Tag Archives: life

Saint Emilion Chronicles #4: His French Heaven

FRANCE, Montagne: Château Saint Jacques Calon, Stephane Gabart's wonderful B&B

After presenting a little bit of Saint Emilion in general, one of its magnificent churches and Saint Emilion’s sweet treats on previous posts, time has come to unveil the little “secret” about where we stayed during our visit: but of course, we had no hesitation to email fellow food blogger, cook, photographer and aesthete Stephane Gabbart, who authors the sleek and elegant blog “My French Heaven” and operates a wonderful B&B in the vicinities of Saint Emilion!

FRANCE, Montagne: The common areas at Château Saint Jacques Calon

Stephane’s family have been Bordeaux wine merchants for generations, but he decided to follow his own call and study cooking and Hotel Management in Lyon under uber-famous French Chef Paul Bocuse. After completing his studies, Stephane worked for 10 years for Ritz-Carlton at several of their locations in the US. Then in 2005 he headed back to France, where he started operating a B&B in his beautiful family property near Saint Emilion and later on he founded his wonderful blog, My French Heaven.

FRANCE, Montagne: Details of the common areas at Château Saint Jacques Calon

In case you are not following Stephane’s blog yet, do yourself a favor and check it out as it really is exceptional, in terms of both learning authentic, delicious French recipes and soothing your eye with Stephane’s outstanding food photography.

FRANCE, Montagne: The pool area at Château Saint Jacques Calon

FRANCE, Montagne: Details of the common areas at Château Saint Jacques CalonBut back to Stephane’s B&B and our stay: the property is called Château Saint-Jacques Calon and is located in the town of Montagne, a short 5 minute drive from Saint Emilion (for driving directions or reservations, check out the B&B’s Website). Montagne is a beautiful small town in its own right, as I will show you on a future post. The B&B is nothing short of phenomenal, inside and out, as you can tell from my photographs that illustrate this post. The chateau is a large family house with a beautiful front yard and a neatly manicured inner yard with a large swimming pool, right by which the most delicious continental breakfast is served in the mornings of the warmer months of the year.

FRANCE, Montagne: The common areas at Château Saint Jacques Calon

FRANCE, Montagne: Details of the common areas at Château Saint Jacques CalonStephane is the most gracious host and goes out of his way to personally ensure that your stay is as satisfactory and pleasant as possible. He even takes care of selecting the freshest ingredients for breakfast himself: that baguette… those fruit preserves… that fresh seasonal fruit… hmmmm… Everything was so wonderfully exquisite!

Beside that, Stephane is more than willing to help as necessary, including by recommending great restaurants and the best wine store in Saint Emilion (more on that on later posts) and getting to the point of escorting us on a mini-trip to visit the nearby Libourne food market! Of course, Stephane’s English is flawless and, I have to say, so are his map-drawing skills: he charted out our route to a local restaurant in a nearby village with Google-Earth precision! 😉

FRANCE, Montagne: The common areas at Château Saint Jacques Calon

To top it all of, Stephane is a real pleasure to spend time with, very personable and incredibly kind to all his guests. A true French gentleman. Plus, he offers fellow bloggers a discount off the regular B&B rates and, for those who may be interested, guests may also sign up for French cooking classes with him.

Thank you, Stephane, for making our stay in Saint Emilion so pleasant and productive! 🙂

Still Blowing Like a Candle in the Wind… One Year Later!

Lava cake and US sparkling wineTime for celebrating: almost in sync with Heather’s beautiful baking blog “Sweet Precision” (happy blog-birthday, Heather!), even Flora’s Table has just turned one year old!

To be precise, F’sT actual birthday should have been October 1 – however, when we were planning the roll out of the blog we screwed up and the first post went actually live on September 30, just minutes before midnight… And now, for consistency, we just thought we would screw up once again by missing the blog’s birthday by three days (or four if you are really into nitpicking…) – what the heck, right?!?

Oh, whatever. We are still celebrating today because it’s been one year something of blogging AND especially because TGIF, which is good reason in itself to celebrate! 🙂

In retrospect, it’s been a fun year, filled with much learning about this blogging thing; exposure to several super-talented people from whose skills and knowledge we have benefitted and learned; enriching exchanges of ideas, perspectives, opinions with so many interesting, stimulating people, near and far; and the blessing of making a few new friends, kindred spirits with whom we have managed to establish a true personal relationship.

