Wednesday, September 26, 2012

French Girl in Seattle's fall fashion post

Note to readers: 

This is a fashion post. If you are averse to girlie talk about clothes/shoes/handbags/accessories, or if the sheer thought of shopping makes you cringe, you may want to skip this story and return next week. A bon entendeur... (You have been warned...) 

"What a beautiful fall morning," I thought today, as I looked through my office window. Then I cracked it open to smell the air and closed it quickly. Brrrrr... Chilly... 

Fall is here to stay, it seems. Note to self: Re-organize closet and put away t-shirts, shorts, and sandals. The new season calls for a cozier wardrobe. 

Then I made a mistake. I checked my email. The first message was from a favorite French retailer, Le Comptoir des Cotonniers. I always pay a visit to their boutiques when I visit France and leave with a small item, a t-shirt, a blouse, or an accessory. Today, they had important news to share. Come and meet Mademoiselle Plume, la nouvelle doudoune! A reversible new "puffer" named "Feather;" that fits in its own little bag when not in use; a limited edition by a Japanese designer? Count me in! 

"French Girl, meet Mademoiselle Plume. Mademoiselle Plume, meet French Girl!" 

Mademoiselle Plume is a big deal and gets
her own website and advertising campaign!

It only took me a few minutes to click on that "Commandez" (Order) button. I knew that between Mademoiselle Plume and this French Girl, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. 

Wait. Mademoiselle Plume looks really good with Paris as a background, but what about Seattle? Is la doudoune going to stand out like a tanned Washingtonian among pasty-white locals on a summer afternoon? Is it too bright? What will happen when it starts to... you know... rain?!

Not to worry. I can find another coat for rainy days. In fact, since we have just visited Paris, let's cross the Channel and head to the UK. Thank you Monsieur Boden. You have just what I need. Click, goes the mouse (or is it just my imagination?)

Boden's Rainy Day Mac
in Pewter Falling Petal

What about shoes? Accessories? We are going to need some really cool items to accompany these fine pieces... According to fellow blogger Vicki Archer, Oxford shoes - or Brogues - are all the rage in Paris these days. I prefer to call them Richelieu (they are named after a famous French statesman,) and to be perfectly honest, I have been looking for a pair of stylish, but comfortable shoes for the fall. A quick trip to my favorite website, and I find these grey beauties... complete with two pairs of shoelaces (one in black velvet, one in waxed leather.) They are going to look smashing with my "uniform du jour:" a pair of rolled up boyfriend jeans! 

Born's Arletta shoes 

It is often said that the United States is the land of opportunity; the birthplace of the great American Dream... Yeah, yeah, yeah. I say the United States is the land of extended shopping hours and most generous return policies. Dear friends, my life would not be the same without you! 

Wait. Did someone say: "Accessories?" -- I did? Oh, ok. 

I can just picture this fun Kate Spade bangle with that new fall wardrobe...

Kate Spade "Strike your Fancy" Bangle

Last June, while in France, I found an amazing scarf I had to bring back with me. Heyraud has always been a favorite brand name chez moi. The umbrella caught my eye (it is pictured below,) but  it would not fit in my suitcase. I settled for the matching large square scarf made of thick, rich silk instead. Très joli... et très parisien!

We need more accessories. A unique scarf begs for the company of a special handbag; one it would not mind being proudly tied to. Forget diamonds. Handbags are a girl's best friends. I know there is one out there who would do the trick. 

Voilà. A cross-body bag. Perfect for busy - yet elegant - suburban moms. Keeps your hands free at all times while looking stylish. And how wonderful as a travel bag. Takes you from day to night. So versatile. Back chez Kate Spade. The woman has good taste...

Kate Spade's Grove Court Cora in black

Oh, look. Polka dots. One can never have enough polka dots (Fellow blogger Anne from Playing with Scarves would agree.) I know who loves them too: English designer Cath Kidston. Check out this fun, versatile collection. Aren't these oil-cloth bags ideal for the wet Seattle weather?

Cath Kidston day bag in sage green

It also comes as an overnight bag...
Ohhhhh... The matching wallet in Berry...

