Love fish and seafood? Know the questions to ask - for your own health and the health of our planet

I grew up in a household where my mom taught and lived the importance of eating fish. Oh yes, I was very accustomed to staring at fish heads, eyes and tails from a whole fish meal served in a special sauce. At boarding school in the UK, the tasty cod fish and chips served for lunch every Wednesday became one of my favourite English meals.

Proudly I now can scale and clean fish in my home kitchen like a professional fishmonger. I cook a variety of seafood and shellfish dishes often using homemade recipes. When I dine out, I look for high quality seafood, and enjoy sushi restaurants and oyster bars serving fresh sashimi and raw shellfish. Some of my fondest travel memories are of the superior seafood restaurants I've been to in Alaska, California, British Columbia, Portugal and Mexico. We also love both the Mediterranean and Peruvian way of preparing seafood.

But where does that seafood come from?

Recently I started paying attention to the source of my seafood. I’d read various articles about sustainable fishing, wary that everyone has their own opinion on the subject. But facts have no bias. I wanted to know if what I was hearing was relevant and accurate. I therefore reached out to Kristin, the owner of Hooked, our local sustainable seafood store here in Toronto.

Kristin agreed. The subject is confusing. Many of her customers are not always well versed about sustainable seafood or simply unaware of the difference between her shops and the regular food markets they visit. But it’s necessary and vital to try and shop for sustainable fish and seafood. She feels that she and her staff have a responsibility to explain, for example, why they do not carry Atlantic salmon, and to provide alternative choices.

The consequence of not doing the right thing

Similar to the organic farming movement, there’s been an overwhelming obsession over every detail concerning the origin of our food and whether or not products bear the “right” certification. Some of us may find the word 'sustainability' overused.

Sustainability is about balancing social, environmental and economic priorities. In the fishing industry, this means two things: 1) understanding what techniques are being used to catch various types of seafood and 2) what conservation measures are being practiced (e.g., limits to the number of licenses, traps, length of fishing seasons, fishing days, total allowable catch quotas, size, and more.)

'Sustainability' questions to ask include: Are the fishermen practicing ethically? Are the retailers and the wholesalers buying their supplies directly from trusted, responsible, small-scale fisheries and Great Lake fishermen (instead of buying from commercial markets)? Are they using methods such as harpooning and hand-lining? Do they encourage consumers to buy the right type of seafood? For example, what are the alternatives to Atlantic salmon, which is now an endangered species in the US and Canada?

What we can do

It is important to understand how we can balance the three most frequently discussed factors: omega-3 fat content (the higher the better nutrition-wise), mercury levels (toxins we bring into our bodies) and ecological risks (the impact on the natural world). The following steps helped me, so I pass them on to you.

1. Mix up your fish varieties

Most of us like salmon, but its popularity is leading to a severe population decline. Try wild or farmed steelhead salmon, known as salmon trout, or wild Pacific Salmon from BC or Alaska. Or how about have Arctic char instead? It's similar and delicious.

As the owners of Greenpoint Fish & Lobster Co. in Brooklyn put it, “Variety is going to make everything better if you’re not just catching cod, cod, cod, salmon, salmon.”

2. Buy your seafood in season

Fish reproduce at certain times of year. By choosing seasonal varieties, you give the various species a chance to replenish, and you'll ensure you’re getting fresh fish.

Mussels

Mussels

3.  Try to avoid large fish

Eating smaller fish reduces the burden on the overall food system in our waters. Consider eating more small fish and shellfish such as clams, mussels, squids and oysters (all contains high levels of Omega-3).

Oysters

Oysters

4. Ask questions and be aware

Do you really want to support unethical sources, inequitable labour conditions or products that have been frozen and thawed several times over? The fishing industries of many parts of Southeast Asia and Japan are considered unethical. One should not be supporting the consumption of blue fin tuna even if you are the biggest sashimi fan.

5. Learn the truth

Making wise choices is difficult so try your best to learn the truth.

For instance, what about farmed seafood? Much of the salmon we eat in the United States and Canada (up to 90% in some areas) is farmed. But is all farmed salmon poisonous and toxic? It depends. Because of the higher fat content, farmed salmon can store higher Omega 3 fatty acids than wild salmon—this makes it a healthy choice. But farmed salmon can accumulate higher levels of toxins. The best choice is wild-caught salmon and Alaska salmon.

You’re always wise to inquire about safe, farmed seafood alternatives, e.g. farmed shellfish, catfish, tank-farmed freshwater Coho salmon, Ontario farmed Pacific white shrimps, farmed US rainbow trout, New England crayfish, etc.

Sablefish and BC Side Stripe Shrimp

Sablefish and BC Side Stripe Shrimp

6. Making better choices

As seafood lovers and consumers, we can all do our part to make healthier choices as well as to protect and recover all species at risk. Usually this means selecting substitutes for the seafood we love. For example, I used to indulge in Chilean sea bass, but now I know to avoid it. Not only is it over-fished; it is also associated with higher levels of methyl mercury, a highly toxic substance. I respect the chefs and restaurateurs who set a great example when they started banning Chilean seabass from menus as far back as 2001. What's a good substitute for Chilean seabass? Try sablefish or black cod (best from Alaska) It has the same rich, buttery texture and is equally delicious.

Along with salmon, shrimp has become the top seafood product in North America. But farming shrimp from Southeast Asia and South America involves the use of antibiotics as well as chemical preservatives. We know that shrimp in Thailand and Burma is caught far too often using a trawler full of slave-labour fishermen.

There are many sustainable alternatives for shrimp: Washington or Oregon pink shrimp, white shrimp from South Carolina, Savannah (or Wild Georgia shrimp), spot prawns and side stripe shrimps from British Columbia and Alaska, coonstriped shrimp from Alaska and California, farmed Pacific shrimp from Ontario, farmed whiteleg prawns from the US (instead of Asia and South America).

There is some good news in all of this. Canada is a world leader in the sustainable management of fisheries.  British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and other provinces are all promoting the best practices and consumer choices. A few examples of very well managed sustainable operations in the USA are Alaska, Oregon and Washington.

Steelhead Trout

Steelhead Trout

The benefit of making a difference

As an owner of responsibly-sourced seafood shops, Kristin tells me that the quality of her work and personal life has improved significantly since she started operating her business 5 years ago. She credits this to the way she shops, cooks, sources her supplies and educates others. She works hard to run a business based on her own and her husband's values; they work to develop healthy business relationships with supply chains, buy direct, and supply wholesale to restaurants that need seafood 12 months a year. They also make sure that their sources are hand-line small fishermen and independent smaller operators.

It is disturbing to read articles, such as the one recently published in The Guardian about slavery and human trafficking in the shrimp industry in Southeast Asia; or how the Chinese are killing sharks for shark fin soup; or the over-consumption of bluefin tuna sashimi in Japan. But knowledge about these practices continues to impact our desire to protect seafood species. As a customer of Kristin’s, for example, I honestly feel a strong passion from her and her employees. Thanks to her, I experience the satisfaction of buying and eating right.

Wild Salmon

Wild Salmon

Some good examples of the types of seafood you can find in a trusted responsibly sourced fish shop:

Wild-caught salmon, steelhead, arctic char, Atlantic mackerel, wild sardines, herring (Atlantic, Pacific), ling cod, sablefish, seabream, bass, lake fish (white fish and perch). Shellfish: scallops, clams, pacific and side striped shrimps, spot prawns, mussels and oysters.

High mercury and low sustainability fishes to avoid: bluefin tuna, yellowtail flounder, swordfish, Spanish mackerel, black promfret, Chilean seabass.

Seabream

Seabream

Ask, learn, be aware, advocate

Ultimately it is the consumer who must make the choice, and that is the bottom line for business owners like Kristin and the many great fisheries and dedicated fishermen out there who source and fish ethically. While it is very encouraging to see an increasing number of independent seafood shops promoting responsible fishing across the US and Canada, perhaps our governments can expand their existing commitment to educating the public so more of us can be engaged with the issues.

I am not suggesting that we should all become seafood specialists just because we love to eat fish and shellfish; but we can all begin by being more ocean-wise. Learning the basics without getting overly technical goes a long way. We'll stay healthier at the same time, and conserve the fish population. If we do not act, we will all suffer the health consequences of this damage caused to our ecological system.

As for me, I know I have a lot more learning to do if I want to continue to consume fresh quality seafood. One thing for certain, I know where I will be shopping for my seafood and what I won’t be ordering when dining in a sushi restaurant, both at home and abroad. It's all about learning and sharing the knowledge with others.

If you want to read more about reliable references about seafood, visit
seafoodwatch.org, oceanwise.ca, seachoice.org, smallscales.ca

I wish to thank Kristin Donovan, the owner of Hooked (the knowledgeable fish store) for her insights and assistance with my research on this topic. Photos on my blog post are taken at her two shop locations in Toronto, Canada.


 

 

 

 

Winemaker's "Heaven": San Francisco & Beautiful Napa Valley

Amizetta Vineyards, St. Helena, California

Amizetta Vineyards, St. Helena, California

Lucky for me, my recent trip to San Francisco and Napa Valley was much more than just another delightful getaway with memorable epicurean delights!

Fisherman's Wharf

Fisherman's Wharf

A special invitation with special friends

It began when I received an invitation from an old friend and his wife to attend their wedding anniversary in San Francisco. I was thrilled. Ken and I have been friends since we were teenagers. Years ago I missed his wedding in San Francisco because of my father’s sudden illness. While other friendships grew apart due to distance and other commitments, Ken remained a loyal friend, and one of my few true food and wine aficionados.

I have discovered that as a food aficionado and a culinary travel specialist, I can only truly share my passion for eating and cooking with a small number of ‘foodie’ friends in my life; ones not hampered by trends, personal preferences and lifestyle choices, or medical reasons such as food allergies or restrictions. But except for my epicurean parents (both now deceased), Ken is my most important culinary inspiration. We certainly were both well versed in the spirit of gourmet dining and “wine-ing” at a very young age! On previous visits, Ken took me to some of the finest and exciting French and Japanese bistros and restaurants.

