Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Fragrance of Grasse

Grasse has been a perfume town ever since the 17th century, and today as the world's perfume capital, its reputation speaks for itself.

Despite being so close to the fine sand beaches of Cannes, with their stifling heat in summer, Grasse at an altitude of 300 - 400 meters enjoys a fresher climate all year round. The plentiful sunshine and mild temperatures make the town and surrounding areas ideal for flower growing, and thus ideal for the production of perfume.

Every year some two million tourists arrive from all over the world to visit the perfume museum, perfume factories and perfume shops. The three historic perfume manufacturers - Fragonard, Galimard and Molinard - open their doors to provide free guided tours. You will learn all about the mysteries of how a perfume is made, from the raw materials to the perfume itself, by means of distillation and enfleurage.

Chanel No.5 is the best-selling perfume in the world and its principal ingredients are rose du mai, jasmine, and a synthetic musk. A few years ago jasmine production was disrupted by bad weather and Chanel took the precaution of buying their own farm in the Grasse area. Run by the Muhl family it produces 20 tons of jasmine and 50 tons of rose du mai annually, exclusively for Chanel.

Initially, scents were only the privilege of the wealthy, but François Coty from Ajaccio in Corsica changed that by making perfume affordable for the masses in the 1900s. A first cousin of Napoleon de Bonaparte, he studied for a year under the expert tutelage of perfumers in Grasse before opening the 1st mass-production perfume factory on the outskirts of Paris in 1905. After the 1920s many other countries began to manufacture perfume but French perfume is still regarded as the best in the world by scent connoisseurs.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The World's Most Famous Brandy - Cognac

Cognac is not just a drink, it's a city in southwest France that's filled with cobblestone streets, museums and shopping. And, of course, there's also cognac. The town of Cognac sits on the banks of the Charente River, about a three-hour TGV train ride southwest of Paris. The region may be known for its brandy, but you don't have to look far for its other charms.

The pace is enjoyably slow, the climate pleasantly mild. The river winds through the countryside, its tranquil waters reflecting images of vine-covered hillsides, small towns, well-tended farms and weathered châteaux framed by geraniums, pink roses and oleander bushes.

Tours of one of the great Cognac houses: Hennessy, Martell, Rémy Martin or Courvoisier range from about $10 to $25 --
including tasting... The region's Cognac houses play host to
about 200,000 visitors a year, many of them Americans.

All cognac is brandy, but not all brandy is cognac. Like champagne, cognac has to come from a designated area of France by law —the Charente region near Bordeaux. It is also made according to strict, legal guidelines. Once blended, cognac has to be matured in oak barrels for a minimum of two years. The spirit’s quality is measured by the average age of maturation—VS is usually aged 2 years and is perfect for mixing with soda, ginger ale or as part of a cocktail. VSOP (Very Special Old Pale) is aged around 4 years and can be enjoyed mixed or neat. The highest grade, XO (Extra Old), is aged a minimum of about 10 years and should be savoured on its own.
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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Le Soufflé Paris

There are few things more quintessentially French than the soufflé. So, when in Paris…eat lots of them! Many seasoned travelers to Paris know the 1st arrondissement as the district where the Louvre, one of the most famous museums in the world, is located. Yet a fine dining experience awaits you at a small restaurant that is only a ten-minute walk away from the museum.

Named Le Soufflé, the restaurant serves the world-renowned French specialty called the soufflé. This delicate dish is often served as a warm dessert, with chocolate or Grand Marnier as the dominant flavor. But soufflés may also be served as a savory main dish, prepared with meats, vegetables, fish and cheese.

This is a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach; one gets the sense that the waiters enjoy parading past carrying soufflé after puffy soufflé, incorporating an element of performance into grandly delivering and preparing the dishes at the table.

