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Author Archives: nina in the kitchen

Paris in Montmartre ‘n More

The very end of our 9 week trip we spent 9 nights in a large apartment in Montmartre close to Sacre Coeur. Our 3 daughters and 2 son in laws joined us. This was the beginning of May 2018 and the weather was mostly sunny!

Across the street from where the composer Erik Satié once lived we had a large modern apartment of two levels located also across from the Museum of Montmartre. The photos above were our neighborhood!

The Montmartre Museum was once home to many artists including Renoir. It’s two buildings with courtyards and gardens combined together. As many homes in Paris, including our apartment rental, the outside is plain and basic but the interior is more elaborate and inviting

There are gardens to explore here too! This is a view of The Montmartre Vineyard from the museum gardens

La Maison Rose is a picturesque spot in Montmartre. It’s a historical cafe serving fresh foods

Arugula pesto and salad

Fresh ricotta and herbs

A dinner in Montmartre at Poulbot

As we explored other areas of Paris we made reservations for Apertifs at Le Mary Celeste! They featured exquisite cocktails and small plates of creative foods!

Here is Diana’s reservation time and name written on the top of our table! So cool! 18:45 is 6:45 pm

Ellsworth located on Rue Richelieu was a favorite for dinner. The ambiance was very simple. The food delicious, creative and plentiful!

Touring the Eiffel Tower was top on our list! We bought tickets several weeks ahead directly from their website. We had tickets to go to the top and separate tickets for lunch on the 2nd floor at 58 Tour Eiffel

First we had lunch

Then we returned to the ground level and found the lift to take us to the top!

This was our only rainy day but we persevered!

Another day we had booked in advance a cooking class at La Cuisine Paris. The Intensive Macaroon Class! This was a 3 hour lesson where we learned to make the Italian and French style macaroons and several fillings. Thoroughly enjoyable!! I’ll definitely take another class next time! Highly recommended!!

We each came home with a box of macaroons!

Another memorable beautiful day we took a private tour of the Louvre, enjoyed the Tuileries and then an exquisite evening dinner cruise on the Seine!

The Louvre private tour we booked though Airbnb with Kate Chartier who is an art historian and a portrait painter. We met first at her apartment next to the Louvre. She gave us an overview of the art history and then took us to the most important pieces of art at the Louvre. We avoided the long lines and saw more than we would have on our own. It was great to all be together

After our amazing tour we enjoyed relaxing in the Tuileries, the gardens outside The Louvre

The dinner cruise boarding on the Seine was a short walk away. We booked Calife Seine Dinner Cruise a few weeks ahead. It was marvelous! The boat was small, the food amazing and the scenery was picture perfect! Paris glitters and shines at night!

We took a walking tour through Montmartre, a food walking tour booked through EdibleParis.com and we explored all over Paris on our own!

Merci! A cute beachy vibe shop

Roue de Paris the transportable Ferris wheel

Montmartre and Abbesses regions

We had a marvelous stay up on Montmartre! Great views of the city below

Our last evening together we had dinner near the Eiffel Tower at Les Grand Vernes

Look for my post on our day trip to Monet’s Gardens at Giverny soon!

Santiago de Compostela

We parked our car at the Marriott hotel we stayed and then returned it to the Renault dealer after leasing it for 7 weeks! We paid about $29 a day to rent this through the Renault Eurodrive program! Much cheaper than your usual car rental! The longer you lease it, the lower your daily rate.

Santiago de Compostela is a city built around the cathedral that houses St James crypt and his remains. This city is the most sacred in Spain and is a world UNESCO Heritage sight. This is the end point for the St James Walk or The Way. It is more popular among Europeans and Asians than Americans. Millions of people have walked across the various routes in Europe to arrive at this cathedral.

It’s a very friendly city where people from all over the world arrive and share their stories. Families with young children, college students, retired men and women all walk The Way. Some people pay to have their belongings carried and sleep in comfy hotels. Most rough it and stay in basic hostels for a few euros a night. Some people make the walk every year!

It’s a relaxed place with crowds of people who all have a story to share. The sound of music is heard throughout the day as it echos through the old town

We stayed at a Marriott several days and enjoyed the views and special attention!

