March 31, 2012


“The future destiny of a child is always the work of the mother.”
Napoleaon Bonaparte

Little did I know what we were letting ourselves in for when my new found explorer friend and I decided to sign up for a bike tour through Paris. It was a day off school for our boys, so we had decided to get them out of the house and into some excercise.

We were welcomed by a most unconventional Scottish lad from Fort William (this puts a whole new meaning to remote, I thought Stornaway was off the beaten track) who was to be our tourguide.

We met at the bottom of the Eiffel Tour which left me wondering where are all the bikes might be hidden? Indeed, after a short historic introduction about the Tour Eiffel, the Trocadero and l'Ecole Militaire we walked down the Champs de Mars to their base to fetch the fat tired bikes.

We had been told how to behave on the road, how to respond to the Parisian drivers and how to handle the French traffic. Basically the message was: "Stick to the herd and dooooooominate the traffic¨" And dominate we did. We drove off full of excitement and giggles to be lead though this monumental city by a mad Scottsman screaming "Dominate" his fist waiving in the air. It was brilliant.

Ever heard of Californian beach combers? Well, to me it sounded like a chaise long on wheels and I wasn't far off. I felt like riding a throne on wheels. But on this splendid sunny springday it felt simply grand to be cycling down the Champs de Mars past the Ecole Militaire and Les Invalides. We peeked into Rodin Gardens and crossed the Pont d'Alexandre.

We learnt a bit about Le Grand Palais and Le Petit Palais and then crossed la Place de la Concorde (Think: Dominate!). Arriving at the Tuileries Gardens we pushed our bikes through the grounds. Yes, all the tourists were wondering the same thing: why aren't we riding our bikes through the gardens? The Tuileries are UNESCO World Heritage and therefore need to be respected as such.

We could not have chosen a more perfect day to set off with our boys who ended up actually quite enjoying their (Dominate) adventure - eventhough it involved their mums! I actually met another mum who had made her teenage son rise at dawn to come all the way from London to Paris for the day in order to get him away from the playstation! This women has just become my new inspiration! ;) I wonder if my son would fancy a day trip to London? I'm sure I can tempt him if it involves football ... or a Fat Tire Bike Tour!

We topped our magical Parisian spring ride (accompanied by some hay-fever) in a lovely garden bistro at the Tuileries surrounded by tiny green buds on the trees, daffodils and tulips blooming around us and the chance to laze in the sun, sipping a coffee or something stronger.

Tapadh leat and Thank you Braveheart for the delightful tour!

March 28, 2012

A math lesson

I hate, hate, hate maths.

Ever since I graduated from high school I have been free of any obligation to get near algebra, analysis, topology or geometry. And trust me, it has been a long time since my brain had to deal with any of the above. Now I can handle a profit & loss sheet, I can calculate a budget and forecast product supply. I can manage my 8-year old daughter's timetables but when it comes to helping my boy with secondary maths I am up to my neck in trouble.

Tonight he asked me to give him a hint on how to remember the number ∏. Mnemonics was the answer. In about 4 minutes, here's what I came up with to remember the number 3.14159265358979323846:

The poem of the 3 dwarfs:

They lived in a (1) wood

With 4 windows and 1 door

They got up at 5 and worked until 9, but had a 2 hour rest in between

They had breakfast at 6 and dinner at 5, but loved to have tea at 3

At night they counted 58 sheep to get to sleep

They dreamt of 979 sleeping beauties and 323 poisoned apples

They overslept until 8:46

And that’s the story of the 3 dwarfs!

Now, I thought this is pretty darn good and therefore decided to share it with you. I wish math were always this easy. Good night!!!

March 27, 2012

Louis Vuitton heritage mixes with Marc Jacob's world

At first glance they are no fit. How Bernard Arnault ever managed to put the two together is a mystery to me. However, the man has vision and it turned out to be a touch of brilliance.

Conceived as a tale of two men, the multimedia exhibition examines fascinating, vastly different periods in the fashion industry: the 19th-century world of steamer trunks inhabited by founder Louis Vuitton, and the razzle-dazzle global business energized with potent seasonal fashion shows by Marc Jacobs, Louis Vuitton’s artistic director since 1997.

The two men possess a vision about the world transforming itself: advancements in travel and industrialization for the founder; and the communications explosion and globalization for Jacobs.

An astute marketer, Louis Vuitton used the platform of universal exhibitions to launch a variety of innovations he copyrighted like a lightweight, waterproof trunk in 1867 or a trunk containing a foldout cot in 1891.

Fancy naming yourself "emballeur" (packager), little did he know what an icon his brand would become in the twentieth century.

Fifteen years of Louis Vuitton handbags displayed in a chocolate-box.
(Now that just gives me an idea!!!)

A wall of backlit images and videos announce the fast-moving, cacophonous world of Marc Jacobs, a street-smart New Yorker enlisted to launch Louis Vuitton into the world of ready-to-wear and fashion accessories.

