The best bits of Paris

In November, I met up with my sister in Paris.

An opportunity had come up for her to attend a conference there and after some last-minute hunting for flight (her) and Eurostar (me) deals, considerable fossicking around on accommodation websites and much emailing, we managed to cobble together a pretty fabulous rendezvous for ourselves.

It was not my first trip to the City of Light – that was way back in 2000, and I’d been three times since (as a tourist, that is) – but this was the first time I’d visited so late in the year.

Temperamental to the core, Europe’s grand old dame put a pretty formidable foot forward, for the most part shrouding herself in icy-grey light and a bone-chilling wind. Occasionally she would toss her drab cloak aside, yielding a few hours of brisk blue sky before her grey mood returned. But Autumn had smeared its dazzling colours over her tree-lined boulevards, smattering her towers and turrets with its trademark reds, oranges and golds. We were enchanted.

Autumn

L to R: Jardins du Luxembourg; Les Jardins du Pont Neuf (taken from the Padlock Bridge); behind Notre Dame Cathedral

I mentioned before that this was not my first trip to Paris but for Lil Chicky it was. As with all first times, there are must-sees-and-dos so a long[ish] list made its way across the world and based on what I knew – and a rather tight planning window – I made us a bit of a plan.

Disclaimer: I do not profess to know Paris well, not like some other people I know. But those ‘others’ have given me some cracking recommendations for my previous visits – my last trip was in 2013 and involved pootling around some lesser known places in between hours spent reading in sun-drenched parks or lingering at outdoor cafes watching the world go by.

So here was my dilemma: How should I balance the new versus the I’ve-seen-it-before, the I-need-to-see-everything against quiet moments of contemplation and reflection that for me make Paris…Paris?

It turned out to be easier than I thought. It had been so long since I’d done the first time things that it was a real treat to go back and do them again. And in most cases, we managed to add a little something extra. So hang on to your woolly hats peeps, here’s your armchair tour of my best bits of Paris.

The Hop-On-Hop-Off (affectionately known as HOHO) bus drove us around the city sights for a couple of hours on Sunday morning and we got some great photos particularly of the ferris wheel on the Place de la Concorde and the Eiffel Tower.

Bridge and Eiffel Tower

The following afternoon we joined a small skip-the-line group (skip-the-line is so worth paying for – I will never live in Britain long enough to love a queue), so were on la Tour Eiffel just as night fell. The city lit up before us and with the tower glowing and sparkling above us…

Eiffel Tower

Far right: Standing on the second level as the light show happens.

…we got the lift right up to the summit (a first for me, very windy and VERY high – over 1000 feet!). We treated ourselves to a [plastic] glass of [expensive] champagne to toast our efforts – it would have been rude not to.

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One morning we spent an hour visiting the stunning Sacre Couer Basilica in Montmarte…

sacre couer

…then strolled through Place du Tertre, its cobbles dappled with easels and Autumn colour. We walked back down the hill of Montmarte via Rue Lepic, stopping to admire the local art and architecture along the way…

Montmarte Artists

…before pausing opposite the Blanche Metro at the bottom for a cheeky photo of the Moulin Rouge. Many years ago I went to a show in this area but have never stopped here during the day – the Pigalle district doesn’t look anywhere near as risque in the daylight.

Moulin Rouge

On a another afternoon we wandered up the Champs Elysees to the Arc du Triomphe…

Arc du Triomphe

…then climbed the 284 steps to the top for the most spectacular views of both Paris and the star-shaped Place Charles de Gaulle below us. We booked our skip-the-line tickets just as we arrived so were able to show them on our phone and walk straight in and up. Definitely my top pick for Paris views.

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On our last morning we spent a few hours at the Louvre Museum wandering through the extraordinary palace building and admiring a few of its most famous exhibits…

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…as well as some not so famous ones (yet!).

Statue.

I laugh out loud every time I see this photo!

We visited the breathtaking Notre Dame Cathedral…

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…and the 13th century royal chapel on the Ile-de-la-Cite, Sainte-Chapelle.

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Map in hand we stalked the famous, and infamous, at the Pere Lachaise Cemetary…

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…and throughout our stay in Paris, found a few ways to honour those that we’ve loved, and lost.