  Seven Hills (Nob Hill) - Antipasti: American Kobe Beef Carpaccio, Grilled Monterrey Bay Squid

  Seven Hills (Nob Hill) - Antipasti: American Kobe Beef Carpaccio, Grilled Monterrey Bay Squid

Seven Hills (Nob Hill) - Pasta: Raviolo Uovo, Tagliatelle with Braised Lamb, Chitarrini Neri with Rock Shrimps and Bay Scallops

Seven Hills (Nob Hill) - Pasta: Raviolo Uovo, Tagliatelle with Braised Lamb, Chitarrini Neri with Rock Shrimps and Bay Scallops

Seven Hills (Nob Hill) - Flat Iron Steak

Seven Hills (Nob Hill) - Flat Iron Steak

Dining in San Francisco

Undeniably, the restaurant scene in San Francisco is quite simply explosive. It’s always been this way; I knew it since my very first visit over 15 years ago before I considered myself a food aficionado. If you’ve read my recent Paris blog post, I talked about the ethnic food scene and how diverse dining options continue to be a huge movement in cities around the world. Many major cities—including San Francisco—have really ‘nailed’ the whole concept right from the start. A wonderful city, San Francisco has always delivered its culinary options with great taste, style, creativity and sophistication.

On the first night of my recent trip, my friends surprised me with an excellent Italian bistro - a farm-to-table dining experience at Seven Hills, located in the trendy Nob Hill area. It’s so wonderful to be able to share a great dinner with old friends who can relate to your childhood and your parents.

We shared various dishes: antipasti—American Kobe Beef Carpaccio, Grilled Monterrey Bay Squid; followed by delicious pasta dishes—Raviolo Uovo (which I have made twice since returning home from my trip), Tagliatelle with Braised Lamb Sugo, Chitarrini Neri with Rock Shrimp, and Bay Scallop. And as if we did not order enough food, we enjoyed American Kobe Flat Iron Steak and topped off the evening with double desserts for a finale.

The Anniversary feast

The Anniversary feast

Pastry Chef at Ritz-Carlton plating our desserts

Pastry Chef at Ritz-Carlton plating our desserts

The S.F. MarketPlace - Far West Fungi

The S.F. MarketPlace - Far West Fungi

The SF MarketPlace - SF Fish Company

The SF MarketPlace - SF Fish Company

The anniversary feast

The anniversary celebration dinner took place at the elegant Ritz Carlton. The menu was designed to match the same banquet served at the couple’s wedding. The ingredients for every course were carefully selected and pre-tasted by the hosts a few weeks ahead of the event.

To kick off the celebration, guests were served various platters of scrumptious h’orderves – Lobster Medallions, Pancetta-wrapped Glazed Shrimp, Grilled Lamb Chops (my favorite), Southern-style Crab Cakes and Smoked Salmon Blini. These were all delicious!

The official dinner started off with Lobster Bisque with Puff Pastry on top; followed by Terrine of Sonoma Farms Guinea Hen with Smoked Eggplant; and then Beef Tenderloin & Maine Lobster Tail. The dinner wrapped up with exquisite duo of desserts, which I was too stuffed to enjoy! The evening was highlighted by wine pairing from a private collection of wines generously shared by my friend from his own wine cellar.  The live classical piano performance put on by friends of the hosts added elegance and a warm, relaxing atmosphere to the special occasion.

San Francisco neighborhoods are as diverse and fascinating as the dining scene.  While I was not able to visit all the unique areas this trip, some of you might be interested in the following: Haight-Ashbury, Hayes Valley, Lower Haight, Cole Valley, Mission District, Noe Valley, Nob Hill, Marina, North Beach, Soma, Sunset, Russian Hill, Union Square, Chinatown, Japantown, Upper Market, Sea Cliff, Panhandle/NoPa, Fisherman’s Wharf, Financial District, Sixth Street.

If you have limited time , make sure you visit the Ferry Building Marketplace for awesome food with locavore flare; enjoy the best Dungeness crab and chowder in the Bay area; and try a few eateries on your next trip: Seven Hills (www.sevenhillssf.com), Cockscomb (www.cockscombsf.com), The Progress (www.theprogress-sf.com), The Perennial (www.theperennialsf.com).

Domaine Carneros Winery

Domaine Carneros Winery

A perfect guide for a perfect corner of the world

The second part of the trip was equally pleasurable. To me, the appeal of Napa Valley is its romantic, beyond natural beauty. I constantly marvel at the stunning views, perfect climate and the spectacular Californian wineries, which boast international fame and reputation. With 500 plus wineries in the region and counting, how can one resist traveling until you’ve toured and tasted at least a quarter of them!

I admit, this time I left trip planning until the last minute. I also decided it was more appropriate (not being a teenager any longer!) to make my own travel arrangements instead of depending on friends to chauffeur me around! Was I ever so grateful to find Kent, a personal tour guide from Squire Livery (www.squirelivery.com). Kent came through for me while I was scrambling for a seasoned guide (also secretly screening for someone with a huge personality!) In addition to Kent’s in-depth knowledge about the region and its wineries, his superior customer service, genuineness and efficiency completely exceeded my expectations and the industry standard (and I have worked with many high-end tour operators and private guided companies in my industry).

Kent and I both understand the true definition of customer service.  We shared stories about the importance of providing the utmost experience for clients, building rapport with guests, estate winery owners, industry specialists and other private tour companies.  We both agreed that the bottom line for operating your own business is really about meeting wonderful people, sharing your knowledge and building relationships—benefits far more satisfying than just making a profit.

Francis Ford Coppola Inglenook Vineyards

Francis Ford Coppola Inglenook Vineyards

Robert Mondavi Vineyards

Robert Mondavi Vineyards

Amizetta Vineyards

Amizetta Vineyards

White Rock Vineyards

White Rock Vineyards

Covert Estate (Azur Wines & Nicholson Jones)

Covert Estate (Azur Wines & Nicholson Jones)

So many vineyards, so little time!

Prior to my trip, I had forwarded my ‘wish’ list to re-visit some of the well-known, commercial wineries:Francis Ford Coppola Inglenook Vineyards, Opus One Winery, Robert Mondavi, Beringer Vineyards, Castello di Amorosa, Domaine Carneros, Artesa Vineyards & Winery, Hess Collection.

Kent added to my list the most frequently requested wineries for many first-time visitors: Sterling Winery, Cakebread Cellars, Chateau Montelena Winery and Caymus Vineyards. But because of Kent’s sound knowledge, expertise and personal connections with the wineries, I was also introduced to lesser-known wine-makers and boutique family-owned wineries. Together we visited estate owners and wine-makers at Amizetta Vineyards, Covert Estate (Azur Wines & Nicholson Jones), White Rock Vineyards and Yates Family Vineyard. At each winery, I was given a private tour around the property and wine caves, and offered private tastings of their refined wines.

Of course, many of these wines are not found in the liquor stores of large metropolitan cities in the US or Canada because these wineries do not produce a large quantity of their wines.  Visiting such wineries made my trip even more special and educational.  I also noted, after speaking with one of the Estate owners, that it takes a specialist like Kent to help the boutique wineries not just stay in business but flourish.

Bouchon Bistro, Yountville

Bouchon Bistro, Yountville

Dining at Morimoto Napa (Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto)

Dining at Morimoto Napa (Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto)

Morimoto Napa - Sea Urchin Carbonara

Morimoto Napa - Sea Urchin Carbonara

ZuZu Tapas - Flat Iron Steak from Brandt Ranch, Gambas Ajillo

ZuZu Tapas - Flat Iron Steak from Brandt Ranch, Gambas Ajillo

Dining in Napa Valley

Well, we cannot be just drinking wine without indulging in fine food. I mean; does bad food even exist in San Francisco or the Napa Valley? I had three more memorable dining moments during this Napa trip - the ultra posh and swanky Morimoto Napa, owned by famous Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto; and Zuzu, famous for Spanish-inspired tapas and paella.  Other exceptional recommendations include Cape Diem Wine Bar in downtown Napa, an upscale-casual wine bar setting serving shared, small food plates; Bottega in Yountville, serving rustic Italian fare; and Ad Hoc in Yountville, serving family-style, casual, comfort food. My only disappointment—I did not leave myself enough time to secure a reservation at the award-winning Michelin Star establishment French Laundry with Chef Thomas Keller. (I will keep staring at his French Laundry cookbook until my next visit). At his other restaurant Bouchon in Yountville, serving French bistro traditional fare, is also very good. 

There are several people I would love to thank for my recent trip to San Francisco and Napa Valley. This trip would not have happened without my partner Tom, old friends Ken and Vinny, new friend Kent and new business connections with Squire Livery Tours, and of course all of the wineries I visited. Until next time, California!




How small plate dining and big ethnic flavors are transforming gourmet Paris (Part II)

This spring I returned Paris for a couple of weeks of dining, eating and shopping. Instead of writing about the expected places that everyone visits, I’ve put together a list of my favorite spots, including outdoor and indoor markets, cheese and pastry shops, casual bistros, newer, trendy spots as well as some cultural highlights.

Winnie’s Guide to Paris avec savour faire

I hope you have the opportunity to try out some of the recommendations I’ve put together for places to eat, shop visit and enjoy.

