Grateful for My Friends in France and Belgium

Laughing with Marie in a Paris Café

Laughing with Marie in a Paris Café

My Petit Dejeuner in that Café

My Petit Dejeuner in that Café

Toasting Life Chez Michèle et Loic

Toasting Life Chez Michèle et Loic

Zee Sunday Brunch Spread

Zee Sunday Brunch Spread

Pain, Vin et Fromage Chez Steph et Véronqiue

Pain, Vin et Fromage Chez Steph et Véronqiue

I’m big at counting my blessings year round. As challenging as life can be, I try as much as possible to pause and feel truly grateful for all that I have in my life.

There’s so much for which to be grateful, especially when it comes to love. There’s nothing like feeling love and appreciation. There’s nothing like feeling valued. There’s nothing like feeling your heart swell with love–day after day after day.

I was blessed with an outpouring of love during my recent trip to Europe when friends in France went out of their way to meet with me for coffee, organize special dinners, include me in on Sunday lunches and chat with me at great length over leisurely breakfasts and afternoon teas. My friends in Antwerp entertained me all weekend long. And throughout every encounter, I felt a connectedness with my European friends that made it feel as though I had just seen them the week before. (It had, in fact, been many years.)

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Keurig and Company Kill My Coffee, Tea and Me

Housekeeping Trying to Get My Keurig to Work on a Recent Hotel Stay

Housekeeping Trying to Get My Keurig to Work on a Recent Hotel Stay

I’m practically on the eve of departing for a big trip to France and I’m excited about many things:  the flakey croissants that taste far superior to most sold in the U.S., the fabulous runny unpasteurized cheeses  you can’t find stateside (unless smuggled in), slightly chilled red wines such as a good Fleury, rich French stews such as a daube Provençal or a boeuf aux carottes, a savory couscous, the perfect omelet–well, you get the picture. As much as I love France for its beauty and the French for their joie de vivre, I guess I am most looking forward to their food and drink.

Coffee and tea rank tops on that list, too. I’m more of a tea drinker and the French do tea–in my humble opinion–as well as the English. By mid-morning I love a good coffee, whether it’s a creamy café au lait or an espresso ladened with lots of sugar. Yes, the French do it right at home, in restaurants, cafés and hotels. It has been a while since I was in France but last time I checked, they still hadn’t adapted the American tradition of having a coffee pot in hotel rooms. Mais non, their approach was always far more civilized and if you wanted a coffee or tea–even in small, modest hotels–they’d bring it to you. And it would be delicious, served on a little tray accompanied with cold or hot milk and often un petit pot of hot water.

For breakfast, they always gladly delivered your hot beverages to your room–with or without a basket of pâtisseries, something that is tout à fait normale, or common practice. Having breakfast in bed always has been more the norm in France than not. I’m praying that this tradition has been upheld.

If I enter a hotel room–not to mention more than one or two–and find those stupid personal coffee makers à la Keurig, I think I’ll have a fit. Who ever was so stupid to invent those devices? I had a huge experience with them on a ten-day trip this summer where they were proudly displayed at every coffee station inside and out of the rooms. I can’t tell you the aggravation I had getting them to work properly–they didn’t half the time. And if they worked, often the coffee was cold. I had a few excellent cups of coffee and tea from them but none was worth the aggravation. I even had to call housekeeping a couple of times to help out and they ended up scratching their heads.

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Summer Sipping 2014

Chloe Wines

Chloe Wines

Summer is the season for wine festivals throughout much of the United States, especially in Colorado. June is particularly big in our Rocky Mountain state since the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen is taking place this weekend and the Telluride Wine Festival—under new direction—is happening next weekend. They’re both long-established events, terrific for sampling and savoring food and libations among the pros. Typically one walks away from these festivals with a go-to list of wines, spirits and restaurants to experience in the upcoming months. They also offer wonderful opportunities for socializing among fellow foodies and wine lovers in beautiful mountain settings.

For me, however, summer sipping feels best outdoors while gazing at a gorgeous mountain vista or inside relishing a delicious dinner of grilled meats and vegetables after having done a big hike. I’ve also been known to pack a good bottle and snacks and share a near-sacred moment with someone special out in a remote place. These treasured times create memories that last the longest for me.

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Fifty Shades of Grey Wine

Fifty Shades of Grey Red Silk

Fifty Shades of Grey Red Satin

“If you spill the wine, I will punish you, Miss Steele.”  —Christian Grey

Mon dieu. Not only might you not want to be punished (or perhaps you do), but you don’t want to lose a drop of Fifty Shades of Grey Wine from acclaimed novelist E.L. James. Who doesn’t love white silk and red satin, especially when it comes in the form of wine?

