How the French Stay Thin

How the French Stay Thin

One question I am asked a lot on account of spending time in France is, “How do the French stay thin?”

And in light of my most recent Francophile food-related posts about delicious food in Paris, French bread and French cheese, I wanted to enlighten my mom readers on how the French indulge in good food but manage to stay trim regardless. When I first got to France I wondered, “How is everyone eating white bread and brie all day and looking better than Kate Moss?”

After three summers of fastidious research, here is how the French stay thin.

How the French stay thin

Small portions

As Mireille Guiliano famously noted in her best-selling book, French Women Don’t Get Fat, the French eat in small portions. They savor their food and eat slowly, using proper table manners.

Food in France is also more of an event. The French rarely eat standing up, and usually set a beautiful table and then sit down to eat a slow, leisurely meal. They put more thought into the preparation and consumption of the meal.

 

Fresh, organic food

Apricots

When I am working as an au pair in France I shop for the family’s groceries at the farmer’s market twice a week. While not all the produce is local, the overall quality of the food is quite high: fat, leafy lettuce, coiled-up homemade sausages, tiny red groseilles berries… in short, wholesome, delicious ingredients.

The French and Europeans in general have a greater appreciation for seasonal food. Black cherries in June are sweet and juicy, but in February? Not so much. As anyone who has tasted a Honeycrisp apple in October knows, when produce is in season it tastes worlds better.

And there’s no fake stuff- no Stevia, no diet soda, no I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter. Eating a natural diet is just better for you.

Indulging

Baguette

On any given day in France last summer, I treated myself to buttered toast, baguette and Nutella, platters of cheese, meat cooked in butter and chocolate. Despite this, I managed to come back a few pounds thinner.

This is because of the way the French would rather enjoy a small quantity of something scrumptious than a bulk serving of something mediocre. In other words, it’s better to eat a few pieces of high-quality dark chocolate than two whole Hershey’s bars.

Indulge in a small, high-quality serving of something naughty and you will be much more satisfied.

Damage control

Another way the French stay thin? Carefully monitored damage control.

The French, especially French women, carefully regulate their weight. If they gain a few kilos they cut back for a while to lose them.

Also, if the French order crème brûlée during one meal, they eat a light salad the next. It’s all about checks and balances, like balancing a bank account.

Soup and salad

Salad

The French fill up on low-calorie but high-volume foods like soup and salad. Lunch is often a soup or salad, while dinner is a heavier meal. These foods fill you up but don’t make you gain weight.

Active lifestyle

Most French people I know never intentionally exercise- I remember people making fun of former president Sarkozy for his jogging habit. And while they aren’t sweating it out on the elliptical, they still use their bodies. The French are very active by walking everywhere regularly and engaging in light recreation like hiking or tennis.

The 10 Most Crazy Delicious Foods You Must Eat in Paris

The 10 Most Crazy Delicious Foods You Must Eat in Paris

So, what’s good to eat in Paris? Um, if memory recalls, everything.

As I sit and wait for the French ministry of labor to send back my visa documents, I’ve been musing over some of the most delicious meals I’ve enjoyed in France over the past three summers. Hopefully the ministry sends the documents soon because this list is starting to make me hungry.

Note: This list does not include cheese or bread as both of these things are so spectacular in Paris that they require their own lists.

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1. Macarons

Macaron

Ah, macarons. These tiny Parisian cookies come in a hundred flavors, melt in your mouth and are neat enough not to crumb up your outfit. Perhaps the girliest desserts known to mankind, they can be found at the famous, adorably prissy pastry shop, Ladurée. My favorite flavor at Ladurée is orange blossom.

There are multiple Ladurée locations so check the website link above to find one near you.

2. Mussels Mussels- Au Pied du Couchon

Tiny, gorgeous mussels bathed in bacon and cream. Need I say more?

Find these and more pork-flavored goodness at Au Pied de Cochon, also known as the Foot of the Pig. This restaurant is one of the last-standing haunts from Les Halles, the working-class market that fed Paris for nearly 1,000 years. Sadly Les Halles was demolished in 1971, but Au Pied du Couchon carries the flame for simple, honest and fattening food.

Au Pied de Cochon
6, Rue Coquillière
01 40 13 77 00

Metro: Etienne Marcel and Châtelet Les Halles
Open for lunch and dinner

 

3. Chèvre chaud

Chevre Chaud Salad

This salad is one of my favorite bistro dishes ever. It’s a winning combination of shallot vinaigrette, tomatoes, and hot little rounds of melted goat cheese on bread.