Strawberry Soufflé with Sliced Strawberries
Recipe from Epicurious


Nonstick vegetable oil spray
2 12-ounce baskets strawberries, hulled
7 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon grated orange peel
4 large egg whites


Preheat oven to 400°F. Spray 6-cup soufflé dish with vegetable oil spray. Coarsely puree half of berries, 3 tablespoons sugar and cornstarch in processor. Transfer to small saucepan. Stir over medium heat until mixture boils and thickens, about 3 minutes. Whisk in peel. Cool completely.
Slice remaining berries. Transfer to medium bowl. Add 1 tablespoon sugar; toss to blend. Beat egg whites in large bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually add 3 tablespoons sugar; beat until stiff but not dry. Fold puree into whites in 3 additions. Transfer to prepared dish. Bake until soufflé is puffed and golden, about 18 minutes. Serve immediately with sliced berries.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A French Potpourri

In early 17th Century France fresh herbs and flowers were gathered and used to make potpourri which was set out in special pots to perfume the air in their palaces and cottages. Potpourri is made by mixing oils, leaves, and/or dried flowers. When prepared, the mixture is enclosed in a bottle or jar, and allowed to sit for several weeks. During this time, the potpourri may smell rotten, however it soon improves.

The word "pot" in French has the same meaning
as it does in English, while the word "pourri" means rotten. The term "rotten pot" probably refers to some fermenting which may enhance the natural fragrances of a potpourri's ingredients.
In ceramics manufacturing, a potpourri vase is a vase specifically designed for holding potpourri. In the traditional designs a potpourri container is provided with a pierced fitted lid, through which the scent may slowly diffuse. This pretty potpourri diffuser is a trunk shaped Limoges Box made by Chamart with a porcelain top hand decorated with a pansy design and a pierced metal bottom in which to place scented potpourri.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Marché aux Puce St. Ouen - Paris

The marchés aux puces, or flea markets, of Paris are legendary. In fact, the name itself originated at the biggest and most famous, St.-Ouen, just outside the city’s ring road at Porte de Clignancourt, where back in the 1880s an “unknown bargain hunter” looked down from nearby fortifications, observed junk dealers selling scrap metal, rags and old furniture, and exclaimed, “My word, but it’s a market of fleas!”

The same vendors have occupied some of the market stalls for decades, even generations. The scale and scope of the entire Marche aux Puce is initially overwhelming, but actually quite manageable in one to two days. The great variety of items and styles, from all periods and countries as well as its unique atmosphere, put this spot at the forefront of the world's antiques markets. More than 2000 traders set up throughout the fifteen markets and in the many surrounding alleyways. The Marché aux Puces is not only very popular with the people accustomed to going there, but also with those who love to take a walk with a difference.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

France: The Oyster Capitol of the World

France and oysters go way back. Since Roman times, the coast of France has been the place of choice where prime oysters can be found. From North to South there are seven distinct growing regions: Normandy, North-Brittany, South-Brittany, West-Central, Marennes-Oléron, Arcachon, and the Mediterranean. Although some of these areas are far more famous than others, they all produce excellent oysters.

The European oyster (Ostrea edulis) is the native
oyster of France. It is called "Huître plate" or simply "Plate". The European oyster is often considered the classic oyster of France as well as the most expensive oyster in France (or in all of Europe for that matter).

The coast of France offers fantastic oyster experiences. Virtually anywhere along the
French coastline (including the Mediterranean) delicious oysters are served. Much like French wine growing areas, oyster cultivation areas are
often informally refered to as "crus". The best
part about the French coast is, however, the price of oysters. They usually cost half of what is charged in Paris.
As oysters go, the French have long been the undisputed leader in all of Europe. In France more than 143,000 tons of oysters are produced and eaten every year. It may take only about three seconds to swallow an oyster, but it takes three to four years to raise one. Like wine, oysters have different flavors depending on the region where they are raised.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Caviar Kaspia

A landmark at the Place de La Madeleine, since 1927, dining at Caviar Kaspia has been synonymous with luxurious pleasure and refinement.

Today this Parisian landmark has become the meeting point for writers, artists, food connoisseurs, fashion designers, influential style icons and Hollywood movie stars such as Valentino, Anna Wintour, Gwyneth Paltrow, Katie Holmes, Mick Jagger, Keanu Reeves and David & Victoria Beckham, who appreciate edible luxury of the finest quality.

