More Food, Wine, No Doggie Bags: My Trip to France Part II

Lunch at Chateau Bailly, where I met helicopter pilot Gilbert Aubrée.

Lunch at Chateau Bailly, where I met helicopter pilot Gilbert Aubrée.

As those of you who follow my column might know, I’ve been visiting my son all over the globe during his career in the U.S. Air Force. Creed, an Air Force search and rescue helicopter pilot who’s served in dangerous war zones, is now part of an international military exchange program in the south of France.He is the only American at a French Air Force base in the village of Cazaux, near Bordeaux. My husband Sam Paredes and I jumped at the chance to visit him and Naomi.

And while this is supposed to be a fashion column, I can’t help but share the delights of the French love affair with great food.

In fact, one of my few disappointments was that the French have not adopted the U.S. custom of doggie bags to take home leftovers. We had dishes that were so amazing, I said, “Ooh, we have to have the rest of this for lunch tomorrow.”

But that is a cultural no-no in France because of the emphasis on freshness. My goodness, by the next day, the food would no longer be garden-fresh! In France respectable cooks start anew daily at the amazing food markets.

 Palmieres, Nan's favorite French pastry.

One of my favorite treats is a palmiere, the elephant-ear shaped crispy French pastry. I do love croissants, but the palmiere is crispier and sweeter. It became a sport to find a French bakery with palmieres each morning, and then I played the game of palmiere comparisons, each day assessing if it was the best, most buttery and mouthwatering.

My husband Sam Parades cleaned his plate of frog legs.

Sam, on the other hand, is a big fan of frog legs, a delicacy of French cuisine. They taste a bit like chicken. My son and daughter-in-law indulged him by participating in the sport of locating restaurants that served frog legs. You can see that he cleaned his plate.

My new savory favorite is pan-seared foie gras, made of the liver of a duck or goose that has been specially fattened. I had a negative attitude about foie gras, but the rich, buttery and delicate yet intense taste won me over. My favorite is an entrée of tender beef topped with pan-seared foie gras.

An entrée of tender beef topped with pan-seared foie gras.

An entrée of tender beef topped with pan-seared foie gras.

Ah, the difference in just “cheese” and fabulous French cheeses is enormous. We enjoyed a cheese tasting in a gorgeous outdoor setting at the Arcachon home of friends of my son and daughter-in-law. Christina served eight varieties of cheese with fresh baguettes.

 At Christina and Mark’s cheese tasting in Arcachon.


At Christina and Mark’s cheese tasting in Arcachon.

Comté is a favorite hard cheese in France, with its strong and slightly sweet taste that comes from maturing in cellars in the Franche-Comté region. And I learned to love even more Camembert from Normandy, a soft cheese served warm with a local honey.

Creed helps pick out spices.

Creed helps pick out spices.

Before I went to France, I saw several recipes calling for herbs de Provence. The Roasted Chicken de Provencal recipe that appeared in a New York Times Food Magazine in April intrigued me. I was delighted to discover a spice vendor at the outdoor market in Arcachon who was incredibly knowledgeable, energetic and animated about dozens of herbs. He prepared fresh packets of herbes de Provence and unusual salts for me to bring home as souvenirs for my employees. I have a few left – if you hurry in, I’m happy to give you one.

We made two trips away from the Bordeaux area – to Normandy and to Bilbao in Spain – and we stayed overnight in San Sebastián in Spain’s Basque region. The coastal town touts having one of the highest number of Michelin stars – the international hallmark of fine dining – per square metre, beaten only by Kyoto, Japan, and well ahead of Paris and Lyon.

Tapas in San Sabastian

Tapas in San Sabastian

I knew Spain was famous for its tapas bars, but I wasn’t prepared for the massive arrays of dozens of different kinds of tantalizing tapas.

And all of the above doesn’t even touch the topic of French wines. We had an amazing lunch with wine at Chateau Bailly. Our tour filled my head with fascinating information about wine. We dined with Gilbert Aubrée, a fellow helicopter pilot and friend of my son’s French Air Force base squadron, and one of the most interesting people I have ever met.

