Dogs in the City

Paris has gone to the dogs…in the absolute best way possible. I’m aware that there are a lot of cities where you can take your dog to the terrace of a restaurant, or into a bank or whatever. But Paris seems to treat dogs as part of the family. In many places here in Paris, you can take your dog into a formal restaurant, complete with white tablecloths and linen napkins and sit your pooch down on the floor at your side while you dine.

In fact, Leon & I have done exactly that on more than one occasion. I’ve seen waiters kneel down for a moment petting, playing with and loving on our babies. When we’ve been seated, sometimes we have actually been given a table for four…so that the dogs would have enough room to be comfortable. They almost always bring over a bowl filled with cold water for the pooches too. Yep…I love this town.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a city as dog-friendly as Paris. We wander the streets with the pups every day, discovering new areas to love. And when you’re walking along with your furbabies, people actually stop you every so often to tell you how cute they are, “Ooh…trop mignon!” They will ask if they can pet them, ask about their age or breed, or both. They’ll even ask you if your dogs like living in the city. It’s utterly charming.

And it’s not just Paris…The entire country of France is very dog-friendly. So far, our pups have been welcomed in hotels, restaurants, shops and galleries all over France: Bordeaux, Champagne, Cognac, Armagnac, Saint Emillion, Pomerol, Dijon, Barbizon, Fronsac, Annecy, Strasbourg, Lacaves, and Bergerac, In fact, it’s pretty difficult to find places that don’t allow dogs. They are welcome almost anywhere. It’s fantastic if you’re a dog-lover. In France, people just get it.

“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.” – Roger Caras

April 1st – Poisson d’Avril


Did you know that the idea of April Fool’s Day actually originated in France?

In fact, the tradition dates all the way back to the 16th century.  Since then, the French have laughingly referred to the first day of April, not as April First, but April Fish (or “Poisson d’Avril”).

Why fish? Believe it or not, because of the Christian tradition of Lent. Giving each other a paper fish on the first of April was a way of gently poking fun at all the fish one was required to eat over Lent, having given up red meat until Easter.

The most popular trick played on this holiday is very old school. You cut out a piece of paper in the shape of a fish, and then stick it on the back of one of your friends. It’s that simple. The cut-outs can be plain or elaborately-colored and ornate. And the application of these fish can be anything from a good old “slap on the back” to much more elaborate plots in order to apply the cut-outs as sneakily as possible. When other people notice the fish on the person’s back, they point and shout “Poisson d’Avril!” Roughly translated, that means “YOU…are the April Fish!” School children in particular get a huge kick out of this game. They stick all kinds of paper fish on the backs of their friends, and sometimes, even their parents.

There are other pranks played throughout the day as well, of course. One of my favorites is done by the rail system in Paris. All day on April 1st, Homer Simpson tends to make the public announcements at the train station. Cute, right?

Of course, no tradition in France is complete without a food to commemorate it. And for Poisson d’Avril, it’s fish. All throughout Paris on April 1st, you’ll find plenty of chocolate fish to help you enjoy the holiday. Every chocolatier, boulangerie and patisserie has their own versions. If you would rather have real seafood, every restaurant in the city offers a fruit de mer special of the day as well.

Ever since the United States borrowed the concept of April Fool’s Day from the French, we’ve had to suffer through our friends’ practical jokes. My question is this. WHY, OH WHY, didn’t we steal the idea of chocolate fish too?   Ah well!

Bon Poisson d’Avril!

French Market Cooking Class


I often get asked “What’s the most fun thing you’ve ever done in Paris?” And in the past, my reply has been varied, depending on my mood and recollection. But from now on, I will always know exactly what to say! Last Saturday night was absolutely, without a doubt, the most fun we have EVER had in Paris.

We took a French market cooking class, complete with four-course gourmet dinner. It was so much fun! “Cook’n With Class” is the name of the company, and they’ve been really popular for years. They take a maximum of six people in any one class. That way, you get individual attention and have the ability to bond with all your other classmates, making the entire experience feel very personal, like dining in someone’s lovely home. But, I’m getting ahead of myself here.