As seen below, it pairs well with a glass of cold rosé and a bustling café atmosphere. This café, L’Arsenal, is located on the busy rue Saint-Antoine in the 4th arrondissement.

L’Arsenal
36, rue Saint-Antoine
06.32.60.33.87

Metro: Saint-Paul (Line 1)

 

4. The potatoes underneath the rôtisserie chicken

French potatoes

When you walk past the rôtisserie shops in Paris you will see rows of chickens turning on spits. If you peek below them, you will observe potatoes eagerly waiting to catch the chicken juices. You can buy these delicious, chicken-flavored potatoes and take them home for dinner.

And while we’re on the subject of chicken, the best chicken in France is poulet de Bresse. It’s really expensive but worth it.

5. Boudin noir

Boudin noir sounds a lot sexier than black pudding or blood sausage, but it’s the same thing. Don’t be scared of what it’s made of- it’s actually rich, delicious and full of iron. I especially love boudin noir antillais, which is a spicier version from the French Caribbean.

You can find boudin noir at any charcuterie and at also at many restaurants and bistros.

6. Galettes and Crêpes

Buckwheat crepe

While you often see street vendors whipping up freshly made crêpes with Nutella, banana or strawberry, they’ve always been a bit too sweet for me.

I never liked crêpes until I had Brittany crêpes at Cat’Man Crêperie. Once I tasted an authentic Breton buckwheat galette, with its nutty, earthy flavor, I was hooked. I highly recommend a galette complete, which is filled with Emmantal cheese, jambon de pays and a fried egg.

Also fantastic- sweet crêpes slathered in salted butter caramel.  Cat’Man’s version of a crêpe au caramel au beurre salé is the perfect combination of salty and sweet.

Sweet crepe

Cat’Man Crêperie
12, rue du Temple
01 42 74 43 32

Metro: Hôtel de Ville (1, 11)
Open for lunch and dinner

7. Financier (Almond Cake)

Financier

Whenever the lady I work for in France needs to bring a cake to a party, we make a financier together. The ingredients are simple: almond flour, butter, sugar and eggs.

This simple almond cake is crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. It is called a financier because it is an expensive cake, with almond flour being one of the pricier flours. It is also traditionally baked in a rectangular pan and resembles a brick of gold.

You can find this cake in mini form at almost any bakery.

8. Pâté

Pate

Wikipedia defines pâté as “a mixture of cooked ground meat and fat minced into a spreadable paste.” While the definition is accurate, it’s actually much more appetizing than that.

Pâté is generally eaten before dinner with a generous slice of bread. You can buy it at any charcuterie. My personal favorite is rabbit pâté (pâté de lapin).

9. Salted Butter

Baguette and butter

This pat of butter while costing a measly 1.50 euro, was freshly churned and covered in crunch little flecks of salt. I brought it home to the kids I baby-sit for, and they raved, “It tastes like milk!”

It was truly the best butter I’ve ever had in my life.

If you would too would like to squeal in delight, head over to Pascal Beillevaire, a chain of cheese shops across France.

Pascal Beillevaire

77, rue St. Antoine

Tél: 01 42 78 48 78

Metro: St. Paul (1)

10. Chocolates

Admittedly I’ve been known to wander around Paris from chocolate shop to chocolate shop.

A favorite? Patrick Roger. This self-proclaimed chocolate artist not only creates perfect chocolates with flavors like Ethiopian coffee and jasmine flower, Roger also sculpts chocolate artwork. When I was there last summer his store was displaying an enormous sculpture of several hippos swimming together. It was quite beautiful, actually.

His store has two different locations in Paris so check his website.

For more great ideas on what to eat in Paris, Check out David Lebovitz and Dorie Greenspan‘s lists.

 What are your favorite foods to eat in France?

The Art of French Cheese Eating

The Art of French Cheese Eating

As we all know, the French love their cheese. I love their cheese. I love them for loving their cheese. And frankly, sampling oozing, raw-milk French cheese is one of the best parts of visiting the country, at least for this fromage-o-phile.

I have worked as an au pair for a French family for past three summers so hopefully I have learned a bit about cheese by now. Here are some tips for buying, storing and serving this delicacy properly.

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French Cheese Plate

From left to right: fresh goat, rocamadour and Saint-Nectaire.

 Buying the cheese:

Buy cheese at the fromagerie.

You’re never going to find fantastic cheese at Carrefour, so head over to the fromagerie. Most cheesemongers are knowledgeable, friendly and more than happy to recommend you some great choices.

Industrially made cheeses are never as good as artisanal cheeses.

