A walk in the park

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I can’t believe how quickly this week is passing -already it’s ‘hump day’, and soon it will be the end of the week…mon dieu!

Normally I wouldn’t be quite so freaked out about the week going by quickly, but the end of this week marks the passing of the Australian expected due date for bebe.  I say Australian, because for some reason in France they give you an extra week on your due date (41 weeks instead of 40). I think of that as a nod to the typical French/Aus party etiquette -the Aussies arrive on time (or early!) and the French turn up much much later 🙂

Thus, I suppose I shouldn’t be so nervous about the end of the week approaching, because technically I still have another week to waddle about before concerning myself with all that labour business.   It all depends on bebe’s timings of course -perhaps the actual birth date will prove if bebe is more Australian or more French!

So in the meantime, I am trying to profit as much as I can of the good weather, and get myself out of the house as much as possible.

picture perfect sunny days!

picture perfect sunny days!

We’ve had AMAZING weather the last week -clear blue skies and mild temperatures, the kind of weather that puts a spring in your step.  Having said that, one look at the weather forecast tells me that next week it’s going to be raining every day. BOO.

On that note, in a bid to remind myself of this exceptional weather week, I thought I would share a few pics of our local park, the Buttes Chaumont!

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This is one of the prettiest parks in Paris (I am so biased), which is funny, because it actually started out as one of the ugliest sights on the city skyline.  In the mid 1800s it was a quarry -one of the quarries where they sourced all that stone used on those ‘typically Parisian’ buildings you see in Paris today.  After they were done pillaging, it was turned into a park with all the works -gardens, green plains, artificial lakes, roman temples….even a grotto! Because…why not?

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yep, it’s a faux Roman temple and a rainbow!

Now it’s 61 acres of prettiness.  Having said that, it’s also 61 acress of steepness -the whole thing is set against a hillside (that’s why it’s called ‘Buttes’ -meaning hill in French).  There are quite a few paths that you wouldn’t want to send anyone attached to wheels or bad knees down!

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Trust me -this is steep. So much so that when you venture out for a picnic you better anchor everything down. or it will all topple away!

Today I just stuck to the top side of the park and skipped the steep walk/slide down, but there was still enough to entertain me:

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The Rosa Bonheur.  It doesn’t look like much, but this is THE choice for summer drinking in this part of Paris.  Set in the park with a decent sized outdoor space, it is a great destination for an evening aperitif or all night bender.  It would be the perfect place for some Sunday afternoon drinking sessions, but French hubby assures me that this is a ridiculous Aussie thing and would NEVER happen in France (seriously though, what’s wrong with Sunday arvo sessions? Drinks are cheaper, weather is better, there is usually live music on Sundays at pubs etc…..not to mention less crowds than a Saturday night!!).

Ironically, as I write this, I realise that French hubby and myself have never actually gone to the Rosa Bonheur for a drinking evening! Probably something to do with the crowds -there is often a line an hour long to get in after 8pm 😦 We’ve only gone there for coffee!

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whassthat white thing in the distance? Just a ridiculously pretty church over in Montmartre-the Sacre Coeur!!

The view of Montmartre.  This is something I will never get sick of in Paris -you might just be enjoying a regular boring day when BAM! A famous monument jumps out at you from behind a building, reminding you that you are actually in Paris, and Paris is awesome.

Couple of fan dancers at work

Couple of fan dancers at work

French exercise sessions.  Apparently our local mairie (town hall) offers some cheap or maybe even free exercise classes here in the park.  I happened across a few during my waddling. Tai Chi seemed to be the choice of the day for the classes, but I also saw private sessions of bootcamp, kickboxing, capoeira, dog training and a weird little class of fan dancing (which seemed to consist of a few guys hopping about and flapping Chinese fans!).  Everybody was chilled out and relaxed….might have to investigate these classes a bit further, they seem great!

If I do ever manage to get down to the other side of the park to get pictures, I could show you that there are so many other fun things on offer: there are Shetland ponies for kid’s to ride, the famous ‘Guignol’ puppet theatre (he is a very classic and famous marionette puppet here in Paris), a few restaurants, not to mention a wander through the grotto to spot a few bats (that is a sight that I’m happy to miss out on though!).  Perhaps I can post pics from that side of town next week, although I’d better ask bebe before making any plans!

For now, here are a few more pics around the park:

weirdly enough, someone painted this tree in the central white last year...i think it was modern art.

weirdly enough, someone painted this purple tree white last year..why??? i think it was modern art, that stuff needs no explanation.

yep it's a fence...but it reminds of a few Winters previously, where we had so much snow in this park some snowboards were using this (previously bent) fence as a ski jump! it didn't end well for all of them though -i saw a few ambulances in the park that day

yep it’s a fence…but it reminds of a few winters ago when we had so much snow in this park some snowboarders were using this (previously bent) fence as a ski jump! it didn’t end well for all of them -i saw a few ambulances in the park that day

What a pretty bridge! Except it has a less than pretty name: Pont du Suicide, or Suicide bridge.  Not sure exactly why it has this name, but there are some relatively new and tall fences along it's railings.....

What a pretty bridge! Except it has a less than pretty name: Pont du Suicide, or Suicide bridge. Not sure exactly why it has this name, but there are some exceptionally tall railings around it to stop you toppling off…

A view of the local town hall on the other side of the park -this is where you get married in Paris if you live in this arrondisement.  Quelle elegance!

A view of the local town hall on the other side of the park -much prettier building than some of the other arrondisements’ town halls!

I think this is a gatekeeper's house....I would love to know if people are still living in it or not! Would make a great airbnb listing at least :)

I think this is a gatekeeper’s house….I would love to know if people are still living in it or not! Would make a great airbnb listing at least 🙂

whoa....an empty chair.  I say this only because I saw what the park was like last Sunday -the grass was more crowded than a music festival, the paths were more crowded than the Peripherique....it was mayhem!  Remind me to only walk the park during the weekdays!

whoa….an empty chair. I say this only because I saw what the park was like last Sunday -the grass was more crowded than a music festival, the paths were more crowded than the Peripherique….it was mayhem! Remind me to only walk in the park during the weekdays!

Have a lovely week!!

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A lovely Paris Sunday!

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I have to admit that I’m getting pretty bored of sitting around all day.  Most people think, great! Time to relax? Sounds amazing!! But after doing it for weeks on end, patiently waiting for bebe to make an appearance, I could really use some ‘out and about’ time!

Luckily for me, this morning when I woke up I was greeted by a spectacular Parisian spring morning.  Fresh, clean air (not always a given in Paris, considering the occasional ‘pollution days’ we get here), a blue sky (pretty rare, as usually it’s plain old grey) and a lovely mild breeze and comfortable temperature.  Everything you could ask for! So I couldn’t bear to sit around the house for a minute longer.  Also, considering bebe is now ‘fully cooked’ I don’t have to worry so much about any early suprises!

So french hubby and myself ventured off into the heart of Paris.  It’s been months since I’ve gone out past our local quartier, let alone headed right into the centre around the Notre Dame and Louvre.

