Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Montana Mint Chocolate w/candied mint

Those of us who live in the North know that summer is short-lived and before we know it we'll be stoking logs in our fireplaces and stoves. My backyard garden actually rests under two feet of snow for half the year.

So, when summer visits us here in Montana and mint has abundantly sprouted (like a weed) throughout my garden, I grasp it by the handfuls and take to work to use in and on our chocolates.

We candy some of the mint leaves and find that it pairs really well with dark chocolate, preferably Madagascar. We continue to make this chocolate during the winter (even though our garden has gone to bed) as it is so popular that time of the year. By freezing bundles of mint, we are able to avoid paying high prices for it at the grocery stores, too.

Here is a simple recipe for you to preserve a bit of summer.

Candied Mint
To candy mint, all you need is to boil sugar and water, four to one (four sugar to one water). Dip the cleaned fresh mint leaves into the boiled syrup and place on a sheet of parchment paper. Voila!

Friday, June 24, 2016


La Cansound Dou
by Frédéric Mistral

Lou païsan, ounte que siegue,
Es lou cepoun de la nacioun;
Auran beu faire d'envencoun,
Fau que la terro se boulegue;
Tant que i'ague de pan e de vin.

The peasant, in any land is the backbone of the nation
We research in vain, we invent in vain,
The earth must be plowed;
And for as long as the world has not ended
There has to be bread and wine.

Immediately after moving to Provence, I began wondering who this monsieur named Frédéric Mistral was.  Repeatedly I saw bus stops, high schools, cafés, and parks that bore his name. Curious, I checked out a book from the local bibliothèque and realized that Frédéric Mistral is the soul of Provence! In 1914, he was born in the village of Maillane, France, which is located near La Durance, a river immortalized by the Roman Naturalist, Gaius Plinius Secundus. Frédéric Mistral was not only a poet - he was a playwright and linguist and he received the Nobel Prize for Literature. I'm quite curious if the famous Mistral wind was named after him, too?  After living here for a few months and visiting vineyards, olive groves, lavender fields, honey farms..., I began to feel such respect for the Provençaux whose hard work in this dry land is evident.
At any rate, What I love most about him and Provence is summed up in this poem. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Greetings from France

Bonjour tout le monde!

(My daughter and mon mari persuaded me to begin blogging again, so here it goes! These posts will not go through tiers of editing; therefore I might have made some grammatical errors.)

Living in this medieval village in the south of Fance has sparked so many new-found interests. It is because I've had precious time here: time to sleep, contemplate, create, pray, question, and wonder.

Here's my first random observation from France re: collecting. I have written a series of these observation, which I will post.

Antique French torchons (kitchen towels) have sparked my interest in collecting old stuff, while living in Villeneuve-lès-Avignon. Each Saturday morning - gusty mistral or scorching heat - I pry myself out of bed for the local Brocante. A brocante is a french flea market, where professionals sell their collected wares, ranging from pewter to pétanque balls. I think it's the same as a flea market, but correct me if I'm wrong. I've honestly begun worrying that the brocante is a dying trade since there seems to be few traders under the age of 65. I also notice that many enjoy sipping zee Pastis whilst working, not that I blame them. I would need Pastis for people pilfering through my precious things or the unpredictable mistral wind* perforating fragile items, of which I've seen.

These monogrammed torchons are nearly one hundred years old and probably sat in someones cupboard for years, untouched. I like the fact that someone else owned them and I own a piece of french history. I already used them and sadly have a few stains, c'est la vie.

*Mistral Wind is a turbulent wind that is triggered by specific conditions. It's funneled down the Rhone Valley corridor all the way to Marseilles. It is also the subject of another story I'll post later.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

French Gateway

Autumn 2014
Please join us in Paris for a French Getaway!

Only six available spaces
Would you like to learn to incorporate Parisian “je ne sais quoi” into your own life? And maybe you'd like blend in while in France, rather than sticking out like many tourists
do. Traveling in Paris w/out speaking the language can make for a difficult and frustrating experience! So... spend a week with us learning to live à la française and you'll be sure to connect with France (and “zee” French) on a different level. You'll feel more Parisian than ever. Oh là là!!!

