such love

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such love

In the spirit of St Valentines Day, here’s a poem –

Your Pulse

beneath my lips
dictating rhythm
to my unruly breath.

That open collar
pouting a space
between shirt and skin
where I might be – 
                             belong, long to be.

And onward with the photos from our time in New Zealand! Just looking through them makes me feel very lucky and loved. Don’t worry, they only feature family-friendly types of loving.

Just after Christmas, we were staying with Luuk’s family in the Waikato. We drove north from there, up to Auckland, along a very familiar route. My family took this road on the majority of our holidays, throughout my childhood.

huntly chimnies First up, a little nostalgic, homesick kind of loving: a much-loved view on the road between Hamilton and Auckland. The Huntly power station chimneys.

In Auckland, we visited my grandparents. Grandma has recently moved into the retirement home, though Grandpa remains in their independent home within the same complex. I grew up living near them in Auckland, and it’s been two years since I’ve seen them, so I was eager to catch up, and also to introduce them to Elena, their first great grand daughter!

Grandma and ElenaElena wasn’t eager to get her photo taken with her great grandparents. But eventually, very briefly, she sat just so…

grandma and LouisLouis was more willing to cuddle.

grandpa and louis

After lunch with Grandpa, we went to visit my old neighbours. Theirs is the sofa we usually crash on when in Auckland. The last time we visited was en route to Paris.

old toys, with old neighbours

 Train set and Disney castle, for the win.

In the midst of renovations, they weren’t up for overnight guests, but they rustled up some toys I remember loving as a kid, and Louis and Elena concurred. And the afternoon tea was pretty damn fine too. Berries and cake and many different cheeses. So good.

Me, the kids, the neighbours-of-old

There we are, all together, except Luuk (behind the camera) and Kat (who had to go early).

We had dinner at a De Grand, a delicious! Thai place on Great South Road, with Evans, a school friend of mine. We stayed at his place that night, and the kids had a wonderful time with his guinea pigs and rabbits, one of whom is named Louis; a definite highlight. And the next morning Evans took us out to brunch in Parnell, Auckland’s oldest suburb.

brunching in parnell

Louis and Evans perusing the menu.

We visited my grandparents a second time and then made a quick stop for picnic supplies at The Warehouse – something of a NZ institution.

Louis at the WarehouseLouis does The Warehouse.

And then, for a supremely Auckland experience – to Mission Bay!

louis and luuk at Mission Bay

The weather was as good as it gets, and the view of Rangitoto makes me delirious with sweet memories.

family at mission bay

Luuk and the kids, enjoying the sun & sand in their different ways.

shell mosaic at mission bay

Shell mosaic butterfly!

paddling at mission bay

Louis wouldn’t go near the water, but then again, it’s Auckland Harbour. Perhaps a wise move…

Last stop in Auckland was Ollies, an iconic ice cream parlour in Royal Oak. There we met a friend of mine and had a quick catch up over scoops of pineapple lump ice cream (well, that was my order.)

Hippie kids at Ollies, Royal Oak

Who are those hippie kids, hopped up on ice cream? Hm.

We returned to the Waikato to spend New Years with some friends who live just out of Hamilton. We were too busy playing board games, experimenting with frappuccino recipes, and watching old West Wing episodes to photograph much of anything.

best new years photo

Yep, that’s the best photo of new years.

But it gets better. On the 2nd of January we emerged and went to Raglan.

raglan new years day

See? Isn’t it lovely. Flax in the foreground, muddiest mess I’ve ever seen in the background, and a gorgeous estuary between. Nice swim. Got most of the mud off.

Then we went back to Luuk’s parents for a spa. Stayed one night then drove over the Kaimais to Tauranga. My folks were staying at Papamoa, so first stop was lunch with them.

irritating uncle Ian

The kids, winding up uncle Ian, after lunch.

I flaked out after that and had a great big nap. Mum and Luuk took the kids for a walk to the estuary.

ducks on estuary, papamoa

Elena and Gran and the ducks.

gran and kids, papamoa

Next up we went to my Aunt and Uncle’s place at Mount Maunganui and after a few wines on the balcony, removed to my other Aunt and Uncle’s restaurant, also at the Mount.

elena gon' ride

Elena, ready to go to dinner.

