Well it finally happened. We got covid.
When our teenager came home on Monday evening with a sore throat, all five of us immediately trundled down to the local pharmacy for antigen tests. She came up positive and although the rest of us were given the all clear I had my doubts, and sure enough the pharmacy called an hour later to say they were “less sure on two of the tests so could we please come back tomorrow”. Anticipating that we would all test positive we prepared to hunker down for the week and followed the protocol to notify work, school and crèche. Thankfully we hadn't spent time with anybody over the weekend (the time the contact tracers were interested in) so we had no-one else to inform.
My mind raced through every scenario - how bad would this be, did we have enough food at home, how much would my mum worry, could my husband take time off work, did I have anything pressing to do that I needed to outsource… until I eventually realised that we were on the rollercoaster no matter what and there was no point winding myself up in knots.
My husband and I both got our booster shots in mid-December and apart from a little fatigue and an occasional light headache we wouldn’t have suspected that we were sick. Our vaccinated teenager had mild cold symptoms, the toddler had a fever for 24 hours and the baby never batted an eyelid. Noisette was thrilled to have us all home together and spent her days curled up next to me whenever I sat down.
Assurance Maladie (the government health service) were in touch multiple times with texts and calls (how they are following up with over 300 000 people a day is beyond me) alerting both my husband and I that we’ve been in contact with each of our children, and each other. Once we finally managed to explain that we all live together they relaxed a little and settled on just one daily reminder to stay home.
Our large American style fridge (not very common in Paris) definitely paid for itself this week when I couldn’t just pop out for things as we needed them. Between the fridge, freezer and the baking cupboard it was like Mary Poppins had leant us her bottomless carpet bag. I rediscovered all sorts of yummy things I forgot were stashed in the freezer and kept everyone’s spirits up with a series of wonderful meals. There were endives au jambon gratinées with a light green salad, coconut dahl with roasted butternut squash, spaghetti Bolognese, roasted chicken which doubled up to become chicken soup, baked orzo with leek and sausage, gnocchi with crispy bacon, chicken cordon bleu, bavette steaks with triple cheese and bacon loaded fries and endless vegetable soup. We tore big hunks of baguette and dipped them in melted Mont d’or cheese, we made our own bao buns, we slurped on ramen with Momofoku’s soy eggs, we eagerly watched a goats cheese soufflé rise in the oven and when I couldn’t bear to wash another dish, we ordered sushi. For sweets we tried out funfetti cupcakes, fruit smoothies, apple crumble, crumpets with mirabelle jam, chocolate chip cookies and chocolate and cardamom soufflés.
Bref, as I’ve been home all week with not much to report (staying home, organising every cupboard and eating sums it up), this week’s newsletter is a little different. Instead of what we’ve been up to, I’ve answered a selection of questions that I received on Instagram, about everyday life in Paris. Thank you to everyone who sent in a question and I hope the answers are useful. Have a great week!
For english books I love San Francisco Books, the Red Wheelbarrow, Smith & Son, the Abbey Bookshop and Shakespeare and Company. I don’t usually read in French but the streets of the 6th arrondissement are full of specialist book stores where you can spend hours browsing through amazing old copies of anything and everything, and the bouquinistes that line the Seine always have some treasures.
Favourite vintage haunts?
I rarely shop for clothes but I spend a ridiculous amount of time on Selency window shopping for vintage furniture and home decor. Le Marché aux Puces de Paris Saint-Ouen is also incredible. It’s a huge flea market that spans 7 hectares, made up of twelve covered markets and five shopping streets. My favourites are Paul Bert Serpette and Vernaisson.
How much do I need to gain to live comfortably in Paris?
Paris can be enjoyed on quite little or absolutely loads. Rent can be pricey so play around on this real estate website to see what sort of rent you might pay and go from there. Childcare is heavily subsidised, public schools are fantastic, healthcare is very accessible (either free or affordable). Public transport is great so you don’t need a car. The best croissant in town is €1 and drinking a cheap bottle of wine down by the Seine is one of the greatest ways you can ever spend a lazy afternoon. Social charges and taxes are relatively high so take that into account when planning your budget.
Is finding a nice place to rent with a terrace really impossible?
Everything in Paris real estate is a compromise. You can indeed find a nice place with a terrace but you’ll have to compromise on price or space, or perhaps it will have 7 flights of stairs and terrible water pressure. You have to decide what’s your priority and what you’re willing to accept in exchange. We don’t have a terrace but that’s the dream.
How do you interact with your neighbours?