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Running towards the Pont Neuf. This is also the stretch of road where the ‘Paris plage’ (Paris beach) is located every summer!

Imagine my surprise, when we jumped off the metro to discover a marathon! Surprise marathon!  The organisers really chose a magnificent day for the runners, and considering they were following a trail along the Seine river, they were treated to some pretty awesome scenery.  I imagine all the marathon runners back home would happily run this track if they could!

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Eiffel tower in the background, not a bad sight to distract from all that running!

Eiffel tower in the background, not a bad sight to distract from all that running!

Conciergerie....and all those runners

Conciergerie (the home, ahem prison, of Marie Antoinette during the Revolution)….and all those runners

What's with all the flags dude?

What’s with all the flags dude? Henri IV seems to have put out some festive flags for us to enjoy during the marathon.

The rest of Paris was pretty much as I left it: all the boats were still propped up against the Seine:

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Sure the BOAT might only cost 300,000 or so, but did you know the PARKING SPOT for it along the Seine costs about 500,000? yup! trop cher.

One thing I did notice that was different however was this monstrosity:

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Louvre museum book shop? Right next to the Pyramid and in the way of all the lovely buildings? Really?

WTF? What a way to ruin people’s pictures of Le Pyramide at the Louvre.  I guess if they are doing renovations to the gift shop downstairs (I couldn’t be bothered going down the stairs to check) then they would have to put it somewhere…but really, right in the middle of one of the most famous photo landmarks that Paris can offer? sheesh.

Something that I was however very happy to see changed was the renovations at Palais Royale.  Finally finished! We can now happily view the modern art installation and hidden garden in all it’s glory!

This is a modern art installation by Daniel Bowden -looks like an obstacle course or a chessboard to me!

This is a modern art installation by Daniel Buren -looks like an obstacle course or a chessboard to me!

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Apparently the gardeners in Paris like to change up the designs in the gardens every few months or so (I’ve also heard that they design the gardens up to 5 years in advance, they are so dedicated to their craft), and it looks like the current theme is ‘tulips’ -there were seas of tulips of all colours, broken up a little by some daffodils here and there. Magnifique!

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Poor guy, can't enjoy his garden with the constant threat of poop

Poor guy, can’t enjoy his garden with the constant threat of poop

I also came across this cosy little garden nearby the Louvre:

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As you can see, also keeping with the tulips theme.

Now with all that walking (uh, I should say waddling in my case) I was just about ready for lunch.  Except that it’s Sunday, so my Aussie trained brain was actually calling more for brunch.  Ahh I remember so many good brunch memories from home, relaxing in the sun on a Sunday with the paper, coffee and a hearty breakfast/lunch plate.

So off we went in search of brunch.

Something that I’ve found quite funny here in Paris is the definition of brunch.  For me, it’s more about having a ‘lunch style’ meal for breakfast -something hearty and filling, perhaps with a few eggs or smashed avocado too.  But it’s most definitely one meal, one plate.

Here in Paris however, they seem to have a different idea.  It’s more breakfast + lunch, and for some reason + dessert.

So we started with a selection of bread and croissants, with jam, butter and my old friend:

Nutella! Or as it seems to be (very accurately) called: J'adore.  That's right, J'adore! I adore Nutella!

Nutella! Or as it seems to be (very accurately) called: J’adore. That’s right, J’adore! I adore Nutella!

Then we moved onto a plate full of omelette, potatoes, samosas and a deep friend prawn (why??? I dunno) and a salad.

More food?

More food?

Lastly, out came a crepe with yoghurt and fruit.  With all of this was both juice and coffee.

MORE FOOD??

MORE FOOD??

I imagine that you are asking me ‘so why did you order all of that huh piggy??’ -but see here’s the thing: that’s what ‘brunch’ is here in Paris.  Most restaurants have this formule rather than offer breakfast/brunch items.  If you don’t want it, you generally choose from the lunch menu instead.

So a word to the wise: when you ‘do brunch’ in Paris, bear in mind you literally are going to be served the equivalent of two full meals!  Back at home if I was getting up early I would sneak in a piece of toast or cereal before brunch -because we wouldn’t often make it to brunch before 1pm, which was waaaay too late for my tummy.  Here though, if I was to try and attempt a little snack like that before the brunch, I would explode!

Now that I had discovered brunch Parisien and had a chance to rest my feet, I was well and truly worn out.  The idea of getting on the metro back home was mortifying.

Luckily Paris has a great service: the Autolib!

Autolib -rent a car!

Autolib -rent a car!

Just like the velib (rent a bike) this is the car version: rent a car!

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You simply sign up online and can use one of a million of these cute little smart cars all over Paris! There are stations every 3 to 4 blocks, and you can reserve a car in advance (even like 10 minutes in advance!) from a specific station near you if you are worried about them not having a car available.  On that note, you can also reserve a return parking space so you don’t have to worry about going to multiple Autolib stations trying to find a spot.  How handy is that!

'free like the air'

‘free like the air’

I imagine the Autolib service will also be rather handy when bebe decides to make an appearance at 3am Sunday evening, or some other random time when taxis are not that available (and we won’t have to worry about the taxi refusing service because pregnant women are too scary for them -something that I’ve heard happen once of twice over here!). Also, we also won’t have to worry about parking fees and fines at the hospital, because there is an Autolib station just across the road from the hospital entrance (no doubt they planned it that way).

When you are done with the car, you just plug it back in to it's little station

When you are done with the car, you just plug it back in to it’s little station

Randomly, by renting the Autolib car and driving it home I realised that it was the FIRST TIME EVER I’ve been in a car in the centre of Paris.  How weird is that? I’ve done buses and metro and all those things, but never driven through the central city streets. It was also HEAVEN for my old bones and pregnancy cankles as they were dropped off right at our front doorstep, rather than having to tackle the ups and downs of the metro stairs (hey, we live on a hill with a rather deep metro, so the stairs can sometimes take their toll!).

One more garden pic for the road....

One more garden pic for the road….

That was the perfect end to a perfect spring day!  Although I am about to tackle roasting a chicken for the second time ever (and ask french hubby, the first time did not end well -for the chicken and for us!)

Bonne semaine!

PS is it really sad that I think my cat has more friends in our apartment block than I do?? As I sit here writing there has been at least 3 people stop and talk to her outside our window…..she has a line of people lining up to pat her right now!

she can be pretty darn cute after all...

she can be pretty darn cute after all…

Chocolate truffle seashells, oh my!

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Finally it is the end of winter.  Hurrah! Although no one seems to have informed the weather in Paris -whilst the bitter cold is over, the big fat raindrops are still falling….

I almost forgot that the other day was April 1st -April Fool’s Day.  When I remembered, I couldn’t resist sending ‘I’m in labour’ texts to my french hubby…..seriously couldn’t resist, this could be the only time I could ever make that joke after all! He was not impressed.

Weirdly enough, the french call April Fools the ‘poisson d’Avril’ –the April fish!  But why? I can’t figure it out.  Some people think it falls near to the zodiac sign of Pisces (but it’s not actually in Pisces star sign though, that finishes on March 20) or perhaps has something to do with the origin of the day.  Legend has it that April Fools day started in France, so perhaps old French people used to hide stinky fish in each other’s houses as a joke?

