Madame Pamplemousse and her Incredible Edibles


Sometimes I have slight nostalgia pangs to the days when my children were cute, cuddly little babies, but I do love seeing them grow up and start discovering new things all the time; books being one of them. We did a huge tidy up in the kids room over the holidays and gifted all the Peppa Pigs to my goddaughter and we’re now advancing onwards and upwards to chapter books.

Coco has really caught the reading bug and is plowing through books. It has been great discovering with her some new authors, one of them being Rupert Kingfisher and his book Madame Pamplemousse and Her Incredible Edibles, the first of a series of books. It tells the story of Madeleine who meets Madame Pamplemousse, the best cook in Paris and together they work to stop her evil uncle Monsieur Lard. Seriously fun to read, even for Mamas!

- Emilie

Klorane Dry Shampoo


I have been travelling a lot lately in planes, trains and automobiles… which has been a lot of fun, but the one thing that has suffered a little bit is my hair. Waking up in the early hours and getting my girls ready and out of the door to catch a train does not leave much time for styling and by the end of the day my hair looked distinctly lacklustre.

I read about Klorane Extra Gentle Dry Shampoo on a Cup of Jo a while ago and decided to give it a go without much conviction, but, seriously, it works! Now, my hair did not feel any cleaner, but it looked great, clean and with a bit of a bounce. This, in turn, made me feel a little bit less travel weary!

If you are in France you can pick up the dry shampoo in most Pharmacies, but you can also order it off Amazon.

- Emilie

OMY Colouring poster

There are not many better things to do on a rainy day than some colouring! It has been grey and miserable a lot lately here in Paris, so we have had a couple of weekends where we have spent most of the day in our pyjamas, drinking tea (me!) and crafting. One massive success project is the OMY Colouring poster that I have hung up in our hallway. (I wrote about these a long time ago, but since I did, many more versions have been added). All day long when we walk past it, we stop and colour a little part in. Funnily enough grown ups (me!) seem to find it as mesmerising as children do.

We have the Giant Atlas Poster which has the added bonus that the kids are learning a little bit about which country is where, but I also love the Map of Paris which could be an excellent introduction to the city if you were planning a visit!

- Emilie

Family life in Paris


I often am asked what it is like to bring children up in Paris and what I like and don’t like about it, so I thought it could be fun to write down some of my experiences! These are just random things that I have personally observed..

Playgrounds and Parks: There are not many and there is especially not a lot of green grass for the kids to play on. Most neighbourhood parks are small and consist of flowerbeds, a play structure with benches around it and no swings! Kids go play and the parents sit on the sidelines reading books. The Parisians are definitely not helicopter parents – children entertain themselves or play with their friends. It’s nice as the kids are really independent, but it is not so nice when they start throwing sand at each other’s faces and there are no grown-ups to intervene.

Schools: I do find the the school system of a country defines the country a lot. Like most French school children, my children go to the local French school around the corner. The standard of education is high, and the children are challenged and marked at a very young age (the word evaluation is used a lot). Interestingly this is not only something that the teachers impose on the children, but something that is actually being asked for by a lot of the parents. For example, teachers are not really supposed to give the children homework, but it is apparently often the parents who insist they do! Schools are also not a place for the whole family to socialise, but only the children. Parents drop their children off in the morning and rush of to work. At the end of the day, we pick up the children at the school gate, but there is not a lot of chatting going on… (My personal theory is that there is a belief in France that the education of children is responsibility of the state, not of the parents, so schools are not a place for parents to get involved). I might be wrong, but I do have the feeling that there are a lot more full-time working mothers in Paris than in other big European cities I know. This might also be the reason why there is less involvement from the family in school life.

Restaurants: Though it has improved a lot, Parisian restaurants do not cater toward children. Children are welcome though, as long as they tow the line and sit down and eat. Maybe I am mistaken, but not that many of my French friends take their kids out to eat. People cook a lot and have people over for dinner, even in the tiniest apartments.

Apéro: One of the favourite things to do over here is to have people over for apero (short for aperitif) which are pre-dinner drinks. My children have even been invited over by their friends over for an apero instead of a playdate! Usually there will be champagne or wine, beer, sparkling water and Champony (a sparkling apple juice in a champagne bottle) for the kids. Foodwise often you serve paté, foie gras and some good saucisson. It’s the perfect event to have with kids and parents, it starts relatively early and you are not required to serve real food for everyone.

Food Shopping: Parisians still go to the market on a Saturday or Sunday and buy their meat at the butchers, their bread at the bakers, their cheese at the cheese shop and their vegetables at the green grocers – it is one of the things I love about this city!

These are are just some personal observations. Other people might have had completely different experiences, which would be lovely to hear by the way!

