Sunday, December 21, 2008

Le Weekend

I am taking a few days off to enjoy family and friends that have made the effort to gather here in very cold Chicago so we can all be together over the holiday.  Be good (or not), stay warm, share love and we'll talk soon.   

Big hugs to all. 

Photo credit:  lpoulin 

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Word of the Day: Kickshaw

KICK-shaw:  1.  a fancy dish.  2.  a showy trifle.

Yesterday Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day was kickshaw, a word I had never heard before.  The only reason I'm telling you about it is because it has a quirky French origin.  I'm fascinated by the evolution of language and this silly little word illustrates beautifully how English has been pollinated by so many foreign words.  

According to MW, kickshaw: 
...began its career in the late 16th century as a borrowing from the French "quelque chose" literally, "something."  In line with the French pronunciation of the day, the "l" was dropped and the word was anglicized as "kickshaws" or "kickshoes."  English speakers soon lost all consciousness of the word's French origin and by taking the "kickshaws" as plural, created the new singular noun "kickshaw".
OK, many of you are probably asleep at this point wondering,  just how boring is this woman??  For those of you paying attention, you can astound your friends with your new found knowledge.  

Photo credit:  nbkix17 / Sandy@flickr

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

For A Good Time Call...

One of my daughters is working a part-time job that continues to be dragged out (happily) into what feels like a full-time job with no benefits.  Doesn't sound great I know but it's a job in a very sad market and it's with an art museum which is her heaven on Earth.  So, we raise our glass of pinot noir or cabernet nightly in honor of her having to catch the 36 bus come morning. Because of its somewhat tenuous nature, she has not been given the green light to get business cards printed.  Not that she really needs them but there are occasions when one needs to or wants to reconnect with someone at a later date (while raising a glass of pinot or cabernet at a bar perhaps) and having a printed card with coordinates is certainly an easy way to make sure that can happen.  

Enter, the calling card.  A blast from the Victorian past, calling cards are once again de riguer among young artsy folk, old artsy folk, individuals who work at home as well as a new population of individuals in the nether world of work/no work.  While social networking online is great and has replaced the need for actually leaving your couch to meet people (this is a sad thing) the current job market or lack of,  has created a resurgence in the art of getting ones name out there.  Say hello to the non-business business card.

Historically, calling cards were an essential accessory for a 19th century middle class lady or gentleman.  They served as evidence of social obligations and the pile of cards left in a hallway tray at the end of one's "at home" day determined who needed to be called upon.  For example, the card above represents the wife of Mr. Ingram Fletcher (her name is not used) as well as teenage daughters living at home.  Tuesday stands for the day that Mrs. Fletcher can be called upon at her home.  A slew of envelope versus no envelope nuances or what time of day the card was left and with whom had all sorts of social significance.  
In today's world cards can be as funky or subtle as the person who carries them.  Companies like  (above) have taken all the guesswork out by creating packs of pre-designed cards to which you simply add whatever message you want to leave behind.  At, bespoke elegance reigns supreme.  You can design a personalized logo or select from elegantly embossed cards that speak to a turn of the century elegance.
I could go either way.  Love all the fun, funkiness at Moo.  My heart of hearts as you know yearns for things from the past so Mrs. Strong has got that part of me covered.  But, in the end, I am pretty sure I would go against my better judgement and come home with one I found on my favorite website, Greer.  With my family rolling their eyes as they usually do with my choices I leave a clear message for one and all.....

Photo credit:  greer,,

Monday, December 15, 2008

Alain Ducasse, Hélène Darroze, Yannick Alléno: Good Eats

If you happen to be one of a handful of chefs in the world, lucky enough and talented enough to rule the domain of haute cuisine in Paris, your standards, I would think, should be pretty high.  What with the long and illustrious history behind French cuisine and their sometime overbearing smugness regarding the quality of said cuisine (an arguable point indeed) these chefs certainly are under the gun to perform day in and day out, consistently creating dishes that make patron's mouths dance in sensory happiness.  The pressure to earn a coveted Michelin star and maintain that status year in and year out is incredible, leading some to suicide at the loss of this dining 'Oscar'.  It's all about the perfect performance and to have that taken away can be devastating. 

So when it's time for these culinary stars go out to dine in their city, where do they go?  Very good question indeed.  If I were going to put a list together of restaurants/cafés I might want to dine at on a visit to Paris,  picking their brains to find out where, other than their establishments of course, seems like a great starting point.  I have found just that information to pass along to you.  