Okay, except for maybe Merkts cheese spread. But seriously, mass-produced cheese will just never have the same flavor or integrity as cheese produced in small capacity. For example, many industrially produced blue cheeses are injected with penicillium (a bacteria related to penicillin) to speed up production and produce the characteristic blue or green veins. That’s just depressing.

Buy cheeses that make sense together. 

An ideal cheese platter has between three and five cheeses which possess a variety of flavors and textures. The cheese platter pictured below is a good example of that. The soft, creamy brie de meaux matches up nicely with the nutty slab of comté, which both work well with the dryer, more intensely flavored aged goat cheese.

French Cheese

 From left to right: aged goat, brie de meaux and comté.

Storing the cheese:

Serve it room-temperature.

Cheese will have its best flavor, aroma and texture when it has reached room temperature. Make sure to take the cheese out of the fridge a few hours before the party.

Don’t wrap it in plastic.

Wrap the cheese in the wax paper they give you at the fromagerie, not in plastic wrap. Plastic wrap doesn’t allows the cheese to sweat.

 

Serving the cheese:

Serve the cheese after the main course.

The order of the meal in France is as follows: main course, cheese course and then fruit or dessert to finish. Bring the cheese out on a platter with a fresh knife for each guest, and some bread, wine or jams to accompany if you wish.

Work from the blandest cheese to most flavorful.

If you first eat the cheese with the most powerful flavor (roquefort, for example), you will blow out your palate and be unable to taste the subtle flavors of the blander cheeses.

Don’t spread the cheese too much.

If you are eating Laughing Cow, do whatever you want. But if you are eating a nice cheese and want to have it with bread, be gentle.

 

How many times can you say cheese in one blog post? Anyway, my favorite French cheese is Coeur Neufchâtel. What is yours?

The Spice House in Chicago

The Spice House in Chicago

This is my love letter/free advertisement to the best spot to buy spices in the U.S., The Spice House.

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This place holds a special place in my cabinets because the spices are not only high-quality, they are also really, really inexpensive.

A few months back when I was still a Chicago resident I lived in an apartment about a mile away from The Spice House. The shop was around the corner from my gym, so I often rewarded myself post-workout by buying a new exotic spice or replenishing one of my staples.

The Spice House

If I wanted to experiment with a new cuisine, I would buy several one-ounce bags of the cuisine’s essential spices. One day when attempting to make an Indian eggplant dish I bought small portions of cumin, garam masala, turmeric and coriander all for about $7. Because the spices are so inexpensive and can be sold in quantities as small as one ounce, I found myself experimenting and having more fun in the kitchen during the time I lived nearby.

The Spice House

I  also love their spice blends. My little brother, Andrew, and I use to have “jerk chicken parties” and invite friends over to grill in the backyard at my old place in Chicago. He agrees the Spice House’s jerk chicken spice is perfection, and he has even been to Jamaica. Another one of my favorite spice blends is the Pilsen Latino Seasoning which I use on fish tacos.

And if you don’t believe a small fry like me, believe the head chef of the Palmer Place, the People’s Choice winner of the Hamburger Hop last year. I was working as a caiter-waiter attending the event with a group of friends and remember him dedicating his winner’s speech to the incredible spice selection at the Spice House.

Now that I no longer live in Chicago, I order the spices I need online. And whenever I’m in Chicago I use the Spice House as an excuse to wander around Old Town, the adorable neighborhood pictured below.

Oh Spice House. Couldn’t you set up shop in Detroit, too?

Old Town

Are you a spice addict, too? Have you visited The Spice House in Chicago or Milwaukee?

Best Souvenirs from Chile

Best Souvenirs from Chile

In honor of my good friend Christine who is moving to Chile today, I wanted to write a post about her soon-to-be home- and more specifically, my favorite souvenirs from Chile.

Chile is a country rich in mountains, seafood, backyard barbecues and really sweet people. I have been there seven times due to a boyfriend I had back a while ago.

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The other day I wrote a post about my favorite souvenirs. I decided to write another post altogether for my Chilean souvenirs, as there are so many to include. Here is what you should buy in Chile. Trust me on this.

1. Lapis lazuli

Souvenirs from Chile

Lapis lazuli is a beautiful, azure stone that can only be found in Afghanistan and Chile. It’s inexpensive in Chile so pick up some lapis lazuli jewelry at the Lapis Lazuli House in Santiago, where I bought this pendant.

