Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Ho Ho Ho in Monaco. Eight Days Left, Eight Thoughtful Gifts.

Alessi's delightful Christmas figurine
Well, 'tis the season, yet again!

With one more week left until Christmas, Monaco will swell this weekend with visitors searching for just the right gift for everyone on their list. 

It's quite easy to find all sorts of luxury goods here and if you don't have much time, it's tempting to duck into the nearest boutique, toss the clerk a credit card for some expensive crystal thingamajig and call it a day. 

Well, if you don't have that sort of budget or you'd like to put more thought into your gift giving and support local businesses at the same time, here are some interesting and reasonably priced gifts that I personally would love to see under my tree on Christmas morning.  Hint!

I've included links and contact info so you can zip right over and check these things out for yourselves.

Even if you're not heading to Monaco to do your Christmas shopping, there may still be something on my list that you can find near you, especially if you have foodies to buy for.

Happy holidays!

1.    A Modern Crèche and Christmas Tree Ornaments from Alessi

Forget that mangy old manger with the baby Jesus in a hay strewn cradle.  Alessi, with their slick Italian designed wares has created a beautifully styled, chic crèche.  Every year they design new santons to add to the manger scene and this year's new little dog and cat are simply adorable.  They also have a line of irresistible Christmas tree ornaments. 

Top Cuisine  19 rue Princesse Caroline, Monaco 93 30 02 00
Segraeti  Metropole Shopping Center, 17, Avenue des Spélugues,  Monaco  97 77 34 30

2.    Fine Japanese Tea, Food, and Objet d'Art
GIfts beautifully wrapped, a good fortune cat and a hand made knife
HIgh quality Japanese tea and tea ware to go with it
Just behind the Monaco train station in Beausoleil is a little gem called Zen Shop Japon.
When you step inside this spotless, pretty shop, it's as though you've travelled to Tokyo without the jet lag!
Inside you'll find Japanese tea and tea ware, a huge selection of hard to find sake, beautiful scarves, origami paper, bonsai, hand made knives, and house wares.  They also have a food section with high end fresh and imported goods that you won't find in the étrangères section in Carrefour.

If you know anyone who loves green tea, especially Japanese Sencha, Gyokuro, Hojicha, Genmaicha or Matcha, you should buy it here.  They carry a brand called Tamayura  and it's some of the best and freshest I've ever tasted.

I had the good fortune to meet Tamayura's Parisien-based tea master, Mr Olivia Leclerc who was showcasing Tamayura's teas in the Zen Shop Japon booth at the Monaco Gastronomy Fair in early December.  It was the highlight of the show for me.

Best of all, the store clerk can create a beautiful gift basket and wrap your purchases like they do in the best boutiques in Japan, free of charge.

Zen Shop Japon   5, ave d'Alsace, Beausoleil  04 93 52 15 03  The shop is open non-stop, Monday to Saturday.

3.    Fabulous Kitchen Utensils from Rösle 
Shiny, durable kitchen utensils from Rösle

I bought a Rösle garlic press over 7 years ago and whenever my guests use it, their eyes light up.  It's beautiful to look at, easy to use and clean, it's dishwasher safe and crafted from high quality 18/10 stainless steel with nickel and chrome so after all these years it still looks shiny and new.  I buy them as gifts for friends and family all the time.

They cost a cool €50 but when you consider that they'll last a lifetime, it's a bargain.

My kitchen drawers are filled with Rösle's other beautiful kitchen utensils like graters, sieves, small and large mandolin slicers, all of them useful, well made and beautiful.  I love leafing through their catalogue.

Oh, and they're all guaranteed for 5 years.

Top Cuisine  19 rue Princesse Caroline, Monaco   93 30 02 00
Segraeti  Metropole Shopping Center, 17, Avenue des Spélugues, Monaco   97 77 34 30

4.    Cards, Gift Wrap and Art Supplies from Monaco Beaux-Arts

Store owners Bernadette, her husband Fabrice and their daughter Fabienne are all talented artists and I love visiting their shop whenever I need some artistic inspiration, a fine pen, or to have something valuable framed.

Fabienne has created stunning greeting cards that are works if art, suitable for framing as a keepsake. I've bought her beautiful cards to send to friends and family as a gift all their own or with a little something inside.

If you'd like to kick up your gift wrapping a notch, they have a great selection of unique gift wrapping, ribbons, Christmas cards, and craft supplies to make your own decorations.
Bernadette also speaks English and she is full of ideas and suggestions.

Let her know Jennifer sent you!

Monaco Beaux-Arts  25 rue de Millo, Monaco   97 77 16 65

5.    Neige.  Canadian Apple Ice Wine

You may have heard of or maybe even tasted Canadian Ice Wine made from grapes but this Ice Wine called Neige is made from apples.