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A month has passed since I let myself into the snug hotel room at Villa Pantheon and hugged my sister hello. We went on to create so many wonderful memories. For five days, we ambled through the boulevards, avenues, gardens and alleyways of Paris together. We walked until we didn’t think we could walk anymore, falling into our beds each night with aching backs, feet and legs only to get up and walk all over the city again the following day. We drank wine, got lost and explored (not always in that order). We laughed – sometimes until we cried (there may have been a ridiculous hat involved) – and ate far too much cake than is considered good for a person.

Paris cakes

L to R: Our trip to the fabulous Angelina on Rue de Rivoli (with special Aussie friend); our discovery of an Angelina outpost at the Louvre and its location-themed special; this absolutely divine tarte tatin at Brasserie de la Tour Eiffel was scrumptious – the cake of trip for me!

But above all, we surrendered to the joy of simply being together…

Arc du Triomphe Paris 2017 2

…and that peeps was definitely the best bit of Paris.

L Is For…

Here I am four days into year 45 on the planet. Birthday number 44 seemed to whizz by in a blur despite having a day-off-morphing-into-a-long-weekend, albeit 24 hours after my big day. For a Leo birthday, I have to admit that it has been little less lush and a little more laid-back than usual.


But I’ve managed to capture myself a few luscious moments along the way.

The night of said big day, after a frantically busy day at work, I logged off and headed into town. It was a hot and humid tube trip in and after picking up my theatre ticket, I decided to pop in to Cote for a quick bite to eat and, in a moment of too-bloody-hot-for-wine, a refreshing glass of cloudy lemonade


Replete with a delicious vichyssoise and ratatouille vegetables in puff pastry, I was soon ensconced in my seat at the Duchess Theatre. Courtesy of lastminute.com, I had scored a cheap ticket to see the play Fences starring Lenny Henry. In short, the play was fantastic and Henry was awesome.

It was late by the time I got home but fave flick Top Gun had just started (who could ever lose their Lovin’ Feelin’ with that volleyball scene on the box *sigh*) and there was still an hour left of the birthday Day to open some presents. 

I got some lambswool

…and something with which to further my baking exploits (I’ve always loved licking the bowl).


As with all birthdays, it is a requirement that one brings cakes into the office for others to scoff and I decided that my new mixer would best be christened by whipping up a batch of great Aussie favourite, lamingtons. These are squares of light fluffy sponge cake dipped in chocolate and rolled in coconut. So after a lie-in and a morning frappe at local café La Barista yesterday, I embarked on step one – baking the sponge . 

They turned out less light and fluffy…


…and more like sponges of the dish-washing kind. Clearly I need to master the new mixer.

So instead I’ve made Lemon Drizzle Cake


…and some white chocolate brownies for the Great Office Scoff.

There’s been some lazing about in the sun in between times – reading the paper and excellent magazine, Intelligent Life which always deserves some time to peruse at a leisurely pace. And finally I’ll be topping off my big birthday bonanza tonight with my regular Sunday night dip into the lives of the Lancastrians and Yorkists with the BBC’s The White Queen.

So that peeps was my lusciously long and lazy-ish birthday weekend…only 361 sleeps until the next one.

Smooth….

Jeans have long been deemed a modern nod to corsetry. Many a girl has pummelled, poured and squeezed herself into denim for the sake of a flat tum and a pert bum and aside from ‘magic underwear’, jeans have continued to shape our fashion sense since their first appearance in 1873.

And just when I thought jeans could not give any more, Wrangler has come up with a beauty.

Denimspa is a range of moisturising jeans that can also help in the battle against cellulite.

The cloth fibres in each pair are impregnated with microcapsules which burst as the wearer slides them on. The moisturiser lasts five days before the jeans need to be topped up with a spray. There are three versions available: Aloe Vera, Olive Extract and my favourite, Smooth Legs which contain caffeine, retinol and algae extract to help fight cellulite.

Unfortunately they only come in Skinny Fit…and pear-shaped girls plus skinny jeans do not a match in Heaven make.

For those of you Skinnies afficionados, you can buy your Denimspa strides here.

And for those of you who do not aspire can’t be bothered with ‘skinny’ stuff, this piece of cute and gastronomic inspiration appeared on my Facebook feed this week…

Mmmmmm….now that’s my kind of smooth…

Report Card: The Great Bake-Off

Well hello good people!  Thanks for dropping past to check that all is well at Gidday HQ after the big birthday bonanza.  42 is going well so far – but it has taken me a week to get my proverbial s**t together to get tap-tap-tapping again.  Who knew it would be such a busy week!