2. Greda

Souvenirs from Chile

Like I’ve mentioned in other posts, I have a huge obsession with pottery. Greda is a Chilean clay that works well for cooking, and like cast-iron retains flavor over time. Many traditional Chilean dishes, such as pastel de choclo, should only be cooked in greda.

While you can buy greda is Santiago, the prices are often higly marked-up. The best place to buy it is Pomaire, a tiny town about an hour and a half from the center of Santiago. The town has one dirt road and shops with stacks and stacks of pottery. The pottery is very breakable so be careful on the ride home!

Souvenirs from Chile

Note: This pig-faced bowl is called a chanchito and it’s good luck.

3. Ceramic animals

You will see these little ceramic animal figurines, including birds, frogs and elephants, all over Chile. I love this little blue horse… very Chilean and so cute!

Souvenirs from Chile

4. Copper cookware

Chile is the world’s largest producer and exporter of copper. (It’s one of reasons Chile has the strongest economy in South America.) What does this mean for tourists like me and you? Inexpensive copper pots and pans! I bought this pan in Puerto Varas, Chile for only $40 USD.

Souvenirs from Chile

5. Merquén

Merquén is one of my favorite spices, and yields a smoky, spicy flavor. It is used a traditional Chilean dish called curanto, a meat, seafood and potato stew. It’s hard to find in the U.S. (it seems to be the ONE spice the Spice House doesn’t stock!) so it’s a good idea to bring some back from Chile.

6. Wine

Chilean wine is good. Very, very good. I prefer Chile’s Carmenere to Argentina’s Malbec because it’s much less tannic. While I don’t know much about wine, I do know this- bring home some good Chilean wines like Casillero del Diabo or Concha y Toro and your friends will be happy.

Note: Chilean beer is also delicious due to a large influx of Germans after WWII (They were absolutely not Nazis, mind you). My favorites are Austral and Kuntzmann Miel.

7. Neruda paraphenalia

Souvenirs from Chile

This is a box I bought at Isla Negra, one of the three homes of eccentric and brilliant Chilean poet and Nobel Prize Winner, Pablo Neruda. His symbol is the fish emblem on this box because he loved the sea more than anything else. His house in Isla Negra has a room exclusively designated for antique mermaid figureheads.

I would highly recommending any of his three homes; La Chascona in Santiago, La Sebastiana in Valparaiso and Isla Negra.

Me at Isla Negra after Delta PERMANENTLY lost my luggage. Please don’t hate on my hot outfit.

Cool Souvenirs to pick up around the World

Cool Souvenirs to pick up around the World

I really love souvenirs. I try to pick up something meaningful and traditional from wherever I go, which usually results in me carrying a backpack full of highly breakable ceramics.

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Aside from a few pieces of jewelry, I have essentially amassed the contents of my dream kitchen. (I realize this is a strange aspiration for someone who lives out of a backpack and doesn’t actually have a kitchen, but mark my words- someday I will be a marginally thinner Ina Garten.)

Here are my favorite souvenirs I’ve collected from Europe and South America that might give you ideas on what to pick up yourself.

 

Maté (mah-tay) – Argentina or Uruguay

Mate Gourd

While I was studying abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina I noticed everyone drank mate; the teenagers at the beach, the portly bus drivers… even my teacher brought it to class and passed it around. (Side rant- for people who think you are going to catch pneumonia from walking around the house barefoot they were sure comfortable with swapping spit via dried out gourd. Just sayin’.)

Mate is essentially dried yerba mate leaves steeped in hot water inside of a dried-out gourd. You traditionally drink it out of a metal straw (not pictured) and it is said to be good for digestion. It possesses a petrified lawn clippings flavor that strangely grows on you.

The picture below is of a couple dancing tango at the Feria de San Telmo, my favorite antique market in Buenos Aires. Please go there and tell me about it.

San Telmo Antique Market

Pottery and Port – Portugal

If you are ever in Porto, Portugal and you have a particular weakness for glazed bowls, make sure to pick up some hand-crafted blue and white pottery.

I went to Porto with my little brother when he was 15 and I was 17 while we were on a three-week backpacking trip across Spain and Portugal. (Note- we have very trusting parents.) The city itself is great; it’s grungy and artsy and covered in tiles. It is also where port originated so be sure to enjoy a tasting or two. Not that we did, of course.

Porto

Claddagh Ring – Ireland

I had always wanted to wear a Claddagh ring but I wouldn’t allow myself to buy one until I was in Ireland (read- I’m extremely lame). When I finally made it there one summer I immediately took a bus from Dublin to Galway to see the west coast.