What: French Getaway
When: October 12-18, 2014
Where: Paris, France
How many spaces: 6
Cost: $2,950 per person, based on double occupancy

  • We'll meet you at the airport and transport you to/from the hotel. You'll avoid confusion & long lines for Taxis.
  • Champagne Welcoming Party at the hotel.
  • 7 days/6 nights in an elegant Left Bank “hôtel particulier” (Meaning that it's similar to a stately Parisian Home/Chateau tucked away in the heart of the city.)
  • One Afternoon tea-time in a French Salon de the (Tea Salon)
  • One diner in romantic setting restaurant
  • Patisserie-Chocolaterie “Crawl”. We'll take you on an exciting tour of our favorite spots and we'll conclude with a tasting.
  • French Etiquette lessons from native Parisians
  • French Market Excursion
  • Night Cruise along the Seine (This is the best & most romantic way to see the beautiful City of Lights)
  • Inclusive breakfasts each morning in the hotel
  • Metro Pass
  • Arc de Triomphe excursion (one of the largest monuments in Paris)
  • Versailles Countryside excursion (The apex of French arts, architecture, and landscape architecture. Louis XIV spared no expense in showing the world the magnificence of his kingdom.)
  • Musée Rodin Excursion. Gorgeous museum dedicated to the works of French sculptor Auguste Rodin
  • Chef's/ Cooking Supplies Tour. We will bring you to the stores where Parisian chefs buy their tools
  • Wine Tasting/ We will taste wines from some main regions of France and discuss w/each other in an intimate setting
  • We'll dine together (no-host) each evening in a variety of French restaurant

What this Does Not Include:
  • Airfare to/from Paris
  • Lodging outside of the 6 nights in Paris

  • Meals and alcoholic beverages not mentioned
  • Personal expenses
  • Optional activities: Monuments not specified, cooking classes, shopping....
  • Passport fees
  • Travel (or other) Insurance

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Phew! We’re back. Summer in France lies by “très vite” for our family, never failing to restore something within each of us. Whether it’s sticky, too-bright-sunny days spent in a small Côte d’Azur village, the jam-packed Paris Metro, or beaucoup kilometers in search of “just one more” pastry…
Wlady somehow manages to relax in the City. He thrives on honking horns, long lines, and rude shopkeepers. He also enjoys rediscovering his culinary faves that we American’s can’t ever seem to get right! The little boys’ French improves each summer, whizzing around Rue’s on their scooters, barking nonsense like: “Regardez-moi Monsieur!”   Yet, they now prefer Cantal to Cheddar during cheese course. But hold the spicy moutarde, s’il vous plait! No wolfing down food at Grand-Mère’s table, either. Cultivation takes time. The oldest boy, now fluent with a handful of French ami’s of his own, has embraced his father’s homeland. He now eats French fries with a fork (he attempted using the fork for his hamburger, but his Papa quickly corrected him to his embarrassment)! As for me, I’m perfectly content being my American (yet Francophilish) self. I realize I’ll always laugh too much. I also hate scarves because they choke me. I tend to let loose in serious surroundings. And I suppose it will take me a mere 100 years to master the language.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Charlotte aux Fraises

Here’s a confection I’ve recently added to my pastry case in our shop. It’s called Strawberry Charlotte or Charlotte aux Fraises. I first set eyes on this dainty beauty years ago in a small patisserie in the French campagne (country side), while visiting my Belle-mère & beau-père’s country house. It was love at first sight. I liked the idea of using a simple ribbon to wrap around the feminine dessert. Très French! The Charlotte’s pink, feathery mousse filling reminded me of the local strawberries I had spied earlier at the marché en plein air.
There are a few historical variations of the dessert’s origins, but I’d like to believe that French chef Marie-Antoine Carême (whose parents sadly abandoned him during the Revolutionary War) is the mastermind behind this creamy dessert. He was said to name it after his employer, Czar Alexander I.
So, I eventually set out to master this dessert because I wanted to include it in my “Country Maison” dessert collection. I made the ladyfingers (from scratch) & they encircle the berry mousse. If you happen to be a “consistency person” like moi, the combination of ladyfinger, soaked with creamy mousse is unbelievable! It brings back memories of eating banana pudding as a kid down south.
I hope that this dessert “makes the cut” in our shop, meaning it actually sells. It will always beckon me back to that sun-baked afternoon in the French countryside.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


La Chatelaine's new Versailles-inspired look!

