The Luberon in Provence – A Complete Guide | www.theluberon.com

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The Luberon in Provence – A Complete Guide | www.theluberon.com.

I always wanted to see the lavender fields in Provence. That dream came true this past July.

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A favorite village was Roussillon. The ocher cliffs surrounding the town are just beautiful.

There are many cafes and shops. I especially enjoyed PPP Roussillon En Provence, a cafe and olive oil store.

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Our friend Matthew (amazing how you bond over food) helped us taste several varieties of olive oil.

We tasted one he actually harvested and pressed himself. It was lovely learning about the process.

I am trying to convince him that it would be fun to have guests join him in November and learn about the harvest and the process first hand.

Any takers?

 

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A Divine French Holiday

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DSCN0117I just returned from a dream vacation, Paris to Lyon and a cruise on the Rhone River. I ate new foods, tasted wonderful wine and saw monuments and lavender fields.

This was a “check this off the list” sort of trip.

Paris was a wonderful city and I could stay for months and never see all there is to see.

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We saw the Eiffel Tower from a distance, up close and inside. It takes on a whole new look at night with the lights reflecting the steel in the night time sky.

We climbed to the top of the Arc de Triumphe – all 284 stairs!

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I ate an interesting ham sandwich called a Croque-Madame. It is a Croque-Monsieur (a grilled ham sandwich with the ham inside the bread and the cheese on top)!with an egg on top. Madame! Get it? Egg on top? It cracked me up and was delicious.

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I went on a high speed train called the TGV from Paris to Lyon and boarded the Swiss Emerald for a Tauck cruise down the Rhône River. I cannot say enough about that company.

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#Tauck #FrenchWaterways Day 2 – Free to Roam #Paris

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05-July-2013

When I first started framing this post all I could think about was what I did not see while in Paris.

I didn’t see Montmartre, Sacré-Cœur, the Moulin Rouge or Musée d’Orsay. I didn’t see the Luxembourg Gardens, Pompidou Centre or the Mona Lisa.

Was I even in Paris? Here is the ground we covered that day:

Tauck gave us the option to go on a coach bus “orientation” tour or a walking tour of the Marais neighborhood.

Our group of four decided a few weeks before over dinner at our house that we wanted to go on the coach to cover as much ground as possible.

It was a good choice for us as we were able to go out for a few photo ops near the Eiffel Tower and opt off the bus near the Arc de Triumphe.

DSCN0212View from the top of the Arc de TriompheWe headed for the tunnel and noticed no one in line for the stairs. Just a few minutes later we began the 284 stairs to the top. A challenge but we all did without any negative consequences. Here is a picture from the top looking down the spiral staircase. Cool, no?

This is a look at the city from the top of the Arc. It was so totally worth the climb.

Then it was a walk down the Champs-Elysees to Cafe George V for lunch. we learned that the cafe section on the street is for smokers, and there are a lot of smokers in France. A shocking amount, to be honest. And, not just older people but young folks smoking everywhere.

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I ordered iced tea and a very French ham sandwich called a Croque Madame (a Croque Monsieur with an egg on it…get it, Madame? Oh the things that make me laugh!)

The sandwich has ham inside and is grilled to crispy perfection. The cheese is put on top and broiled to make it brown and bubbly. The “female” madame version has an egg on it. I absolutely loved it. I am going to make these at home on a cold winter day.

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Next we were off to the Metro, an easy way to navigate Paris. It is interesting to see the doors that cover the track and only open when the train is at the station. They open quickly…and close quickly. Fortunately the trains come every few minutes. Jim, pictured here with his wife Debbie is not a coffee drinker. His caffine delivery system is Coca Cola. Not Pepsi. Coke. No problem since I don’t think I ever saw Pepsi in the country. He was jonesing for a Coke and spotted a vending machine. A few Euro coins later the train stopped, unloaded and reloaded just before he finished his transaction. The look on his face as the train, with my husband and I on it and his wife pointing was priceless. Good thing the trains come every few minutes.

Notre DameWe took the train to the Hotel de Ville (City Hall) en route to the cathedral of Notre Dame. This was the number one agreed upon highlight of our day in Paris. The cathedral is very imposing from the outside and had amazing stained glass windows.

Window in Notre Dame After a walk around the church and a few candles we walked toward Île Saint-Louis. We were diverted by several lock bridges and both couples did the touristy thing and hung a lock on the bridge and tossed the key into the river. Silly and charming all at the same time.

