butternut squash + fresh coconut soup

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This week has been a long one, and I look forward to spending time with my father on the farm this weekend and settling into some quiet before the insanity that is November (and the holiday season) ensues. I invite you to curl up with this soothing soup as I did yesterday, and check out my feature on Lost in Cheeseland, my go-to blog for all things Paris and French. I spoke with Lindsey about my initial travels to Paris, how the trip gave me time to think, and the courage to make the biggest decision that affected my year: leaving my job in pursuit of something other.

INGREDIENTS
3 tbsp olive oil
2 celery stalks, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 yellow onion, diced
Salt/pepper
2 1/2 lbs butternut squash, cubed
3/4 cup fresh coconut, cubed
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 quart chicken stock
Sprigs of thyme, for garnish

DIRECTIONS
In a large pot, season the celery, carrots and onions with salt + pepper and saute for 4-5 minutes on medium/high heat until the onions are translucent. Add the butternut squash, coconut, cayenne, nutmeg, and chicken stock, and turn up the heat to high. Bring the mixture to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer, cooking for 25-30 minutes, until the squash is tender.

Using an immersion blender (or pour into a regular blender or Vitamix), blend the soup until you achieve a creamy, lump-free consistency. Serve with sprigs of thyme as a garnish, and your favorite grilled cheese sandwhich.

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eating through paris, rome, tuscany + biarritz: a comprehensive round-up

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Many of you have asked for a list of all the places where I chowed down, wept and snapped photos. Below are links to all my favorite {and approved for dining} spots. Feel free to also search the site for country + city keywords to find my choice picks in Cambodia, Chicago, Toronto, New York, Thailand, Provence, Denmark, California, Texas, and Bali.

Paris: (this list includes spots covered during my September trip, as well!): Sweet: Meert, Poilâne, La Cure Gourmade, Comme La Lisbonne, Carette, Breizh Cáfe (also savory), La Crêperie Bretonne, Maison Georges Larnicol, Maison Colette, Rose Bakery Tea Room (also savory), Chocolat Chapon, Pozzetto, Popelini, Sébastien Gaudard, Eric Kayser, L’ Eclair de Génie, Mamie Gâteaux (also savory), Patrick Roger, Odette, Le Loir Dans La Théière (also savory)

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Savory: Le Chat Bossu, Bread and Roses, Le Petit Italien, La Briciola, Maria Luisa, Colorova (also sweet), Cafe Pinson (also sweet + vegan), Cafe Boboli

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Food Spots + Markets: Rue Montorgueil-Les Halles, Batignolles Biologique Market | Coffee: Telescope, Ten Belles

Terrific Blogs I Adore (I searched the archives of these blogs over the past year, and they proved incredibly helpful in providing exciting places to eat in Paris): Paris in Four Months, Lost in Cheeseland, David Lebovitz, Little Pieces of Light, Paris by Mouth, and Expat Edna

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Rome: Savory: di qua, Pierluigi, Ciampini (also sweet), RJ Numbs Campo De Fiori

Terrific Blogs I Adore: Arlene Gibbs and Erica Firpo

Florence: Sweet: La Carraria, Venchi, Coronas Cafe, Migone | Savory: Trattoria 4Leoni, Gusto Pizza, Trattoria Sostanza, Caffe Pitti, Botteghina, All’Antico Vinaio | Markets: Il Mercarto Dei Sapori

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Tuscany/Cinque Terre: Savory: Barabba Bianca,

Biarritz: Sweet: Real Chocolate, Maison Adam, Le Secret des Pain, Miremont | Savory: Il Giardino, Al Dente, Taco Mex

au revoir, my sweet!

