A big part of our honeymoon, and the planning phases before our trip, were the hotel choices. James and I take our time to choose hotels not just for their comfort and cleanliness, but also for their overall aesthetics. We enjoy the dedication placed into making guests feel at ease while they are away from home, while providing an elevated visual atmosphere. As we toured northern France we stayed at several different hotels, many of which are part of the prestigious Châteaux & Hôtels Collection. Here are some of our favorites.
We spent our first night in Paris at Hôtel Napoléon, just a stone’s throw away from the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile. The hotel was given as wedding gift by a Russian entrepreneur to his Parisian bride, and it was the perfect place for the first night of our honeymoon. We had a wonderful view of the rooftops of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées from the top floor. After a long day of walking around Paris, we came back to a bottle of Napoléon brand Champagne courtesy of the hotel waiting for us as a honeymoon surprise.
Hôtel Restaurant La Musardière
Giverny was probably the most calm and peaceful place that we visited, and our hotel there was no exception. Hôtel Restaurant La Musardière dates back to a time when Monet lived in Giverny. There is a restaurant with outdoor seating right at the front of the hotel where you can dine while enjoying the pastoral views.
Hôtel de Bellefontaine
Just outside of the center of Bayeux lies Château Hôtel de Bellefontaine. After driving through the gates, we came upon the 18th century château surrounded by gardens and a pond filled with black swans. While sitting in the gardens, we could just barely make out the top of the cathedral on the horizon.
Auberge Le Mouton Blanc
We spent a night at Le Mont Saint-Michel at the foot of the abbey in the Auberge Le Mouton Blanc. Like the rest of the historic site, our 14th century hotel felt like something straight out of a fairy tale. From our second story room, we could open the latticed casement windows to peer down upon the crowds walking the narrow streets.
Château Hôtel Du Colombier
Our hotel in Saint-Malo, Château Hôtel Du Colombier, felt very similar to Château Hôtel de Bellefontaine in Bayeux. This particular château was built by a ship’s manager of the East India Company. We walked around the grounds and found a chapel, as well as some goats in a pen around the property.
Our accommodations added a whole other level of romance to our fairy tale honeymoon. From the most lavish to the quietest, we found relief in calling these hotels our temporary homes, if only for small glimpses of time for each.
For the past two years James and I have created handmade Christmas cards for our loved ones. This year we decided to take a different approach to the craft by using layers of paper cut-outs as our base.
For the more complex designs, we first created them digitally, and then printed out guides for cutting each color.
Each layer was cut out very carefully.
For some of the cards we used colored construction paper, but for those with a more dynamic color palette, we painted each piece individually by mixing acrylic paints.
Once we had each paper layer complete we assembled and glued them together.
Each card is unique, and we had a lot of fun coming up with the different designs. The best part is knowing they will each bring a smile to our loved ones this Christmas season.
We left Normandie and drove into Bretagne towards our final destination before heading back to Paris for the remainder of our honeymoon. I was very eager to visit the little walled city of Saint-Malo, a world distant from all that is outside of it, yet open to the vast waters of the English Channel resting against it.
Walking through La Ville Intra-Muros reminded us so much of our recent trip to Québec.
There are quite a few references to Québec throughout the city. Here is a statue of Saint-Malo native Jacques Cartier, who set sail from the city to claim Canada for France. James did a report on Cartier when he was in elementary school.
We tried to go to the bar at the Jules Verne themed Hôtel Le Nautilus, but it was for hotel guests only.
We walked along the ramparts that encircle the old city, looking down upon the people filtering through the city gates.
The ramparts culminate at the Château de Saint-Malo. Its difficult to believe that the city was mostly destroyed during the Second World War. The extensive restoration has done such a wonderful job of maintaining the character of the original city.
The sight of boats bobbing in the water fondly reminded me of New England views.
The Feu Du Môle lighthouse and a small fort on the island of Petit Bé can be seen from the walled city.
We walked down to the beach and I waded into the English Channel. That’s Fort National behind me on a tidal island.
We were very glad to end our tour of northern France with Saint-Malo; touching the water felt conclusive and satisfying. We enjoyed every bit of our honeymoon, and although we were ready to return home by the end, I can already tell we will forever feel nostalgic for all of our adventures in France.
As the weather continues to get chillier I have been thinking up comforting treats to bake at home. Now that we have a stand mixer, that task has become even more exciting. Recently, James and I decided to try out pretzel making for the first time. The results were absolutely delicious and the process was both fascinating and a lot of fun. I found a basic recipe online, and made just a couple of tweaks to the process.
2 1/2 cups of flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon dry yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup baking soda
1 tablespoon salt
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons whole milk
Coarse sea salt and sesame seeds for sprinkling
In a bowl mix the 2 1/2 cups of flour and 2 teaspoons of salt, set aside. In a small saucepan heat milk until it begins to simmer then turn off and let cool for a few minutes. Add yeast and honey to milk and stir until fully incorporated. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment add half of the milk and half of the flour mixture, stir with a wooden spoon to fully meld together. Then add the remaining flour and milk, and mix with paddle attachment for about five minutes. Once the dough is fully mixed switch to the bread hook attachment and knead on medium speed for about ten minutes.