This last thing has been incredibly rewarding and worth one year of blogging in and of itself. Yay to that.

We want to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of our wonderful readers, likers, commenters and followers: thank you for being an integral part of a wonderfully diverse, talented and lively community. We are virtually sitting all together around the big communal table chez Flora – just the way we had envisioned the concept behind this blog when we got started.

Just in case you were wondering, in these 12 months the top three food posts (by views) have been:

1. Spaghetti alla Carbonara
2. Spaghetti all’Amatriciana
3. Saffron “Milanese” Risotto

and the top three wine posts (by views) have been:

1. Spaghetti alla Carbonara – Recommended Wine Pairing
2. Wine Review: Oasi degli Angeli, “Kurni” Marche Rosso IGT 2008
3. Chicken and Sausage Paella – Recommended Wine Pairing

To wrap things up, we want to dedicate to all of you a translation into English of a few verses from a song by Italian singer and songwriter Ligabue, which remind us of the interconnection (thank you, Tracy, for coming up with this concept – here’s to you!) and life-blending experience that this year of blogging has been for us:

This is my life
Some days it’s awesome
Some others not so much
It’s the same for all of us
Some days it’s not enough
Some others it feels too much, and instead it never is

This is my life
If you step in, ask me if you may
Take me on a trip
Make me my heart laugh
Bring your own life
So we see what happens if we mix them together a bit

Thank you all, and cheers! 🙂

F&S

Saint Emilion Chronicles #2: Collegiate Church & Cloisters

This is the second post in our series about our trip to Saint Emilion (in the Bordeaux wine region of France) and its beautiful surroundings. In case you missed it, you can find the first post (about the town of Saint Emilion) here.

On this post, we will briefly focus on a beautiful church-clositers complex in Saint Emilion: the Collegiate Church (Eglise Collégiale) and its cloisters.

The Collegiate Church is an imposing Romanesque building that was built between the XII and XV centuries and is considered one of the most impressive churches in the Gironde region.

Saint Emilion
: the cloister of the Eglise Collegiale

Saint Emilion: 
the stained glass windows of the Eglise Collegiale

Supposedly, Arnaud Guiraud de Cabanac gave impulse to start building the Collegiate Church in 1110, even if the church plans were repeatedly modified over time. While the nave was completed in the XII century, the remainder of the Collegiate Church blends together different styles from the XIII to the XVI century.

The facade and main portal of the Collegiate Church are in a beautiful, sober Romanesque style. In addition, a beautiful XIV century Gothic portal on the left flank of the church provides another entrance from Place Pioceau, on the northern side of the XIV century chancel that houses a magnificent listed organ built in 1892 by Gabriel Cavaillé-Colle and XV century carved stalls.

Saint Emilion: 
The cloister of the Eglise Collegiale

Saint Emilion: 
facade of the Eglise Collegiale (XII-XV century)

Inside the church, the Romanesque nave is adorned with nicely restored XII century wall paintings and amazing Gothic stained glass windows, while the statues of the Apostles on the tympanum were partly destroyed in the XVIII century during the French Revolution.

The Gothic cloisters, which impress the visitor due to their architectural elegance, were built on the southern side of the church during the XIII and XIV century, and remodeled during the XV and XVI century.

Saint Emilion: Statue in the Eglise Collegiale (XII-XV century)

The cloisters were built in the shape of a square, with each of the four covered walkways being 98.5 ft/30 mt long and 14.7 ft/4.5 mt wide: elegant arcades support the inner side of the four walkways, which encase a peaceful garden with a cross in the middle, symbolizing the Eden (or Paradise).

The Collegiate Church once hosted Augustinian canons who stayed in the monastery until the end of the French Revolution.

SourcesTravel France Online and Saint-Emilion.pro.

I hope that you enjoyed this second installment of our virtual trip to Saint Emilion… until the next chapter!

Chronicle of a French Wine Country Trip: Saint Emilion

Saint Emilion
: View of the town

Saint Emilion: the bell tower of the Monolithic ChurchFrancesca and I have recently spent a few days in France, at Saint Emilion, in the heart of one of the most renowned among the Bordeaux wine districts and appellations. There we have enjoyed the courteous hospitality of a fellow blogger (more on that later, on a dedicated post), the culture and the beauty of those places, a lot of good food and wine and of course the magic of the Bordeaux wine country and its multitude of Chateaux.