I don’t really know them. If I see them in the entrance I’ll always say bonjour, and there’s one neighbour who is particularly nice so I stop and have a chat if I see her, but on the whole we just politely pass each other by. We have a great building gardienne who I like to talk to and she fills me on on any building gossip. We do keep a gentle eye on the elderly gentleman on our floor. He’s fiercely independent but we occasionally remind him that we are there to pick up groceries or help with anything else he needs.
How do you organise furniture deliveries? Is there a service that will lift it through the outside window?
We had our sofa delivered via the window last year and it was nerve-racking but went smoothly in the end. The sofa company arranged the delivery for us although I vaguely remember some last minute drama about a permit to do so. It’s really common to see people moving house or getting deliveries via the window.
Favourite restaurant that allows Noisette inside?
I’m from Australia where dogs usually stay at home so it took me a while to get used to the fact that most restaurants in Paris allow dogs - in fact I can’t think of one I’ve been to that doesn’t! Noisette goes in her little bag when we’re at restaurants and we put the bag either on the banquette next to us, on one of our laps or she gets her own chair (we don’t ask for her own chair but waiters often bring one out straight away). We can’t leave her on the floor as her nose is stronger than her self-control. Once we tried and after a few minutes we heard a lady shout at the other end of the restaurant where, sure enough, Noisette was under their table searching for scraps.
Best place to take your dog to meet other dogs (off-leash)?
Ironically, Paris parks are not all dog friendly, even for on-leash. For off-leash your two main options are Bois de Vincennes and Bois de Boulogne. Personally I prefer Bois de Vincennes but I don’t have any ‘dog-friends’ as Noisette is a bit of a snob.
Supermarkets vs markets (prices, quality, frequency of purchase etc)?
The supermarket will have what you need year round and the market is more seasonal. I spend less money shopping at the market than when I used to do all our shopping at the supermarket and personally I find the quality to be better. That said it’s easy to get carried away and buy expensive things as everything is so enticing and my eyes are bigger than my stomach. There’s much less risk of buying truffle brie or a whole dover sole at the local supermarket.
How many times a week do you go somewhere (market, bakery) for food?
Every day. I visit the market at least once a week (for fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and cheese), plus a regular click’n collect order (for dry goods, cleaning supplies, nappies etc). I then go somewhere at least once a day, whether it’s the bakery, the corner store, the pharmacy (for baby formula), the wine merchant or the cheesemonger. Food is my love language and when something pops into my head I need to make it immediately so I’m forever chasing down ingredients.
Does everyone actually grocery shop at various little specialty stores regularly?
I can’t speak for everyone but I definitely do and they’re always busy when I pop in.
I would love to know more about what French kids eat at school and home!
At crèche and school the kids usually get 4 courses for lunch (a menu they had recently was grated carrot salad, salmon in a lemon basil sauce with pasta and peas, blue cheese and a kiwifruit) and then an afternoon snack (usually fruit, fromage blanc or a little cake). The menu is displayed each week so parents can avoid serving the same thing for dinner that the kids had at lunch and ingredients are, for the most part, organic. At home I serve our kids the same as us and whether they eat it or they don’t I’m not too worried. If I really need a win I’ll revert to pasta or gnocchi which always disappear quickly.
What do typical breakfasts and lunches consist of?
Typical weekday breakfast in our house is yoghurt and muesli, bananas, biscottes with honey or jam and orange juice. The kids like to eat chocolate cereal dry, not with milk. I’m not a breakfast person so a latte is enough for me (so so happy with our new coffee machine, especially this week when we are stuck at home) but occasionally on weekends I’ll make pancakes, waffles or venture out to pick up fresh croissants. Lunch really depends. On weekdays it’s similar to most cities, we pick up baguette sandwiches, crepes, sushi or occasionally have a quick lunch in a restaurant. On weekends we always eat together at the dining table and have at least 3 courses, usually 4 or 5 (starter, main, cheese, salad, dessert).
Are there a lot of people who work in tech in Paris? Like them? Hate them? Don’t care?
Emmanuel Macron has invested enormously in attracting tech companies to either start or base themselves in France. Station F is a huge incubator space (marketed as the world’s biggest startup campus) inside an old train station in the 13th arrondissement. I have nothing against tech people, in fact I’d happily work in tech if I knew how. French people don’t usually discuss work when out socially (it can be considered rude to ask someone what they do upon meeting them) so I probably know more tech people than I realise.
How do I integrate easily with minimal offending of locals?
You can’t. I still accidentally (and occasionally on purpose) offend people all the time. As long as you’re sincere and start absolutely every interaction with bonjour then you can usually reverse out of a situation that’s going pear-shaped.
How does Paris life differ or resemble daily life in other big cities of the world?
