27 – Stepping firmly into my “Late 20s”

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I hit 27 this weekend, affirming my status of falling into the “late 20s” age bracket, taking one step closer to the big 30. 

The weekend started off in style with an early finish at work, thanks to the France v Uruguay quarter-final match. With a seemingly easy win, the streets were buzzing with noise as I headed home to freshen up before catching the train with my boyfriend to the Stade de France.

He’d bought tickets months ago for an Ed Sheeran concert as a birthday treat. We’d got VIP tickets as these were the only ones left, but it turned out to be a good choice with access to the lounge, great seats and unlimited drinks during the concert. Now, I’ve been to concerts and festivals before, but I wasn’t at all prepared for seeing such a big star in a sold-out show. As the music blasted out on the opening “Castle on the Hill”, I felt tears in my eyes and slightly emotional at just how good his music was. I even surprised myself at how I knew the lyrics of every son inside out… I must listen to him more than I think!

The following day, D-Day, arrives. I’m nervously awaiting the England v Sweden match, remembering as a kid in primary school watching my team be knocked out of this stage of the World Cup. 2 goals up and then the final whistle blows, a sigh of relief – England will, for the first time in my lifetime, be heading to the semi-finals. My birthday celebrations can begin.

After being spoilt with gifts, cards, flowers and champagne from mon amour, he’s taking me out to Loca, an Argentinian restaurant in the 18th, just behind la Butte Montmartre.

We started with Boudin Noir, Oeuf de Cailles et Haricots Verts for me (Black pudding, Quail egg and Green beans) with Stracciatella, Aubergines et Endives for him (no translation needed) which was absolutely delicious. Our main consisted of a deliciously tender Entrecôte steak with barbecued potatoes and leeks for me, with an oh-so-fresh octopus, tomates confites and grilled cucumber for him. We washed everything down with a glass of Malbec each, enjoying the breeze and sounds of football fans next to open doors, before strolling back home via Sacré Coeur.

As we get older, we come to expect less from birthdays, to dread getting a year older, forever closing in on the next “milestone” birthday. But for me, as the years tick by, I always feel surrounded by love and excited for the year to come.

 

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Being French: A gastronomical guide

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January is the month that everyone is waiting for the end of and yet, it passes by so slowly. Paris has been particularly dull these past few weeks due to the seemingly relentless rain and the question on everybody’s lips is “Is it Spring yet?!” Within the last month, we had one glorious day on sunshine, which my boyfriend and I spent strolling next to the flooded banks of the Seine. However, for the rest of the month, we’ve had to occupy ourselves with other pastimes.

Apéro is, in my mind at least, a form of art for the French. When I first arrived in France, I delighted in the way that people gathered together for a few glasses of wine with small plates of charcuterie and cheese – it was something I’d never experienced in the UK and it’s still one of the small things that I love about living here.

Whether it’s at home or in a bar, everyone has their ideal ingredients for their perfect apéro composition. This month, I went to Chez Nous, a cute wine bar in Saint-Germain, to celebrate a colleague’s birthday. While we all swiftly agreed on our choice of wine (red), opinions often differ when ordering small plates of food – should we go for 2 meat and 2 cheese plates, 3 cheese and 1 meat, or something different altogether? And once you’ve chosen your combo, which type of meat or cheese to select? One thing is for certain, I have never had the same apéro combination more than once and at the same time, I have never had a bad apéro.

Continuing in the theme of food, one rainy Sunday my boyfriend and I took ourselves to the Musée du Chocolat which, as you might have guessed, is a museum on the theme of Chocolate. The first part of the exhibition tells the history of chocolate, from the Aztecs to its introduction in Europe in the form of a liquid drink. Next, the story continues with the commercialisation of chocolate, moving into solid form before heading downstairs to a demonstration from one of their chocolatiers and finally gazing at structures such as the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe made entirely from chocolate.

Throughout the visit, we were able to taste chocolate – from tasting a recipe as close to that used by the Aztecs, to modern-day chocolate with different tastes depending on its country of origin. We finished our tour with a real-chocolate hot-chocolate, where a cube of your chocolate of choice is dunked into a cup of frothy milk. I am a self-confessed chocolate addict, forever trying to satisfy my sweet tooth, but even I was all chocolated out by the end of this museum.