Alain Ducasse:  Over seeing operations at Plaza Athenée Restaurant, Louis XV in Monaco, Jules Verne in the Eiffel Tower and recently adding Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester in London, this gentleman knows a good meal when he prepares it.  Let's dine with him at:  
  • L'Assiette--for a weeknight dinner with good friends
  • Café Constant--for a Sunday lunch, Christian Constant will serve up a great meal at any one of his restaurants.
  • Hôtel de Crillon--enjoy their elegant Sunday brunch for special moments.  Wait, shouldn't being in Paris be enough of a reason? Absolutely.

Hélène Darroze:  Born in the southwest of France, Ms Darroze has cooking in her blood with great grand-parents opening a family inn and restaurant that was all she knew growing up.  She apprenticed with Monsieur Ducasse at Louis XV in Monaco and with his encouragement started down the path to her cooking destiny.  Few women have been as successful in this highly competitive art and I for one take my hat off to all that she has accomplished.  Where does she go to unwind?
  • L'Absinthe--for a meal with friends. 
  • Mori Venice Bar--one of her favorite Italian spots.  The setting is too beautiful for words.
  • Coffee Parisien, 4, rue Princesse, VIe.  If French food just becomes all too much for you, a burger and fries awaits.  

Yannick Alléno:  Monsier Alléno made my list for two reasons; he is the chef at Le Meurice and he looks adorable.  Oh, and he has three Michelin stars credited to his name so I'm thinking he knows what he talks about.  If you are in Paris, I'd suggest starting with a meal prepared at his illustrious restaurant and go from there.  Ooh la la--what a way to begin! But let's see where he likes to dine when he isn't busy cooking in one of the world's most fabulous kitchens.  
  • Café Moderne--good eats for not as much euros as some.
  • L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon--sitting at a bar will never be the same again!  
  • Guilo-Guilo--the French love Japanese food, as do all the Japanese tourists. This 2008 arrival on the food scene is another bar with the chef working his wonders right before your very eyes!  Think Benihana of Paris.  
OK people, I did my work now you are left on your own to do yours.  Take this little list and start crossing off entries. Feel the wonderful sense of accomplishment as you go through this dining marathon.  Feel less euros in your wallet and more junk in your trunk perhaps but, oh,'s Paris after all.  

Additional Information:  Les cantines des grands cuisiniers
Photo credit:

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Green Christmas

We don't recycle here in Chicago, a fact that drives me insane.  Having witnessed recent events this week regarding the possible selling of a senate seat, our president elect's seat, to the highest bidder, I believe I have a clearer understanding as to why we don't company has coughed up enough bribe money to get the job.  Some things never change. Chicago politics is one of them.  

So, in my tiny effort to be a good citizen and help the cause, I am recycling all the bags that purchases I've made for Christmas have come home with me in.  Yesterday, I searched the Internet and found some fun holiday ephemera that I re-sized and printed out to be glued onto the bags and embellished with gold felt tip pen.  The idea of buying all that wrapping paper only to have it end up in un-biodegradable garbage bags is really irresponsible and unnecessary.  And yes, I am guilty of said offense in past years.   At some point, we all have to stop the madness.

Here are just some of the great images I found.  There are endless choices out there.  You too could create your very own wrappings with a retro twist or turn of the century images. Actually, I had a great time matching images to the people I would use them for.  

Once all the wrapping is complete and all my beautiful recycled ideas are under the tree, I can take a moment for myself to get ready for all the festivities involving family and friends-slipping into my dazzling recycled Christmas outfit.....

....a one of a kind knockout made from old phone books.  Fabulous!

Photo credits:  Suzee_Que@flickr, Jolis Paons@flickr

Friday, December 12, 2008

Henri Boutet and his Ladies

Today I bit the bullet and started my Christmas shopping.  With three grown daughters who save their big ticket wants for the holidays in hopes that Santa comes through, my list is short, sweet and un peu cher.  Three grown nieces get gift cards or a check and the tiniest one of all, my 18 month old niece, has my undivided shopping attention.  Pajamas and sparkly outfits with little matching brocade slippers and toys and books--I forgot how much I miss having little ones in my world. When I have grandchildren (girls, seriously I can wait!) watch out. 

Went totally off topic for a moment.  