Elena at the rallies' restaurant

Mum making records of the grandkids, cause she’s about to say bye-bye.

We dined well and drank some more. My cousins are terrible influences and I love them dearly and I have only myself to blame. We left pretty late and the kids flaked out before we got to Luuk’s brother’s place, where we were staying the night.

kids asleep in car

Flake out, phrasal verb. to suddenly go to sleep or feel weak because you are extremely tired.
-Cambridge English Dictionary

The next day, after a leisurely morning with Luuk’s brother and his family, we went to lunch with another of my aunts and uncles and cousins. There are no photos, so we must have had a good time. It was a short catch-up (cousins had to go milk cows…) but sweet.

We returned to Luuk’s brothers place in the afternoon and hung out with them till some time the next day.

an angel at her bbq An angel at my BBQ… or rather, her BBQ. My lovely sister in law knows what she’s doing.

bbq good

See? She knew what she was doing. Nom nom…

bbq with the cousins

Nom. Hilarity at the kids table.

caged kids

Elena and her youngest cousin, happily caged.

make-overs with the cousinsLouis and Elena dolling themselves up (note the feathers in her hair).

Returning to the Waikato, we crossed the Kaimai range, which turned out in its traditional garb: fog and trucks…

rainy kaimais and moster trucksThat is, monster trucks, on the back of a truck.

Made it back to Luuk’s parents’ place safely. It sounds like a lot of travel but the longest road trip is around two and a half hours. The last ten days of our time away was pretty full-on, staying only a couple of nights in any one place, but it was wonderful to catch up with so many of our dear friends and family. We don’t know where we’ll be this time next year, or when we’ll see them all again.

And that concludes my tale of our time in New Zealand.

travelling with kids

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so much to do

Yikes, I’m getting rather far behind, telling the tale of our month long visit to New Zealand. I’ve been editing my heart out… which sounds violent, and it is. Cut cut cut those nasty adverbs and all those corny cliches. And whole pages of superfluous faff.

Anyway, I usually do a blog post or two each week, and still keep up with my writing, but just at the moment there is a fire under my bottom because in one month I’m off to London for an Author Fair, wherein I will have a chance to pitch a novel (or two…) to a real live literary agent.

So it might just be one blog post a week for the next little while. And lots of photos.

Starting as we mean to go on:


Rolling a ball, nice and gentle (ahem), with Oma.

We spent Christmas at Luuk’s parents’ place, in the Waikato. Luuk’s brother and his family were due to arrive Christmas day afternoon, which meant a long wait for presents.

computer kids

But fortunately there were plenty of toys. Mind you, who plays with toys when there are computers, stereos and handy dandy spare keyboards around.

all the pressies

Fortunately there were a few presents to do earlier in the day, with my parents and Nana, but not until after church.

waikato (weather)

The view from outside the church, of Mount Pirongia and waikato weather… in the summer…

Elena and great Nana

Elena reading with her Great Nana.

backyard cricketLouis got a cricket bat from my parents, which Uncle David obligingly demonstrated, as the kids haven’t ever seen cricket before…

santa's many helpers

And then the cousins arrived! And then the presents were fair game!

christmas dinner

Fern and I cooked up a feast of a dinner, and managed to wear near-matching dresses… almost like pros.

christmas dinner: roast veg

Golden Roast Vegetables, and chorizo for good measure.

christmas dinner: salad

A divine salad of courgette ribbons, baby spinach, cherry toms, goats’ cheese, and rawhe ham (we happily ate leftovers for days.)

three kinds of pie

Dessert. Three kinds of pie. That’s right. Chocolate, Banoffee and Lemon Meringue. Awesomeness is pie.

christmas dessert

The kids, eating the pie.

saying goodnight to the presents

Elena and her cousins, all ready for bed.

elena and her big cousinElena and Briar, cuddling by the tree.

The next day we hung around and ate slightly less. Walked a bit of it off, trecking down to the Kaniwhaniwha* (say that five times fast) stream and back.

walking off christmas dinner

Walking to the stream, on the road, which fortunately doesn’t get a lot of traffic.

Kaniwhaniwha streem

*Kaniwhaniwha, pronounced, ka-nee-fa-nee-fa.

elena and Mt PirongiaElena walked the last little bit, up the driveway to Opa’s house.

settling catan with Dave

We spent some time settling Catan with Luuk’s brother, who won a LOT.