Aran Islands

Shop in Inishmore

Galway is a rowdy student town with a great live music scene and fascinating Spanish sailor history. After a few days there I took a ferry to Inishmore, the largest island in the barren but beautiful Aran Islands. It is a remote island with a population of 800 people who still speak Irish.

While riding a bike around the island, I stumbled upon a wraith tee-shirt filled souvenir shop. There were also Claddagh rings so naturally I purchased one.

Claddagh rings originate in a small town near Galway so it’s a good area to pick one up.

Amber – the Baltic (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania)

While I was in Tallinn, Estonia, I saw silver and amber shops on every corner (nearby Poland is Europe’s largest producer of silver, and 80% of the world’s amber comes from the Baltic). This is a silver necklace I bought there two years ago that I still wear almost every day. Tallinn is the best preserved medieval city in Europe because of its extremely cold climate, and 26 intact towers line the old city walls.

One regret- I didn’t buy any amber so I suppose I will have to return to the Baltic.

Baltic Amber

Shortbread Pan – Scotland

This is the shortbread pan I bought in St. Andrews, Scotland while visiting a friend who goes to St. Andrews (where Will and Kate went, FYI). Shortbread is a Scottish sweet so I wanted to buy a traditional pan with thistles.

St Andrews

Bistro Cookware – France

Au Gratin Dishes

I picked up these inexpensive but sturdy gratin dishes at the Place d’Aligre market, a flea market in Paris. Interestingly enough, gratin dishes were recovered in perfect condition from the Titanic. I will someday roast whole fish in mine.

The tablecloth underneath I bought in Perpignan, the biggest city in French Catalunya. I bought the cloths at a Catalan fabric store, Maison Quinta, that sells extremely high-quality and traditional Catalan linens. There is now a Maison Quinta store in NYC that I’ve been dying to visit.

Olive wood- Mediterranean

Olive Wood Spoons

I have a huge obsession with olive wood. It’s easy to pick up all over the Mediterranean but I bought most of mine in Spain and Greece. Another great reason to buy it- it’s much cheaper abroad than it is at Crate and Barrel.

This honey stick ? I bought in Greece after tasting the delicious honey there. I soon realized why the Greek gods subsisted solely off of nectar.

Evil eye pendant – Greece or Turkey

Another souvenir from Greece- the evil eye. I saw them hanging everywhere.  I wanted one because the Greek girls I met said that their grandmothers use them and that they actually do ward off negative energy.

What are some of your favorite souvenirs? Do we have any of the same ones?

Cranbrook by Fisheye

Cranbrook by Fisheye

As long as I’m stuck in the Mitten, I thought I should write about my favorite thing here- Cranbrook. And is there anything prettier than Cranbrook photography?

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From age six until age 17, I attended Cranbrook Schools (and as I’ve been asked a lot recently, yes, Mitt Romney is also an alum). Cranbrook has a beautiful 365-acre campus where I have years worth of memories. During free periods in high school I used to go outside to tan with friends or do my homework on the bough of a tree. It’s really a magical place.

My dad recently gave me my grandfather’s old fisheye lens- so I decided to play around with it on Cranbrook campus- this is the result. Hopefully you think my school is as beautiful as I do.

Cranbrook

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5 Creative Ways to Plan a Kick-ass Itinerary

5 Creative Ways to Plan a Kick-ass Itinerary

Before leaving for a big trip, I like to do some preliminary research so that I know what might interest me in the area. This allows me to have a loose itinerary, as I already have an idea of what I might like.

Here are some of the ways I decide where to go in a new country.

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1. Travel blogs

I found the best croissant in Paris thanks to the Paris-based food blog Chocolate and Zucchini (it’s at Gontran Cherrier, by the way).

A good blog is kind of like having your own personal tour guide- and there are plenty of great blogs out there.

Here is a link to Saveur’s list of favorites, which includes many of mine (David Lebowitz and Laylita’s Recipes, among them).

Best croissant ever, and I don’t even really like croissants. Which makes me a freak of nature, I know.

2. Festivals or events in the region

Research festivals that are occurring in the region where you will be.

This can mean making sure to be in Seville, Spain on Sunday because that’s usually the only day of the week when there is bull-fighting, or making sure to end up in Koh Phangan, Thailand when the moon is full to attend the Full Moon Party.

Also, the best place to celebrate may not be where the tourists are (Several Brazilians have told me it is cheaper and more fun to party in inland Minas Gerais for Carnaval rather than heavily trafficked Rio).


Don’t go all the way to Seville and miss the bull-fighting like yours truly!

3. Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations

Before I go to a new country, I download that country’s episode of No Reservations.