First things first. We met each other on a street corner near the French market, and our “professor/chef” for the evening showed up with his shopping caddy. His name was Patrick (pronounced Pah-TREEK) and he was friendly, charming and full of great information! (By the way, each of the chefs for this school is very accomplished, and they are all fluent in English. They have to be.) All of the classes at this school are conducted entirely in English, which makes this a wonderful way for tourists to have a very French experience without the stress of actually having to speak French!

We went straight to the French market as a group, and hit the fishmonger, the butcher, the fromagerie, the produce market and even the boulangerie. Patrick showed us how to pick the freshest fish, the best quality meats, and even freshly baked bread. Wow, I learned things I never even expected.

I knew that a high-quality fish market should smell like the ocean, never like fish. But, there was a lot I wasn’t aware of. Who knew, for example, that when you’re looking for the best flat fish, you want it to be slimy? Weird, right? Patrick also showed us that when checking out the round fish, you have to look under the gills to make sure they’re still red and not brown. In addition, the fish should always look wet. Patrick was very insistent that you should always buy fish from the rear of the store, not the stall in front that’s on the street. (That’s where they try to sell the stuff that is oldest and about to go bad.) After learning all we could at the fish market, we moved on to the butcher.

At a French butcher, you’ll see a lot of things with their heads and feet still attached. I always thought this was just a creepy local custom, but man, was I ever wrong. Parisians know how to “read” these parts of the animals so that they know exactly the level of quality they’re buying.

We learned that chickens with yellow feet are the most common and usually lowest in price. Then come the chickens with black feet — higher quality, better taste, higher price. And finally, the rare blue-footed chicken with its gorgeous plumage is called the Poulet de Bresse. It is supposed to be the best chicken you can possibly eat. The quality of this bird is right up there along with Kobe beef from Japan. These beautiful birds are much more special than just a red label. Instead they sport a huge, blue, white and red label. The butcher even leaves the head on this guy with a ring of his beautiful plumage at the neck as double insurance that you’re getting a Bresse bird. When you buy one of these guys, you know you’re in for an insanely great dinner.

The heads of the rabbits are left on as well. Why, you may ask? So that the customers know they are indeed buying rabbits and not cats. Yes. You heard me correctly. (I’ll wait here for a moment for your gag-reflex to settle down.) Evidently, during World War II, butchers in Europe were low on meat, and it was difficult to get wild game brought into the city, so some butchers decided to try to fool customers into thinking the neighborhood cats were rabbits — as they both looked the same without their clothes on. Yikes! Fortunately, the government intervened, forcing butchers to leave the heads attached, so that customers could look at the teeth in order to make sure that they were buying actual rabbit. THAT is why butchers leave the heads on their rabbits still today. After that rather macabre lesson, we went on to the boulanger, the fromagerie, and the produce market to learn about each of them in turn.

Armed with all our new information, we began discussing options for dinner. Patrick gave us a few choices based on what he thought was best at the market that day. After each person chimed in with their likes and dislikes, he then quickly settled on a menu. He purchased the ingredients for the gorgeous dinner to come, and we all headed to the “Cook’n With Class” kitchens. It was a lovely space: a cozy kitchen with a large center island, complete with a separate work space for each guest. Each work station came with an apron, a cutting board and an individual sets of knives. It looked like it was set up for a cooking party — and that’s EXACTLY what it turned out to be!

Before we got there, I had been a bit worried that the evening would be kind of like being the slave labor for some scary chef, barking orders at us the entire evening: “You! Chop these onions! YOU! Wash those vegetables!” I couldn’t have been more wrong, thank goodness.

From the moment we settled in, we felt at home. Our chef, Patrick was funny, charming, entertaining and made each person feel special and capable, no matter how much of a beginner they were. When we arrived, he showed us into the lounge where we could help ourselves to fresh coffee while he unpacked the groceries. Then we all took a seat around the large kitchen island, ready to work.

