Cointreau orange syrup cake

polenta cake

I have a bottle of Cointreau sitting on my kitchen table, so I’m going to make this cake tomorrow. It’s non gluten.

Here’s the recipe below, I have made this cake before. If you don’t have blood oranges, regular oranges will do. The candied zest is beautiful, but I skipped that part. Cointreau is not mentioned in the recipe, but I felt that the cake needed it. (The Cointreau goes in the syrup.) Don’t over-cook the cake otherwise it will be dry.

bon appétit !


goodbye, Antwerp.

The train back to Paris, originating from Amsterdam, was packed. The weather had turned foul again and, frankly, I was happy to leave Belgium and head back home. Which was not the original plan. Normally, I would have travelled from Antwerp to Lille to spend December 24th and 25th with the kids and their parents, but they too were out of the country, travelling.

The best part of my short trip was the hotel. Mere steps from the train station, it was warm and welcoming with a nice bar, a large dining room with a fabulous breakfast buffet and a cozy spacious room, silent as a tomb. I stayed at the NH Collection Antwerp Centre. I appreciated that it was warm and welcoming because the train from Paris was delayed and then, once underway, it broke down and we had to disembark at Brussels train station and wait for a replacement. By the time I arrived in Antwerp, it was cold, dark and raining.

On my second day I returned to Kloosterstraat and Steenhouwersvest Streets. I had gone on the first day, but it was hard going as I battled high winds and rain. With a drenched street map and upended umbrella (this is, after all, northern Europe in winter), I made my way to a sweet little bistro I had visited on my previous trip 9 years ago, a place called Chez Fred where I had eaten a delicious beef stew accompanied by a bowl of fries and washed down with a dark Leffe beer. I found the place, crossed the street and hurriedly headed to the door only to find it permanently closed. Shuttered. I’m betting it was Covid that killed it. Hungry and disappointed, I headed back to the hotel.

The next day I returned to those two streets when it wasn’t raining. They are lined with funky, chic, quirky shops: vintage clothes and furniture, art galleries, modern furniture and design; antiques, books and jewelry. I enjoyed popping in and out of the shops and chatting with the owners.

Antwerp is in the Dutch-speaking region of Belgium, known as Flanders, which sometimes makes me think that I’m in Holland. Luckily for me, they all speak fluent English and/or French so there are no communication problems (contrary to the language problem I encountered in Spain.)

I had every intention of visiting the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, re-opened after an extensive (and expensive) renovation that lasted over eleven years, but I waited too long to buy myself a ticket online. My friend from Chicago had sent me a timely article on the museum just the day before and I was “stoked” about going there. By the time I did get online, all the slots were taken.

Well, I’ll return to the museum I visited nine years ago, I said to myself, and walked up the street to the Plantin-Moretus Museum.

I won’t describe it a second time, so here’s the link from when I visited it the first time –

Au revoir, Antwerp


why do we travel?

I had an existential moment as I stood for three hours on the train from Naples to Rome. Why do we travel?, I asked myself. The train was packed solid, but for 12 euros I could buy a ticket that allowed me to stand with others in the standing-only area. The three hours passed faster than I thought they would. I chatted with a nice man from Atlanta. I  ate a slice of pizza (self-consciously) while eight pairs of eyes watched on, hungrily. I witnessed an angry exchange between two Italian women and didn’t have a clue what it was about (and didn’t want to know.) I looked out the window at the passing landscape. And I watched as two policemen boarded the train and accosted two black men. It turned out they were African boat migrants who, no doubt, had paid a smuggler to break into Fortress Europe. At the next station they were escorted off the train. What awaited them?, I wondered. A detention camp, maybe, and deportation. I felt sorry for them.

And I guess that’s one of the reasons why we travel – to see the world, in all its splendor and misery. To see how other people live. To step out of our lives – for some people, their ivory towers – and observe the diversity, danger and destiny of our fellow humans, even if that view is voyeuristic or from a privileged perch.