Or maybe because it’s sometimes around the Easter weekend, and you tend to eat fish on Good Friday? Meh, let’s just leave it as a ‘french mystery’.   But it is Easter this weekend, yay! So much chocolate and Hot Cross Buns to look forward to!

The French don’t really do Hot Cross Buns like we do at home (most likely you have all been seeing them in the shops since January back in Australia) so I though I would make some.  But once I looked at the recipes, they looked quite hard! Thus I gave up (pregnant prerogative).  Instead I decided to make some super simple chocolate truffles.

That was, until I remembered I had these moulds in the cupboard from when I made Madelines:

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They are the perfect shape for chocolate seashells! So I thought I would make chocolate seashells with a truffle centre.

It might sound hard, but it’s so super simple! Just collect enough chocolate to feed a small army:

All my friends -dark, milk, white and hazelnut chocolate!

All my friends -dark, milk, white and hazelnut chocolate!

and a bit of cream and vanilla.  Might also be handy to have a silicone mould (they are so perfect to use with melted chocolate, nothing sticks to them!) and a pastry brush.

1. Grab a bar or two of chocolate and melt gently in a microwave safe bowl.  I find it best to heat in 20 second increments, that way you won’t burn the chocolate.  Also, make sure there is no moisture or water anywhere near the chocolate, or it will go crazy and petrify! (sounds like a Harry Potter curse) 🙂

yummm

yummm

2.  Get your pastry brush and make a light layer of this melted chocolate over the silicone mould.  Make sure you don’t have any gaps or bubbles, or the truffle mix will come out later on.

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No need to be 100% neat, those splashes of chocolate around the outside will snap off later on

Pop it in the fridge to harden whilst you make the truffle mix:

3. To make a chocolate truffle centre, I just melted a block of chocolate with a splash of cream.  I would say it was approx 1/4 cup of cream to one block of chocolate, but that will all depend on what size chocolate you use! Just enough to make a thick souplike consistency when the chocolate is melted. Add some vanilla at this point if you wish.  Melt as you did with the original chocolate.

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Next you need to leave this chocolate and cream mix until it has cooled.  Round about room temperature is good, not too cold or it will harden, but not warm.

4.  Now that it’s room temperature, the mix can be whipped (just like you would with cream) to get a fluffy mousse like centre for the chocolates.  Because of the cream content it should whip quite nicely and be relatively fluffy:

See how it's become lighter? That's from all the whipping!

See how it’s become lighter? That’s from all the whipping!

Not as light as I would have liked, but my patience with the whipping ended when I had to retire my electric beater for a manual one -ugh!

Not as fluffy as I would have liked, but my patience with the whipping ended when I had to retire my electric beater for a manual one -ugh!

5.  Grab your chocolate moulds and add a small teaspoon full of truffle centre:

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At this point I put them back in the fridge to harden up.  Otherwise it would have been impossible to get a good coating of chocolate on the outside to seal them.

6.  Once the inside has hardened a bit (for me it was a bit like a jelly texture), grab some more melted chocolate from the beginning.  Probably you are going to have to make more, as the original batch would have solidified by now (oops I am terrible at instructions, I should have mentioned that earlier!)

7.  Cover the top of the chocolates with a relatively thick layer of melted chocolate.  Again, make sure there are no gaps or bubbles in the mix.  I didn’t even bother to keep to the sides, knowing that I could clean them up later:

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8. Pop them back in the fridge to harden.  Once hard, you can try and pop the chocolates out.  This is where the silicone moulds are fantastic! See how easy they just pop out:

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I barely had to touch them and they were falling out! Break off all the excess chocolate around the sides.  You could use your hands, or if they are too warm and melting the chocolate, try to do it with a knife.

9.  Enjoy! Yummmm

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Have a lovely Easter!

DIY baby toys!

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Following the (not exactly) successful attempt at making a baby mobile, I think I got a little obsessed with making things for the baby.  Perhaps it’s the ‘nesting phase’, but I seemed to have amassed a collection of handmade toys for the baby, who isn’t even born yet!
Today I thought I would show off my handiwork 🙂

Yeah I got a little excited, and ended up with a menagerie of toys

Yeah I got a little excited, and ended up with a menagerie of toys

These were the first toys I came up with:

Crinkly butterflies! Be kind, these were the first toy making attempts....which we all know are usually the most ridiculous looking!

Crinkly butterflies! Be kind, these were the first toy making attempts….which we all know are usually the most ridiculous looking!

Turns out babies love crinkly toys.  They make a good sound when you scrunch them up in your hands after all.  To make the crinkly sound, I saw on my Google travels that you could simply stick something crinkly in between the layers of fabric -anything crinkly from cereal bags to potato chip packets…..but you have to make sure they are well cleaned and dry, or you might attract ants.  That sounded really gross, so I ended up using baking paper.  It worked a treat! Clean and unused baking paper, obvs 🙂

I knitted the body, the other layers are plain cotton and some microfleece material

I knitted the body, the other layers are plain cotton and some microfleece material

I just sewed up the butterfly edges (I used a sewing machine, and no one told me how hard it was to sew a curved line on one of those things! Hence the weird wing shapes) and stuffed the inside with stuffing and a layer of crinkly paper.  I sewed up the edges and voila! A butterly.

The weird colours are mostly because of what fabric I had sitting around -but also babies love contrasting colours and block colours (they can see them better).

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Next I got creative with some facewashers I picked up from the local Hema store.

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I stuck crinkly paper in the middle and attached the ribbons.  This actually turned out to be really hard -because you generally sew the fabric inside out, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out where to put the ribbons, so the outsides would be on the outside, and the ends of the ribbons would be on the inside! Spatial intelligence is definitely not my thing.

Eventually I figured it out 🙂  I embroidered the face using felt (I’ve heard it’s not the best fabric to use for babies though, as some as cheap and the dye can run out of them…..but the baby won’t be able to suck on these small pieces as they are sewn on flat, so I figured they would be ok).

I got so excited by how this toy turned out, I used up all the other facewashers I had bought (some were intended for the baby to use as an actual facewasher….oops) and made some ‘facewasher monsters’:

Actually they are just owls and penguins....but they look a bit crazy, so I'm goina call them monsters

Actually they are just owls and penguins….but they look a bit crazy, so I’m goina call them monsters

For some reason this one looks totally freaked out...too much coffee perhaps?

For some reason this one looks totally freaked out…too much coffee perhaps?

Finally, in a haze of crafty confidence, I tried to make a knitted ball.  I figured knitting a basic square and sewing it into a ball shape wouldn’t be so hard, would it?

First of all, it was hard enough to figure out how to knit a square! Thanks to the wonder of Youtube I figured out a basic stitch, and it was all uphill from there (or so I thought). Turns out, trying to get the round shape is really hard, and mine tended to end up more like weird footballs, or ovals rather than round balls:

But at least they are soft and will be fun to throw around!