The entire evening went something like this. A one to two-minute lesson from Patrick on how to do each step, followed by each of us being given a small amount of the same ingredient, so we could get the chance to mimic his example. By the time we’d each had our chance, that step of the preparation was complete, and we would move on to the next one. In our group there were people who lived in Paris, Russia and the United States. Within a very few minutes, we were all laughing and telling jokes, feeling like family in no time at all. After we had prepped the dinner, Patrick again ushered us into the lounge to taste the wines for the evening while the island was cleared and reset for our beautiful four-course gourmet dinner.

We learned a lot in this wonderful cooking lesson, but what I remember most of all was the laughter and the fun, the free-flowing wine and the family-feel of the entire evening. At first, when Patrick taught us how to sharpen a knife properly, we were all intimidated…afraid we’d cut off a finger. But slowly, we grew more confident. And we laughed as we sped up the process, giggling at our own bravery. We learned how to prepare a chocolate soufflé and then all the girls ate the leftovers right out of the bowl until it was all gone. We learned how to cut and sauté scallops while we told each other stories from our favorite vacations. And when Patrick taught us how make a delicious candied orange peel, we snuck bites out of the pot all evening — because they were just too good to resist.

We all watched Patrick like little kids at a magic show, while he whipped a bunch of eggs into a perfect creamy hollandaise sauce. Then, as each of us tasted it, we freaked over how amazing it was. We learned a few great tricks for seasoning & roasting cherry tomatoes while the heady aroma of sautéed duck filled the little kitchen.

The best part of the evening for me — was watching my adorable husband as he got to flambé the pears. When the flames shot over three feet into the air, the expression on his face was priceless. I’ll never forget it.

We tasted everything as we went along which made every step of the process more fun. Of course, dinner was served with all the wine we could drink — It is France, after all! We ate beuatiful food, we laughed, we told stories, and we watched in fascination as we learned French cooking techniques. Most importantly though, we made new friends and great memories. It wasn’t just dinner. It was theater, and it was great theater at that.

Our menu for the evening follows:
I. Pan-seared scallops atop a zucchini flan, served with orange-hollandaise and warmed orange segments, topped with candied orange peel. I’ll tell you, we all had a heavenly moment when we tasted that hollandaise.

II. Sautéed duck magret au jus, served with haricot vert, roasted cherry tomatoes and duck fat-sautéed potatoes.

III. A cheese course as French as it gets — seven beautiful cheeses from which to choose: washed rind, goat cheese, cow’s milk, roquefort. They had them all.

IV. Finally, in honor of my husband’s birthday, individual chocolate soufflés, his topped with a single candle to mark the day.

The evening course that we took lasts about 6-7 hours from start to finish. And by the time you leave, you feel deliciously full, wonderfully pampered and completely entertained.

If I could suggest one thing for any visitor to Paris, this would be it. This class is a wonderful, completely French experience without the stress of actually having to speak French. It is a memory to last a lifetime. Bon appetit!

It’s Not All “Ooh La La!”


Americans seem to think the phrase “Ooh la la” is very French — a perfect expression used to describe something unusually sexy or beautiful, like “Ooh la la! What a gorgeous engagement ring!” That couldn’t be farther from the truth.

First of all, the expression is not actually “Ooh la la” at all.  It’s “OH la la.” Parisians use this expression all the time, but only to describe something negative. I’ve never heard a French person use it to describe something positive. It’s always used for an unpleasant surprise. What a great expression it is, though! You hear it all the time in Paris – from absolutely everyone. Oh la la! when someone trips or falls. Oh la la! when a person drops something. Oh la la! when you hear bad news. It is used constantly.

I cannot tell you how adorable it is to see a grown man in a business suit calling out “Oh la la!” in a high voice when he realizes he’s about to step in dog poop. It’s hilarious.

It’s so cute, in fact, that it magically softens the blow of whatever just happened. And these days, it is my favorite expression.

“Oh la la!”