Neige is produced in Quebec from ripe apples that have been picked in the Fall and stored until December.  The apples are then pressed and the juice is frozen.  In the cold Quebec temperatures, the water in the juice crystallizes and the sugary, intense apple liquid separates from the ice crystals.  The resulting juice is placed in steel tanks and fermented for 8 months at low temperatures and then bottled.  It takes more that 6kg of apples to make 1L of cider.
Its taste is bright, balanced, and quite different from traditional Ice Wine.  It makes an excellent aperitif and pairs naturally well with cheese.

You can find Neige from Mr Gadoury, a fine Canadian gentleman and ardent Montreal Canadians hockey fan who is the local distributor for Neige based in Nice.  This would be a cool gift for someone who would appreciate unusual and rare sweet wines.  Neige is not widely available in France yet so whomever you give it to will be ahead of the curve.

La Face Cachée de la Pomme   pgadoury@lafacecachee.com

6.   A Ukelele

Release his or her inner Don Ho

Come on, haven't you always wanted a ukulele?  With four strings it's easier to play and tune than a guitar and more portable too so you can bring it to parties along with your bongos.

If you do give one to someone on Christmas morning, he or she could probably plink out a tune before dinner time.  I found a ukelele instructional video on YouTube that's had 2.1 million hits so he or she will be in good company.

To celebrate the holidays, you can try your hand at learning Mele Kilikemaka, a traditional Hawaiian Christmas song.  I'm getting one for Hubby.

 La Flute De Pan, 21, boulevard Princesse Charlotte, Monaco   93 50 92 13

7.    Sublime Walnuts

I don't know about you but I seem to eat a lot of walnuts.  I put them in salads, eat them with cheese courses, bake with them, toast them to add to my caramels, and munch on them as is when I'm hungry.  Every year I buy about 10 kg in the shell and I crack them while hubby and I watch Downton Abbey. Cracking them myself is the only way I know of to get fresh walnuts.

The best walnuts I've ever tasted are available right here in Monaco from Gilbert, the egg seller in the Place d'Armes market and they cost only €8 per kilo.   I've tasted walnuts from both Grenoble and the Perigord, regions famous for their walnuts but I think Gilbert's are better, especially this year.  He grows them at his farm in Sospel and because it was so dry this summer their flavour is particularly sweet and intense. He usually sells out by the end of December.

To give a simple gift of walnuts more oomph, I've presented the walnuts in vase and added a nut cracker. The nut cracker I own is pictured and available in most grocery stores or on Saturdays from most French outdoor markets like Menton.  It's not chic, more "downstairs," but it's fabulous to use, especially it you have a lot of nuts to crack.  If you'd like a more glamorous nut cracker, Manufacture de Monaco in The Metropole Shopping Centre has a very elegant one with leather covered handles.  It's definitely an "upstairs" nut cracker.

If their talented dog "Happy" is there, ask if you can give him a walnut.  Happy cracks them with his teeth, separates the walnut from its shell and eats the nut!

Gilbert & Son, Place d'Armes Market, Monaco  Tuesday to Sunday, 07:00-12:30.

8.  Pottery from Monaco's Association Monegasque des Handicapes Moteurs


It may not be Wedgewood or Christofle but this charming and inexpensive crockery is hand made by members of the Association Monegasque des Handicapes Moteurs at their headquarters in Monaco-Ville.

No two pieces are alike so you can be sure that whatever you give will be unique.
The proceeds from the sale of their pottery goes towards supporting projects for the handicapped in Monaco. 

Now that's the true spirit of giving.

Association Monegasque des Handicapes Moteurs.  9, rue Princess Marie de Lorraine, Monaco-Ville   93 50 71 00

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Cooking with Chemicals

Almond and matcha jelly with lychee and mango spheres
The menu for our second Green@Red&White Vegetarian Supper Club event couldn't have been more different from the first.

For our first event we created hearty yet sophisticated comfort food with seasonal Italian goodies but here we were on a Saturday night, stirring chemicals, cutting mango into tiny, perfect, 3 millimetre cubes, and using tweezers to gently place gold leaf on top of spherified lychee caviar.  We're nothing if not versatile!

To celebrate the return of one of our members from a recent trip to Tokyo, we themed our second event Molecular Japanese.  Hence the Japanese part.  And the molecular?  Hubby bought me a molecular gastronomy kit as a gift and it was just sitting in a cupboard gathering dust, taunting me.  I was waiting for just the right occasion to play with it.  I ask you, what could beat a gathering of foodie friends for its début?

