional. Our waiter that night was also perfect. When we ordered our two glasses of wine he mentioned that today all their bottles of wine were sold at half-price and that we could take home what would be left. So…

We obeyed, of course.

I didn’t find any independent bookstore in Blacksburg, besides the Barnes and Noble at the mall and the few typical college town shops that carry textbooks and college gear.

But our dining room counts as a bookshop no?

Art, wine and books.

What else do you need when your plate is filled and you eat with someone you love?

 

 

French Friday: From the CIA to the CIA

On Monday, I took you to The Culinary Institute of America, the CIA for short, located in Hyde Park, NY. I mentioned a story behind my family’s initial first visit.

Four years ago, while we were planning yet another cross-country trip from California to Maine I was designated itinerary-planner.

Poughkeepsie is a must, I decided when I had to find a stop somewhere in New York state before reaching Maine.

If you read French, you can find out here why in the world I picked a town with a name I could barely pronounce. Si vous lisez ma langue natale vous pouvez lire mon billet ici.

If you don’t read French, here’s the story.

Poughkeepsie was a must because of Malko.

Malko is the protagonist/hero of the best-selling French spy series SAS authored by Gérard de Villiers. In these books, the eternally young Malko contracts for the CIA (the other one). As a cover, he works for IBM, at least in the first books in the series. Malko’s also an Austrian prince who owns an old castle expensive to maintain and in need of serious work. To help with the cost of remodeling and also to limit his living expenses Malko accepts a mission in New York City and rents a small cottage in Poughkeepsie, NY. Conveniently located next to IBM.

My husband had read e-ve-ry single SAS ever published, often more than once.

Poughkeepsie was unavoidable.

A little background info about the infamous collection that took the family to this otherwise banal New york state town.

When I met the guy who would become my husband I knew I could deal with his impressive train set and numerous books. I had mixed feelings about his extensive collection of SAS.

The reason was simple: each book cover depicted a sultry female creature often clad with a Kalashnikov slung across her chest in place of a bra. Or still wearing a fur coat or leather jacket above … nothing.  A semi-automatic pistol or any type of weapon, however, always between the hands. These women owned an arsenal but a limited underwear wardrobe.

I was slightly reassured when I saw that my fiancé had also kept many children’s books that I also loved as a little girl, and even his series of Oui-Oui, which I had given away when I turned seven but that he still read occasionally.

He’s not only faithful to the books he loved as a kid, I thought then. He’s also unashamed to display the ones he reads as an adult. It seemed to be a rare quality when so many people can be such hypocrites when it comes to their personal tastes.

So this is why I allowed the SAS series to move in with us.

In addition, I like to know why someone I love favors a certain book or movie genre and I figured that if we were meant to live together I should probably read one of those books. I did read one and decided that a male author wrote these stories for other men. Period.

Now at least, I understood why the series was highly popular among its fervent readers and yet snubbed by the Parisian literary scene.

SAS aka Son Altesse Sérénissime aka His Highness aka Malko is often sent abroad on enemy territory to fight communism but also neo Nazis as well as all kinds of mean, despicable characters depicted without any complacence. Even though Malko works for the CIA, some controversial facts about the organization as well as elements of American foreign policy are often revealed through the books. Each story always sticks to current events. Some have even been prophetic. The reason is the relentless research behind each and every book. In fact, the author continued to travel the world while in his 80s before starting a new book.

This is why my husband said he liked the series. The research is impeccable, he explained, and the author’s knowledge on his topics extensive. I don’t even notice the front covers, he insisted.

The covers, however, hinted at Malko’s controversial reputation. The libertine is an unrepentant cheater, despite the fact that his fiancée is a beautiful woman who seems, however, unaware of this legendary unfaithfulness. They remain engaged throughout the series.

Okay, I said, the books can move in but not in our bedroom.

When we left Paris for California, I was working full time and hadn’t been able to sort through our crowded bookshelves. My husband decided to pack for me. Probably best if he wanted to take Malko with us.

Even though the books had been relocated far away from the family room from the time we had kids, our teenage daughters were outraged when they discovered them.

Dad!

Mom!

I know, I said. But we all know that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

Roll of eyes. One-shoulder shrug. Heavy sighs.

Had my husband turned me into a SAS fan?

No, I’ve read exactly two books from the series, the second many years after the first. I could still appreciate the diverse foreign settings, the political context, and the suspenseful plot, but my impressions about Malko’s personal lifestyle hadn’t changed. And the covers?

In a funny way, while we don’t have kids at home anymore the books have moved to the garage. My husband decided it was time, considering the shelving space they took.

Imagine, the 200th book of the series was published in October 2013 and my husband proudly owns each of them.  The author passed away at the age of 84, also in October 2013. No more book, I thought.

