Saturday, April 10, 2010

Flower Arranging Class in Paris

I was in Paris for my birthday this year and I gave myself the gift of attending a flower arranging workshop with Catherine Muller, a delightful and creative florist, at her new store,'s a display from her store - yes, those are coins glued onto a torso.
Catherine's classes are in French and English and she can even throw in the odd Korean word. There were five of us in the class - three young women from Korea, myself, and another Parisian florist. Just an aside.....I've previously taken a flower arranging course in London and there were two gals in the course from Korea. I'm thinking that flowers must hold a special place in the hearts and minds of the Korean people. Does anyone know the reason?

Raw products were at each station ready for preparation of the first arrangement.
) My first arrangement of peonies, lilacs, anemones, one large hydrangea, and long strands of ivy (Catherine's signature style is natural and she uses sprigs of ivy in the arrangement as well as ties the bouquet with it instead of wire or tape.

We deconstructed this arrangement and Catherine demonstrated how to use the same flowers to create a centrepiece on a mirrored surface. She scattered water drops on the mirrored surface and petals to simulate a sprinkle of rain.

I thought this was so creative - using 2-way tape to attach single hydrangea blooms around a small vase to hold a floating votive.
The afternoon's arrangement resembled a cake of flowers on a pedestal:
Catherine's final arrangement of the day incorporated lavendar roses, sweet avalanche roses, pink nerines, vanda orchids, and magnolia branches. This would be suitable for an office desk because the flowers are arranged vertically thus taking up less space.
Catherine also has a blog which gives a link to her flower school. Interesting to note is that one her students, Laura Dowling, is the new florist for the White House.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Cooking Class in Paris

Before going to Paris, my sister-in-law, Susan, sent me the Eye Prefer Paris blog by Richard Naham (transplanted New York restaurant owner and caterer) which linked me to the Eye Prefer Paris Cooking Classes. Having a free day on the Friday (classes are offered Wed. through Sun.), our group of four women decided to try it. It turned out to be one of our best experiences that week.

Richard picked us up at the Raspail Metro station at 9 am. and we shopped the Raspail market selecting seasonal ingredients for the lunch we would be making.Richard pointed out that often radishes are presented as an accompaniment to appertifs with butter and salt...the green stems removed but not necessarily the white tails. White asparagus were in season. Scallops from Normandy were displayed in their shells.
The Raspail market is open Tuesdays and Fridays and also includes clothing items such as reasonably priced scarves (beautiful ones for 5 euros) and stylish kid's clothing.

Following our market tour, Richard took us on a Metro ride to the private townhouse of our cooking class chef, Charlotte Puckette, a delightful woman originally from Charleston, South Carolina who has 13 yr. old triplets and has lived in Paris for over 20 years operating a successful catering business. Over coffee we discussed the lunch menu we would make:
Asparagus Tart with Chevre and Arugula
Roasted Duck Breast with Fig Gastrique and
Chocolate Fondant

Note the beautiful stone walls of Charlotte's newly designed kitchen - making up the entire first floor of her townhouse. Here is some of our group trying our hand at the asparagus tart.
and the finished product...
The recipes were easy to adopt to our Canadian kitchens using ingredients we could find at home. Cost of the class and market tour is 185 euros per person (about 4.5 hrs.) and it would be ideal for 3 - 6 people.....a wonderful addition to any Paris trip. Richard also does shopping tours to stores known only to insiders.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Flowers Along the Parisian Streets

Last week I went on a wonderful art and architecture tour of Paris with Professor Michael Farrell through Art House Tours. We were a group of 40 from the Windsor-Detroit area and I was lucky to have three good friends with me. The art and architecture of course were the main event but, to me, a breathtaking vision was the array of flowers and plants displayed along the Parisian streets. Masses of primroses announced that this was spring in Paris.

This floral display at Aquarelle was astounding - rows of arrangements tied with raffia in plastic wrap "vases" filled with water. The prices were reasonable.....20 euros each (about $30. Canadian).

Muscari (grape hyacinth) bulbs in small pots at Bourgeon - Catherine Muller's new floral shop and school.....more about that in a subsequent post.

Multicoloured roses were the theme for this innovative shop....could this work in Windsor?

And these parrot tulips ready to burst....

I was wishing that I had a better camera by the end of the week. I'll leave you today with a photo I snapped while walking back to the hotel on our last evening. Ah there a better city on the planet?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Las Balsas Hotel, Patagonia Argentina

Las Balsas is a hotel near Bariloche which is part of the Relais and Chateaux group. You can depend on great attention paid to decor, food, and service at any Relais and Chateaux property worldwide. This is the spa and workout area.