But at least they are soft and will be fun to throw around!

Thanks to the wonder of Mum however (she’s a crafty devil) I got my hands on a book that explained how to make all kinds of animal toys out of basic knitted squares.  There was no stopping me then!

I started with the koala (ode d’Australie)

Yes....it's arms are a different colour.  Who knew you needed so much wool? I had to get more, which of course was a shade different to the original wool!

Yes….it’s arms and legs are a different colour. Who knew you needed so much wool? I had to get more, which of course was a shade different to the original wool!

Then tried to do a ‘French cat’

How is this french you might ask? It's not at all! I was going to stitch it a beret...then realised that 1. I'm a complete novice and 2.  That would look kinda stupid

How is this French you might ask? It’s not at all! I was going to stitch it a beret…then realised that 1. I’m not that talented and 2. That would look kinda stupid

Lastly, this was meant to be a pink dog.  Then halfway through, French hubby insisted it looked like a pig.  He had said the same thing about the cat (which, to be fair, did look a bit like a pig at one stage), but this time he did have a point.  So I changed the face and thus piggy was born:

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I think it has a face like the Muppets pig, but that might just be my imagination/wishful thinking

I think it has a face like the Muppets pig, but that might just be my imagination/wishful thinking

There you have it, a lovely basket full of baby toys!

Box o toys!

Box o toys!

Maybe baby will end up not liking them.  Maybe baby will end up be scared by them.  But at least I tried hey?  Also it turns out the cat will happily adopt them, I caught her cuddling the koala when I left it out one night.

Lesson learned: don't leave the change table mattress flat, or lock the cat out!

Lesson learned: don’t leave the change table mattress flat, or lock the cat out!

Bon week end!

Random street art in Paris!

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Something that I never really thought about until I had left the place was that Melbourne, Australia is very colourful.  Lots of street art adorns random cafes, bars, alleyways….especially around the CBD.  I actually quite missed it once I’d left!
Luckily though, it seems the North side of Paris where I live has made it a point to become equally as colourful.  I’ve always heard this area was the home of artists, film makers and is a bit more ‘boho’ (as in, bohemian, not ‘bobo’ -which is French slang for what I think is we would call a yuppy) so it does make sense that there is a lot of creative flair in the air (and the walls, floors, rooftops…).  Some parts of this area remind me so much of Fitzroy in Melbourne that it sometimes feels like I’m right back on Brunswick St! Particularly the new artisan coffee shops, the trendy hidden bars, the small theatres doing random modern art performances….ahh feels like home.

Today I thought I would share with you some of my favourite street art images, collected over the last few years across the whole area of Belleville and other parts of the North of Paris!

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Please correct my dumb use of french here, but my guess is that this means ‘we must rely on words’ or ‘we must craft words’……probably I am mistaken, especially as I can’t tell if it says ‘metier’ or ‘me fier’?? (aaargh now I’ve gone and blown my ‘I am so frenchy french french I can speak frenchy french cover).   This is in Belleville, just off the Rue de Belleville.

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Random gangsta.  Must have needed a big pencil to draw this one!

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Random awesome dude.  Because awesome.

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Lady with ENORME head.  But she seems ok with having a huge head.  She how she’s jumping for joy?

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These are from the Parc de Belleville.  See the face in the centre of the mosaics?  These are all over town….sometimes if you look one street over you might see the equivalent bottom coming out of the wall 🙂

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These are also at Parc de Belleville.  What a way to brighten up a dull space hey?

Even the cars (sometimes without permission) get a makeover

Even the cars (sometimes without permission) get a makeover

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One for the kids

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shh… secret…Actually I have the feeling this had something to do with Salvador Dali (but my investigation skills sadly left me without an answer)

The next ones are what I like to think of as a homage to the East Side Gallery in Berlin.  They are around the Canal St Ourcq, and it stretches on for a few blocks:

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This monkey looks perplexed

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Je suis ton frere. I am your….brother? eh? Not papa?

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Even the mailbox got all jazzed  up!

Lastly, these are my favourite street arts.  You can see these all over Paris, even in the entryway to the Louvre!  They are done by a street artist called “Invader”.  He is a French born guy who started anonymously started putting them up awhile back, all over Paris.  They became so popular that they are now in over 55 countries!  I remember seeing them in Barcelona, Berlin, London…..there are apparently heaps of them in Japan as well.  Unfortunately for the guy it is illegal to put these up on random streets, so he’s spent a few days in prison when he’s been caught.  Probably another good reason to keep his identity to himself!  According to Wikipedia even his mum doesn’t know he does this -she thinks he is a tile layer in a construction company! Although that’s not a complete lie I guess….

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Who doesn’t like a good old Space Invader???  Actually, you can even now by little mini mosiac packs at the Louvre gift shop and other novely stores, so you can put on of these up in your own home!

There are really so many more examples of street art all over Paris, I couldn’t do the rest of them justice trying to cram them into one blog post.  There are even tours dedicated to street art operating all over Paris as well -although if you wander a random neighbourhood for long enough, you will most likely come across a heap of them on your own!

Bon week end!

Making Madelines!

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Continuing in the quest to master French desserts, I stumbled across these cute little moulds the other day:

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They look a bit like chocolate seashell moulds don’t they? But they are actually for a very particular little cake -Madelines!

These are light fluffy and buttery cakes that are closely intertwined with a French kid’s childhood memories.  In fact, French hubby says that when you reminisce about a favourite childhood memory, you call that memory your ‘Madeline’ -so cute!  Allegedly they’ve been around since about the time of Louis XV…… just like pretty much any old recipe, there is a legend that says that one of the royal cooks stuffed up a recipe and it resulted in these little cakes.  The king was so impressed however with the new cake that he named it after the cook -Madeline- and the rest is history. Pfft! There is always some story like that, isn’t there? I’ve heard the same thing with pies, tarts, crepes.  Perhaps some cook was just bored making the same thing over and over, and came up with a new recipe??

Alas, I have a confession: I’ve never really liked these cakes.  Perhaps because I’ve only ever had them from the packet, but I couldn’t understand why the eyes of French kids and adults alike light up when you serve them for as a gouter (French afternoon tea).

Having said that, I go all crazy over cute little kitchen things -cookie cutters, cake tins and moulds, so I couldn’t resist picking these up! Of course that meant that I now had to make the Madelines.

They are actually super easy to do -just a regular old sponge cake (or genoise cake mix to the French), but with extra butter and a hit of lemon zest.

Here is the recipe I tried: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/french-butter-cakes-madeleines/

Basically just flour, sugar, vanilla, lemon, eggs and butter.  But pre prepare your butter! You have to melt it and then let it cool to room temperature.  I never read the recipe ahead of time, so when something needs to be done beforehand I get all annoyed!

Notice the Eiffel Tower zester? So cute!

Notice the Eiffel Tower zester? I love kitchen gimmicky things!

So just like many recipes I’ve done previously, you have to whip up those eggs until they are all light and creamy coloured:

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Then add in your sugar (gradually, don’t just dump it all in at once!) and keep whipping it like crazy

See the colour change? That's from all that whipping!

