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Paris Kitchen: Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto

There are two ways to make risotto: quick and easy, or slow and long. I’ve always been a fan of the quick and easy version (adding all the stock at once and letting it reduce) but now Arthur can play independently at my feet in the kitchen while I cook, I love the magic of taking a long hour to cook something properly, pair flavours and watch a delicious meal come together. 

What you’ll need

While risotto can seem intimidating, it’s actually very easy, just quite labour intensive. For this one you will need:

  • One medium butternut squash, peeled and diced into small cubes
  • One onion, diced
  • 400g risotto rice
  • 75ml dry white wine (or cooking wine)
  • Olive oil
  • 1.5 litres chicken stock 
  • Knob of salted butter
  • Big handful of parmesan
  • Fresh Rosemary – to garnish

Method

  • Pop your butternut squash into a roasting tray and roast at 180°c for 25-30 minutes. While it’s roasting, start softening your onions in a large pan on a low heat and heat up your chicken stock in a saucepan
  • Add the rice to the softened onions and give a good stir and add the wine. Stir until the liquid has been absorbed
  • Start adding the stock to the rice and onions two ladles at a time, still on a low/medium heat. Stir each time until the liquid has been absorbed

  • Continue adding and letting the stock absorb until you have only two ladles left in your saucepan. Add the roasted butternut squash. It should disintegrate a bit and turn your risotto orange. Add the last two ladles of stock
  • When the last of the stock has nearly been absorbed, stir through your butter and parmesan
  • Allow the liquid to absorb to your preference. Season and serve with more parmesan and the rosemary

This recipe serves around six or you can freeze it into twelve toddler portions! Sometimes I like to serve it as a side to breaded chicken or sausages, or with a side of sautéed kale or green beans.

Around this time of year cooking a meal like this really does feel like a bit of magic – putting warmth and nourishment back at the centre of our kitchen while the world gets slowly darker and colder outside is important. Using seasonal vegetables keeps us connected to the earth and the cycle of the year and taking the time to prepare something delicious has something restorative about it…Enjoy! 

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Toddler Life: Encouraging Quiet Play & a Simple Play Doh Recipe

As it’s getting darker earlier and earlier over here we have less time to spend outdoors. We’re starting to look inwards, spending more time reading, drawing, crafting and playing and much more time turning the living room furniture into a soft obstacle course to jump on. When cabin fever hits during a long winter in a tiny apartment with small people, the best idea is to wrap up and get outside – whatever the weather. 

Sometimes though, this just isn’t possible. Paris can be truly truly awful during winter, something about long boulevards with icy cold wind rushing down them just isn’t appealing. Encouraging a quiet play time during your daily rhythm, especially straight after school or crèche, can really help little ones unwind all year round, but it becomes especially important in autumn and winter when we’re all shut up inside together. 

how to encourage independent quiet play

  • Light a candle. As it’s getting dark earlier, we’ve been lighting candles (keeping them well out of the reach of little hands!) and maybe lighting only one other lamp. Keeping soft light in dark seasons helps us all unwind and relax and encourages a quiet atmosphere. 
  • Create a play-list. I use Spotify to find soft, relaxing music for this time of day. We love the Spotify Autumn Acoustic playlist and the Slow Mornings instrumental playlist by mamawatters of the blog Homesong
  • Have baskets of activities prepared in advance. Arthur loves counting conkers at the moment, so we have a pot of conkers ready to go, which he counts in and out of the pots from his play kitchen. Have the play doh to hand with a bag of accessories etc.
  • Have a space near you where they can play. One of our biggest challenges with encouraging independent play was that Arthur just wanted to be with us, not separated in his bedroom. When we got a toddler sized table & chairs for the kitchen, it was like a revelation. He’s totally happy to sit there engrossed in whatever he’s doing while I cook now. 

play doh

One of the best quiet time activities is Play Doh. Arthur’s at the right age now where he can spend a good hour intensely playing with it. It’s also brilliant because it’s open ended – with some imagination it can really become anything. Arthur makes “food” with it, uses it with his trucks and diggers, makes shapes with it, makes it into “petit poissons” swimming through the sea. It’s nice to see his imagination doing some work and him so engrossed in a game. I like to make our play doh. I find it lasts longer, I can make the colours I want and I can also add essential oils to it, lavender in particular to encourage calm, quiet play. 

recipe

  • 1 cup table salt
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1 table spoon cream of tartar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups warm water
  • food colouring
  • essential oils of choice (make sure they are safe for children)

Mix all of your ingredients together over a medium heat until it’s no longer sticky. Tip it out onto your work surface and knead it with your hands quickly to make sure it’s not sticking to your hands. Divide it up and knead the food colouring and essential oils into each part (this bit is a bit messy). Leave to cool for five minutes and store in an air-tight container. 