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Maison Georges Larnicol (Images 1-5) – Who wouldn’t fawn over self-serve chocolate? I felt very much like a kid in a candy store…oh, wait. | Stohrer (Images 6-9) – a Parisian institution that won my heart during my last visit, so much so that I had to go back for an eclair. | Maison Colette (Image 10) – their pastries are so darling, their meringues so pink and light that you will wait, willingly, on the long lines for a taste.

rose bakery tea room at le bon marché, paris

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She was calm and quiet now with knowing what she had always known, what neither her parents nor Aunt Claire nor Frank nor anyone else had ever had to teach her: that if you wanted something to do something absolutely honest, something true, it always turned out to be a thing that had to be done alone. ― Richard Yates, Revolutionary Road

In the end, all cities bleed back to New York. All cities are a great, sweeping metropolis where the motley lot stack horizontal in subway cars and pretend to ignore the downtrodden who’ve taken shelter in makeshift homes constructed of cardboard boxes on the sidewalk. They sleep with pets or in pairs, but mostly alone. We’re told not to give, to report, to move right along, and whether we know it or not, we’ve become expert editors, excising all that is not beautiful out of the frame. The uncomfortable, the unsightly, never stays in the picture.

In the city, we wait on an endless succession of lines. We’re told to complete forms, bring identification, and you’ll notice we’re closed nearly twenty-four hours a day. We wake up, we work, we complain about work (and sometimes explore our options, but never really deviating too far), we work out and get drunk and go to sleep. We travel in packs; rarely do we drift from our spheres of influence unless it’s strategic. We’re card-players without ever having learned the rules of the game. But we play, and we sometimes win (dumb luck) or blame others for a bum hand (what the fuck?). In the city, we ridicule other cities and treat them like they’re quaint and provincial specks on a map should we ever visit. The country is for sleeping and the ocean is for taking pictures of our feet. Our constant struggle is the weather, and how, like the porridge, it’s never just right. We subscribe to dozens of newsletters, follow and befriend the right people, so that we’re constantly informed, always connected. Interesting how we’re vociferous about our left leanings, but keep close to the class that binds us.

There are no accidents. Arbitrary is a word that doesn’t exist in our vocabulary. This is the formula, the regimen to which we’ve subscribed, and the days become photocopies of themselves with minor variation.

But I swore Paris was not like this. It somehow escaped the drone of mobile phone alarm clocks and a rain that chills you to down to bone. PARIS! NOT PARIS!

I’ve spent the greater part of the past decade writing an ode to Paris. From the peonies painted pink to clusters of blush roses, to steamy baguettes wilting paper sacks and pink skies settling on the Seine, from cobalt blue doors and balconies for which arias were written, to manicured gardens and trains that hurtle into the countryside — it’s easy to romanticize Paris. It’s new, all talcum powder on the body and cut grass. We’ve yet to develop our blinders; we haven’t lived in the home that refuses to heat. We haven’t dragged four pieces of luggage through the underground metro system in the middle of rush hour.

Last fall, I gave serious thought to leaving a job that was slowly killing me. In three years I went from a person who created, who thrived off of the relationships I’d cultivated with others, to a person who sent all-cap emails that read, CASH MONEY. To a person who worked all hours, rescheduled, cancelled and spent months ordering take-out. In September, in Paris, I wondered about the woman I had become. Who am I? This realization was terrifying, it implied major alterations had to be made, and it was a reality of which I wasn’t ready to confront. Instead, I created this bombastic love affair with Paris. Much like April in Revolutionary Road — making Paris bigger than it is, so much so that she gets crushed by the enormity of her hope and the inevitability of her heartbreak — this affair was a cringe-worthy hot mess, replete with French lessons and culinary school research.

It took me ten years to realize that the luggage comes along for the ride no matter how beautiful the scenery.

While Paris is remarkable, magical even, it’s still a city that demands one live in it with eyes open. Part of me wishes that I would’ve taken that trip to Bordeaux, kept the romance alive for a little while longer. Stretch out the dream, slip into it, face full of childish sleep and wild hair. But I’m awake, band-aids ripped off and the bright lights flicked on. I leave Paris tomorrow for New York, ready to leave but not quite ready to go home.

Stop asking, stop checking. I don’t know. {emphatically} Start being there. Start accepting the in-betweens. {emphatically} I want to find my way back to myself. I want something sweeping, unsettling and great.