Santa's hangout in a NZ mall

We spent a little Christmas money at The Base (it’s a mall) and admired this Kiwi version of the universal Santa’s grotto mall installation. (They’re Pukekos.)

the sandpit at the other cousins'

We went to my Aunt and Uncle’s house to catch up with my cousin and her kids, one of whom is in this photo – just. But there was a sand pit! It was like christmas.

rhinos at the hamilton zoo

We went to the Hamilton Zoo and the Rhinos were fantastic.

tuatara at the hamilton zoo

And the Tuatara was… alive. But we saw him!

chilling with opa

Back at Opa and Oma’s we chilled out.

cucumber on Louis' eyes

Who showed him that cucumber can go on your eyes? Fess up.

Elena was nightmarish with food (perhaps with reason, having been carted around the country and cutting several teeth…) but Louis tried a few new things. We have no idea where he learned this trick though.

Louis and me

Lovely chilled out days at in the rolling waikato hills.

Elena and me

I’m a human climbing frame. Also known as a parent. Any prone adult of whom my children aren’t afraid will do the trick.

Getting the belly raspberry revengeThe kids get their revenge: blowing raspberries on my stomach.

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this side of the season

Tomorrow we are off! We have nearly a month in NZ and will be sure to enjoy all the perks of a summery christmas break, but for the past couple of weeks we’ve been doing the silly season Paris-style… or Euro-style. Or just northern hemispherish

fourth night of hanukkahThe 4th night of Hanukkah, once again with the Russakoffs.

I’d never done Hanukkah in NZ, but it’s not particularly French either. It’s just that expats flock together a bit, and so here on the other side of the globe we have close friends who celebrate Hanukkah, and aside from anything else, who says ‘no’ to latkes?

last french class of the year

Last day of French class (and Ina’s farewell.)

The whole grande finalé bit actually reminded me of NZ, given that it’s the start of summer holidays and everything is wrapping up, farewells aren’t unusual. But this is a rather international crowd, and a french class too. We sent Ina off with a basket of all things français, and a mustache for good measure.

elena spins her dredle

More hanukkah. Several days later, between savory and sweet courses of crêpes, care of our friend the chef, look what Elena found on the table.

leaves beat the playground

Playing in the leaves at the park after school. So very cold. Bring on summer!

clocks and kids at galeries lafayette

The marvelous window displays at Galeries Lafayette.

kids at galeries lafayette

They have mechanised marrionettes and music…

galeries lafayette windows

… and little bridges for the kids to stand on.

iphone pressies

Christmas markets in Paris… and a few shops too. If I had an iphone I think mine would be chocolate coated.

santa aint charming

Louis is unimpressed by Père Noël.

bells and sleighs

Elena is more impressed in the bell than the man.

last day of school

Last day of school for 2013! (And the school Christmas tree – just plain humongous.)

We’re half packed and the house is half-tidy (but actually pretty clean – incredibly) so we won’t have too late a night tonight. Tomorrow, to Singapore!

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(city of) art and light

Photos of Paris come in all shapes and sizes. There are the classic post card pics that a thousand people are taking at any one time up at trocadero…

the grey city of light

Comme ça.

And then there are the lesser-seen sides of things. Beneath trocadero there live a lot of fish. Because… it’s the Paris Aquarium.

fish in the darkLuuk and the kids, watching the fish.

kids and luuk and fish It was pretty great for the kids but also expensive. Perhaps aquariums are always a bit that way… expensive to maintain and therefore… well, anyway. Vancouver aquarium may have spoiled me for life. No beluga whales in Paris, and the sharks were kind of puny. Cool tropical fish and lobsters, though. Many nemos and many dorys.

Anyway, more Paris:

croques and crepesWe had classic Paris street food for lunch: a croque monsieur for the kids, a crêpe for me, a panini for luuk (ham and cheese makes it Parisian, right?) and for dessert, beignets! (Mini filled donuts, but the ones in Antony are better…)

This week the Christmas lights arrived… the official town lights are UP but not ON, which is strangely depressing. But the shops put them on while they’re still putting them up.

