| || |
When I broke my foot walking around for a short amount of time became tiresome and we ended up eating out a lot. I'm happy to say that I'm back to cooking, baking, and creating new dishes!
I am loving baking breads right now! Baking breads in all forms (to me) are a true art form! Taking these recipes and making them dairy free is fun to put my own spin on things. I have my croissants from France, biscuits from the southern United States, and sourdough from Europe. I'm looking forward to expanding on these!
In the fall, I made dairy free polenta with different toppings, mini desserts, and carbonara with fresh white truffles.
During the holidays, I decorated a gingerbread house, made dairy free cookies, a cupcake Christmas tree, together with my family my grandmother's tamales, choux au craqueline, french macarons, and most recently curried duck "samosas" with pineapple/mango chutney.
I'll be continuing to cook, bake, and create would you like to see recipes on this site that coincide with our travels? Comment below if you would!
A year before the wedding
Over a year ago my sister and her fiance came home from a vacation in Paris. With that they asked if we would be willing to go to Paris for their wedding! We were in! They knew they wanted a fall wedding and our hope was that September would be cooler than August but not as rainy as October. It turned out to be a beautiful and perfect day! Planning a destination wedding definitely takes time and strategic planning especially if there is a time/language difference. I don't know if I was nominated, volunteered, or just became the planner lol. I definitely love to plan trips, parties, and organize plans! My sister always harasses me that I love to create clipboards of family fun! It's so true!
14 months before the wedding
We started looking at ceremony and reception sites. Our first thought was to have a quick ceremony in a public area (hopefully near Notre Dame). You can find many planners in France who specialize in elopements in Paris. Unfortunately the logistics of a larger group wasn't working out. We needed a more traditional venue. We fell in love the idea of having the ceremony and reception on board a yacht along the Seine River. With that we reserved the day with Yachts de Paris. The packages offered by Yachts de Paris were wonderfully detailed and definitely within our budget.
The guest list was decidedly tricky! It's really hard to manage the bride and groom hopes, the wants of your parents, budget, and still maintain an intimate destination wedding. In the end we were a wonderful group of 25 adults and 1 infant.
10 months before the wedding
We had to pick a hotel for us and our guests. Our checklist including affordability, location, reviews, amenities, and responsiveness. We narrowed our list down to 6 hotels in and around Paris, Versailles, and the airport. We decided on the Tourisme Avenue Hotel. The hotel itself is boutique style, with breakfast included in some rates, a variety of room types and offers a great location. At this point the couple also created a Facebook page (closed group). We were able to share information with our guests like the hotel, when to book airfare, and tips for traveling.
8 months before the wedding
We booked our airfare right when it became available to get the best price possible. Most of the party chose American Airlines with a nonstop flight from Boston to Paris. We along with a few other guests chose Air France with a nonstop flight as well. The main reason for choosing Air France was the return flight time. American Airlines offered a flight around 10:30 a.m. Knowing that the wedding would end at midnight, we'd have to finish packing, and get to the airport early; the 3:30 p.m. Air France flight was more attractive. We also purchased travel insurance with our flights. To read about our past experience with travel insurance head over to our Travel Tips page.
If you're like most people, there is never enough time to research travel insurance companies. Reviews.com has created an un-biased article that researched 22 national insurance providers. Reviews.com not only compared prices but also inclusions, add ons and more. What I love in the article is that they also simplified things for us by breaking down the best policies for trip type. To read their reviews and book a quote visit here.
Paris is a good drive away from the airport and when comparing costs we decided to book a private transfer for 4 adults and a lot of luggage. We found BT- Transfer who already had a lot of positive reviews on Tripadvisor. We ended up booking a variety of rides with BT Transfer. During our week in France we all agreed we'd like to see a little more of France than just Paris. To maximize time and minimize stress we booked airport transfers, a trip to Versailles (9 people), a trip to Puligny Montrachet (7 people), and shuttles to take our guests (25 total) to and from the wedding.