It’s so quick and easy to make and from ingredients you can find in your kitchen cupboard, so worth making!

What do you do for indoor toddler activities? Do you have a set time for quiet play in your house? I’d love to hear what you do!

 

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Minimalist Me: Pregnancy Essentials

Pregnancy is such a strange and special time in your life. Especially if it’s your first baby, you want to make sure that you do everything absolutely right, not just medically, but in terms of what to buy to make your pregnancy go smoothly, to make sure that baby is absolutely 100% taken care of inside your growing womb. 

Unfortunately, this cocooning need of pregnant women has been exploited by brands. At one of the most financially vulnerable times of our life, we have been convinced that we need every kind of special lotion, potion, pillow, vitamin, book, superfood, clothing item and yoga class just to get through pregnancy. While I am absolutely an advocate of massive amounts of self-care during pregnancy, I think that we are being sold so much more than we need and there really are budget friendly alternatives. 

Books

If you’re pregnant with your first baby and are anything like me, you’ll want to read the most you possibly can on the subject. I wanted to know everything! How to BE pregnant, what to expect, what to eat, how to have an easy birth, what to do with the baby once it arrives…reading anything you get your hands on however, can get a bit expensive. Pictured above are the books I’ve actually bought because I found useful last time around. For the rest, use your local library. You don’t need a personal home library full of pregnancy books that you probably won’t touch again. 

  • How to grow a baby and push it out, Clemmie HooperA really lovely, beautifully accessible guide to pregnancy and birth. Includes great pages on prenatal yoga, hypnobirthing and how to dress your bump. Written by a British midwife, it’s a lovely guide to pregnancy for the instagram crowd. 
  • Expecting better, Emily Oster: Really one of my favourite books, Emily Oster is an economist who uses her professional skills to debunk myths about pregnancy and childbirth, leaving the pregnant mother better informed and more empowered in her decisions.
  • The first forty days, Heng Ou: My only REALLY essential book, Ou’s beautiful book really highlights the importance of self-care for mums in the first forty days post-partum. Her advice is stellar and her recipes are out of this world. 
  • Zen, un jeu d’enfant, Elodie Garamond et Lise Bilien: This one is in my essentials for second time mums. It really has nothing to do with pregnancy and all about teaching your toddler to be zen – which sounds just lovely doesn’t it?! It’s been really helpful for us when I’ve wanted to do some yoga or have some quiet time, as it’s helped Arthur do some simple poses with me or some easy breathing exercises. It also exists in English translation. 
  • Mindful Hypnobirthing, Sophie Fletcher: A very accessible guide to hypnobirthing. Worth a read even if you’re not intending to go “The whole hog” with hypnobirthing for the breathing techniques. I’ve found it really helpful. 

Rest & Relax

Prioritising sleep, rest and relaxation should be top of your list during pregnancy. It get’s much harder the second time around when you’ve got young kids under your feet but it’s still so important, especially as finding a comfy sleeping position gets harder and harder as your baby gets bigger. Do everything you can to get a good night’s sleep: eliminate screens an hour before bed, head to bed earlier than you would normally and make sure you’ve got everything you might need within reach. Some things to consider:

  • Pregnancy pillow: There are some extortionately expensive options for this long sausage-like pillow on the market. Honestly it doesn’t do anything that two separate pillows won’t do and the cheaper options work just as well. Mine is second hand, passed on from another mum and the cover is from HEMA, I think it was about €9. I do love it, but like I say – two pillows work the same way!
  • NEOM Organics Tranquility set: This is my one splurge on this list, but I do use it all year around – not just during pregnancy and I honestly haven’t found anything that works as well for me. I light the candle one hour before I intend to go to bed and spritz my pillow with the mist and then I sleep like a baby. I ask for replacements every Christmas and Birthday, so maybe something to hint heavily to relatives at?
  • Maternity leggings & t-shirt: Comfy sleepwear is so essential. There’s nothing worse than waking up sweaty, entangled in loose pyjamas or night dresses. Simple, fitted, cotton maternity leggings and a t-shirt have been my go-to this time around. I like the brand Mamalicious at Galeries Lafayette for leggings and Monoprix organic cotton t-shirts. 