We gathered 'round my laptop to learn a few of the basics and after we dined on bean curd and spinach gyoza followed by a porcini and chestnut soup, we dove right in.

Like mad scientists, but in aprons instead of lab coats, we mixed and stirred and played for hours, feeding off of each other's creative energy, poppity pop pop, our ideas zipping back and forth like spark plugs firing.  We were channelling our inner Hestons and Ferrans and when the evening was over, I finally understood the lure of spherification:  instant, intense, pure flavours wherever and however you want it.

I think the gastronomic possibilities are endless and exciting and I'm certain we'll pull out the kit again.

If you'd like to see more photos of our foodie events and keep track of what we're up to in the kitchen, you can go to the Green@Red&White facebook page here. The more the merrier!

Molecular Japanese
Supper Club Menu
almond and matcha jellies with lychee and mango spheres
mango pudding in coconut sauce with lychee caviar
bean curd and spinach gyoza
porcini and chestnut soup
Mango pudding in coconut sauce with lychee caviar

Making lychee caviar

Bean curd and spinach gyoza
Prep for the lychee and mango spheres

Straining fresh almond milk through an ultra fine meshed sieve 
Porcini and chestnut soup

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Green@Red & White. Monaco's Vegetarian Supper Club

Like Silly Putty, Post-It Notes and the microwave oven, Monaco's only Vegetarian Supper Club was created by accident.  

It all started when one of my BFFs (Best Foodie Friends) Ayako, was telling me about her friend Angie who started Once Upon a Table, a very successful Hong Kong based Supper Club.  During the same conversation we were once again lamenting the lack of decent vegetarian food in Monaco's restaurants. I must admit that it's one of our culinary pet peeves, right up there with indifferent, lazy waiters.

The conversation continued, the two ideas collided, et voila!  Monaco's first and only Vegetarian Supper Club was born.  Together with my other BFF, Mariko, we named it, "Green@Red & White."  Green, in honour of the noble vegetable and red and white being the colours of Monaco's flag.

For our first dinner, the three of us cooked Autumn themed dishes with local French and Italian ingredients.  Eight or nine hours just flew by while we laughed, ate, shared ideas, and pinned down our concept for The Club.

Mariko, Ayako and I are the only three members so far but who knows how many other passionate, skilled vegetarian cooks there are living secretly amongst us in Monaco?

Here's the link to our facebook page if you'd like to follow us.

Maybe through The Club we'll inspire some of Monaco's restaurateurs to be at one with the veg.  At long last!
Autumn Harvest
Supper Club Menu

focaccia with rosemary, sage and home made, extra virgin olive oil
porcini filled spring rolls
tortellini with porcini and lemon thyme
scrambled eggs with fresh white truffle
salad of mache, Gilbert's freshly cracked walnuts and Bleu le Royal cheese
pumpkin pie
chocolates by joël durand
fresh mint tea
Focaccia with rosemary, sage, and our home made olive oil
Preparing the porcini for the tortellini

Mise en place for the tortellini

Porcini spring rolls
Fresh white truffle under the cloche.  Porcini watches from the plate


The fruit course

Chocolates from Joël Durand

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Thanksgiving, Monaco Style

When I heard that the American Club of the Riviera would be hosting its Annual Thanksgiving lunch in the Salle Empire in the Hotel de Paris, I thought it would be the coolest gig in town.  

As luck would have it, my American foodie friend Scotty would be in Monaco for Thanksgiving so I saw it as a sign and snagged seats at the lunch for Hubby, Scotty and I.  Just to be on the safe side, I brushed up on the words to the Star Spangled Banner.
Carved potiron squash

I seek out any opportunity I can to visit the magnificent Salle Empire even if it means just sticking my head in to take a look when it's empty.   Who wouldn't?  With it's luminescent gilt trim, 6 metre high ceilings, and frescoes of naked and bare breasted women cavorting with various creatures and each other, the décor is much more theatrical than its subdued neighbour, the 3-Michelin Star restaurant, Le Louis XV.

Funny thing about the luncheon was that I'm not American and I don't eat meat so you think I'd feel out of place at a traditional American Thanksgiving meal but I didn't.  I felt very much at home and welcomed, and we ate quite well considering that we were the first two people to have ever requested a vegetarian meal for the Club's Thanksgiving lunch. 

Even though the Salle Empire is about as far as one can get from the modest first Thanksgiving in Plymouth, the sentiment was the same:  one of sharing, creating new friendships, and giving thanks.

I'm just hoping that at next year's lunch there'll be pumpkin pie.

Members of the military were there from Camp Darby in nearby Italy

Le Menu

Turkey lunch (l) vegetarian lunch (r)

Dum de dum.  Souvenir de Monaco