Christmas Pig-outIn the spirit of christmas, the season of pigging out, we have this picture of a family feast and candy ornaments everywhere. The gift shop on Rue de l’Eglise has since added a Santa parachuting beneath a lit-up umbrella.

I, for one, think the dry cleaners got it about right. Christmas is pressing. ‘Tis true.

christmas if pressing

I do love the whole bi-lingual homophone word-play thing. Gives me thrills every day. I mean, EVERY day.

Yesterday Elena and I went into Paris. I’m stocking up on Parisian bits and bobs to take back to NZ for our friends/family (get your requests in now), and so we spent some time in the mall at Les Halles and then ascended to ground level for Hema (Dutch chain, loved by the French, though they cannot pronounce the name… Loved by me for their 75 cent stuffed speculaas.)

christmas window

This is a christmas window. To be fair, it might have been misunderstood without the notice.

Shopped-out, the kid and I continued on to Le Lilas for lunch with a friend of mine.

street art in le lilas

Street art, on the way to the restaurant.

We did cous cous and tajines for lunch, and Elena ate only the honey chevre entrée. Silly girl. Then onward to my friend’s workplace: a gallery of mostly documentary/art films.

The first was footage from soviet youth day in 1987 (just before the fall of the soviet union) collated with audio (which I didn’t understand). The footage was subtitled in French so I could follow much of that, at least.

elena hiding in the 80sSpot the kid among the 80s Russians…

elena and the soviets

Elena and the Soviets.

The video was mostly like an olympic-opening-ceremony style performance, with a lot of people in colour-coordinated garb, making shapes and patterns in a large stadium… but later on there were soldiers and some of the audience shots were in slow-mo. Very ominous, really.

elena on screenThe end.

Elena was pretty cool about sitting in the dark, watching the young Russians dancing, and then we wandered around the light part of the gallery and she looked at everything.

the punk'd portraits

No one else was there, so that made it simpler with Elena. Galleries with kids isn’t impossible, but generally we shepherd them about, or strap them into the pushchair. Unless there are no other customers, and then it’s gloriously free reign (so long as she doesn’t touch the hot projectors…)

elena at Khiasma, paris

Wandering the exhibition spaces.

dancing soldiers and elena

This documentary was a collection of all the (many) clips of soldiers in Iraq… dancing. Which was both hilarious and interesting – the environments they’re in, the other people around them, reacting, the oppressive boredom that is a big part of war, it seems. Fascinating. But also quite a laugh, at times. Black comedy, of sorts.

Elena kept touching the walls, trying to reach into the films. One of the perks of going to galleries with a kid: you see things, to some degree, from their perspective as well as your own.

We returned to Antony (about an hour’s travel) and spent the remainder of the afternoon at a friend’s house – she’d collected Louis from school. The wee man has done a whole week of full days now. Go Louis! I was too tired to get us up and off home so we lingered, planning on Sushi for dinner. But Luuk got home early and cooked. Risotto! Brilliant husband, that one.

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A year today!

I never did quite get to doing a christmas letter last year… no grand surprise. Instead, we put together a variation on the 12 days of christmas, highlighting bits of our life, especially around christmas time…

so here it is! A christmas not-letter… in february. Voila.

As to an actual update and summary of the past year… I’ll get to work on that. I had grand plans to do it yesterday evening but, in a lovely turn of events, we spent the evening at our kiwi friends’ place.

Louis and his buddy Iosua… gon’ride!

The kids ran about like mad things and us grown-ups enjoyed a sushi feast and a cool new-to-us board game called ‘Dixit‘. It won the Spiel de Jahres (top notch german board game award) in 2010 and fair enough – great for a group, easy to learn, adaptable to a variety of ages and personalities (a software engineer, an inventor-sewing-entrepreneur/primary-teacher, a rugby player, and a writer/secondary-teacher… in this instance) and I won! So obviously it’s a good ‘un.

Between french homework and lesson, socialising, and doing my head in wrestling with video and slideshow software (linux and windows do not play nice… or is it just me?) I got no writing at all done yesterday. I thought about a small stone but, confession: I’m just writing it now. My last one for the January Mindful Writing Challenge…

suddenly in sync
kids without intent, a game 
invented – the joy! 