Everything Else

  • Pre-natal yoga: It goes without saying that exercising during pregnancy is so good for you and your baby. Yoga is a great pre-natal exercise as it’s low impact, stretches you in all the right places and can teach you some great techniques for labour. If you can afford classes, do. It’s much safer to do with a qualified instructor than on your own. However, there are many youtube classes you can take with great instructors for free – you just need to do a bit of research. 
  • Coconut oil: On everything and for everything. It’s a great moisturiser and some of my friends swear they don’t have stretch marks because they used it! Don’t use it on your stomach the week before a scan though, you’ll be told off by your sonographer because it makes their picture harder to see. 
  • Maternity clothes: This is down to individual taste but take a good look at your wardrobe and see what you can continue to wear through pregnancy. It’s exciting to have a reason to shop but I’ve mostly found that affordable maternity clothes are absolutely hideous. I would say leggings, a pair of jeans, some nursing tank tops and a coat are the only real essentials.

What have I missed? What did you find absolutely essential during your pregnancy?

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Self-Care for Selfish Mums

You can’t pour from an empty cup – as every mum ever has been told. How true! What a lovely sentiment! Of course we can’t care for everyone around us until we’ve taken care of ourselves! If only it were that easy. Quite honestly once my day is over, self-care is the thing furthest from my mind. 

The problem is that many mums feel the same way. Taking care of yourself feels like another task on top of all the tasks that already need to be completed. 

Why?

Why do mums in particular need to enter into the craze of self care? Well the simple answer is that it benefits us. Because our work does not end. Ever. How many times after the kids are in bed and you’re lying in yours trying to sleep have you found yourself thinking about their health, their happiness, their school, their activities, their appointments, schedules, night-time routines, the upcoming birthday, Christmas, whether everyone in your family is eating healthily enough? The mental load of mothers by Jami Ingledue, details this wonderfully and is well worth a read. 

Secondly we need self care because it benefits our children. When we have first taken care of our needs, we are more equipped for dealing with the needs of others. We are more present, more enthusiastic and more loving parents. Our children benefit from seeing us like this, and we benefit from having our needs continuously met. 

The joy of taking care of ourselves is that it will look different for every one of us but taking the time to do it will benefit you mentally and physically as well as your relationships with your partner and children. I’ve detailed some ways below in which you can start incorporating self-care into your daily life in ways that won’t feel like an extra task or pressure. Starting small and growing a practice where you know what works for you is ideal. 

Nourish

  • Drink more water, hydrated people are happy people! Start carrying a re-useable water bottle with you and make sure it’s empty at the end of the day. 
  • Incorporate energy filled foods into your day. You’ll feel more full and satisfied after a big bowl of roasted veggies than half a ham and cheese sandwich that your toddler didn’t eat. 
  • Make sure that you’re remembering to eat and drink regularly. Sit down for your meal at a table, take your time – enjoy your food. 

Escape

  • Take every possible opportunity to walk everywhere. It does take longer, but you’ll be getting exercise, clearing your mind and be spending some time outside. All three can give an instant mood re-set. 
  • Take that class/do that sport. Organise a time every week to do something you love. My mum played netball twice a week when we were growing up & I think it probably kept her sane!
  • Organise to see people. There is nothing NOTHING worse than facing a week in winter at home with a baby with no plans to see anybody. 

Rest & Replenish

  • Give your child a busy activity or take advantage of nap-time and sit down with a book, your knitting, a magazine and a cup of tea. Breathe. 
  • I know this just isn’t an option for everybody but; take a day off. Send the kids to grandparents, organise a babysitter and just stay in bed for the day. Sleep, relax and unwind. 
  • Go on a date with your partner. Nourishing your relationship is important! Spend the day walking hand in hand, get some lunch together, leave the smartphones at home. 