Tony’s show has led me to countless incredible places, from the Fuente Alemana, a pork and beer-happy sandwich shop in Santiago, Chile, to remote villages in the mountains of Sardinia.

I watch his show not only because I have a slight crush on him but also because his show really digs deep and can enlighten you about the philosophies, food and history of a place. 43 minutes very well-spent.

 4. Personal Network

Send out an email to your friends and family asking for recommendations or contacts. It may get you a few recommendations, a travel buddy or a place to stay.

For example, one time I called my uncle to let him know I was planning on studying in Spain that summer. He happened to be with his good Italian friend, Gianluca, who then offered to let me borrow his beach house in Sardinia.

If I wouldn’t have reached out, I wouldn’t have had an amazing week driving a Fiat Panda to secluded Mediterranean beaches with a group of Australians.

Another way to reach out is through social media. Simply post a status on Facebook asking for recommendations of where you are going and see if you can make any connections.

Italian road-trip in an itsy bitsy Fiat Panda!

5. Books, movies and music for which the country is known

This goes along with the tip above, but before going to a country, I really enjoy reading, watching or listening to whatever the country is famous for.

This can mean:

  • Reading The Belly of Paris before shopping at a farmers’ market in Paris,
  • Listening to the Pogues before heading out to the pub to Ireland,
  • Brushing up on your Greek mythology before visiting the Acropolis,
  • Or watching El secreto de sus ojos before heading out to the streets of Buenos Aires.

It really makes the place come alive. A great place to find this kind of information is Lonely Planet guides, in the first few pages of information about a country. Anthony Bourdain also features lots of great writers and movies in his show (if I haven’t promoted him enough already, haha).

How do you plan for an upcoming trip? Anything I missed?

The ABCs of Travel

The ABCs of Travel

For a while I’ve been noticing the ABCs of Travel making their way around the blogosphere. Now that I finally have my own blog I wanted to make an ABC  list! (I’m a little late to the party but hey, I still showed up). This was a fun exercise because it reminded me of so many things I’ve forgotten.

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A: Age you went on your first international trip:

My first international trip was to the Turks and Caicos when I was six. I remember driving to a conch sell farm in our red rental car singing along to “I Can See Clearly Now the Rain is Gone.” Good memories.

B: Best (foreign) beer you’ve had and where:

I loved the beers in Brussels as I prefer light wheat beers. My favorite was Tripel Karmeliet.

C: Cuisine (favourite): 

Oh god. I could never pick just one as I have a huge food obsession. I love everything from pulled pork tacos and tabouleh to boudin noir and chocolate chip cookies. My favorite cuisine may be a two-way tie between Mexican and Japanese. With a margherita pizza and Chinese dumplings on the side.

Sobrassada- one of my favorite foods from when I studied in Mallorca, Spain. Feel free to smuggle this for me.

D: Destinations, favourite, least favourite and why:

 I love Spain. I think I could spend the rest of my life traveling from hill town to hill town eating cured pork products (see above). I love the Arabic architecture in the south, the quirkiness and beauty of Barcelona and the quaint fishing villages on the coast of Galicia. It’s always fun to practice my Spanish as well.

La Alhambra Palace in Grenada, Spain.

A city I wouldn’t return to was Helsinki. It reminded me of a city like Toronto; clean, well-ordered but not exactly enthralling.

E: Event that made you say “wow”:

I’m not sure I go to many events but seeing a gypsy wedding on the beach in France was pretty cool.

F: Favourite mode of transportation:

Last summer I was in Sardinia with three Australians and we rented a Fiat Panda and drove it all over the island. It was so nice to be in a rental car after a summer of schlepping to and fro on crowded buses and planes! 

G: Greatest feeling while traveling:

This summer I traveled alone for a few weeks to Belgium, Greece and Ireland, couchsurfing and hosteling on a very tight budget. One of the last days of my trip I was having tea and reflecting on all that had happened. All of a sudden I felt overwhelmingly grateful for all the kindness I had received while I was alone. It occurred to me in that moment how lucky I was and how good people are.

H: Hottest place you’ve ever traveled to:

 The hottest place in recent memory is Corfu, Greece. When I was there this July it was 105 degrees of pure humidity. Just walking outside and hearing the screeching of the crickets (which screech louder the hotter it gets) made me feel like I was in a psychedelic nightmare. Not to mention I had a fever of 103 degrees and was in an apartment with no AC!

I: Incredible service that you’ve experienced and where: 

One of the most memorable family vacations we ever took was to the Coral Beach Club in Bermuda. Because my little brother and I had our own cabana we lived it up with a room service breakfast out on the lawn every morning. Even though we were only 10 and 12 the staff was really friendly to us.