See the colour change? That’s from all that whipping!

Now add the flour -sifted flour mind you – in three separate lots.  Just like macarons, the buche de noel and all the other fluffy cakes I’ve made previously, you have to be really careful at this point.  Fold the flour in, don’t mix it in! After all that whipping, you don’t want the air to be crushed out of the batter after all…this is where that handy rubber spatula comes into things.  For some reason rubber spatulas don’t squash the air out of the mix, unlike wooden spatulas.  That rubber spatula has paid for itself so many times over, saving my recipes from being flat as pancakes!

yayyy rubber spatula

yayyy rubber spatula

So once you’ve done your minimal folding (only to mix the ingredients, don’t over fold the mix!) you need to add the butter and lemon zest.  Here is where the recipe differs from a sponge cake.  Pour in the melted, room temperature butter -but around the sides of the bowl.  Don’t just dump it in the centre.  I don’t know why you have to be so specific, but then again it’s not like I’m an expert is it?

I promise I poured it around the sides!

I promise I poured it around the sides!

Now when you fold the mix to combine, it should end up with a shiny, slick oily surface to it:

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oh the silky smoothness!

Now it’s ready to be put into your moulds.  Although this is a silicone mould, I still buttered it.  I don’t want any chance of the cakes sticking to the mould, and besides, there is already so much butter in the mixture, who cares if there is a little more, right?

Turns out it's actually quite hard to get the mixture into such little moulds.....things are going to get messy!

Turns out it’s actually quite hard to get the mixture into such little moulds…..things are going to get messy!

Yep, things did get a messy

Yup, things got messy

So now that the moulds are full, they kinda look like crap.  Perhaps they would have settled down during the baking process, but I couldn’t resist tidying them up a bit.  I found this trick out with macaron making: get a teaspoon, dip it in water, and use that to smooth the edges down!  The water stops the spoon sticking to the mixture and gives it a smooth finish.

This is what it looked like after:

Much better, says my neat freak self

Much better, says my neat freak self

Right, these little cuties are ready for baking.

If your oven doesn't cook them evenly, don't forget to turn them around halfway.  Just don't rip open the oven door quickly -'Bake off' the tv show tells me that this will ruin the temperature of your oven and probably ruin the rise in your cake!

If your oven doesn’t cook them evenly, don’t forget to turn them around halfway. Just don’t rip open the oven door quickly -‘Bake off’ the tv show tells me that this will ruin the temperature of your oven and probably ruin the rise in your cake! So open it sloooowly instead, ok?

Once they’re done, toss them out of the mould.  Thanks to the butter, they were practically sliding out of the moulds!

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Some of the edges are pretty bad…..they probably could have been a bit more brown too….but the delicious smell made up for their appearance! Pity there is no smell a vision on computers (yet)

And voila! 24 cute little cakes, perfect for afternoon tea, snacks, after dinner.

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I promise there was 24 at the time of baking….although some may have slipped out of the camera shot and into my mouth.

Maybe it’s just me, but these tasty a million times better than the dry, preservative full cakes that you buy in packets at the supermarket.  The lemon zest and hint of vanilla tasted unreal together!

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Perhaps I will be able to bake them one day with bebe, and create some lovely little ‘Madeline’ childhood memories!

Bon week end!

A morbid tale from Paris

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Today I thought I would try something a little different, and rather than talk about myself (not really my favourite subject believe it or not!) I could share a few crazy stories about Paris and France.
You never know what you are going to find under your feet in France.   Layers and layers of civilisations are just piled up on top of each other.  For an Australian, this is crazy amazing -we have tons of natural and indigenous history back in oz, but you certainly aren’t going to find a church from the 12th century under your building, or be living in a 15th century farmhouse are you? 🙂
Just this week my point was proven.
Like with the Iron Age tomb found under a business park just 100km from Paris:
Just think, each time you went to work you were tramping on stuff from 800BC!
Or the poor supermarket shoppers who were inadvertently visiting a different kind of tomb. This just happened a few days ago, a Monoprix (supermarket a bit like Coles) which was renovating their basement….and discovered 200 skeletons.

Before you freak out and cry ‘mass murder!’ relax! It’s actually pretty legit -the Monoprix was built on the site of an ancient hospital, and this was just one of the places they buried the less fortunate patients.

What makes me laugh about this story is that when the journalists asked the supermarket customers what they thought abut 200 dead bodies being found underneath their feet, they did a typical french shrug, as if ‘and so??’.  Guess things like that happen every day in France!

This reminded me of another story that I loved to tell when being a tour guide in Paris.  It’s a bit gory (aren’t all the good stories though?) but shows that even the most boring places in Paris can have some amazing history sitting right under it.

For example, take this fountain:

Fountain of the Innocents!

Just an ordinary old fountain in a quiet square, around the corner from a great eyesore of the Paris skyline, the Georges Pompidou centre:
Le 'Beauborg' -ie the Georges Pompidou Centre, or modern art museum.  It's supposed to be 'built inside out' -so all the pipes etc from inside the walls are on the outside....except that now it just looks permanently unfinished!

Le ‘Beauborg’ -ie the Georges Pompidou Centre, or modern art museum. It’s a bit of a crazy shaped building, kinda ruins the view over Paris amongst all the lovely old Haussmanian style buildings!

This fountain is the Fountain of the Innocents, and is on the place of an old church.  This church was attached to the St Innocents graveyard.  It was a huge cemetery, and pretty much the only cemetery in Paris for a long time, so got a lot of business.  By the 1700s however, after throwing in hundreds and hundreds of bodies at a time, this graveyard was getting a little…crowded.

So crowded in fact that it was causing a problem for the surrounding houses.  You see, their cellar walls were sharing the walls of the cemetery.  Once the cemetery got full, the bodies stopped decomposing and were just getting all crammed up in there.  So much so, they started to push through the walls and fall out onto the cellar floors……ewwww.

Apparently the smell was pretty terrible (duh) not to mention unhygienic (yep, duh) so by 1780  something had to be done.

Well, it just so happened that there was all these old tunnels underneath the city from back in the Roman days. They weren’t being used, so were basically just long tunnels of wasted space.  Perfect to store a few old bones in!
ooh... dark and creepy tunnels under Paris.....

ooh… dark and creepy tunnels under Paris…..

So the decision was made to put the bodies in the tunnels.  Each night a priest would follow a cart laden with the dead to the catacombs, chanting prayers by candlelight.  Once they got to the tunnels, they would toss the bodies in and go back to get some more.  It got to be a bit messy, all those bones everywhere so eventually someone decided to make it a bit neater, and started to stack the bones up in neat little rows.
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sorry for the creepy photo!