Apologies for my hiatus from postings. I had somehow gotten it into my head that my photos aren’t perfect enough for blog posts. After all, there are so many great blogs out there w/stunning food styling & near professional photos (that probably took hours, mind you),” so why would anyone want to look at my blog? 

Carol B. Neiley from “Basic French (a lifestyle thing),” recently wrote on her blog: “ I have been feeling really exasperated and rebellious recently, as I tacitly though erratically follow blogs with tasteful feminine mood boards and perfectly art directed and lit photos of carefully culled objects.” She goes on to say: “I’m getting sick of everything so styled and unreal…Cooking is messy, life is messy…It’s all too Perfect Home Perfect Life for me.”
Owning and running a chocolate shop is messy and fast paced. I usually have chocolate or flour caked on my hands, timers erratically beeping from various stations, too many decisions to make, and critical minutes to emulsify ingredients – hardly ever the opportune moment to stage, style and perfect photos. So, bear with me as I “embrace my imperfection” and resume dispatching occasional information about my experience of owning a chocolaterie. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

La fin d'été

We draw end to our summer with our lively kids on a quick adventure in Seattle.

Our four days in Seattle began with a ferry trip to our rented home away from home on Bainbridge Island. We picked plump mûres (blackberries) there and the kids paddled canoe trips along the cove to spot otters, hawks, and eagles. Our enjoyable moments included watching late night movies and walking the hilly path to the ferry each morning.

Nous adorons: Le Panier is our favorite café for croissants and pains au chocolat. Café Ladro’s baristas make the best cappucinos – forget Starbucks. Pike’s Market for fruit, seafood, petit doughnuts, and flowers.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Café Pouchkine

Every summer, my family leaves Grand-mère's apartment in Paris a few days before moi. I usually cram this time alone with culinary training & brushing up on my (not-so-fab) French.

One morning, I took my Belle-mère's advice and visited the legendary Café Pouchkine for a rich chocolat chaud (hot chocolate). After all, I am trying very hard to establish my petite chocolate Café in my rugged Montana town. I figured I could gather some great ideas, non?

And just like my favorite child author, Kay Thompson writes in Eloise in Paris, “Here’s the thing of it:” Paris gets the hot chocolate ceremony. The marble bar is maybe ten feet long (no longer than my cocoa bar), with several plush barstools to sit so elegantly upright. Hot chocolate, or chocolat chaud, is served in an antique silver chocolatière with a moulinet (chocolate pot). The hot chocolate is twice as thick as mine, so maybe mine isn’t too rich, after all. Perhaps La Châtelaine’s cocoa bar is not so far from this goal.

Le Café Pouchkine à Paris

Friday, July 1, 2011

Meilleur Ouvrier de France

I am an experienced baker & chocolate maker, but I I always want to learn more.
I know. I know. We americans always seem to be on a quest for self-perfection.  At least the rest of the world thinks so. But, I am not one of those folks in need of self-mastering everything I develop an overnight hobby for. I happily struggle with so many endeavors (gardening, decorating, photography, fashion and so forth), but really respect those who spend years humbly honing their craft, which leads me to bringing up a chef that I was fortunate to study under recently.

Gerard is no ordinary pastry chef. First of all, France recently awarded him the title of Meilleur Ouvrier de France, a highly prestigious award bestowed to only a select few craftsman. He went through grueling examinations and competitions to achieve this award. Most importantly, it took years of intensive training! He is among the lucky few to have the right to wear a blue, white, and red ribbon around their collar. With these credentials, you think Gerard might have shown a trace of snobbery. Mais non! Gerard not only taught me loads of additional kitchen skills and techniques, he taught me to trust my sense of taste, harmonize my body in the kitchen, and be passionate each ingredient.

* Gerard never pointed out this superior culinary honor to me. I wouldn’t have known it unless my French husband observed his distinct collar while picking me up from class.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Mysterious Cathar Country


Several days ago we desperately departed Paris for a few days to explore other areas of France with our boys. I’m afraid that Montana has spoiled us with its wide-open spaces and its big sky, because noisy/hectic city life can exhaust you.