Fish la Boissonnerie

Fish la Boissonnerie

Tokyo Eat

Tokyo Eat

A Noste

A Noste

Miss Ko

Miss Ko

Ecume Saint Honore

Ecume Saint Honore

Eateries/Restaurants

Brasserie Barbès

The restaurant finally opened its doors this April after a two-year refurbishment. The brasserie’s four floors each have their own distinct style. The sprawling rooftop is one of Paris’ best. Try their raw sea bass Carpaccio, crispy eggs à la Comté cheese (or Gruyère), duck shepherd’s pie, or cod purée with chicken and fries. Nice decor, inventive menu and good atmosphere with an awesome rooftop. What more can you ask for? Open 8am until 2am every day.  http://www.brasseriebarbes.com/

 A Noste

Top Chef JulienDuboué’s new creation at the heart of his Basque address near Bourse offers street-food, small plates, and top-notch tapas in a trendy bistro and tapas bar setting. Just a small sample of what I’m talking about when I say small plates and diverse eating include: risotto balls with goat cheese and piquillos, duck spring rolls with Thai sauce, marinated salmon Haitian style, tomatoes and passion fruit smoothie and braised pork burger.  http://www.a-noste.com/

Clamato

Michelin Star chef, Bertrand Grétrand of Septime Group, serves up ever-changing fresh seafood tapas paired with great wines at this good-looking oyster and fish bar on trendy Charonne Street in the Bastille area.  All dishes are served in tapas portions, put together with the catch of the day. Order rillettes of mackerel, raw cerviche of black mullet, zucchini with eel, smoke and fennel seeds. I wrapped up my delicious meal with an American style latte, just the way I like it, specially prepared by the very capable barista.    http://www.septime-charonne.fr/

Fish la Boissonnerie

This former fish market is now converted into a modern wine bar/restaurant. It’s a busy restaurant with very good food and a friendly English-speaking owner with his entire, equally friendly English-speaking staff (all either English or American employees). Enjoy great choices in vegetarian and mainly fish dishes, and a well-selected wine list. Try character-full dishes such as hake with fregola, fish soup with mussels, and mackerel with harissa.  Located in the Latin Quarter/Odéon area. 

Rosemary Gastropub

A new concept—the gourmet-pub—serves up traditional English dishes in a trendy setting.  Go for a snack with beer on draught where happy hour can last for several happy hours. English snacks include: Yorkshire pudding with mousse cheddar, fish fingers with brown sauce, and scotch egg with piccalilli(a British relish made with various chopped vegetables, seasoned with mustard and turmeric.) The gourmet bar snack idea definitely works for me! Located in the Marais area. http://rosemarygastropub.com/

Écume Saint-Honoré

I eat shellfish all the time, rarely entirely raw, except for oysters and certain type of sashimi.  At this cozy poissonnerie (fish and seafood restaurant), the menu says if you order a platter with a smile, they’ll see what they can do. So I flashed my biggest smile!  The staff then put together a platter of assorted shellfish just for me—raw calms (various types and sizes), mussels, scallops, oysters (all raw!) I also enjoyed taramosalata (Greek and Turkish salty fish roe dip). Everything was top-notch fresh served by happy staff with a humor. They showed me photos and stories about the restaurant that have appeared in Japanese magazines and newspapers as well as on Facebook pages—all posted by Japanese visitors who wrote about their wonderful experience there.

Le Lazare

If you’re taking the train, it’s worth a stopover at a Michelin-3 star chef bistro—Eric Fréchon’s rail station Gare Saint Lazare. Despite a few negative reviews I read about the service, I was excited about dining there. I mean, service can be something I am willing to overlook when it comes to exceptional food with a famous chef in the kitchen.

My assumptions were right.  The food was undoubtedly authentic and flavourful. The filets de sole Dieppoise was simply one of the best French fish dish I’ve ever eaten. The most raved about Paris-Deauville dessert was outstanding. The restaurant also serves breakfast with authentic French, homemade croissants and café crème, and an afternoon snack at 4 pm with brioche and hot chocolate. What a great idea for the commuters, we can all use a French quick gourmet fix every so often! As for the service, it was fine.   http://lazare-paris.fr/

Cobéa

Cobéa’s scrumptious prix-fixe menu has made this Michelin star restaurant so highly-acclaimed.  Changed monthly, the menu features fine dishes such as duck foie gras, bonito fish, veal, sweetmeats, John Dory fish, Iberico pork, aged cheese, strawberry and chocolate desserts— all artfully presented with an intimate decor.  The gastronomical lunch and dinner are delivered by two accomplished chefs Philippe Bélissent and Jérôme Cobou, both who share a rich and diverse taste in their cooking.

This was another highpoint in gourmet French dining. Highly-recommended!  http://cobea.fr/en/

Tokyo Eat

I am a returning customer to Tokyo Eat, not only because of its inventive cuisine. Tokyo Eat is the restaurant of Palais de Tokyo, one of my favourite places to visit and re-revisit. This is truly an architectural wonder, with cutting-edge creative displays surrounding the structure and out-of -the-ordinary contemporary exhibitions in the museum.

With menu items that consist of Japanese and contemporary French fusion, I particularly like how the food menu is presented at this ultra modern restaurant. First of All gives a selection of pressed juice noting all their healthy ingredients.  Before denotes appetizers and salads; Inside Only are food items you can order only when dining inside. (This actually is where I would prefer to sit, but it stays closed when the weather is nice outside). While is a list of main courses, including the only vegetarian dish, Tokyo vegeto.  I started with a carrot/beet/fresh mint pressed juice (a tasty way to refresh the palate), followed by a big bowl of French green bean and Paris mushrooms with lemon dressing, and finally, a generous portion of veal confit with mash. I’ve had many duck confit before but never veal. It was simply outstanding—the meat so moist and tender—perfectly cooked!  http://www.palaisdetokyo.com/fr/lifestyle/le-tokyo-eat

Kunitoraya 2

It’s almost impossible to find an authentic, high-quality and affordable Japanese restaurant anywhere in the world, including Paris.  Lunch at most of the up-scale authentic Japanese restaurants is usually more affordable but with a smaller selection of food. Lunch at Kunitoraya 2 in the Palais-Royal area serves quick udon, chill tonkatsu, small portion of vegie and shrimp tempura, and simple, basic donburi, starting from €10.  At night, food gets much more fancy but exceptional.  There is a seven tasting course where they serve poached oyster with caviar, a ‘sea’ jelly, plum-marinated bass Carpaccio, and veal sweetbreads with truffles. (It’s making me very hungry right now just thinking about it). And it all takes place in a well-designed, modern café style space.  http://kunitoraya.com/

Cucuzza Ristorante

This is an ultra trendy hangout in the Batignolles area. Two of their star pizzas are: Valeria d’ Estate, with cream of truffle, ricotta, panned pleurottes mushrooms, slivers of truffle and truffle oil; and Vespa, with cream of artichoke, arugula, prosciutto.  The ultimate choice of salad is the squid-fennel, Sicilian pimento salad.  http://cucuzza.fr/

Miss Ko

Located in the upscale Champs-Élysées area, this restaurant enjoys a funky, vibrant color theme, decorated by designer Phillipe Starck. The fusion food menu is reasonably priced, but not unlike many restaurants in Paris— the bill can add up if you order too many fancy cocktails from their extensive list. I rather enjoyed my steamed fish with Tom yum sauce, which has a flavorful coconut curry taste. The restaurant had a very relaxing atmosphere with a diverse crowd.  Looking around, I observed many families and groups.  I would not consider their interpretation of a Japanese special or maki rolls authentic, but to be fair, the restaurant is described as fusion, not a Japanese.  

http://www.miss-ko.com/

Causses

Causses

Marche des Enfants rouges

Marche des Enfants rouges

La Grande Epicurie de Bon Marche

La Grande Epicurie de Bon Marche

Paris Open Air Markets featuring local produce

Paris Open Air Markets featuring local produce

Gourmet Paris Food Shops & Food Markets (outdoor/indoor)/les grandes epiceries

Parisians love to go to one of the over 75 outdoor neighborhood markets on the weekend to find fresh produce. These are typically set up two to three times a week in different neighborhoods.  A growing number of upscale specialty indoor markets are also popping up all over Paris. While their products are generally much pricier, the selection is often too good to pass up!

Causses

Seriously, I think every neighbourhood should have a local grocery shop like Causses.  Here you’ll find 100% natural, regional products to fill your basket, e.g. locally grown fruits and vegetables, truffles, cheese, ceramic pots of olives, dry fruits, gourmet preserves, smoked cured meat and ham in addition to a wine cellar and a little spot where you can bottle up your own freshly squeezed orange juice. The owners and his team work hard to bring in products free of industrial additives and preservatives.  And let me just say, not all hams are created equal. These were really the best! (Once you’ve experienced hams at these Paris markets, you’ll never want grocery store ham again!

Marché des Enfants rouges

This market delighted me as well as many out-of-towners because of its variety and bustling ambience.  It’s also a popular spot for locals who grab a bite to eat at the different ethnic stands, i.e. Italian, Japanese, Lebanese, French, Moroccan. Enjoy fish and chips, burgers, cheese, fish, a flower shop and a vintage photo and postcard shop.

La Grande Épicurie de Bon Marché

Truly a temple of all things food and wine, La Grande probably remains as one of my grandest, most high-end epicurean shopping (and eating) experience. Thousands of products dazzle foodies in this amazing, giant store.It has the largest and most incredible selection of fresh cheese and charcuterie (sopressata, paté, ham, sausages, cold meats), fresh seafood, breads, pastries, foie gras, fresh fruits and vegetables.You’ll also find sushi, prepared food, an entire floor dedicated to wine cellar, and many exotic items such as caviar, truffle oil and truffle foie gras in beautiful jars, Persian salt and other rare spices. Outrageously huge and impressive.

Gilles Vérot

Gilles Vérot originally comes from the Loire Valley, and from a family of charcutiers (delicatessen-style butchers). His epicurean shop offers a very large selection of charcuterie, hams and patés as well as other gourmetitems such as rillettes (similar to paté), galantines (de-boned stuffed meat), crépinette (flattened sausage parcel) cooked and cured meats and healthy nibbles.  Vérot ultimately brought his years of expertise to the United States at the Bar Boulud and DGBG in New York City, headed up by Chef Daniel Boulud’s (a Lyonnaise restaurateur now settled there).