Next week, a little about French fashion – I promise!

Greetings from France: Wine, Family, and Relaxation

In front of rows of grapevines at the Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte

In front of rows of grapevines at the Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte

Oh, my gosh, I knew being with my son and his wife in France would be fabulous, but so far it’s been way over the top. As those of you who follow my column might know, I’ve been visiting my son seemingly all over the globe during his career in the U.S. Air Force. I’ve seen some beautiful locations, but his current posting in the south of France is absolutely amazing.As an Air Force search and rescue helicopter pilot, Creed has certainly spent his time on the front in dangerous war zones, but now his assignment is with an international military exchange program. He is the only American at a French Air Force base in the village of Cazaux, near Bordeaux, and my husband Sam Paredes and I jumped at the chance to visit him and his wife Naomi this month.

Nan with her son, Creed, at the vineyard outside the Bordeaux airport

When we landed at the Bordeaux airport, we got our first clue that we were in a special place. Instead of seeing the usual bland shrubbery surrounding public buildings and airports, as we exited luggage claim, we saw a beautifully tended vineyard tucked away in a small patch of ground! I knew the Bordeaux region was famous for wine, but I hadn’t quite expected this.

A panoramic view of my son and daughter-in-law’s home along a canal in France.

A panoramic view of my son and daughter-in-law’s home along a canal in France.

From the airport we drove to their home in the village of Cazaux, where Creed’s French Air Force base is located. The village is part of the town of La Teste-de-Buch, about 35 miles southwest of the city of Bordeaux, one of the world’s major wine capitals and home to the international wine fair, Vinexpo.

Creed and Naomi’s home is beautiful and has an indoor-outdoor feeling. It’s nestled in lush green on a canal with a canoe at the ready for recreation. When we arrived, we had an alfresco lunch including a variety of delicious French cheeses and red wine.

Creed’s French squadron has its own wine: Escadron Helicopteres, a Grand Vin de Bordeaux.

What kind of wine exactly? As I mentioned, Creed is attached to a French air base. His helicopter squadron has its own wine! Wine is truly imbedded in the fabric of all parts of French society. I’m hoping to bring home a bottle or two of Escadron Helicopteres 1/67 Pyrenees Gran Vin de Bordeaux.I couldn’t visit the south of France without going to the glorious Caudalie spa. Thanks to an El Paso connection – El Pasoan Jane Hall is the aunt of Caudalie founder Bertrand Thomas – Tres Mariposas has carried the Caudalie skin care line for many years. We were “early adopters” years ago.

Outside the Caudalie Vinetherapie Spa.

Outside the Caudalie Vinetherapie Spa.

What was once a tiny company based on extracts from grape seeds, leaves and vines, Caudalie has become a leader in natural skincare. My current favorite Caudalie skin care items are the Vinoperfect Radiance products, which even skin tone and lighten brown spots.

These lotions and creams were born from a grape harvesters’ tradition. The female vineyard workers always slathered the grape vine sap on their face and hands because of its amazing lightening properties.

Bertrand is married to Mathilde, whose family owned one of the most famous chateaus/vineyards in the area, Smith Haute Lafitte. In 1999, they created their first Vinothérapie Spa in the grounds of Château Smith Haut Lafitte.

You can buy some of the vineyard’s amazing wines, ranked among the best Grands Crus Classé for red wine, at Billy Crew’s restaurant in Santa Teresa – but you have to go to France to experience the luxury of the original Caudalie spa.

Needless to say, I insisted on taking Sammy, Creed and Naomi for an afternoon at the spa at the Smith Haute Lafitte chateau and vineyard.

Oh, my! We were all limp as noodles after massages, facials, body wraps and wine baths, all using the wonderful Caudalie products.

Between treatments we gathered at the spa pool or steam room.

It’s been a memorable trip – and it’s not over yet. Stay tuned for Part 2!

A very relaxed group of Americans enjoying French hospitality: Creed, Naomi, Nan and Sam.

A very relaxed group of Americans enjoying French hospitality: Creed, Naomi, Nan and Sam.