We headed for the unspoiled Tarn region. I’m possessed with love for the breathtakingly beautiful fortified Bastide towns of Cathar country in the Southwest of France.  My DK guide book, balanced atop of my knees in Grand-mère's voiture says that the “Cathars were a secretive humanist sect supported by the Counts of Toulouse in the 12th and 13th centuries... and that this was the darkest periods in French history”. After a couple of days, edging our way through narrow winding streets, and trying to grasp the enormous history, I didn’t want to leave this place. In fact, while leaving the area, we stumbled upon an abandoned Bastide perched on a hillside with amazing views. If only I were Frances Mayes! Shhhhhh. I kept a weathered tile from it, so that I can find my way back here some day.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Summer in Paris - Part I

Ten days ago, we said “au revoir” to our chocolaterie & hastily packed our bags, kids and flew to Paris. A tradition we decided to initiate four years ago as a blended family, we return here to The City of Light (La Ville-Lumière) to spend some uninterrupted time together and give the kids a sense of Europe, while attempting to bond. Things have not been “a piece of gâteau” so far. My husband’s Papa is very sick and nearly died in the hôpital. My boy, Ethan, caught a virus (no doubt on the Metro) and vomited all over Grand-mère’s luxurious wool carpet! And lastly, I developed an irksome head cold (ditto the Metro).
Mon dieu!

Challenges aside, we’ve been able to roam the Gardens of Versailles, saturate our senses in the Louvre, and nibble our fair share of buttery pastries (my Grishko ballet shoes are now thread bound from grueling late nights of work out).

Attempts to improve my French seem frivolous after working so hard all year running a biz and being a mother. Fluency will come someday, I suppose.  For now, I delight in the little boys’ French acquisition! This year, they order for themselves and mannerly “bonjour, merci, & pardon” all of the busy shopkeepers. In fact, they’ve warmed the hearts of numerous Parisians – putting all rumors to rest the Parisians are rude.

A few more weeks to go here… Stay curious!

*You can now view this Blog on your mobile phone:

Friday, April 29, 2011

Ma Charlotte

J’aime bien la Charlotte! If I were to have a little girl, I’d undoubtedly name her “Charlotte”, too. But the dessert is certainly mon favori. I discovered this dessert not in Paris, but in the countryside in France at an open-air market last summer. To my delight, among the piles of fat tomatoes, and bluish/purple eggplants, I stumbled on a camionnette (truck/van).  Dreamy, rustic, and artful desserts packed the pocket-sized interior of the camionnette. I settled on the dainty, airy Strawberry Charlotte to carry to my husband family country house for dessert later avec sweet wine. I’ll never forget the creamy deliciousness and it is something I hope my customers will be thankful to see in our case, too.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Anxious Bunny

Our books show that sales this Easter holiday improved by a good margin compared to last year (Oui! Oui!), although the shop did not necessarily feel busier to me. Mmmmmm…. Could that be because I am usually armed with a whisk safely in my cozy kitchen? Truly, I owe it to an organized retail & kitchen staff.
The days leading up to Easter were all so dissimilar (sales wise) to each another. I blame Mother Nature for this because her influence on shopping psychology never ceases to amaze me, either! Dumping snow = poor sales day. Sunny/ partial snow fall, but cold = great sales day.
Our kitchen staff produced innumerable (hundreds) chocolate bunnies, hens, eggs, and fish and they became quite skilled at hand painting the molds. The retail ladies cleverly packaged them in clear bags; hand tied with pastel ribbons, and stylishly aligned our shelves with them. Luckily our shop’s slate tiles, along with the towering Ponderosa Pines outside keep our shop quite cool preventing bunny melting.
My employees will confirm that apprehension creeped into my brain with the sudden fear we had overproduced and (due to the economy) customers would chose quantity over quality (think gigantic Walmart Easter baskets filled with junky chocolate and disposable toys). I fretted circles around our shop many times, scrunching my sweaty hands with anxiety. I do this when I’m on edge. This is part of being a biz owner, people. However; worry was an ultimate waste of my time. In the “eleventh-hour”, like every holiday Wlady produced around the clock to rush freshly set chocolate bunnies from kitchen to retail area to our patient customers. Thankfully we live in a community that supports and appreciates good chocolate. I feel a glowing gratitude in my heart for you and thank you for allowing our creativity to thrive!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Vive le Printemps

The shop is doing well after returning from the Trade Show.