Some people organising down there even got a bit more creative:

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art….bony art…

Being Paris (where everything is a tourist attraction) these neatly placed bodies are now a popular place to visit if you have a taste for adventure and a minimal fear of enclosed spaces.  It’s the catacombs!  There are apparently around 6 million souls buried down there these days (apparently it got so popular to dump the dead that they started adding in bodies from all over Paris, not just from St Innocents Cemetery).  This is the website if you’re in Paris and interested in a tour of something a little different: http://www.catacombes.paris.fr/en/homepage-catacombs-official-website

But what happened to the old cemetery?  Well in the true French fashion of ‘no waste’ (and because space is at a premium in the city) they turned the fertile soil into none other than a fresh fruit and vegetable market!
Yes, bet you didn’t want to know that.

This is the market of Les Halles, the one that was made famous by being the market of preference for one Julia Childs (THE cookbook writer of French cuisine in the ’50s and ’60s)….wonder if she knew about the market’s sordid past?

These days there is no more market, it was moved to Rungis around the 1980’s.  Instead we have the lovely construction grounds which will hopefully one day turn into a new shopping complex:
hmm lovely construction.  At least it's better than an overflowing cemetery, right??

hmm lovely construction. At least it’s better than an overflowing cemetery, right??

Although I’m not holding my breath that the shops will ever be completed, it does take the French a rather long time to get any construction done.  Although I wonder if that is because they are constantly finding dead bodies all over the place and that interrupts the work??

What’s the morale in all of this story?  It always makes me remember to be mindful of everywhere you go in Paris and France -you never know where an awesome story might turn up -and that even the most boring places might have an excellent tale to tell.
It also tells me to avoid exploring our basement floor and walls (although French hubby tells me that on the other side of our basement wall is a giant sewer pipe, so I’m definitely going to avoid taking a look at that).
Bon week end!!

DIY baby mobile!

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For a little change, I am skipping a mention of food today.  It’s hard for me, I love food! Baby loves food too, and I feel like I’m eating for three or four rather than just us two these past few days.  But I still love a creative challenge, so today I am still going to share something I’ve made!

Perhaps it’s the nesting phase, but I really like the idea of making something for my baby.  Something lovingly made, by me, with (minimal) swearing involved.

But I’m no fool -I know that past attempts at crafts haven’t always worked out to my advantage.  I’m sure there are countless scraps of crap handcrafted clothes and things scattered around my childhood home, mostly unfinished and all unwearable.  So I decided to stick to something pretty simple this time around.  Something that even I couldn’t eff up if I tried.

It had to be something the baby would use, but preferably not try to eat.  Or poop on.  Now, with children, this really does limit the possibilities, as I’ve been told that that is pretty much what all children do, about 99% of the time (although they are wonderful at multi tasking -doing all this eating and pooping whilst also being adorbs).

Finally I decided on a hanging mobile. Baby can look but not touch, so I don’t have to worry about using materials that might be inhaled or chewed on or all that other scary stuff.  Baby can just stare at it!

Being in Paris, I always wanted something to remind baby of Australia -baby’s other home.  So the theme of the mobile had to be Australian animals, bien sur!

First up, I had to find something to hang the animals off of.  I read all kinds of blogs which mentioned wire, embroidery hoops and clothes hangers could be used and hung from the ceiling, but I wanted something that would attach to baby’s crib instead (I had nightmares of the mobile coming loose and landing on baby’s face….).  Turns out you can buy the pieces for a hanging baby mobile online on amazon and ebay, but after you factor in postage they become hideously expensive.  In the end I just bought the cheapest complete baby mobile I could find and took the toys off it!

I found this at a local Aubert shop (baby gear shop in Paris) on sale for around 15 euro. bargain!

I found this at a local Aubert shop (baby gear shop in Paris) on sale for around 15 euro. bargain!

Next up I needed fabric.  I wanted to use felt, it comes in heaps of bright colours and is relatively cheap, not to mention it’s quite a sturdy fabric, almost like cardboard.  Once I figured out it was called ‘feutrine’ in french (ahh thanks Google Translate) I found an arts/crafts store nearby my house which sells it for under 1 euro per A4 sized piece.  (http://www.rougier-ple.fr/tissu-feutrine-chenille.r.html?pageSize=200&f=att_660:18057).

Feutrine!

Feutrine!

I wanted the animals to look a bit 3D, so rather than just cut the shapes out and leave it at that, I decided to stitch them up as proper stuffed toys.  For that I needed stuffing (duh).  Of course, that was pretty hard to figure out in French, if you type ‘stuffing’ into Google you get all kinds of stuff, none of which is helpful in this case!  Eventually I asked french hubby, using a mix of charades and miming to describe it (just you try to explain what stuffing is when you can’t use the word ‘stuffing’!!).

Once we figured it out, we had to find a shop that sold it.  Turns out, that’s not easy.  No arts/crafts shops sold it, neither did the fabric shops.

I was about to be thwarted in my crafty task by some fluffy white polyester!

At last, I came across a shop in Montmartre that sells ‘mousse’…..not something delicious to eat (I could really go for some chocolate mousse right now….) but the kind of stuffing you put in couches.  Hooray! That will work just fine.  Sure, I had to buy a GINORMOUS bag of the stuff, but at least I’ll have some for next time!  http://www.saint-pierre-decor.fr/

mousse! not the chocolate kind unfortunately...

mousse! not the chocolate kind unfortunately…

Now that we’re ready to create……I actually didn’t think this part through.  I figured it would be dead easy to cut out all the little animals shapes and sew them together, right?…..uh not so much.

This is my supposed ‘wombat’

So it kinda looks like a wombat....

So it kinda looks like a wombat….

.....or a wombat with a hunchback.....

…..or a wombat with a hunchback…..

A wombat and a...donkey?  not very Australian!

A wombat and a…donkey? not very Australian!

maybe stuffing it will make it better...

maybe stuffing it will make it better…

uh yeah, no....stuffing didn't make it better.

uh yeah, no….stuffing didn’t make it better.

Perhaps a face will make it look more wombaty?  Turns out nope.  Looks like a dog.

Perhaps a face will make it look more wombaty? Turns out nope. Looks like a dog.

Woof.

Woof.

So that didn’t work out well.  Luckily some of the animals fared a little better:

At least they look like a cockatoo and a galah, right??

At least they look like a cockatoo and a galah, right??

and I perservered until I ended up with all these little critters:

swan on drugs, GIANT headed koala and what seems to be a cross between a kangaroo and a rabbit.

swan on drugs, GIANT headed koala and what seems to be a cross between a kangaroo and a rabbit.

Now, to attach them to the mobile…..

First I got rid of the other animals

Look at those animals sitting there looking all made professional like..pffft.

Look at those animals sitting there looking all made professional like..pffft.

So what do I string the animals up with? What a weirdly hard question to answer.  I had wool (too thick), shoelaces (ugly!), and string at my disposal.  A quick internet search revealed to me that nylon fishing line is almost impossible to find in Paris (and pricey, when you do actually find a shop that sells it), so I eventually just settled on the string. I also sewed some felt leaves through the strings to make it look a bit prettier (these animals needed all the help they could get to look pretty).

The result? Voila!

So actually it's really hard to take a picture of a moving hanging mobile when you are holding the other end of it....

So actually it’s really hard to take a picture of a moving hanging mobile when you also have to hold it up….