The New Year is usually the time of calorie-counting following the indulgent festive season, but this month is anything but in France (and that’s before we even mention the galettes de roi for Epiphany!) Whilst everything must of course be taken in moderation, the French appreciation of good food and drink is something that never fails, even in the dull, dark months of January.

Perfecting my inner domestic goddess

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After having my wisdom teeth taken out a couple of weeks ago, and thus being subjected to a diet or nothing but smoothies and cold mashed potatoes, it is only apt that my next Instagram posts were centred around home cooking. Following a week of pain and feeling physically weak, I decided to whip up my (now famous) brunch spread and a couple of batches of cookies, to satisfy my cravings.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love nothing more than going out for brunch in Paris, sitting on a terrace with my friends – the choice is so vast and no two brunch spots have the same offering. However, here lies in the issue. Having experienced so many delicious brunch offerings, I have concocted in my head the “ideal” brunch, borrowing brunch parts from the various places I have visited over the years. Yet, it doesn’t seem to exist in reality! I’ve been very close to finding this ideal, but then one ingredient or one detail doesn’t match up, such as fried eggs instead of my preferred poached eggs, and my ideal brunch again seems like a lost cause.

For this reason, I decided to cook up my very first homemade brunch spread a couple of weeks ago, pre-wisdom tooth surgery. After a few tweaks I seem to have achieved almost perfection (at least in my better half’s eyes).

I bought a couple of silicone egg poachers on Amazon and I strongly recommend this for anyone (like myself) who dreams of poached eggs, without the struggle of the traditional method. I cook for between 3 and a half to 4 minutes for the perfect runny yolk. I buy my bacon and baked beans from Marks & Spencers, as the versions sold in your everyday supermarket is probably the one thing the French can’t get right; seriously, try them at your own peril. I finish off my brunch with some oven chips and a ripe avocado spread over a toasted baguette slice. While my brunch selection may seem a bizarre combination to the naked eye, it is delicious! My homemade brunch brings together the best ingredients from a variety of breakfasts – the traditional English, continental French and a touch of the Instagram staple breakfasts.

Although I much prefer savoury food, I also have a sweet tooth, especially for cookies, as my boyfriend knows all too well. So, this Sunday we decided to have a go at our own, inventing our own recipe, taking inspiration from various other cookie recipes we’d found online. We didn’t have a pair of scales so went on sight and estimating alone, but despite this it was a pretty solid attempt! Here is what we did:

  • Begin by mixing together 100g of golden castor sugar with 100g of brown sugar and 100g of salted butter
  • Melt 100g of milk chocolate, pouring half of this into the mix, along with 1 egg, 200g plain flour and a tablespoon of vanilla extract. If the mix looks a bit dry, add a bit of water into the mix to have a gooey consistency
  • Break up a mix of dark chocolate and milk chocolate (150g total) into small chunks and add to the mix, along with a pinch of salt
  • Scoop balls of the cookie dough onto a baking tray and cook at 200C in a fan oven for between 8 minutes for a soft batch, or 12 minutes for a crunchy finish
  • Once the cookies are cool enough to lift, drizzle the remainder of the melted chocolate on top – my chocolate had hardened up a bit at this point, so it wasn’t exactly perfect but I’ll know for the next time

And finally, enjoy! I accidentally made one soft and one crunchy batch, but it was actually a good thing. My boyfriend preferred the harder cookies (he ate 3 on the trot) while I love a soft-centred cookie. So it was win, win!

What are your homemade cooking or baking comforts? I’m always looking for new recipes to try out!

The Parisian Puzzle: Where to brunch?

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The art of brunching is a Parisian weekend staple. In provence, it is sometimes a struggle to find a quaint café to nurse your hangover or catch up with friends over a cup of coffee and some form of eggs due to many places being closed on a Sunday. In Paris, however, the choices are unlimited – whether you’re plutôt œuf poché or œuf au plat, everyone has their go-to brunch spot.