Floral aromatics of lychee, honey and pear lead off Fifty Shades of Grey White Silk, a primarily Gewürztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc blend. Aged in stainless steel, it’s both delicate and rich in character.

Fifty Shades of Grey Red Satin, a decadent blend of primarily Petite Sirah and Syrah, fills your mouth with a full-bodied deliciousness of black cherry, cocoa, caramel and vanilla. Hmmm, and you thought Christian was yummy.

No date for Valentine’s? How about spending a titillating evening with yourself and the Fifty Shades of Grey book and wine in hand? Or, spice it up with your hunny and surprise him or her with a Fifty Shades of Grey excerpt, accompanied by one of these smooth wines.

The combination of love and wine has never been so bold.

Selective Sipping: Mark Spivak and His Iconic Spirits

Mark's Book:  A Delicious Holiday Gift Idea

Mark’s Book: A Delicious Holiday Gift Idea

I’ve always felt that you can appreciate something more when you know the story behind it. This is the premise behind my books The Riches of France:  A Shopping and Touring Guide to the French Provinces and The Riches of Paris:  A Shopping and Touring Guide. There’s always a lot of imbibing during the holiday season, so why not know the history behind some of the world’s most beloved elixirs?

I chatted with Mark Spivak, author of Iconic Spirits:  An Intoxicating History, during a Travel Fun interview which you can listen to below. He tells some fascinating tales behind the twelve spirits featured in his book. You can learn all about Chambord, gin and tequila, to name a few. He talks about Campari, a bitter concoction formulated by an Italian around 1860, considered to be one of the sexiest beverages on earth as well as the connection between Nascar and moonshine, a surprising association which has remained hidden from the general public over the years. “Most of the early (Nascar) drivers were all bootleggers…Then in 1947 they all got together and formed Nascar,” Mark explains.

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Sweet and Savory Holiday Baking with Holly Herrick

Holiday Baking à la Holly Herrick

Holiday Baking à la Holly Herrick

Looking to take your holiday baking up a notch? Pick up a copy of Holly Herrick‘s new book, The French Cook:  Cream Puffs & Eclairs, and whip up some sweet and savory creations that will leave you and your guests swooning. This cookbook, second in the series, showcases luscious-looking delights in glossy images that you’d never believe are so easy to make. But according to Holly, they are. And they’re also economical.

With choux as the foundation for most everything in The French Cook:  Cream Puffs & Eclairs, you learn about this fun and messy pastry dough that becomes light and airy once baked. You can make these floaty confections weeks ahead and keep them in your freezer and take them out as you need them. I see this as a wonderful holiday baking project either by yourself or say between mother and daughter. “It’s always my goal to get people really exciting about cooking. It’s important that it’s fun and delicious,” says this renowned food writer and author of six cookbooks.

“Happily (choux) is one of the easiest pastries to make:  bring a little water and butter to a simmer in a saucepan, dump in flour, beat over heat to thicken it, and whip in a few eggs. That’s all there is to it…”

—Julia Child, The Way to Cook, 1989

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Perfectly Palisade: Colorado’s Wine Country

The View from Canyon Wind

The View from Canyon Wind Cellars

What a wintery time it has been here in Colorado! It even snowed on the western slope in Palisade/Grand Junction, an area known as the bread basket/banana belt of the state where it’s typically twenty degrees warmer than in the mountains. I did a getaway there with a friend over the weekend and reveled in exploring Colorado’s wine country; I loved seeing the vines beneath a frosty blanket of white. Vineyards the world over are picturesque, however, I find the contrast of the rows and rows of vines backdropped by the dramatic, buff-colored rock towers and cliffs here—known as the Book Cliffs—especially striking.

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Marla Meridith Talks About Family Fresh Cooking and More

Marla's Maple Cranberry Bourbon Martini

Marla’s Maple Cranberry Bourbon Martini

Ever wonder who’s behind those wildly successful food blogs? You know the ones that leave you salivating over every dish and make you yearn to recreate the same in your own home? Well, click on the play button below to hear what Telluride local Marla Meridith says about her blog, Family Fresh Cooking, a popular website/blog that enjoys a large following on virtually every platform of social media.

“I work hard to make it very visually appealing,” Marla told me during a recent Travel Fun interview when talking about how she became a food stylist/professional photographer/blogger practically overnight. “A lot of the food bloggers are self taught and workshop driven,” Marla continues when talking about her blog that features mostly original recipes and all her own photos. Indeed, Marla takes whole foods and makes them shine. In our interview she chats about two seasonal favorites: her Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cake and Maple Cranberry Bourbon Martini, recipes you’ll want to prepare for the holidays.

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