It is a place of luxury and refinement with its
woodwork and old pictures, porcelains and art objects. The menu is an invitation to taste authentic flavors from the sea and from the land. In addition to caviar as the specialty of the house, a rare assortment of smoked fish, wild salmon, and duck Foie Gras are served. Vodka, the drink of choice at Kaspia, allies itself perfectly with caviar and over 100 different varieties are available.

The caviar jar pictured is actually a Limoges Porcelain Box from Eximious of London.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Artists - Merry Scotland

As a child, Merry Scotland developed what has become a lifelong interest in animals, particularly horses and dogs, as a subject of art as friends and companions. Early on, Merry began painting, drawing and sculpting these animals which had long been so important in her life. Her earliest works were executed in pen and ink. She quickly progressed to acrylics, starting with head studies and moving on to full figure portraits with landscape backgrounds. Soon interested in several other facets of the visual arts, she began to treat her subject matter in sculpture, starting with clay and leading to limited editions in bronze.

Merry's chief influences as a young artist were Roger Troy Peterson, Bob Abbott, Guy Coheleach and a number of other noted wildlife and animal artists. She has always been primarily interested in the realistic rendering of her subject matter. A career in breeding, training and rearing race horses, jumpers and American Saddlebred show horses enabled Merry to develop a more thorough and discerning understanding of these animals. She has also owned dogs of many breeds, including Labrador retrievers, Dachshunds, Irish Setters, terriers and mixed breeds throughout her life. It is this close association with animals that has enabled Merry to portray them so successfully in her art. Merry's work is included in private collections throughout the world, including those of Oleg Cassini, Alfred Vanderbilt and Burt Reynolds. She has designed jewelry for Gucci.

This box has a charming painting of a West Highland White Terrier dog, inside is a painting of a leash & collar as well as a personalization as this particular box was a custom order.
Merry's porcelain boxes are Limoges porcelain blanks purchased from France on which she paints in the USA out of her studio: Scotland's Yard.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

God Bless America

Commemorative Limoges Boxes are designed to honor a specific historic event. Events such as the French Revolution, the sinking of the Titanic, the Millennium and as depicted here, 9/11, produce an unique opportunity to reflect upon and preserve a piece of history. This piece honors the brave and heroic firefighters of New York. An American flag, glorious in its red, white and blue waves proudly from inside this magnificent piece.
Excerpt from:
Angels Over America ™
by Carolyn K. Long
"And show us how to honor all the souls we lost that day
From the Towers and our Fortress and the Farmers Field,
we pray, So the anguish that unites us as one people to the core
Rises as an anthem we'll hold sacred ever more."

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Cherry Clafoutis

If you mix plenty of unpitted black cherries into what may best be described as a slightly thickened crêpe batter, you will have the makings of a traditional clafoutis (a type of batter cake from the farm country of southern France). The recipe is old but not ancient, probably dating from around the 1860s. The unusual name (sometimes spelled clafouti) comes from clafir, a dialect word meaning "to fill".

According to Larousse Gastronomique, when the Académie Française defined clafoutis as a "sort of fruit flan", inhabitants of Limoges protested, forcing the institution to change the definition to the more acceptable "cake with black cherries". Black cherries are the meatiest, juiciest, and sweetest of all cherries and they're left unpitted because the pits are thought to enhance the flavor of the batter with a perfume faintly reminiscent of almonds. Whole cherries are also less likely to bleed into the batter.
A perfect clafoutis has a deep golden brown crust on both the bottom and the top. And the only way to achieve this is to bake
it in a sufficiently hot oven. At too low a temperature, the flour
separates from the rest of the batter, settling at the bottom of the
pan and leaving a pale custard behind.
Though black cherries are the classic addition, clafoutis is made
today with all kinds of fruit.