Henri Boutet.  I just discovered him this afternoon while I was mindlessly searching the web for any one of a number of things that had nothing to do with him but voila, he is now in my consciousness.  Born in 1851, Monsieur Boutet was a skillful lithographer and designer who concentrated his efforts on bringing the "Belle Epoque" woman to life in delicately colored etchings.  Illustrations depicting turn of the century French women moving about in their daily world around the city of Paris becomes a veritable 'defile' of fashion popular in that era. Throughout his works, he captures 'La Parisienne' in all her feminine, coquettish beauty.  The young woman above looks to be taking a stroll in the Esplanade des Invalides with the Eiffel Tower and Grand Palais in the background, knowing exactly how fabulous she is.  Below, a woman braves the elements looking far more elegant than I do in my puffy coat and moon boots. Oh, I wish this was my outfit today.  Alas, 'La Chicago-enne' isn't quite as magnificent in winter. 

He also created a catalog, Les Modes des Femines du XIX Siecle, catalouging fashion from 1801-1900.  

If we were shopping for a special little somthin' somthin' for all our sparkly holiday events in 1815 we might come home with this little number:

A year later, this would be all the rage:

I love them both.  I do believe I am living in the wrong era.  The past is always tugging at me--sure there are things I'd miss from the present. Convenience.  But if I didn't know it ever existed then I guess it just wouldn't matter would it?  Too much of a romantic for my own good.

Additional information:   Georgina Kelman

Photo credit:

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Food and Wine: A Classic

With the holidays sneaking up on us, I for one am trying to be as organized as possible so I don't end up missing the entire celebration as I have in the past.  Shopping, wrapping, can sap all the pleasure from what should be a pleasurable time of year.  I have numerous family members flying in from all over the place to celebrate and am working to get as much done ahead of time--food wise at least so I can eat and drink alongside everyone I'm entertaining.  Last week, I found a great resource for all of us to use in planning menus and picking wine; two of my favorite things to do. 

Food & Wine online has jazzed up their website and offers a section called Pairing of the Day aimed at providing a recipe and suggesting what wine would work well with it.  Taking all the guesswork out, you can put together a meal, know what ingredients you're going to need and what wine to pick up on the way home.  That to me is perfect.  Anything to streamline my errands I am all for.  

I am sending you to the Chicken Liver Crostini page as I have tried the recipe and loved it--it will certainly be part of our holidays.  I'm not sure that I will be able to locate the exact wine they suggest with it (I drank what I had on hand, a Bordeaux from France--I'm easy) but I can use it as a guide and most likely find something comparable.

I have to say that Food & Wine is, in my opinion, the best publication out there for great recipes and wine information.  With the economy what it is, extra purchases like magazines that will end up in the garbage have been put on hold but I won't give up my F&W.  I won't even get a subscription--I buy it at the checkout counter at my grocery store--a little gift I give myself each month.  Sounds silly, I know, but I always look forward to it.  Like I already said, I'm easy. 

Photo credit: 

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Chanel and Moscow

I found this little video clip over the weekend and thought it would be fun to share.  Karl Lagerfeld, designer of all things Chanel, produced this silent film to introduce a pre-fall ready to wear collection that was inspired by all things Russian.  The mini-movie was made in two days at a studio outside of Paris.  Some of the actors you'll see are actual workers from the Chanel atelier.  Curiously entertaining.  

For the entire movie visit Chanel  

Additional information:  Karl Lagerfeld's silent cinema brings Moscow to Paris (

Monday, December 8, 2008

While Visions of Sugar Plums Danced In Their Heads

.....well they aren't exactly sugar plums but just as good, if not better.  Several world renown patisseries and chocolatiers in Paris have created their yearly Christmas offerings to inspire and delight.  As always, the French can take the every day and elevate it to "haute whatever" as they pursue the art de vivre.  This beautiful cake is the Marie Antionette created by Ladurée in honor of France's premier fashionista.  

Traveling this holiday?  You wouldn't want to leave home without grabbing your Buche de voyage created by JP Hévin .  Perhaps this will become the "it bag" for the new year.

Anyone who knows me will not be surprised that this escarpin en chocolat would be one of my favorites.  For some,  a Cinderella shoe like this would be saved for special occasions. Not me.  I'm on a quest for winter snow boots that look like this, keep my feet warm and save me from falling on my ass.  Another fabulous creation by Monsieur Hévin.  

Plaza Athenée's pastry chef, Christophe Michalak, combines the refined elegance that he feels is evident throughout this illustrious hotel and his award winning pastry skills to create his version of the bûche du noël; a commode complete with candelabra and Christmas packages. I would never cut into this.  It would be a tchotkie that I'd keep forever or until mold got the best of it.  

