Thursday, September 30, 2010

Made for Eachother

Map of Burgundy, France

Pinot Noir Grapes on the Vine

Renowned Wine Producing Village in Burgundy

Wild Mushroom Pizza

Mushroom Risotto on Squash

The drop in temperatures, the changing colours and the increase in rainfall that come with fall bring not only wild mushrooms in their wake, but also cases of wine! Ahhhh wine release season, that wonderful time of year when stores are filled from floor to ceiling with beautiful wooden cases of delicious wine, all vying for a space in my shopping basket. I thought I would mark this momentous occaison by discussing one of my favourite fall wine pairings: Mushrooms and Pinot Noir!

Pinot Noir is a fussy and difficult grape to grow. It needs the right conditions and the appropriate care in the vineyard to really flourish, and when it does, you may not come across a better wine. Like Riesling, Pinot Noir has an incredible knack for taking on the flavours of the land in which it was grown. “Terroir” would be the term used by wine buffs. It's a French word, best translated as 'a sense of place'.

For wine drinkers that don't take wine talk too seriously, Pinot Noir is generally very easy to drink, light and fruity. Most New World Pinots are meant to be drunk young, while preimum Old World Pinots, such as Burgundy, have great ageing potential. Due to the fact that it is not the easiest grape to grow, low supply equates to a slightly higher price in comparison to the likes of Cabernet Sauvignon.

It's thin skins result in wines that are light in colour with a delicate medium body, low to medium levels of tannin, a silky texture and a lively acidity. Pinot Noir will typically display red berry fruits such as strawberry, cherry and raspberry. With age, Pinot Noir, especially those from Burgundy, develop more complex aromas and flavours of vegetal and animal nuances, earth, wet/decaying leaves, mushrooms and gamey-meaty aromas (not the most enticing notes, but it does express the earthiness aroma best).

For French Pinot Noir, the classic region is Burgundy (Bourgogne), where some of the best reds in the world can be found. The Cote de Nuits, which together with the Cote de Beaune are known as the Cote d'Or, or “Golden Slopes”, is the home of the great red Burgundies and the vast majority of Grands and Premiers Crus (aka Creme de la Creme). Here too, are some of Burgundy's most famous villages such as Gevrey-Chambertin and Vosne-Romanee. Any wine from this region will be expensive but all should be of good quality. The wines from each village area have their own character, for example: sturdy, tannic and long-lived from around Nuits-St-Georges, aristocratic, rich and complex from Vosne-Romanee.

Further south, the Cote de Beaune is most famous for its whites, but there are very good reliable, sturdy Pinot Noirs. They might lack the finesse of the best Cote de Nuits, but they are also a little cheaper. Corton is the only red Grand Cru of the Cote de Beaune, whilst Pommard is probably the most widely known red of the region, made just south of the city of Beaune.

Some of the best New World Pinots are now being made in New Zealand which tends to be fuller in body with lower acidity and more intense fruit flavours. Other great producing Pinot regions include Oregon and the cooler climate appellations of California.

So why is this silky delicate wine such an ideal match for mushrooms? Well to begin with, mushrooms represent a food category that needs its own pairing chart. On the one side they don't really taste like vegetables and on the other, they aren't even close to meats. Edible forest mushrooms are one of the best delicacies available. Remember Cepes, trumpets and truffles from my last post? They posses very delicate complex flavours so you need a wine that complements them, and an earthy Pinot Noir is possibly the best wine you can have with any mushroom dish. One important thing to remember, is that mushrooms generally have a light bitter flavour, therefore it is often advised to stay away from very tannic reds which will create an unpleasant taste and overwhelm these delicate delicacies.

Below is a list of a few dishes I plan on making with my tasty forest mushrooms, all fabulous with Pinot Noir. However, this is not a rule, as many other wines can be recommended depending on the cooking method (i.e. Roasted, sauteed, sauces and spices used, etc). If Pinot Noir isn't you're thing, I've also listed a couple other wines that would also be a great compliment.

Baked Mushroom Tortellini: You can mirror the creamy texture with a like-meets-like pairing of a fine White Burgundy or an Oak-Aged Chardonnay.

Mushroom Risotto: Would also work well with an aged Italian red such as Barolo.

Wild Mushroom Pizza with Truffle Oil: Sangiovese and Sangiovese blends such as a Chianti Classico.

Stuffed Mushrooms: Could work with a more robust red such as Zinfandel.