We read up on destination weddings and while it's not required we thought it would be a nice touch to plan some group activities for our guests. Our first thought was a group tour of Paris. Booking a tour for our guests was probably the most troublesome part of planning the wedding. I provided the bride and groom with a couple of different options. One was a double decker private bus tour, one was a tour with stops for pictures, another was a bus tour with tickets to the Eiffel Tower. I presented these to the bride and groom and they picked their favorite. Easy enough! I originally booked our tour with Viator and I was very specific with our requests. Viator was not user friendly when it comes to group bookings. The only way to book a group is via email and fax. In the end Viator was not able to provide what we asked for us. The customer service representative ignored what I stated we needed and wasn't willing to pick us up from our hotel. It would have been ridiculous for me to try to organize a large group to meet at our hotel, take public transportation to Viator's office, and then go on a tour together. After complaining about the service I received a refund and booked directly with Paris City Vision (the provider Viator was going to use). Paris City Vision was wonderful with booking, requests, and answering any calls/emails. They offered us a private tour, pick up from our hotel, and was willing to let us bring breakfast and beverages with us.
After the bride and groom picked Paris for their wedding I noticed items about Paris everywhere! I read an article about Paris Picnic in a magazine. After reading reviews I knew Paris Picnic would be a perfect outing for our group. We chose their Le Chic menu which included champagne, foie gras, baguette tradition, assortment of cheeses, charcuterie (cured meats), fresh salad du jour, artisanal crisps, seasonal fruit salad, mineral water, macarons, and brownies.
When it came time to picking a photographer we looked at a couple in Paris and a couple who came recommended from Massachusetts. We all agreed on hiring a friend of my sister's, Eric Snyder. Eric takes stunning photographs that are present, emotional, and flattering.
At this point I had a binder for all of my paperwork and spreadsheets. I previously posted about their wedding shower and that information was the first section in my binder. To read about my French garden theme shower visit here. So far I had guest information, venue contracts, hotel confirmations, airfare confirmations, travel insurance confirmations, budget for wedding, budget for activities, and budget for travels.
Next blog post is details from 3 months before the wedding.
We had an early reservation at Ruka for 4 adults. We were seated right away and offered drink menus. We ordered a variety of drinks that were wonderful including an extensive Sake menu. The food menu consists of small plates (almost tapas style). It sounds like we ordered a lot through our meal but it was just right for the 4 of us. I should also point out that the restaurant had no problem modifying dishes for my dairy allergy! Love it!
We started our meal with Blackened Octopus, Baby Street Corn, Prime Ribeye Cap, Seared Tuna Tataki, Lima Style Fried Calamari, Octopus Lomo Saltado, and Crispy Lamb Belly Katsu. The first dish we tried was the Blackened Octopus and we all agreed that it was delicious and we would need a 2nd order. The dishes came out one or two at a time and we thoroughly enjoyed all of them. The Crispy Lamb Belly Katsu was another favorite dish and we ordered a 2nd one of it as well. Throughout the meal the dishes were a little on the salty side but they were bright, bold, and otherwise balanced.
To end the meal we ordered 3 desserts and a small dish of prickly pear sorbet. The desserts were 50/50. The prickly pear sorbet was a little too sweet and the "moon pie" was too dry and crumbly. The other two desserts (I wish I could remember their names) were unbelievable though!
We can't wait to return!
We made it into the Boston Opera House and to our seats with about 10 minutes until showtime. Our seats were wonderful with a perfect view of the stage and chandelier. The Phantom of the Opera is one of my favorite musicals and this was my 4th time seeing it. It was another wonderful performance.
After the show we had the pleasure of meeting some of the cast and got to listen to their experiences with the show and as performers in general. To finish off the night we were given little gift bags with programs and cups.
It was a wonderful night out with great friends, good food and the arts!
Saturday morning and we finally get a little bit of a sleep in! We finally get out of bed and dressed and I hop downstairs to confirm with Valerie our information for our hairdresser. Greg and I went next door for some Starbucks for breakfast. Sadly the coffee machine in the hotel looks as though it contains milk so I was hoping to avoid any cross contamination.
After breakfast we walked up the street looking in around a few shops. I found an adorable children's clothing store for gifts for friends as well as a unique chocolatier for other gifts. It was close to noon so we headed back to the hotel and Greg went off on his own while 4 of us met with the hairdresser. The hairdresser felt she needed more space than the rooms provided so Valerie offered us the breakfast lounge. I really can't express our gratitude to Valerie and the Tourisme Avenue Hotel enough.