Le Comptoir de la gastronomie

Not only does this gourmet delicatessen and boutique sell the very best in France gastronomic products: fresh foiegrasd’oie (goose liver), andouillete (white sausage), magret de canard fume (smoked duck breast), sel de guerande (Guerande sea salt);you can also sit at the terrace, inside the deli or restaurant to enjoy the authentic food. The small menu features specialty items such as foie gras carpaccio, pan-fried goose liver, cassoulet and steak tartare. The foie gras cappuccino was melt-in-your-mouth delicious.  It compliments several of the Loire Valley wines they have on their wine list.

Oro bianco mozzarella cafe and Mmozzara

If you crave fresh mozzarella, sample a variety at both these shops. Each receives fresh daily shipments from the best farms. Oro is a sit-down café where you can savor the cheese on site, or order to go; while Mmozzara has just a small area where you can sample on a small plate, served with tomatoes and rocket (arugula) greens.

Lafayette Gourmet & Maison (Market Place/Delicatessen)

I’ve eaten in the Market Place/Delicatessen a couple of times on the lower ground floor during my stay in the Opera area.  The Market Place has a diverse selection of prepared food stations and eateries. It seems to specialize in Asian gourmet goodies.  There's a pretty impressive Chinese dim sum station, even a Japanese pastry maker. The bulk spice department is a feast for the eyes and senses. The gourmet department, on the ground floor, also serves French and world cuisine.

Galeries Lafayette decided to combine its famous food and drink department, Lafayette Gourmet, with its home department, Lafayette Maison, all under one roof. The spacious new building spanning 8,900 square yards and 5 floors officially opened in September 2014.

Artisan French cheeses on display

Artisan French cheeses on display

Barthelemy

Barthelemy

Fromagerie Laurent Dubois

Fromagerie Laurent Dubois

Specialty Cheese Shops:

Oh, artisan cheese, bon fromage—I love them all— mild, medium, rich, salty, savory.  Why would anybody want to eat processed cheese when there are literally hundreds of wonderful cheeses to choose from? Cheese is one of most versatile food item in the world but deeply rooted in its French heritage.  From Lyon now back in Paris, I have probably tasted, sampled and purchased an assortment of finest French cheese of my lifetime.

Shopping at these independent cheese shops is fun. The staff is always knowledgeable and passionate, and want their customers to sample their products. Whether you are a cheese buff or not, everyone should visit at least once at one of these cheese shops in Paris. This is one of the many classic French food customs.  I have taken a few suggestions from Parisians and visited some of the best independent specialty cheese shops during my visits to the city. Each cheese shop has its own character, style, presentation and specialty products:

I have noticed, however, that the French are accustomed to very strong cheese. They often will recommend the “stinkiest” and “strongest”of cheeses almost as if they want the pleasurable memories of their famous strong cheese taste to linger on.  My partner Tom loves strong blue cheese but I usually stay within mild to medium. 

Fromages et Ramage (22 rue Ramey)

Fromagerie Laurent Dubois (97 rue Saint-Antoine & 47 ter Boulevard Saint-Germain www.fromageslaurentdubois.fr)

Barthélémy (51, rue de Grenelle)

Quatrehomme (62, rue de Sèvres www.quatrehomme.fr)

Fromages et Ramage (22, rue Ramey)

    Du pain et des idees

    Du pain et des idees

Bakeries

You can’t indulge in good artisan cheese without having good bread. But have you ever had one of the flakiest, most buttery and moist, melt in your mouth croissant au beurre for breakfast in North America? And why does it seem so hard to find brioche outside of France?

Du pain et des idées

According to Christophe Vasseur, the best baker in Paris, there are 1300 boulangeries (bakeries) in Paris. Three Michelin star chef, Alain Ducasse at Plaza Athénéé serves the famous pain des amis. It is basically a ‘plain’ bread, but the taste and depth of it far from plain—the crust is crunchy and incredibly flavorful, with tastes that reveal a woody, smoky flavor. The inside is quite different, soft with a pleasing nutty flavor. (It’s even better with Bordier butter!) The décor of the bakery is delightful and rustic, filled with antiques dating back from the original boulangerie days in 1889. Also enjoy chausson aux pommes (apple turnovers) and la mouna (brioche), escargots(yes, breakfast ‘snail’ pastries), croissants and pain au chocolate (chocolate wrapped inside a croissant-like pastry).

Angelina Paris

Angelina Paris

Jean-Paul Hevin

Jean-Paul Hevin

Servant Chocolatier

Servant Chocolatier

      Meert

      Meert

Douce (Sweet) Indulgence

I have always had a preference for more savory flavors than sweet. In fact, since I was little, I have eaten and drank so few sweets that I’ve never had a tooth cavity.  Except when I was completing my food and nutrition course while studying in the United Kingdom, I’ve never baked a single dessert or anything remotely sweet in my life. And when I entertain at home, I prepare savory dishes for my guests but when it gets to the final course, I tell them, sorry I don’t make desserts. Instead, I offer fruit, ice cream or something I picked up from a store.

But that’s all changed since I visited France. Everywhere you turn, you see a patisserie, chocolatier, macaroon shop, sweetshop, cakes, desserts and lots more. What makes these treats so sinful is that many are not an ordinary macaroon or chocolate shop. Many seem to be some kind of a big success story, accompanied by an impressive huge family history that led to the creation of a maestro, award-winning specialty shop. One can easily understand why it’s so terribly hard to resist these sweet temptations.

Until not too long ago, I was still mesmerized by an over-the-top presentation of trolleys and platters of desserts brought to me at Paul Bocuse L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges in Lyon. I was so overwhelmed and surprised by the selection process I had no idea which dessert to choose!

Back in Paris, my sweet tooth temptation was totally sinful.  I’m sure I visited Angelina Tea House Paris too many times, ate too many desserts and drank too much hot chocolate there.

La Pâtisserie des Martyrs

Owner/Chef Sébastien Gauderd is a 2012 pastry chef winner.  At his old-fashioned looking pastry shop, some specialties include rum cake filled with pastry cream (des baba au rhum), napoleon/custard slice (des mille-feuille), classic French pastry based torte(des saint-hornorés), coffee pastry filled with cream (des religeuses au café), chocolate tart (des tartes au chocolate), and pound cake with candied fruit (fruits confit).

Crêperie Breizh

While crêpes (think, very thin pancakes) originate in Brittany, a region in the northwest of France, their consumption is widespread in France. A traditional crêpe with chocolate sauce, chantilly (sweet whipped cream) and almonds is an absolute delicious treat. At Crêperie Breizh, you can order both savory and sweet.  The prices were very fair and an English menu is offered at the café.  A couple of favorites include a savory buckwheat crêpe with artichoke, ham and Gruyere cheese, and a salted caramel and dark chocolate buckwheat crêpe.

L’Éclair de Génie

Éclair is the classic French pastry with a glaze and crispy pastry on the outside, with a soft and creamy inside. Pastry chef and owner, Christophe Adam, has transformed and modernized this classic French treat into a dessert that is fresh and appealing— dressed in stunning rainbow colors with fun flavours like salted butter caramel, orange pistachio, yuzu caramel, and apple maple syrup.

Pâtisserie Lignac

This shop is the creation of a well-known Pastry Chef, Lyril Lignac, also the owner and chef of a Michelin Star gourmet restaurant, Le Quinziéme.  Lignac created a workshop, which provided cooking and pastry classes in 2010.  He is also a TV host of a culinary show. His desserts, sweets and pastries are inventive and succulent e.g.baba with bourbon vanilla, la tartecitron (crisp shortbread with lemon cream), raspberry tart, la caraïbe (chocolate mousse with crisp cocoa biscuit). You can also get organic breads (traditional and grain baguette), special loafs (with olives and tomatoes, cheese, figs and white chocolate, thyme and lemon). There are breakfast and lunch offers with a choice of salad or sandwich, éclair or flan pastry.

Maison Servant

This traditional, family-owned chocolatier and confiseur opened its doors in 1913 in the Auteuil neighborhood. While the shop is known for candy assortments from all over France, many of the chocolate specialties are still made in house at this location.  Maison Servant is also known for a great variety of coffees and teas, fruit jellies, glace nuts, jams and honeys, crunchy chocolate almonds and pistachios, caramelized truffles, chocolate orangettes, and fruit liqueurs.

Meert

Meert is a chocolate and confectionery, a pastry shop, restaurant and tea Room. It makes all its chocolates, jams, fruit jellies and other sweets on site.  Meert has also gained a reputation for its appealing, delicious pastries. I go there for its renowned waffles (Monsieur Meert took credit for inventing the recipe for a flat vanilla waffle filled with sugar, butter and vanilla from Madagascar.) Under new management since 2004, other surprising waffle flavors have been introduced: pistachio and morello cherry, chocolate and orange, raspberry and Séchouan pepper, blackcurrant and violet.

 

Musee Picasso Paris

Musee Picasso Paris

Palais Royal Gardens

Palais Royal Gardens

Palais de Tokyo

Palais de Tokyo

Fondation Pierre Berge YSL

Fondation Pierre Berge YSL

Musee Galliera

Musee Galliera

Passage Verdeau

Passage Verdeau

Collette

Collette

 

My pick of interesting places around the city

Musée Rodin & Garden

You will marvel at this museum’s Parisian rocaille architecture and its sculpture collection on view, especially once you learn about the background of the museum—the Hôtel Biron. Originally built between 1727 and 1732, the museum was officially opened in 1919 and listed as a historical monument in 1926. Since then, Hôtel Biron and its grounds have since undergone major renovation and restoration. The garden is equally spectacular, stretching over three hectares, featuring a rose garden, ornamental garden and a marble gallery.