Other reasons to travel – to unstick oneself from routine and put ourselves in new and different situations. It’s good to change our daily habits and shake things up. Or, as the French say, “changer les idées”.

To step out of our comfort zone, to test and challenge ourselves, to not stand still. To feel inspired. To connect with humanity. To converse with complete strangers, until they’re no longer strangers but new friends with whom you’ve exchanged email addresses. To see great art and taste delicious foods that we normally wouldn’t see or eat at home. To extend our boundaries and stretch our minds. To feel the sea wind in our face and hear a foreign language in our ears. To unplug from our computers and our hard drives and see things from another perspective because there are, in this world, differing points of view.

To discover new things while at the same time discovering ourselves.

Jonah Lehrer, a British journalist, wrote this –

We travel because we need to, because distance and difference are the secret tonic of creativity. When we get home, home is still the same. But something in our mind has been changed, and that changes everything.

I watched the Netflix doc, Harry and Meghan …

Yesterday, Saturday, was a perfect day to hunker down chez moi and watch this documentary. It’s freezing cold outside. 0 degrees all day and forecast to go down to minus 5 during the night. I consider myself lucky to have chauffage collectif au gaz in my apartment building (collective gas heating via radiators) as opposed to electric which is super-expensive and less radiant than gas. But I digress. This post is about the above-mentioned documentary, not my heating system.

My thoughts on the documentary are as follows:

I think Harry is lovely. Sincere, sweet and charming. Meghan is smart, articulate and strong-minded. I really liked her mother, Doria Ragland. Doria was so right when she told Meghan at the beginning of her relationship with Harry, and in reference to the vicious U.K. tabloids – “This is about race…you might not want to hear it, but this is what’s coming down the pike.”

Harry and Meghan are clearly in love. They met, married and brought two beautiful children into the world. I don’t understand what all the vitriol (directed towards them) is about.

Why is there no vitriol directed towards (Prince) Andrew, friend of pedophile-child sex trafficker, Jeffrey Epstein, who committed suicide in a New York prison cell?

In case people have forgotten the out-and-out tragedy that Harry endured when he was only twelve years old, it was essential to put that cataclysmic event into the film. Imagine losing your adored mother – especially in such violent circumstances, especially when royal protocol forbids the showing of emotion – when you’re a boy. If that’s not life-changing and deeply traumatic, I don’t know what is. Princess Diana – Harry’s mother – was a national treasure. She never saw her 40th, or even her 37th birthday. When she died in that horrific car crash in Paris’s Pont de l’Alma tunnel, she was 36 years old.

Clearly, Harry and Meghan have something to say in their documentary. I, for one, am open to listening to them. Sans jugement. Without judgment.

“Unless you’ve walked many miles in my shoes, don’t judge me or my life.”

From my own experience as a memoir writer, people usually write (or speak out) because of some trauma, abuse, loss or sorrow they have suffered.

Harry’s royal entourage completely ignored his mental health after the death of his mother. Because that’s what the Royal Family does best: “Never complain, never explain” is their motto.

When Meghan burst onto the scene, she was a freedom-loving, independent, strong-minded North American feminist who, up until then, had charted her own course in life. Very quickly, she found herself muted and muzzled. In order to “fit in” and “toe the line” she had to become stiff, bland and boring like the others. And then there was the race card, something she had never experienced back home. And the vicious tabloids.

From the MailOnline – “Harry’s girl is (almost) straight outta Compton: Gang-scarred home of her mother revealed – so will he be dropping by for tea?”

Not mentioned in the film is the ‘racist jewelry’ flap in which Princess Michael of Kent (German-born, her father was a Nazi) attended the Queen’s Christmas lunch wearing a large Blackamoor brooch on her jacket. Meghan attended the same lunch and was introduced to this woman. What is a Blackamoor brooch? An archaic British term for Black people, it is sculpture or jewelry from a previous era that depicts an African male as a servant.

