December 30, 2015

St. Germain

Is this not the most beautiful bottle? What's inside is just as enchanting. Made from elderflowers, St. Germain is a sweet liqueur, tasting of pear and peach and is Ah-mazing.  

Even the bottle cap is gorgeous. It reminds me of the elegant green and gold Laduree packaging.

Each bottle is individually numbered, with the year the flowers were picked.  

There are a variety of ways to drink St. Germain, as illustrated on the St. Germain website, but my favorite way is with champagne. This is the perfect festive cocktail for New Year's, birthdays, or any other celebratory occasion.

St. Germain with Champagne

St. Germain liqueur
champagne flute

Fill 1/5 of the champagne flute with St. Germain.
Fill the rest with champagne.


December 28, 2015

Book Review: The Song of Hartgrove Hall by Natasha Solomons

Publication Date: December 29, 2015

Source: Vine

New Year’s Eve, Dorset, England, 1946. Candles flicker, a gramophone scratches out a tune as guests dance and sip champagne— for one night Hartgrove Hall relives better days. Harry Fox-Talbot and his brothers have returned from World War II determined to save their once grand home from ruin. But the arrival of beautiful Jewish wartime singer Edie Rose tangles the threads of love and duty, and leads to a devastating betrayal.

Fifty years later, now a celebrated composer, Fox reels from the death of his adored wife, Edie. Until his connection with his four-year old grandson - a music prodigy – propels him back into life, and ultimately to confront his past. An enthralling novel about love and treachery, joy after grief, and a man forced to ask: is it ever too late to seek forgiveness?

I became a fan of Natasha Solomons upon reading The House of Tyneford, which was a romantic and emotionally gripping historical fiction set in World War II-era England.  The Song of Hartgrove Hall has alternating timelines from the point of view of the youngest of three English sons, Fox: one is post-World War II when Fox is a young man just back from the war and the other Fox as an elderly man mourning the recent loss of his beloved wife, Edie. Much of the past storyline centers around Fox pining for his brother’s girlfriend – whom you know, upon reading the future chapters, will eventually become his wife.  There is no suspense on whether they will end up together or not. The romantic suspense is in the how, which is related to the overarching theme of novel, that of music.

The Song of Hartgrove Hall has got to be one the best novels I’ve ever read which paints a vivid “picture” of how music inspires feeling, how it transports. The young Fox is a fledgling, amateur composer, who hides his passion from his military father. He goes around the English countryside listening to folk songs and setting them down to paper so that they will not be lost.

“He closes his eyes and starts to sing. He calls to the wind and curses the rain and the sky and the cruelty of the fate that leaves him out on the bare hillside while rich men snooze by their fires.  His voice shakes with fervor, and there’s an anger, raw and fierce, and he is both the singer and the song.  This isn’t a sentimental lament ruing some idealised past but a personal cry.  The sound seems to grow from the soil itself is somehow familiar as though I’ve heard it before and forgotten.  I want to catch hold of it, to fix this moment, and then he stops and it’s lost, but so am I.”

We know from the future chapters that at some point, Fox becomes a successful, professional composer, and that somehow it is music that brings he and Edie together.  While the early chapters are ones of hope and longing, the future ones are of loss and lament. Again, Solomons uses a painterly language for music to uplift and transcend the grieving Fox. I found myself eagerly looking forward to the musical passages that wove through the novel like lovely interludes.

“I’m struck with nostalgia for things I’ve never known. I yearn for a world unmapped, filled with hidden places and wild things, where there  are still dark places concealed deep in the woods where people dare not go. A place of long-forgotten songs.”

December 23, 2015

Have yourself a Harry Potter Christmas

December 21, 2015

Book Review: The Paris Winter by Imogen Robertson

Maud Heighton came to Lafond's famous Academie to paint, and to flee the constraints of her small English town. It took all her courage to escape, but Paris, she quickly realizes, is no place for a light purse. While her fellow students enjoy the dazzling decadence of the Belle Epoque, Maud slips into poverty. Quietly starving, and dreading another cold Paris winter, she stumbles upon an opportunity when Christian Morel engages her as a live-in companion to his beautiful young sister, Sylvie.

Maud is overjoyed by her good fortune. With a clean room, hot meals, and an umbrella to keep her dry, she is able to hold her head high as she strolls the streets of Montmartre. No longer hostage to poverty and hunger, Maud can at last devote herself to her art.

But all is not as it seems. Christian and Sylvie, Maud soon discovers, are not quite the darlings they pretend to be. Sylvie has a secret addiction to opium and Christian has an ominous air of intrigue. As this dark and powerful tale progresses, Maud is drawn further into the Morels' world of elegant deception. Their secrets become hers, and soon she is caught in a scheme of betrayal and revenge that will plunge her into the darkness that waits beneath this glittering city of light.