- Emilie

Above, a photo of Place des Vosges, which is a typical Parisian park, which is beautifully landscaped, but definitely not full of rambling nature…

Gratin

Gratins have been around since the invention of the stove I reckon. If you think about it, a lasagne, cauliflower and cheese and a haché parmentier are roughly the same thing: some carbohydrates or vegetables mixed in with a béchamel and potentially some cheese, stuck into an oven until it all turns into a beautiful melting pot of a dish, covered with a bubbling crust.

A good gratin is a staple dish in our house, as it gives new life to leftover pasta, potatoes or vegetables. I mostly use either single cream for my bakes or a tomato sauce to bind the main body of the dish together and then top it with grated cheese. I then stick it in the oven, which has been preheated to 180° and bake it for 30-40 minutes until it is golden brown on top and bubbling.

I don’t think I have ever eaten a bad gratin and, eaten with a crispy green salad, it is a really lovely meal.

- Emilie

Above is a gratin I made the other day with broccoli, potato and some lardons!

Famille Summerbelle new mugs and trays


I am a huge, long-standing fan of Famille Summerbelle as I really do admire the craft and hard work that goes into making each one of their beautiful pieces. (Remember this video?)

Famille Summerbelle  has just brought out a new range of mugs and trays and I am very partial toward the Paris designs. I love giving people nice souvenirs of my beautiful city and nice souvenirs like these are really not easy to come by.

- Emilie

Christmas crackers from Toast

Our Christmas is a bit of a cultural melting pot. One of my brothers lives in Germany, the other in Ireland, my parents are based in Italy and we arrive from France. Of course we all like to bring along some traditions from all of our countries, so we have these hilarious meals where we start off with foie gras which we drink with German Sekt (sparkling wine) and finish up with mince pies and panatone topped off with a good port. The stilton lands on the cheese plate beside the parmesan and there are furious debates about whether Scottish oatcakes taste like sawdust and should never be eaten with gorgonzola or if this is the best fusion food ever.

One of the traditions I do miss from my time in London are Christmas crackers, which are really hard to get in France, not to mention Germany or Italy. They are so much fun to pop! Thanks to the wonderful world wide web, I have started ordering them online form the UK. This year I have decided on the Toast Christmas Crackers which come filled with a little hat, an old recipe and a little gift. Don’t they look lovely?

- Emilie

Emily Ulmer

I take a lot of photos nowadays, as I always have my phone on me. I actually sometimes get told off by my kids for taking too many and told to put the phone down! Ha!

It is so easy nowadays to snap away, but telephone photos are just not the same as photos taken with a real camera. I was really excited when the lovely LA-based children’s photographer Emily Ulmer popped round the other day to take photos of the kids. She caught them so perfectly on camera and got some lovely shots of them, so much nicer than anything I could ever get with my little telephone. It just isn’t the same, is it?!

Emily is in London for the next 10 days and still has a few spots available. I highly recommend her!

- Emilie

A weekend trip to Barcelona

We just came back from a (long) weekend break in Barcelona, and I really wanted to jot down a few notes about our trip  - it was so great!

We took the night train from the centre of Paris down to the Spanish border and did one switch onto a train direct into the centre of Barcelona. It was cool – imagine falling asleep in Paris and waking up to the view of the Med. The train was certainly not the Orient Express – but it was a real adventure. l loved lying in my little berth listening to the train whistle through the night!

We stayed at possibly the best place in Barcelona to stay with kids – a boutique youth hostel. Casa Gracia is right in the centre of Barcelona, we were able to walk everywhere. It is beautifully decorated, the rooms have up to 6 beds which is perfect for a family and there is a kitchen if you feel like you want to quickly cook some pasta. If you don’t feel like cooking, you can join in on the evening buffet meal. A huge breakfast is included in the price of the room. It was so relaxed and easy!

We took the kids to the Parc Guell which was an instant hit. I had brought along some water colours so we spent the afternoon painting the view, the mosaics or whatever we felt like painting. The next day we spent the day wondering La Rambla and getting lost in the Bari Gothic with its tiny medieval streets. On the 3rd day we walked as fast as we could to the beach and soaked up the sun, the sand and the water. Wearing a bathing suit on a beach in Europe at the beginning of November is pretty special! We had a late lunch at a cute restaurant overlooking the beach, and then we picked up our bags, jumped on a train, had dinner in the very cute and sleepy town of Cerbère on the French/ Spanish boarder, jumped on another train and woke up in Paris again!

- Emilie

PS. I just found out there is a night train that goes directly from Paris to Venice, so there might be another trip soon on the cards…

PPS The photos above are: the view over Barcelona from the Parc Guell/ a house designed by Gaudi/ Violette concentrating very hard on a water colour in the Parc Guell/ jumping in the waves in Barcelonetta.