Once arriving in Saint-Louis we found many small shops, some very commercial and some quaint where we did our part to boost the Parisian economy. We heard from some of our friends of an ice cream place that shapes the ice cream into flowers. I remember having gelato in Italy like that so we searched for the right place.

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 Doesn’t this Glace look beautiful? It tasted just as nice as it looked

Once we were done with our retail and confection moments we headed over to the Louvre. A walk through the Tuileries Garden on dry pebbly trails led us to the beautiful and massive museum..

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Much like holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the girls succumbed to the frenzy of holding the pyramid designed by I. M. Pei. Seriously, it doesn’t belong there. Just one girl’s opinion but when in Rome, er I mean in Paris…

Don’t you think Debbie is doing a wonderful job?

We were pretty worn out by then so we wandered back to the subway, making our way to the hotel where we consulted with the concierge. She recommended a restaurant with a view of the Eiffel Tower.

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We ate at Chez Francis with a table on the busy street.


The oysters to open my meal were very good. Each of us tried something different and enjoyed our selections. As the sun set and the city lit up, this is what we saw.

After dinner we walked to the tower and took the elevator to the second level. I wanted to go to the top but they cut the line off right in front of me. Still it was a specacular sight and the perfect ending to an awe inspiring day.

Midnight in Paris

I guess I really was in Paris, wasn’t I?

Tomorrow: Tauck French Waterways Day 3 – High Speed Train and meeting the Swiss Emerald

Fabulous 4th of July in #Paris

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04-July-2013

Today is the official beginning of our tour, French Waterways by #Tauck. I am here to say, Tauck is the best travel company you may have never heard of.

Our happy plan began more than a year ago when a group of neighbors and friends decided to go on a European river cruise. I will always be grateful that one of them invited my husband and me. One very bright gentleman actually did a spreadsheet laying out many options offered by several reputable travel companies. Tauck won hands down because what you see is what you get. There are no additional upgrades/shore excursions/meal plans to purchase on the boat so everyone is on an equal keel.

The rooms on the boat were slightly larger because they configure their boats for fewer guests. I will tell you more about the boat on Saturday.

Today we checked out of our posh Marriott on the Champs-Elysees and checked into the tour hotel, the Hotel du Collectionneur. We sat in the lobby and watched as the many members of our tour arrived from the airport. I was very glad we flew in the day before. It really takes a day to get your legs under you.

We gathered some of our group and walked a few short blocks to a corner cafe to get some breakfast/lunch depending on what time our body clock was telling. When we thought about ordering  French Onion Soup we had a giggle. That order would be much like ordering Buffalo Wings in Buffalo at a restaurant restaurant. The food was fresh and well prepared except for the slow service we would come to expect throughout France.

The other thing that took some “getting used to” was having to ask for the check. In Europe no one ever hurries you. Your table is yours forever if you do not ask. We see that as a lack of service while they intend it as the ultimate courtesy. Once again, very civilized!

Upon return to the hotel  our room was not ready so we headed out again for a walk to the Arch de Triumphe and with our own orientation yesterday we easily navigated to it. I have always loved the sounds of any city and European emergency vehicles have a sound unlike here in the USA. At every turn I felt like I was on a Hollywood set.

We returned a while later and our room was ready. It was a large room by city standards and had all of the conveniences we are used to back home…actually, probably more! I think a room with a robe and slippers is so much fun.

As we waited…and waited for our luggage to arrive my husband took a few minutes to relax. I became impatient and set off downstairs for a walk. I have never been uncomfortable walking in a city alone and Paris was screaming my name…in French, but of course.

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I wanted to have something sweet along with a cup of coffee. My wandering lead me to La Pain du Faubourg. The building was quaint with the promise of a Boulanger (baker), Patissier (pastry chef) and Traiteur (the keeper of a French or Italian eating house). What’s not to love?

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The pastry case was beautiful.

I could not wait to try out my newly reacquired French.

I would like a cup of coffee with milk and that beautiful pastry.

I ordered the coffee well but stumbled with the pastry. I resorted to the usual foreigner tactic of pointing. I felt foolish but the server was polite and did not actually laugh in my face. I will be forever grateful for that.

The pastry was called a millefeuille or what we call a Napoleon here. The cream was not overly sweet and was a good balance with the squint your eye sweet of the icing.  The pastry was crisp so either a bite or a fork would squish the cream all around. This was not neat to eat but I was not aiming for style points. My only regret was there were no tables out on the sidewalk to enjoy my confection.