A video tour of the exhibition and a behind-the-scenes look at the exhibition can be viewed on the Musée des Arts décoratifs website:

March 25, 2012

1200km from Paris to Madrid

“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.”
Lao Tzu

Admittedly I have been off the radar for a while. Springtime in Paris means lots of houseguests and more visitors than we've ever had in any other country. I wonder why? Just kidding!

I have decided to take off and drive half way across Europe to leave my car in a place where I can use it. In Paris I only collect parking tickets and the metro is faster wherever I go anyway, so why bother with a car?

I arrived in Paris on August 31st last year and have since filled my petrol tank once! Get the picture?

So, I undertook the journey to drive the car back to Madrid all by my little self: I danced to Whitney Houston's music, chatted to my best friend on the phone for nearly an hour, did some mental planning, reorganized my blogs in my head, listened to two audiobooks (chickflicks which I will not reveal they are so tacky) and spent a lovely evening all to myself when I decided to do a pit stop in San Sebastian, Spain.

I do love to drive and when your hubby is waiting the other end to spend a romantic weekend with you, the drive seems even sweeter!

So here are a few impressions of my 1200 km voyage.

Leaving the outskirts of Paris

Half-way across France

Opps, what is happening to the weather?

Guess I've crossed the Spanish border?!

La Concha, the beautiful bay of San Sebastian

Transported back in time

A Titanic feeling

Footprints heading towards the sunset

March 20, 2012

You know it is springtime in Paris when ...

... the Parisian women are still wearing black
... however they have traded gloves for sunglasses
... the men are staring the girls up and down expecting to admire them in miniskirts soon
... the high heels are slowly replacing the flat black leather boots
... we're finally getting rid of those ugly UGS
... when you start to avoid being run over by motorbikes rather than cars
... the number of tourists starts increasing drastically
... the restaurant terrasses are full again at lunchtime
... groups of young men and ladies are smoking infront of their office entrances
... the trees are budding and give us the first spout of colour in this grey city

March 18, 2012

A brilliant Swiss Godmother

Now, this past week would not have been so absolutely perfect had my daughter's Godmother not dropped everything at her home (left kids to hubby and the house to itself) and hopped on a train from Zurich to spend some quality time with her Goddaughter.

I admit I have lucked out with the choice of Godparents because over the years they have proven to be a perfect fit to both my children. I chose a Swiss Gotte to keep some ties with Switzerland which turns out my daughter claims to be her home after having lived in Lugano from age 3 to 8.

My daughter was thrilled to have all the attention to herself, to be able to decide the programme and share all the fun with a person that is as active as herself. They took off exploring Paris by bike, spent an afternoon at the Aquapark and an entire day in EuroDisney. They ate sushi together and didn't have enough time to eat moules due to all the activites. They took early morning shots in front of the Eiffel Tower and devoured yummy French pasteries.

Eventhough the Godmother only stayed 4 days, she has managed a feat that nobody ever has accomplished before: to tire my daughter out to the point where she stopped talking. Not even I have managed this since she started talking in perfectly structured phrases age two.

Hurrah and a big THANK YOU to both Godparents for being so present in their Godchildrens' lives!

Il padrino pays us a visit!

"A Godchild is a special gift sent from heaven to love and cherish throughout eternity."

It has been a lovely week. My son's Godfather came to visit us in Paris from far-away Argentina. After twelve long years two football-crazed Argentineans were finally reunited. Little did I know that these two would have so much in common. If you're wondering at this point why I chose an Argentinean Godfather, it is because my boy was born in Buenos Aires and I wanted him to have some connection to Argentina. Thanks to facebook, skype and photo-sharing websites we have stayed in touch over the past decade and now my son chats with his Godfather while they watch a football match together on livestream TV either end of the globe. They can even play soccer on the playstation against each other. The mind boggles!

The past 7 days they have visited the Paris St.Germain football shop, the Nike and the Adidas flagshops, trekked out to vistit the Stade de France, included a day's detour to Euro Disney and of course played football under the Tour Eiffel on the Champs de Mars.

The Godfather brought him a Boca Jr. sweatshirt, cap, towl and the list goes on. Boca Jr. is Diego Maradona's football team from Buenos Aires in case you were wondering. They have bought themselves PSG football t-shirts and had the Argentinean player's name Pastore printed on the back. They enjoyed each other's company with endless discussions about who will win this year's European football championship. The Godfather had to cheer up my boy after Napoli (remember his Dad is Italian) got kicked out of the Champions League by Chelsea last Wednesday and picked up the pieces when an exhausted but extremly happy boy fell asleep in the pizzeria last night after an incredible week with his beloved Padrino.

March 14, 2012

Gate-crashing a cookbook fair

"This is every cook's opinion -
no savory dish without an onion,
but lest your kissing should be spoiled
your onions must be fully boiled."
Jonathan Swift

What is the next best thing to a Chocolate fair? A cookbook fair full of chocolate demonstration classes by French chefs, of course.

Next question: how do I wiggle our way in to this professionals-only exhibit? I talk our way in. I am after all married to a Neapolitan. I have learnt how to improvise!