What do babies and rockets have in common?

Since Coco started to speak, ‘why’ has been one of the main words in her vocabulary. I thought it was a phase, but it has been going on for 7 years and counting! A lot of questions I can still answer, but some are now starting to get a bit too complex and we have started to resort to looking up facts together on the internet.

During one of these searches, we stumbled upon a video called “What do babies and rockets have in common?” which we loved (I personally had never even thought about the similarities between rockets and babies, apart from the fact that they are both pretty noisy).

It is based on a book by Marcus Chown called “What a Wonderful World“, which is actually for adults and full of interesting facts (so that we can pre-empt all the WHY questions).

- Emilie

La Botte Gardiane

This post made me think of Esther, as we discovered the beautiful shoemaker “La Botte Gardiane” together. These shoes have been around for half a century, but only recently a shop opened up close to me, and we gravitate towards it whenever Esther is in town. The shoes are handmade in the Camargue, a region of France where wild horses still roam and the local cowboys are known as Gardians.

The children’s boots are as well made and as beautiful as the grown up collection and I love the “solidness” of them. They look like they can deal with some rough weather and keep little feet warm and dry. And for all you lucky readers living in the Southern Hemisphere the leather sandals are lovely too!

- Emilie

Mango – for Kids

I am a high street fashion chick at heart and not a lot of things make me as happy as a high street bargain (have you seen the HM Isabel Marant collection?). This is why I am always happy when a high street label starts doing kids clothes. Not many have done it as well as Zara, but Zara’s biggest rival Mango might be a close contender. Sure, not every design is perfect, but I love the cute little skirts, little dresses and jackets.

Perfect for the winter, especially as my girls seem to be going through a serious growth spurt and I think they might be my height way too soon!

- Emilie

Exciting new spaces in Paris

For once I am giving the urban planners of Paris a cautious thumbs up: this summer not one, but two new public, urban spaces opened! And, to boot, they are great for the whole family.

On the right bank, after being a massive building site for a long while, the new Place de La Republique is finally ready. It is hated by all taxi drivers, who get stuck at the red lights, but it is loved in the neighbourhood. Some of the top attractions are the toy library, where you can borrow for free anything from chess to stilts to baby toys. There is also a great little water park for children right beside a lovely café/restaurant. The new trees are still small and their could be more play areas, but in general this space has some great potential.

Over on the left bank a much bigger project is slowly coming together: a long stretch of the banks of the Seine (from the Musée d’Orsay to the Pont d’Alma) has been closed down to traffic and now is solely pedestrian. It is not quite finished yet, but there are already amazing play areas and great restaurants on barges and along the banks. It is such a treat to have access to the river, something that was really lacking in Paris.

It is so nice to see an old city like Paris still constantly evolving and adapting to its population!

- Emilie

Bread dough, fresh from Paris bakeries

I have been in France six years now and I feel that I’m now getting to grips with the country. I have figured out the school system, the tax system and the obsession with dossiers. So now, I am always thrilled when I discover something new! This weekend, it was the fact that you can walk into almost any French bakery (and there are many) and ask for baguette dough, already bashed around and risen to perfection. It costs the same as a loaf of bread and the possibilities are endless.

I made a couple of trays full of fresh pizza and some foccacia with the leftovers as we had friends over for dinner. I think it would be lovely to pick up the dough one night and then bake some little rolls for breakfast. Someone told me that you can even buy brioche dough, which you can then roll out, fill and experiment with. Voila, you learn something new every day!

I am wondering, can you  do the same in other countries?

- Emilie

Easy and delicious Pad Thai recipe

My daughter Violette is going through one of these major no-food phases. She isn’t eating anything, and mealtimes are taking a life and a day.

I know I should ignore it, but it is difficult, especially when I have gone to great lengths to cook something special. (I think she took the biscuit when she announced she did not like bread anymore: because baguette was too crusty and normal bread too soft!)

She did, however, eat her body weight in a bowl of the best Pad Thai I have ever made, so I quickly wanted to post about it, just in case anyone else has a non-eater in their midst. I left out the radish, the dried shrimp (as I did not have any), and the chilli (I added some chilli sauce for myself and Coco later). I also used spring onions instead of Chinese chives. Even this simplified version was delicious and easy to whip together.

I always forget how much children (and adults) enjoy eating with chopsticks and slurping noodles – the novelty factor never wears off!

- Emilie

Drawnimal

My children are getting a bit older and with a bit of a heavy heart, I am slowly tiding away a lot of toys that just don’t get used anymore. I am even cleaning up virtually, as I also have been deleting children game apps off my iphone.

But there is actually one game that I have not deleted, just because it is so lovely: Drawnimal.