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Even the packaging was pretty!

Back to the hotel for me to find my bags waiting for me. Time to prepare for our first dinner with the group at Fouquet’s, the famous restaurant on the Champs-Elysees to see and be seen.

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We filed up the elegant stairs to an upper room exclusive to our group where we were formally introduced to our tour directors. Each welcomed us to the iconic city or Paris with information about what to expect throughout the trip. We sat with a few couples who would then become our new traveling companions. It’s amazing how quickly you bond with people over French wine and delicious food.

After dinner we boarded buses again for a nigh time tour of the City of Lights. We were introduced to a song familiar to some but not yet familiar to me called “Aux Champs-Elysees.” Click here for a cute YouTube version with very pretty photographs.

The bus brought us to the Trocadero where there is a perfect view of the Eiffel Tower. It was a long and wonderful day.

Tomorrow: #Paris in One Day

First day in #Paris

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20130717-124838.jpgWhen we landed we were supposed to be picked up by the tour company. Several of the folks in our group had cars waiting but we had to ask for the assistance of a very kind gentleman in a dark suit. Seems that all of the drivers wear dark suits, thin ties and sharp shoes, looking like Michael Bublé. A bit of a wait later we were in the car and going through Paris traffic, gridlock not unlike any other big city in the morning. The drivers are a bit demented but the bikers absolutely nuts, winding between cars and trucks like they are on a slalom course with a death wish.

Our first night was at the Marriott on the Champs-Élysées.

20130717-123959.jpgThis gorgeous hotel was the result of many nights in the Shelton Connecticut Courtyard as we saw our son swim nearly every weekend in the fall.

Desperate for coffee I ordered some in the lobby. €18 later (yup, Euro, not dollars – welcome to Paris!) I got the necessary jolt of caffeine needed to begin our first stroll toward to Arch de Triumphe. Our friends were to arrive on Thursday so we decided to do some front work and begin exploration. I could spend a month in Paris and still not scratch the surface. We decided to start at the arch and work our way to the Eiffel Tower.

The city is made up of lots of traffic circles and spoke streets that link them all. Being so used to the grid that makes up much of Manhattan it was a bit disorienting for a day until the logic of short cuts lit in my head. After that it was a breeze.

The circle around the Arch de Triumphe is insane, and the only safe way to get to the monument is through a tunnel. We walked around and looked at the sculpture and inscriptions and honored their war heroes at the tomb of the unknown soldier.

With umbrellas in hand we then walked toward the icon in the Parisian sky. Pick pockets are everywhere and gypsies approach you with ease. Hold on to your stuff and ignore the advances. Don’t worry, they will find another mark.

Prior to reaching the tower we stopped at our first cafe, Pub Kléber, sitting with our backs to the building facing the street. How lovely watching the world go by while dining. Very Parisian!

20130717-124305.jpgWe both ordered a dry Chardonnay and I got the quiche of the day. It was a large wedge of happiness, filled with chunks of salmon. I ate a fair amount of it before I realized how light it was. It did not have gobs of cheese, just the right amount to flavor without overpowering the salmon. It went well with the wine, too.

After lunch we walked over to the Eiffel Tower. I got a lump in my throat, much like the one I always get when I see Niagara Falls. I hope Parisians get that feeling at least every once in a while.

At first I was a little bummed by the weather but seeing this picture of the gray clouds I actually think it looks even more amazing. We were going to leave the tower climbing (by elevator) to when we were with our friends.

For now we just stood in awe. We’re in Paris!

After checking into the hotel we took a short nap (not recommended but sometimes you have to give into the exhaustion. I set my alarm for 30 minutes and that got me back on track.

Our dinner plans and dining companions actually came about a few days before when a dear friend saw my Facebook post about my last minute preparation before the trip. We had not seen each other in months, had not had dinner together in years but met up with each other in Paris for the perfect beginning. We dined at Le Buisson Ardent, 25 Rue Jussieu, in the Left Bank.

They brought a “shot” of carrot puree which I found just on the edge of sweet.

20130717-124338.jpgA few at the table did not like the texture so I was lucky to have extra. I came to realize during the trip the French must love juicing vegetables because we were offered this sort of palette opener quite often.

20130717-124426.jpgI ordered Turbot rôti au beurre d’oursins, jus corsé à la’encre de seiche et combawa, riz sauvage “mangues, menthe poivrée” which means Turbot (a fish) roasted with sea urchin butter, gravy with squid ink and combawa, wild mango peppermint rice.