Mushroom Quiche: Perhaps a White Burgundy or Pinot Blanc.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

La Folie de Champignons!




Autumn is here and it's the season for one of France's favourite rural pastimes; the seeking out, buying, selling, cooking and eating of mushrooms! At this time of year the markets are populated by mushroom merchants displaying a breathtaking variety of freshly picked, dirt-covered fungi.

Mushroom hunting is more than just a mere hobby here in France. The counrty is equipped with an army of part-time foragers who fan out through the country's forests from the end of August until the frosts of November, filling markets across France with humid mounds of chunky white pieds de mouton, or sheep’s feet; pieds bleu (blue feet – an elegant fungus with a blue stem and a smooth creamy gray cap), golden girolles (chanterelles); black trumpets of death (a chanterelle relative which is coal black); and cèpes (known in Italy as porcini), the beefy brown toadstools that are the royalty of wild mushrooms.

Of course, that famous queen of the mushrooms--the truffle (black in the case of France) tops off the season in late autumn and early winter. With its rough skin that must be peeled, gnarly form, hard, crisp texture, and that famously powerful but ephemeral perfume, the truffle for me is more of a precious seasoning than a real mushroom. They are primarily found in the Périgord and are incredibly sought after. They will also cost you big time! Anything from €200-600 a kilo!

Generally these gustatory delights are found in woodlands and forests, particularly around around oak and chestnut trees. Knowledge of where and how to find mushrooms are passed down from generation to generation. It's 'all for one and one for all' during this time of year, with everyone's well known haunts clutched ever so tightly to their chest.

It is a remarkable feat, given the quantities of autumnal fricassees, mushroom-spiked omelets and fungus-flavored sauces that the French consume, using hundreds of tons of wild mushrooms a year. Their sheer quantity is mind-boggling. Judging what I've seen so far in the markets and grocery stores, it takes a lot of mushrooms to satisfy the seasonal gluttony of the fungophilic French. And just how are accidental poisonings averted, the Canadian girl is sure to ask?

This being France, there's a bureaucracy in place for that very purpose: a network of official inspectors. But any old humble amateur mushroom hunter in France can be assured of never biting down on a poisonous fungus. All you need to do is take your basket of booty into the nearest pharmacy (there are approximately 3 pharmacies per block). All pharmacists are required to study mushroom taxonomy as part of their formal training, and will helpfully--and for free--identify your finds, often with the aid of an instructive, official chart picturing the poisonous species for the edification of the fungus-drunk public.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Travel Packing: The Shoe and Bag Rule

To lose your prejudices you must travel.
-Marlene Dietrich

(But more importantly, it will also give you the opportunity to loiter around airports looking fabulous while elegantly lounging atop your luggage)

My recent personal travel experiences have led me to believe that packing successfully for a trip is essential. Although many packing oversights can be remedied through shopping, sometimes you need to conserve those euros/pennis/pesos/shekels for things like train fare and lunch. So learning to pack effectively is a valuable skill to cultivate.

Now packing for a six month jungle trek through the rainforests of Thailand and packing for a three week sojourn in Paris are going to be diferent experiences, obviously. But there are some basic rules I have recently learned to keep in mind as I'm chucking shoes and undies into my rolly bag, no matter where my journey may take me.

1.Choose a single colour palatte: I first decide if my base colour for the trip will be black or brown. I'm generally a brown girl. After many years of experimenting and dreaming of being a cool wearer of black, I know this works best for my colouring. From here, everything must be in that colour family, or an accent for that family. If all your items are interchangeable, you'll be able to pull together outfits quickly and easily no matter what's already dirty. It also makes the packing quicker for me, and makes choosing outfits while travelling easier too. This doesn't mean you can't take a bit of the other, it just means that it all must flow together. As a matter of fact, one of my favourite colour combinations is black and brown/tan/beige. Throw in some red, grey or white accents and you're good to go. Trust me, this will simplify everything and define your colour scheme for the trip. Also, it will cause you whole wardrobe to work together instead of being a big salad of things that don't make sense. Forget linen, forget tulle, forget hats (unless you wear them on the plane) and forget anything that “may come in handy” because it never will.

2.Pack mostly separates, but at least one dress: One of the lessons I learned a long time ago is that dresses are slimming, pack very easily and are multi-purpose. Wear flats with a sundress and you can walk anywhere and generally look nicer than anyone in shorts or jeans. A flattering dress can be paired with a pair of heels for nights on the town, but if its jersey or cotton it can easily transition to day with a pair of flats. Even if you have no fancy events planned, you just never know when a dress will come in handy.

