Francophonie Festival, 2015 Edition

The largest celebration of French culture and language in the world—the Francophonie Cultural Festival—is returning to the US capital March 5 to April 1, 2015. Organized by the D.C. Francophonie Committee in association with l’Alliance Française and Smithsonian Associates, the festival engages over 40 embassies for a month of cultural events ranging from lectures to concerts and movie screenings, culminating as usual with la Grande Fête de la Francophonie, a huge foodie bash at la Maison Française at the French Embassy.

What I’ve loved about the partnership with Smithsonian Associates this year is how active Smithsonian at 8 (the 21+  after-hours event planning art of the Smithsonian) has been about shinning a light on all the different countries that belong to the francophone world. Check out their facebook page, for example. Over the past few years, they’ve posted a recipe for Belgian waffles and the essentials of Senegalese cuisine, highlighted 10 of the most confusing words in the French language, gave us a crash course of playing the African drums and got me dreaming of jetting off to Guinea!



Of course, Smithsonian at 8 has also been promoting the Grande Fête which will cap off the festival on March 27, 2015, and doing a Caption That contest to help you win free tickets. I’ve been to the Grande Fête many times, and here are a few tips to enjoy the party at the French Embassy:

  • la grande fete de la francophonieBuy your tickets early. The event will sell out, it always does.
  • Get to the party early. Even though the Grande Fête takes place on the expansive grounds of La Maison Francaise at the French Embassy, it gets very crowded, very fast. If you’re attending with a large group of people, agree on a meeting point because you’ll probably loose each other.
  • Don’t bring a big bag! They’ll be checking IDs and bags at the entrance so you’ll go through faster if you don’t have too much on you.
  • Uber to and back from the Embassy. There’s no parking available at the Embassy and not many spots in the streets nearby. The D6 bus does stop and pick up really close if you want to take public transportation.
  • Be prepared for long lines as you sample food and drink from more than 30 embassies as diverse as Ukraine, Cape Verde, Haiti, Tunisia and Belgium.
  • Stay for the concert! DJ Princess Slaya will spin music from Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, and plenty of destinations in between. The concert is when you stop spending all your time in a line and when the party really gets moving!
  • Bring cash. You’ll get food/drink samples from 7-9PM but it’s cash bar afterwards.

This year’s schedule seems a little more limited than in previous years, but besides the Grande Fête, there are a few interesting events like the Swiss Art Night at Hillyer Art Space, March 26 (6:30-9:00PM – free), Laissez les Bons Temps Rouler, a celebration of Louisiana at l’Alliance Française, March 20 (7PM – $20-$30) or Annecy in DC: a Selection of French Animated Shorts at the French Embassy, March 11 (7PM – free but reservations required.)

Make sure to visit for more info, including ticket costs, the description of the events and films, and times and locations.

Drink the District’s Cloverfest Returns to Yards Park on March 14

Cloverfest at Yards Park


Obviously, I’m more into celebrating the Gallic than the Gaelic, but it is Saint Patrick’s Day and it is a big deal around here. Never one to miss toasting a big holiday, Drink the District is back with its second Cloverfest at Yards Park. The beer-centric event will feature unlimited sampling and full pours from over 20 breweries and cider houses like Sam Adams, Lancaster Brewing CompanyAtlas Brew Works, Brewery Ommegang or Brewer’s Alley Restaurant & Brewery. And of course, since it’s Saint Paddy’s Day there will be a very special green beer 😉

Hopefully, the weather will be nice because there will also be dueling piano shows, giant Jenga, beer pong and other backyard games as well as a great line-up of food trucks, with food available for purchase. Two of my current favourites, Arepa Zone and Borinquen Lunch Box will be there, as will Captain Cookie and the Milk Man with a very special Saint Patrick’s treat: an Irish cookie bomb made of two Guinness cocoa cookies with a Baileys filling. Cap Mac, on the other hand, is bringing out some corned beef mac and cheese! How good does that sound?

Pretty good right? Here are the details:

  • The event is March 14, 2015.
  • There are two sessions, one for day drinkers, from 1:30-4:30PM and one in the evening from 6-9PM.
  • You can buy tickets for either session right here ($44 per ticket.)

You can buy tickets or you can test your luck of the Irish right here and try to win 2 tickets from moi! (Please note the tickets are for the evening session from 6-9PM only.) To enter, just comment on this post with your favourite Gaelic (not Gallic) food! You can also find and like one of my #cloverfest posts on instagram (follow me here) to get additional entries. I’ll announce the winner on Wednesday, March 11. Bonne chance!