But as I was writing this post and double-checking my facts – I’m far from being an expert, as you know now – I found this French article in which Gérard de Villiers’s spouse, also her collection director announces new covers for the series. Long overdue, she added.

Ha, I thought, someone else shares my opinion. I was only hoping that my husband wouldn’t want to get the updated series.

Then, I read that after years of mixed reviews, the SAS series is now gaining the respect and much interest of many secret service agencies throughout the world, due to the meticulous geopolitical research the author provided in each of his books.

Maybe, I realized, my husband was right after all.

Morality: Don’t judge exclusively a book on its cover.

If you want to know more about the author behind this best-selling series, here’s an article published in the New York Times a few months before we stopped in Poughkeepsie. The New York Times again published a tribute to Gérard de Villiers when he died.

 

P. S. A great plus for Poughkeepsie, the Walkway Over the Hudson, with an additional entrance in nearby Highland, only miles away from Hyde Park. Hyde Park, home of the CIA (the other one).

When I ate at the CIA I easily imagined the author of SAS having fun with this play on words.

 

After a very breezy walk across the walkway, before having dinner at the CIA.

Sans Malko. But with one of his most faithful fans.

Monday Miam-Miam: When Students Feed You

We had toured the gorgeous campus of The Culinary Institute of America located in Hyde Park, NY once in 2013. Not that any of our kids was planning to enter the hospitality industry, but we knew that we could eat food cooked and served by students there. Anthony Bourdain, Michael Mina, Bocuse’s son, and several hosts of popular TV cooking shows, to name only a few, are alumni of the prestigious school.

This fountain faces the Hudson River

It was graduation week and the flag was gorgeously hung across the impressive facade

On Friday, I will tell you more about the story behind the story.

Our schedule that summer didn’t work out and we were only able to eat an early morning pastry at the Apple Pie Bakery Café before hitting the road. This yummy experience, however, convinced us to come back for dinner.

 

Great spot for breakfast for here or to go

We did return twice to the CIA with and without kids, still over a cross-country trip, and absolutely loved the casual and friendly pasta night at the Ristorante Caterina de’ Medici. Students from the school took our order, served us, and more importantly talked with us about their schooling and their plans for the future. I still remember the two young women who waited on us that night and how professional and yet spontaneous they were. It was fantastic to read such enthusiasm through their work and conversation. All had set up specific plans in the hospitality industry right after graduation.

I wouldn’t stop eating if I studied there

Wine Spectator classroom

The hallway leading to classrooms

A clean kitchen after a teaching day

An amphitheater unlike any other

We ate again at the CIA last fall while Hurricane Matthew battered part of the East coast. That night felt like a hug within the solid walls of the buildings and the warmth of the food, still served by students on the verge to graduate. Instead of the Italian restaurant we chose American Bounty, which focuses on local and seasonal food. Our experience was once more a total success.

 

So earlier this summer we returned again. Sans kids.

As much as I had wished to eat at the recently opened Bocuse, named after the legendary French chef, in 2013, I no longer starve typical French cuisine when away from France and favor the limitless creativity of the American chefs who go for local and seasonal. So this is at the American Bounty Restaurant that we ate again.

Students come and go, but the work ethic, food the quality and warm atmosphere remain when a college dedicates its purpose to the guests’ enjoyment.

This summer we particularly enjoyed hearing the students/waiters/waitresses telling us that their families were around that night, some of them in the dining room, because of graduation.

Our waiter had lined up several interviews and was looking forward to returning to his home state of Rhode Island. A strikingly efficient young woman, who set up a table next to ours with such grace that I had to compliment her, told me that she would work at a resort in the Hamptons for the summer and possibly for longer. I can totally see that happen. And more.

Our sommelier was unforgettable. He had been lucky to visit Europe and was particularly fond of France, due to the wines. I promise him a long career since he was a born storyteller and already an accomplished wine connoisseur.

California wine in New York state

What about the food?

This mini pan is adorable and the warm buns are so-o good. Some people beg their waiter to remove the pan before they eat the six buns. Are you kidding me?

His or Mine, I cannot remember who chose what

We were equally impressed, though, by the quality of the fish and the awesome presentation

You already know that I love desserts. The other day Dan Anton complimented, through a comment, my husband and me for sticking to our “one dessert with two spoons, please” policy. I must say that it is sometimes hardly possible to resist. Particularly at the American Bounty where you can watch the apprentice bakers whip chocolate ganache, check their ovens for perfectly broiled crème brûlée or still decorate with amazing delicacy cakes and tarts, right across your table.

For once, I claimed my own dessert.

 

Panacotta with nuts, ginger ice cream, and edible flowers. No comment.

His (because unlike me he’s a chocolate lover)

I love a cup of tea at night and when tea tastes as good as in London, it’s a must.