Hotel Palacio del Carmen

Our hotel was a convent in past. This breakfast room was a chapel.

The sparkly clean cathedral from a side view

View from the cathedral to the main square

The cathedral has a large silver urn that contains incense. It is swung from the large ropes so it swings across the open space. Originally it was to cover the bad smell of the pilgrims!

This is a group of college students from Mexico. They formed a musical band and performed during and upon completing The Way

One day we stopped for lunch at the farmers market area called Abastos .

This small parade came by as it was Ascension Day celebrations. See my other post on this Santiago de Compostela: Ascension Day Celebrations

Pastries are a thing here too! Special breads with St James symbols

We learned of a special place for dinner one night. The storefront was basic but the food was outstanding! Casa Marcelo.

No reservations. Wait in line early to get in for a seating. The menu was all in Spanish but the waiters interviewed us to find out our likes. Tapas/ small plates

Dinner at the Marriott one night outdoors.

Santiago de Compostela was a gem! I recommend it as one of the best of Spain!

Santiago de Compostela: Ascension Day Celebrations

Santiago de Compostela: Ascension Day Celebrations

Ascension Day in Spain is celebrated with feasts of food, folk dancing, music, parades and carnivals! This holiday celebrates the 40th day after Easter remembering Jesus’ bodily Ascension to Heaven. We were lucky to be in Santiago de Compostela to experience this because the Old Town is the most religious site in Spain and a UNESCO World Heritage Site!

Galicia is a region of Spain on the far western coast. Santiago de Compostela is the city built around the cathedral that holds the remains of St. James. Millions of people have walked the “Way of St James” through Europe to this cathedral!

The cathedral and main square

View of the carnival from the main square

Parades marched through the old town for several days

Huge crowds walked though town to the carnival

The celebrations began Thursday night with the carnival. Crowds of people enjoyed the colorful rides, games, cotton candy, octopus and pork ribs!

Cotton Candy was made everywhere!

Boiled octopus and grilled pork ribs were grilled on site and served with beer and wine!

As we waited in line to be seated in the massive tents, we watched the chefs in action!

Slabs of raw pork ribs were grilled over charcoal and seasoned only with salt. No pre boiling or marinating! Grilled sausages too!

Raw octopus were rinsed in tubs of cold water with a hose and then dropped in a vat of boiling water. They tested for doneness by pinching the octopus. They were then lifted out of the water and cut into bite size pieces with scissors

The line was too long for dinner so we returned for lunch Friday

Fresh churros were a big deal! They’re like a long donut with different flavors, toppings and fillings

Early Friday evening in the main square I watched a variety of well trained musicians and dancers perform. The crowds were not too large because the performers rotated through several locations in the old town.

The costumes were gorgeous!

This experience was a true highlight of all of our travels!

Asturias

This rural region of Asturias Spain we visited is made up of tiny towns along the central northern coast. We stayed in Lanuna at a 2 bedroom 2 bath rental home attached to the owners smaller home. There were horses and a donkey on the property and pigs nearby. Here are some pics of our rental.

Notice the second story open deck area! These are all over this region and is called a hòrreo which was originally a raised grain storage shed. Today they are used as outdoor living space!

Cudillero was a fishing village nearby that is popular today with the tourists. It has the main square at the beach and the homes built up from there into the hills.

Notice the Pilgrims here. They are walking the El Camino trail of St James to Santiago de Compestelo, our next destination.

Much of the town was newer and well maintained. Spain provides funds for towns on the El Camino.

We had a typical local lunch on the square: Huge mussels in a light tomato broth as a first course. Bean soup with chorizo, blood sausage and fat pork for our second course. Very hearty and delicious!

We drove along the beautiful highways and viaducts to several magnificent coastal areas!

This last beach was close to our rental down a long narrow curvy road. There is a pension and restaurant called Miguel’s at the beach and a boardwalk. I’d love to stay there someday!

The next day we drove about an hour south to Salas, a town on the El Camino which again is the walk to Santiago de Compestelo. This town was very new looking, even more renovated than Cudillero. There was a pretty river running through.

Dave ordered the El Camino for lunch which is hearty! Many pilgrims come into town in the morning ready for breakfast! Also here is the Pilgrims Card which they get stamped or signed at each check in location so they can be certified at the final destination in Santiago de Compestelo. Albergue is the hostel pilgrims stay. The seashell is the symbol of the El Camino.