Anyhow, with such a break between posts and a pretty full-on week, there’s lots to catch up on – picnicking at the polo, Kindle exploits (yes, I got one peeps – now just waiting for my free wireless router to be delivered) and Mad Men – but with the passing of August 1st, there is one update that demands my most urgent and immediate attention – My Year Of Baking.

Just over a year ago, when navel-gazing about what I had achieved in my 41 years and what I might like to conquer in the year ahead, I decided to overcome my serious lack of baking experience.  So I set up The Great Bake-Off tab on Gidday From The UK to chart my cake-and-cookie exploits.  Just doing this was a triumph in itself as my excitement back on October 17th will attest to.

Anyhow, as with all good projects, I thought it was time to compile a little Report Card for your comment and review so without further ado, here are a few key stats to start us off.

I baked on 10 occasions.
Double figures – yeah baby – well done me!  And that’s just for the new recipes (although admittedly while I cooked quite a bit, there wasn’t much ‘baking’ outside this list).

I made 6 new recipes.
  30 JUL:  Anzac Biscuits
  10 JUL:  Walnut & Rosemary Bread
  25 APR:  Hot Cross Buns
  17 APR:  Apple & Raspberry Squares
   6 MAR:  Mango Fruit Cake
   6 OCT:  Pineapple & Banana Loaf

On average, that’s one every two months – okay but I could’ve done better. Life at various points just got in the way…

I used lots of ingredients.
I had to clear a space in my cupboard (and for that part, in my life too) for all of my baking essentials – in particular, I used a lot more fruit/flour/butter/sugar:

   Fruit – 2,920g (400g was walnuts – does that count?)
   Flour – 2,255g 
   Sugar – 865g 
   Butter – 360g
   Eggs – 17

More than is probably good for me (and others). But what a blessing it turned out to be!

So that’s the stats bit done. Let’s now check out the highs (and the lows – but only if we must):

High Number 1:  
Most successful – Apple & Raspberry Squares – by a mile!

Amazing what some slightly squished raspberries from the market and a crinkly old apple can produce.  I had people visiting my desk to tell me how good this was and one guy wanted to schedule my next ‘cake’ day in his Outlook calendar as he had missed out on my little squares of fruity joy second time round.

This has sinced morphed into Raspberry and Coconut Cake with as much success.  I made this 3 times and may even morph this further as the blackberries are coming into season along my walk home.

High Number 2: 
Biggest victory – Hot Cross Buns

I LOVE Hot Cross Buns – warm and lovely with lashings of butter.  But since moving to the UK, I have not been able to partake of this little Easter treat as I am allergic to oranges and there is mixed peel in every one of the little blighters.  In the face of significant incentive for mastering this one, there was also a less-than-successful bread-making incident in Home Ec. at High School so I embarked on this one more than a little daunted by that living (breathing?) entity – yeast.

I am pleased to report it went well.  Warm and lovely with lashings of butter…

Having mastered yeast-o-phobia also meant that Walnut & Rosemary Bread was a cinch – twice!

Low Number 1:
Biggest disppointment – Anzac Biscuits

I have to confess that I’ve never been a huge fan of these myself so when these came out of the oven looking like little crunchy lumps of…well not biscuits, I nearly didn’t take them to work.  But they disappeared and people made [polite] yummy noises, so not disasterous by any stretch of the imagination. 

Note to self: only bake what moi likes to eat.

Low Number 2:
Coulda, woulda, shoulda – Lamingtons

The plan for office birthday baking was to educate everyone with a couple of Aussie icons.  I managed the Anzac biscuits with ingredients from the store cupboard (although why I had rolled oats in there I will never know) and they were meant to be accompanied by Lamingtons. Having been inspired last November by A-down-the-hill’s Lamington exploits, I was so looking forward to this but time/energy/enthusiasm faded slowly away last weekend and I ended up whipping up a batch of the Raspberry and Coconut Cake using ingredients I already had. 

Despite the absence of lamingtons in my portfolio, it does make me rather proud to say I ‘whipped up’ a cake.

So there you have it folks.  My Year of Baking.  And there are still items of the pastry, chocolate, mousse, jelly and iced variety to explore as we cruise on-board the SS 42. 

