Faena District

Having been to Miami over a dozen times for both work and play (namely Art Basel for the latter), I usually found myself nestled into a hotel in South Beach, along with everyone else who escaped to this sunny enclave. This time however, I explored a new area, removed from the crowds and with a charm and distinction all its own. Ten minutes north of South Beach in Mid-Beach sits the recently coined Faena district, Miami’s latest It spot. Having experienced the Faena Hotel in Buenos Aires, I could already envision the artful grandeur. Making a name for itself in late 2014 thanks to Argentian entrepreneur Alan Faena and his NY based business partner, this district includes two hotels and a performing arts theater.  I was eager to discover the historic boutique hotel Casa Claridge’s, or Casa Faena, once an apartment building built in 1926.

Upon entering you feel transported to another world, one in Spain or even Morocco. The luminous library in the hotel’s inner courtyard is well-equipped with literature and design books. I could easily have spent the afternoon here, or reading on the roof deck, but there was a beach umbrella calling my name. We quickly settled into our room, a spacious King with balcony and views to the beach, the next stop.

Little makes me happier than a shady spot in front of the sea. With so many festivals and activities going on during Miami’s high-season, we were still able to avoid the crowds and revel in what felt like a private beach. Once the sun set we headed to the laid-back Broken Shaker, a stellar bar nearby that opened in 2012, and dined at their new 27 restaurant. The next morning we were back on the beach, with just a quick walk to the Faena family’s latest addition, Hotel Faena, opened a year ago.


This modern hotel, a contrast to complement its historic predecessor, was just the place I’d like to check-in to for a few more days. Complete with gym, spa, pool and two gourmet restaurants, there was much to discover. And let’s not forget the neighboring Faena Theater, reminiscent of Old Hollywood. A destination unto itself, was there really any reason to ever leave the Faena District?

Art + Fashion

What could be better than shopping in the midst of an art exhibition? Art and fashion, two of my favorites. Today I discovered both at Le Bon Marché, Paris’s first (and most exclusive) department store founded in 1838.

Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota‘s in-store exhibition titled “Where are we going?” begins on the ground floor where the artist has spun 300,000 yards of white thread throughout a designated space. It’s both calming and perplexing as you wander through this white abyss. I was so mesmerized, I almost forgot that I had come to shop. All 10 window displays too are filled with the artist’s web, some with ancient maps.

The celestial element of this exhibition by Chiharu Shiota is visually poetic. The symbolism stayed with me long after I had left the store. It comprises 150 white boats carried on a wave and invites us to be amazed but also to question. The artist establishes an analogy between human life and travel: people set off for an unknown destination, crossing an ocean of experiences, emotions, encounters and memories. Chiharu Shiota evokes a fresh start, while keeping the itineraries open: “Life is a voyage with no destination”.

For those in Paris, this exhibition that was meant to close on February 18th, will continue until April 2nd.

 

The Velvet Hours

During these seven years living my own love story in the City of Lights, I’ve read quite a few others. One of the most romantic tales to date is the latest novel by international bestselling author Alyson Richman.

The Velvet Hours takes you into the lives of two women in very different circumstances, connected by a common thread. Inspired by the true account of an abandoned Parisian apartment, Richman composes a glamorous love story set in the period of the Belle Epoque. In colorful accounts of her life, Marthe de Florian recounts this story to granddaughter Solange. Marthe describes herself as A  woman of the demi-monde, the half-world. Caught between beauty and darkness. In some ways trapped, but in other ways completely free.

As the mysterious life of this beautiful courtesan is revealed to her, Solange tries to make sense of her own. She finds refuge in the company and stories of her grandmother as Germany invades France and Europe prepares for war. In time, she learns the secrets of her family history, and discovers her own unique path.

In lieu of Valentine’s Day, I share this book with you, written in Richman’s characteristic poetic prose. You can easily imagine yourself walking the streets of Paris, intertwined between the lives of Marthe and Solange. The Velvet Hours is certain to become a favorite of any romantic Francophile.