But first, a day of solitude. Of quiet. Of sitting uncomfortably in one’s thoughts. Inspired by infectious energy and beautiful photography on Paris in Four Months, Carin inspired me to take a trip to Rose Bakery, located on the second floor of Le Bon Marché. I spent the morning reading, eating muesli, scones, and banana chocolate loaves in a delightful tea room cloaked in effulgent light. While the tea room is decidedly expensive ($6 for a cappuccino?), it was a gift to myself, a lovely quiet morning before the impending storm.

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the sweet life in biarritz + a ‘do not disturb’ sign

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Biarritz was only this morning but it feels like decades past. The train back to Paris hurtled so fast through the countryside, you’d think it was on the run, and I couldn’t help but think that the ocean now felt small, like some sort of tableaux in sepia, a blue dream I had in the morning to then wake in a cold metropolis. Truth be told, I’m having a tough time making adjustments, of finding my way back. It occurs to me that I’ve spent much of this time thinking, so much so that it sometimes feels dangerous, as I have a habit of so easily slipping into a life vibrantly lived in my head.

Instead, I share the pretty diversions, the edited for television version of these past three weeks, simply because there are things that should always be kept offline. I don’t want to be figured out or resolved. I want to be the person who sorts out my life, and lately I’ve been recoiling from people who dole out unsolicited advice like sweets, tell me I should be doing this, that or whatever. At times my reactions have been visceral, irrational, abrasive because I can sense in their words and facial expressions that they want a kind of closure, a finishing of sorts. They want me to snap to it, be the Felicia they want to know or think they know. They want a refreshed LinkedIn page that puts an end to all that. They want to say, so, we’re done here, right?

Even if their words imply none of the above, right now I just need to hold up my DO NOT DISTURB sign. I need to surround myself with people who are comfortable with the words, I don’t know. I need to be around people who put down their phone while we’re eating.

Oh dear. I just realized I was supposed to write about pastry, wasn’t I?

The good news is that you can’t really get a terrible sweet experience in Biarritz. While it’s true there are fanciful shops that will make you gasp over the cost of a piece of chocolate (most of which are located along the waterfront), Biarritz offers incredible chocolates, breads and Basque treats that had me shaking from sugar. My favorite was the very simple gateaux basque, a cake-cum-tart with a crumbly, semolina consistency that is filled with cherry compote, cream or chocolate. From the cracked crust to the delicate filling juxtaposed with the dense texture of the cake, you’ll fawn over the texture + flavor plays. It’s so simple, yet, SO PERFECT.

My choice spots are Real Chocolate (bark chocolate that will have you keeling over from the richness), Maison Adam (finally, a macaron I can actually tolerate!), Le Secret des Pain (the best loaves of bread, beignets and cakes you’ll have in Biarritz), Gateaux Basque at the Miremont (with an ocean view that isn’t too shabby) + all the local boulangeries in Les Halles.

Trying so hard to slow that train down…

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eats in biarritz, france

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Those who know me well know I’m a creature of habit. Once I like a spot, I tend to fixate on it and ignore everything else within a ten-mile radius. Closing in on a much-needed (we’re talking dire straights, people) three-week European food odyssey, I’ve had my share of mediocre food, so every place I patron is heavily researched and every menu, inspected. There’s also the issue of price, as I’ve passed a few Michelin-starred spots, whose menus are pretty exorbitant.

Naturally, my preferred spots are far from French (cue the shame chorus), but it’s been interesting to see the Basque influence on Italian + Mexican cooking.

Possibly my favorite of the lot is Taco Mex. Located down a steep alleyway, you wouldn’t think much of the place at first glance. You’re greeted with a large billboard of a menu outlined with a glowing cactus, but inside, INSIDE, the food is spectacular and the service, personalized.

The owner not only prepares your dishes in front of you, but guides you to the “taco bar” and explains the magic: sauce pairings, accoutrements and the like. To say that I didn’t dream of the potatoes cooked in chorizo fat dressed with crème fraîche would be a vast understatement. The sauces are extraordinary, the guacamole homemade, and even the CHIPS (homemade) are stellar. I’ve been hitting this place every night and it fails to disappoint.