3.Jeans are often the only long pants I bring, they are an item that is easily dressed up or down. Pack one pair of classics to wear with high heels at night and one pair of boyfriends. Jeans are a travel must regardless of destination.

4.Shoes, it's all about the shoes: Bring only one pair of heels. Unless you're going on a journey that exclusively involves charitable works, long hikes, and rural travels, you should be sure to include a single pair of dressy heels. BUT limit yourself to that single pair, and bring only flat shoes besides that (flat boots, mary janes, sneaks, ballet flats). Travel = walking. Again, they must go with the brown or black base colour, and they must have multiple outfits they go with.

5.Take a handbag, or two: On the topic of purses, I take a large tote that carrries everything. It's my carry on for the plane and holds my phone, essential toiletries for the flight, sunglasses, passport, journal, lipstick, perfume, wallet, Vogue and ipod. I will also pack a clutch for going out at night. Note: the tote and clutch go with the brown or black theme too!

6.Always, always take a swimsuit. Some of the best travel advice I've ever received! Whether you're skiing in the Alps and want to use the hot tub afterwards, enjoying some waves at the beach, or you're at an incredible hotel with a rooftop pool, you'll regret not being able to join in on the fun.

7.If I need soemthing, I can purchase it on the road: I used to worry that I would't have EVERYTHING I could possibly want on a trip, but then I read the famous travel packing advice in Vanity Fair “lay all the clothes and money you're planning to take on your bed. Take half the clothes and twice the money”. It was the perfect advice for me, primarily because I usually didn't wear everything I'd brought on the trip, and because you usually can buy an inexpensive replacement for anything you might need on the road.

This list is simply a compilation of guidelines that work best for me, many of which I have gathered through personal experience (i.e. learning the hard way), friends and fashion magazines. Happy travels and all the best on your next adventure!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


View from our hotel.

Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe, Detail

Arc de Triomphe, Detail

Arc de Triomphe

Lunch: French Onion Soup. Oh So Good!

My brother getting his pose on at our hotel.

Heading out for dinner.

Area where we were staying.

The Louvre

Richard and I at The Louvre

Me at The Louvre

Winged Victory of Samothrace, 190 BC, Marble
Depicts the Greek goddess Nike (Victory). The sculpture was created to not only honor the goddess, but also to honor a sea battle. It conveys a sense of action and triumph as well as portraying artful flowing drapery through its features which the Greeks considered ideal beauty.

Winged Victory of Samothrace

Madonna of the Rocks, Leonardo Da Vinci, 1483-1486, Oil on Panel
Two versions of this painting exist, the one at the Louvre and one at the National Gallery in London. The paintings seem to draw on a legend of the meeting between the baby Jesus and John the Baptist on the flight into Egypt. According to the standard interpretation of the paintings, they depict the Madonna in the centre ushering John towards Jesus, who is seated with the angel Gabriel.

The Raft of the Medusa, Théodore Géricault, 1818-1819, Oil on Canvas
This work depicts a moment from the aftermath of the wreck of the French naval frigate Méduse, which ran aground off the coast of today's Mauritania on July 5, 1816. At least 147 people were set adrift on a hurriedly constructed raft; all but 15 died in the 13 days before their rescue, and those who survived endured starvation, dehydration, cannibalism and madness. The event became an international scandal, in part because its cause was widely attributed to the incompetence of the French captain acting under the authority of the recently restored French monarchy.

Liberty Leading the People, Eugène Delacroix, 1830, Oil on Canvas
This famous painting commemorates the July Revolution of 1830, which toppled Charles X. A woman personifying Liberty leads the people forward over the bodies of the fallen, holding the tricolore flag of the French Revolution in one hand and brandishing a bayonetted musket with the other. This is perhaps Delacroix's best-known painting, having carved its own niche in popular culture.

La Grande Odalisque, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, 1814, Oil on Canvas
Ingres transposed the theme of the mythological nude, whose long tradition went back to the Renaissance, to an imaginary Orient. This work, his most famous nude, was commissioned by Caroline Murrat, Napolean's sister and the queen of Naples. Here, Ingres painted a nude with long sinuous lines bearing little resemblance to anatomical reality. It depicts an odalisque, or concubine. This work attracted wide criticism when it was first shown for its lack of anatomical realism.