During our time in the "Salon" we were lucky that my dad went and purchased lunch for us. Even Valeri would stop in and see how we are doing, asked if we needed anything, etc. At the last minute it was decided we should get a small bouquet for the bride to carry. Greg was up! Even though there was a language barrier Greg and Fleurs d'Auteuil did an amazing job of creating a bridal bouquet.
Around 4:00 p.m. we were ready for makeup, pictures, and getting dressed. My sister and I headed to my room where I could help her with whatever she needed. Eric Snyder the photographer and friend from Massachusetts came up with us and took beautiful photos of the dress, accessories, and my sister getting ready.
Our guests were scheduled to meet at our hotel for 6:00 shuttle ride to the wedding destination of Yachts de Paris. We were told by our drivers that there was a concert, demonstration, and LGBTQ parade all happening at once during our scheduled time. With the suggestion to leave early we rushed around to finish getting ready, and contacted all the guests to rearrange the schedule. As you can imagine this became rather hectic. I literally got dressed in 5 minutes, helped my sister finish getting ready, brought Greg the thank you gifts for the yacht, and tried to gather everything else we needed.
Thankfully Greg and a few others helped usher the guests into the shuttles as they appeared. My aunt and uncle and I were the last shuttle to leave with my parents and sister in a sedan behind us.
Apparently all of the traffic was in getting to our hotel and not getting to the dock. We arrived very early and had to wait alongside the dock for a bit. The staff of Yachts de Paris were gracious in letting us on board a little early even though they were still setting up.
At 7:00 pm I helped bring my sister up onto the top deck of the yacht and watched her walk down the aisle to her future husband. Immediately after the ceremony we enjoyed cocktail hour with champagne, an open bar, and hor d' oeurves. We then watched as the couple had stunning photographs taken of them before taking group photos. It was incredible that we had perfect weather, a perfect sunset, and perfect views for the ceremony and photographs.
At 8:30 pm we went down into the dining room for a 4 course meal. Our starter was an Antipasti with Buffalo Mozzarella (Foie Gras for those with a dairy allergy). Our entree was Veal vegetables (Hake for dairy allergy). Next was a Cheese Course. For dessert we enjoyed the Power of Chocolate (Fruit Salad for dairy allergy). The food was elegantly presented, beautifully seasoned, and perfect portions. Guests raved about the food especially the veal.
In between the courses we enjoyed several speeches (even one from me which I'm petrified to do), a couple of special dances, and finally the incredible cake ceremony. The chef brought out the cake, turned down the lights, and had sparklers flaring. The talented singer sang Dream a little Dream in french (requested by the bride) while the couple cut the cake.
After dinner it was time to dance! We enjoyed music from a DJ as well as a female singer. The evening was truly magical! As a thank you for the staff I prepared a gratuity but also a thank you bag. I brought some gifts from Massachusetts that I hoped they would like. The first item was Maple Syrup, the 2nd was caramels, and the 3rd was sea salt.
At Midnight we disembarked the yacht and made our way over to the shuttles. When we arrived back at our hotel I helped the bride out of her gown and showed the groom what to do the next day for more photographs.
A group of us then made our way over to Le Zinc for a final get together! A perfect end to a wonderful week!
On Friday morning we told all of our guests to meet at Tourisme Avenue Hotel before 10:00 am. L'Open tour's double decker bus pulled up to our hotel right at 10! Perfect! Our very friendly driver didn't speak a lot of English and I didn't speak a lot of French but again thanks to our smart phones we did just fine!
Once we got everyone on board we were off for a nice drive through Paris hitting lots of sights on our way to Montmarte.
In Montmarte we stopped and enjoyed a little more than a half hour in the area. Most of us walked up to Sacre Couer Basilica, some did a little shopping, and others played on the carousel.
Once we were all back at the meeting spot we called our driver to pick us up. 5 minutes later and we were all back on board and ready to see more of Paris. Our driver made this transition very easy.
From Montmarte we continued sightseeing on our way to our next stop at the Pantheon.