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Anyone else notice that the birds are a million times bigger than the rest of the animals? This is a fact that I choose to ignore (so I don’t have to go back and try making them again)

All this Making Stuff business got me hungry again….so yes it did end up as a blogpost with food in it, because I couldn’t resist making myself these little pumpkin pie tarts:

Yum!

Yum!

At least I stuck to just three right?? Ahem… six.  But they are only little!

I hope baby likes the mobile, and doesn’t grow up scared of Aussie animals because of it…. If she does, ooops.

Australian and English food shops in Paris!

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Of course, without a doubt France can truly be called the home of gastronomy….pretty sure that’s a french word isn’t it? Sounds it at least!
The French have some of the most delicious cuisine in the world, and many of their cooking techniques, ingredients and styles are lapped up by us hungry people the world over.

But as much as I like munching down on a fresh baguette every day, there are times when I truly miss good old white bread toast from home.
It’s funny that you often miss the strangest things when living in another country.  For example, I would give anything for a hot Milo and a toasted sandwich.  Or custard made with custard powder (rather than the freshly made French custard, how weird is that??).  Or chutney and cheddar cheese (it’s almost sacrilegious wanting cheddar cheese when there are around 400 different types of French cheese!).
Well, the heart wants what it wants.
So rather than commiserate about not having these things here, I’ve made it my personal mission to weed out all the Australian stuff to be found in Paris!

Here is my moment of patriotic-ness.....

A moment of patriotic-ness…..

Here is my favourite list of shops to visit, when in search of some ‘strayan tucker!

Marks and Spencer
When a friend told me about this place awhile back, it took me at least 6 months to finally get there.  Perhaps I was so worried I’d be let down and have my hopes dashed.  Not to mention it’s on the complete opposite site of town, with 3 different trains and 55 minutes travel time separating me from it.
When I finally dragged myself there, I was suitably impressed.
Being an English supermarket, of course it catered to the tastes of l’Anglais.  However, seeing as so much of our Australian food is based on old English recipes (dare I say it, they invented the pie, not us) I managed to find heaps of foods from back home.
Yummmm pies

Yummmm pies

First off, they do sell pies! Not quite the same as a good old ‘Four n Twenty’, but the closest things I’ve found yet.  The pastry is a bit odd, almost tasting a bit sweet and buttery, but pretty forgiveable in my books.  Apparently in french cat Hollie’s books too, she was just about to swipe it when I took this pic:

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Ce n’etait pas moi, I was just going to taste it…….

They also sell a huge bunch of other things you won’t see in the regular shops here….OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

All the good stuff: sweet chilli sauce, chutney, salt and vinegar chips (yum), digestive biscuits, cheddar cheese….not to mention the cute freezer bag I couldn’t help but get too (although French hubby will tell you that we already have a million of these, we didn’t have a pretty blue one, now did we?)

Something I also found here that I’m crazy happy to have: self raising flour.  Who knew that would be hard to find??? To give credit where it’s due though, the French do sell a version of this -farine de gateau.  This is ‘cake flour’, and is pretty much regular flour with raising agent added.  The difference though is that the raising agent is yeast, which I can’t help but find weird to use in a sweet recipe.  In my books, yeast is for bread!  Perhaps I’m an old fashioned lady in disguise, but I can’t use anything but true self raising flour when making a recipe from home -to the point where I’ll cart bucketloads of this stuff across the city just to ensure I have adequate stock!

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Two other baking essentials: baking powder and cream of tartar.  I have since discovered baking powder in a shop here, but cream of tartar? No way.  I can’t figure out it’s name in French, let alone endlessly scour the French supermarket shelves for it.  When I saw them at Marks and Spencer I couldn’t resist, and you know what? Best. Buy. Ever.

Other delicious finds include scones, raisin toast, fruit cake, mince pies for Christmas, chicken kievs, plus a whole host of Australian wines -possibly the only place that has Aussie wines which are not Jacob’s creek (shudder).  Unfortunately I was already preggers by the time I got to the shop, so I haven’t had the opportunity to tell if these wines are any good!  It’s on my ‘to-do’ list for after baby is born however 🙂

Marks and Spencer: the biggest food section is in the shop within the shopping centre Beaugrenelle (2 Rue Linois, 75015 Paris, France) or there is a smaller one at the La Defense train station.  Apparently there is a whole host of other ones scattered across Paris, but I’m not sure if they are food shops or not! Check them out here: http://www.marksandspencer.fr/Store-Locator/store-finder,en_FR,pg.html

Epicerie Anglaise

Yes it is here!

Yes it IS here!

This was the original expat shop for me, and the best.  Tucked away in a little laneway, it took me about 5 tries to actually find the darn shop.  It’s just off a large square (Place de la Republique) which has about 8 different busy roads coming off it, all looking the same to me in my perpetual state of lost-ness in Paris.

Ahh finally found...even though it's a sign above a scary dark alleyway....

Ahh finally found…even though it’s a sign above a scary dark alleyway….

Past the graffiti ridden walls....

Past the graffiti ridden walls….

Yayyyyyy

Yayyyyyy

When I finally found the place (and it was open, as the first time it was shut!) I was happy to see all my old favourites there.  Yet again, random things that I missed from home were on offer.

All the friendly faces....

All the friendly faces….

Baked beans (who’d have though I’d miss those??), golden syrup (essential for Anzac biscuit baking), custard powder (I missed this so much -perhaps a pregnancy craving?), peppermint tea (sooo hard to find in France, usually there is just mint tea that is actually green tea with mint in it).  They also have a fine array of naughty junk foods, like creamy soda soft drink and Cadbury chocolate.  French husband is horrified about my missing Cadbury chocolate (definitely not as good quality as the French stuff apparently), but I’ve heard many an expat from both England and Aus say that they’ve missed it too!  They even sell Cadbury Creme Eggs.

The Epicerie Anglais does have one thing that appeases hubby: Cooper’s Beer!!  It seems that we both agree that Australian beer is very much superior to the French stuff (let’s not get started on the wine, but at least we agree on the beer), and this was the brand he missed the most from home.  I bought some for his birthday and he guarded them like treasure! I’m pretty sure he even hid them when beer drinkers came over.  To be fair, they were pricey: 6 for 15 euro! Considering a 6 pack of regular French (crap) beer like the brand 1664 is about 3.50 euro, there is a big difference in price here.  But it’s worth it!  Address:  5 cité du Wauxhall,  75010 PARIS  http://www.epicerie-anglaise.com

Monoprix

This last shop was probably the most unexpected.  One of the largest chain supermarkets in France, and they were selling an Aussie product!

Ye olde famous Aussie expat....

Ye olde famous Aussie expat….

Who’d have thought you could find Tim Tams at the local supermarket? Although they have just one flavour, I’m still proud that they are competing with the locals in the French biscuit aisle…

So those are my favourite go-to’s for Aussie home foodstuffs.  Of course, I haven’t found everything I miss from home…if anyone knows where to buy Milo, let me know immediately!!!