Palais de Tokyo

Ever since I was young, I’ve noticed the strong influences of Japanese and French on each other’s culture, an influence that shows up in their cuisines, desserts, fashion, accessories, textiles, art, design, photography and architecture. The Palais building is dedicated to showcase modern and contemporary creations and exhibitions in art, design, cinema, video, literature, fashion and dance.  Visit the designers’ exhibitions for a few hours, after that, stop by Tokyo Eat (see earlier note!)

Musée Picasso Paris

Picasso Museum reopened its doors in October 2014 at the heart of Marais. Here you can rediscover the life of Picasso, his early works before his blue and the pink period, the birth of cubism and his militant works around 1936. Housed in the former Hôtel Salé and built between 1656 and 1660, this is a stunning building.  Afterwards, take a tour of the trendy block surrounding the Museum.

Palais Royal Gardens and the Arcades

Stroll through the beautiful gardens and historical arcades, occupied by many well-known designer shops: Marc Jacobs, Rick Owen, Stella McCartney, Didier Ludot (vintage consignment), Serge Luten (Master Perfumer).

Fondation Louis Vuitton

Designed by American architect Frank Gehry, his recent museum project is an architecture marvel dedicated to contemporary artistic creation.  The first artistic expression of la Fondation Louis Vuitton, “Crystal Palace” is located in the Jardin d’Acclimatation, at the outer edge of the Bois de Boulogne. Geometric curves and lines mirror the shapes found in the garden. It looks like sails, and it looks like a boat, like a whale, like a crystal palace—all in the middle of an explosion!

Fondation Pierre Bergé Yves Saint Laurent

I do know a few things here and there around the fashion world.  When I went to see the subtitled film about Yves Saint Laurent with my fashionista friend Danny, I was quite moved and intrigued by the designer’s complexity. He was, as I imagine most designers are, beyond eccentric—intelligent, creative with a great understanding of women’s style, elegance and sophistication. Of course, all those strong intuitions are reflected in his own couture design.

Visiting the foundation provides highlights of Yves Saint Laurent’s haute couture garments and accessories as well as a graphic, photographic, and audiovisual collection of many thousand archives references. The exhibition “Yves Saint Laurent 1971: The Scandal Collection”, captures the essence of the spring/summer collection of 1971.

Musée Galliera

Much as I love food, I can certainly take time out to appreciate fashion.This museum is located on the opposite side of Palais de Tokyo.  After opening in 1895, the Palais Galliera served a number of different purposes before the City of Paris made it a fashion museum in 1977.The Palais Galliera only presents temporary exhibitions and does not offer permanent displays. (Between every exhibition, the museum is closed to the public.) Currently, the museum is exhibiting the great lady of haute couture, Jeanne Lanvin (March 8th to August 23rd, 2015).  This first exhibition of its kind devoted to Lanvin (1867-1946), it features over a hundred models from the amazing collections.

Musée Gustave-Moreau

I am charmed to discover the home and workshop of symbolist painter, Gustave Moreau, featuring 20,000 drawings, paintings, watercolors, and sculptures.  All are on display in an historic 19th century setting, located at the artist’s apartment and work area on the top floor. 

Passage Verdeau & Passage Jouffroy

Built in 1847, this was the last of the passages built as picturesque covered arcades or passageways to attract vintage collectors in Paris. Visit many of the original shops for books, toys, cameras, as well as small boutiques and a gourmet tea salon. An intimate vintage hotel “Chopin” is located inside Passage Jouffroy.

Centre Commercial

The sustainable concept store is a relatively new idea in North America although not so new to Europeans. Shopping at Centre Commercial means you’re supporting sustainable activities. The founders really wanted to combine what’s close to their hearts: fashion with artistic projects and environmental concerns.  Bravo!  The 1,620 square feet shop only features clean and green fashion labels from France, Denmark and Great Britain. You also can buy books, magazines and DVDs.

British Shop

I make a habit of picking up a few souvenirs for our tenants when I’m away because they take such great care of our cat, Oscar.  Since I brought them French souvenirs from my previous visit, this time I looked for something different. The traditional British store specialized in English porcelain, Wedgewood, china, mugs, elegant utensils and many other gift items. While I was shopping for Jessica, I was tempted to get the entire collection of ‘Miranda Kerr’ Royal Albert English tea set for myself (after all, I already own a cake stand and a few plates of the same collection).

Collette

After more than 10 years in operation, the three-floor, 8,000 square feet concept store is still considered a Paris cult hip shop, devoted to ultra a trendy designs, unusual and extraordinary fashion and accessories.  This deluxe boutique hosts an incredible selection of merchandise from designer clothes, toys, international magazines, cosmetics and beauty supplies, fun small gift items and their divine “water bar,” serving more than 100 brands of bottled water.

Boutique Hotels with Gastronomic restaurant:    

Hôtel Le Bristol Paris / Epicure (Chef: Eric Frechon)

www.lebristolparis.com/eng/gastronomy/epicure/

Saint James Paris (Relais& Châteaux) /Le Restaurant (Chef: Virginie Basselot)

www.saint-james-paris.com

Le Burgundy Paris/Restaurant Le Baudelaire (Chef: Pierre Riothier)

www.leburgundy.com/en/restaurant-le-baudelaire

Hotel de Vendôme/Le 1 Place Vendôme(Chef: Josselin Marie)

www.hoteldevendome.com/uk/restaurant-gastronomique-place-vendome-paris.php

Hôtel Particular Montmartre/Restaurant (Chef: Thibaut Spiwack)

www.hotel-particulier-montmartre.com

 

Paris Rankings among 2015 the World’s 50 Best restaurants:

L’Arpege(no. 12) www.alain-passard.com

Le Chateaubriand (no. 21)www.theworlds50best.com/list/1-50-winners/Le-Chateaubriand

L’ Astrance (no. 36)www.theworlds50best.com/list/1-50-winners/LAstrance

Alain Ducasse du Plaza Athenee (no. 47)www.alain-ducasse.com/en/restaurant/alain-ducasse-au-plaza-athenee

 

Versailles Castle

Versailles Castle

Day Excursions

There is plenty to keep you occupied in Paris alone.  However, if you are fond of taking day trips, go for the following:

Giverny and Versailles Castle

 You visit the house of Claude Monet, the founder of Impressionism, and discover the wonderful garden created by the Impressionist painter, with its flower-lined paths, ponds and famous Japanese bridge.  Next your tour takes you to the Château de Versailles. 

Burgundy (Bourgogne – Vézelay – Bazoches - Chablis)

Start your day with a visit to the Château de Bazoches, built in the 12th century.  The morning continues with views of the Morvan scenery, including the Vézelay hill.  Visit Vézelay and its basilica for history and art.  In the afternoon, discover Chablis and the Colline des Grands Crus (hill of great wines) opposite the village.  Take in the wine cellar of Laroche and end the day with a wine tasting.

Loire Valley Castles

Enjoy a wonderful day in the Loire Valley, stopping off at three of the many castles (chateaux): Chateaux Chambord, Cheverny and Chenonceau.  Witness the glamour and grandeur of French royalty and aristocracy, and gain insights in these Renaissance riverside castles.

Bruges

During your stay in Paris, take the opportunity to discover the capital of West Flanders in northwest Belgium. Once you’re at this picturesque medieval town with cobbled lanes and famous canals, you’ll understand why the city is known as the “Little Venice of the North”.

Apartment rental

While I have not used the rental service provided by Airbnb, many travel bloggers and travel writers I know have done so with success. If you are flexible with your travel dates, open to rent directly from individuals, or stay with local hosts in Paris, visit www.airbnb.com

French Language

Here’s my take on it—French is a tough language to learn but none of the locals expect English-speaking visitors to speak fluent French or have the perfect pronunciation.  However, learn some basics ahead before your trip (I hired a French teacher to give me a few mini lessons). Learning to say some common phrases in restaurants, stores, smaller retailers and metro stations really goes a long way (many of these employees outside the major tourist stops or Central Paris do not speak English at all). The French really appreciate the effort.  I actually ended up getting a lot of smiles and compliments for my amusing French. 

And that’s a wrap.  I know I will return to Paris for more epicurean delights. For my next visit, I will definitely add shoe shopping to the agenda.

Au revoir et à bientôt Paris. Merci pour ces merveilleux souvenirs qui resteront graves dans ma mémoire pour les années à venir.

(Good bye for now, Paris.  Thank you for the wonderful memories that will last me for many years to come!)

_____________________________________________________________________________________

There are many other great ways to see France. Would you ever consider taking a bistro biking tour, a cooking tour, a private-guided tour, or an enchanting River Cruise for itineraries include Burgundy & Provence, Paris & Normandy, Bordeaux, Vineyards & Chateaux.

Please feel free to drop us a line at info@redlettergetaways.com, we will be delighted to provide you with a few ideas to plan your next getaway.

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How small plate dining and big ethnic flavors are transforming gourmet Paris (Part I)

Jardin des Tuileries

Jardin des Tuileries

 I ended my last blog on Avignon and Provence with “who can ever have too much of Paris?” Having now returned to Paris, exploring different areas and pockets throughout the city, I continue my reflections on a city that loves food and is gradually embracing more diversity in its cooking.

As I sit here at the Jardin des Tuileries (Tuileries Garden) watching the ducks swimming around and soaking up the sun, I’m thinking, how do I want to sum up my travel experience in Paris? After a few visits to this romantic city, what other places do I want to discover? Where do I start?  What can I talk about that hasn’t already been written or discussed too often?  And how would I want to do things differently another time? Oh, we are still talking about food here, right? Those were the questions I have for myself.