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more reindeer cookies

another small stone, for the january mindful writing challenge, this time on the subject of baking.

Granite clay biscuit dough
balled up quick
so it won’t stick
I slap it flat and peel
from my palm, correcting
its quirks.
Far from perfect rounds
fossilize my fingerprints
and grow

We had a 3 Kings Carol service last night at our church – lots of people and carols and supper afterwards. We made more reindeer christmas biscuits to take along, hence the little stone/poem above.

The kids sang ‘Go tell it on the Mountain’ and Louis played a maracca!

In the practise he refused to shake the maracca at all, but he quite enjoyed the spotlight and the little musician in the man did his bit.

I suppose this was not his first stage performance, as he played Jesus in the nativity play at Ilam Baptist, five weeks or less after he was born, but he rather took to the stage. After the kids song finished he happily sat down, and then when we stood to sing the next carol he wanted to go up front again.

The tea towel and shoelace headdress was a surprising success as he refused to leave it on his head before the moment he had to go up front. That particular tea towel is one we got as a wedding present and, despite having a hole in it, we brought it all the way to France because its one of those really good absorbent ones. Ah, the stories it could tell. Wonder how long it will last.

Other noteworthy events of yesterday: had our first galette des roi. This is a french new years-ish tradition, though I’m told they’ll eat them all-January-long, and I don’t blame them: yum.

Galette is a tart – puffy pastry and a little bit of filling – almondy in my meagre experience though the ones at the bakery have ‘frangipane’ on the labels so perhaps there are variations. I might have to do some research (ahem-tasting). I do like the pastry:filling ratio. I do like pastry.

I’m in the right damn country, aren’t I.

It’s been a productive Monday morning so far – laundry and kids and writing and shops. Bought stickers for a potty-success-chart and also a pretty hair clip for myself… a gauzy rose, in a pinky caramel colour. I am all about the hair clips at the moment. Picked out some a few weeks back, for the kids to give me for christmas – simple bobby pins with unique, gorgeous little adornments – a blue rose, a glass bead with a picture inside: a raining cloud. Very beautiful and blue. Lovely.

I digress. Where was I? Probably should get on with things. C’est tous.

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De Ja Versailles, &c.

It’s been a busy week – all around the world, no doubt. It’s not just us.

We have had my sister and her husband staying with us over christmas and they just left today. They saw a lot of Paris for their little visit and we did a bit of it with them – which was fab! if a little tiring.

So, to begin with, Christmas!

Due to Louis and Elena’s ignorance about Christmas traditions (namely ripping open presents ASAP at the crack of christmas dawn) we managed to delay presents entirely until we got on skype with my parents. After breakfast.

Half the fun, at least, is in the unwrapping.

Louis got a farm from my folks and it was a hit, right off the bat, despite the absence of horses.

It was a relaxing morning, a leisurely two-course breakfast (documented on another post, of course) and lots of catching up, all around.

 Louis showed Elena how to play with the toy he gave her – yet another giraffe for our collection.

Lots of new books!

Elena possibly had more fun bouncing/dancing than opening presents.

… or perhaps Aunty Hannah was the best christmas present.

On boxing day, which isn’t a public holiday in France, we went to visit Versailles. It was top on Hannah and Will’s Paris to-do list. Good choice, I say. We’d seen the palace before but we went along to see the grounds.

It’ll be fantastic in spring. At the moment all the gardens are pretty much empty, the statues are covered up and the fountains are off. The grandeur and the evergreens remain, and the statues that are usually fountains, they’re still visible!

Louis particularly liked the horses. Imagine that.

Louis walked and walked all afternoon, jumped in puddles and fell over in the mud just once. He threw a lot of stones in a lot of fountains, little rebel, and never once went in himself. Success.

 On Hannah and Will’s last day in Paris we did a bit of Montmarte – Sacre Coeur, the cafe from Amelie, and the Moulin Rouge! But there are far too many photos to squeeze into this post.

Instead, here are a couple from Christmas eve…

Me and my sister (also Elena, hidden from sight)

Check out the view Lou! (Hannah has taken to calling Louis ‘lou’ or even ‘Loulou’…)


We walked down beneath the Eiffel Tower and then all the way up to the Arc de Triomphe.

Louis walked most of the way, but he was carried occasionally… very occasionally.