The hideous Princess Michael of Kent with her hideously large brooch. No, seriously, imagine walking around wearing that thing. It’s so obnoxious, it’s almost laughable.

After the birth of Meghan and Harry’s first child, Archie, here’s what a BBC radio broadcaster tweeted. The BBC, for god’s sake! Baker was fired the next day.

It seems to me that there are a lot of opinionated people out there whose vitriol towards Meghan and Harry is misdirected. Why not save it for the real culprits: the parasitic paparazzi, the toxic tabloids or some of those abysmal, backward-looking royal family members. In the doc, Harry paints a parallel between how the paps hounded his mother and then, decades later, his wife.

The British tabloids: bloodthirsty jackals whose livelihood depends on the shameless exploitation of certain members of the British Royal Family. Legions of interested parties take part in the collective harassment, pursuit and publication of stolen images in exchange for lucre. If there’s no scandal, they’ll create one. Images and glaring headlines sell, the more lurid the better.

Harry and Meghan did nothing wrong. But as a consequence of speaking out about the above-mentioned realities, they must be punished.

To sum up, both the Royal family and the British press blew it. They had before them a beautiful opportunity to modernize, refresh and rejuvenate that stiff, boring family. But racism, misogyny and an utterly un-progressive mindset prevented that from happening. Their loss. Meghan and Harry will thrive in the Californian sunshine.

They were right to quit that country and that arena to start new lives in the USA. Most importantly, they didn’t want their children growing up in such a toxic environment. I applaud their courage to break away; it must not have been easy for Harry.

“But aren’t they, in a way, doing a similar thing by airing this Netflix documentary?” people ask. “Capitalizing on their royal status to make millions?”

I see it as payback. An eye for an eye. By turning the lens onto those who hounded, hurt and hugely profited off them, it is they who control the narrative now, they who run the show.

Bien joué. Well played.

a boozy, pre-birthday dinner at my favorite bistro

I’m reposting this blog post, originally written in December 2019, mere months before COVID hit the unsuspecting world. We were innocents back then.

This is my favorite restaurant, hands down. I’ve been going for years, and not once have I been disappointed. Last night – in the midst of the transportation strikes crippling the country – I rode a crowded metro across town to the 11th arrondissement. It’s that time again (what? already?): my upcoming birthday to be shared with my fellow Capricorn friend who is Swedish. We’ve both been living, working and celebrating in Paris for a long time. After a bottle of champagne at his place with his friend, M – also a Capricorn, but a January one – we wended our way through the darkened streets to Bistrot Paul Bert.

The wine list is superlative here, all the French regions are represented. It was an evening “bien arrosé” as the French say, which means well-watered. We started with a Fitou Bel Soula from the Languedoc region: an easy-drinking red with an agreeable fruity nose and red fruit flavors. I ordered marrow bone as my starter. A had a generous slice of foie gras with chutney and M had in-season fresh scallops.

For the main course, A and I shared a massive slab of beef served with their delicious fries. M had something far more original and ambitious: a famous dish called lièvre à la royale. Lièvre is not rabbit, but hare.

No, it’s not chocolate sauce, but rather a complex blend of liver, heart, innards, foie gras, blood and other things. It’s funny how French people will dig heartily into this kind of dish, whereas the non-French (including myself) tend to shun them. Blood and giant rabbits don’t appeal to me at all. The second wine we drank was even better than the first: from the Languedoc region again, more specifically a small appellation in the foothills of the Cevennes Mountains named Faugère, it was an organic red called Les Fusionels Le Reve. Ruby-colored with floral notes, it was far more ambitious than the previous wine; balanced and elegant.

And this is what makes Paul Bert a great restaurant: we had ordered a different wine, but our server said “No, that won’t go with what you’re eating.” She went to consult with someone and came back with the Faugère proposition.

For dessert I had warm apple tart with vanilla ice cream and M had a Grand Marnier soufflé.

