Friday, 27 December 2013

{Winter Warmers}

I hope everyone had a very happy & restful Christmas time - personally, I spent most of the holidays with this beauty... she had a lot of presents to deliver in her santa outfit! 

The Post-Christmas/Pre-New Year week is actually my Mum's favourite time of year - it's a time to take stock of everything, play with all your delightful presents, and prepare yourself for the new year ahead. It's also not quite time to get back on the sensible life plan, so all those treats can be eaten up in leisurely time. If I were still in Paris, I'd be skipping down to my new favourite café Le Voltigeur in Le Marais for a winter warmer with my cosiest pal..

Suze visited me in my last days in Paris & we covered many a mile (and restaurant). After our weekend, I would heartily recommend Chez George on Rue des Canettes for a hearty, authentically French experience - think eccentric old women with orange hair complimenting your outfit choice & young men buying roses for their many sweethearts. But our favourite restaurant was definitely La Vache et Le Cuisinier in Montmartre. Slightly more expensive than other joints on the Rue des Trois Frères, but totally worth it. The food is to die for (I recommend the steak followed by profiteroles) & beautifully presented, and the clientele are a mixed bunch of Parisians with plenty of stories to tell. Stay 'til closing time to hear the best ones.

Anyway, back to Le Voltigeur. We stopped in for a break from window-shopping & pulled up some chairs outside in the cold. No need to worry about freezing here - if the drinks won't warm you up then the cosy blankets sure will. Pull one around up you as you watch the world stroll past.

There didn't seem to be a menu, so Suze ordered the house speciality which was their Chocolat Chaud (complete with a little Carambar). It came in a little pot which you stir in with milk, to your desired strength/consistency. I was suitably jealous, but nevertheless my delicious Vin Chaud had the desired effect of warming up my chilled bones. I also had a new pal to play with - the café seems to have a live-in dog who wanders the seats looking for a cuddle. I was more than happy to oblige & felt right at home.

As we wandered back with warm hearts through the little streets of Le Marais, we chanced upon a swing band playing. They were actually very talented & fantastically French - notice the bass player enjoying his cigarette while he plays. 

The pièce de résistance was this beautiful lady who was clearly the band's dancer. She was so full of energy & concentration as she moved gracefully around her little stage, she really transported you back to another era. Half of Paris took a pause from their busy lives to watch her move, such was her beauty.

I'm now back in England with mixed feelings - I'll certainly miss all the delicious food & sights but it sure is nice to be home and surrounded by friends & family. Stay tuned for more London-based tips...

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Tuesday, 17 December 2013


This December my Dad turned the grand old age of 60. Finding the perfect present for a loved one is always tricky, but I knew I had to really step my game up for this milestone. My Dad is a Swedish-American turned British citizen who has lived all over and pretty much seen it all. He's gathered many fantastic friends over the years, but life being the way it is he doesn't always have the opportunity to catch up with old pals. Since I can't quite afford a round-the-world ticket for him to visit everyone, I decided to bring 60 of his nearest & dearest straight to him... in the form of a book of memories! 

Earlier this year, with the sneaky help of my Dad's address book, I reached out to as many friends & family as I could via letter/email/telephone. I simply asked them to come up with an anecdote or memory of my Dad, and perhaps an old photo if they had one. I patiently waited for a few one-liners to trickle in, but I seriously did not expect to receive what I did. Not only did we surpass the 60 entries I needed, I was sent poems, drawings, long letters, hilarious stories and heartfelt messages. There were photos from his childhood (dodgy haircuts included), and incredible memories through his college years & beyond. It was a serious gift in itself to go through these amazing contributions! 

Once I had all the entries together all that remained was to write a little introduction:

Ralph David Miller; son, leotard- wearer, big brother, anthropologist, sailor, photographer, entrepreneur, serious actor, city boy, off-piste skier, whisky drinker, tennis pro, father, oenophile, multi-linguist, and soon-to-be free bus-pass holder.
What do you give to the man who has been there, done that, and seen it all? This year, I decided to create a book of 60 memories for 60 years well lived – although given that this is Ralph’s book, there was always going to be some excess! But where to begin with a book about one man who has lived in three continents, through seven decades?

In the making of this book, I’ve had the chance to experience a bit of Ralph’s life. I’ve worked hard, partied hard (Ralph: the College Years) and fallen in love. I’ve consumed an inordinate amount of cheese and wine, I’ve sailed great oceans on yachts and one serendipitous ferry – all through the memories of Ralph’s friends and family. Thank you all for your heartfelt submissions which at times made me laugh, cry, cringe... and look back on a life rich in memory. Dad, I hope you enjoy reading 60/60 as much as we all enjoyed making it. Happy 60th Birthday! 

Luckily, my boyfriend is an uber-talented graphic designer and offered to help me out designing the book. I don't think he had any idea what he got himself in for, but the result sure beats whatever cut & paste scrapbook I would have come up with! He created a beautifully designed hardback book, using a Blurb plug-in, that I know my Dad will treasure for years. His birthday rolled around and we had sent the book to print just in time. We presented it to him over champagne, and I think it's safe to say he was pretty stunned. He kept re-reading the names of his old college buddies and long-lost work colleagues in amazement.

After a glorious birthday supper, we retired to the sitting room to read all the stories and letters. By this time, the food, wine & birthday cake had taken its toll on the old man so I decided to read it to him. It took about an hour and several glasses of water for me to get through the book but it was so worth it - seeing Dad's reaction to each entry was just priceless. Evidence of a happy (and sleepy) father below...

I wrote this post to try and encourage anyone with a loved one's birthday coming up to follow suit and think outside the box - in whatever format you choose. It may be a bit of work gathering the contributions but I really think the result is worth it. Plus, I've got embarrassing stories to hold over my Dad for years to come!

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Thursday, 12 December 2013

{Un Dimanche à Paris}

After one too many times waiting out in the cold at Angelina, I’ve been on the lookout for a delightful Parisian café specialising in hot chocolate. The trouble is, the method of pouring out Angelina’s thick molten chocolate from a large jug  into a delicate china cup is all part of the joy of drinking there – so I really wanted to capture that experience elsewhere. Luckily, other cafés in Paris have been more than happy to oblige – and without the hour-long queues and crazed tourists.

Un Dimanche à Paris is tucked away on a charming delightful side-street in Saint-Germain. I was drawn to the cobbled streets, almost reminiscent of The Lanes in Brighton. Here they serve up their specialty hot chocolate in delightfully bizarre jugs.

OK, so they don’t provide the lashings of Chantilly cream that Angelina does, but the chocolat chaud here isn’t so rich that the cream is needed as a bit of respite. Once you’ve enjoyed your drink in a leisurely manner (no pressure to get people in and out here), do head into the adjoining chocolate shop. It is an absolute feast for the senses – and that’s without even trying any of the goodies on offer.

You can even watch the chocolatiers and pâtissiers at work. Drooling on the windows probably not encouraged, but may be permitted - there's only one way to find out.

There’s every type of chocolate in every form imaginable – even chocolate swirled into Fois Gras. Come on, France, surely that’s too far? 

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Do let me know your favourite place for chocolat chaud in Paris – I’ve only got one week left in the city of lights (wah!) but I’m determined to sample the best before I go.

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