My French Heaven


Of friendship and things that are colorful and bright and free

Bastille day

I started this post thinking I’d just share a few pictures of my friend’s Jurina’s 40th birthday that we celebrated this past July 14th weekend. I then thought of what Jurina means to me as a friend and as a positive influence in my life and ended up associating her beautiful free spirit to the revolution and its symbols. Have you ever heard of Marianne for instance?


While Uncle Sam represents the American government, Marianne is the symbol of france as our homeland or mother land. It is the symbol of France itself and its motto since the revolution: Liberté, égalité, fraternité which means Freedom, equality, fraternity. The name Marianne was used for a number of reasons:

  1. Marie and Anne were the two most common names for girls in the French countryside of the 18th century. The common peasants were at the origin of the revolutionary movement and the largest cast in France.
  2. A song was published just days after the Bastille was taken. It was very popular and was called The Healing of Marianne
  3. In the play “l’Avare” written by Molière (the French version of Shakespeare) more than a century before the revolution, one of the main characters was called Marianne. She represented freedom of choice against tradition and oppression

So Marianne became the symbol of freedom and of the new France the people had fought for. Until the Euro became our currency, we used “Francs”. Marianne was on every coin. She still is on very stamp we use. Take that Elizabeth Windsor :0) Just kidding, you know how much I love the queen. I wish we had one to be honest. Any half blood aristocrat would be better than this buffoon we call our president… (When I say our President, I mean THEIR president. Heaven knows I didn’t vote for that fill in the blank)


So here is to freedom and life and people who keep fighting for them. Here is to the glorious Jurina and the light she shines upon us all. Here is to loud fireworks and food and wine and joie de vivre…

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Note:The toreador is Jame, Jurina’s boyfriend. You guys already know Ségolene and the fat guy holding her in his arms ;0)

Of July in Cap Ferret and lick your fingers delicious flambées prawns

Shrimp - Cap Ferret

Each year in July, every individual cell of our large clan rents a house in Cap Ferret. Except me of course because I’m so busy (and so damn poor). So you can imagine how special I feel when my friends or my nephews invite me over for a day at the beach. I am not too excited about the beach part (never could stand it); rather, I am out of my mind excited about seeing the kids… My nephews and grand-nephews are the children I will never have. I have 19 of them and I can honestly say that they are the only good reason I have to keep on keeping on as they say…

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Of course they all know how important good food (and seafood in particular) is to me. So we make it a point to always cook something special when I’m with them. Something light and tasty and lick your fingers delicious… One dish everybody loves to eat on a hot summer day by the pool is grilled or seared prawns flambées with Ricard or Pastis or even Jack Daniels. So I will be driving around Cap Ferret with several bottles of brandy in my car this month :0)

Shrimp - Cap FerretRicardShrimp - Cap Ferret

Every Mediterranean country has its own anise based alcoholic beverage. In Greece it’s Uzo, in France it’s Ricard. We call this type of drink “anisette”… It is very popular everywhere in France, but it is an absolute star in Provence! It is also perfect to flambé seafood. You can find it almost anywhere in the world. You can also look for “Pastis”. I modified my recipe for the marinade recently. Here is the new version:

  1. Marinate prawns in olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zests, salt and black pepper for at least 2 hours.
  2. Grill on a cast iron plate or plancha (2 to 3 minutes on each side) or on the BBQ.
  3. Flambé with Ricard and serve with the left over marinade on the side. You can spread it on toast or put it in your rice or your pasta…

Note: if you BBQ the shrimp, you will obviously need to transfer them into a pan in order to flamber them. Just make sure the pan is hot enough for the alcohol to catch on fire.

Note: Obviously, we don’t have huge prawns like these in France. They come from Madagascar (the best ones do). I will have to post again soon on my next Cap Ferret trips and the local specialties we’ll cook. Oysters and turbot anyone?! :0)

Shrimp - Cap FerretShrimp - Cap FerretShrimp - Cap Ferret

Thomas Jefferson’s favorite wine… and mine!


This wine, together with Petrus and Romanée Conti is considered the very best money (lots of it) can buy.  The name? Château d’Yquem!

My Dad, who was a Wine Merchant (Négociant) for almost 60 years, has had the chance to taste the very best wines throughout his career. Then one day, he went to a dinner party at our friend’s Clara and said she had served the very best wine he had ever had. You guessed it,  it was a Château d’Yquem. The vintage? 1893! Clara’s husband has been a wine collector his whole life and his cellar is a masterpiece.


Château d’Yquem, officially founded in late 1593 is a “Sauternes”. The Sauternes appellation, located just South of Bordeaux, produces dessert wines. It does so naturally (nothing has to be added to raise the sugar levels). They basically harvest extremely late when the fruit is rotten (noble rot). The sugar concentration then is such that they can transform some of the sugar into alcohol and have enough left to keep the wine tasting very sweet. Sauternes wines have a strong apricot, pear and peach note. Their color is on the darker side of fresh honey.