Our room featured this unique chandelier. I apolgize for the photo not looking as wonderful as this piece actually is. It's made of driftwood adorned with crystals - such a clever combination of rugged and highbrow materials. The receptionist's sister is the artist and she also made all the lamps in the room in a similar fashion.

My favourite piece of art in the hotel is this beautiful oil painting of a fisherman hanging on their dining room wall.This artist really knows how to make every brushstroke count.

Just for fun today, I'll add one of my own paintings (completed with a lot of help from my extremely talented art teacher, Garfield Purdie from Amherstburg, Ontario) that evokes thoughts of the tango in Argentina with it's ruffled skirt design.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Flowers at the Alvear Palace Hotel

I've always admired the flowers at hotels and being an amateur floral arranger myself, I tend to study them closely. The florist for the elegant Buenos Aires hotel, the Alvear Palace, chose a brilliant red orange colour as the predominant theme in the lobby spaces.

The combination of the red hypericum berry with the roses was carried through on the lobby bar.

Even our room had roses in the sitting area and at breakfast there was a posey bouquet based on the same theme.

This last arrangement is my own inspired by the beautiful bouquets at the Alvear using a rose with more yellow in it. My hypericum berries didn't look as fresh as the ones at the hotel after a couple of days.....maybe Argentina has a better source for them?

Monday, March 8, 2010

El Pedral Lodge

Vince meets you at the Trelow airport and you load into his pickup truck for the hour and a half ride through the most unattractive scrubland along a dirt road. I could read my travel companions' minds....."where in the world are we going and wherever it is, it better be good." The drive ends at the El Pedral Lodge - a working ranch turned guest lodge in 2004 on the coast of the Peninsula Valdes region. Your opinion starts to change once you are warmly greeted and told that your first excursion starts in 15 ATV ride on the deserted beach to see their new colony of Magellan penguins.

Other wildlife viewing adventures await. You don't have to organize anything and two nights is the perfect amount of time to spend here. A trip the next day in the zodiac allowed us to get up close and personal with a large community of sea lions.

Going with another couple would be my recommendation since you are miles from anywhere and there is no entertainment (ie. no television or movies) after dinner. Accommodations and dining are comfortable, although not luxurious. This is the living room of the main house.

Clothing is ultra casual - jeans and yoga wear, a windbreaker, running shoes for hiking and boating. For the boat rides, a toque that covers your ears is perferrable instead of a visor. Sunscreen and lip protector are musts.

Would I go back? In a heartbeat.....I'd try to fly into Puerto Madryn because it would knock off 45 minutes of the drive from the airport (but flights only go Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays into Puerto Madryn while they fly everyday into Trelow)and I would definitely go during whale watching season - between July and November. You would see the magnificent whales in your private zodiac boat as well as more elephant seals. Instead of the 42 we saw, there would be 36,000 and you would see the two ton males, not just the "teenagers".

We ended the visit with a leisurely horseback ride and dinner with a glass or two of the chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon from the Tupungato Winelands winery in Mendoza.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Should You Go To Argentina?

Did you know that more North Americans travel to Europe than to South America?....probably you do, and there's nothing wrong that, but we're missing out on some once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Just having returned from Argentina, our first exposure to South America, I would definitely return again and might follow this itinerary next time: Buenos Aires, Trelew or Puerto Madryn, El Calafete, San Carlos De Bariloche, and then back to Buenos Aires. Spend 2 nights in each place and one night in Buenos Aires before your flight home (ie. 9 days). The rationale for this is the in-country flight schedules. There isn't a way to get from one place to the other without first returning to Buenos Aires except for this itinerary which takes you around the southern triangle of Argentina. You will be missing out on some regions like the Mendoza wine region and the Iguazu Falls, but you will just have to return for a second trip.

Some things to do or stop and think about along the way:
Buenos Aires - Consider the Alvear Hotel which is reminiscent of the George V in Paris with lots of marble and floral arrangements.

I love this photo of a marble staircase in the hotel....more about the floral arrangements in a subsequent post since fresh flowers are one of my passions and I think the attention given to them is a mark of a truly grand hotel.

Eat at La Bourgogne - superb French cuisine - located inside the Alvear Hotel...a good idea if you have an early morning flight. I would make reservations beforehand since we were fortunate to get in on a cancellation. And if you want the best tuna sandwich you've ever tasted (slabs of tuna steak with roasted red peppers) enjoy it at the Lobby Bar.