This post is the first in a series that will take you with us, if only virtually, to visit Saint Emilion and its surroundings and discover some of the attractions that such area has to offer.

Saint Emilion: The Monolithic Church and its bell tower

Saint Emilion: 
La Porte de la Cadene (the Door of the Chain)

We will start by showing you the town of Saint Emilion and telling you something about its rich history on this post, then on future posts we will show you one of its churches, we will talk about the wine country and the Saint Emilion wine classification system, we will take you to a beautiful nearby village and to a full-blown visit of our gracious host’s residence, we will make you visit a lively food market, we will take you food and wine shopping in Saint Emilion, and of course we will visit a few Chateaux and talk about their wines… Yes, it will be a fairly extensive trip, but don’t worry, we will take a break here and there with posts on different subjects, but we think it will be worth your time! 😉

Saint Emilion: 
La Maison du Vin and the bell tower of the Monolithic Church

Saint Emilion: The bell tower of the Monolithic Church

Now, without further ado let’s talk a bit about the town of Saint Emilion.

Saint Emilion is a beautiful, elegant small town located in the Libournais area, on the right bank of the Dordogne River, not far from Bordeaux. Saint Emilion’s long history goes back to the Roman times, and precisely to the IV century when the Roman ruler Decimus Magnus Ausonius (after whom the famous Chateau Ausone, one of the four Premier Grand Cru Classé “A” wineries, was named) erected a property there, where he eventually retired. Incidentally, it was the Romans who got the long-standing Saint Emilion wine tradition started by introducing viticulture to the region.

The beauty of the Saint Emilion landscape and its wine-making history have won the area UNESCO status of World Heritage Site for its being an “outstanding example of an historic vineyard landscape that has survived intact and in activity to the present day”.

Saint Emilion: Les Grandes Murailles (the Big Wall) and the vineyards of Chateau Les Grandes Murailles

Saint Emilion: 
a "tertre" (steep alley) and a pastry shop

Saint Emilion is a town of steep alleys known as “tertres, winding narrow streets, pleasant squares dotted by bistros as well as several food and wine stores, beautiful Medieval buildings and ancient churches built in the yellowish local limestone, and hectares and hectares of lush vineyards.

Probably the focal point of the town revolves around the central Place de l’Eglise Monolithe: this square borrows its name from the homonymous Monolithic Church, the largest underground church in Europe, that was dug out of Saint Emilion’s limestone rock walls by Benedictine monks between the IX and the XII century. The Monolithic Church’s finely sculpted portal dates back to the XIV century and presents scenes inspired by the Last Judgment and the resurrection.

Saint Emilion: 
ancient buildings in town

Saint Emilion: detail of the Place de l'Eglise Monolithe and portal of the Monolithic ChurchUnderneath the Monolithic Church lie the Benedictine catacombs and the Hermitage, an underground cave where Saint Emilion himself (an VIII century Benidctine monk called Emilian, who became the town’s patron saint) is believed to have spent the last years of his life, from 750 to 767. There visitors can see an underground spring that was used for baptismal water, a bed and meditation seat both carved in rock, and graffiti reportedly dating back to the French Revolution. Above the Monolithic Church stands an imposing 53 mt/174 ft tall bell tower that was built between the XII and the XV century, while to the side of the church is the XIII century Chapelle de la Trinité (Trinity Chapel) hosting well preserved frescoes on the walls of its apse.

Saint Emilion: The Eglise Collegiale and the bell tower of the Monolithic Church

Saint Emilion: La Maison de la Cadene (House of the Chain) and la Porte de la Cadene (Door of the Chain)The inside of the Monolithic Church and the complex comprising the catacombs, the Hermitage and the Trinity Chapel can only be accessed and visited through a guided tour operated by the tourist office and, unfortunately, photography is not permitted anywhere within the complex – so here you will only be able to see images of the outside of the complex.

