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Paris Kitchen: Banana Oat Muffins

Sometimes the best things are the easiest to make. And thank goodness for that because when you realise you have basically nothing in the house and a hungry kid on his way home for gouter (snack time) things need to be quick! I have convinced myself that these delicious banana oat muffins are also breakfast appropriate because – oats! Just pop them in the oven quickly to heat them through and they make the perfect warm breakfast, dessert or snack.

You’ll Need…

2 cups of plain flour
1 cup of oats
1 cup of sugar
1/3 cup of unsalted melted butter
2 eggs
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
(Optional) 1 tsp cinnamon & 1/2 tsp nutmeg
3 RIPE mashed bananas

If you have a local greengrocer, sometimes if you ask for really ripe bananas they’ll give you them for free! They probably won’t be able to sell them and nobody likes waste!

How to…

Pre-heat your oven to 200°c
Combine all your ingredients together – by hand if you want a lighter fluffy texture, in a mixer if you’re short on time/can’t be bothered. 
Spoon into greased and/or lined muffin tins (ours are silicone, but I still grease them a little)
Bake for 18-20 minutes until a knife comes out clean when poked. 

This recipe makes 12 muffins and if you store them in an airtight container in the fridge and heat them up when you want them they’ll last you a good week (definitely store out of sight of your kids though!)

If you were wondering, the chocolate milk pictured here with the muffin is the “healthy” chocolate milk replacement I’ve been making lately: 250ml of coconut milk, a banana and a tablespoon of unsweetened coco powder all whizzed up in the nutribullet. I keep coconut milk in the fridge so that it’s chilled when I want to drink it. 

Enjoy!

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Paris Kitchen: Stuffed Butternut Squash

As some of you know, with a husband who works nights, I’m often alone for dinner and the evening. Over spring and summer it was easy to eat early with Arthur and I still try to do that as often as possible – it’s good for you to eat early in the evening and I think it helps Arthur eat better when we’re at the table eating the same thing! However, as autumn’s darker evenings draw in, its getting chillier and the candles are being lit I found myself craving this absolute gem of a solo dinner. 

I love all types of squash. They have the perfect sweet and savoury balance that make pairing them up with different flavours so easy, not to mention they are choc full of immune boosting vitamin A and vitamin C – vital at this time of year, especially if you have a child in school! This easy recipe teams butternut squash with that other autumn and winter superhero, Kale, crunchy red pepper, button mushrooms and creamy cottage cheese. You’ll need:

Half a butternut squash (that’s been halved lengthways and de-seeded)
A tablespoon of olive oil
Half a red pepper (diced)
Five or six button mushrooms (diced)
A handful of kale (diced) 
Two big heaped teaspoons of cottage cheese
A sprinkling of parmesan to finish

Pre-heat your oven to 180°c and once it’s hot, rub your half butternut with olive oil and salt and bake for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile sautée your kale, red pepper and mushrooms in a little olive oil until cooked, add the cottage cheese and take off the heat. 
Once a knife goes easily into the flesh of your squash, take it from the oven and scoop out a little flesh along the length of it, so you have a channel that extends from the cavity where the seeds were. 
Fill up the empty space with your kale, pepper and mushroom mixture & pop it back into the oven for 10-15 minutes.

Remove from the oven, sprinkle with parmesan, season and enjoy! If you have any of the kale, pepper and mushroom mix left over, its delicious heated up and mixed with a bit of quinoa or pasta the next day, or on its own with a poached egg popped on top.

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Curating Life: Finding Your Village Far From Home

This post has been sitting at the back of my mind for ages now. It’s a culmination of all the advice I’ve ever given to someone new to this city and all the hard work I’ve done establishing myself here and creating a life for my family. Because it is HARD work. Until now I’ve not really had the words or the platform to express all of this, but finally here we are. As mums we’re told over and over that “It takes a village…” but what does that mean for those of us who are far from home? How can that be true for us? 