Animal rights friends-- even you have to acknowledge the incredible artwork that went into this chocolate masterpiece.  A handbag made to look like snow leopard skin is the holiday creation of Castelanne.

Last, but certainly not least, this incredible serpent necklace was created by La Maison du Chocolat in honor of Boucheron's 15oth anniversary. This French jeweler is responsible for designing some of the world's most amazing baubles.  The serpent is indeed made of chocolate while it's tongue would be nothing less than a 20 carat tinted yellow diamond.  The necklace was made this past July and is on a world wide tour in hopes of finding just the right buyer.  Yes, this little goodie could be under your tree on Christmas morning for a mere $881,487.40 at today's exchange rate.  Who's been naughty and who's been nice???

Photo credit: 

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Dad Is The President Elect

A little window into the world of what is in store or what has already become a way of life for the President elect and his family was revealed to me this afternoon.  Having lunch and doing some Christmas shopping in the Lincoln Park area of Chicago, my walk along Armitage Avenue felt somewhat forboding. Along a short one block span I witnessed three police cars and four large black SUV's, parked in very conspicuous alleys and "No Parking" spots.  Intially, my family figured some major arrest was going to happen and we should probably get out of the way.  My daughter and I ducked into a shop filled with things my husband had no interest in so he sat in the car, patiently waiting.  Within seconds, our car was surrounded by two plain cloths officers, one on either side wanting to know exactly what he was doing.  Innocently listening to a college hoops game, he told them and they repeated what he told them in their little earpiece things to I am sure some sniper viewing all this from the top of a building.  Sounds incredibly ominous, yet sadly, a new way of life for the Obama family.  Michelle and her two daughters were attending a birthday party at a pottery painting place filled with other moms, other little girls and at least three very large men in black that we're pretty sure weren't there to decorate coffee mugs for their moms. Twelve armed men surrounding a tiny store front shop for a little girl's birthday celebration.  
Life clearly will never be the same for them. 

Friday, December 5, 2008

Eye Prefer Paris Does Christmas

When it comes to the war of Christmas window one-upping, no one does it better than the two behemoth Parisian department stores, Printemps and Galeries Lafayette.  Situated right next door to one another on Boulevard Haussemann, it is quite simple to take in each store's yearly creations and form your opinions of who outdid who.  I am leaning towards the big GL as they made an attempt to stay somewhat holiday-ish.  Printemps went for all out glam--more a nod to New Years perhaps than Christmas.  When you're as old as I am and the holidays still feel magical, those cute little windows win out every time.

  Le Printemps

Galeries Lafayette

I found these photos on my friend Richard Nahem's blog.  Richard has done what so many of us wish we could do--pack his belongings and close up shop in his native New York to become a lifelong Parisian transplant.  He and his partner live in the Marais and Richard has taken his daily life offering it up to tourists through his company Eye Prefer Paris.  With an incredibly thorough knowledge of his neighborhood, he will play host to an afternoon of adventure and discovery that only someone living in Paris can provide.  He is charming company and while you visit museums, shops and most importantly, chocolate shops along the way in a search of the best chocolate, he will unfold the colorful history of the Marais like no one else.  By the end of your tour you will feel like you have been friends forever and probably will be.  Check out both his blog and website.  
Additional information:  
64, boulevard Haussmann
Metro:  Havre Caumartin

40, boulevard Haussmann
Metro:  Chaussée d'Antin-La Fayette

Photo credit:  R.Nahem@eyepreferparis

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Bouquinistes Fall on Hard Times

Les Bouquinistes have been around forever.  History can trace these booksellers who make their home along the banks of the Seine as far back as the mid-1500's.  Ingenious peddlers would bring their wares into the city in a wheel barrel and lay claim to a bit of earth along the river embankments to sell their books (initially forbidden Protestant pamphlets in a staunchly Catholic city).  Later, trays strapped to the stone walls with thin leather belts served as their storefront.   In the 1890's, these sellers were allowed to permanently secure boxes to the walls along the Seine and have remained fixtures in the city of Paris that continue to be popular with residents and tourists alike.  The photo above shows visitors in the 1960's taking in the historical volumes that may have been owned by the clergy or noblemen but were freed up after the Revolution.  Entire libraries became available and were sold cheaply by these vendors.

Each bouquiniste is given four boxes, all the same size paying rent for the stone walls they are attached to--usually about 100 euro a year.  Only one box out of the four is allowed to sell items other than books but I venture to guess that has changed significantly.  Items often times are set up on the sidewalk in front of the boxes, obscuring all the literary gemstones displayed behind.  Currently, there are 250 of these established sellers with an eight year waiting list for the honor of renting the esteemed green boxes.  