Other notable monuments in Saint Emilion are the Romanesque Eglise Collegiale (Collegiate Church) and its XIV century cloister (this will be the subject of another post), the complex of the Maison de la Cadene and the Porte de la Cadene (House of the Chain and Door of the Chain) located at the top of a steep tertre and dating back to the XVI century, and Les Grandes Murailles (the Big Wall) which are the last remains of what used to be a XIII century Benedictine monastery that collapsed for the most part and are now immersed in the vineyards of the homonymous Chateau Les Grandes Murailles, one of the 63 Grand Cru Classé wineries in the Saint Emilion wine classification.

Saint Emilion: 
elegant building in Rue des Ecoles

Saint Emilion: the bell tower of the Monolithic ChurchTypical of Saint Emilion are also several pastry shops selling two local specialties: the Macarons (delicious almond-based cookies) and the Canelé (small, chewy sweets with a caramelized sugar outside and a core of rum-infused custard).

Enough for today: I hope you enjoyed this first stop in our Saint Emilion trip and our general overview of the town – stay tuned for the next chapters of our chronicle! 🙂

Saint Emilion: Restaurant tables at Place de l'Eglise Monolithe

The End of the Quest for Authentic Italian Food: Arthur Avenue

USA, New York
Arthur Avenue, AKA "Little Italy" in The BronxA few Saturdays ago, Francesca and I finally went to check out a place that had been on our minds for a while: famed Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, NY.

Arthur Avenue is first and foremost an Avenue in the Belmont section of the Bronx (near the Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanical Garden) that was named after President Chester A. Arthur (the 21st President of the United States) in the XIX century.

Around that time, many Italian immigrants settled in the Belmont area and started forming a growing community that endured mostly unchanged to this day. This earned Arthur Avenue the nickname of “the real Little Italy of New York“.

On the Avenue itself as well as on the blocks immediately adjacent to it thrives a host of stores, delis and restaurants all selling scores of authentic Italian food, produce and dishes – everything from great meats and sausages, fresh fish and seafood, delicious cheese (including the best imported mozzarella I have had in the States so far), freshly baked bread, focaccia, biscotti and sweet treats, all kinds of pasta, mouthwatering pizza, you name it…

USA, New York
 Arthur Avenue, AKA "Little Italy" in The BronxUSA, New York 
Arthur Avenue, AKA "Little Italy" in The Bronx

The whole experience is really unique, as many of the store owners or employees still speak Italian and take pride in establishing some kind of personal relationship with their customers. It brings back memories of what happens in the stores of most Italian small towns.

Beside the actual stores that line Arthur Avenue and its cross Streets, the area is also home to the Arthur Avenue Retail Market, an indoor market that was opened in 1940 by New York Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia and that hosts stalls and counters of various butchers, bakers, produce vendors, cheese and cured meat sellers, a souvenir T-shirt store and so on.

The market is also home to an amazing cigar place with a couple of employees who hand roll them right in front of you so you can watch the entire process, from tobacco leaf to the finished product: trust me, even if you are like me and don’t smoke, it is something that is definitely worth watching!

USA, New York
 Arthur Avenue, AKA "Little Italy" in The BronxAnd last but not least, a small beer joint has recently opened inside the Arthur Avenue Retail Market: it is called The Bronx Beer Hall and, in a sign-of-the-time melting pot spirit, it is run by two brothers of Puerto Rican heritage who serve beer made by microbreweries from the Bronx and elsewhere in New York State.

USA, New York
 Arthur Avenue, AKA "Little Italy" in The BronxUSA, New York
Arthur Avenue, AKA "Little Italy" in The BronxDespite the strong Italian roots of the place, Arthur Avenue shows a few signs of a growing multi-ethnic footprint, as shown by murals and the mere observation of the ethnic mix of the residents.

So, if you live in or near The Big Apple or if you happen to visit and you enjoy authentic Italian food in a characteristic environment, consider stopping by Arthur Avenue and doing some food shopping or dining there!

Below you can find a few additional images from our outing in the Bronx.

PS: Happy Memorial Day, everyone! 🙂

USA, New York
Arthur Avenue, AKA "Little Italy" in The Bronx

USA, New York
Arthur Avenue, AKA "Little Italy" in The Bronx

USA, New York
Arthur Avenue, AKA "Little Italy" in The Bronx

USA, New York
 Arthur Avenue, AKA "Little Italy" in The Bronx

Mother’s Day and a double gift: Coco and B!