Visit the Recoleta Cementary. I know that sounds like a weird attraction to see, but it's absolutely fascinating. It's like a mini city of architecturally elegant monuments and tombs. Best to have a guide take you around.

This is the door on Evita's black marble grave inscribed with the words of the song that keep running through your head "Don't cry for me, Argentina. I remain quite near to you."

Also don't miss perusing the famous bookstore that was a former Opera Hall.What a great way to repurpose a building!

One last picture - somewhat of an climactic oddity - after a late lunch on our first day we were drinking the rest of a good Malbec in a restaurant watching a tremendous downpour. The streets were flooded in a matter of minutes. It was the second time that week that Buenos Aires had a deluge of rain, very atypical......and then a week later, Chile experienced a horrific earthquake in Concepcion - a city situated parallel with Buenos Aires. While not associated with each other, it does make you think about the power of nature and how we need to interact with it as gently as possible.

I'll take you to the El Pedro Lodge near Puerto Madryn in my next post.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Restaurants and Shops in Vail

At the end of January, our group of 8 - 10 enjoyed the following restaurants. A nice feature for us was that we made reservations the day of.
  • Larkspur (seating closer to the open kitchen is better)
  • The Left Bank (staff seems to have less attitude these days & they now accept credit cards; excellent food - we think the best in Vail & don't miss, or share, the chocolate souffle)
  • Campo de Fiori (noisy, fun, good for groups, a happening place)
  • Sweet Basil (our all-time favourite; we always have at least one lunch here - must get there by 2:30 pm. The lamb sliders were a hit as well as the beet salad with goat cheese dressing. I loved the lump crab & bow-tie pasta appetizer for dinner. Others raved over the striped bass.)
  • Would like to try Bistro Fourteen (on mountain @Eagle's Nest) next time for lunch.....has anyone tried it?
Favourite shopping destinations:
  • Annie's : home accessories, every candle fragrance you've ever heard of, amazing collection of can spend an hour just reading the greeting cards. One year my friend, Pam, followed me around the store noting my ooh's and ahh's and then went back the next day to buy me those objects for my birthday.
  • Pepi's: Blew my "clothing diet" here. Make sure you go up to the second floor and search out the sales rack at the back of the store.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Long Weekend in Vail: Where to Stay?

Our annual ski trip to Colorado with friends - five couples from Windsor.....this year's destination was Vail - staying again, for the third time at The Christiania at Vail. Selling points: ski-in, ski-out location, heated ski and boot overnight storage with helpful attendant, daily breakfast ($7.50/person) and steps to the heart of Vail village. This is Tina relaxing in the lobby of The Christiania before walking to dinner.

Room 206 at The Christiania: our friends enjoyed this room....two bathrooms, separate sitting room with fireplace, large balcony with mountain view.

Room husband and I were booked into room 202 initially and it was too small for all our skiing paraphenalia (would be fine if you're a single) plus it's right beside the bar which can be noisy on weekends. We were fortunate to be able to move across the street to Unit 7 the Valhalla Villa condos, also managed by The Christiania.

On previous trips to Vail our group has stayed at the Sonnenalp (luxurious large bathrooms) and The Lodge at Vail but the coziness and elegance without pretension of The Christiania and possibly the fact that you can register for the American Educational Institute's Medical-Dental-Legal course on site has won us over.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Field Trip: Chihuli in Toledo

There's something transcending about visiting an art museum. About an hour and a half from Windsor, there's a gem of an art museum, The Toledo Museum of Art. The Glass Pavilion building is home to an exhibit of Chihuli glass work until Feb. 7th. Admission is free....the part of it I enjoyed the most were the videos showing how Chihuli's team creates their magnificent,organic,beyond-this-world pieces. If you've studied the glass ceiling installation at The Bellagio in Las Vegas you've experienced Chihuli's work on a grand scale.

This photo shows the Chihuli chandelier at the entrance - the only work I was allowed to photograph...something about "copyright". Having just taken a "glass bead workshop" at The Glass Academy in Michigan and struggling to coordinate the torch in one hand and the hot glass in the other to create a few lopsided, lame-looking beads, I was completely in awe of this master artist and his team.