As well as lamingtons. 

Hooray! I say.

Now where did I put that spatula?

Cupcakes and champers…it’s lush!

It’s the last day of my little staycation before I go back to work tomorrow.  It’s been grey and drizzly, a perfect recovery day after a Saturday of champagne (and a few other alcoholic beverages), chocolate making and cupcake decorating with friend, A-down-the-hill (she of the emergency handbag adventure).

Yes peeps, champers, chocolates and cupcakes. On a Saturday afternoon. I think the word that the youngsters use nowadays is ‘lush’ (or is that to describe my drinking habit??)

Anyway, we met at the train station in the gorgeous sunshine and before we knew it we had arrived at The Peacock Bar – 30 minutes early (not excited – much!). Being the resourceful Aussie girls we are and having always been taught to entertain ourselves, we perused the cocktail list, read up on the Burlesque portion of the club’s entertainment offering and did a little reconnaissance on our preferred position at the chocolate-pots.

(I’d like to point out here that this was purely for the chocolate-making, not the burlesque, although there was a boobs chocolate mold and another that looked alarmingly like a woman’s…well…bits.  But this is a family blog – hi Mum – so let’s move on to less fruity tales!)

Serious dipping, dribbling and chocolate mold-filling was the first order of the day (oh sorry wait – it was the second: champers was the first!) and before long, our creative efforts were whisked away to ‘chill’ before our departure. Come to think of it, I am now wondering how on earth those little bundles of cocoa joy knew that they needed to prepare for a stressful trip home.

Then it was on with the cakes – and some rather nuclear coloured icing that kept melting a little in the heat.  But with perseverence (and a few nips outside for a hormonal flushed yours truly to un-flush cool down), I managed these little beauties:

A’s were pretty good too but she was quite speedy about it all and hers were boxed up for taking home before I got around to whipping out the ol’ HTC for happy-snapping.

So there was nothing left to do but have a(nother) drink and sample some more of the expert/organisers’ wares while our chocolates continued to get suitably chilled (remember, we did the chocolates bit before the cupcakes bit.)

 

 

After three hours or so, we were issued with our little bundles of chilled cocoa joy and, placing our boxes of iced splendor carefully into carrier bags, we set off in search of the local gbk (all hail gbk!) and a savoury snackette (a chicken and avocado burger, chunky fries and smoked chilli mayo between us) to take the edge off our sugar rush before heading home, comfortably ensconsed behind our fashionable sunglasses at 5.30pm.

(Imagine, if you will, two grown-up and determined-not-to-stop-yet children after substantial quantities of red cordial, followed by the inevitable post-cordial slump, the slavish search for carbohydrates and a doze-y train ride home.  The walk (me) / cycle (A) home from the station was never going to go well.)

Just for the record, the cakes did not really survive the trip home…

These are A’s – mine weren’t much better!

…but the chocolates were delicious.

Let Me Eat Cake…

I thought it was about time for me to report on my efforts so far in The Great Bake Off

I have to confess it’s not been a frenzy of culinary activity and after an incredibly slow start, there has only been a slight acceleration in pace this year.  But I’ve managed three successes out of three and have become ‘sold’ on the whole concept of planning a Sunday afternoon baking ‘sesh’.

It started out in October last year with Pineapple and Banana Loaf, followed by my inspired return from Christmas in Australia and the even more inspired Mango Fruit Cake adventure in March.  Today’s sunny Sunday success is Apple and Raspberry Squares…
Yes, that is evidence of my choppers tucking in for a little taste…
Whilst not wishing to brag at all (ok, maybe a little bit), I appear to have ‘mastered’ the whole cake with fruit thing so in the spirit in which My Year of Baking was born (ie. to remove the mystery from baking in all its forms), I promise to move into uncharted territory next time (maybe chocolate, pastry?)…although Easter is next week, and if I manage to find a substitute for mixed peel (I am allergic to oranges – but not lemons, limes, grapefruit – go figure), I might just need to give Hot Cross Buns a whirl…
So does anyone know where I can get candied lemon peel in SW London?  Anyone?  There could be a cuppa and a potentially decent Easter Bun in it for you….

The great bake-off sputters to life

It’s been 6 months between ‘bakes’ but my second foray has been a resounding success.