J: Journey that took the longest: 

I’ve flown to Chile and Argentina many times and it takes about 16 hours. So much fun.

K: Keepsake from your travels:

 I collect pottery from my travels (one of the worst souvenirs EVER for a backpacker, may I add). I have greda earthenware from Chile, beautiful blue and white ceramic bowls from Portugal and a shortbread pan from Scotland decorated with thistles. Cooking equipment is always a souvenir I look for as it’s practical as well as beautiful.

Pottery shop in Porto, Portugal. Like a kid in a candy store.

L: Let-down sight, why and where:

Florence, Italy. I grew up listening to the stories of my mom’s study abroad experience in Florence back in the 80s. She waxed poetic about the cranky Italian host mother, the incredible art museums and riding around on a Vespa with my dad. I was excited to go but upon arriving I felt like I was in Epcot. All the Italians I met said that they live outside of the city, and it felt like I was surrounded by tourists at all times.

M: Moment where you fell in love with travel:

My first trip abroad without my parents was a student immersion program in Ecuador when I was 15. While Ecuador was beautiful I ended up having a pretty difficult trip. Despite how hard the trip was I came back with a huge urge to go out and experience more.

Our first campsite on a four-day hike in the Andes. It turns out I’m the world’s worst camper.

N: Nicest hotel you’ve stayed in:

The most interesting hotel I ever stayed at was La Becasina on the Tigre river delta outside of Buenos Aires, Argentina. We had to walk on a plank walkway to get back to our personal bungalows, complete with stunning views of the forest. It felt like somewhere Indiana Jones might stay.

O: Obsession – what are you obsessed with taking pictures of while traveling?

 I don’t know if I have an obsession of taking pictures of any one particular thing but I do have a weird thing for islands. Small islands are kind of the same all over the world; the community is very tight-knit and they usually have strange island rituals and foods. Because of their isolation they usually escape being exceedingly globalized which makes them much more interesting. My favorites so far are the Isle of Skye in Scotland, the Aran islands in Ireland, Chiloe Island off the coast of Chile and Sardinia, Italy.

P: Passport stamps – how many and from where? 

I have no idea! I would love more though.

Q: Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where: 

One year for my birthday while I was nannying in the south of France we drove down to Figueres, a town on the French-Spanish border. In order to avoid the long lines at the Dali museum we ended up at an antique doll museum that was mildly disturbing. It turns out we should have seen Dali.

This is basically the plot of Hostel.

R: Recommended sight, event or experience:

The street art in Valparaiso, Chile. Valpo is a grungy port city set upon hills that overlook the Pacific. It is one of my favorite cities to walk through as around every corner you find a new mural or work of street art.

S: Splurge – something you have no problem forking over money for while traveling:

I’ll pay a lot (at least for my po’ backpacking self) on good leather. I bought my favorite leather jacket four years ago in Florence. My favorite leather store is the Spanish shop is Bimba y Lola. They make beautiful leather bags and accessories at a reasonable price. (Embarrassing fact- I almost screamed when I found it in Paris).

T: Touristy thing you’ve done:

I have worked as an au pair in Paris for the past three summers and whenever friends visit they demand to see the Eiffel Tower. I have been on every level of that godforsaken tower on three different occasions and I hope to never see it again.

U: Unforgettable travel memory:

Taking a road trip across the Dingle Peninsula this summer with an Irish guy I had just met. The roads were so misty that it was hard to see five feet in front of the car. We ended up stopping to hike up to an ice-cold lake.  The scenery was so green and misty and beautiful, it felt very Irish.

V: Visas, how many and for where? 

I had  a student visa when I studied in Buenos Aires back in 2009 and I’m in the process of getting my French student visa to work as an au pair for nine months. Note to foreign readers- it’s hugely important to get an esta visa before entering the US! I had some French friends forget to fill it out and it was a huge pain.

W: Wine, best glass of wine while traveling and where?

 Hm… my experience with wine is unfortunately very limited due to my budget. When I studied abroad in Argentina I remember drinking $1.50 “vino tinto” that tasted so strongly of rancid vinegar that we chased it with orange juice. But I do remember tasting a few nice wines on a wine tour in Argentina’s famed wine region, Mendoza.

X: eXcellent view and from where? 

The most beautiful view I’ve ever seen was in Gimmelwald, a small village in the Swiss alps. My friend and I left the hostel to have a picnic of baguette and cheese over-looking over the mountains. The view was embarrassingly scenic; little streams fell over boulders as they made their way down the mountain. I remembered thinking, “How have I lived on this earth for 17 years and never seen this?”