The computer mouse is beckoning. It would be so easy to click, click, click... but virtual shopping is almost as much fun. 

Besides, do I really need all these treasures? Des trouvailles (real finds,) certainly... but... 

After all, j'habite à la campagne (I live in the countryside.)

As I type this, neighbors are rushing to local merchants - and websites - to order the Northwest's favorite gear: Fleece-based clothing. Waterproof. Windproof. Moss proof (one hopes.) 

In a few days, I will see fancy - or less fancy - illustrations of that same trend, as I walk or drive around, and illustrious Seattle labels: Columbia. The North Face. REI. Patagonia. One feels stylish and fit  (sort of...) wearing these while walking the dog or visiting the grocery store...

Kristen Stewart, aka "Bella," dressed for the Northwest weather
in the Twilight movie series

Patagonia "Better Sweater" jacket

The ubiquitous fleece Denali jacket, by the North Face 

It's ok. I own some of the fleece-based thingies too, but I prefer them a bit more ... fun.  

Title Nine's Hepburn Jacket
(It needs a cute pin or a scarf to brighten it up)
Sundance's Helena jacket

Let's be honest. I can't wait to strut my stuff around town in la new Mademoiselle Plume doudoune! If I don't come to Paris, Paris will come to me...

Happy fall shopping. 

A bientôt.

Parting words...

"A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous." 

"Elegance is refusal." 

-- Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Bienvenue, l'automne (Welcome, fall)

Short conversation between strangers heard all over Seattle for the last two weeks:

Stranger 1: "Can you BELIEVE it?!"

Stranger 2: "No, I can't believe it, but I sure love it!"

Stranger 1: "Obviously, this is not going to last..."

Stranger 2: "Yeah. We both know what's headed our way. Still, pretty neat, huh?"

Stranger 1" "I can't BELIEVE it..." 

... and so on...

These two strangers are discussing le topic du jour: La météo (the weather.) 

Oui, les amis, Seattle has been experiencing clear blue skies, warm weather and glorious sunsets for weeks now. And not a drop of rain.

Have I mentioned I can't BELIEVE it!?

School children have to spend their days locked up in a classroom while pining for long bike rides and picnics at the park... Pauvres petits. Their moms may be a bit luckier (at least the ones who are not at the office all day,) and I have been meeting many on the neighborhood trail as I walk the Yellow Dog.

Still, the chill in the air and the fog hovering over the valley in the early morning confirm what everyone already knows: Summer is on the way out. This is late September. L'automne est là. Fall is here. Canadian geese are all but gone already, and have been replaced by the ubiquitous and loud crows, cawing rhythmically: "Fall is here, fall is here..."

Yesterday, I had to know. I had to see it with my own eyes. It was 78 F outside. I was wearing shorts and sandals. I headed for everyone's favorite "happy place," Molbaks, a nursery, gift shop and restaurant all in one. If summer was still here, then surely, the folks at Molbaks would know. There would be colorful sets of patio furniture in the gift shop; containers overflowing with daisies and sedums outside; row after row of whimsical garden ornaments in the greenhouses; and everywhere, fragrant and cheerful blooms beckoning visitors.

I was right. The main greenhouse offered a brilliant display of color as far as the eye could see...

As I got closer, I noticed something was wrong... There were no marigolds, nasturtiums,  petunias, or daisies. Instead, I found pansies; chrysanthemums (they call them mums here;) ornamental kale and flowering cabbages. Fall plants. Autumn colors, I realized.

L'automne est là. Fall is here. 

There were two options. I could embrace fall, or I could dig a hole in the backyard and hibernate for at least six months during Monsoon season (an easy feat for me, you realize, since I would only need a few jars of Nutella to survive...) 

I chose Option 1. That's the new Moi. "La Zen French Girl."

Choosing Option 1 will involve picking a new pair of waterproof footwear at some point...

As I walked through Molbaks, though, there were things I was definitely NOT ready for... Christmas lights and tinsel, anyone?

The only tree ornaments I could bear to look at:
the Nautical-themed collection
Cute, but darn... too early for these little critters!

Finally, I found it. The best section in the whole store. These guys led me in the right direction...

Halloween! Halloween is in the fall. How could I forget? 

