Friday, February 8, 2013

France et Moi with author Shawnie Kelley


Welcome to the very first ‘France et Moi’ feature where I’m talking to author Shawnie Kelley about what France means to her.

French Village Diaries France et Moi Shawnie KelleyShawnie Kelley Foy is owner of Wanderlust Tours, specializing in French culinary and cultural tourism, and author of 100 Places in France Every Woman Should Go , It Happened on Cape Cod, and Insiders' Guide to Columbus. She is a passionate home cook, food-blogger, and advocate of local foods and business.

First question, I think France is a special place and it is famed for many things including its cheese, wine and diverse holiday locations plus, dare I say it strikes and dog poo littered streets. What do you think makes France so very unique and ‘French’?

Shawnie: For a country that’s the size of Texas, France really does pack in the diversity; from its landscape and climates to its historical contributions; from its extreme urban centers and tranquil countryside to its cultural and culinary traditions. As a lover of food and architecture, I tend to define places by those two things. For me, France doesn’t get any more “French” than when you eat.

2) What is your first memory of a trip to France?

Shawnie: This isn’t exactly my first memory, but it is the exact moment when I fell in love with France. It was during my very first trip to Paris in the early 90s. I had been there a few days wandering around, mesmerised and hypnotized by the sensory overload that Paris is. I couldn’t race out of the metro or turn the corner fast enough because something beautiful was always waiting. My breath was taken away upon exiting the Metro at Place de la Concorde. It was a blindingly sunny May morning, the obelisk and hotels were a glittering gold; the fountains were dancing; cars were whizzing by; the arc d’triomphe in front; the Tuileries behind. It was also the very first time I had ever seen the Eiffel Tower from a distance. There were no words. The snapshot of this exact moment is burned into my brain forever. It still makes me catch my breath.

3) What is your favourite holiday location in France?

Shawnie: The South of France in general; but depending on my mood: Nice or Paris. Nice is like an ‘old comfortable sweater.’ When I put it on, it feels good, easy, worn-in, familiar. I lived in Nice back in 2000 and got to know the region rather well, so this familiarity makes for a laid-back holiday on so many levels. Paris, however, is like my ‘little black dress.’ A total looker-- a classic, beautiful, sexy city-- without trying too hard. I go to the City of Light when I want an urbane experience.

4) What would you say your level of French is?

Shawnie: I studied French in highschool, college, and took language classes at the University of Nice in my adult life. I don’t consider myself fluent because I don’t use it, but it resurfaces quickly after being in France for a few days. I can read fairly fluently and carry on well in conversational French.

5) Imagine you are sitting outside a French café at 10.00am on a sunny morning watching the world go by, what do you order from the waiter?

Shawnie: I’m a petit dejeuner traditionalist... a frothy cup of cafe au lait and a buttery croissant or pain des amandes does the trick.

6) What is your favourite regional French dish?

Shawnie: I’m a sucker for socca - the Nicoise specialty. The rustic chick pea flour crepe is served with a drizzle of olive oil and a heavy handed dash of black pepper.

7) Do you ever cook traditional French food at home?

Shawnie: Yes! Often. From hearty daube and cassoulet, to soups, seafood pastas and breads. I’ve even mastered the socca. I leave the pastry making to my sister, Mandy Jones, with whom I also teach cookery classes. She and I founded Simply French, a “tour de cuisine” cooking series and food blog. We combine cooking lessons with a discussion of regional culinary traditions. She mostly teaches the technical component while I speak on the background of the dishes or regional history... putting the recipes into historical and cultural context. It’s a lot of fun! In fact, I’m going to be teaching a Provencal series at a friend’s new cooking school here in Columbus, Ohio, The Seasoned Farmhouse.

8) France has many different cheeses, a silly question, but which French cheese are you? 

Shawnie: I’ve been told that I’m bubbly and approachable, so a cheese with the same friendly characteristic makes sense. Comté fits the bill quite nicely... this sweet cow’s milk cheese is flexible in texture; a little hard when it has to be, yet melts easily into a bubbly pile of goo for fondue. Not to mention, it’s complex, yet a little nutty.

9) France has some beautiful old towns and cities and there are a few that constantly battle to be my favourite but do you have a favourite?

Shawnie: Loaded question. One of the most daunting sections to compile in my travel guide 100 Places in France Every Woman Should Go was the chapter about old towns, and seaside villages, sleepy hamlets... It took forever to narrow down the choices, but one place that always stands out in my mind (and made the cut!) is Collioure - an artsy, waterfront village on the southwestern Mediterranean coast, not far from the Spanish border. It has everything I appreciate in a town: jaw-dropping scenery; a craggy coastline, winding medieval streets, a hulking fortress, art galleries, colourful waterfront restaurants and fishing boats. Granted, I’d not consider visiting during peak tourist season, but in shoulder or off season, Collioure is one of my top destinations.

10) If money and commitments were no object where in France would you like to own a property and what sort of place would it be?


Shawnie: I call this my “Best Seller” dream house.... when I write that best seller and make millions, I’d buy a villa in the Riviera. Not too big, but with a stellar kitchen and view. Maybe perched up above Eze-sur- Mer, or overlooking the coast along cap d’Antibes. I’d have a revolving door of family and friends while writing novels till my hands fall off.

Finally, do you have any current projects you would like to tell my readers about?

Shawnie: I just finished writing a (English language) travel guide titled 100 Places in France Every Woman Should Go, published by California-based Travelers Tales.  The book is up for pre-sale now on Amazon and will be released in May. I am also organizing fully guided, all-inclusive tours through my travel company, Wanderlust Tours. The first tour in June is a Cultural and Culinary Tour de Cote d’Azur, which includes cooking classes, market tours, and a variety of guided excursions.  I also have a French Christmas Markets tour in the works. I’m a huge advocate of culinary tourism, so the tours put on by my companies are food-forward. We try our best to seek out places that highlight local and seasonal dining and support independently-owned businesses and farm to fork restaurants.

Thank you Shawnie, and good luck with the book release and tours. If you would like to see more from Shawnie and 100 Places in France Every Woman Should Visit you can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.