Here are more pics of the horreos, the raised grain storage buildings we found on our drives.

This day we drove towards Navia to Castro de Coñar, a Celtic settlement dating to 600 BC. There were over 80 dwellings here with the slate foundations in place. Imagine these buildings with wood walls and thatch roofs!

Then we went on to Luarca, known as the white city on the green coast. It has a pretty harbour and an upscale feel to it. It was lovely and prosperous

We stopped here for lunch at a lovely restaurant and ate on their covered patio. Blue cheese, ham crisps in liver mousse, pork ribs in chimichurra, fish in tortilla with spicy sauce and fish over potatoes in a spicy sauce. Mango sorbet for dessert.

The next morning we drove west along the northern coast of Spain towards our next destination, Santiago de Compestelo. We stopped at a seaside overlook called As Catebrais. The beach rock formations look like cathedrals when the tide is out. We were here around noon and the tide was still pretty high

We are thoroughly enjoying Spain and will spend a few days in Santiago de Compestelo before returning to Paris.

San Sebastián

San Sebastián is a vibrant historical city on the northern coast of Spain and very close to France. But why is it so different than France? I couldn’t begin to answer but believe me it is!

We stayed at our tiniest apartment yet but it was one of our favorites. We were at day 48 of our trip and a bit tired of driving to our destinations every day, so we parked the car and left it four days as we explored this city.

Our apartment was overlooking one of their beaches. The surfers beach! A surfing school had large groups of wet suit clad surfers there daily. It was early May but jacket weather. The simplicity of this apartment made it so easy. The only problem was the scaffolding around our windows. But we still appreciated our view and where we were

This visit was mostly about walking the streets of the old city, enjoying the views of the sea and of course the food which was amazing!

Here are some views of the Old City and the sea

Surfers walk barefoot through the streets to the beach

A protest march on the Spanish Labor Day May 1

San Telmo Museoa: A wonderful ethnographic museum

Historical head pieces

We strolled the old city for pintxos bars during the day. Pintxos are small plates of food. Each plate is inexpensive but they add up! Here is a typical street filled with bars

This traditional pouring of the new white wine is a sparkling treat!

The menus are posted outside and the variety is huge. Cold and hot pintxos, some on display for you to help yourself, others need to be ordered. Here are some bar and food scenes and also some bakery items!

And of course the farm market! Fresh produce and salted fish!

Our stay in San Sebastián was all pleasure. Early May was popular but not as crowded as the summer season. I would love to spend more time here!!

Midi-Pyrenees

The Pyrenees is a range of mountains that borders Spain and France. There is an eastern, western and middle section. We visited the middle section on the French side.

We stayed at a spacious HomeAway apartment that has been a family rental since 1981. The owners spoke no English and never had Americans stay there. Friends of theirs were interpreters for us

Here is our rental. It was part of their home and barn complex. The original home dates to the 1600s. We were surrounded by gorgeous views!

Our first day we had beautiful clear weather and drove up into the mountains to see the scenery and snow.We found the Plateau de Beille. In the winter season it’s a cross country ski area which also offered snow shoeing, dog sledding and biathalon training. There were two types of snowmaking machines there and a luge tunnel.

We saw people hiking with special shoes and sometimes using walking poles. We were unprepared so we observed

At the base of the mountain we came across a small market in Cabannes. We bought some cheese and combs made of cattle horns. This market had food vendors too such as this man making garlic and olive paste sandwiches! That’s a lot of garlic!

We continued to explore the region in a loop pattern and found beautiful mountain lakes, waterfalls and rivers.

The ancient terraced orchards and endless stacks of wood were mesmerizing

We found a spot for lunch in Vicdessos. It was a very hot day in the sun so we went inside which was a rustic wood cabin style.

Our first course was local meats and bread and butter, served with tiny sour pickles/cornichons.

I ordered a whole brook trout with chopped endive salad. Dave had the breaded pork chops with fries

All the salads we’ve eaten in France have been dressed in a vinaigrette with Dijon mustard. It’s yellow. We found some prepared vinaigrette at the grocery store and it’s always the same yellow. I prefer my own to the store bought because homemade is a more true mustard flavor. The French don’t call their mustard Dijon style as we do. They call it mustard. And their vinaigrette always has this strong mustard in it!