My personal favourite is Hardware Société around the corner from Sacré-Cœur. Being lazy is what weekends are all about, so this Australian-French café, being a mere 10 minutes walk from my place in Montmartre, is fast becoming my weekend tradition. Each weekend their Instagram account tempts you with their savoury and sweet specials, along with a variety of amazing dishes served by the friendliest staff you will come across in Paris – a real gem in my eyes.

Despite this being my golden spot, it is necessary to leave your comfort zone from time to time. I enlisted the help of my friends Lauren and Beya to share their favourite brunch spots whatever the occasion:

Where to brunch in Paris...

  • With a group of friends:  Pas de Loup in the 11th is one of the only places I know that accepts reservations – I have loved every single dish I have ever tried here so go wild, the world is your oyster. (Side note: their truffle popcorn is truly the bomb)
  • With your significant other: Lauren’s go-to is Buvette Gastrothèque in the 9th. Their signature dish is their croque monsieur, but Lauren swears by their scrambled eggs dish served with ham
  • When you’re hungover: To soak up your hangover, Beya recommends Animal Kitchen in the 10th, famous for their burgers and Beya’s personal favourite – nachos
  • When you’re on a budget: For a classic but inexpensive brunch, head to one of the various addresses of Pain Quotidien across the city with a mix of tartines and pastries
  • When you have a special occasion: On the pricey side, but as their buffet brunch comes with a glass of champagne you can dine in style at Peninsula in the 16th; perhaps not week-in week-out, unless you win the lottery overnight

The best brunch spots in Paris will inevitably continue to grow and change; always have your ear to the ground to be in-the-know about the new must-try resto .. Or if you’re out-of-the-loop like myself, have the best girl friends (who would, if finding the new “it” spot was an olympic sport, take gold, no questions asked).

Secrets of a King (or a Queen)

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Fancy being royalty for the day? Me too. Despite the French abolishing the monarchy centuries ago, for one day in January, us fellow mere peasants have the opportunity to do just that with the annual tradition of Galettes de Roi.

January as I know is traditionally a time of detox – following being overindulgent for the last month or so, many will attempt to pursue Dry January, eat more healthily and overcome our fears of the treadmill. Well, if you’re living in France, maybe it’s best to hold that thought, as with the arrival of the Epiphany on January 6th, you won’t be able to resist these sweet treats.

This feast day traditionally celebrates the arrival of the Kings to visit the baby Jesus, and so it is only apt, in the spirit of French equality, to give everybody the chance of becoming a King too. Inside each galette a small object or fève is hidden inside. Whoever finds the fève buried inside their slice (or, let’s face it, slices) of galette, is coronated with a paper crown to become the King or Queen. While not everyone can be born a princess, chances are that every little girl’s dream will come true at least once in their lifetime with this lottery. The odds are with us.

This year, I was lucky enough to taste three delicious galettes at my friend Beya’s house, including for the first time a traditional galette from the South. My luck didn’t extend to finding the fève and be crowned queen for the afternoon, but here’s hoping for next year.

Here is Beya’s insider tips and recipe for her traditional galette:

1. Pâte feuilletée / Puff pastry

“Who has time to make pastry these days?” Beya insisted to me and I totally agree.

Instead, buy your puff pastry or pâte feuilletée from your local bakery – it’s better quality than buying from your supermarket and doesn’t cost the earth

2. Crème d’Amande Filling 

  • Mix together 100g of sugar, 100g of almond powder and 100g of butter
  • Separate two eggs and add the egg yolks to the mix
  • Finish the concoction with a spoonful of rum, followed by a spoonful of orange-blossom water and finally, Beya’s secret ingredient, fresh vanilla

3. Making the Magic Happen 

  • Taking the smallest sheet of pastry, evenly spread the crème d’amande mixture onto it – don’t forget to put the fève in there!
  • Lay the second sheet of pastry on top and pierce a hole in the centre of the galette to allow the inside to cook through
  • Use a circular baking dish to cut of any excess pastry and seal the sides of the galette, before scoring the rim with a knife
  • Finally, glaze with a beaten egg and decorate the exterior to your heart’s content
  • Cover with baking paper and bake for 10 minutes at 200°c, followed by 20 minutes at 170°c

Allow to cool before serving, place a paper crown on top, ask your friends to bring over some bubbles and you’re ready for your royal banquet.