The funny thing about France is that, for a Brit, it doesn’t seem that foreign. We’ve nearly all been here on childhood holidays and school trips, booze runs to Calais (what, that’s only my family?) and having grown up in Kent and Sussex it really seemed just a skip and a hop away. Honestly, Paris is closer to my hometown than the North of England and so it didn’t seem like a massive leap to move here. Lots of people I’ve spoken to have said the same, for Brits it just doesn’t feel like a big deal, for Americans it tends to be the romantic Paris vision but sure enough, for pretty much everyone, the romance evaporates fairly quickly when faced with daily life here. 

This is understandable. Quite honestly, when I do my quarterly battle with the French administration system (or ANYTHING that involves dealing with a government agency: National insurance, taxes, family benefits, school applications, creche applications…) I am ready to pack my bags and swim back over the channel if that’s what it takes to not to ever have to deal with them again. However, the French administration system is just a system and once you’ve made your peace with it, you’re halfway to beating it. It’s not the excessive paperwork that renders so many new-comers so depressed and isolated, it’s loneliness. 

As in any big city, loneliness is a huge problem and particularly so among young mothers. Paris attracts a great number of expats, who when they come to work in France bring with them “trailing spouses”, who have no family or friends nearby to help out and even those of us foreigners who are married to locals are not immune to the loneliness of the first months and years of motherhood. As foreigners here, most of us don’t have the option of popping over to mum’s for a cup of tea, we mostly don’t have an established friend group who are all having children at the same time as us, we don’t have a village! Many women have remarked to me that French people are very difficult to make friends with, as they tend to have friendship groups that they’ve had since they were children and have very little interest in making new friends. While this is true (not always, but mostly!), the good news is that it all changes when you have a child in creche or school – a real bonding experience with other mothers! But up until then, what is a mum to do? 

How can I feel at home here? How can I make friends? How can I feel like I’m not swimming upstream just trying to survive in this country? How can I find my village?

  • Shop in your local market street & say Bonjour! Even if it makes you feel like an extra in Beauty and the Beast… getting to know my local shop and market vendors made a huge difference for me in the loneliness cloud. Just being able to walk down my street and have nearly every person I came across greet me, ask some small talk questions and wave me on my way brightened my days considerably. It will also help your language skills! One fruit and veg vendor used to refuse to give me my order until I had given her the correct masculine or feminine for them (its une orange…) At first I was horrified and embarrassed and now we greet each other with bises and she knows all about my life! Take a deep breath and Bonjour!
  • Find your local mum group. Even if it’s online. Online is actually often the best option as people organise meet-ups, play groups, baby massage classes, mum’s nights out, Halloween and Christmas parties etc. France has an excellent France-wide Facebook group for English Speaking mums: Mum’s Space France. A community of over 2500 mums of all ages – every question I’ve ever had about life in France with kids can be answered by these ladies. As many of them struggle with the same things I struggle with, or have beaten those things – it’s a great tool for realising that you’re not alone. Most cities now have Facebook groups for mums – Get involved, even if you don’t use Facebook for anything else!

Feeling at home in a place takes time. We’re here to stay, but I don’t envy the people who have to move every couple of years for work (although they are some of the most sociable, generous, organisational party people I know!) If you’re feeling lonely, the most important thing is to reach out, approach that mum at the park, call that acquaintance, make it to the mum group or even just get outside. I have a friend who follows English speakers in her local park and invites them to parties. I got approached by a lady in a shop just the other day and I have a good friend who first approached me at the assisted boarding gate at Eurostar – be brave. It really is worth it. 

In this modern world “The Village” doesn’t look like it used to, but that doesn’t mean that it’s gone. We’ve redefined it, remade it and now that we’re far from home, we need it more than ever.

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Our Tiny Home: Cooking

If there’s one thing you must master if you want to be a successful Paris resident, it’s the art of tiny kitchen cooking. In a city where, when you rent an apartment “a fully equipped kitchen” probably just means that there’s a sink and maybe a cupboard, getting creative with our kitchen spaces is a true Parisian art!