Organise

  • Last but not least! Organising my week on a Sunday afternoon means that I spend less time on annoying tasks during the week. I write out our schedules, plan our meals, write the grocery list, fill out any forms that need to be sent off and make any appointments that need to be made (Doctolib for you Paris based readers, allows you to make all your Dr’s appointments on the app.)
  • Stop multitasking. I know it’s our mum super-power but lots of studies have shown that we’re more productive when we focus on one task at a time. I certainly know that this is true for me – so step away from your smart phone! (More on balancing family and tech soon!)

Self Care Sunday

How do I practice what I’m preaching? Self care Sunday. Every Sunday evening, once my son is in bed (with the bedtime routine hopefully completed by my husband!) I roll out my yoga mat & get in a half hour to an hour practice – generally more like half an hour now I’m pretty pregnant. I shower, shave, paint my toe-nails and give myself a facial. I put on fresh, clean pyjamas and settle myself down on the sofa with my diary and plan for the week ahead. Sometimes we watch some Netflix, sometimes we read. I spray my pillow with NEOM Organics tranquility pillow spray & light their tranquility candle an hour before bed and then I go to bed really early. I’m talking 9pm. It feels amazing. 

Hopefully there are some ideas here that you can slip into your life easily. 

I’d love to hear if you’ve given any of them a go.

xx

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Our Tiny Home: Bathing

Sharing a bathroom with boys has always been normal for me. Growing up I shared with my two brothers, at one point while I was at uni I shared my Halls bathroom with seven 18-21 year old boys (surprisingly much cleaner than when I shared with girls!) and now I share with my husband, toddler and soon, newborn. 

Like all of our spaces, the bathroom has to be multifunctional. Four different people with four very different needs means that space is at a premium and we can’t afford to keep things we don’t use. Unfortunately this mostly affects me as the most likely person to keep un-used, impulse bought cosmetics and beauty products lying around! Luckily, our bathroom is pretty fantastically designed (not by us!) and boasts two cupboards! Our last apartment’s bathroom had precisely zero – not uncommon here. We also have this fantastic changing table drawer that has saved our lives since we’ve lived here and, from what I can see, is fairly easy to construct yourself. 

  Changing table drawer
Changing table drawer

Tiny Bathroom Storage

  • Wire baskets are great for cosmetics storage, everything is visible and they’re easy to keep neat. Each member of the family has their own wire basket for their own products (eliminates people constantly asking me where their things are too!) 
  • We have this metal bucket on the side for items that we use without fail every single day: makeup, hairbrushes, face wash, toothbrushes & paste etc. This eliminates clutter (although never totally!) on the work surface making everything easier to clean and the space feel bigger. 
  • A small dish for the jewellery I wear frequently keeps things organised easy to access in the mornings. 
  • As always – evaluate what you actually need. We keep one spare set of towels for each of us and one spare bathmat, plus one set of guest towels. We don’t need anymore than that. They’re washed and switched frequently and I’ve never had a sudden, burning need for towels. 

The Zero Waste R’s

I find these rules really helpful for de-cluttering and living in a tiny space.

  • REFUSE: Those samples of perfume/cream/nail polish at Sephora? You. Don’t. Need. Them. I know it’s so hard to say no – they’re free! Honestly they will sit in a drawer and clutter it up until you suddenly have no more room in that drawer and you look up and realise that you’re drowning under samples! 
  • RE-USE: Those Aesop bottles in my photos? Not Aesop products inside. I mean they once held Aesop products (They’re an absolute staple on every birthday and Christmas list!) but once those big bottles of shampoo, conditioner and hand soap are empty, I head to our local bulk store and re-fill them with generic natural soaps. I like how this keeps my tiny space looking uniform, they match my decor and it re-uses a bottle that would otherwise be put unceremoniously into a land-fill. I still use actual Aesop skin care products though!

 

 

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Minimalist Me: Minimalism for Toddlers

So I feel like I need to start this post with a disclaimer because the title is quite…heavy. Minimalism for toddlers, I mean it sounds a bit intense – like I make my two year old sleep on a mat in an empty white room and play with sticks. 

“Minimalism isn’t about getting rid of your stuff. It’s about focussing your family on what really matters in life.” Why kids need minimalism, Denaye Barahona.

