A Food Lover’s Guide to Paris

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Like quite some many Vietnamese immigrants in Australia, my parents ran a busy bakery which sold everything from the likes of crusty Vietnamese baguettes to sourdough breads, meat pies and sausage rolls, and a wide selection of cakes and pastries from the humble Australian lamington to French classics such as the éclair and tarte au citron. If I wasn’t eating toast with Vegemite for breakfast, I was eating a hot croissant, straight from the baker’s oven. Any croissants leftover at the end of the day were often re-fashioned into sandwiches to be sold the next day, filled with ham, cheese and salad. My other favourite was the apple turnover; when they weren’t sold warm from the oven, my mother would split them open and pipe freshly whipped cream inside for a more luxurious treat. I doubt this is how the French would eat their croissants or chaussons aux pommes, but that’s how we did it in Australia and I loved it.

As a child, I always felt spoilt by the endless selection of delightful sweet treats in our family bakery. Now, as an adult, I feel equally spoilt by the cakes and pastries on offer in Europe, especially whenever we find ourselves in Paris. With Paris only a 4 hour train journey from Zurich, we find ourselves in the City of Light quite frequently, often as a stopover on the way to visit our families on the far-flung coastlines of France. Such stopovers are often necessary for me to mentally prepare myself for the family gathering ahead. At other times, our Parisian stopover takes place on the way back to Zurich, something which my husband describes as a reward (for me) for having survived another bout with my in-laws. Perhaps because Paris has always been a treat of some sort that each and every visit has always been savoured and enjoyed to the fullest.

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On Instagram & A Quick Trip to Brittany

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I ought to rephrase the title of this post because there is no such thing as a quick trip to Brittany. Set in the far north western corner of France, there is never a quick route to visit our family and a train journey from Zurich typically takes 12 hours door to door. And making this trip with an 11-month old baby somehow feels twice as long. But the trip is always worthwhile for the good, home-cooked food that eventually awaits us at the end of a long journey.

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City Guide – London

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A (long) while back, I optimistically mentioned that I would be publishing a travel post on London. But when I went looking through my photos, I realised that I had actually very few photos of London. There is one of me standing proudly in front of the Australian Embassy for no apparent reason other than perhaps I was feeling a little homesick that day. And then there are a few shots of my husband with the Gherkin in the background. The remaining photos are all foodie shots, and not so many at that. I guess I was a bit camera-shy that trip or just enjoying myself too much to remember to whip out the camera.

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A Weekend in Kandersteg & Pearl Barley Soup

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A trip to the Swiss mountains usually guarantees good, hearty, winter fare. After a day of heavy duty winter sports, the body is likely to crave something substantial, something loaded with calories. On a recent weekend away in the picturesque Swiss village of Kandersteg, my husband and I found it difficult to hold back when it came to mealtimes, despite the fact that neither of us had engaged in any strenuous outdoor activity which would have explained our hearty appetites. But as my husband likes to put it, some dishes taste best when served in the appropriate surrounding environment; a fondue somehow tastes better when served in the mountains in an old wooden hut where everyone is rugged up in their winter woollies.

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Happy New Year from Grindelwald, Switzerland

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Happy New Year everyone!

We welcomed in the New Year with our lovely neighbours over good food, wine and smelly cheese, followed by a spectacular display of fireworks over Lake Zurich. The following day, we headed to the mountains of Grindelwald for a change of scenery. Anyone who has watched the classic Clint Eastwood film, The Eiger Sanction, will be somewhat familiar with the famous Eiger mountain that dominates Grindelwald. Unfortunately, I never made it to the ski slopes on this occasion, mostly due to lethargy brought on by round-the-clock feeding and midnight partying at the Little One’s request. That said, despite our initial hesitations about travelling with such a young baby, we had such an enjoyable and relaxing time that we ended up extending our stay.

Quite often when on holidays, eating out at restaurants several times a day for several days in a row can be tiring and make one homesick and anxious for a home-cooked meal. But when you are a new parent, sleep-deprived and out of ideas for one-pot and super-quick dishes, eating out happens to be a real blessing.

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Martha’s Vineyard, USA

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I had always dreamt of visiting Martha’s Vineyard, though it never quite occurred to me that an opportunity to actually do so would ever arise. The closest we had come once was when planning our honeymoon which eventually took place on the neighbouring island of Nantucket. But last summer, faced with the choice of returning to the idyllic comfort of Nantucket or visiting Martha’s Vineyard as a new destination, we suddenly found ourselves with a difficult decision on our hands. A Google search on “Nantucket vs Martha’s Vineyard” returned various forums and pages where people hotly debated the pros and cons of each destination. Being rather risk-averse, we made a safe bet in returning to Nantucket, but delighted in the discovery that a day trip to Martha’s Vineyard was possible via a short splash across the waters with Cape Air.