Yquem was first owned in the middle ages by the King of England (also Duke of Aquitaine). It then went to the Sauvage family and the Lur Saluces family. It was sold to the LVMH group (Vuitton, Dior…) in the late 1990s. The owner, Bernard Arnaud hosted his daughter’s wedding there.

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Dessert wines like these are best served chilled with foie gras, Roquefort cheese and dark chocolate desserts. It is also perfect with dishes that include pears, apricots or peaches… If the wine isn’t cold enough, all you’ll be able to focus on is the sweetness of it. Ever tried warm coke? (Coca Cola I mean!).

After Sauternes, my absolute favorites are South African sweet whites. Delicious!!!

Thomas Jefferson was a big fan of Yquem, and although I can’t afford it, it is my favorite wine too! But if, like me, you love dessert wines in general and Sauternes in particular, I suggest you find some  Château Guiraud. The property neighbors Yquem and it is a very special wine indeed. And much much cheaper too ;0)

After Sauternes, my absolute favorites are South African sweet whites. Delicious!!!


The pictures here are of Yquem of course, but also of the Sauternes area. Truly one of the most beautiful and bucolic parts of the Bordeaux wine region…


3 simple steps a great host should always follow


I think the secret to being a great host is quite simple. One principe; three easy steps. Maya Angelou got the principle down for us: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

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That’s really all there is to it. If you want people to remember a party you hosted, whether it’s a simple gathering in the yard or an elaborate wedding at the Ritz, you have to find ways to make them feel the love ;0) Once you own that principle, you just have to follow the 3 steps I learned from my time working at the Ritz. I have always treated (I think) everyone like this; It is in my nature. But the sequence is important for us all to remember. It takes a little extra effort sometimes just to stay on top of one’s game ;0) Here are the steps:

  1. Provide a warm and sincere welcome: Always welcome people yourself. If the queen of England can do it, so can we all. Use people’s names too. Introduce them to someone you know they’ll have fun talking to, and offer them a drink right away.
  2. Anticipate individual needs: Use what you know about each guest and their preferences. If you don’t know enough about them, ask a person who is close to them. Your goal is to create positive surprise. Admins, life partners, family, friends are ideal CIs! Facebook is a personal favorite of mine! When my now dear friend Melanie and I first met, she was coming to spend two weeks with me in Saint-Emilion. Although she was staying in a very high end hotel, all hotel rooms tend to be quite impersonal. Since I knew how much she loved her little dog Annie, I printed and framed a picture of Annie from an e-mail addressed to me months before. I placed it on her night stand in her hotel room. Of course Melanie loved it. That made her feel more than welcome and I think quite special indeed. She felt and understood right from the beginning how much her wellbeing mattered to me. Of course, the very least we can do, in terms of anticipating needs, is to know what the person is allergic to. I am not just talking about food allergies; Magie may very well be allergic to John and his political views. One should never talk about politics or religion at a dinner party, but you never know. Sitting is always important!
  3. Give a fond farewell: This is where people can feel how genuine your friendship/respect is towards them. This is how people can really tell if you’re all for show or someone who truly cares about them. I was graciously invited to a dinner party last Thursday. It was my nephew Geoffrey’s best friend’s birthday party. Geoffrey now lives almost three hours away from Bordeaux, but of course he drove down to surprise Nicolas. There were many guests present that evening. All of them extremely close to Geoffrey. So of course I was able to spend a few minutes catching up with him, after months apart, but I had to share him with all the other guests. The party went on and it was quite a success. As I was leaving around 1am, I said goodby to everyone. Catherine (we call her bangs because her hairdo resembles one you’d see on a Playmobil action figure), the gracious hostess, escorted me to the door and I was on my way. After just a few steps on the sidewalk outside their home, I heard the door open again and a voice: “Steph, let me walk you to your car. I didn’t get to spend any real time with you!” Yes, it was Geoffrey. He wanted to get at least two minutes of real time together. That small gesture made me feel so damn special!

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Whether I am with my friends or with guests I have never met before, making people feel important and heard and seen is what gives me joy. That’s probably why several of my guests have become life long friends… A good indication that what I do is what I am I guess…

And the beauty of it is that it works quite well the other way around too: it is Jurina’s 40th birthday on Saturday. I can’t stand Jurina. Jurina is allergic to nuts.  Guess what I’ll be serving :0)

Just kidding, I love my beautiful Jurina. She’s the lady with the checkers pants holding her wine glass in the air. Geoffrey is the guy above, with the big stupid hair :0)

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