Justine Picardie's "Coco Chanel - The Legend and the Life"I know what your are thinking. Where is the food? Sorry to disappoint you, but no special dish for this occasion! Mother’s Day is a holiday that I take very seriously, which means that my family knows that I will not even put the kettle on the stove. Plus, my mom is in Rome so there will be nobody in my home who should be celebrated but me. It will be all about me! 😉

I thought this would be an ideal occasion to share a book with you that can be a perfect gift for any mom who is into fashion and wants to know more about the most iconic female figure in fashion of all times. Of course, I’m talking about Coco Chanel and the book is “Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life” by Justine Picardie.

I simply loved this book along with the pictures and the illustrations, but my review stops here. Why? Because I cannot take any credit for “discovering” it. I bought the book after reading a post by B over at Just Add Attitude (and here it is my second gift for you all 😉 ). If you want to know more about the book, just pay a visit to B’s blog and enjoy her lovely review as well as all her other posts about the fashion guru.

Stuff We Like!Back to B and her blog: I don’t know much about B… not even her full name 🙂 but you do not have to know someone’s life, death and miracles (as the Italian saying goes) to appreciate her or him.

B is one of the most gracious bloggers out there. When you read her posts and her comments, you have the impression that she is right there with you. By following her blog, you will be taken by hand to an amazing journey through her beloved Dublin and Ireland in general. She will unveil for your all the secrets of her country, from monuments, to exhibitions, museums, workshops, restaurants, cafes, stores and farmhouses. I wish I had known B years ago when I managed to spend a month in Dublin! It would have been great to be showed around by her.

But that’s not all. Through her blog and her impeccable taste, B will also share her thoughts with you about food, style, shopping, life in general as well as picks from her two favorite cities (Paris and London – by the way, not too shabby a choice, B, if you ask me!).

So make yourself a favor: as soon as you have a moment, check Just Add Attitude out. You can thank me later. 😉

I wish you all a very happy Mother’s Day. As to me, someone in my family who is not too old and not very good at keeping secrets already told me that breakfast in bed seems to be in my cards for that day: yay! 😉

A catering event and Nemo: what more could you ask for?

A client's 50th birthday party catered by Flora's Table

Tomato BruschettaDo you remember Nemo? No, not the adorable clownfish from the famous Disney movie but the major blizzard (with record amount of snowfall) that hit certain areas of the East Coast (including ours!) the second weekend of February?

Well, needless to say, that weekend, we were supposed to cater a dinner party for 22 guests in Fairfield County, Connecticut… The occasion? The 50th birthday of the husband of the hostess. Everything had to be perfect and the planning was going really smoothly until we saw the weather forecast at the beginning of that week. It was national alert all over the news and the governors of the States and the mayors of the towns on Nemo’s way were urging people to get ready to face the storm and, above all, to stay home. Not exactly the ideal situation to host a party…

Penne alla VodkaYou can only imagine all the phone calls, emails, text messages (along with the emotional distress) that my client and I exchanged before, during and after the storm! Many important decisions had to be made in a short timeframe. To make a long story short, willingness and collaboration made it possible to have the party on Sunday night and everybody seemed to have a really great time!

Now that Spring is around the corner (hopefully at least… it’s been such a long and cold winter!) and Nemo is just a memory, I thought I would share with you photographs of some of the food that we served at that birthday party. Of course, these pictures have not been taken during the actual party because it would not have been appropriate for us to take pictures while on a job, but this is some of the food that got served.

Hope you enjoy it as much as our client and her guests did!  🙂

Francesca's Chicken MarsalaFrancesca's Tiramisu

Merry Christmas!

Shrimp CocktailHere we go! Christmas Eve… for my family, it is even more important than Christmas Day. We have been talking about this night for weeks. We have invited friends, my mom and I have decided the table setting and selected the dishes and Stefano has chosen the bubbly and the still wines for tonight.

My parents brought delicious treats from Rome and Stefano brought traditional sweets from Milan and Genoa.

To make you understand how much work and planning went into the preparations for this magical night and to give you a flavor of an Italian Christmas Eve, we decided we would share with you the pictures of some of the food that will be served. We follow the Catholic tradition, so you won’t see any meat around!