I’m sure Hannah is telling him all about the Eternal Flame and the history of the Arc de Triomphe. Sure.

That’s not the whole of our time with Hannah and Will, but enough pics for now eh? Tomorrow is new years eve and – oh wait, today is new years eve. So much for getting an early night in anticipation of the fact. Luuk bought me a board game for Christmas and we’ve been neglecting all else for playing it. Oops. Anyway, happy New Year everyone. xx

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feasting and more

We’ve eaten too damn well this week. Christmas eve we staggered home from Paris (because of the tiredness, not the mulled wine) and then pulled together this marvel:

vino verde poached salmon, cauliflower gratin, lemon butter new potatoes and haricots vert

 If I hadn’t had it all planned it never would have happened. We had figs stuffed with chevre, wrapped in prosciutto for a starter – which I’d prepared earlier in the day. I felt committed so, hang the lethargy, we continued with the plan.

After that feast dessert seemed unnecessary but there’s a tradition we were hoping to have a go at: the thirteen desserts of Noël. One of which is truffles.

I made the mixture in the morning, hoping to have time to involve Louis in the making – balling up spoonfuls and coating them in something… but Louis was in bed by this time (and hallelujah.)

Making the truffles

We were too full to eat so making the dessert was a good way to delay eating it… I know there’s something wrong with that sentence.

Luuk went shopping for liqueur to put in the truffles at about the time I made the mixture. He brought home several options and we didn’t have time to add them. But we concocted a plan to inject the truffles with a little something something. Luuk had the vital job of choosing a liqueur.

Hannah, lacing the truffles with poire william and/or cognac.


My recipe was a total made-up-as-you-go jobby: a packet or two of biscuits bashed up in a bag, added to about 125g of butter, a couple of tablespoons of cream fraiche, some icing sugar…

For the lemon I added rind and juice of one lemon.

For the chocolate I used chocolate biscuits to begin with, and then added chocolate chips, cocoa, and vanilla essence.

I balled it up in plastic bags (glad wrap would do but reusing a plastic bag is vaguely environmentally more friendly) and refrigerated it – making it easier to ball up without having a big sticky mess.

We dipped the finished truffles in icing sugar, cocoa, desiccated coconut, chocolate sprinkles and/or a few star sprinkles.

All thirteen desserts, from the top:

  • Calissons (almondy biscuits that everyone loved except for me… too sweet)
  • Pistachios (not one of the traditional ones but we skipped walnuts)
  • Nougat (we only did one kind but traditionally there might be two)
  • Orange segments
  • Raisins
  • Bread (couldn’t find a ‘fougasse’ which is the one we’re ‘meant’ to have…)
  • quince ‘cheese’… jam.
  • cashews and almonds (only almonds is on the traditional list)
  • chocolate truffles (and lemon too because I wanted to try them)
  • casse-dents (or something like it – a biscotti sort of bickie)
  • slices of pear

We skipped the apple and winter melon in favour of more nuts and truffles… can you blame us?

Delicious but of course far far too much. Tradition dictates that it is all meant to sit out to be nibbled at till January. Most of it is gone or packed away for the sake of food safety and space on the dining table to have other meals…

We were all rather surprised to be hungry come christmas morning. I made choc chip banana pancakes – Luuk’s request – and then Hannah made bacon and hash browns because I couldn’t be bothered – or perhaps I was on skype… anyway, pictures of christmas and presents will be on a later blog post. Today it’s all food food food…

We did christmas dinner late in the afternoon, almost at dinner time. That’s how long it took to get an appetite again…

The table, all set, ready to go!

The marshmallow santas we made last week, a few tea candles, a few glittery stars… trés simple.

Escargot was up first – our amuse-bouche. We got them pre-prepared with garlic and pesto.

Luuk and I have had them before but this was a first for Hannah and Will. Hannah didn’t like the texture and Will found some nicer than others. The sauce was an all-around winner, sopped up with bread if not liked on the snails. Myself, I like them.

A little apertif: kir royale. Champagne and cassis. Voila.

Fresh baguette with everything, we are in France after all, and the bakery is open christmas morning! Can’t go without this stuff for a whole day.