La Grande Odalisque, Detail

La Grande Odalisque, Detail

Hercules Battling the Hydra, Louvre
In Greek mythology, the Lernaean Hydra was an ancient serpent-like chthonic water beast that possessed numerous heads;the poets mention more heads than the vase-painters could paint and poisonous breath. The Hydra of Lerna was killed by Heracles as one of his The Twelve Labours.

View, Notre Dame in the background

Notre Dame

Stain Glass, Notre Dame

Saint Michel, Latin Quarter

Latin Quarter

Rue de Buci

L'Assemblee National

Storm coming

Les Invalides

Losers posing and taking pictures of themselves in front of the Eiffel Tower.

La Tour Eiffel!

La Tour Eiffel!

To quote the words of Cole Porter (as best sung by Ella Fitzgerald):

I love Paris in the springtime
I love Paris in the fall
I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles
I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles
I love Paris every moment of the year...

... and boy did it drizzle during our visit (my brother and I). Hmm, what is there to say about Paris that hasn't already been said? After my very first trip to the city on the Seine it certainly managed to surprise and enchant me.

Here are some of my favourite moments:
*Enjoying an afternoon cafe creme at a nearby cafe and watching all the beautiful parisians pass by.
*Seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time.
*The Louvre. Finally seeing so many of the beautiful works of art I studied in school. And yes, the line-up to get in IS worth it.
*Eating the most delicious ice cream with my brother in the Latin Quarter
*The stain glass inside the cathedral of Notre Dame
*Walking through the streets and different arrondissements and window shopping the mouthwatering fromage and wine shops, patisseries and boulangeries.
*Getting caught in a torrential downpour with my brother in front of Napolean's Tomb.
*Walking until my feet felt like they were going to fall off.
*The 'ah-ha' moment of realizing that in order to get to the Arc de Triomph, which was located in the middle of an eight car deep round-about of angry parisian drivers, you had to use the underground passage. I would have looked like the biggest tourist if I would have tried to make a run for it.

Shortly after we arrived home from Venice, Dennis and I were back on a plane – he was flying back to work (currently South Korea) and I was on my way to Paris for a days to meet up with my brother, Richard. I arrived in Paris a few hours ahead of him, so I decided to head for our hotel, The Residence Foch, to get checked in. The hotel was great, on a beautiful street in a good location. The staff were great, very helpful. Like all hotel rooms in Europe, ours was small. I didn't stay there long before I was out the door again to check out some of the sights, the Arc de Triomph (our hotel was only a few minutes away) and grab some lunch at a nearby cafe (very tasty bowl of french onion soup). Richard arrived shortly after I got back, we had a good visit about his trip so far and then we got ready and headed out for dinner.

The next day we were up early and out the door by 8:00am in order to try and see as much as we could in one day. We set out on foot and managed to hit a good number of major monuments: the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Latin Quarter, the Invalides and Napolean's Tomb, the Ecole Militaire, the Tour Eiffel and the Palais de Chaillot. It was a lot to pack into one day, the soles of my feet were ready to fall off by the end, but it was well worth it and we had such a fantastic time. I can't wait to do it all again in October when my mom comes to visit. Mom, bring good shoes! They should be comfortable but also stylish.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Venice with Dennis

Venice!! Doge's Palace on the Right.

St. Marks Square, Venice


Grand Canal, Venice

Grand Canal, Venice

Grand Canal, Venice

Venice Taxi, I Fell in Love With These Boats. The Drivers: Impeccably Dressed Italian Men

Gondola Driver, They All Wore Black and White Stripped Shirts

Italian Goodies

Market Day in Venice

Market Day in Venice

Sharply Dressed Italian Man, One of Many

The Restaurant Where We Had the Most Amazing Tortellini! To Die For!

Beautiful Venice, So Colourful

Dennis Throughly Enjoying A Fine Glass of Valpolicella and a Cigar

Me Rocking the New Shades

Part of Beautiful Bronze Monument

San Marco, Venice

The Horses of San Marco, Venice

Grand Canal, Venice

Enjoying a little Concerto in St. Marks Square

Venice, Night Snaps

Venice, Night Snaps

Restaurant Where we had Dinner with Dennis's Parents

Doge's Palace, Courtyard View

Entrance to the Interior of the Palace

Doge's Palace, Ornamental Bronze Well-Head, Courtyard

Doge's Palace, The Golden Staircase

Doge's Palace, The Golden Staircase, Detail

Best Pizza Ever!