View from my Paris flat in 1 st Arrondissement (Palais-Royal/Vendome/Saint-Honore)

View from my Paris flat in 1 st Arrondissement (Palais-Royal/Vendome/Saint-Honore)

Vivre comme un pariesan (Living like a Parisian)

It’s hard to get a different perspective or gain insight into another culture without experiencing what it is really like to live, day-by-day, in that culture.  So instead of being a bit too pampered at a nice, fancy hotel, I decided to reach out to a couple of my contacts in Montreal and Lyon so I could arrange a stay in their apartments, located in central Paris.  For a short while, I’d be living like a Parisian in an historical art deco apartment building, able to explore different local neighborhoods, ride the Metro or get around on foot, shop at the best local farmers’ markets and cheese shops, and cook and enjoy local fresh ingredients.

I don’t claim to be an expert—eating and food shopping as a foreigner in gourmet Paris. But in order to fully research my piece, my goal was to cover a lot of ground by visiting as many places in different areas as possible, and then share my delightful epicurean discoveries.

Everyday food in Paris

We all know the French eat well—period. (I spoke previously about why I visited Lyon, being a huge fan of French cuisine and someone who enjoys eating, gourmet cooking and organizing culinary trips for other food and wine lovers.) One of my delights in Paris was knowing that without deliberately looking for a specialty food store, I could always walk into any average patisserie or general food shop and pick up fresh baked goods, exquisite pastries, decent quality cheese, smoked salmon, even escargots.  And when I did make a special trip to the gourmet epicurean shop, the quality of just basic food, including local produce, was simply overwhelming: butter, crème fraîche, French-style ham and cold cuts, specialty cheeses, croissants, strawberries, asparagus, assorted mushrooms, tomatoes, zucchinis and brioche (okay, maybe not so basic!).

As a diehard gourmand, the gastronomy experience truly doesn’t get more satisfying than that!  And who can overlook the wide assortment of quality French wines at such reasonable prices? I sure wish I could walk to my corner store in my neighborhood and pick up a decent bottle of Rosé anytime I want.  I even found a good selection of my favorite Angelina specialty chocolates and cookies in a store on the very street where I was staying.  It saved me from having to pick up some last minute souvenirs at the famous Angelina Paris tearoom in the Louvre/Vendome area, during my final crunch time before my plane left.

Clamato - 80 rue de Charonne

Clamato - 80 rue de Charonne

Culinary diversity and small plate dining

It’s ironic. When in North America, I’m always looking for good quality, authentic French places to eat; now I am in Paris again, and I’m looking for some eclectic, diverse places to explore that stretch beyond my beloved gastronomic French culinary experience.

The French enjoy dining out—restaurants are always packed. But while Paris has plenty to offer when it comes to food, I do feel through my various visits that their cuisine in eclectic and diverse eating somewhat falls short. Diverse dining options of different cultures definitely exist but in terms of the authentic flavors, quality and creativity, Paris is lacking when compared to other major cities, i.e. New York, Toronto, San Francisco, Vancouver, Melbourne and London. I was particularly disappointed in the lack of quality Asian/fusion cuisine.  While it is pretty hard to beat cities like San Francisco, Vancouver and Toronto, I did take note of a handful of very exceptional Japanese restaurants throughout Paris.

The small portion, tapas-style, shared food concept is springing up around the globe.  It’s a new favorite way for many to eat, with smaller portions but a greater variety.  For me, this trend in the food scene is nothing new. One of my all-time favorite food is dim sum, which has been around for centuries.  More recently, world-renowned Spanish tapas have become a new gourmet sensation, and in doing so, hugely influencing the concept of small plates dining.  The introduction of the Japanese izakaya and robata, Portuguese tapas, Mexican tapas, Italian small bites and a relatively new player to scene, Hungarian tapas treats, all focus on the same idea.

Many years ago, I took a friend from Argentina to an upscale Chinese dim sum restaurant for lunch. When I was placing an order for eight steamed baskets just for the two, she questioned what I was thinking. I said to Diana, “You are my guest and I want to introduce to you a dim sum feast! Just enjoy, if we have leftovers, we’ll have a doggy bag meal!”  Not forgetting when it was my turn to visit her country, I was also served a feast—the concept in Argentina being a very big piece of barbecued meat with potato or fries. Yes, it’s a very different culture and that’s why eating and food travel have become a celebration of cultural diversity.

Le 1 Place Vendome

Le 1 Place Vendome

Fine dining is alive and well in France

Recently I’ve read various articles published in several cities about whether or not fine dining is dying or dead. Personally, I do not think fine dining is dead—far from it. But some cities definitely go through phases.

In Paris and the rest of France, there are many upscale restaurants with good linens, beautiful china, silverware and crystal, all demonstrating that the fine dining business is successful and going strong. Personally, I still very much like traditional dining, including the whole process of getting dressed up, sitting in a beautiful, elegant dining room in a formal setting for several hours while enjoying the ambience and a quiet conversation with your dinner companion(s). In that respect, I think I am still old school. My recent dining experience at Paul Bocuse L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges in Lyon, proves that when you make the right choice, fine dining is always memorable and very much alive. I had to make my reservation weeks ahead of my trip and the restaurant filled up fast!

The bottom line—the dining scene is always evolving but quality food is quality food.  As the ethnic food scene continues to be a huge movement in cities around the world, ethnic diversity is influencing Paris’ culinary experience—but slowly!

So instead of presenting you with a list of best restaurants in Paris, I thought it would be more enticing to visit some of the fun, casual, trendy and up-and-coming eateries. I also wanted to shop at different gourmet food shops, specialty shops, and outdoor and indoor markets.  To be honest, I was just excited about spending more time exploring the city while I carry on indulging myself with epicurean delights!

Spectacular Tall Ship Sailing with Star Clippers

Time to write my long overdue blog post about my sailing experience with Star Clippers! It is such a delightful travel memory, filled with wonderful anecdotes and many travel moments.

I have always loved the ocean. It could be because I was born under the water sign, Aquarius; or perhaps I’m just another cruise fanatic—one who loves the idea of packing and unpacking once, waking up each morning in a different port, enjoying the calming effects of being surrounded by the ocean, and the romance of travelling on a beautiful ship, propelled by the wind!

A completely different kind of cruise aboard a tall ship

By trade, I am a Cruise Specialist. Because I’ve been in this business many years, my clients often ask whether I prefer to cruise on a smaller vessel, a medium-size or large ship. My response—I like to cruise on different ships for different reasons, but have to say, the experience of cruising on a ship like the Royal Clipper—the largest and only five-masted full-rigged sailing ship in the world—is something truly spectacular. The company that operates these cruises, Star Clippers, offers an authentic spirit of sailing. Star Clippers’ ships can sail under wind power—something many do not realize—so guests truly experience what it is really like to sail in a tall ship.

The experience is completely different than cruising on a conventional cruise ship or riverboat, starting from the moment you arrive at the dock. First, boarding is quick and painless with Star Clippers. You don’t have to walk through a large cruiseship terminal; there’s no line-up, long walk or escalator rides. After an initial “rapid” check-in (just filling out a consent form and dropping off luggage), there it was—right before my eyes when I walked toward to the pier—a stunning tall ship, docked handsomely in the port of Barbados. As I approached the ship, I couldn’t help myself; I must have snapped at least a dozen photos before I even boarded. It was definitely love at first sight!

As soon as I stepped off the gangway and onto the main deck, I instantly felt the genuine, friendly and warm welcome by all the ship officers and crew. Sipping on my tropical punch (handed to me as a welcome), I was cordially guided from the tropical bar to the piano bar area to complete the embarkation process—another form with personal contact data, consent to health and safety, and payment information (note, the currency used to settle your account is in Euros.) With my room key now in hand and a very pleasant steward to escort me to my cabin, I again observed how the process was so relaxing and fast.

The Royal Clipper is truly dazzling, both exterior and interior. Even though I’d looked countless time at online photos prior to my adventure, I was still amazed by the spaciousness of the cabin, and how it was so well appointed and tastefully decorated. For some reason, I had imagined that the amenities on a tall ship would be more casual, similar to a yacht. On the Royal Clipper, however, there are 14 deluxe suites and two 355-square-feet Owner’s Suites.

Sailing with Star Clippers: easy, relaxed with no fuss

On Embarkation Day and on the morning of day two, all guests must attend two mandatory meetings on the main deck. The Cruise Manager explains in three different languages about personal health and safety, and the general rules around the ship. Although both meetings were longer than some of the guests expected, I appreciated how this cruiseline takes boat drills so seriously, and makes sure that guests are aware of the importance of health and safety rules onboard. (Nobody wants to see the Costa Concordia tragedy repeat itself).

Day two’s meeting, however, wasn’t all about maritime business. During the second half, the captain and his officers, the sports team, purser and crew provide a lively and entertaining presentation.  And it didn’t take place on a formal night in a theatre, like you find on a typical cruise ship. On the Clippers, there is no formal night or dress code; “resort casual attire” is perfect.

The Cruise Manager and her high-energy sports team run the daily program and activities, both on and off the ship. They are responsible for morning fitness; water sport activities (taking place either on the ship’s marine platform or on the beach in the port of call); mast climbing (always popular); and all shipboard evening entertainment. They also are responsible for getting guests to participate.

The sports team is comprised of 3 members, all from Sweden in their early twenties, and a fourth member who splits her time between deck and sport duties. They were all always courteous, humorous, and hard-working. Of course, I could always relate to them, having worked on cruise ships myself. I had the pleasure of spending time with them on several occasions, talking and dining. (It also made me feel very young at heart!)

The very capable Cruise Manager is also in charge of processing our shore excursion reservations, as there is no Shore Excursion Manager on board. She made herself available during desk hours to answer all questions about the tours. There are binders on the travel desk for guests to read before signing up. They contain detailed tour descriptions covering the entire voyage. The small group tours I enjoyed on each island were extremely well coordinated by the ship, and local operators were contracted.

Tendering to shore at small ports, rain or shine!