Add the olive oil to a large bowl and swish around to spread it out. Form a ball with the dough and add to bowl, cover and let sit for 1 1/2 hours. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450F. If you have a baking stone (or in our case a clay baking dish) place in oven while it heats up.
Once the dough is ready, separate into twelve equal sized pieces.
Roll the dough out into long strands and twist to form the pretzel shape.
While you are twisting, bring a pot of water with the baking soda and tablespoon of salt to a boil.
Gently place the pretzels (up to two at a time) in the water, flipping them over after twenty seconds. You will notice that the pretzels float once they are ready to be taken out. Place them on a rack to dry for a couple of minutes. In a bowl whisk together the egg yolk and 2 tablespoons of milk. Brush each pretzel with the yolk mixture and top off with desired amount of sesame seeds and coarse sea salt.
Place pretzels on a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper underneath and put in oven over the baking stone. Bake for 8 – 10 minutes, until pretzels and golden. Dip in your favorite mustard and enjoy!
When filling out our wedding registry, James and I opted for gifts that would either replace pieces that we already owned (dinner plates, old pots and pans, etc.) or pieces that we had been wanting for a while, but had not had the opportunity to purchase ourselves. Here is just a sampling of gifts that we received from our generous friends and family that we look forward to incorporating into our daily kitchen and home functionality.
Perhaps the biggest surprise came when we received our stand mixer. Out of all the items on our registry the stand mixer was (not so) secretly the piece that I was hoping for the most. Lucky for me, I have fantastic close friends who pitched in together to make this little dream come true. I have already used it a handful of times and have found that it certainly lives up to all of my expectations and has greatly improved my baking experiences.
Cookware was another category that I was very excited for. I had been using an older set for most of my cooking, so replacing it with new items was a welcome change. We received some wonderful cookware pieces with copper bottoms from a couple of our close friends, and these dutch ovens from family members. My mother has always used dutch ovens in her cooking, and I am eager to make some of her recipes this winter.
Another item at the top of our list was our wedding china. We previously did not have any entire sets of dishes, and this china fit the bill perfectly. The gold and blush tones remind us of our wedding colors, while the delicate details speak to our aesthetic preferences.
To compliment our wedding china we chose this beautiful line of silverware.
Our hostess set is part of the same collection as our silverware, tying all of the pieces together for curating lovely dinners.
We picked out two different sets of crystal glasses that would both harmonize with our wedding china and be useful for different types of beverages.
These napkins were an unexpected surprise from my brother and sister in law that fit ideally into our home. The color scheme matches our kitchen, and the theme is perfect for displaying in our home now that we are newlyweds. We loved every gift that we received from our wedding, and are excited to finally have some key pieces in our home to use for many years to come.
Our final stop in Basse-Normandie was Le Mont Saint-Michel. This was the destination that James and I were the most excited to visit. I had been there for part of the day during my school trip ten years ago and longed to go back and spend more time on the enchanting island. James had fantasized about visiting for many years, and insisted that we stay the night on the actual rock which was absolutely perfect.
No cars are allowed on the mount, so we took a shuttle bus from the mainland across a newly built bridge. The old causeway was still in the process of being demolished.
The town really feels like a fairy tale village with heavy stone walls and half-timbered houses leading up to the imposing structure of the abbey at the top of the mount.
All of the shops and restaurants on the narrow streets had colorful painted signs hanging over their entrances. This one shows a ship with the coat of arms of the abbey on its sail.
There are so many alleys and pathways to explore off of La Grande Rue.
The site is filled with wonderful bits of character, some of which are a millennium old.
A golden statue of Saint Michael sits atop L’Abbaye du Mont-Saint-Michel.
We toured the abbey from the lowest, oldest parts to the top most sections built in the 13th century.
Here I am in the cloister of the abbey.
From the abbey, we could see the town and fortifications below.
The way that nature has discolored and worn away the stone creates the most amazing textures.
We bought a bottle of calvados apple brandy, even though we had left the département of Calvados the previous day, because we couldn’t resist this lovely bottle as a perfect souvenir.
At night we were able to explore the tiny island with significantly less people around and experience the small town without the pressure of needing to leave in a rush. We were so excited to visit Mont Saint-Michel and our expectations were not only met, but exceeded. No matter what countries we travel to in our future, we strongly believe Mont Saint-Michel will always remain one of our favorite places on the globe.