Smoked Salmon CrostiniWe’ll start with a shrimp cocktail, some eggs au gratin, a broccoli quiche, a potato frittata, smoked salmon crostini, blue cheese puffs with fontina sauce and cauliflower au gratin. With these, Stefano is going to serve a Ferghettina, Franciacorta Brut DOCG S.A., a Classic Method Italian spumante aged 24 months on its lees.

We’ll continue with spaghetti with clams and a truffle risotto. Afterwards, we’ll serve branzino fillets with vegetables. The wines that Stefano paired with these main courses are an Argiolas, Vermentino di Sardegna Costamolino DOC 2011 and a Vigneti Massa, Colli Tortonesi Timorasso Derthona DOC 2009 for the truffle risotto.

Black TrufflesFor dessert, we’ll have some fruit (grapes and cherries) and lots and lots of sweets: panettone (a traditional Christmas sweet bread loaf originally from Milan), pandolce (a traditional Christmas cake from Genoa), dried figs, chocolate-coated torrone and chocolate torrone with hazelnuts that my mom bought in Vatican City, marrons glacés from Cova (one of the most famous patisseries in Milan), chocolate orangettes, marzipan fruits and chocolates, all hand-made, from Viganotti (one of the oldest and best chocolate stores in Genoa, who make all their chocolate and marzipan masterpieces in the workshop adjoining the store, using only the best, freshest ingredients: if you are ever going to be in Genoa make sure you pay them a visit – you will not regret it). With the dessert, Stefano is going to serve Le Colture, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze Dry DOCG, a Charmat-Martinotti Method spumante, and for the chocolate a Lustau, Pedro Ximenez Sherry San Emilio – Solera Reserva DO.

Collection of Christmas sweetsHopefully, after all this food and wine, we are still going to function!  😉

Chocolate-coated torrone, chocolate torrone with hazelnuts and marrons glacésAll of us at Flora’s Table wish you and your families a very Merry Christmas! May Santa make your dreams come true tonight!!!Milanese panettone with chocolate-dipped orange wedges

Happy Thanksgiving!

Just a quick note to say Happy Thanksgiving to all of you from all of us!

As Nicole aptly pointed out in her post yesterday, there are people who grew up eating differently from you, and Stefano and I certainly fit the bill as where we grew up Thanksgiving was not (and still is not) a holiday, let alone such an important tradition as it is in the United States. So, maybe you all can send some empathy and good karma my way today because, while I am all set with the appetizers for our Thanksgiving dinner (we have included a couple of images to give you an idea of what we are going to eat tonight), I am very much scratching my head at how the huge turkey that is still sitting in our fridge is going to turn out since it is my first time cooking it!!! Oh well, you gotta start somewhere, right? 🙂

Anyways, each of us at Flora’s Table has her or his own things (and people!) to be thankful for, but in this post we all just want to say that we are very thankful to all of you: our followers, our “likers” and more in general all of our readers and fellow bloggers, who really are the building blocks of the wonderful community that is steadily growing around Flora’s Table – our ideal communal table around which we all congregate to sit and eat and toast and chat and laugh, very much the Italian way! 😉

By all means we are still neophytes at this blogging thing, with just less than two months worth of experience under our belts, but we sure are excited at what we have accomplished so far, impressed and humbled by your reaction and support and definitely enthusiastic about all the good things that we have in mind and are yet to come!

So, enjoy your holiday, eat and drink well, and spend some deserved quality time with the people you love. Cheers!

It’s Still Halloween After All

This year an unexpected (and definitely unwelcome) guest decided to show up in our neck of the woods: Hurricane Sandy.

Sandy brought wreckage, misery and devastation to coastal New England and more in general to the East Coast of the United States, in which regard our hearts go out to all those who suffered losses, damages or worse as a result.

And yet, we could not let Sandy ruin our daughter’s plans to somehow celebrate Halloween, considering especially that Sandy caused the Halloween Parade to be canceled and made trick or treating tonight highly unlikely due to widespread power losses, dangling electrical wires and plenty of fallen trees. So, I at least made for her my personal take of Halloween treats: peach and apricot crostata with pumpkin decorations and blueberry/blackberry mini tarts! Plus, my daughter wanted to add her personal touch, which she described in her words as “a candy salad”! 🙂

Happy Halloween to all the kids out there from all of us at Flora’s Table!