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Dear Christmas in Paris,  Why did you have to end?  We were SO good together.  Please write back.  I miss you.  Love, Hopeless in California.

I’ve been reciting this love letter in my head, day and night, ever since we returned home from our trip.  The City of Light is undeniably magical anytime of the year, but during the winter months, it’s especially so.  The city is effervescent, almost buoyant.  It’s chilly, but never too cold.  Just enough of a bite to lend itself nicely to studious and dedicated café hopping.  Crowds are at a minimum, which means one, and only one thing: more pain au chocolat for moi.  We spent Christmas dinner at our favorite neighborhood bistro in Le Marais, and slowly strolled down the snow-dusted street back to our apartment, whilst trying not to think about the hauntingly delicious chocolate mousse we had left behind.  I have no mailing address to send my love letter, so I’ll settle, instead, by reminiscing the Top 10 Reasons to Visit Paris in the Winter, and why I fell hard for it.

1.  Less crowds.  The once unconquerable will now be yours.

2.  No jet-lag.  For the first time ever, I escaped the arduous jet-lag monster.  Walking briskly in chilly Parisian air is the antidote.

3.  Shorter line for macarons at Pierre Herme.  You’ll be surrounded by a rainbow assortment of flavors in this jewelry box of a stop, but trust me…you need only know one.  Mogador.  Soliloquy-worthy good.

4.  More of a chance the chocolate mousse won’t run out at Chez Janou. The mousse is served up in a bowl the size of Texas, which you are encouraged to scoop up with a gargantuan spoon to your heart’s content.  Ou la la.

5.  Availability of flights and lodging. We booked our flights and apartment one week before we left.  Forget the hotels costing beaucoup bucks full of tourists, rent an apartment and live like a true Parisian.

6.  For the passion fruit eclair at Eric Kayser.  Yes, he’s legendary for his breads, but after one bite of his Passion Fruit Eclair, you’ll no longer have any time for baguettes.  His shops are strewn across Paris, but my favorite is the one on Rue Montorgueil.

7.  To buy cookware at E.Dehillerin. You’ll feel like an interloper, but forge on ahead.  It’s one of the most arse backwards, exhausting, incomprehensible purchases you’ll ever make.  It’s miserable and delightful.  You’ll laugh, you’ll cry.  What I love about E.Dehillerin, is you can have the most checkered past, or you can be The Queen of England — they don’t care.  You’ll be treated with the same degree of incalculable delirium.  Hello 1820.

8.  For the secret shortcut to enter the Louvre. The entrance sits in the passageway leading to Rue de Rivoli.  It’s so stinkin’ sneaky and speedy, you’ll feel like you just got away with heisting Mona Lisa herself — in broad daylight, no less.

9.  To channel Victor Hugo. Wander the rooms where this famed poet, writer and dramatist who penned Les Mis, lived and wrote.  The Maison de Victor Hugo is one of my favorite small, off-the-beaten-path museums.  Plus, l’entrée est gratuite.

10. A chance to hold your husband’s hand, as you stroll through Le Jardin des Tuileries, with the winter sun quietly setting behind the Eiffel Tower…and never letting go.Oh, and a little housekeeping for the new year: I’ve finally joined the masses, so come follow me on twitter!

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With Love

Sometimes, when I’m stumped and fresh out of ideas in the kitchen, I’ll turn to my husband for suggestions.  “Honey, how should I prepare the potatoes tonight?”, I ask.  The words have barely left my mouth when he swoops in with an answer:  “Boil ’em”.  Okay.  “Well, how about the turnips?”, I again, mistakenly ask.  His response:  “Boil ’em”.  Oy ve.  I glance over at a bowl of perfectly hued, Brussels Sprouts and decide I’m not gonna go there.  I should know better.  You see, I’ve learned the Irish hold the gold standard for two very different, yet distinct, traditions:  Guinness Drinking.  And Vegetable Boiling.

Time and time again, when those innocent, delightful miniature cabbages tiptoe their way into our home, they’re met with an untimely death in an unimaginative bath of bubbling water.  Now, I’m all for taking one for the team, but frankly, I’m one mushy sprout away from invoking a permanent embargo.

Thankfully, Lady Luck intervened one fateful Autumn night on the streets of New York City.
We were strolling through the West Village and popped into Perilla, Harold Dieterle’s acclaimed neighborhood joint.  On top of being mildly obsessed with Top Chef, I had heard a lot of good things — specifically having to with the Wild Boar Belly and Spicy Duck Meatballs.  We sat at the bar, as we always do, eager to see if it would live up to the hype.  Well, well, well.  Did it ever.  Life altering, to say the least.  Plus, it had absolutely nothing to do with the Boar or the Duck.

Instead, it had all to do with a reluctantly ordered, measly side dish of Brussels Sprouts.  No, wait…correction:  Brussels Sprout LEAVES (it’s all about the leaves, people).  Or better known as The Best Side Dish Ever.  Roasted to perfection with the tastiest blend of toasted nuts and dried cranberries.  Salty, sweet, crunchy, nutty — delicious overload.  How could my regularly boiled friends could taste this different — this bloody good?  I wanted to bury myself into the plate, and stay there for the Winter.  A ferocious fight to the finish, no doubt, was about to ensue.  My husband beguiled me with distractions, as we played tug-o-war with the plate in a quiet frenzy, seeing who would prove victorious over the last fork-full.  The urge to place an order for a second round (or kick him in the shins) was unbearable.

In the end, we resisted.  But have been spellbound since.  Caramelized Brussels Sprout Leaves with Candied Nuts. Especially now, as the holidays grow near and the sprouts are at their peak, it’s the perfect wintery dish — healthy, festive and down-right addictive.  For all you sprout haters out there (present company included), this might just do the trick.  And with each bite, I’m reminded of a night I sat in one of my favorite cities, in one of my favorite neighborhoods, during my favorite time of year, obsessing over my (new) favorite vegetable, with my absolute favorite person in the world.  The Sound of Music is a constant in the house this time of year, so besides raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, these are a few of my favorite things.

Feel free to substitute in your favorite nuts, seeds, raisins, craisins, etc.  Hazelnuts, pistachios or pumpkin seeds are sure fire winners.  In fact, I almost never make this dish without hazelnuts, but sadly — the markets were completely out of stock when I arrived for my weekly fix.  Please report back — I’d love to hear what fabulous concoctions you come up with.

Inspired by The Best Side Dish Ever at Perilla

Music Pairing: Julie Andrews, My Favorite Things

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