Turn-of-the-century Paris conjures romantic visions but in The Paris Winter, Imogen Robertson paints a very different picture. For a single young woman on a very limited income, Paris was a harsh place to live. The main character, proud Maud, has come to Paris from England to learn how to paint. She doesn’t have enough money to eat and is in danger of starving or freezing during the winter. The live model at the academy, street-wise Yvette, scrapes by through legitimate and illegitimate means. The only woman who embodies the gaiety and light beauty of the Belle Epoque is lively Tanya, a Russian heiress and art student as well. But even she is in an economical quandary – either marry a rich Russian her father approves of or live in much reduced circumstances with the man she loves.

Together, these three women form an unlikely bond when sinister circumstances befall Maud. The writing is evocative and nuanced. I especially liked the vivid descriptions of paintings from a fictional catalogue preceding each chapter that foreshadowed plot points and fleshed out more subtle themes.

If you love art, especially the Impressionists, if you adore Paris, if you love historical fiction along the lines of Sarah Waters and Jeanette Winterton, you will love The Paris Winter.

December 18, 2015


During my trip to Morocco this past year, I took a few days from visiting Marrakech to explore the seaside town of Essaouira, a three-hour drive away. Essaouira is famous for its annual Gnawa music festival, seafood, and being a mellow antidote to the sometimes feverish intensity of Marrakech.  To me, Essaouira will always invoke a particular shade of vibrant blue, found everywhere from its fishing boats to its doors and shutters. In fact, artists can buy this powdered pigment from street vendors, which is simply called "Essaouira."

December 16, 2015

Rack of Lamb

The ratio of ease to wow factor is off the charts with this dish by Barefoot Contessa. Rack of lamb is what you want to serve when you want to impress someone special or in the mood for celebration. It's also perfect for a no-stress dinner party main course. You cannot mess this up!


1 1/2 tablespoons sea salt
2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 racks of lamb, "Frenched" (means scraping the meat off the tips of the bones)

1. Process the salt, rosemary, and garlic in the food processor until finely minced.  AdD the mustard and balsamic vinegar and process for 1 minute.
2. Place the lamb in a roasting pan with the ribs curving down, and coat the tops with the mustard mixture.  Allow to stand for 1 hour at room temperature.
3. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
4. Roast the lamb for exactly 20 minutes for rare or 25 minutes for medium-rare.  Remove from the oven and cover with aluminum foil. Allow to sit for 15 minutes, then cut into individual ribs and serve.

December 14, 2015

Book Review: The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

Publication Date: June 23, 2015

Source: Vine

Monsieur Perdu can prescribe the perfect book for a broken heart. But can he fix his own?

Monsieur Perdu calls himself a literary apothecary. From his floating bookstore in a barge on the Seine, he prescribes novels for the hardships of life. Using his intuitive feel for the exact book a reader needs, Perdu mends broken hearts and souls. The only person he can’t seem to heal through literature is himself; he’s still haunted by heartbreak after his great love disappeared. She left him with only a letter, which he has never opened.

After Perdu is finally tempted to read the letter, he hauls anchor and departs on a mission to the south of France, hoping to make peace with his loss and discover the end of the story. Joined by a bestselling but blocked author and a lovelorn Italian chef, Perdu travels along the country’s rivers, dispensing his wisdom and his books, showing that the literary world can take the human soul on a journey to heal itself.

The first 100 or so pages of The Little Paris Bookshop was very much like falling head over heels in love - enchantment, starry-eyed, heart-palpitating - you're the one, how can you know all my deepest, darkest secrets, where have you been all my life, you wonderful, magical book you. I already knew the standing ovation of a review I was going to write, even the headline: "THE ONLY BOOK YOU NEED TO READ."

But, alas - and you knew there was going to be a but - the rest of the book was like falling down to earth when you realize all the faults of your gorgeous, intriguing new beloved.

Let's talk about what made me fall hard for The Little Paris Bookshop in the first place. To continue with the metaphor, the first 100 pages was like meeting a soulful, charming Frenchman in Paris bookshop. He knows just what you need, can talk passionately about Game of Thrones and Harry Potter, as well as Jose Saramago and E.M. Forster. He romances you with wine and croissants and isn't afraid to love deeply or cry in front of you. How refreshing he is!

But then the more you spend time with him, it becomes tougher for you to listen to him talk about the great love of his life and how he keeps crying over her. He is in the midst of his Eat, Pray, Love drama and it is a little tough to take. Despite the fact that he is taking you on a river journey down Provence, where the scenery is picture-perfect as a postcard and you make quirky friends along the way, it just doesn't have the same magic as your time in Paris.

STILL, despite the gentle letdown of the rest of the book, the first 100 pages is still better than anything else I've read all year or even farther than that. It is for anyone even vaguely bookish, for anyone who's ever turned to a book to soothe a broken heart, or for any emotional ailment.

Just like its charming protagonist, Jean Perdu, I believe that there are books for each person that is just right - that is what they need at that moment.

"...Sanary's Southern Lights was the only thing that pierced him without hurting. Reading Southern Lights was a homeopathic dose of happiness. It was the only balm that could ease Perdu's pain - a gentle, cold stream over the scorched earth of his soul."