Cook’n With Class

Often when I go out to eat and love a particular dish I wonder, “Could I make this at home?” I usually never end up trying, not knowing the chef’s tricks in the kitchen, afraid my attempts will fall short. I could certainly read my friends’ cookbooks and learn their unique recipes, but what about being taught by the chefs themselves? And what about wine pairings? I know which wines I like, but when to drink them, and with what dish? That’s when I discovered Montmartre based cooking school Cook’n With Class Paris. As well as many classes in cooking and baking, they offer a French Food and Wine Pairing, perfect! Let the food and wine education begin.

I sat at the table overlooking the kitchen with six dinner companions from around the world, many of whom were regulars. I quickly learned that the chef owned and ran a successful French restaurant for many years in the US, evident in his skillful movements. As he cooked the meal, he described the dishes and how to prepare them, answering any questions we had. And all we had to do was watch. Following an appetizer and champagne, the first course was split pea velouté and buttered croutons. While he served the dish, our expert sommelier came over to explain his choice of wine and the region from where it came.

While I savored every bite and learned about wines I knew little about, and how best to pair them, I was intrigued with the preparation. This master chef explained why plates are kept hot in the best restaurants, and took every care in the presentation of each dish.

The next dish of seared scallops with crunchy celery, rocquefort dressing and candied orange peels was my favorite, and I made sure to take notes on the preparation, asking the chef questions during the plating. How lucky I felt to have a seasoned French chef cooking right before my eyes!

The main dish of black legs chicken fricassée with creamy leek risotto was delicious, as was the wine it was paired with. In the French dining tradition, a cheese plate followed, along with a lesson on cheese. The meal ended with a heavenly tarte tatin paired with just the right sweet wine. Not only did I dine like a queen, I learned quite a bit about food and wine that would serve me in my own kitchen.

I’m already planning on heading south to visit their second school Cook’n With Class Uzes, and learn the tricks of the trade by chef Eric Fraudeau. Stay tuned!

Cooking with Friends

This year I vow to spend more time in the kitchen, enhancing my creativity not only in my designing but in my cooking. Lucky for me, I know quite a few culinary masters and food writers and have collected their Paris inspired cookbooks. Having them within close contact should I need any help gives me all the more reason to whip up their recipes. So who are these chefs I’m lucky enough to call friends? Allow me to introduce them.

David Lebovitz doesn’t need much of an introduction. Many already read his well-known food blog and follow him in his Parisian adventures of the last 10+ years. In addition to running into David at local flea markets, I more recently caught up with him at a brunch at Treize Bakery, where he signed copies of his new book My Paris Kitchen, of which I snagged a copy. In this, his latest cookbook, David remasters the French classics in 100 sweet and savory recipes. I think I’ll try my hand at Coq au vin…

One of my favorite cookbook authors is Toronto based Laura Calder, who’s quite the culinary star in her home country, having had her own cooking show.  We met at a girls’ lunch several years ago and have remained good friends ever since. I even helped Laura design the table setting for one of her many Parisian dinner parties. (She doesn’t believe in paper napkins.) The latest of her cookbooks that I’ve added to my collection is Paris Express. I’m sure I’ll be able to handle a few of these quick, modern recipes and make both Laura and myself proud.

I met California born Emily Dilling through the expat network. Her blog Paris Paysanne is dedicated to Paris produce markets and the people behind them. Her passion for artisanal and craft food grew into her book, My Paris Market Cookbook. Not only does she share her market recipes, but the book is filled with farm-to-table restaurants, natural wine bars, organic breweries and urban gardens. The perfect handbook for food lovers!

Yoga always seems to create positive connections in my life. One of them is Lora Krulak, a nutritionist, chef and fellow New Yorker. I was impressed by all her knowledge on health and wellness, and quickly she became my (and many others) nutritional muse. Her blog provides sage advice about eating and living well. In her book Veggies for Carnivores, Lora demonstrates how easy and exciting it is to cook with vegetables, while taking us on her around-the-world travels.