Honorable mention to these other expat food shops:

Galleries Lafayette: With an international food section much like David Jones food hall, you can find a treasure trove of fun gourmet international products (including Vegemite!).  Just to be warned that it can get crazy busy, and the prices seem rather astronomical.  However, this is the only place I can find minced garlic in a jar, so they do have their pros as well as cons! Apparently they also post to Japan, which is handy (???).  Address: Lafayette Gourmet, 35 bd Haussmann, 75009 PARIS.  http://haussmann.galerieslafayette.com/en/food-shopping-at-lafayette-gourmet/

Thanksgiving: I’ve only been here once, but this is for the Americans what the Epicerie Anglaise is to me.  You can even order Thanksgiving turkeys here apparently, I know a friend who got one that was so big it didn’t fit in his oven.  Address: 20 Rue Saint-Paul, 75004 Paris, France. http://www.thanksgivingparis.com

Macaron making!

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Maintaining my crusade on French cuisine, I knew at some point I would have to tackle le macaron.  There was simply no way around it, being such a popular french export and all round delicious cookie.

But I’ve been avoiding it up to this point for good reason -they are some hard cookin’!  So many things can easily go wrong to take your lovely fluffy cookies into hard and flat discs.   I’ve actually already tried baking them once before, but the experience was so devastating that I couldn’t go back! Case in point:

These were my first attempt at chocolate macarons.  Yes, they look like poops.

These were my first attempt at chocolate macarons. Yes, they look like poops.

This was a few months ago, and the experience was so traumatic I’ve avoided the ‘m’ word ever since.
However, after getting a handle on other light and fluffy cakes (like the Buche de Noel sponge cake and meringue mushrooms) I have finally talked myself into trying again.  Except this time I won’t try to make any brown chocolate poopey looking ones.

Macarons really started to take off during the last 5 years or so on a global basis -how could they not???  These delicious light almond meal based cookies sandwiched together with a sweet creamy filling are too good to be true.  Delicate, light and often some cute pastel colour, they are the perfect addition to any afternoon tea party, celebration, wedding… the list goes on. To me, they also are the perfect embodiment of French pastries -sophisticated and elegant.

However, just like all country icons, these weren’t actually French to begin with (just like the pavlova or meat pie of Australia!).  Oh non non….actually they were brought to France by the les italianianos.  One Italian in particular, a real ‘nasty’ lady called Catherine de Medici, Queen of France in the 1500s.  Nasty because when she wasn’t getting her Italian pastry chef to whip up these cookies, she was mass killing bunches of Protestants (ever heard of St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572? Yeah that was her).  Having said that, she just ate these macarons as one single biscuit, rather than sandwiching them together -not as tasty methinks.  Fast forward a few hundred years, a dude called Laduree in the 20th century decided to smush two cookies together with a yummy creamy filling….who hasn’t attempted to make cookie sandwiches at home before hey?  Well his experiment paid off -you might have heard of the uber famous Laduree macaron cafes in Paris? Yep same guy, he could be credited with bringing macarons to the world stage.

Nowadays, you can get them everywhere! Even Mac Donald’s (unfortunately). They are so darn popular that even simpleton cooks think they can recreate the magic.  Hence, I will attempt to reproduce their yumminess!

Any macaron recipe looks ridiculously basic.  Egg whites, sugar (two different types), almond meal, perhaps a bit of flavour or colour and a pinch of salt.  But, like any good recipe, the key to your success is in the techniques.

I used this recipe (I was sucked in by the word ‘easy’ in the title): https://www.howtocookthat.net/public_html/easy-macaron-macaroon-recipe/

First things first, separate your egg yolks and whites.  I’ve heard it’s best to do this when they are cold eggs, then leave the egg whites until they are room temperature before your whip them.  It leads to stiffer peaks allegedly….

egg whites at the ready!

egg whites at the ready!

When they are room temp, whip them up to a frenzy, slowly adding castor sugar as your go (caster sugar, not icing sugar, let’s not get too excited!).  After awhile of beating, you’ll start to get stiff peaks.  Don’t give up too early though, if the peaks aren’t stiff enough that you can hold the bowl upside down, they will FAIL your whole recipe!

Too early! keep that whipping on!

Too early! keep that whipping on!

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ahh ok, that’s better…..

Now’s the time to add colour if you like, although there seems to be a huge debate about this.  Some say NEVER to use liquid food colour, others say they are ok.  Most people use gel colours or powder colours, but where in the heck would I find those in Paris?? So I risked it with a liquid food colour.  I made them all girly and pink (because that’s the way I roll)

yummm...pink

yummm…pink

Now that the egg whites are ready, the dry ingredients need to be added (almond meal, salt, icing sugar)…this is the ‘make or break’ macaron moment.  You see, you need the ingredients to blend together, but not ruin all the air you’ve just added to the egg whites.  This is such a delicate part that most recipes will give you an EXACT amount of folds to do to the mixture.  Straying from this amount will lead to kitchen chaos.  PS: Folding a mix, rather than mixing it, is also essential.  Basically you lift the mixture up and over itself, rather than stirring it.  Oh and use a rubber spatula, not a wooden one, cause that will deflate the bubbles in your  mix (who knew there was so many specifics hey??)

your new best macaron making friend

your new best macaron making friend

At first, the mixture looks like it will never ever ever mix together:

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That sooooo doesn’t look right.

But after a few folds, it gets better and better:

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Whilst the recipe said after between 30 and 50 folds you should get a lovely ‘molten lava’ look to your batter (and that is the perfect macaron consistency) I just got oh so excited and did 55 folds (shock horror)…..

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Not so molten lava anymore, more just slooppy

…and my mixture went for fabu-perfect macaron consistency to overmixed.  Quelle catastrophe!

Yes, apparently just 5 extra folds was enough to have my macaron making dreams come crashing down around me.  However I refused to believe it was all over.

I piped the mixture out (even attempting cute little heart shaped ones)

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Let them rest for an hour (this is to give them the famous ‘feet’ that they are known for -little flat edges on the base of the cookie) and then baked for the exact amount of time asked of them.

It wasn’t looking too bad I guess:

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Until I sandwiched them together with filling and marvelled at my, ahem, genius baking skills:

strange shaped, flat and no 'feet' anywhere!!

strange shaped, flat and no ‘feet’ anywhere!!

At the very least, from the inside they looked good:

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But they certainly can’t rival these babies from the legendary Pierre Hermes shop:

To be fair, he's had a little bit more experience than me, alright?

Look at the feet, oh what wonderful feel! To be fair, he’s had a little bit more experience than me, alright?

So whilst I can say that these were much better than my previously attempted poop macarons, I think I’ve got a long while to go before I can say that I’m a macaron master.

One good thing did come of it though: the filling.  I made a white chocolate ganache (melted white chocolate and cream which I heated togheter, then whipped once cooled back down to room temperature) and it was freaking amazing.  So much so I pretty much abandoned the macarons and ate the ganache with a spoon! Totally yummy and worth every guilty mouthful.

White chocolate ganache, where have you been all my life??

White chocolate ganache, where have you been all my life??

Have you tried macaron making? I hope your experience worked out better than mine did!