Luuk picked out a 1/4 ham thinking we’d have it with the main course… but it was a dry cured… ie. not to be cooked up for christmas. This type of ham is for slicing and putting on sandwiches. So we sliced off hunks and tasted it between courses.

The entree was prunes and pears wrapped in prosciutto. Not overly classy but yummy and little – very important.

For mains we did an old school roast: potatoes, kumara (probably more a sweet potato technically) and stuffing, a big fat chicken, and cranberry sauce (of sorts).

For vegetables I wanted to make a dish I’d done before. This one was fiddly but delicious – only I didn’t have the recipe in my folder, and couldn’t find it online. It didn’t turn out quite right (too much egg, and so it was too filling) but still yummy.

Courgette’s rolled up with eggy nut mixture, and baked in a capsicum relish.

We were all, of course, overloaded at this point. The next course on the traditional french christmas menu, according to my sources, is the ‘green lettuce intermittence’ which actually had some appeal. And while we nibbled on lettuce we skyped with Luuk’s sister. Then, a good while later, we dished up the cheese…

Five types, count ’em… from the front, brie de meaux, neufchâtel, comté, bleu d’ambert and morbier.

To finish: champagne and the Bûche de Noël.

We had this with fresh raspberries and coulis. The buche has a biscuitty chocolate base and is mostly made of dark chocolate mousse. The middle was ‘crémeux de framboise’ which was surprisingly juicy and a perfect compliment to the rich mousse. The topping is more raspberry something or other. It was fantastic!

I got Louis this, mainly because it looks so cool. I think all he ate was the holly leaves… but perhaps that’s for the best. It is an eclair, on a chocolate ‘sleigh’. Santa is hollow and probably made of white chocolate. But very pretty.

We watched Ratatouille, a kids movie set in Paris, and the DVD was christmas present, while we ate dessert at a very leisurely pace. And that was our christmas meals.

What a feast!



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embracing messiness

We’ve gone baking mad the last couple of days. My sister-in-law reminded me that this christmas challenge thing is all about doing things with the kids… whether we get gorgeous works of art – edible or otherwise – or not. Nonetheless, Louis and I have embarked on some projects which were perhaps a little out of his league. The stick tree was the worst as he could hardly do a thing. Yesterday we tried for a salt-dough nativity scene. It started really well: Louis loves to bake. He poured in all of the ingredients (from cup measure to bowl) and only a tiny bit went on the floor – but you’d be surprised how well salt spreads out. Anyway, it’s a very forgiving recipe: 2 cups flour, 1 cup salt, 1 cup warm water, and some recipes said to add 2 tbsp oil… but I didn’t. I put a bit of extra flour in but it’s possible we’d spilt some rather than that the recipe requires it. Making the figures was a team effort. Louis helped make the bits: balls for faces, big flat shapes for cloaks and for baby Jesus’ blanket, little balls for feet… His favourite bit was slapping the dough to flatten it – not overly surprisingly.

All the figures, ready to bake!

I rested the manger on the edge of a loaf tin so that it would have a curve: a little creative problem solving. Well done, me. I tried to get Louis to help paint and he did a little white on the sheep before he got bored. I finished them today while Louis was having his sleep. We collected some more sticks en route to the halte garderie so we’ll fashion them a stable this evening. Obviously the nativity making turned out to be a bit adult-centric. Louis had his moments but I thought today we could do better… by simply focussing on the side of things he loves: the baking!

First, selecting a recipe. There was no clear winner.

One of the choices was gingerbread reindeer. I used Mum’s christmas biscuit recipe. No idea where she got it but it’s fabulous, as long as you put everything in in the right order, and very low on dishes.

Here it is:

Melt 50 grams of butter in a large saucepan with 1 Cup of honey and 3/4 Cup of Brown Sugar.

When the sugar is no longer grainy, remove from the heat and add, in the following order, mixing…

Squeezing the lemon. Like a boss.

– 1 tbsp lemon juice
-1 tbsp lemon rind
– 2 tbsp cinnamon
– 1tsp ground cloves
– 1tsp nutmeg
– 1tsp all spice
– 1/2 tsp baking soda (or more, turns out, oops!)
– 3 cups of flour

Mix till smooth-ish.

The recipe says, roll out till 3-5mm thick. Cut shapes using cookie-cutters.