Rebecca Leffler and I met years ago at a Parisian soirée and became fast friends. In the last few years, this east coast expat has created quite a name for herself in what she calls the “Green & Glam” movement. Her blog La Fleur Paris NY shares her discoveries, recipes, events and food demos in both Paris and New York. Rebecca’s most recent contribution to green living is a collection of 150 recipes in her book Green, Glam & Gourmande (in French) and Très Green, Très Clean, Très Chic, the English version. Warning: uncontrollable laughter may ensue.

I met Ann Mah at one of her book signings at the American Library in Paris after reading her first book, Kitchen Chinese. I was interested to learn more about this woman who writes so engagingly about food and travel. Her blog is a collection of tales from Paris and New York, as told by cooking. Her latest book Mastering the Art of French Eating, documents Ann’s journey around France while discovering the truth behind the country’s regional dishes, recipes included. Rumor has it she’s finishing her third book…

I could very well relate to Kristen Beddard when we first me. An ambitious New Yorker ready to plant seeds in Paris, but how? Over time she settled in to her new life, found her path, and planted her kale seeds. Through her blog The Kale Project, this “Kale Crusader” as The New York Times coined her, succeeded in bringing this forgotten superfood back to the French capital. In her memoir Bonjour Kale, she endearingly articulates her story of life and love in Paris, while sharing her fondness for kale through recipes collected since childhood.

Hope these inspiring friends will help you hone your skills in the kitchen, and keep you healthy and well fed. Follow along as I share my culinary adventures on Instagram.

 

Sicilian Adventures : PART II

Our first stop upon leaving Trapani was at a thermal spa, basically a pond in the middle of nature. I was a little skeptical, but when I felt how warm the water was (over 100 degrees Fahrenheit), I sank right in to the sulfur bath. Heaven in the middle of winter!

After a quick lunch (and cannoli) stop in the small seaside village of Trabia, we arrived to the scenic city of Cefalù. With the sun ready to set as we walked along the beach, greeted by a glowing row of homes, it was hard not to become enchanted with our new destination. We soon located our B&B within the narrow streets and began to explore.

The following morning we set our sights on the ancient village set high up above the city with views looking down on the Duomo, a majestic two-towered Norman cathedral.

After hundreds of steps, guided by sunshine peeking through a cloudy sky, we made it to the top. What a view!

We could have stayed longer, as there is always more to discover, but it was time to head south to Ragusa, with a stop for Roman history along the way. The Villa Romana del Casale, a vast villa built in the first quarter of the 4th century, contains the largest and most impressive collection of Roman mosaics in the world.

As we walked through the many rooms, learning about the symbolism of each mosaic, I couldn’t believe how intricate and detailed these scenes were, and how well preserved! We even caught sight of what could very well be considered the first bikinis.

A few hours later we arrived in Ragusa Ibla, the old part of Ragusa destroyed by an earthquake in 1693 and rebuilt in Baroque style. We soon settled into our home for the night, a charming centuries old B&B. The following day we had a date with one of Italy’s top chefs, 2 Michelin starred Ciccio Sultano, at his famed Restaurant Duomo. This was one meal we couldn’t be late for, even on Italian time.

After a meal to remember, we continued to explore this elegant city. I couldn’t get over how picture perfect the views were, both from high above Duomo San Giorgio, and down below. It was a short but sweet encounter.

Upon our exit, we were graced with the most stunning vista of Ragusa Ibla, certain that we’d return again, even if only to dine with Ciccio. Our next stop was where we’d settle in for New Year’s Eve, and a place we knew from our last trip to Sicily, Siracusa.

There was something about the island of Ortigia that left an impression on us. Perhaps it was the food, or the warmth of the people, or in my case the cassata… Whatever it was, we were happy to be back, and to begin a new year in this, one of our favorite Sicilian settings. This time we discovered impressive new wine and food bar Cortile Verga set in a gorgeous courtyard, and SunSet cafe, for exactly that.

Following a night of great feasting and mild revelry, we got in the car for a final drive to Punta Secca, home of Montalbano. It was here that my Italian began the year with a swim in the sea following an incredible meal of freshly caught fish and homemade pasta. After one last sunset we were ready to return to Paris.

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