It is such a simple idea and it is designed in such a lovely fashion, I have been known to play it all by myself! I love the way it makes the phone the starting block for a picture and actually makes kids move away from the screen and go back to pen and paper. So clever!

- Emilie

Erik Bagger Bag Hook

I know bag hooks have been around for a while and that they are a wee bit gimmicky, BUT in a dirty, dusty, big city like Paris, they are actually great (If you remember to bring them). Normally they are just functional at best, but trust a Danish designer to come up with a great design for one of these little hooks. It is simple, it is elegant and it work really well! You can even wear it as a bracelet!

- Emilie

Clotaire Shoes

I know I have written about these before, but I am in the middle of back to school shoe shopping, and I have fallen in love again with the Clotaire shoe collection. They are so well made and easy to wear and relatively inexpensive compared to other companies. We had a long browse on the internet this evening and Vivi has chosen the grey Derbies and Coco the blue Boots.

I am very much keeping my fingers crossed that their feet will stop growing so fast and that they will actually get to enjoy them, but that is slightly out of my control!

- Emilie

Our Summer holiday in Middle France


Summer Holidays rock everywhere I reckon, but we just had one of our best holidays ever, so I wanted to jot down a few of my memories!

I need to preface this with the mention that we had one of the worst springs in history (my history at least). So everyone was longing for sun, warmth and the big outdoors! Also we ended up spending much of spring in Paris and I for one was going a bit stir crazy!

So our first stop was the Haute-Vienne part of the Limousin, which is the area my family comes from. It is not especially well known, but I have been going there my whole life and it has developed incredibly over the years. We also have a very simple little farmhouse down there (photo above), which is very rustic but very charming; it feels like home.

We went to the bustling market on a Wednesday in the little town of Piegut, where we picked up some amazing tomatoes, confit de canard, plums and cheeses.  There is a lovely café there and a cute little ice cream shop.

We went climbing in trees around the lac de la Haute Charente, which is a huge amount of fun, especially when you zip line across a lake!

We went to some of the evening markets all around the region where the locals butchers sell their meat which is great in front of you. There is also normally a cheesy cover band playing and locals and tourist alike get to join in the fun.


(Above Coco dancing to an Bob Marley cover band at a fête du village, the lovely plums from Piegut market and Coco and Vi hanging out by our local swimming lake)

We then rented a VW camper van and drove around the amazing Dordogne. We discovered the lovely village of Limeuil and visited the Aquarium and old style village of Bournat, which the girls loved. We discovered a troglodyte village and the Lascaud caves. We swam in the Dordogne river and ate amazing food.

(Above the bridge over the Dordogne in the lovely village of Limeuil and a baker baking bread the old fashioned way in Le Brounat.)

The next stop was the lovely little village of Carcans-Plage (also known as Carcans-Ocean). It actually is not really a village but more a bunch of beach shacks, with world class surf. It is tiny, though a lot of people turn up for the day and is surrounded by pine forests. We cycled for hours along the bike paths in the pine forests without seeing cars and jumped around the waves. I even took some surf classes! I especially loved the lovely wooden beach shack rentals, which the local town built; perfect for families.

(The beach, the local pine forest and Vi ready to hit the surf.)

Finally we returned back to the Limousin for more BBQs, family, friends, sun and fun! I still wish it had never finished and I was still hanging out in my hammock!

- Emilie


(Photo taken by Coco of Vi and me enjoying the sunset in the Limousin!)

Clafoutis

My family comes from the Limousin region in France, which is known for 2 reasons: for being the name sake for big, long, black cars with darkened out windows and also for being the originator of the clafoutis, one of the most delicious desserts ever made in France!

Now, I have to admit that for the last few years I had pushed clafoutis to the back of my mind, possibly because of having reached a clafoutis overload after many years of abuse. I am happy to say that clafoutis is back in my life and so far I have rolled out a cherry version, a plum and a pear version and it only has been 2 weeks!

Here is the recipe which is based on my grandmother’s original recipe:

3 eggs
300 ml milk
75 g of sugar
75 g of flour
40g of melted butter
vanilla extract or a pack of vanilla sugar
around 600 g of whatever fruit you fancy (traditionally cherries are used and the stones are always left in. My guess is that it means that there is less fruit juice mixing in with the batter, as the cherries are still intact, but this is only a guess…)

I usually whisk together the eggs and the milk with the butter and then add in the sugar and the flour. I then, if I possibly can, let the batter rest for 30 minutes or so, as I read somewhere this lets the flour absorb the fluid. Meanwhile I heat up the oven to about 180 degrees and butter a dish. I then place the fruit in the dish pour the batter over and bake for about 30 minutes or until it is nice and golden. Enjoy!

- Emilie

PS in the Clafoutis for the photo above I used Mirabelle plums, which are some of my favourites

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