But until then, stay up to date with Drink the District and their upcoming events. Follow them on facebook or twitter. Spoiler alert: the next event will have a cherry blossoms theme and will involve wine too! You can already buy early bird priced tickets too.

Oyamel Tequila & Mezcal Festival Returns March 2-15

Oyamel's Tequila & Mezcal FestivalOyamel‘s annual Tequila & Mezcal Festival is back with a new theme this year: Mexican chiles! Since it’s almost March and we’re still getting hit by snow, I’ll take a little heat wherever I can get it… and that includes in my cocktails! At last Tuesday’s preview party, I got to sample the drinks and dishes that will be served during the festival’s opening party on Monday, March 2 . Let’s start with the food. It was great, it always is at Oyamel, with various chiles highlighted in every dish, including dessert (chili-infused Mexican chocolate cookies)! If you enjoy the Nopalitos salad on the restaurant’s regular menu and enjoy a bit of spice, you’ll love the extra kick added to the cactus by Oaxaca chili oil and serrano chiles. For meat lover, we were treated to a birria de cabra, a spicy stew made of goat meat from the Mexican state of Jalisco. Here the marinated goat was served as a taco and given an extra kick with Guajillo chiles.

Oyamel's Tequila and Mezcal Festival

Beverage Manager Jasmine Chae and Executive Chef Colin King talk about the festival behind the Guajillo chiles marinated goat

Now let’s talk about the drinks. Ever since I had the tequila flight at Masa 14 (bad idea at 2AM) I’ve tended to shy away from blue agave liquor. And that’s my loss because properly mixed in a craft cocktail it can be absolutely amazing. I also know very little about tequila’s cousin mezcal, a spirit made with maguey plant, a type of agave. But who better to learn from than a level four Mezcalier? (I assume that’s the equivalent of a master sommelier, but for Mezcal.) For the Tequila and Mezcal festival, Oyamel‘s Beverage Manager Jasmine Chae crafted four spicy cocktail featuring either tequila and mezcal (obviously) but also the chiles that are the theme of the festival this year. My favourite was La Capital. Between the smokiness of the Herradura Anejo Tequila and the heat of the Guajillo chili it was by far the spiciest offering at the preview party. So much so that I was happy to cool my mouth down with the more refreshing Pica Penino, another tequila-based cocktail made with Milagro Silver, triple sec, cucumber serrano chili and lemon juice.

La Capital Cocktail at Oyamel

La Capital Cocktail at Oyamel’s Butterfly Bar

If you’re curious about tequila and mezcal, Oyamel is offering complimentary tastings between 4-6pm in the newly expanded whimsical butterfly bar (I need to know where Jose Andres gets all of his wallpapers!!) throughout the festival, on Tuesday, March 3 – Thursday, March 5 and Monday, March 9 – Thursday, March 12, with brand representatives on hand to provide all sorts of information. For a full taste of all the dishes and cocktails crafted for the festival, attend the festival’s kick-off party on Monday March 2nd, 2015. The kick-off party will feature premium tequila and mezcal tastings, along with the above mentioned food and drinks (you can see a full menu here), plus live music.

Live Music at Oyamel's Annual Tequila and Mezcal Festival

Live Music at Oyamel’s Annual Tequila and Mezcal Festival Preview Party

Tickets for the kick-off party are $60 and available online here. Use the code french15 when purchasing tickets for a $15 discount.

Ben & Jerry’s Introduced Spectacular Speculoos Cookie Core

The Vermont ice cream company just introduced three new flavours to its “cookie core’ line-up. Since I grew up eating spéculos (that’s how we spell speculoos in French, you might know them under the name cookie butter) I’m really only excited about one of those flavours: the spectacular Speculoos Cookie Core. GET IN MY BELLY!!!

Image courtesy of Ben & Jerry's

Image courtesy of Ben & Jerry’s

Oh, and in case you want to know, the other two news flavours are Boom Chocolatta! Cookie Core and Peanut Buttah Cookie Core. But really: SPECTACULAR SPECULOOS!!!

Postcard from Paris: a Paws Café at Café des Chats

Cafe des chats, rue sedainePaws Café… Pause café… get it? OK, that was a bad pun, but I couldn’t help it. Just like I couldn’t help visiting both of Paris’ cat cafés during my last stay in the city. In my defense, one of them is just a few blocks away from my parents’ apartment. When did rue Sedaine become so hip?