When we moved into our first apartment here, the kitchen was completely empty except for a sink and an ancient dark brown wood cabinet that was practically hanging off of the wall. As people who love to cook this simply would not do! In true modern style we went and purchased every possible kitchen gadget we thought we would need, as well as the absolute necessities of oven, fridge and freezer. In our tiny TINY kitchen we managed to shove: oven, fridge freezer, microwave, dishwasher, coffee machine, toaster, kettle, pots, pans, utensils, a raclette machine and a huge array of other kitchen gadgets. So many gadgets and THINGS in fact, that we never ever used them because we simply didn’t have the space to get them out! 

Now we’ve moved and have a little more space and I have learned my kitchen hoarder lesson. In our old apartment I was overwhelmed by things and I cooked far less and far less elaborate meals because I barely had the space to move. Not because our kitchen was small, but because it was cluttered. Yes, I still have a few kitchen gadgets (and I won’t be giving them up anytime soon!) but we’ve pared down and started using our space much much more creatively. My advice would be that if you can’t tidy it into a cupboard, you should be using it at least three to four times a week – and if you’re not using something three to four times a week, do you really need it? 

Thinking about what you actually use your kitchen for is important here as well. Are you someone who really bakes, or did you just buy the whole range of Mary Berry bakeware after binge-watching four seasons of the Great British Bake Off? Do you actually like smoothies or do you own a Nutribullet because everyone on your Instagram feed seems to always have a green smoothie in hand? This sounds really obvious but we are all guilty of aspirational purchasing, and in a world that is obsessed with cooking and food plus social media…almost nowhere else is this more prevalent than in the kitchen. 

Having said that, there are gadgets that make tiny kitchen life when you have a family much much easier. My slow cooker and the kitchen aid are the two things that spring to mind here (both were gifts that we thought about and asked for long in advance). The slow cooker is wonderful because honestly, batch cooking means less overall time spent in the kitchen, it means healthy food is always on hand with very little work and it only involves one pot – a huge plus for tiny spaces! Another reason the slow cooker is great is because in Parisian kitchens, there often isn’t space for an oven. I’ve been to great dinner parties where everything has been cooked using a table top hob and a slow cooker (including an amazing Thanksgiving with all the trimmings!)

If you have some steps to take to downsize into your Parisian sized kitchen, there’s three main points to consider:

  • Prioritise: what are you cooking? What do you want your kitchen to look like? Work out what you really need – for us this involved getting rid of our microwave and coffee machine for starters. 
  • Declutter: really throw or give away everything you are not using every week. Exceptions include things like raclettes or large roasting dishes that are used when you have company. Get rid of duplicates, nobody needs three sets of salad spoons. 
  • Educate yourself. Learn how to cook great dishes with what you’ve got. There’s no use lusting after an oven if there’s just no space for one in your kitchen. 

My kitchen still looks more cluttered than I’d like, but thankfully now that’s because I’m in there every single day using my stuff instead of being shut out by the overwhelming amount of things and lack of space. I hope some of this has been helpful and I’m sorry that sometimes the only answer when it comes to tiny apartment living is to have less stuff!

 

***Next in the Tiny Kitchen series, batch cooking and meal planning how to***

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Paris Kitchen: Week Night dinners

Time is just flying by around here at the moment. I can’t believe we’re already half way through September. Time definitely ran away with me last week, resulting in zero posts (sorry!) but I’m back with a vengeance this week with some kitchen focussed posts (can you tell I’m missing work already?!) and next week some thoughts on blooming where you’re planted. 

For tonight I’m writing about week night dinners. I am the proud owner of a two year old. As any other mother of any other two year old will tell you, meal times can be…interesting. Week night dinners in particular for most families tend to be somewhere in between mayhem and bedlam. Between getting in from work and school, getting housework and homework done, getting ready for the following day and everyone in to bed at a decent hour – we can all agree that quick week night dinners are the way forward. 

Unfortunately quick doesn’t always equate to healthy, filling meals but with a little bit of research & meal planning – it definitely can. With that, I give you my list of healthy week night dinners that can be cooked within 45 minutes and enjoyed by everyone, including picky toddlers and husbands.