Martha’s Vineyard is not really a vineyard. Actually, I’m not sure if I saw any vineyards when we were there, so don’t expect a vast and sprawling wine region with scenic vineyards at every turn. What you can expect, rather, is an affluent island, home to high-profile personalities and a second home to many more celebrities.

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Chocolate Chip Chouquettes

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While working in the outer suburbs of Chicago in the last few years, I often found myself at a Barnes & Noble or Borders bookstore during lunch, not only because I have a fondness for bookshops but mostly because I discovered that living and working in Switzerland had had a big influence on my lunch-time eating habits.

Unlike the Australians and Americans who often grab a quick sandwich or heat up leftovers to eat at their desk, the Swiss tend towards a leisurely a 2-3 course hot lunch, followed by a customary coffee before heading back to their desks once their lunch hour (or two) is up. This is not to say that the Swiss are dwindling away their time during office hours; lunch breaks are mandatory by law and most people often use their hour for business chit-chat or networking, and enjoy a good meal in the process. It is also commonplace to lunch with your colleagues at the work canteen, so it is a culture which fosters social interaction amongst employees, even if you might only end up talking about work or engaging in polite chatter over your meal. I have to admit that I enjoy the Swiss approach to lunching and one often feels that the lunch break was in fact a break.

But as a visitor to the offices in the US, lunch was often a lonely experience for me. Several colleagues often went out of their way to lunch with me now and then, but I got the feeling early on that most tended to work through their lunch hours, that anything more than 15 minutes was only reserved for the odd occasion, like when a visiting colleague was in town. But as I often worked in the US for about a month at a time, I couldn’t expect a leisurely lunch everyday. Yet it didn’t feel right to sit in front of my computer with a styrofoam cup of soup and a plastic spoon when I was so used to sitting down to a proper meal with proper cutlery (or, as they say in the US, silverware). So on those days when I found myself alone at lunch, I would hop into the car and drive to one of the many malls nearby for some amusement. I didn’t mind so much hanging out on my own as it was rather an adventure to explore the mid-west while working there. And so I often found myself at a bookshop where I would grab a quick snack at their in-store coffee shop, and flick through books which I would never find back in Zurich, like the complete Paula Deen collection. Or the rather unusual semi-homemade offers by Sandra Lee. I must confess to having a soft spot for American cooking.

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Le Salon du Chocolat, Zürich

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The Salon du Chocolat is the world’s largest event dedicated to chocolate and this year was the first time the event came to Zurich, Switzerland.

One of the organisers of the event was Kerrin Rousset of the delightful Swiss food and travel blog, My Kugelhopf. She and her colleagues did a fantastic job in introducing some truly wonderful French chocolatiers and pastry chefs to Switzerland, as well as bringing together some local names for what was a really successful and enjoyable event.

With over 30 stalls, visitors were able to sample a variety of artisanal chocolates on offer, ask questions about the ingredients used and techniques employed, and generally enjoy the visual displays on offer. The event was a chocolate-lover’s dream and I hope it will return to Zurich next year!

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Brittany, France and New Year’s Resolutions for 2012

Happy New Year everyone! I hope you have all had a good start to 2012 with lots of fine celebrations, good food and good company.

Christmas for us is usually spent with our family in Brittany, a cold and windy region in the north-west of France. Except, this year, it was thankfully not so cold and windy, which meant that my Ugg boots which I had lugged with me on the 9 hour train journey from Zurich didn’t even make an appearance this winter. There were even moments when the sun shone for more than a few hours, allowing us (and every other family it seemed) to take a lovely stroll along the magnificent beaches, something which one would normally only want to brave in summer.

The holiday season is often synonymous with an abundance of food, which is necessarily coupled with bouts of inactivity (preferably on the sofa) where one is unable to move for all of the food which has just been consumed. I have still yet to work out if it is a norm for my in-laws or a custom which they adopt only when I am visiting, but each meal that we sit down to comprises of an alarming 6 courses, and once you add up the time taken to get through each course, you will find that you’ve been eating for a good 3 hours before coming to the sudden realisation that the next 6 course meal is only a few hours away. Do this a few times a day for a week and you would hardly need encouragement to ensure that your New Year’s resolution will include some form of dieting.

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Nantucket, USA

The mere mention of Nantucket often raises eyebrows, even amongst our geography-bright friends. Most people have never heard of the place, they don’t know where it is or they think it is a fictional town.

We first visited Nantucket in 2010 for our honeymoon. Hubby had volunteered for the task of organising this much-needed holiday, before he realised that it was a traditional task of the groom! I left quiet hints about Martha’s Vineyard or the Hamptons, not really knowing too much about these places except that that was where the rich kids vacationed in Gossip Girl. Oh and that these places sounded so … American.

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Wales and Welsh Cakes

We’ve been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to go to Wales twice, both times for weddings of close friends. It is such a beautiful country, particularly if you head outside of Cardiff where you will see picturesque rolling hillsides, lush green farms and, if you make it that far, magnificent coast lines.

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