The original Café des Chats, located in the haut Marais close to Beaubourg, opened back in the fall of 2013 and turned out to be so popular that a second location near Bastille was added. Margaux Gandelon, the young entrepreneuse who launched the “café chat” concept in Paris after a successful crowd-funding campaign, was directly inspired by the “neko” cafés in Japan. She describes her project as ronronthérapie, or purr therapy, arguing for the potential health benefits of stroking a purring kitty. However, it’s the health of the cats that’s truly at the center of the projects, and all visitors must abide by a few rules:don’t force the cats to do anything they don’t want to do,do not wake up the cats  if they’re sleeping and do not feed the cats.

Humans shouldn’t feed the cats, but café des chats feeds its humans pretty well, and the kitchen is the only area where cats are not allowed. I hear the brunch is quite popular though when we visited, around goûter time, we simple settled for coffee, tea and cheesecakes. If you have a choice to visit one over the other location, I would recommend visiting the one in the Marais, which is a beautiful and cozy bi-level space with a faux-library and a 15th century vaulted ceiling (downstairs.) The Bastille location is more modern, but also easier to get into as it doesn’t require reservations. Both feature a group of twelve-ish resident cats, which, unlike in other cat cafés, notably in the United States, are not up for adoption. All of them, though, were previously stray or abandoned cats that were given a permanent home rues Sedaine or Michel Le Comte. and a portion of the proceeds from the cafés though is donated to animal protection organizations.

Cafe des chats

Cafe des chats, Paris

Cafe des chats paris

I can’t wait for DC to open its own cat café! If you too are excited about this prospect, visit Crumbs and Whiskers’ website for updates on their kickstarter’s campaign [update: here’s my post on my first visit to Crumbs & Whiskers.] Until then, I’m glad I have not one, but two places to go when I need my kitty fix in Paris!

 Café des Chats: 16 Rue Michel le Comte (3ème) | Bastille: 9 Rue Sedaine (11ème)

Fashion TakeOver Lunch break at Ann Taylor

I don’t always get to take my lunch break but I’m glad I took the time to drop by Ann Taylor on Connecticut Avenue today. Not because I was in dire need of some retail therapy but because the store played host to Tom Broecker and Jenny Gering, costume designers for DC-based dramas House of Cards (Tom) and The Americans (Jenny.) Both designers will headline “Dressing DC for the Small Screen,” a fashion conversation at the Smithsonian tonight but I’m glad I got a preview of their talk at Ann Taylor.

fashion House of cards, fashion the americans, DC Style, DC fashion, Washington DC

Moderated by Mikki Halpin, Editorial Director at Refinery29, the lunchtime chat centered around the show’s female leads, Claire Underwood and Elizabeth Jennings, though there was a quick question towards the end about Zoe’s style (or lack thereof) and the evolution of D.C. fashion. Things have changed since Rep. Charlotte T. Reid became the first woman to wear pants in congress back in 1969. The Americans takes place in Ronald Reagan’s Washington and ’80s suburban wardrobe is vastly different from the style that Tom Broecker seeks to achieve for the Claire Underwood, who runs her own non-profit in Washington, D.C.  In addition to talking about their style inspiration for their characters, both designers emphasized how important it is for women to dress in clothes that makes them feel confident and that are appropriate for the situation or stage in their life that they are in. Both mentioned that, with an increasing number of women in high-power position in Washington, D.C., professional women have a more options and no longer have to try and dress like men. Men, on the other, have a uniform, especially in DC. And I must agree, I’d much rather hear from the stylish for Claire Underwood than Frank Underwood.

Do you like Claire Underwood’s fashion style?

Foodie Keepsake: USPS’ Celebrity Chefs Stamps

Just when I had almost given up on sending actual snail mail, the United State Postal Service announced the release of a pane of celebrity chefs forever stamps. The chefs honored are James Beard, Julia Child, Joyce Chen, Edna Lewis and Felipe Rojas-Lombardi.


Pictured below is the Beard stamp, which was the first design to be released. The Postal Service will reveal the other stamp designs through its social media outlets (follow USPS on twitter, facebook and pinterest) leading up to the first-day ceremony in Chicago, Illinois on September 26. The selvage area will have a photograph of a large plate set on a white linen tablecloth.

james beard stamps, celebrity chef stamps
I can’t wait to be stamping those on my lovely Paper Source macarons stationery 😉 Do you still send snail mail often these days? Or only for special occasions like celebrations or the holidays?


Expat life ~ celebrating la fête nationale Suisse in Washington, D.C.

One of my absolute favourite thing about living in Washington, D.C. is getting to know people not just from every state in the United States but also from all over the world. With 176 resident embassies in the city, and the World Bank, the IMF and countless other international organizations you can make friends from around the globe without leaving the district. Over the weekend, I got to meet a lot of Swiss and learn a lot more about Switzerland when I attended the Schweizer Bundesfeier celebration thrown by the Swiss Club of Washington, D.C. at the Embassy of Switzerland on Saturday.