Dave had a glass of wine. It was served hot with sugar on the side!

We found the village of Massat and made our way back home

Monday we drove to a larger town of Mirepoix because this was their market day. There were musicians playing unusual instruments and people making crafts. The market was held in the main square which is lined with half timbered buildings. The cathedral is nearby and the market trickled into its surrounding streets too.

Rolls of lace for the French windows. Some people make their own lace in their regional patterns

Birds for your farm life

We found Llobet, an old style French restaurant for lunch. It was decorated in orange walls and light green chairs. The walls were covered with hunting prints. One person handled the entire front end as host, waiter, and bus boy.

Dave ordered the 3 course menu of the day which started with onion tart and salad. The tart filling was very thin and tasty. He thought it tasted like the tart flambé from the Alsace region

Then he had cod type fish with creamed potatoes and creamed spinach

He then had a lemon tart, again a very thin filling

I ordered red fish with salad. Light and yummy. Mustard vinaigrette, very little, and the lettuce was in whole leaves.

We then drove to a big lake called Lac de Montbel. It was a dull overcast day and slightly rainy, so the lake was not too pretty today. We drove through the town of Montbel

Tuesday we started this sunny day at a cave, Le Mas-d’Azil. We first drove through the cave and after we parked walked in through the pedestrian walkway. We followed a French only tour, but learned from the English printed handouts. There were no etchings and drawings here. This cave was famous for the artistic tools and bones found there dating to 13,000-14,000 years ago.

We stopped in the town of the same name before the tour and had a coffee and bought some local pastries.

Pudding raisin cake

Blackberry cake

After the tour we had a picnic near the river out of the trunk of our car.

We drove on to St Lizier. Looked around the cathedral and cloisters. Tried to find a good spot to see views of the mountains. Found a shop open that sold local artists crafts such as herbal mixes, soaps, juices and leatherwork.

Back at home Dave grilled lamb chops.

Wednesday was another dreary day so we went to another cave. La Grotte de Niaux. It was a short ride from our place. We arrived at 10 and learned we could not have a tour till 1:30, but it would be in English. After talking with a few interesting American travelers we went to lunch in the town of Niaux

Dave ordered a tart made of a square of puff pastry topped with sautéed duck breast and mushrooms with cream served with a salad

He then had a beef stew with smashed potatoes formed in a timbale shape.

I had lentils cooked with smoked pork and sausage. The lentils and pork were flavorful and the sausage more plain

I ordered the pannecotta dessert which was the Italian style custard with a caramel topping

The tour of the cave was fantastic. There were only 7 of us. We were all warned again how far, slippery and uneven the trip to the cave drawings were. We all did great and I was the youngest! The walk was 1/2 mile to the cave drawings. They were mostly bison with a few ibex and horses. All in black charcoal. It’s a miracle that these have been preserved so long. Great tour guide and unforgettable experience being in and walking through this cave system

Thursday was our 42nd day of travel and our first time not taking a long excursion! We hung around the house and explored the little town of Saint-Paul-de-Jarrat where we were staying

We picked up some paella and bread at the tiny market in town and bought some local style bread and brioche at the bakery

The rural location of our rental was fun to explore on foot

Our last day we spent in the larger town of Foix. We explored the market and an elaborate castle and enjoyed the views from above

We had an elegant lunch at a restaurant called Phoebus

The waiter did not speak English so we didn’t know what we were going to be ordering for sure

My first course was a beef carpaccio with shaved cheese and radishes. Dave’s was a puff pastry filled with a rich cheese and served with a sauce

Our second courses were rabbit with ham over potatoes and the other was a white fish also served over potatoes with zucchini strips on top

It was a beautiful memorable lunch and we planned on no dinner. Our apartment owners asked us over that evening for a glass of wine with their English speaking friends

We soon learned a glass of wine turns into dinner!!!! Apertif dinatoire!

This multi course presentation of appetizers began with tiny bites of a variety of tasty foods

Second was crackers spread with foie gras pâté.