There is another big draw for cruising on the Royal Clipper, which makes the experience unique from cruising on a conventional cruise ship (this also applies to the Star Clipper and Star Flyer, two smaller ships, identical twins of each other). These ships all take you to the lesser-known Caribbean ports: Windward Islands and Grenadine Islands (in fact, the larger cruise ship cannot get to these ports). Visits are accommodated through tender service (where a small boat takes you to shore), because the ship must be anchored off the ports. Tendering is fun on its own, but it also allows guests to snap more shots of the beautiful ship from the tender (boat).

I can still remember a day of heavy rain. The Royal Clipper was anchored off St. George in Grenada, and everybody got completely soaked on the tender. Luckily, my new English acquaintances from Manchester, in Great Britain, lent me an extra souvenir raincoat they’d purchased when touring Niagara Falls and took a ride on the Maiden of the Mist. We were laughing so hard on the tender, making fun of how unattractive we looked in these ridiculous plastic bag raincoats. We were so caught up in that moment, when suddenly, everyone on the tender just started laughing with us.The heavy downpour did not dampen our mood. After we got off the boat, we walked up to Fort George above the main town of St. George. As the rain let up, what a beautiful view of that town!

Another highlight of cruising with Star Clippers is the experience of the working sails. Guests can observe the whole motion of the sails going up and coming down, ropes spinning and unspooling, and the deck crew and sailors hard at work cranking and pulling at the cords upon arrival and departure at each port.  Guests have the opportunity to help with the ropes or take the helm. Another special treat is climbing the mast, made of ropes and cables (with a safety harness). When you reach one of the passenger crows-nest lookouts, you get an unforgettable panoramic view of the horizon.

Dining and “wine-ing” about the Royal Clipper

I would not be an epicurean if I do not comment on the cuisine on board. The food was as good as the atmosphere throughout my two cruises. Both quality and presentation are comparable to most cruiselines, and better than some. I thought lunch, in particular, really stood out. There was a different lunch theme every day, presented with an assorted selection of meat, seafood, salads and vegetables, cheese and charcuterie. The meat and seafood are prepared with the right amount of sauce, perfectly seasoned, and the texture always tender.

The dining room operates an open seating system. Here I noted that service was incredibly efficient and attentive. The soups and appetizers served at dinner were always my favorite. The wine selection was broad and the prices very reasonable; only the cocktails were pricey. A glass of house wine is about $3 -4 Euros (approximately $3.50-$4.50 in US dollars). I also observed that the hotel manager was at the restaurant every evening, supporting the restaurant manager during the dinner rush. He greeted guests and seated them at the tables with other friendly guests. (This is something else you rarely see on a larger cruiseship).

When my first cruise was approaching the end, the hotel manager was incredibly generous with his time and gave our group a tour of all the cabins and suites (at least the ones which were not occupied). We also received a special ship tour and luncheon on the sister ship, Star Clipper, when both Clippers met in Dominica. 

During the Caribbean season, cruisers are mostly British, Europeans, and American, with a small number of Canadians. Many fellow guests were loyal cruisers to the Star Clippers.  It’s so easy to make friends and mingle with other people on a smaller ship. I am still keeping in touch with my British friends, a couple from Florida, and a few crew members. My table mates commented on how social I was with the fellow guests and the crew—they figured I had talked to and met everyone on the ship!

I must confess, after many years of visiting the Caribbean Islands on many cruises, I had once vowed never to take another Caribbean cruise again. I should give myself a slap on the wrist now for breaking my own vow; but honestly, there is simply no better way to see the Caribbean than cruising with Star Clippers.

New Clipper set to sail in 2017

I cannot wait to take another great sailing adventure when a brand new Clipper is launched in 2017. It will have the capacity of 300 guests. (Royal Clipper has a capacity of 227, Star Clipper and Star Flyer 170 guests each). For the first time since 2010, the Star Clipper will home port out of Phuket, Thailand. The 7-night round trip from December 2016 to April 2017 includes Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. How marvelous to be sailing in South East Asia!

For the Mediterranean Sailings in 2016, new itineraries include ports in some of the smallest Greek Islands; Notteri in Sardina; Trapani, Porto Empedolce in Sicily; Lerici on the Tuscan coast; Bastia in Corsica; Rabac on the Istrian Peninsula; the island of Cres in Croatia; and Roquetas de Mar in Spain. I don’t think I have heard of some of these ports!

From the time I arranged my first group booking—cruising with a group of travel professionals and sailing solo—my sailing cruise experience on the Royal Clipper and my association with Star Clippers has been extraordinary.

For more information on sailings for solo, groups and charters, please email your inquiries to info@redlettergetaways.com

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Today's Growing Health and Wellness Travel Experience

A vacation in a beautiful, often exotic setting wrapped up with all the benefits of a health and wellness-geared getaway is quickly becoming the perfect travel combination. Each day, vacationers feel both relaxed andfull of life, choosing physical fitness options from mountain biking to kayaking, healthy gourmet meals and stress calming amenities such as spa services and yoga.

Health, wellness and fitness travel growing in popularity

Wellness travel or “wellness tourism” may have started with spa services but has expanded way beyond just a relaxing massage. Travellers whether on vacation or business don’t just want to believe they are on a wellness vacation—they want to experience it. Many are looking to stay fit while away from home, or jumpstart a fitness or wellness program on vacation. A full health and wellness experience covers all aspects of fitness and health: nutritious meal options, specialized spa services,numerous workout and sports choices.

Market researchers tell us that the global market size of the wellness travel industry is growing faster than travel in general. Its value is expected to reach $678.5 billion in 2017 (compared with $438.6 billion in 2012) and wellness travel is all the talk in the travel industry. A panel of experts at the annual International Travel Mart in Cannes, France, predicted that by 2040, 90 percent of luxury tourism will include some aspect of health and wellness.

What to expect in wellness travel trends

The growth in wellness travel is not surprising given the age and wealth of health-conscious, active baby boomers looking for a vacation that integrates their daily healthy routine with traditional aspects of travel. But baby boomers aren’t the only ones who want to combine travel and health. The market for family as well as health-minded business travellers is also expected to continue to grow.

Tourism professionals are responding to the growing demand by adding innovative wellness and fitness features to vacation packages. Men seem to prefer the emphasis on fitness through sports and working out; women are looking for health, diet and relaxation options. In the months ahead, expect to see more choices such as vegetarian and vegan meal plans, a wider range of spa and fitness services, yoga vacations and an emphasis on popular activities such as hiking, cycling, paddle boarding and kayaking. Some are even promoting specialized detox, weightloss,mindful mediation and sugar free holidays!

We’ve always known that a yearly vacation is invaluable because of benefits that lower stress levels as well as improve cardiovascular health. With the emergence of health and wellness travel, travel today just keeps getting better —and now, even healthier.

 

 

Culinary & Wine Cruises 2014

  1. Top Chef at Sea: Europe                       09/19/2014          12 days    Celebrity Cruises                 Celebrity Cruises is excited to announce their partnership with Bravo and their Emmy Award winning television show—Top Chef. It’s a match made in... well, the kitchen—and the results of pairing culinary expertise with their culinary savoir faire are simply mouthwatering.  On board, your chefs will give demonstrations, lead private cooking classes, join you for special dinners in one of our specialty restaurants, participate with you in Quickfire Challenges, and be featured in the main restaurant during Top Chef Night, where they’ll hobnob with you and your fellow guests as you enjoy dishes that carry their seal of approval.
  2. Top Chef at Sea: Caribbean                   11/15/2014           7 days     Celebrity Cruises                             To create the Top Chef At Sea program, Top-Chef -inspired activities and flavors into an already extensive culinary experience. Step aboard and be wowed with Quickfire Challenges that put you in the spotlight where you’ll feel the pressure the chef’testants experience on the show. Plus, indulge in some of the dishes the judges raved about on the show at theTop Chef Night in the main restaurant, where we’ll feature a wide selection dishes, from appetizers to desserts, that were big hits on the show—all for your discerning palate. Rub shoulders with the chefs and sample some of their creations at special Meet & Eat gatherings (featuring hors d’oeuvres prepared from the chefs’ recipes). With as many as four chefs per sailing, you’ll have the opportunity to get the low-down on what it was like to be on the show and find out what they have in store next.
  3. Culinary and Wine Delights of Spain     11/15/2014           8 days      Windstar Cruises       
    Travel the south coast of Spain, exploring its rich culinary and wine traditions hosted by America’s most respected importers of fine Spanish wines, Stephen Metzler and Almudena de Llaguno, founders of Classical Wines. Involved with key players from their formative stages, Classical Wines is recognized as an international pioneer in the category – featuring a portfolio of the best wines of Spain such as Tinto Pesquera.
    Enjoy over 40 special themed events & activities.  Experts of Spanish wines, Stephen Metzler and Almudena de Llaguno and sommelier host two wine paired dinners and wine lectures.  Complimentary local wines served throughout the voyage.
    Complimentary daily pre-dinner wine tasting and tapas.
    Choice of two complimentary culinary and wine themed excursions. 
  4. Wine & Food Festival: MicroBrews        11/05/2014        14 days     Crystal Cruises                            Each Experiences of Discovery cruise includes complimentary cooking classes, demonstrations, beer tastings and mixology lessons, plus an optional seven-course dinner featuring local flavors and wine pairings selected by the guest wine expert.
    The microbrew-themed cruise will offer beer pairings instead of wine and craft beer sampling throughout the voyage.         
  5. Savories of the South                             12/06/2014          7 days     American Cruise Line         American Cruise Lines' culinary masters have created this delectable 7-night New Orleans river cruise to highlight the amazing flavors of the South, from Cajun to Creole. Featuring specially invited featured chefs, exclusive cooking demonstrations and tastings.
  6. French Culinary River Cruise - 2 Rivers  10/20/2014       16 days     Avalon Waterways                    Enter a food-lover's paradise in northern France. An expert chef will dazzle you with regional specialties and food preparation tips. There'll be cider and wine tastings, visits to a distillery and cheese farm—you'll even come away with easy-to-make recipes. Bon Appetit!
    This fantastic cruise vacation showcases France's breathtaking scenery, amazing history, and exciting variety. Your adventure begins on the stunning Côte d'Azur, then travel to Arles to board your ship and sail north up the scenic Rhône and Saône Rivers. Along the way, explore Arles, Avignon, delightful Viviers, medieval Tournon, charming Vienne, France's gastronomic capital of Lyon, as well as Mâcon, Tournus, Chalon-sur-Saône, and fascinating Beaune. In Paris, embark your second cruise ship and spend two overnights in Paris with sightseeing of some of the famous sights. Then begin your journey along the Seine River into the picturesque Normandy region. Choose between a guided excursion to Vincent van Gogh's Auvers-sur-Oise or Napoleon and Josephine's elegant Château de Malmaison. Next up: your choice of a guided visit of Claude Monet's stunning gardens at Giverny or magnificent Bizy Castle. On to Joan of Arc's historic Rouen, where you choose between an included excursion to Normandy's historic landing beaches or an interesting "Taste of Normandy." Continue to Les Andelys, home of dramatic Château Gaillard, with free time to explore on your own. Return to Paris for the conclusion of your magnifique cruise vacation.