But today, for something different (for someone without cookie cutters):

Ball up teaspoon-fulls and squash into circles.

Balling up the dough.

For the reindeer variation: press pretzels into the top, as shown below…

Bake at 160°C for 15 minutes. Then cool and decorate. 

Bit of a snack.

All finished baking, and very soft, untill they cool. You were warned.

Couldn’t decide what colour eyes reindeer should have.

Now, what shall we do with all the leftover smarties??? First world problems, I know, but nevertheless…

Snowmen! If I’m honest this was probably Louis’ favourite from the pictures but he was being very contrary…

The ‘recipe’ online says to coat the marshmallows in ‘candy coating’. A bit of research revealed that this is something a lot like melted chocolate buttons. Too sweet for me. I went with the lemon icing and embraced the messiness. Louis helped with a couple of smarties and put the marshmallows on the sticks. And then ate a lot of smarties. Hm.

There was quite a lot of dough leftover but we’d done two whole trays of reindeer so I decided to get artistic, while Louis napped, and made a giant cookie:

Santa sleigh spiced biscuit.

And then I decorated it.

As you can tell, I got into it today. At one point there was icing, paint water and dishes from three different meals all on the kitchen bench… oh wait, there still is.

It’s the last day of work/school/halte garderie before the Christmas break. I ordered the ‘buche’ for christmas day, and delivered our christmas present to the Gardienne (our building caretaker). The house is a shambles but I’m feeling rather onto it. Always a nice delusion 🙂

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stick it to the plan

Pinecones are rather hard to come by, it turns out, especially in the dark.

Hurrah for the backup plan: sticks. I had seen this on pinterest:

Not my picture – obviously. Click the pic to go to the source.

We had a nice late-afternoon walk. It got dark just minutes after we got out of the house, basically, but we could collect sticks thanks to the lights in the park.

Louis had a blast splashing in the puddles and found a lot of joy in picking up soggy sticks. They’re still in the buggy, drying (I hope) and we’ll have a go at turning them into something like the above later this afternoon…

Later this afternoon:

I arranged the sticks, just trying to get my head around what I would do – and how I would do it with Louis.

I was starting to get a bit worried – it was more fiddly and complicated than it looked. So I tied most of it together while Louis was asleep. He helped with the string when he was up from his nap and took great delight in the transformation of five sticks into a star!

 Louis also enjoyed playing with the scissors and throwing the ball of string around the house. It is now unravelled almost entirely. Gr.

Unravelled string and ornaments.

The last step was to tie on some christmas decorations. I picked up a little box of white and silver balls at the supermarket and Louis helped arrange them on the tree – though he did want to put all of them on the star and I insisted we spread them out a bit more.

The other christmassy thing we did was post the christmas cards… to the other side of the world. They should arrive around valentines day. The packages, I hate to think when they’ll arrive.

I also got Luuk something (shhh, it’s a secret) and a card for Louis, cause he helped make the ones I’m giving everyone else – so it seemed silly to give him one of those. His card sings! He’ll love it. The rest of us will, quickly, feel otherwise, I imagine.

I also got Elena a snow suit. I don’t know what else to call it, but all the babies wear them here, snow or no snow, in the winter.

I got the 9 month size so it should last her all winter.

She was happier in it than she’s ever been in her puffy jacket. Plus, this has polka dots – totally cute. Also, it has legs. Very useful.

Luuk is doing THE CHRISTMAS GROCERIES today, so we’ll see him later in the evening, weighed down by poultry and disillusionment. We sorted out the menu and all our possible/definite plans for the weekend, christmas eve and christmas day.

My sister and her husband arrive on Sunday, just in time for Elena’s dedication on Sunday evening. If the jetlag isn’t devastating we might go to the Antony market together on Sunday morning, pick out the cheeses for christmas day, and restock on produce for christmas eve/day.

Monday, christmas eve, will be a manic day to go into Paris but we’ll probably have a go at it anyway. There will be four adults and two kids so at least we’ll have a higher ratio than usual. Plus, there are those lights on the champs elysee that I still haven’t seen. And the christmas markets are there too! Can’t believe we’re a week shy of the big day and I haven’t got there yet.

Nice to have so much to look forward to in the next few days. Hopefully won’t feel too pressurized by all my expectations.