After returning from Australia having spent 2 weeks over Christmas with family and food in abundance, I have been waiting for a chilly Sunday afternoon to cook this delicious fruit cake for myself (I’ve decided baking is best on afternoons when it’s cold outside!)  And this last weekend was D-Day…

Mango Fruit Cake 1

Scrumptious, super-easy and no-added-sugar. Feel free to snaffle the recipe (below) for yourself. Believe me, your guests/ friends/ hangers-on will be impressed…

Bon Appetit!


Mango Fruit Cake recipe

The Piece De Resistance…Of Birthdays!

Last weekend I found myself tucked cosily in my sunlit train seat chugging my way across London to a 1st birthday party in Borehamwood.

Little N was an Australia Day 2010 arrival and having visited him in hospital when he was just a day old (I have the dubious honour of being his first ‘friend’ photo), I am constantly amazed each time I see him how much he’s grown into even more of a ‘little’ person.  And it’s been two months, what with travelling, Christmas and the like, so trekking across London on a fine Sunday afternoon seemed the least I could do.

Being of the child-free variety, I had been invited to attend ‘the adult’s party’ where there would be substantially fewer small people and more grown up fare (ie. drinks and nibbles).  And after his small person shindig earlier followed by a baby power nap, N was in fine form and ready to receive our assorted offerings in the ’12 months and older’ category.  He even gave every parcel his due and careful attention…until the next one appeared!

(Between you and me though, I’m afraid that the whole ‘ding dong’ and ‘more things for me’ association that was happening is just likely to yield disappointment and/or frustration for him on all days non-birthday.  Sigh…we all have to grow up some time…)

But really, the point of this entire post is to brag about the piece de resistance – I give you (dramatic pause)

…The Cake…

And in case you couldn’t see Drago the Dragon on top, here it is again…

And underneath that awesome icing, there was Red Velvet Cake (from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook no less)…and Mum A made it all herself!

Do you think six months prior is too early to start dropping hints for my big day?

ps…and before I head off to plan my strategy/plead my case, I’d like to extend a big gidday to new follower, spriteyone.  Come on in and make yourself right at home!

The Ghost of Christmas (Sales) Past…

Well, it’s week 2 of my great Southern Odyssey, custody of my good self has been successfully transferred to the sprawling abode of Lil Chicky and Husband (and I do mean sprawling – my entire flat would fit in their garage!) and it was time to get out those Christmas vouchers and hit the sales.

5 and half hours later (noted with some amazement as we paid for our parking), voucherless (me) and footsore (both), we heaved ourselves into the car, agreed we’d had an excellent day…and groaned.

What is it about post Christmas sales that convince us to keep pushing on well beyond the comfort of our shoes and the confines of our finances? 

I mean, it happens every year so it’s not like this is a completely new experience…but it does not seem to matter how comfortable the footwear (although I have not yet stooped to shopping in my slippers) or how often we stop to fortify our shopping lust (with lunch, cake, coffee etc), we always arrive back home completely spent in more ways than one.

And as I sit here with my aching feet propped up on the chair in front of me, I can’t help but think about my fabulous purchases and smile with complete and unmitigated satisfaction…

…and wonder where we’ll shop tomorrow.

Let Me Eat Cake….

With yesterday afternoon off, I was walking happily down Theobalds Road to start my tube journey home when I decided to return a missed call from my friend-who-became-a-Mum-on-Australia-Day-and-I-haven’t-seen-her-since, A.  As it turned out, she was heading in my general homeward direction with baby N so we arranged to meet up half way for a spot of cake and coffee.
Well, it turned out to be a rather LARGE spot…
A has this favourite place for cake & coffee in Fulham called Del Aziz which not only has the most astronomical selection of cakes, pastries, breads, slices, tarts and pies I have ever seen but the slices come in my-eyes-are-too-big-for-my-belly proportions. 

(In mulling over what should make our shortlist, despite it not making it to the Final Cut,  I chose this one to help whet your appetite…
…see what I mean?)
I did not have the presence of mind to take a photo of my particular gastronomic delight but suffice to say it took lingering for 2 hours over both it and some lovely catching-up-and-cooing-over-baby-N conversation to empty the plate…and I enjoyed every richly deliciously scrumptious forkful.

Jealous yet??

On the down side, I did have a bit of a sugar headache and felt slightly ill afterwards.

But only a little bit…