           Please email your inquiries to info@redlettergetaways.com

Oceania Cruises - Sample Culinary Discovery Tours

On Oceania Culinary Discovery Tours, you will not only shop local markets with a master chef, but also taste the true flavours of a region in local homes and restaurants, learn techniques in local cooking classes and even prepare the recipies yourself in their Bon Appetit Culinary Center.

SAMPLE DISCOVERY TOURS

MONTE CARLO, MONACO

Local Market Visit & Lunch at Chateau Eza

Shop at an open-air market in Nice, sampling the freshest of ingredients.  Then drive to Eze, a medieval village perched on a craggy peak above the Mediterranean and dine in understated luxury at the Michelin-starred restaurant of Chateau Eza. Later, learn the secrets of healthy Mediterranean cooking using the fish and produce collected at the market.

PROVENCE, FRANCE

The Exquisite Flavors of Provence

Visit a wonderfully vibrant fish market in Marseille's Old Town, then drive to Chateau de Fontblanche and watch their famous chef prepare traditional Provencal dishes such as olive tapenade on toast, fish soup, herbed aubergines, and succulent Gigotine Chicken.  Sample the dishes and the estate's own wines.  Back onboard, master such regional favorites as ratatouille, tapenade, pissaladerie, salad nicoise and fruit tart.

VENICE, ITALY

Market Tour, Cooking & Chocolate Demos

Take a cruise along the canals of Venice to the famed Rialto Market.  Browse through stalls filled with garden-fresh vegetables, fruits and seafood and enjoy a meal prepared by a local chef.  For dessert, sample Venetian chocolate by a master chocolatier.  After your tour, you'll rejoin your group in Culinary Center to learn to make regional dishes using ingredients selected at the market.

Experience incomparable value onboard elegant mid-size ships. 2 for 1 Cruise Fares plus Free airfare (from selected gateways) and early booking savings.  Contact us for more information on the best 10-day European voyages at info@redlettergetaways.com

River Cruise vs. Ocean Cruises

I am often asked to explain the difference between a cruise on an ocean (ocean cruising) and a cruise along one of the great rivers of the world (river cruising).  In fact, I have given several presentations on river cruising and why it has grown  in popularity over the past few years. To be sure, more and more travelers have discovered that both kinds of voyages are an excellent alternative to traditional land-based tours. But those who have typically enjoyed a cruise on much larger, ocean cruise ships are now turning to river cruises to add another dimension to their travel experience. As operators of both river and ocean cruises continue to expand their itineraries and fleets, it’s well worth checking out the differences and how to prepare for either, or both!

I came across Wendy Perrin's article in 2012 and have used it as a hand-out for my presentations.  It provides helpful river vs. ocean cruise travel tips for many curious travelers, both first time River Cruisers and seasoned Ocean Cruisers who are contemplating taking their first River Cruise. 

http://www.cntraveler.com/perrin-post/2012/07/river-cruise-vs-ocean-cruises-travel-tips

 

 

The buds are swelling, sun shining, floods subsiding…

Time to get dirty —gardening!

It’s time to get those fingernails dirty and break out your gardening tools! After a long, cold winter, novice and expert gardenersalike are eager to get outside to start digging, planting and watching things grow. This April could be the start of an especially satisfying — or challenging — spring (gardening weather-watchers say is about three weeks late this year).

Whether you’re growing flowers, fruit or vegetables, focus on simple, easy to do tasks that use up all that eager energy you’ve bottled up through the winter.

Top Priority Garden tasks for April

Spray before buds break: This may seem silly to some – but early spring is the best time to rid your trees of any problematic issues from last year. Spray before their buds break - especially fruit trees. The most basic spray is a “dormant” or horticultural oil spray combined with a fungicide such as lime sulfur or copper. There are organic and non-organic options available at any nursery.

Pruning: Before trees go into “full on growth mode” – nip annoying branches that just don’t look right, or have been damaged or nibbled on by our native creatures. Trimming back fruit trees helps increase fruit production.

Preparing to plant for May

Soil preparation: Spring is the time to add much needed compost. Work it into your soil to get your gardens ready for planting once the ground has thawed.

Heavy clay soils? Gypsum (calcium and sulphur) loosens heavy soils and improves drainage. If you need to adjust the pH so soil is more acidic – especially to grow blueberry – do so now! Ammonium sulfate and sulfur-coated urea work nicely for this. If you have the opposite problem – and need raise the soil pH – lime works best (calcium carbonate). Don’t worry if you can’t remember the fancy chemical names. All nurseries carry products labeled for “acid” or “alkaline” enhancement.

Weed control: Whatever your method, attack those tricky suckers sooner than later. Your best defense is good defense, using products like Roundup, corn gluten, organic Weed Impede, or crabgrass preventer.

Mulch is your best friend: Spread it around plants to stop weeds before they put down roots. Besides keeping weed growth (and weed-pulling) to a minimum, mulch keeps soil moist in annual, perennial and vegetable beds.

Hardy herbs:  Did your hardy herbs survive winter? Trim dead foliage of sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano and other cold-damaged herbs. Replant those that didn't make it.

Trees and shrubs:  If planting in the spring, make sure trees and shrubs get plenty of water during the first year of growth, especially as the weather gets warmer. Mulch around the roots and support fragile trunks.

When to plant in your hardiness zone

Bedding plants: Mid-May marks the official last-frost date in many parts of Canada and the USA.  It’s usually safe to set out warm-weather bedding plants and vegetable transplants after that, but keep an eye on the weather. After the long winter, this could be an unpredictable spring!

Frost free dates listed for all of Canada at http://www.almanac.com/content/frost-chart-canada Also pay attention to what grows in your “garden zone”. There are 13 zones in the USA and 8 in Canada. http://www.almanac.com/content/plant-hardiness-zones

Herbs: Parsley, sage, thyme, rosemary can be planted early in the month. Basil and dill are more tender herbs, so wait a bit longer to be sure the weather is warm enough. Some advise nighttime temperatures above 50°C.

Flower seeds: Pay attention to the back of seed packets for when to plant and whether the seeds can be placed directly into your garden or started indoors. Planting seeds and bulbs at the right time guarantees a big display of flowers by summer. Consider zinnias, sunflowers, cleome, cosmos, nasturtium, gladiolus, day lilies, and other favorites.

Vegetables and the 100 mile diet

Many vegetables can be started in April. Check out Canadian seed suppliers like Stokes http://www.stokeseeds.com or West Coast Organic Seeds. In the USA, you can’t go wrong with Johnny’s Selected Seeds http://www.johnnyseeds.com

Go ahead and start your peppers now! They take so long to grow that they can be started early. Plus, they don’t get too leggy and overbearing such as other plants (squashes and tomatoes, not to name names!)

Cole crops grow in colder weather! These are all members of the mustard family (cruciferae) and include cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and kale. They tolerate cooler temperatures and can be put outside sooner, especially if protected.

Potatoes, onions, garlic, asparagus roots and strawberry crowns. These can go in fairly early but with the amount of moisture still in our soil, I’m going to hold off for another week or two.

Growing your own vegetables can be fun and when people ask if you are following the 100-mile diet, you can reply, “I follow the no mile diet!”

 

 

Culinary Travel and Cruises

Culinary travel is one of the fastest growing segments in travel.  Ask anyone about their vacation and you are likely to hear about meals they enjoyed during their travels or the wonderful wine they discovered. People love to talk about food, but more importantly, they love the experience of dining and learning about what they eat and drink.  This is why culinary specialists like myself see the growing demand for travel that includes delicious food and wine itineraries.

Culinary cruises combine food and travel

In response to the growing interest in all things culinary, cruise lines play an important role.  Cruises provides their guests with the ultimate culinary experience by featuring celebrity chefs, wine lectures and food festival-themed cruises.  A culinary cruise is the perfect way to combine one's love for travel and fine food and create one incredible cruise experience.

For those with the love of cooking and dining, a big part of the cruise experience is the sampling of local dishes and wine tasting. Culinary Cruises offer these highlights and so much more. Often on a culinary cruise celebrity chefs demonstrate their techniques, share their menus and let you participate in the process.

Take a tour of a local market with a culinary expert!                                                            

Culinary cruises take immersion into a local destination to a new level.  Culinary theme sailings offer many special features for guests. You are provided with unique experiences, including exclusive shore excursions, private cocktail receptions, special dinners with master chefs and wine paring workshops.  Such delights all enhance your cruise experience.

Discover fascinating worlds of culture, adventure, history, art and cuisine through a diverse collection of shoreside experiences and distinctive onboard events.  The pleasures of luxury travel and fine dining are combined with unparalleled excellent aboard various award-winning cruise ships.