Last Thanksgiving was the first I ever spent away from my family in Rhode Island, spending it instead in California with James and our close friends due to work and financial circumstances. This creamy potato dish is one of my mothers famous recipes (among very many). She makes it at big family dinners and special events, and it always vanishes before any other dish. It has become a staple comfort food for me, both in its taste and its execution. It being my favorite of all the holidays, I knew that I needed to make this dish for our friendsgiving meal to find comfort in its representation of home. Like most Thanksgiving dishes, it is rather indulgent and by no means healthy. It’s very simple to prepare, and I guarantee that your guests will love it.
INGREDIENTS (serves 8 – 10):
3 lbs potatoes (I used a medley of different colored small potatoes)
1 garlic head (finely diced)
2 bacon packages (12oz each)
2 pints heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup butter
1 tablespoon ground thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
Peel all of the potatoes and cut into halves. If you are working with very large potatoes you can cut into quarters. Place potatoes in a large pot and cover with water, then boil until mostly cooked through, but still firm (about 30 minutes). Slice bacon into rough squares and fry in a pan until it’s all uniformly crispy. Remove from pan and set on a paper towel to drain and cool. Melt butter in a large pot and add garlic, let garlic cook until it starts to turn just a little brown.
Add cooked potatoes to large pot, then pour in heavy cream. Gently mix it through, trying not to mash the potatoes but keep them in whole pieces. Add the bacon, thyme, salt, and pepper to taste. Let potatoes finish cooking in the cream, until a fork can slide through easily (about 20 minutes).
Remove from heat and serve warm.
This Thanksgiving we will be spending it with friends again and then having our Christmas in Rhode Island with my family. It still feels a bit strange to not be back home for this holiday, but I am excited to begin new traditions as a married couple.
After enjoying Monet’s Garden in Giverny we continued our drive into Basse-Normandie. This was one of the busiest days on our honeymoon as we had several sites to hit before the day’s end.
We temporarily returned to American soil at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial.
At the cemetery there is a small chapel with a mosaic tile ceiling.
From the cemetery, we drove to Pointe du Hoc which lies between Utah and Omaha beaches. Here I am looking out over the cliffs to the English Channel.
The site is filled with bomb craters and ruins of German gun emplacements that were destroyed 70 years ago.
After visiting the World World II historical sights, we arrived at the city of Bayeux, and explored the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Bayeux and the surrounding area.
The light was coming through the stained glass just right to project dazzling colors on the interior walls.
The crypt in the center of the cathedral dates back to the 11th century.
In a nearby museum is the Tapisserie de Bayeux. Commissioned at the same time as the cathedral’s construction, it tells the story of how William the Conqueror won the throne of England. We were not able to take pictures of the actual embroidered cloth, but there were reproductions in the gift shop.
The cemetery and the tapestry were two sites I was able to visit ten years ago when I traveled to France on a school trip. It was wonderful not only to relive those memories, but to also have a deeper appreciation of their significance as an adult. James and I look forward to taking our future children to these locations someday, and share in those experiences with them as well.
Having just had a wedding, and having married an Italian, I thought it would be fitting to make Italian wedding soup for the first time. Italian wedding soup apparently has nothing to do with Italian weddings; it was mistranslated from the Italian ‘minestra maritata’ which means ‘married soup,’ because the ingredients all go so well together. I couldn’t agree more, and it has instantly become a favorite that I plan to make over and over again.
James grew up having this soup made by his grandmother, and always called it ‘scarola soup’ in reference to the leafy green typically used, escarole. Many recipes note that you can substitute escarole with other greens, but I wanted to make sure to include it in my attempt to replicate the soup James remembered.
For the broth:
2 quarts of chicken broth
2 sprigs dry thyme
1 small bay leaf
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 garlic clove, minced
1 large bunch of escarole (about 3 cups chopped)
1/4 cup orzo (optional)
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
For the meatballs:
1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork
2 tablespoons fresh oregano, finely minced
3/4 cup Italian parsley
1/2 white onion
1 garlic clove
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons pepper
Finely chop the onion, garlic, parsley, and oregano. I like to use a small food processor to get the ingredients really finely chopped so that you don’t have any large pieces in the meatballs. Add chopped ingredients to a bowl with ground meats, salt, pepper, cheese, egg, and breadcrumbs. Mix gently with your hands, incorporating well but not overworking the meat. Roll into small bite sized meatballs, set aside. Note: if you find you have too many meatballs you can freeze some and use for later.
In a large soup pot heat up the olive oil and add the garlic and onion, sauté until translucent and tender. Add the chicken stock, thyme, and bay leaf to the pot. Let the broth come to a boil and gently add the meatballs. Let the meatballs cook for about 10 minutes, they will begin to float when cooked through. If you would like to add orzo you can add it at this time. Once meatballs are mostly done add the chopped escarole and let simmer until it has wilted down.
Whisk the two eggs and cheese in a small bowl and slowly pour into the hot soup, whisking constantly to form ribbons. Serve in a large bowl, because you’ll want a lot of it, and feel it warm up your insides with deliciousness.