And voilà: another year has passed. Thanks for following it with me.

heat rationing this winter

I’m off to Lille this weekend to spend time with the kids. Saturday afternoon we’ll make Mexican enchiladas to eat in front of the big screen Saturday night at 8 pm. France is playing England (FIFA World Cup). I’m not really a football (soccer) fan, but there’s football fever here and it’s infectious. When Morocco won against Spain on Tuesday, it went wild here in France.


To save on heating, the office tower where I work turns the heat off over the weekend. This Monday it was freezing in the office. Tuesday too, it didn’t start to warm up until Wednesday. I actually took a hot water bottle to work, wore multiple woollen scarves and typed while wearing fingerless woollen gloves. This coming Monday I’ll work from home. I have a 16-page translation to do, so I don’t necessarily need to be in the office. Temperatures are expected to dip below zero this weekend. I miss the warmth and sunshine of Spain!

The French government has issued a new energy-saving app called Ecowatt. Its purpose is to inform and influence us on our energy consumption. We could have shutdowns this winter.

On the Ecowatt app, each day is classified according to a color code:

  • green: “reasonable” consumption level;
  • orange: “high” consumption
  • red: “abnormally high consumption, with risk of power outage”

Not much else to report. I’m off to a northern destination mid-December, by train, to a city I visited nine years ago and have wanted to return to ever since. One of my biggest pleasures living in Europe is train travel.

Here’s the Public Service link about Ecowatt and the government’s attempts to encourage citizens to reduce energy:

a good review, and a Christmas gift offer

I just read a reader review (concerning my memoir) on Amazon, and I’m really pleased with it. (below)

Why? Because the reader addresses the issue that lies at the core of this family saga: the breakdown of family after the death of the parents. This subject matter is common, but rarely talked about.

Yesterday, I was lunching with my Franco-Vietnamese colleague, Thanh. He came to France with his mother and seven brothers and sisters in the 1970s when he was a boy. They were a refugee family from Saigon (today called Ho Chi Minh City) escaping the horrors of the Vietnam war. The Red Cross took the family under its wing and provided the young Thanh and his brothers and sisters with a good education. With their mother, they settled in the north of France. She was the cement that unified the family. But when she died, the family broke up.

“Out of your seven siblings,” I asked him, “do you still have relations with any of them? Do they all still live in France?”

He replied that one brother moved to Quebec a long time ago, but the others are scattered around France. He might see one or two of them once a year, but that’s about it.


Send me your email address to this email address below, and I will gift you a copy of my eBook.

Here is Kathrin Spinnler’s review –

Reviewed in the United States on December 4, 2022

An Accidental Parisian is a memoir about Juliet, a young Canadian who sets out for Europe to practice her language skills and experience a different culture.

The book is split up into three parts and chronicles Juliet’s early life, her first few visits to Europe, and how she ultimately ends up in Paris. The book explores many topics, including how Parisian society differs from what the author knew growing up and how life changes after a devastating blow like the loss of a loved one.

As an expat myself, I can relate to a lot of what Juliet writes in her memoir. She captures the freedom, loneliness, exhilaration, and pain of moving to a different culture and settling far away from family.

I also empathized with her inheritance situation, which is eerily similar to what happened in my own family. I’m so glad that Juliet goes into this topic in her book because I believe that inheritance theft is much more common than many of us realize.

I thoroughly recommend An Accidental Parisian to anyone who has ever spent time in a different country or would like to learn more about expat life.

a few final photos. adiós Valencia!

view from my hotel room

a spinach and goat cheese empanada bought at the Central Market. 1 euro 50

The Mercado Central (Central food market)

those cured hams are everywhere; jamón ibérico is a national cult.

Museum of Ceramics and Decorative Arts

Orange trees are all over the city

my new Pepe Moll handbag. I found Valencian women to be as fashionably dressed as Parisian women.

I stayed at the Helen Berger Boutique Hotel.