I hear the French tried to do Halloween for a while in the late 1990s, but it did not really fly over there. Kids liked it, as did some adults (who used it as an excuse to pop many bottles of champagne, and to dress up before the traditional New Year's eve celebrations.) But there were people who did not stand for it. Halloween was perceived as an American, not a French tradition. It smacked of commercialism. Above all, the French already had their way of celebrating and honoring their dead, and Saints, with La Toussaint (All Saints' Day,) on November 1st. Poor Halloween did not stand a chance. Jack'o'Lanterns were sent packing (many are still hiding at Disneyland Paris, I bet.) 

Dommage. The French did not get it. Halloween is a fun holiday, (and oui, c'est vrai, part of the American folklore.) My son has loved Halloween since he was a toddler. A commercialized celebration, but a fun one, très bon enfant, (good-natured) in fact. Or maybe I am just a bizarre French person with a soft spot for all things magical (my car's license plate reads "TONKS, our favorite portkey", and we will leave it at that...) 

Les amis, the good folks at Molbaks have outdone themselves this year... It was 78 F outside, but inside the gift store, it was dark, damp, cavernous... and downright scary! 

Everything was there for the perfect Halloween celebration... Il y avait des sorcières (there were witches...) 

Il y avait des chats noirs, des  chouettes et des hiboux... (There were black cats, and owls...) 

Il y avait des squelettes, des gargouilles, des rats, et puis de gentils monstres aussi. There were skeletons, gargoyles, rats, and nice monsters too.

There was everything, and more... A commercialized holiday? Oui. Don't you just LOVE it?!

Bienvenue l'automne. Welcome, fall.

A bientôt.

To get you in the mood, voilà a traditional French kindergarten song, Colchiques dans les prés. (Colchiques are a type of crocus, growing wild in nature.) 

A special "Merci" to Molbaks. As I always say, "Si Molbaks n'existait pas, il faudrait l'inventer!" (if Molbaks did not exist, someone would have to invent it!)

All photos by French Girl in Seattle
Please do not use, reproduce, or Pin without permission.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

When in Paris, do dessert as the Parisians do...

Asterix et Obelix: Deux Gaulois gourmands...

Fact: Les Français sont gourmands

a person who is fond of good eating, often indiscriminately and to excess.
a gourmet; epicure.
a person with a sweet tooth. 
and French Girl in Seattle)

Asterix and Obelix, (our ancestors the Gauls;) many French leaders; le Français moyen (the average Jean/Joe;) could be described as gourmands. Who started the trend? Je ne sais pas. I do not know. But somewhere along the way, a national obsession with food - and good eating , a.k.a. gastronomy - took over the whole nation. It has become a cliché of sorts. For millions of people around the world, France = good food (and wine.) 

Louis XIV - the Sun King - "un bon vivant..."
Napoleon I (pictured on the right,)
had an insatiable appetite for... battle 

(James Gillray, 1805)

"Le bon Roi Henri IV," (the good king Henri IV, a.k.a. Henri of Navarre) is remembered fondly in French history books as the monarch who insisted his people should enjoy "la poule au pot" (a rich chicken stew,) every Sunday. Sadly, he was not rewarded for his good deeds (he also advocated religious tolerance,) and was murdered by a fanatical Catholic (and chicken-rights advocate?) Ravaillac. R.I.P. Henri.

(artist unknown)

No matter how successful or competent, French leaders have always been more popular when they openly display a sound knowledge of  - and genuine appreciation for - good food. A famous example: 

Former French President Jacques Chirac has never met an appetizer he did not like...
(photographer unknown)

Notoriously unpopular President Nicolas Sarkozy was seldom photographed à table (while eating.) Instead, he admitted to watching his weight  and was followed by an army of paparazzi on his weekly jogging sessions  while millions of French people shook their heads...

"Sarko" - the "Hyper-President" stops by a neighborhood café
(Did he really need the caffeine boost?)

(photographer unknown)

Newly elected François Hollande is a notorious gourmand who followed a strict diet before launching into a fierce presidential campaign. The self-appointed "normal president," has recently seen his approval ratings plummet. Nobody asked me, but I'd urge him to engineer an image makeover pronto. People have had enough of seeing him shake hands at outdoor markets! They want to see him EAT and DRINK! Then they will know they can trust him.