Every August 1st, some 8 million people around the world celebrate one of four holiday: the above mentioned Schweizer Bundesfeier, Fête nationale, Festa nazionale… or Fiasta naziunala depending depending on which part of Switzerland they are from and which of its four official languages they speak. The holiday commemorates the Federal Charter of 1291 which unified the then 3 Alpine cantons into the foundation of modern day Switzerland. Despite growing up in the country next door , I must confess I didn’t know much about how my neutral neighbours celebrate their national holiday. Here’s a few things I learned…

The celebration at the Swiss Embassy was one was one of the most family friendly one I’ve ever attended. It’s not an official event thrown by the embassy but rather one that is hosted on the grounds of the embassy. Let’s talk about these grounds. Who knew the Swiss Embassy has such expansive grounds? I guess anyone who’s ever attended the infamous Swiss Soiree probably knew that. I’m still hoping to get an invite some day… I’m also dying to check out the Hemingway bar tucked inside the Cuban interest section (update: with the recent opening of the Embassy of Cuba in Washington, the Cuban interest section at the Swiss Embassy is no more.) We’ll see which invite comes my way first… though probably neither 😉 Anyway, Switzerland is clearly a small but mighty (wealthy) country, with the Embassy to show it. The afternoon garden-party on Saturday kicked off with alphorns (also known as the Alpine Horn) and took place for the most part on the grounds between the embassy and the Ambassador’s residence, which occupies a modern charcoal color concrete and sand-blasted building.

alphorns, alpine horns, swiss embassy dc, switzerland, suisseEmbassy of Switzerland in Washington DC, suisse embassy, suisse ambassade









Many of the guests brought their own lawn chairs or picnic blankets and just hung out around the embassy while children went to play in the pool or took rides on carts pulled by gorgeous (and huge!) Swiss dogs. There was traditional music, yodeling, dancing and Fahnenschwingen (hope I spelled that right!) And of course, there were sausages, and beer and wine. We tried two different beers, Schloss Eggenberg hopfen konig, which is actually Austrian, and an Erdinger Hefe-Weizen, neither one of which it turns out, was actual Swiss (they’re Austrian and German respectively.) The wine, on the other hand, was Swiss! I loved sharing a bottle of Amigne Valais AOC with one of my favourite wino, mlle Lisa C. In case you’re wondering, Amigne is a rare grape grown only in the Valais region. Valais is  Switzerland’s largest wine-producing area, in the upper Rhone Valley, where most of the vineyard sit on terraced Alpine slopes. Ambassador Manuel Sager, who will be returning to Switzerland very soon and was wearing a bright red Swiss shirt over his checkered collar shirt, treated us to a different wine for the wine toast after the Swiss national anthem and the speeches, but I didn’t get the name of that wine. The wine toast was nice, of course. But, you know, we toast with bubbles only where I’m from…

IMG_4768 IMG_4772


But the highlight of the whole event for me was the lampion parade and the bonfire. How the Swiss embassy got a permit to light a huge bonfire in the middle of the city, I am not sure… but Höhenfeuers are typical of the national holiday celebrations in Switzerland and I loved the whole experience. Children were provided with paper lanterns with a lit candle inside (another fire hazard I was surprised to see…) and paraded down to the bonfire led by flutists. In Switzerland the bonfire would have been followed by fireworks but it was quite enough excitement just with the huge bonfire to be honest…

IMG_4785 IMG_4789 IMG_4798

If you’re in Washington, D.C. next August 1st, I recommend you look up the Swiss national holiday celebration organized by the Swiss Club of Washington, D.C. especially if you have children, but not only. I had a great time with Lisa learning all about Schweizer Bundesfeier. And while I didn’t win round trip tickets to Zurich during the raffle, as a French person I left the embassy feeling quite secure knowing that  yes, Switzerland may have the upper hand in chocolate, watches, tennis players and, apparently, bonfires… but we beat them 5-2 during the World Cup and still make better wine 😉


The Big Maze at the National Building Museum

Have you checked out the BIG maze at the National Building Museum yet? I dropped by over the long July 4th weekend to see the new playful indoor installation – and learned the difference about mazes and labyrinths in the process (labyrinths only have one path apparently…).

the big maze, maze, labyrinth, maze dc, national building museum, cool exhibits in DC, dc maze,

The BIG maze is the first large scale installation in the National Building Museum since Frank Gehry was commissioned by the SMWIA to build a metal structure for their 100th anniversary back in 1988. And it’s not actually that big. BIG stands for Bjarke Ingels Group, a Danish architect firm, and the maze serves as a preview for amBIGuity, an exhibition of the firm’s work that will open in October. And while I kind of miss the mini-golf, it’s still fun to try and find your way out of the 61 feet by 61 feet plywood maze before getting some BBQ at the Hill Country’s Backyard Barbecue pop-up right outside.