The view from our room at the Mountain Hostel in Gimmelwald.

Y: Years spent traveling: 

I’ve been traveling since I was 15 so seven years now! And I would guess I’ve spent a full year outside the U.S.

Z: Zealous sports fans and where?

 I was in Chile when they qualified for the World Cup and everyone was going crazy. I remember looking out the window and hearing people screaming and cars honking… it was very exciting.

A Mini Guide to Le Marais, Paris’ Artsy Jewish Quarter

A Mini Guide to Le Marais, Paris’ Artsy Jewish Quarter

Whenever I’m given a day (or night) off from nannying, I generally find myself my favorite Paris neighborhood- Le Marais. It’s a neighborhood with wonderful boutiques and restaurants, beautiful tree-lined streets and a lively bar scene.

It is also a neighborhood that has worn many hats in its day. (more…)

With its humble beginning as a marshland (Le Marais translates to ‘swamp’ in French) it later became the French nobility’s favorite place of residence. Its modern incarnation is a trendy gay and Jewish area.

Here are some of my favorite ways to spend a sun-dappled afternoon in Le Marais.

Rue des Rosiers

Falafel stands and traditional Jewish restaurants line the Rue des Rosiers, a pedestrian-only street in the heart of Le Marais. The street is the main avenue of the ‘Pletzl’, an area to which many Eastern European Jews immigrated during the early 20th century. The neighborhood was virtually emptied by the Nazis during World War II and then experienced a Jewish community revival in the 1990s.

Whether you are in search of a handcrafted menorah or a late-night pita, this is the street to stroll.

Metro: Saint-Paul (1)

Pompidou

Centre Pompidou is Paris’ premiere modern art museum. The exterior, a maze of multi-colored pipes and scaffolding, is just as remarkable as the interior, which features avant-garde works from Matisse, Munch and Picasso.

The best way to enjoy Pompidou is from the top floor. Equally impressive are the stunning views which stretch from the Eiffel Tower to the Sacre Coeur and thoughtfully curated exhibits with contemporary artists like Lucien Freud and Gerard Richter.

Centre Pompidou

Place Georges Pompidou
01 44 78 12 33

Hours: 11am to 9pm, Wed-Mon
Metro: Rambuteau (11) or Hôtel de Ville (1, 11)

Mémorial de la Shoah

In memory of the 76 thousand Parisian Jews who were sent to concentration camps during Occupation, Mémorial de la Shoah was opened in 2005. (Shoah, which is Hebrew for ‘Destruction’, is another word for the Holocaust).

The crypt in the basement features a giant black marble Star of David, which contains ashes recovered from concentration camps and the Warsaw ghetto. Also moving is the children’s memorial, a series of photographs showing photos of the 11,000 French Jewish children murdered during the Holocaust.

Mémorial de la Shoah
17, rue Geoffroy-l’Asnier
01 277 44 72

Metro: Pont Marie (7) and Saint-Paul (1)

Cat’Man Crêperie

The delicious galettes and crêpes at Cat’Man Crêperie will make you feel like you are at a seaside café in Brittany (minus the Atlantic breeze, of course).

A galette is essentially a savory crêpe made with buckwheat flour, which gives the galette its dark color and nutty, earthy flavor. I recommend the galette complete, which comes packed with Emmental cheese, jambon de pays (country ham) and a fried egg.

For dessert order the crêpe au caramel au beurre salé (salted butter caramel crêpe). Cat’Man’s version is a perfectly cooked sweet crêpe drenched in salted butter caramel, and is the perfect combination of salty and sweet.

Cat’Man Crêperie
12, rue du Temple
01 42 74 43 32

Metro: Hôtel de Ville (1, 11)
Open for lunch and dinner

Picnic in the Place des Vosges

Place des Vosges, the oldest planned square in Paris, is a beautiful park perfect for lounging and picnicking. Families and lovers lounge under the linden trees, often with baguettes and Pelligrino.

In Place des Vosges you can also find Victor Hugo’s house (the author of Les Misérables and The Hunch-Back of Notre Dame in case you’re rusty on high school English). Be forewarned of Hugo’s terrible interior design taste; inside the apartment the carpet matches the walls which match the ceiling.

Maison de Victor Hugo
6 Place des Vosges
01 42 72 10 16

Hours: 10am-6pm, Tue-Sun
Metro: Saint- Paul (1) or Bastille (1, 5, 8 )