Julia Child's Cherry Clafouti Recipe
1½ hours 10 min prep
SERVES 6 -8 , 4 for breakfast
1 1/4 cups milk
2/3 cup sugar, divided
3 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup flour
3 cups cherries, pitted
powdered sugar, for garnish
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Using a blender, combine the milk, 1/3 cup sugar, eggs, vanilla, salt and flour, and blend.
Lightly butter an 8-cup baking dish, and pour a 1/4-inch layer of the blended mixture over the bottom. Set remaining batter aside.
Place dish into the oven for about 7-10 minutes, until a film of batter sets in the pan but the mixture is not baked through. Remove from oven (but don’t turn the oven off, yet).
Distribute the pitted cherries over the set batter in the pan, then sprinkle with the remaining sugar. Pour the remaining batter over the cherries and sugar.
Bake in the preheated oven for 45 to 60 minutes, until the clafouti is puffed and brown and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.
Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve warm.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Lily of the Valley

A symbol of love and friendship, Lily of the Valley
flowers are sold in the streets of France every year on French Labor Day (La Fête du Travail), on May 1st. Friends and families exchange the flowers as
sentiments of good luck and prosperity in life and love. Lily of the Valley is referred to as a "porte-bonheur"--literally, "bringer of happiness" or perhaps what
we would call a good luck charm.

This tradition of exchanging a small sprig
of Muguet-du-Bois is believed to have been
begun by Charles IX in 1561 after he was
given a small bouquet as a symbol of good luck
and Spring time. He was so delighted
that he in turn ordered several bouquets
to be made up, one for each Lady in his Court.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


Fields of sunflowers are everywhere in the South of France – and not just growing in the ground. Provencal linens, pottery and tile seem to echo the bright blues and yellows that Van Gogh talked about when painting in the region.
The latin name for sunflowers is Helianthus annus – which comes from the greek word helios (sun) and anthus (flower).

The French word for sunflower is tournesol, and is literally a perfect translation. “Turn sun” illustrates the fact that young sunflowers orient themselves towards the sun, which is exactly what they do.
Provence is the land of Van Gogh – who lived in the area and was inspired by the light and the sunflowers as you may know from his famous sunflower series of paintings.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Wedding Cakes in France

The French lay claim to starting the tradition of the wedding cake. There are two main styles of wedding cake in France. Regarded as more traditional is the croquembouche, a cone made of round cream-filled pastries which is dipped in hot toffee. Croquembouche comes from the French words "croquant" meaning crunchy and "bouche" for mouth or "cracks in your mouth." A cone of cream puffs is filled with French pastry cream coated with carmelized sugar and decorated with elegant marzipan roses made petal by petal. The croquembouche is often the dessert at a French wedding, baptism, christening, and other family gatherings. Its origins date back to the medieval tables of the French Royalty and Nobility.

The second style involves multiple round sponge cakes each cake a smaller size than its predecessor. These are placed on a stand with the smaller cakes on top. The number of layers can go up to ten, and often a support which cuts through the middle of the cakes is used. The tiered cake symbolizes prosperity.
In Anglo Saxon times guests brought little cakes to the wedding and piled them into a heap over which the
Wedding couple would try to kiss. This was later turned into tiered cakes in France. The European tradition in
Wedding cakes is mostly white, as a symbol of purity. Wedding cakes in other cultures are often more colorful.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

La Maison des Trois Thés

Deep in the heart of Paris's Latin Quarter, lies a tea-house with more fabulously expensive tea than anywhere else.

La Maison des Trois Thes, an exclusive
tea shop and importer, supplies the
restaurant at the Four Seasons George V,
Pierre Gagnaire, Alain Senderens
and many other top Paris tables,
and is considered to be one of the four or
five most knowledgeable tea merchants
in the world.

The shop was born of Taiwan native
Yu Hui Tseng’s passion for tea.
Tseng comes from a family that’s
been in the business of growing
and selling quality tea for generations
and is considered to be one of the finest
tea tasters in the world. Among the
rarest types on sale are the very best
Oolong teas as well as an intriguing
selection of white, yellow, and aged
black teas.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Pizza can be French, too!

The nutty, buttery flavor of semi hard cheeses distinguishes much French pizza from Neapolitan-style pies made only with milky mozzarella. When the cheese is spread over a thin round of dough coated with tomato and herbs and then subjected to the relentless whoosh of heat in a brick oven, the result is a bubbling, molten masterpiece.

In the South of France, especially in Provence (pictured) and along the Côte d'Azur, they understand tomatoes, basil, olive oil and anchovies. The region's proximity to Italy and its influx of Italian immigrants, vacationers and retirees has, over the decades, provided a steady supply of pizza cognoscenti.