The BIG Maze is open Monday through Saturday, 10AM–5PM, and Sunday, 11AM–5PM, July 4 through September 1, 2014. Tickets are $16 for adults and $13 for children, and include access to all of the museum’s exhibits. Additionally, for grown ups, there are a couple of late-night options when the maze is open until 9PM on July 31, August 7, 14, 21 and 28.

French State Dinner: 1996 versus 2014 menu

So the last time a French president was honoured with a State Dinner was back in 1996 at the invitation of Bill and Hillary Clinton. Here is what the menu looked like 18 years ago:

Lemon Thyme Lobster with Roasted Eggplant Soup

Rack of Lamb with Winter Fruit and Pecans

Sweet potato puree, root vegetables

Tarragon Huckleberry Sauce

Layered Artichoke, Leek and Herbed Cheese with Green and Endives, Balsamic Dressing

Apple and Cherry Sherbet Pyramid with Apple Brandy Sauce

Peanut Butter Truffles, White Almond Bark Chocolate Fudge

The wines paired with the dinner were all from California:

Beringer Viognier 1994 (CA)

Zaca Mesa Syrah 1993 (CA)

Roderer Estates, l’Hermitage 1990 (CA)

The highlight of that dinner was the towering pyramid concocted by (French) White House pastry chef Roland Mesnier, built of balls of apple and cherry sherbet with apple brandy sauce and circled with small pastry swans swimming on a bed of dark red raspberries. We’ll see if current (perfectly French-speaking) pastry chef Bill Yosses can outdo him 😉

Guest at the 1996 dinner included designer Oscar de la Renta (who also dressed the first lady), Michael Douglas (who had sort of hosted a French president to a State Dinner of his own in The American President), Mr. and Mrs Eisner (Disneyland Resort Paris had just opened a few years earlier), the United States Ambassador to France, Mr and Mrs Shapiro (of the MoMa), the President of the Gugghenheim museum (the French like art…), John Grisham (we like to read too!), pretty much the entire Louisiana delegation in Congress and the mayor of New Orleans, Mr. and Mrs I.M. Pei (who has designed the East Wing of the National Gallery here in DC, as well, bien sur, as the Pyramid at the Louvre museum in Paris) the president of the AFL-CIO, and actor Gregory Peck and his (French) wife.

Let’s compare with tomorrow’s State Dinner shall we?

The menu:

American Osetra Caviar

Fingerling Potato Veloute, Quail Eggs, Crisp Chive Potatoes

“The Winter Garden Salad” ~ Petite Mixed Radish, Baby Carrots, Merlot Lettuce, Red Wine Vinaigrette

The White House teased a pictured of the Winter Garden Salad that will be served during the State Dinner honouring French President Hollande on its Instagram page.

The White House teased a pictured of the Winter Garden Salad that will be served at the State Dinner for French President Hollande on Instagram.

Dry-aged Rib Eye Beef, Jasper Hill Farm Blue Cheese, Charred Shallots, Oyster Mushrooms, Braised Chard

Hawaiian Chocolate Malted Ganache, Vanilla Ice Cream and Tangerines.

The wines:

Morlet la Proportion Doree 2011 (Napa Valley, CA)

Chester-Kidder Red Blend 2009 (Columbia Valley, WA)

Thibaut-Jannison Blanc de Chardonnay (Monticello, VA)

I wonder if they picked up that last wine during their visit to Charlottesville today 😉 So far, we don’t know the full guest-list. We know the current US Ambassador to France will not be there… because, there isn’t one right now… We know Bradley Cooper will be dazzling the French ladies with his sexy French accent and that Mary J. Blidge will perform. I guess we’ll have to wait a little to see who shows up at the White House tomorrow. Until then, we can speculate… Hubert Joly CEO of Best Buy perhaps? California boys Emmanuel Saez (professor at Berkeley), Renaud Laplanche (CEO of Lending Club) and Stéphane Le Viet (CEO of Work4Labs)? Xavier Mosquet, formerly of Obama’s task force to save General Motors & Chrysler? New Yorker Yannick-I’m-Happy-To-Pay-a75%-Tax  Noah? We’ll see…

Which menu would you rather eat? The one served in 1996 for Monsieur et Madame Chirac or the one that will be served tomorrow for Monsieur Hollande?