If you adore Italian food just as much as I do, you will want to check out Al Dente and Il Giardino — a block separates the two. Both have been my go-to lunch spots, as they have a stellar prix-fixe ($13-$16 for a three-course meal), and the homemade pasta is spot-on. Il Giardino won my heart with its gnocchi, puffed pillows covered in a delicate four-cheese sauce and its tender miniature meatballs.

Over the past three weeks, I’ve traveled to capitals and small towns, and never did I think that my memories would be rooted in Tuscany, Biarritz and San Sebastian. Places where I thought I’d pass through, not remain, settle and completely relax.

remember when I set your hair on fire? {complete rough draft}

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Remember that strange story I started yesterday? Well, I finished a draft of it this morning. I guess this is what happens when you sit in front of an ocean during a storm, unsupervised. This is what happens when you allow your mind to settle in one place. I still don’t know if the story is just right (my gut tells me that I’m missing parts or lines), but I’m trying to walk that fine between giving enough and not giving it all. I don’t want you to have figured Kate out — that doesn’t interest me. It doesn’t interest me to give you backstory and scenes that sew up the story so completely, too acutely. I don’t want to give you the annotated map with voice-over directions — I want you to find your own way in.

But that balance, it’s tricky. I even felt the scene with Minnie (her name was inspired by the character in Rosemary’s Baby) pulled at me, and I had to rest and start the story again when I awoke this morning from a nightmare, and that nightmare was the idea of going back to New York.

One of my favorite lines is one in which Kate’s mother wants her heart to be a tidal. Don’t know if the line works yet, but I like where it’s going. As you can probably tell, I’m having a hard time with Kate and the father, which you’ll notice I keep calling “the husband.”

I like the bit about the barnacles, as that’s something I’m actually doing every morning. I find these creatures grotesque and fascinating, and the image of half of someone’s face covered in them excites me in ways I can’t explain. You see, I love the things that frighten most people, and I’m frightened by the things most people love (e.g. mushrooms, mittens, clowns, etc).

This photo was taken today. I was a bit of a voyeur listening to a girl plead with her mother to let her go in the water. The mother refused to acquiesce, and the girl threw her doll to the ground and picked it back up again.

So here’s the very rough draft of the story. Curious to hear your thoughts. Ping me in the comments or shoot me an email.

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pizza in paris: la briciola + maria luisa

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After spending nearly a week in Biarritz, it occurs to me how much anxiety I felt in Paris. Manic, I found myself racing from place to place. The days were an endless repetition of prayers (Will I be humiliated again for my imperfect French? Please no), eating (Is it possible to be so full you’re hungry again?), photographs (And the dread you fear editing 200+ photos come evening) and forward motion (Battery is dying) — with little variation.

Why is that enforced solitude allows for all the things we’re desperate to un-see to glow gleaming and white?

It wasn’t until yesterday when I fully came to terms with the maelstrom that was my life before the trip, and how I will manage the hours after I land in JFK. A sobering thought, but one I think {read: hope} I’m finally ready to tackle.

It also occurs to me that while I have so many notes from Paris, I have very few here in Basque country, but I’ve managed to read two books and write two stories in under a week. Funny how that is.

But back to the pizza, if I may. I’ll confess that I actually don’t adore French food. While pastry will always win over my cold, dead heart, French fare doesn’t inspire me the way that I wish it would. So often you’ll find me ferreting out non-traditional spots, focusing more on the desserts and less on obscure fish.

While these two pies are identical looking in nature, I assure you that they are their own special children in taste. I had the pleasure of visiting La Briciola (in the Marais Nord) and Maria Luisa (in the 10th), and both were exceptional in terms of the overall environ and a chewy crust.

At Briciola, you’ll find pizzas topped with ham shavings, heaping French cheeses and verdant salads, and at Maria Luisa you’ll drizzle hot oil on your pie from a smart selection that is swiftly brought to your table. Both pizzas will be achingly satisfying, so much so that you’ll inevitably regret the salad you ordered and wish you had room for another pie.

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