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It rained so often in Paris this week that I dug my wellington boots out of our storage closet and have been sporting them all across town, splashing through puddles like a happy duck. I managed not to loose my umbrella during the adverse weather, probably because I rarely remember to take it with me when I leave the house and I end up with my scarf wrapped around my head, the rain slowly soaking through.
Luckily the French have a special cake, specifically for early January, to brighten things up. The Galette des Rois, which translates to ‘King’s Cake’ is eaten on the 6th January (which is Epiphany, the day the 3 Kings arrived, hence the name). It’s traditionally composed of a layer of frangipane baked between 2 layers of puff pastry, although there are pistachio, hazelnut, chestnut and chocolate versions commonly available and each year pâtisseries seem to get more and more competitive with their versions. It comes with a paper crown when you buy it and whoever finds the fève hidden inside gets to be the King or Queen for the day.
I love making puff pastry so I made two versions at home this week, one with orange zest in the frangipane and one without, using a fève from my daughter’s collection from past years. I cut a crown out of wrapping paper which my 2 year old son refused to take it off and wore to bed shouting “le Roi ne veut pas faire dodo!” (the King doesn’t want a nap).
Epiphany marks the end of the 12 days of Christmas so it was time to pack away the decorations and take our Sapin de Noël to the local recycling spot nearby. I went a little over the top on tree size this year (it took 3 men to deliver it) so my poor husband had to saw all the branches off to get it downstairs. Stay tuned to see if he ever lets me pick a tree again…
Trees in France are usually delivered sitting on a big log base (it’s attached very securely, we had to saw ours off) so you don’t need to sit them in a stand or give them water, but we do switch off the radiator that sits behind the tree so it doesn’t dry out too quickly. I miss the lights and decorations but our living room feels like it’s twice the size now.
After the festive season we do ‘dry January’ in our household, so I decided to try out a non-alcoholic drink that I’ve seen around recently called Gimber, which is a sort of ginger concentrate that you mix with sparkling water over ice. I found it delicious and have enjoyed one every night this week while preparing dinner. I bought it at Le Grande Epicerie, the food hall of Le Bon Marche, which is one of my favourite places in Paris to wander around. While I was there I picked up some other treats including a bag of Nigella seeds (one of the oldest spices known to be used - they were found in Tutankhamun’s tomb and are great sprinkled on almost everything) but passed on the Tahitian vanilla beans that were priced at €22.90 each, or €2862.50 per kilo!
I passed by the local outdoor market on Tuesday and was inspired at the butcher to gather ingredients for veal and fennel stew with thyme and pearl barley, along with a plump little chicken which I roasted in a mix of lime juice, grated ginger, fish sauce and brown sugar and then made a light chicken soup with the leftovers. On Saturday I was easily swayed by some peche a pied (hand fished) clams from Normandy, which featured in glossy Spaghetti vongole for lunch, followed by chocolate eclairs from the local pâtisserie. I also bought a
To replace a bit of colour where the Christmas tree was, I picked up a cheery bunch of pink anemones from the market florist, and a narcissus plant which fits perfectly in its new pot. I’m always amazed by how fast they grow and flower. I believe in enjoying nice things now rather than keeping them for ‘best’ so I’ve been lighting this Cire Trudon Joséphine candle, a gift from a friend, in the late afternoons, when the day isn’t quite over but feels as though it might be.
This week was back to work, school and crèche after the holidays with a mix of excitement, purpose and trepidation. Work frequently takes me to the first arrondissement which is a gorgeous walk from our apartment across Pont Neuf or Pont des Arts, via the Louvre courtyard and through Palais Royal. I’ve found it’s exactly the right distance to come up with great ideas for new projects to try and then forget them just before arriving.
Sunday was a pyjama day and I spent it entertaining the kids, writing and pottering in the kitchen, followed by a quick reorganisation of my baking cupboard just in time to whip up a gâteau for goûter (afternoon tea).
I hope you’re staying safe and that you have good food and company as the year kicks off.
Cheese we are eating this week:
Port Salut - a very mild, semi-soft pasteurised cow's milk cheese with a distinctive orange rind that was originally made by Trappist monks after they returned to France following the French revolution.
Comté - a semi-hard cheese made from unpasteurised cow’s milk from the Jura Massif region of France, this one was aged 18 months.
Crottin de Chavignol - a goat’s cheese from the Loire valley. My daughter prefers a very dry version.
The Port-Salut was bought at the supermarket and the Comté and Crottin de Chavignol were bought at La Fromagerie de Saint Vrain who have a stall a Marche Maubert on Saturdays.
To read: My latest article “12 useful tips for your next visit to a French food market” is one to bookmark for your next trip to France.
To listen: Unexplainable, which explores unanswered questions and the amazing ways that scientists are trying to answer them.
To follow: @Katedecamont who cooks over an open fireplace in her beautiful kitchen in Gascony and is the queen of cassoulet.
To watch: I’ve been binge watching “Murder She Wrote” and my husband can’t stop laughing at me but I love the low level drama without the intensity of other crime/true crime shows.
Blood orange tea-cake
When I saw orange sanguine at the market this week I pounced. The first sign of new fruit coming into season in January, blink and you will miss them, they make the most wonderful pink coloured icing (and are great in a margarita). This simple recipe is basically a forgiving sponge cake batter, baked in a loaf tin and is perfect to brighten up a rainy Sunday afternoon.
225g butter (best at room temperature)
225g self raising flour
4 eggs (best at room temperature)
Pinch of salt
1 blood orange
Turn the oven to 180C and prepare a loaf tin by greasing it with butter and sprinkling it with sugar - shake it around so it sticks all over. If you don’t trust your loaf tin to be non-stick then line the bottom with a rectangle of parchment paper.
Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.
Add the flour and eggs, along with the zest of the orange, a pinch of salt, and mix to combine. Always try and make sure your eggs and butter are at around the same temperature, which will help stop the butter from curdling.
Spread out evenly in the tin and pop in the oven for 25-30 minutes. Keep an eye on it and when a skewer comes out clean it’s ready. If you listen carefully you will hear the cake make a gentle crackling noise, another sign it’s done.
Leave it to cool for just a few minutes before turning it out - don’t leave it too long or the sugar on the sides will cool and it will fuse to the pan.
Once it’s fully cooled, mix the juice of the blood orange with icing sugar until you get a nice pouring consistency. Pour over and leave to set.
Real Life Paris Photo
A pet cockatoo, in its tailored coat, relaxing on the handlebars of a scooter.