It is still so cold here in the Rockies, that hot chocolate sales are quite high (although I’d like them to be better). 

We’re now gearing up for Easter and Spring. I intend on adding colorful touches of spring to our two chocolateries after such a long, gray winter. I for one am ravenous for color and for fresh tastes.

Dans la cuisine (kitchen), we’re tempering beaucoup de bittersweet, milk and white chocolate to fill bunnies, hens, and hare molds. So far, I estimate that we’ve made 125. Many more to go. Because I am forever in Alice in Wonderland imagination, I will be carrying whimsical chocolate mushrooms, too. Last year, I assembled francophone Easter baskets, filled with vintage books, chocolates, and goodies. I’d like to continue that plan.
And do let me know if there any Easter/Spring desserts or confections you’d like. I’m always up for sweet ideas.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Made in Montana Market Place

Wlady and I are participating in the "Made in Montana Market Place" in Great Falls this weekend. We are committed in helping our local & state's economy and really want to extend our products to buyers outside of our shop. You know...to grow La Châtelaine, we must continually enhance our products.

The feedback from the public has been positive so far (one more day to go). We won an award: Honorable Place for best booth! And to think I worried that my booth wasn't professional enough. That'll teach me to follow my instinct. It was important for me to design a booth that sincerely reflected our personalities - not a big box store. We wanted our booth to look charming, incorporating some of my vintage cake stands and tin trays.

There is one big hypocrisy I continually battle with while trying to launch my products outside of our shop. Wholesalers still remain hesitant about shelf-life. Because we never add additives and preservatives (ARTISAN chocolates should NEVER contain them), the shelf life is one month. "But you can buy truffles at World Market with a one year shelf life", for instance. Uuugghhhhhhh!!!!! In due time, I suppose it boils down to customer awareness which will eventually reflect Wholesaler's purchases.  I'm positive about this.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

En Famille/My Lovely Vacation

We departed for the South last week with my children to spend time with loved ones. My quirky and always vivacious family took us into their homes and made my monsieur and western kids feel at home. 

My beautiful nieces, brothers, caring sister and matriarchal mother are so important to me. The older I become, I realize that family is everything.
Here is a photo of my mom’s dessert birthday party, where we baked a mousse cake, brownies and petits fours. She has a sweet tooth but she doesn’t bake much, so she appreciates our efforts. It makes me so happy to see how our baked goods put a smile on her face!

Thursday, March 10, 2011


Owning a chocolaterie… many people dream of this, and I often pinch myself too (along with worry, fatigue, frustration and sacrifice.)

In addition to our handmade chocolates, we have recently added an element of pastry artistry (pâtisserie) to our shop. From the very beginning, Wlady and I have worshipped the pastry arts: rustic tarts, both glorious & simple cakes, cookies/sablés and other desserts. After all, we are passionate about ALL of the Culinary Arts! 

Months of crossing my fingers and whispering a few prayers, I finally found a pastry case from a local coffee shop that kindly sold it to us for a very fair price (Leaf & Bean). 

The challenge: pastries, cookies and cakes are trickier to sell than chocolates, whose shelf life is longer. And “je deteste” throwing away a once flaky pâte brisée.  I suppose we’ll need to let more people know that we are capable of creating a variety of sweet treats.

One thing is for certain. We want to surprise customers with all of our smart little confections that orderly line the cases – whether dainty chocolates or buttery tartelettes – they’re our art and our culture. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

La Saint Valentin

photo by Merissa Lambert
"Si vous m'accompagnez, nous verrons, sentirons, 
goûterons, caresserons et peut-être..."

If you will come along with me, we shall see, smell, taste, touch and perhaps...
-Henri Delbard, extract from "Diary of a Rose Lover"

Monday, January 31, 2011

Nearing February

As February’s romantic Valentine’s Day approaches, I am currently fretting over scores of details around La Châtelaine. After all, it is the most significant sales day for a chocolate shop owner. 
Here is our latest ad in our local newspaper. I hope it speaks to your inner-romantic!