Next were little squares of their homemade boars meat! And also slices of boars meat sausage they made!

They presented duck breast and onion confit on crackers

Next was a variety of local cheeses and bread

Last was a local style apple crostade/pie which our host made. All of these foods were made by their hands!

I did not get pics of all the wines and liqueurs they served us but it included this champagne

We are forever grateful to our hosts in Saint-Paul-de-Jarrat and their friends. They gave us a wonderful stay in their beautifully cared for home which we found through HomeAway. Their beautiful rural setting was an easy drive to many interesting sights!

Traveling to the different regions of France we stopped in many rest areas on the highways. Their food service was consistent good quality. Minimal paper products used

Here we enjoy a prosciutto like sandwich on a poppyseed baguette and a Monte Cristo, classic French fast food!

We say good bye to our friends in Saint-Paul-de-Jarrat France as we move on to northern Spain….. San Sebastián!

Dordogne France

This region of France is not as well known to Americans as Loire or Normandy. I never heard of it until we began our research into France. Périgord is the ancient name of this region dating to the Gauls. In 1790 during the Revolution the name was changed to Dordogne after the river in this region.

Three years ago we spent 2 weeks in Provence and loved it so much we wanted to explore more of France. Dordogne and it’s dramatic fortresses and river valleys sounded beautiful!

France is full of color. Driving through Brittany, Normandy, Loire, Dordogne, we saw miles of these mustard fields used as a cover crop to keep unused farmland from deteriorating and blowing away. Its not the edible mustard.

This is a more mountainous and hilly region than Burgundy. There are not as many vineyards, the cattle are brown, not white, the farmland is sometimes terra-cotta and sometimes a more grey color. The green is not as intense. There are chateaus and fortresses here, more like rugged Game of Thrones style, not fancy Loire style.

This is the home of foie gras. There are goose farms everywhere. Foie gras, goose and duck are on every menu.

Walnut groves are along the roadsides in small groves, and walnuts are on every menu and sold at every market too! The pastry made with walnuts are like a pecan pie filling but in a firmer crust

Many towns are charming in France because of the Malraux Law. André Malraux was minister of culture in 1963 and decided important monuments and neighborhoods throughout France would be preserved. Today many of Dordogne old city centers are pedestrian friendly and attractive to tourists.

Our first full day was Sunday and we went to the market in St-Cyprienne, a small charming town bustling with shoppers and people relaxing in cafes. We bought some produce and enjoyed coffee and lunch in the cafes.

Isn’t this family adorable? Do they have enough baguettes?

For lunch I chose a hot goat cheese and walnut mix encrusted in puff pastry served over a salad. Dave had a thin crust pizza. Yum!

Monday we drove to Beynac-et-Cazenac. This is a dramatic medieval fortress which had stunning views over the Dordogne valley and river.

It’s medieval town is nestled at the base of this stunning fortress and leads down to the beautiful Dordogne River. Many people take boat rides, canoe or kayak along this river to view the chateaus and fortresses.

From here we took a short drive along the river to La-Roque-Gageac. This charming little town runs right along the river and backs up against a huge steep mountain. We enjoyed a picnic here and then explored up into the town built into the mountainside. There are ancient small structures hidden in the foliage .

A beautiful boat ride along the river to view these castles would be marvelous!

We bought a jar of cassoulet au confit de canard. Cassoulet is popular all over France and is a hearty soup made of beans, meats and vegetables. This style with the duck is particular to Dordogne.

Tuesday we visited our first cave. We ordered tickets online a few days ahead to Lascaux in Montignac. But first we stopped for the local pastry that looks like a cave. It’s a large filled meringue. Montignac is a pretty town worth exploring filled with shops and cafes

This very professional museum is a complete reproduction of the prehistoric caves of Lascaux. The original Lascaux is closed because the cave paintings have deteriorated because the carbon dioxide humans exhale as they breathe have caused a fungus to grow on the paintings which destroys them. We had a guided tour in English which was worth every penny. The only way you can see this museum is a guided tour.

The tour was 3 parts. The first part the tour guide walked you through the reproduced caves complete with Cro-Magnon cave etchings and drawings which date to 18,000-10,000 years ago. Next there was a section with specific parts of the caves reproduced with more info available. The third part of the tour was a video about either the art of the cave or how the cave art possibly developed.