  • Fishcakes are a huge favourite. We make them ahead for the week on a Sunday and pop them straight from the freezer into the oven. With a side of whatever veg you have on hand, they are usually demolished pretty quickly.
  • Baked breaded chicken strips and sweet potatoes. This recipe is from the amazing book “Lizzie loves healthy family food.” by Lizzie King and is totally gluten free, but you can bread your chicken using whatever kind of coating you have to hand. 
  • Tuscan baked beans on toast. This is another Lizzie King recipe that we’ve adapted slightly. We make a tomato sauce packed with veggies, mix in white beans and serve it on toast. It’s baked beans on toast….without all the sugar and guilt. And it’s bloody delicious. Who says dinner has to be fancy? 
  • Pasta pesto will forever be our go-to pasta dish. Quick & easy, pesto is fantastic to make ahead of time, roll up like a sausage and pop in the freezer. The great thing about this dish is how easy it is to chop up masses of green veg and “hide” it in the already deliciously green pesto. Camouflage veg is always a good idea! 
  • Left over stir fry or curry. When you’re a family of three, you always end up buying a bit too much veg. Generally at the end of the week I have a look to see what’s left; half a butternut squash, a sweet potato, some sugar snap peas, green beans and a couple of tomatoes..maybe some already grated carrot. Depending on what we have in our cupboards it all gets thrown into either a stir fry (with garlic, ginger, soy sauce and buckwheat noodles) or a quick curry (spices, garlic, coconut milk/tomato sauce and basmati rice) Sometimes a risotto can be scraped together from trailing veg and parmesan too! 

Often there’s so much worry associated with family meals and meal times. It’s totally reasonable to crack out store bought pizza sometimes or serve scrambled eggs on toast twice in a week for dinner because you just can’t. be. bothered. to cook again. Most of the mums I talk to just want reasonably priced, quick to make meal ideas that their kids will eat and that will be good for them. 

If you’re looking for great resources for healthy family eating, I absolutely love Jamie Oliver’s book “Superfood Family Classics” – it’s the most battered and stained book in my kitchen and Lizzie King’s book “Lizzie loves healthy family food.” is fantastic – every single recipe I’ve made from it has been a hit. 

None of my five meal suggestions above are groundbreaking or even very exciting (and it’s nowhere near my full list, but rather my crisis meals that I know get eaten every time!) but sometimes we need to look at other people’s go-to meals to get inspired for our own. Share some of yours with me? 

 More fishcakes...
More fishcakes…
 Lizzie King's Tuscan baked beans. SO comforting. 
Lizzie King’s Tuscan baked beans. SO comforting. 
 Baked chicken and sweet potatoes
Baked chicken and sweet potatoes
“Fish & Chips” 
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Toddler Life: Stress Free Routines

It’s la rentrée! For most of my mum friends here in Paris this probably means that they’ve spent the last few days running around the shops like headless chickens trying to locate everything on the insanely specific stationery lists given out by schools here. In the U.K you’ve probably sewn on countless name labels to brand new school uniforms and spent far more time in Clarke’s than you ever thought possible. 

However much you love or hate these final tasks, all your hard work its about to be paid off – they’re going back to school! As I’ve previously mentioned, I love this time of year but it really doesn’t change the fact that we’re now in the lead up to winter. The mornings and evenings are darker – the sun sets at around 17h here in the winter – it’s colder, wetter and it’s just generally harder to get out of bed. 

As school and crèche start pretty early in the morning here, strong evening and morning routines have been absolute necessities for us since Arthur started at the crèche when he was around a year old. 

Mornings:

  • 6h: I wake up. Sometimes I do some yoga, sometimes I just make coffee and read for an hour
  • 7h: Arthur wakes up
  • 7h15: Breakfast. In autumn and winter I try to do warm breakfasts as often as possible
  • 7h45: Get dressed & brush teeth
  • 8h: Out the front door!