Tip: when you speak to anyone, a smile and French greeting go a long way. Then, ask politely for a table and most places will give you French menus with English translations.

The Turbot was prepared with the bone in so I needed to take a few careful bites before I realized how easy it was to separate the fish from the frame. The squid ink gravy with combawa (a Thai fruit) was a salty contrast to the sea urchin butter. I had never had sea urchin in any way before so I was already able to add a new food to my list. The rice was flavorful but I’m not crazy about crunchy rice so it was not my favorite. The dish overall was very enjoyable.

My dining mates all seemed to enjoy their meals, as well.

We ordered dessert in spite of not being hungry for it. I am very glad we did because each taste was very good.

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A cab ride back to the hotel, a night cap then a stroll down the Champs-Élysées was the perfect ending to my first day in Paris.

Tomorrow: the official Tauck French Waterways tour begins.

France 2013 – The Journey Begins

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The trip to the airport was uneventful. Our friend Bill drove us to Toronto so we didn’t need to park our car. Nice beginning.

It was strange to not have a boarding pass prior to arriving at the airport. It took a minute to figure out how the kiosk worked but it was as simple as inserting my passport into the machine. These new fangled things are quite marvelous. Just as I experienced success a very nice man helped finish the job.

Next, as we were getting our bags tagged we were offered a one day pass into the Air France Club and leaped at the opportunity. We arrived earlier for this flight than I have ever experienced before. Even after going through the international security process we had nearly three hours to board.

20130716-073054.jpgThere was tap beer, self serve which satisfied a few in our group. There was a fully stocked bar, soft drinks and even a cappuccino machine.

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Little sandwiches and a small salad bar took the edge off very well. Best of all there were comfortable cushiony chairs all along the bank of windows overlooking the international runway at the Toronto airport.

We’re going to France!

We decided to save the business class fare and spend that money on things we will not be able to fit into our luggage on our way home. But, it’s a full plane. Will we regret that decision?

I sat in a middle seat next to my hubby who had the window. I’m not sure we slept much but I do know we had great service and decent food. Eating on a plane, remember? It seems like such a luxury these days. The meal included wine, if requested, and of course we did. We ate a chicken in red wine sauce with noodles. If on land I would say “meh” but up there I would say “yeah!”

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There was a TV screen, like JetBlue, but not with live stream.

It’s been a few hours now and getting used to French being the primary language is still a challenge to my ear. We are landing soon. All of the planning and anticipation is over and this real life adventure is underway.

Postscript:

Things I’m glad I packed:

Two Little Umbrellas

Sunscreen

Large scarf

Light rain jacket

Band-aids

Benedryl

Electric converters

Quick recharge tube – camera died a few times so the quick charge was indespensible

Things I packed and did not need:

Bug spray – needed it a few times but glad I did not wear it all of the time

Clothing detergent (small packets of Woolite) and clothesline (packed just right and had a few things laundered on the boat)

Things I either forgot or did not bring enough of:

Forgot my make-up. Fortunately there was a Sephora right next to my hotel on the Champs-Elysees

Needed more toothpaste – interesting trying to figure out what I needed in French

Next up: July 3 – First day in Paris

Remington Tavern and Seafood Exchange

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I have this theory I call the “Disney World theory.” That’s when your favorite thing is the last thing you did. When you just get off Space Mountain that’s your favorite ride until you get off of the Rock and the Rollercoaster and that becomes your favorite ride.

When I drove my son from Chicago to D.C. to Boston, his favorite school was the one we just visited (with a few exceptions, but that’s not what this post is about).

Remington Tavern and Seafood Exchange at 184 Sweeney St., North Tonawanda, is my new favorite seafood spot. So much so I have been there three times in the past month.

It has a very cool vibe and the tables in front by the canal are fun, too. The building is a late 1800s power house on the Erie Canal built by International Railway. The restoration really began in 2007, and it is the current site of this fine restaurant, and a few other businesses.

The bar is located in the middle of the seating area, so you are never very far from friends and diners. They have a seasonal bar menu (don’t you justlove that?) and I started my evening last week with a “Cucumber Cooler.” It was Hendricks gin, fresh lime juice, fresh cucumber and grapefruit bitters all in a highball glass. I liked it both because it had fresh lime and because it was not too sweet.