We were scheduled to have a 10 minute stop at the Pantheon unfortunately it was 12:30 pm and we had to be in Trocadero Park around 1:00 pm. The group decided to forgo the stop and head to our scheduled picnic. Throughout our tour we did hit a fair amount of traffic sadly this caused us to miss the Pantheon, Champs Elysees, and the Arc de Triomphe.
We made our way over to Trocadero Park and our driver helped everyone off the bus and helped make sure nothing was left behind. We all agreed that touring with L'Open Tour was perfect for our group! We crossed the street and just behind the carousel we found our picnic area set up by Paris Picnic.
The lovely staff from Paris Picnic were friendly whether it was via email, phone call, or in person. We had a large area set up plus extra supplies to expand. Our picnic consisted of water, champagne, baguettes, chips, cheese, charcuterie, pate, a variety of salads, fruit, brownies, and macarons. We were also given champagne flutes, cups, utensils, and napkins. Everything was plentiful, delicious, and satisfying. Whether you are a couple of a large group ordering from Paris Picnic is a must!
After the picnic everyone went their own ways. Greg and I walked back to our hotel and decided our time would be best spent by taking a nap! Boring yes but definitely needed!
Friday night I originally had plans to go to dinner with Greg, my parents, aunt, uncle, and cousins. Greg still continued with these plans but I headed out with the girls for a bachelorette night out.
There was 9 of us in total and we first went to dinner at Le Gavroche. We ordered Eggs with Mayonnaise, Jamon, Carrot Salad, and Foie Gras. For entrees I ordered the Calamari, a few people ordered Beef, and a couple people ordered what may or may not have been veal brains lol. Everything was simply cooked which was beautiful. The proteins were the star and the food was filling. We skipped dessert and made our way to Experimental Cocktail Club. Experimental Cocktail is basically a speakeasy (we missed the entrance on our first try). We ordered a round of drinks however the bar was very busy and very warm so we decided to move on.
We walked over to a bar that was glass walls with tons and tons of back lit alcohol bottles. The staff were just about ready to find us a table when I received a text from Greg. Apparently the bachelor night out didn't go as planned and they were all getting ready to head back to our hotel. We decided it would be fun to just meet up with all the guys and head over to Le Zinc for cocktails.
We found a regular taxi that was crazy enough to take all 9 of us. This meant lots of people squished onto two benches, my sister on the floor, and me in a booster seat inside of a car seat on the floor! Made of an interesting ride. We piled out of the taxi and headed over to the restaurant and enjoyed a round of drinks. At closing time we asked the hotel staff if we could enjoy a bottle of champagne in the breakfast room. Again the staff at Tourisme Avenue Hotel went above and beyond!
Finally it was time for bed so we are rested for the big day!
The 5:30 a.m. alarm wasn't so welcome this morning but we were excited to head to the Burgundy region of France. Our driver from BT Transfer was on time and helped the 7 of us into the van. We unfortunately had a long and rainy 3 hour drive to Puligny Montrachet.
We had reservations for a 10 a.m. tour at Olivier Leflaive's Vineyard. I booked the tour and lunch directly with Olivier Leflaive's staff/family and was also assured they could accommodate my dairy allergy. I hated to do it but I did have to send them an email explaining that we would be arriving a little late. The staff were wonderful and assured us we could either catch up with the group or pass on the vineyard tour and head onto the cellar tour. When we arrived we were shown where to drive to meet up with the rest of the group in the field. Our guide was explaining to us in English and French their process, the type of grapes, and the type of land. We were a little cold but it was very interesting, beautiful scenery, and an enjoyable time. After a quick walk back to the main building we were ready for the next tour which would be of the cellar. My mother, sister and I opted to stay at the hotel and try to warm up with some coffee. The rest of the group enjoyed the cellar tour and all of the information provided.
Our group met up again and it was time for lunch and a wine tasting. We opted for the Emotion menu. We started off lunch with Gougere's (cashews for me) with a glass of Bourgogne 2014. For our starter we enjoyed gently roasted Salmon and cucumbers along with both Auxey - Duresses 2013 and Saint Romain 2013. For our entree we enjoyed roasted Cod with chorizo and zucchini along with both Meursault 2013 and Meursault 1 2011. For dessert we were given either a cheese plate, a chocolate dessert, or fruit in my case along with a glass of Aloxe Corton 2013 (the only red wine). After lunch we purchased a couple bottles of wine and champagne to enjoy back in Paris. Our driver was on time as usual and we enjoyed a beautiful ride home.