The divinely thin crusts constitute the hallmark of the best wood-fired French pizza: crisp but not hard, delicate but not brittle, charred but not burned, flour-powdered but not dry.
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Wednesday, July 29, 2009


The French have been using violets for centuries to flavor everything from cough syrup to bonbons. During the middle ages, when sugar was still very rare and reserved only for the elite of society, apothecaries were the principal creators of sweet treats that were supposedly recommended for health problems. It was at this time that the druggists concocted violet syrup which was believed to smooth the voice.

Violets were Napoleon's favorite flower and in the 19th century a thriving violet agriculture began to take hold in France, notably in the area around Toulouse. The flowers were used for their perfume, but they also were used in French cuisine.

Every February in Toulouse, the violet festival honours this famous fragrant fleur with showcases
of the best bouquets as well as a violet market and
violet-based sweet treats.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Berthillon - The World's Best Ice Cream

Berthillon is widely believed to be the best ice cream in France, and according to many ice cream fans, possibly the best in the world. Berthillon has been making ice cream since the 1950’s when Monsieur Berthillon started selling his homemade ice cream out of a small shop in the heart of Paris. Today, that same ice cream shop
started by Mr. Berthillon is still open and run by his descendants.
The Berthillon ice cream shop is located on the popular
little tourist destination of Ile Saint Louis,
or Saint Louis Island. Ile Saint Louis is
actually a real island located in the middle
of the River Seine which divides the city
of Paris in two, creating the famous left and
right banks.
Like most things European, ice cream is served in smaller portions that you get in the US. But what some might think is lacking in quantity is definitely made up for in quality. The proof is that no matter what time of year or time of day you go to the Berthillon ice cream shop in Paris, you’ll find a queue of customers waiting to try the famous French ice cream. What makes Berthillon particularly appealing is that the ingredients are all natural. There are no preservatives or artificial flavors that you find with other ice creams.
Perhaps this ice cream cone box was inspired by
the famous Berthillon. Made entirely of porcelain but
so deceptive that it looks and feels as if the wafer cone
is real. The pistachio and chocolate swirl looks creamy
and luscious.

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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Art Appreciation - Venus de Milo

Both the Artist and the lover of fine art will delight in the beautiful hand painted miniature Limoges Box reproductions of the great masters such as Renoir, Monet & Van Gogh.

This statue of the Greek goddess of love, currently on display at the Louvre in Paris, France, was discovered on the island of Melos in 1820 ( Milo in modern Greek). The Marquis de Rivière presented it to Louis XVIII, who donated it to the Louvre the following year. The statue won instant and lasting fame. The Venus de Milo is famous for its skilled rendering of the female form, imbued with sensuality and nobility.

The goddess is shrouded in mystery. The missing pieces of marble made the restoration and identification of the statue difficult. According to whether she held a bow or an amphora, she was Artemis or a Danaid. She is popularly thought to represent Aphrodite, because of her half-nakedness and her sensual, feminine curves. She may have held an apple — an allusion to the Judgement of Paris - a crown, a shield,
or a mirror in which she admired her reflection.
However, she might also be the sea goddess Amphitrite, who was venerated on the island of Milo.

Friday, July 3, 2009

The French Baguette

Here we have a porcelain example of that sinfully delicious baked treat - the French baguette. French "une baguette" is translated into English as "stick" which truly describes the unique form of this most popular French bread. French law governs on what can actually be sold as bread, i.e. it only contains flour, salt, water, and yeast.

The real baguette is a small pleasure and a huge part of French culture. France eats approximately 30 million baguettes a day. Wow! (that's a half a baguette for everyone every day).

What makes a great baguette?

The first sign of quality is a hard crust of a rich, dark caramel color. A flimsy crust, a pale, straw yellow color and an underside marked by tiny dots all indicate that the bread has been cooked in an industrial oven often from frozen dough.

The inside (or "mie" in French) of a good baguette should be a creamy color with large irregular air holes. The industrial loaf, on the other hand, will be cotton white, with tiny, regular air holes.

The texture of a good baguette should be moist and slightly chewy with a full, almost nutty flavor. The industrial version is cottony, tasteless and dry.
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