Spent the most amazing 4 days in Venice at the beginning of September with the love of my life. Dennis's parents were leaving on a cruise from this wonderful floating city so we thought it was a great excuse to head down to see them off on their trip and to check out one of the most romantic cities I've ever been too.

We went to a fabulous little restaurant with them not too far from our hotel the first night we all arrived. It was a beautiful restaurant with delicious food. Both Dennis's parents ordered spaghetti while Dennis indulged in savoury lamb chops and some fabulous ravioli. We all shared a plate of cold meats to start. I ordered roasted bass with sundried tomoatoes and olives. They brought the entire fish out for me to see it before they cooked it, I guess to make sure it was to my liking. Talk about fresh! Then they roasted the whole thing and brought it back out to show me, it was still completely intacked, head, eyes, tail, scales and fins. Our waiter asked me if he could fillet it for me and I said absolutely! He did an amazing job because I don't remember coming across many bones, perhaps the two bottles of Chianti we had at dinner had somethign to do with that. It was fantastic. We topped the night off with a wander through St. Marks square and some gelato!

We did so much walking during our stay, through galleries, churches and palaces. Saint Mark's Square was certainly the most crowded and congested place in the city, loaded with visitors and tourists from all over the world. All of the major monuments had line ups had gigantic line-ups. However, once you ventured away from the very popular area there were far less crowds and people. It was fairly busy, lots of tourists, when we were there. The Venice film festival was also going on at the same time we were there, so that may have accounted for some of the people.

We braved the line-up for the Doge's Palace (Palazzo Ducale), which was worth the wait and certainly one of the highlights of the trip. It was spectacular. Opulence like you've never seen it before, inside and out. The Doge's Palace, was the seat of the government of Venice for centuries. As well as being the home of the Doge (the elected ruler of Venice) it was the venue for its law courts, its civil administration, its bureaucracy and its city jail.

The Doge sat on numerous of the committees and thus played a huge role in steering policy; the principle of rule for life was an attempt to establish stability, a mature check on the whims of temporarily elected officials … not unlike Britain’s House of Lords. But the Venetians were wary of the corruptions of lifetime rule and established a similarly complex system of checks on the Doge. All his mail was read first by the censor; all foreign dignitaries were received in committee rather than by the Doge alone.

Transgressions were taken seriously. The palace’s most impressive room, the Sala del Maggior Consiglio (the Hall of the Great Council), has a frieze of paintings of the first 76 doges … with the exception of Marino Faliero (or Marin Falier). The 55th doge was appointed on 11 September 1354 and by 1355 was plotting a coup, after which he would declare himself prince. Perversely this was fired by a hatred for the nobility, and more plausibly by his senility (he was already in his seventies). The hapless Falier pleaded guilty, was beheaded, mutilated and condemned to Damnatio Memoriae, whereby all traces of a person would be expunged from history or memory. His place on the wall of paintings is empty, covered by a black veil.

My favourite part of the whole trip was just being able to wander through all the little streets and admire the shops filled from floor to ceiling with venetian glass, costumes and masks. During our meandering we always found time to stop for a slice of the most delicious pizza and a glass of wine. All the restaurants we went to and food we tried were all amazing, so simple but oh so good. Just a side note, the clothing stores in Venice are absolutely amazing!!!!!

We had thought about taking a gondola ride on our last day but it was 100 euros for a 40 minute ride. We figured we didn't need a gondola ride that badly. We found that the best and cheapest way to get around was to buy a 3 day pass for the vaporetto, which is basically like a floating subway and gives you unlimited riding capabilities up and down the Grand Canal and to the nearby islands, such as Murano where we ferried over to one afternoon – world famous for their glasswork.

Dennis decided to celebrate my birthday a little early this year, since he wasn't going to be here for the actual day. He spoiled me rotten – the biggest badest pair of Chopard sunglasses and the most beautiful pair of black Prada riding boots. Yes, they are the same one's I wrote about earlier in my blog. They are amazing. And they match the sunglasses! Dennis, my darling, I love you!

We had such a fantastic trip. I had been told many times that it stinks like sewer, this is not the case!!! Venice is a truely beautiful, romantic, and colourful place – the boats, buildings, people, food and gondolas! A 'must see' destination.