Evenings:

  • 17h: Crèche pick up and quiet playtime while I cook dinner (10 minute tidy before dinner)
  • 18h: Arthur and I eat dinner together most nights during the week
  • 18h30: Shower time & and I clean down the kitchen, close the curtains & blinds in his room & put some lavender oil on his diffuser
  • 18h45: Pyjamas on and teeth brushed before a bedtime story (only one!)
  • 19h: Bedtime! 
  • After Arthur’s in bed I take half an hour to get organised for the morning. I finish whatever housework is left to do (usually laundry), lay out clothes for both of us for the morning, pack my lunchbox if I need one and lay out whatever else we need. 

All of this seems pretty intense sometimes but when I feel like I just can’t be bothered with the routines I remind myself of how stressful our mornings would be without them! With a new baby joining us soon and a husband who works nights and needs to sleep in the morning I want to make sure that we have the least stress possible in our time together in the mornings and evenings and I also want to make sure that Arthur can do some stuff without help from us. 

I found these great Montessori routine cards here and we’ve been using them to show Arthur where we are in the routines and what comes next. He’s been excited to use them, asking to brush his teeth and trying to get himself dressed. They also come with a load of other stories to tell, like building a tower or baking a cake – so I’m looking forward to using those too!

The only problem with routines is, of course that they become routine! I’ve practically eliminated weekend lie-ins for myself but I think I’ve made a fair trade for calmer school mornings and more me-time in the evenings. What do you do to make those school runs and autumn evenings easier?

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Our Tiny Home: Compromise & Priorities

Sometimes it feels like living in a tiny space is nothing but sacrifice. It feels like we’ve sacrificed bedrooms, a playroom, a laundry room (but seriously – what a dream!), a dining room, storage space, a bathtub, belongings… the list goes on and on and yes, it’s true, we don’t have any of these things and sometimes that feels like a real struggle. I’m sure it’s going to feel like even more of a struggle when we’re joined by another baby in December as well. 

It’s easy to compare your life and situation to everyone else’s lives and situations. It’s so so easy to become jealous of that person’s big apartment, their fancy holidays, their beautiful homes/gardens/children/wardrobes. This social media world only makes it easier to look at those perfect squares and say “Why her? Why not me?”. It seems like we are programmed for comparison. Earlier this year I was suffering MASSIVELY from the effects of comparing my life with others. My younger brother had just bought a house, all of my friends seemed to have endless cash to spend, other people’s careers were taking off all around me and I started to question…”Why them? Why not me?”

Well the simple answer is that I am not them. I am me. Or rather WE are not them. My family, this little unit we have created is unique. It contains three, soon to be four personalities and we are growing and learning with each other. We have had to decide what our priorities are as a family and have had to accept that what we are doing is not sacrifice but compromise. 

Living in a small apartment means that we can live in the center of one of the most beautiful cities in the world. We’ve compromised on space and a garden for our jobs and for the opportunity for our sons to grow up in a vibrant, exciting, diverse place. 

Deciding on what your priorities are as a family also comes in very useful when looking at how to use space in a small apartment. Are you a family who love to cook and eat together? Make space for a big enough dining table. Are you people who value organisation and a clutter free space? Invest in great wardrobes or other forms of storage. 

I love to cook, so a fully equipped kitchen was important to me (a rarity in Paris, most apartments are rented out with just the kitchen sink in place, nothing else!), space for a dining table was also important, enough space to play for my son (Parisian winters are loooooong!) and good storage options. The rest, I felt, I could make do with. I compromised on the smaller stuff to have what I needed the most in place. 

In the end, what I learned from compromising on my tiny living space, I found I could apply to life in general. Our home is not large but it’s comfortable and it fits us. My job does not have an amazing career projectile (read, none!) but it’s creative and friendly and I love it. My son doesn’t and won’t go to a bilingual private school, but he’s healthy and happy and cool and hilarious. In the end, it seems that mediocracy, an end to the constant striving to be more, have more and do more, has been the answer for us. This article has lots of excellent things to say about leading a “mediocre” life, it’s OBVIOUSLY not for everyone – but maybe it could be for you?