Our bartender also gave us a primer on the fresh oyster selection. That day they had several from Prince Edward Island and other northern climates. On our tasting plate were oysters called “Rocky Shore,” “Malpeque,” “Beach Blonds” and “Wallace Bay.” The “Beach Blonds” were the mildest of the bunch. Some were a little briny and others were sweet. They were all better with the two sauces. I loved the cocktail sauce with shaved horseradish on top. It was not as hot as I would have expected.

We ordered an appetizer from the specials menu. The stuffed spicy banana peppers were filled with ricotta cheese, extra virgin olive oil and fresh garlic. The filling was smooth and creamy with just the right amount of seeds remaining for the kick. If we have a criticism, it would be the plate and presentation. The plate was too small, because the peppers slid around, which made them difficult to cut. Maybe that lettuce garnish has a purpose, after all? Also, a piece or two of bread would have been helpful, too, as a way to cut the heat for those who do not prefer it. Overall, though, they were delicious.

I asked about the white wine selection and Melanie suggested a glass of Chateau Fantin Bordeaux Blanc from Bordeaux, France. She had me at France since I will be testing French wine in the French countryside next week. It was a smooth wine and a good value at $25 a bottle. I had never tried a white Bordeaux before and was happy for the experience.

We each tried a different entree. The sirloin steak sandwich ($16) with portobello, grilled onion and mozzarella was, as one companion said, cooked to perfection. The grilled chicken breast sandwich ($11) was served the same as the steak sandwich. She loved the caramelized onions and the fresh roll. They were both served with french fries, which had the right amount of crisp.

The grilled barbecue St. Louis ribs ($16 half/$28 full) were spicy and the sauce was generous. The fries were served with a vinegar aioli, which was one of my favorite bites of the evening. I love french fries with vinegar and this was a cool take on that.

20130629-084218.jpgI had one of the dinner specials: seared diver scallops served with a sun-dried tomato cous cous and arugula salad. The scallops were seared with some spice. They were perfectly cooked. My other favorite bite of the evening was the cous cous salad. It was room temperature, which was surprising. What a great idea on a sunny summer day!

When our server offered dessert, I forced my friends to go to the dark side with me. I think they are glad they did. We had an almond lace cookie cup ($8) with whipped cream and fresh berries and a hot fudge brownie sundae ($8) with peppermint stick ice cream. I burned my mouth on the brownie, but was able to sooth it with the creamy ice cream. The lace cookie cup had a lovely brown sugar flavor and the caramel sauce was a nice balance with the fresh fruit (blueberry, mango and strawberry).

If you go, know they do not accept reservations, so you should be ready to enjoy hanging at the bar. The vibe is very cool and I look forward to my next visit.

Have a yummy day!

Life With a Lap Band…It’s Just Food!

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Before you go all crazy on me for proudly showing a heavenly glazed coffee roll and coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts, let me tell you a story.

Three years ago I began contemplating surgery to help me lose weight. I tried everything imaginable including hypnosis which cost nearly $2,000. It started out well but ended up only helping me fall asleep…during sessions!

I was actually cleared for it once but couldn’t pull the trigger and let the six month window close. I could do this on my own, damn it! So I tried a few more things then started seeing a nutritionist named Maria Weber.

I wrote about my personal epiphany here. You don’t really know when the moment happens until it is past because it may seem familiar to others that preceded it.

20121007-091218.jpgThis is my dad and I the day of my senior prom. I was almost 18 years old but for my entire teenage life I was convinced I was fat. Look at me. Am I fat?

I was never skinny and my nearly 5’2″ body could never look like the models in Glamour Magazine. But fat? I had to rethink all that I KNEW to be true when my mother gave me a photo album when I turned 50 and got my Master’s.

Picture after picture I just saw a dark eyed curly haired girl having fun. How did I allow myself to think this? Then, it became a self fulfilling prophesy.

This is the last picture that set the course of my life. Here I am, October 2010 at a swim meet at Fairfield University.

20121007-090837.jpgI see this picture and no longer feel sad and defeated.

It was time.

I went back to my doctor with an entirely new mind set. To say I was fully invested almost undervalues the actual change I went through. Eventually I put food into its rightful place. Something to fuel my body, enjoy cooking and sharing with friends and something cool to get to write about. It no longer rules my world. It brings me joy.

20121007-092512.jpgHere I am today. I’m pretty darned happy with the way I feel and look. I am going to lose another 20 pounds before I go to France next summer.

And, guess what? One of the ways I have done it is to have the above pictured coffee roll every weekend. I’m just living life?

Have a yummy day!

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