February (the most sunless month in our area) is an excellent time to seek out a local art exhibit and plan an afternoon or day trip.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Renting a Villa in St. Martin: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Why am I in St. Martin two days after arriving home from Aspen? My youngest son was about to start medical school on the island and someone had to help settle him in. Because the first week of January is the busiest time of the year on the island, I couldn't find a hotel room close to the school (opposite Mullet Bay Beach close to Cupecoy) so I opted for renting the least expensive 2 - bdrm. villa I could find in the Terres Basses area (15 minutes to the school) through an agent with Villa Luxe.

The Good
■ beautiful view from the patio, across pool to island of Saba
■ blue and white French country theme (more of a charming cottage as opposed to a villa)
■ stocked for breakfasts without me asking for anything
■ the owners lived next door and were truly helpful
■ spacious bedrooms, two baths with showers, wireless for internet
■ concierge on call to problem solve and make reservations

The Bad
■ the price - it's high season although apparently it's half price come April (I wonder if it would have been cheaper to book directly through Pierres Caraibes, the local St. Martin property management)
■ AC wasn't on when we arrived and I panicked a bit before we figured out that the air conditioning could be easily adjusted even by a non-techno person like myself
■ the owner's dog.....disturbed me the first time I saw him but I got used to him and he became no bother at all
■ a little too "buggy" for me....note to self: if a bed has a mosquito netting canopy, it's not just for decor
■ at the end of the stay I was wishing it was within walking distance to a beach

The Ugly
■ no water from taps the morning after our arrival, so couldn't shower but could make coffee using bottled water...the owner came by about 11 am. explaining that the water was off on the whole French side of the island that morning and that he could play with some valves and put it on for us....but not to use the water for brushing your teeth - which I already had the night before....and definitely ugly would be how I would describe myself as I stood in my pyjamas with curlers in my hair and no makeup meeting the owner for the first time as he explanied about how the French side conserved water on Sunday mornings

The Consensus
The good outweighed the bad - incredibly peaceful, tastefully decorated, well equipped, gave me a real sense of island living. Having owners in residence next door was comforting. I liked the spaciousness and tranquility of villa/cottage living as compared to a hotel and will try renting another one on my next visit - perhaps something closer to the beach though.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Aspen Restaurants

Making restaurant reservations is somehow always my job when travelling with friends.....not sure why, probably because I love to eat good food.....and I've realized that people will usually go along with me if I make the reservation. It can take some researching (a good online source of restaurant reviews is and asking like-minded friends is always a good source. (ie. I hadn't heard of Pacific Grill but a friend told me that his group ate there twice when they were in Aspen last April).

Getting reservations for the week between Christmas and New Year's is problematic in Aspen, especially if you have a large group of seven people like we had. Calling a month ahead of your visit is recommended. I only was clever enough to do this for Christmas Day dinner - Montagne's at Little Nell (970-920-6335). A great atmosphere and wonderful cozy table (partial booth) for our group, but frightfully expensive since they were just serving a tasting menu that night. Other reservations that I could get before we went were Rustique (dreamy risotto...970-920-2555), L'Hostaria (970-925-9022), and Olives (great maitre d from Glasgow who knows alot about single malt scotch - always a mistake the next morning but who thinks about that - and a fun dessert of s'mores which requires roasting your own marshmallow at your table...970-920-3300...oh, and tell them that you don't want to sit in the small rooms on the sides, you'd like to sit in the main room). Pinons (970-920-2021) and Pacific Grill (970-929-9775) could not accommodate us when I called two weeks ahead of time but we did end up getting a reservation by calling the day of. Apparently they usually have some cancellations each night. Also consider eating a little later or earlier instead of the usual 7:30 - 8:30 time slot. A lunch visit to Gwyn's High Alpine (970-923-5188) on Snowmass Mountain is a must at least once during your stay. You can call that morning to get your name on the list for that day.

By the way, there was no consensus as to which restaurant we all liked the best but my sons preferred Pinons (tuna tacos and beef tenderloin topped with foie gras) and I liked Pacific Grill (seafood appetizer platter for the table, black cod, and chocolate fondue - the four types of salt on the table was also a memorable detail).

Next time, I would book a sushi night.....seems like everyone likes sushi except me.As well, I'd like to try Il Mulino (see above photo), the newest outpost of the New York Il Mulino restaurant. We did have a chance to enjoy a drink and pizza at the bar one late afternoon and had an enjoyable conversation with Jean Paul, former teammate of Jean Claude Killy....priceless.This visit I phoned in my reservations after trying to email Montagne's and not getting any reply, but I'd try the email route next time, but again a month ahead if going around New Year.