Here's where things got tricky for me! I received an email from Paris City Vision informing me that our 10:00 a.m. group tour on Friday (which was booked months ago) was being cancelled due to a strike happening in Paris on Thursday. The only option I was given was to switch to a 6:00 p.m. tour that included time on a river cruise. This option didn't fit our group at all. I asked for a full refund and Paris City Vision was accommodating. So there I am on my phone researching, emailing and calling other tour companies to arrange a city tour of Paris for 25 adults in only 3 days. Luckily I found a couple of companies that could accommodate us. More on that in the next post.
Later that evening we met up with friends for dinner at Le Coq. We walked the couple of blocks to the restaurant and dined al fresco. This was our first experience with the difference between Bostonian's and Parisian's when it comes to cool weather. We opted to sit in the area that could accommodate a large group but without heaters. The temperature was between 55 and 65 degrees all week and we were in light jackets, or long sleeve shirts, etc. The Parisian's were in down jackets, wool coats, sweaters, and knit hats.
For starters we enjoyed the 4 tomato salad, quinoa and prawns, pizza, and artichokes with asparagus. For entrees we ordered the beef tartar, gilded chicken breast, filet of beef, salmon, and more. When it came time for dessert we ordered the Yuzu tart, a large creme caramel, and a giant profiterole.
After dinner we walked next door and took pictures with the Olympic rings and the Eiffel Tower. We watched the midnight light show and then took a leisurely walk back to our apartment.
We had a 7:20 p.m. flight on Air France booked along with my parents. I originally chose Air France for their flight times. Going to Paris wasn't a big deal time wise but coming home I knew that the wedding ended at midnight and I wouldn't be up for an early morning flight on American Airlines. Unfortunately I ran into a few snags with Air France. The first being our paid seats got refunded for our return flight due to an equipment change. Luckily this would be rectified later on.
We booked a car service to the airport with Airport Limo Boston. We were picked up in a clean SUV with a friendly driver who got us to the airport on time and safely. The 2nd issue we had with Air France was when neither I nor the customer service representative I was speaking with knew that Air France doesn't participate in TSA pre-check (so much for our global entry passes). The 3rd problem was when I realized that even though their website states they offer an allergy free meal it's actually not true. I ended up buying something safer in the airport and turning down Air France's meal service. The final issue was that I also prepaid our excess baggage on their website but it didn't trickle down to the airport staff. I had to pull up email receipts at check in. In regards to our flight it was on time, the staff was friendly and I found that I had more room in economy than on previous international flights.
We landed in France on time and then we hit the frustration many people talk about at charles de gaulle airport. From the time we landed to the time we left the airport it was 3 hours! Luckily my parents got to take the disability line due to my mom and her cane however they did have to sit and wait for us. Our amazing driver from BT Transfers waited for us the entire time! While we were in the customs line we were speaking with Brian from BT Transfers. We had originally planned an excursion to Versailles at noon for us and the rest of our group (already in Paris). There was no way we would make that time so Brian graciously rearranged our car service to 1:00 p.m.
Our driver took us and our luggage to the clean SUV and drove us to our AirBnb in Paris. We met up with the rest of our group and quickly toured the amazing apartment we rented. Our apartment offered 4 bedrooms, 2 baths, a living room, dining room, kitchen, and multiple terraces.
We quickly refreshed ourselves, enjoyed some snacks and hopped in our next car with BT Transfers to Versailles. Once we got to Versailles we had some confusion about where to be dropped off but our drivers were wonderful and took us to where we needed to be. We now had 3 hours to enjoy exploring the gardens (we visited on a Monday when the palace was closed). Our group walked for a little while but due to the rain we decided to rent 3 golf carts. This was perfect! We had a little convoy of tourists who got to stay mostly dry, explore a lot of the area, and keep those of us with ailments from having difficulties. When it was almost time for our pick up we dropped off those that couldn't walk too far at the entrance. The rest of us returned the golf carts and right as the sun was coming out we walked back to the entrance stopping along the way for more pictures.