Hollande meets a French apiculteur and does not even sample honey products!
(photographer unknown)
François et la First Girlfriend, on their summer vacation, drink... Perrier?
(Call back Chirac tout de suite!)

(photographer unknown)

Truth be told, Monsieur Hollande will always be forgiven for going on a diet. This might even earn him points as many French people - men and women - follow draconian régimes (diets,) and lead a life-long struggle against "la surcharge pondérale," (excess weight,) et les petits kilos (extra pounds.)

"French Women Don't Get Fat," claims a recent non-diet book. Right. If you believe that, you still believe that "les poules ont des dents," (mais non, I assure you, good king Henri IV's chickens did not have teeth!)

Oui, les Français, ces gourmands, watch their waistline. And this brings me to today's story... 

A few years ago, during my annual visit to France, I started noticing a new trend in many Parisian bistros and restaurants. It seems the trend has now reached other regions of France, but it is prevalent in the French capital. 

I give you: Le café gourmand

"Qu'est-ce-que-c'est?," you ask.

A very clever invention launched by smart French restaurateurs. Take a look:

Café gourmand, Paris

In French restaurants, "l'express" (shot of espresso,) has traditionally followed dessert and capped the meal; the last step in a time-tested ritual before the waiter finally presents "la douloureuse" - a.k.a. "l'addition" - (the check.)

This is demonstrated below with the [fancy] dessert a girlfriend and I enjoyed at the prestigious Café de la Paix in Paris, last June. A traditional French pastry - le Millefeuille - was followed by an Express. 

Total cost: 18 Euros (about $23.)

Dessert au Café de la Paix: A decadent (and costly!) experience

Good times. 

Drawbacks: Cost. Calorie intake. Portion size.

Now take a look at le Café gourmand, in the first picture. 

A shot of espresso. Three to four mignardises - a.k.a. mini-desserts (as pictured here, a perfect balance of textures and flavors, with a refreshing fruit salad, a crème brûlée, and a scoop of ice cream.) 

Total cost: 8 Euros (about 14 dollars.) Not cheap, but cheaper than dessert + coffee, n'est-ce-pas?

Benefits: Lower cost. No decision-making involved (desserts often change daily and are selected by the Chef.) Surprise element. Fun and sophisticated. Guilt-free (after all, these are mini-desserts, oui?) Time saver (dessert and coffee come to the table at once.) 

Café gourmand, Paris

Before I moved to the United States, many years ago, it was customary for Parisian cafés and restaurants to serve a small square of quality dark chocolate with a cup of espresso. We all felt the chocolate was the perfect way of wrapping up the meal. This was an opportunity to pass up dessert altogether, whatever our reason may have been (a way to save money and time, while controlling the calorie intake.) Sometimes, the square of chocolate would be replaced by a small macaron or a biscuit (Speculos, anyone?,) and they were equally satisfying. 

At some point, the recession-plagued restaurant industry saw an opportunity to seduce customers who, like us, would often skip dessert, especially at lunch time. The day of le Café gourmand had come! And what a clever concept, it is, so in tune with the French psyche. When food is concerned, the French are said to "manger de tout, avec modération." Eat everything, in moderation. Small portions are the ultimate goal, and the best way for les gourmands to control their weight. 

In societies where abundance and a plethora of options make decisions an arduous process for some, being offered a chance to try several iconic French desserts at once, crème brûlée, chocolate mousse, apple tart, fruit salad, macarons, is a dream come true. 

Traditional (and full size!) crème brûlée
Restaurant Beau Séjour,  Gorbio

One question remains: Does this mean traditional desserts will eventually disappear from menus in Paris? Not so fast. I don't know about you, but there are classics I will never be able to pass up when I go out with friends in my homeland - calories be dammed. After all, dessert or no dessert, sometimes, there just is no question.

Salted caramel crêpe with Normandy hard cider

Bon appétit, et à bientôt.

All photos unless otherwise noted by French Girl in Seattle.
Please do not use, Pin, or repost without permission.