All smelled so wonderfully tea-tasty

Eating out is a pleasure for most of us. When food and décor are equally unique, it becomes a real treat. When future chefs of America feed you (even guided and supervised by their professors) and future waiters, waitresses, and sommeliers watch over you, the experience is unforgettable and also inspiring.

Nothing lifts me more than witnessing young people embracing with passion, professionalism, and grace their early working life.

No need to leave the CIA to find a bookstore. There is one, right at the entrance of the building, and also a window with gorgeous cookbooks in display, next to Bocuse restaurant. Just enough to mouthwater before dinner. And dreaming of cooking like a chef afterwards.

Someone I know wants this book really bad

Eating, yes. But no junk food, please

And a bounty of veggies

 


French Friday: Can I Have Another Slice of Western North Carolina? Please?

Once, in Paris, I bumped into a group of American people at a café terrace. They didn’t know each other and had accidently met there, too. None spoke French, so I helped them with the menu and ended up sharing a late evening drink in their company. They told me in detail what they had done since their arrival in Paris, only two days ago. I was totally impressed. They had covered so much while I had done so little in comparison. I congratulated them on their ambitious program, but since they had another day in the city I suggested at least an early morning walk in a neighboring square without any plan in mind. Nobody wakes up early in Paris, I said, you’ll have the city to yourself. A real treat that I appreciated when I lived there, either on Sundays or more likely in the summer when Parisians leave for their vacation.

Although it was none of my business I wanted my fellow Americans to enjoy these few precious moments. I truly think that any new place is best when discovered little bit by little bit. Of course, it is tempting to want to see e-ve-ry-thing, especially for us, Americans since we have much less paid vacations than the French. But still, I would always prefer making a shorter to-do-list with the promise of return than galloping full speed.

Taking the time to enjoy the flowers if not smelling the roses

Friends had told me that Asheville, North Carolina was a town unlike any other American town, a place in its own league, and that knowing me I would love it. I knew of a few yoga instructors who train at this East Coast Mecca of yoga and they also spoke of Asheville with awe.

It feels like Berkeley, some said, but it’s not Berkeley.

It will remind you of towns like Santa Fe or Sedona, but it’s neither one, others said.

There is something really unique there, which is hard to describe, so you have to go and see for yourself, said most.

Expectations run high when people are unanimous about a specific place.

Sometimes, however, expectations not only meet their promise but also exceed our own imagination.

Yes, I fell for the easy-going charm of Asheville.

I can see why it has been compared to other liberal, artsy towns. A few hippy-ish shops, reminiscent of the 60s and 70s, reminded me of the ones along Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley. The sporty shops displaying mountain and biking gear can be seen in Sedona and the art in Santa Fe, and yoga studios abound.

But it’s for the stunning natural surroundings that I will go back to Asheville. Wow. Western North Carolina you got me.

Familiar with the rugged Sierra Nevada and the stunning Arizona and Utah canyons I had only glimpsed at the Blue Ridge Mountains a few times, mostly from Virginia when I visit my daughter in Maryland. But I had never set foot so close to them than in Asheville.

I could hardly contain my impatience and wanted to explore the countless parks and trails that can be reached from town and within a twenty-minute drive. There is so much to see in and around Asheville!

Since my husband shares my philosophy “less is always better than too much,” we agreed to enjoy our stay to its fullest but to accept that it is truly impossible to pack an entire region in only three days.

So, here is a thin slice of our trip through a gallery of photos. As great as photos can be they remain a pale rendition of reality. Especially when we shoot nature’s portrait. This is why I really want to go back for more walks and hikes.

Neighbors who became friends had told us about the spectacular Grove Park Inn. The hotel is so large that walking through its common areas is sure to stretch any pair of legs. In addition, the grounds are gorgeous and a trail is accessible directly from the lobby. Perfect for a pre or post breakfast short walk.

The North Carolina Arboretum. Miles of trails and acres of garden areas opened to us that afternoon. Including a bonsai extensive exhibit in a unique landscape and a garden-scale model train representing the coming of trains to western North Carolina at the turn of the 20th century.

Mount Pisgah, accessible from the Blue Ridge Parkway. Anyone who can’t walk can still admire the view from the terrace of the Pisgah Inn.

DuPont State Park and its waterfalls is truly a perfect neighborhood park for Asheville residents.

The small town of Black Mountain, still part of the Asheville metropolitan area and less than fifteen miles away, is adorable. Not overly quaint as some old towns can be. We took an early morning walk through quiet streets while stores were still closed and people still home.

The Old Rail Station

And its little red train

Looks like other French fell for the natural beauty of Western North Carolina

This sign spotted in a small gift shop made me smile, of course. Based on this (too) short trip to Asheville and area, this part of the South has no doubt much more to offer.

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