As always, I am coming from the position of having very little living space and minimalism looks different for everyone. We have stuff, we have toys, we have knick-knacks, we have THAT drawer that is stuffed full of stuff that doesn’t go anywhere else, it’s just proportionate to our living space. However, one area where we really really make a conscious effort to be at our most minimalist is when it comes to kid’s stuff. Here’s why:

When I was pregnant with Arthur I got excited about buying ALL the baby things for him. Cute clothes, every gadget under the sun, the beautiful baby carriers, the bottles and sterilisers and cribs and baby swings, play mats, toys…the list just goes on. There is a never ending market for baby things because the people selling them KNOW that expectant parents are excitable creatures and very likely to fork out for every gadget going. In fact parents in general are an “easy sell”. Parenting is hard work, we want whatever we can get our hands on to make it easier on ourselves and I understand this impulse, I really do. However, what we really end up doing when we start the endless buying cycle, is making things harder on ourselves. How?

  • Kids have so many toys that they can’t actually find what they want to play with which leads to far less non-parent led play, constant fighting between siblings, stress and anxiety in kids. It also generally leads to more screen time and less time outdoors. Whiny aggravated stressed kids.
  • Parents feel trapped into constantly buying their child the next thing, because they are bored with what they have. Stressed, in debt parents.
  • Parents are constantly trying to find space and/or storage solutions for the endless toys, games, sports kit, craft supplies that their kids begged for – but have now cast aside. Less space at home.

Why choose minimalism?

Joshua Becker has written a great article on the subject “Why Fewer Toys Will Benefit Your Kids” but here are some of the best reasons he lists from our family’s perspective:

  • Kids learn to be more creative. 
    Not just in terms of what we think of as creativity – arts and crafts, music, painting etc. but creative and imaginative in their play. I think the best toy we’ve bought has been Arthur’s play kitchen – he will happily spend a couple of hours cooking us meals, cleaning it, feeding his bear and bunny “coffee” and pretending it’s a shop. A good toy will act as a sort of leap board, which encourages and is a catalyst for imaginative play which mans that…
  • Kids become more resourceful.
    Which is important for later education: “Fewer toys causes children to become resourceful by solving problems with only the materials at hand. And resourcefulness is a gift with unlimited potential.” (Joshua Becker)
  • A tidier and clutter-free home.
    One of the biggest advantages of less toys and THINGS in general is that we have a tidier, clutter free home. It takes 10 minutes to tidy Arthur’s room and he has space in there to get his toys out and play with them (which is great because there’ll soon be two boys in there!) We’ve set his room up so he can reach almost everything himself and tidy it away himself too using baskets and low cupboards and shelves. Because it’s so easy for him to tidy, he’s learning how to keep his space clean too. Yes he still does have more stuff than I’d like (especially cuddly toys!) but it’s a work in progress, like everything we do – it’s all about learning what works best for us. 

How to start

As I’ve said, this really doesn’t have to be a question of heading straight to your children’s rooms armed with bin liners and steely determination. It doesn’t actually mean you need to get rid of anything straight away if that seems too daunting. 

  • Start with looking at your child’s room. How many toys do they actually have? Can you see the floor? Take everything off the shelves and make a pile of what you know they absolutely LOVE and use every day, favourite dolls, the play kitchen etc. Make a second pile of things they use once a week or so, dressing up clothes, craft supplies, sports gear. Put everything else in a box. When you’re putting everything back, make sure that the things they use every day are the most accessible. Put the box in a cupboard somewhere, if they don’t ask for something in that box for a week – donate the box to your local charity shop. 
  • Resist the urge to buy. For Christmas and birthdays we’ve started to buy gifts using the idea “Something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read.” This Christmas that will include Father Christmas presents – so four (small) presents in total and one from each set of grandparents. When it comes to grandparents, we send a very specific list a month before Christmas or birthday to them and ask them to choose something from the list. This might seem high maintenance but we don’t have the space in our home for excessive or large gifts. 
    The rest we buy on a needs must basis; clothes, a bucket & spade set for the beach for example, a fun umbrella for la rentrée and arts and crafts supplies throughout the year. 
  • Use your purchase power! Shopping like this throughout the year for your kids should mean that you have a little more money to spend when you do buy on quality toys or in local or independent shops. Quality products will last longer and your kids will take better care of them knowing that they are special and won’t be replaced the moment they break. 

As I said, minimalism looks different for every family. For us, it helps our family function the way we need it to, in a way that contributes to our values and lifestyle. It’s certainly not for everyone, but there are definitely some benefits for both parents and kids in the idea.