Our drivers picked us up right on time and took us back to Paris. We now had a couple of hours to unwind with a glass of wine on the terrace with the amazing view of the Eiffel Tower!
Tonight we booked a private chef through La Belle Assiette for 11 adults. Chef Remy Coste and I had emailed a few days before hand to discuss the menu. For our group we were hoping to avoid veal, seafood, and dairy (for me). Chef Coste and his wife Florence arrived on time and fully prepared. The both of them were fun, personable, and talented! We enjoyed some Foie Gras Lollipops as an amuse bouche. Our starter was Ricotta Ravioli's with Basil for most of the guests and Beef Tataki for myself. Our entree was Beef with Sauteed Mushrooms and Truffled Mashed Potatoes (Oven Potatoes for me). For dessert we enjoyed a Rich Chocolate Cake with Figs and a Caramel Sauce (Chocolate Mousse with Figs for me). The entire meal was outstanding! We could not stop raving about the food and the service!
24 hours after leaving Boston we were in love with France, full with delicious food and wine, and ready to enjoy a good nights sleep.
My sister is getting married this year and as her matron of honor I had the pleasure of throwing her and her fiance a wedding shower. My mother was a huge help to me throughout the whole process. Together her and I found the perfect venue together. With the perfect room, delicious options, and wonderful staff we were thrilled to book The Hawthorn Hotel in Salem MA.
The wedding will be taking place is Paris France later this year. On a side note stay tuned to hear about our stay in Paris including Versailles, Burgundy Region, Restaurants, Hotels, Airbnb, and the wedding venue itself! I wanted the shower to be a classic brunch but with subtle French influences.
When guests entered the Grand Ballroom they could look for their names and tables on mini chalkboards. Next we asked for them to fill out advice cards with keys attached to them for our "Love Lock" Frame.
For the centerpieces we found glass vases that were dipped in Gold paint. We worked with Salvy the Florist in Lynn MA to create a floral centerpiece that was soft colors and felt like it came right out of a garden. We were thrilled with the end result! For the table number cards I hand painted gold onto simple white frames. The interior was a combination of blue vintage look paper, white invitation cards, and scroll cut chalkboard paper. In addition to a traditional table setting we included two games. The first was bridal bingo and the second was he said she said. We chose the first two winners for each game and gave them boxes of French Macarons.
The brunch menu consisted breads, pastries, eggs benedict, french toast, potatoes, ham, chicken and pasta, spinach salad, and mini pastries. The staff were also wonderful when dealing with food allergies. For a person with a gluten allergy they were able to make a separate Eggs Benedict with gluten free bread. For my dairy allergy they were able to make me a separate order of poached eggs. For drinks we offered our guests coffee, tea, mimosa's, bloody mary's, and non-alcoholic punch.
Instead of going the traditional cake route I ordered a Croquembouche (french pastry consisting of cream puffs that have been dipped in caramel) from Caramel Patisserie in Salem MA. The Croquembouche was stunning and everyone raved about the flavors.
Finally we created favors for our guests. The first item was small bunches of lavender sprays wrapped in natural colored tissue paper ties with raffia. The second item was a small gold box which held 2 Madeline cookies (that I baked including a gluten free option) and a small chocolate Eiffel Tower.
I couldn't have been more thrilled with the way the day turned out. My sister and future brother in law were surprised and happy so it made everything worth it!
We were a party of 3 with dinner reservations at Gaslight. We were seated right away with a nice table by the window (even though it was raining out). Our waitress came over and took our drink order. For appetizers we ordered the Tuna Tartare and the Boston Chowder. I ordered the Tuna Tartare without avocado due to my allergy. I didn't love this dish as underneath the tuna was a very large pool of soy sauce. The overall taste was too salty.
For entrees we ordered the Pan Seared Scallops, the Sticky Vietnamese Short Ribs, and the Branzino. All three entrees were delicious. My entree was the Branzino. The fish was cooked perfectly, the ratatouille was beautiful, and the tapenade added wonderful flavor. For side dishes we ordered the french fries (my weakness) and the brussel sprouts. We all agreed the brussel sprouts were one of the best we've tried.
We would return again but perhaps the during the next visit we would ask them to hold the additional salt.