Here are a few drawings and a cave like space.

This grandpa loves his Yorkies and his grand daughter. They enjoyed the museum together!

We had lunch outdoors at the Lascaux Cafe, and chose very typical Dordogne foods. I had the duck breast and duck gizzard and lettuce salad with marinated sliced onions. The dressing was a mustard vinaigrette and a very minimal amount. All the lettuce salads in France are fresh whole tender leaves. It’s not chopped or preserved in bags. You cut up your own lettuce salad on your plate.

Dave ordered duck confit, which is salted and fried duck that’s then preserved in duck fat, with French fries.

For dinner tonight we heated up cassoulet and also opened a can of foie gras. Entire means it’s all goose liver, not mixed with other ingredients

Wednesday we spent a wonderful sunny day in Sarlat-de-Caneda. Many tourists hit this town understandably. It is charming in many ways and has been meticulously preserved as it’s original medieval village. It has cobblestone streets and windy paths of half-timbered buildings full of cafes and shops. There are no fortresses or chateaus here, just easy charm.

We visited on market day and found a few treasures. One of them was a jar of pesto made from a garlic like onion plant called ail des ours. Another name for it is Ramsons and it’s a wild relative of chives.

Sitting at a cafe in the main square people watching was fun

We had a typical Dordogne meal for lunch

We both had a big piece of fresh foie gras on toast with goose fillettes which is like shredded lean and fatty duck and also had a duck gizzard salad.

For our second course Dave had coq au vin which is chicken cooked in a red wine sauce

I had roasted duck thigh and potatoes fried in duck fat which was decadent and delicious!

Dessert was walnut cake and a cream sauce

Yes all this for 13.80 Euros

Thursday we started with an authentic cave tour at Grotte de Rouffignac. This was a guided tour in French only, too bad, but on a cool train ride through the mile long tunnels. It was fun to be in the tunnels of the cave. It also was incredible to see the etchings and drawings made by Cro-Magnon man and to see the later made bear scratching on the walls of the caves and the bear hibernation nests they dug into the floor of the caves. Sorry but no pics were allowed

We then went on to a nearby town of St-Leon-sur-Vezere. This was a tiny town filled with artists and workshops. We bought a vegan lunch from a couple from Long Island and Austria, called Smoovie Grignothique. We ate our lunch along the Vézere River at a picnic table.

We then drove up into the hills to see the Buddhist camp which the Dali Llama blessed. It’s considered a holy place for many reasons. We met a Buddhist monk walking and then stopped for a gorgeous view over the Dordogne Valley. Cote du Jor

Friday we spent at Castlenaud, a stunning medieval town and fortress up on a mountain top. This castle was huge and has been there since 1214. It was added on to over hundreds of years and passed from Britain to France back and forth. The displays were museum quality. Much of the castle was destroyed during the Revolution, but it’s been rebuilt to be preserved as a museum.

We had lunch on the terrace just outside the castle. Dave had a steak with peppercorn sauce, creamed potatoes and lettuce salad.

He also enjoyed walnut cake with the cream sauce.

I had a salad with tender grilled duck breast and a huge piece of foie gras, which I gave to Dave! Foie gras is goose liver, and very tender and rich. Similar to butter or a rich cheese. A tiny taste is enough for me. It’s too powerful a flavor. I also don’t approve of the geese being force fed corn with funnels. This is done to make their livers grow large and fatty. The foie gras was usually served cold. It would be more tasty if it were seared on a grill

This last day in Dordogne we stopped at the lovely mountain town of Domme. Many tourists were there even in mid April. We met a British couple who were buying a home nearby. Property in France is much less expensive than in Britain. We heard one story where a British woman was interested in a property listed at 150,000 Euros. She told the owner she really wanted to buy it but only had 40,000 Euros. The owner said he’ll take it! Unbelievable!

Fantastic expansive views of the valley and the river! Cute shops and pleasant squares with cafes which connect to windy cobblestone roads leading to the views of the valley.

Dordogne was a fantastic experience and a place you should see!

Our HomeAway rental was rural and had expansive views of the valley. We were the only renters in this tiny rural area outside of the small village of Thenon in April