Today if you pass by these precursors to our current mega-booksellers (B & N, Borders, Amazon...) you will see the toll modern technology has taken on these age old vendors: tchotkies.  You know, those annoying key chains with Eiffel Towers or magnets in the shape of the Arc de Triomphe.  Little odds and ends that in a mad rush to bring things home for family and friends you will quickly buy and say, "I bought these from the bouquinistes", and it will sound so French.  

Actually, these items are evidence of a bigger problem:  vendors struggling to survive in a world where antique books and etchings can be purchased for less online.  They find themselves having to make ends meet by hawking garish scenic oil paintings or postcards in order to pay their bills.  City hall, alarmed by the fact that these knick-knacks are tarnishing the "cultural landscape" along the Seine have invited the bouquinistes to crisis talks in order to promote more intellectual merchandise.  The booksellers are divided even amongst themselves as many have remained true to their heritage;  filling their stalls with first edition works by Jules Verne, vintage graphics or widely popular comics.  Sellers in the more touristy area of Saint Michel have certainly turned to the tchotkie trade, almost to the exclusion of books.  It does indeed change the tone of this long standing Parisian tradition. 

Time will tell what direction this all will take.  It would be sad to see this part of Paris dissolve into a cheap marketing scheme aimed at tourist's whims for what really isn't French at all. Rather, as a tourist, bring home one of those old manuscripts.  Even if you can't read it, you will own a part of history instead of a statue made in China. 

Photo credit:  byronv2@flickr, Miss Shari@flickr     

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Christmas Lights, Falling Ice and Chance

Today I was running some errands, taking advantage of warmer temperatures and no precipitation.  When you walk everywhere and end up weighted down with packages, it helps to not have to struggle with the elements as well.  My family knows on rainy, frigid, snowy days, dinner is going to be made with whatever was on hand because I may not have gone to get the goods. I bet they eat bigger lunches on those days.  

Our neighborhood was filled with homeowners or hired hands (I'm thinking the latter) putting up fresh garland on wrought iron gates that surround turn of the century brownstones. All sorts of fanciful lights were being hung in the spindly, naked trees that are in need of a little dressing up at this time of year. Big stone urns at the top of big stone stairways were being filled with magnificent arrangements of tiny red berries, eucalyptus and pine boughs--it smelled divine.  And everyone had their happy face on, knowing that the holidays are coming but not deep enough into the celebration to be stressed out about them and bah humbug-ish. Everything felt right in the world, especially in one where so many things are wrong.  

This is my first Christmas living in an urban area where my daily route takes me by some of the tallest buildings in the world.  The John Hancock is steps away--actually the picture above is looking up at it with its holiday contribution in the foreground.  I found out today that there is an element of danger in living by all these skyscrapers--falling ice.  As the temperature rose the ice left over from yesterday's dreary day was made apparent as it came crashing to the ground. Hmm....with my head in the clouds as I make my way around Chicago, that could spell trouble. Little things I didn't know about regarding life in the city. 

Lately, too, I have noticed that my path, no matter what it is or how many blocks away it takes me from my home, has me meeting up with the same individuals throughout my day.  It is weird and I can't help but think about it at the end of my day.  For instance, yesterday, I saw a young girl walking ahead of me and she stood out because she had cropped pants on it had to be about 19 degrees.  I noticed her walking south from my neighborhood.  Several hours went by, numerous errands were run, I came home to drop off packages, went back out, found myself in a totally different part of town and there she was, still in those crazy cropped pants.  That has happened to me about five times during the past week.  It happened again today--different person.  We never speak or run into each other and I am not sure if they notice me or not.  I am left thinking about the randomness or not-so-randomness of life.  What is the message, if any regarding the thread that takes us through our days or our lives for that matter.  Is everything that happens just chance or are our paths predetermined and we only think we know what we are doing and where we are going.  I'm not really getting to the bottom of what I am trying to say because I don't think my thoughts are complete yet but it is something to think about and I thought I'd put it out there so you can ponder a bit too.  Let me know what you come up with. I'd love to hear.  

Photo credit: bono0@flickr

Monday, December 1, 2008

Henri, The Existential Chat

A little humor to kick start the week after a long holiday.

For more of Henri and endless humorous 'cat haikus' visit:  willbraden
Much laughter to be had whether you are a fan of cats or not.