Paris feels much smaller than other big cities I’ve lived in (there are just over 2 million residents in central Paris, but the official boundaries are set to change in 2024 I think). I lived in London for 12 years and now when I visit I’m totally overwhelmed by the size and pace and couldn’t picture myself living there again. Paris on the other hand feels very manageable to me. It’s set up so that you don’t need a car - kids go to the closest crèche or school, the public transport is excellent (there are ongoing works to make it more accessible) and walking is very easy.
How are non-French people treated that reside in France?
It ranges from “your accent is cute” to “you don’t belong here”. Once I mention that I’m from Australia the conversation generally follows the “oh that’s so far away, what like 8 hours on a plane?” route, to which I reply “its actually 24 hours” and by the time they’ve told me they could never sit in a plane for that long or explained to me that there are lots of snakes and spiders in Australia they’ve usually warmed up.
Is working out/going to the gym popular?
There are lots of options for working out so I assume it’s pretty popular. I was a gym member before our wedding (in 2017) and the classes were always full. Since the pandemic I’ve noticed a big increase in people out running and doing PT in the parks. If you like working out you’ll easily find a like-minded community.
Is it gray and rainy during the winter?
Yes. But there are also blue skies and beautiful days.
Is it really as magical as it seems?
Yes and no. One minute I’m strolling past the Louvre and the next I’m in tears of frustration at the post office. There’s still laundry, bills to pay and admin to do but on the whole it’s a beautiful life.
What is Paris like in Covid?
At the beginning it was completely quiet, the lockdown was total. Now case numbers are over 300 000 most days but walking around you wouldn’t know it. Restaurants are full, shops are busy, streets are crowded. Most people are still being careful but we have moved on to the ‘living with covid’ phase now. I really wish we hadn’t caught it but with 2 children too young for vaccinations it felt inevitable. I’m grateful that we could manage it at home, not pass it on to anyone and not put additional pressure on the healthcare system.
If you have any other Paris questions I do Q&As quite regularly over on Instagram.
Cheese we are eating this week:
Camembert de Normandie - a raw cow's milk cheese with a soft bloomy rind. It’s protected in France by an appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) which means it must come from a specific area.
Beaufort - a firm, raw cow's milk cheese produced in the French alps (and commonly used in fondue).
Vacherin Mont-d'Or - a runny Swiss cheese that’s wrapped in a piece of bark from a spruce tree and sold in a wooden box. It’s a seasonal cheese and only for sale in the colder months.
The Camembert and Mont d’Or were bought at La Fromagerie de Saint Vrain who have a stall at Marché Maubert on Saturdays. The Beaufort is from the Coopérative laitière du Beaufortain in the 6th arrondissement.
To read: A friend lent me Jacques Pepin’s memoir ‘The Apprentice, My Life in the Kitchen’ a very long time ago. I’ve finally cracked it open and I’m hooked.
To listen: I’m catching up on season 2 of Doing It Right, with Pandora Sykes, an interview series about the myths, anxieties and trends of modern life.
To follow: @tatty_macleod, a bilingual comedian whose videos comparing French and English culture are spot on.
To watch: Casablanca, my favourite film (cliché I know). I watch it every few months.
Savoury soufflé to share
This is an excellent dinner when you have barely anything in the fridge and need something on the table fast. Served in a baking dish (or even a frying pan) you can throw in cheese, any herbs you might have to hand, a sprinkle of cayenne pepper, a spoon of mustard, finely chopped ham, some shredded smoked salmon, whatever takes your fancy. It’s a base recipe that you can freely experiment with.
I like to do a handful of goat’s cheese, some fresh thyme and a sprinkle of parmesan on top, and serve it with a mâche salad and some prosciutto on the side. Serves 4.
45g plain flour
salt & pepper
cheese, herbs, spices, ham, smoked salmon, whatever you want to add.
Turn the oven to 190C and butter a small baking dish or frying pan that can go into the oven (no plastic handles).
Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the flour, then cook out for a few minutes, letting it bubble but not burn, stirring all the time.
Turn off the heat and add the milk, a little at a time. Stir well between each addition to make sure there are no lumps.
Add the egg yolks and a good pinch of salt & pepper and mix together, then toss in any additional ingredients like cheese or herbs.
Whisk the egg whites on medium speed until they form stiff peaks then gently fold into the base mixture in the saucepan until it’s evenly mixed. The less stirring you do now the better the result.
Pour into your baking dish, dust with grated parmesan if you like, and place in the oven for around 20 minutes. One minute more or less will make all the difference (I like mine baveuse in the middle) so keep an eye on it and make a note on cooking time for the next time you make it.