Full of anticipation, I treck up to the 19th arrondissement with two American friends of mine. Upon being refused entrance at the front door by a rather large black African man, I negotiate my way around to the back door! "Where is your badge, Madame?" the Moroccan guard at the rear door asks? "Well, you must understand, I have visitors who have come all the way from America for this fair." "Ahhh, Madame you need to come back tomorrow when the fair is open to the public." he replies. "Ahhhh, well you see, my very important visitors have a plane to catch this afternoon." I say. "Mais non, Madame..." "Mais oui, Monsieur!" "Who has invited you?" he inquires while my mind is racing 100 miles an hour to come up with an ingenuine answer: " The book publisher of Italian wines, of course!" The guard gives me a quizzical look and obviously decides he will let this battle be fought by another person. He tells me to contact the guard inside the buidling.

Result: We are now IN the building. NO one will get me out of here again without having browsed through my beloved cookbooks!

We walk through the inner courtyard - which in itself was worth the visit - and admire the most amazing mirrored structure reflecting a replica of a Parisian facade on the floor, kind of like a trompe l'oeil but in reflection.

We were on to our third security guard who turned out to be charming. I present him with my grandest smile - my Dad always used to call it my Hollywood smile - and guess what ... he let us in and even showed us the way to the ticket booth.

Having paid my professional inscription fee I was now asked for my business card. Damn, I knew all those mums at school had personal business cards for a reason! More improvisation necessary: "Ooops, I forgot them in my other handbag. You know I have so many of them...but just put down culinary blogger as my profession."

We are in. The cook books were interesting to leaf through but I had expected a bit more, however, the cooking demonstrations by the French and foreign chefs were extraordinary. Needless to say, we tried every dish that we watched being made and had yet another exquisite French adventure.

March 11, 2012

Impressions of the 19ème arrondissement

The 19th arrondissement is one of the least sought after addresses in Paris. It is in desperate need of a makeover. Situated in a northeast corner of Paris, this district has until recently been considered of little interest to tourists. Yet the area, which is undergoing a dramatic urban renewal, has a lot to offer. It notably features a sweeping romantic-style park, lively cinemas and a science and industry museum.

Here are a few architectural impressions of my own.

Pretty funky

Remind me which city I'm in

Wondering what it is

Another eye catcher

A trompe l'oeil from top to bottom

An amazing reflection


Metro Riquet

March 8, 2012

Cooking is a French science

"The French approach to food is characteristic; they bring to their consideration of the table the same appreciation, respect, intelligence and lively interest that they have for the other arts, for painting, for literature, and for the theatre. We foreigners living in France respect and appreciate this point of view but deplore their too strict observance of a tradition which will not admit the slightest deviation in a seasoning or the suppression of a single ingredient. Restrictions aroused our American ingenuity, we found combinations and replacements which pointed in new directions and created a fresh and absorbing interest in everything pertaining to the kitchen."
Alice B. Toklas

Is there any better way to be welcomed by a French chef than: "J'ai le plaisir de vous accueillir chez nous, Madame ExpatwithKids." Ahhh, that just set a beautiful tone for the morning to come. Not to mention the view! Imagine cooking up a Chocolate souffle while looking onto the Champs Elysées. Not even Marta or Jamie can beat that. And then they served me a cup of coffee. I am now in seventh heaven and I haven't even started munching on the chocolate!

My partner in crime and I have signed up for another cooking class. If we can handle a Cordon Bleu chef we can tackle anyone. The Lenôtre experience took us to a whole other level. Lenôtre is the official caterer to Paris' rich and famous, they also run a professional pastry school and cookery classes for home chefs, like US! Lenôtre supposedly is the only cooking school offering really advanced non professional classes. Yep, that would be us.

This course was hands-on and very informative. We learnt about ingredients, textures, techniques and temperatures. We went from pasty to creamy to velvety. We experienced mechanic reations and discovered stable emulsions. I had NO idea chocolate could do ALL that.

Did you know you could freeze vanilla beans?

Who knew that Chocolat de couverture is used mainly by professionals because it is a lot more temperamental to work with? It contains only cocoa solids, cocoa butter, and sugar. In order to be properly labeled as "couverture", the percent of actual cocoa butter must be between 32-39%.

How much does an egg weigh? 50gr it seems, 30gr of egg white and 20gr of yolk. After baking with eggs for over 40 years it never even occured to me to figure out how much they weighed. BUT this is a French cooking class, it's science not creative improvisation! Everytime I asked the chef for a possible substitute - if you happen to run out of pistaccio paste for example - the answer was: "Mais Madame...!"

However, so far my experience has taught me that there is a logic to the madness. The end result of all my Parisian cooking class products have been spectacular in presentation, texture and taste, therefore I will play by the rules. I just went out and bought myself the best chocolate de couverture as advised by our chef Gilles. Did I mention it only comes in boxes of 5 kg and it will last me until 2014?

The Mi-Cuit Chocolat with Crème Anglaise Pistachée ...

... went from petals...

... to creamy ... 

... to pasty...

... to velvety and scrumtious!

The Soufflé Chocolat with Grand Marnier ...

.. had ingredients ...

... technique ...

... and spectacular taste and texture.

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