Following a rough pregnancy and even rougher ‘special delivery’ of our small person this summer, I seriously doubted I was up for a trip to France. Two months into parenthood, still feeling battered and bloated and somewhat embarrassed to be seen in public, I somehow lost the family holiday debate to the ever-persuasive Monsieur and we set off for his motherland for the first time with buggy and baby seat loaded into the car, not to mention our BABY.
One of the highlights of this trip was a stay in La Baule. It’s one of those French Atlantic seaside towns with whimsical, slope-roofed houses shaded by soaring, aromatic pines. I loved it from the very minute we arrived. However, I soon found that this was a vacation spot for the chic, slim, sparrow-boned French and every time I passed a reflective surface, my image screamed HEFFALUMP! How ever could I hold my head high in my current, still-swollen state, whilst surrounded by such studiously-maintained examples of the human form? If it’s one thing I’ve learned since meeting my Frenchman, the French are extremely efficient at commenting on one’s size and think nothing of discussing diets at the dinner table. I hoped the presence of my dear, precious child might cut me some slack this time.
On top of my confidence crisis, Monsieur and I were so new to taking our baby out that you could have hung L plates around our necks and called us Learner (Baby) Drivers. Just the thought of dining out with her was enough to make me itch with anxiety. What if she cried and we couldn’t soothe her? Would the restaurant have changing facilities? Did we have enough milk with us? Nappies? Wipes? Would restaurants even WANT us there, now we had a small child? It all seems so silly in hindsight, but at the time these were very real anxieties for us. The good thing about travelling so early on in our baby’s life was that it threw us into the parenting pool’s deep end and we were forced to swim which, with practice, we did.
Our first day in La Baule we decided to take a stroll along the promenade, in the hope of finding lunch with a view. I was positively dizzy with all of the above concerns, not to mention the heat. We reached one eatery on the beach, but it was down on the sand with no ramp, only stairs. There was no way we could get the buggy down to the door so we walked on. Eventually, we found Nossy Be, a smart establishment, also on the sand, but with a navigable ramp leading down to the entrance. So far, so promising, but once inside my heart sank. It was so super-hip modern that if a mirror ball had suddenly started twirling to the latest euro-beat, I wouldn’t have been at all surprised. As for the patrons – they were all perfectly bronzed, in crisp polos and Bermudas, or ethereal kaftans with the style of sandal that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a goddess lunching at Mount Olympus. I, by contrast bright white and elephantine, was absolutely certain that we weren’t their kind of desirable and prepared for the ‘I’m sorry, we have no free tables,’ brush-0ff, especially as I couldn’t see any space for us in the bustling restaurant. I was wrong.
A waiter and his colleague asked us to wait for a moment, then busied themselves finding spare seats to position around a low table not far from the bar. In a flash, the table was set and we were seated, with ample room for the baby in her buggy. Menus arrived, as did chilled water – Ferrarelle, an Italian brand that I rate for its gentle bubble and faintly salty taste. So far, the brownie points were accruing fast in this eatery’s favour.
Monsieur and I shared a starter of melon and prosciutto – the melon fanned across the plate in fine slices, contrasting with the insouciant tumble of ham.
I followed on with a starter size of red tuna tartare, presented South-East Asian style, with a garnish of small beads of wasabi that looked just like luminous, green caviar might. A verrine of refreshing petits pois soup and mint ‘nuage’, or foam, accompanied the plate.
Monsieur ordered a stir fry of rice with King Prawns, which he pronounced ‘excellent’; this is praise indeed from a particularly particular eater. It arrived atop giant petals of watermelon radish – at once arresting on the plate, but also cooling against the spice of this dish.
This place was a revelation for an anxious new mum. We were impeccably looked after, were placed sensitively with ample room to care for our little one, the food was excellent in all respects AND we had a sea front view. With a glass of chilled rosé I felt less harried and more human. More human, that is, until a whiff of something a little earthy floated up from the buggy and I found out the hard way how important it is to find eateries with baby changing facilities. Trying to change a wriggling two month-old on a loo seat is far from fun, especially when there’s a queue of the be-jewelled and be-kaftanned lined up outside and your baby is letting out wails to rival the loudest siren. Blessedly, this was the only blip we experienced at Nossy Be.
In summary? Food – superb and not too calorific. Views – of beach, sea and excellent for people-watching. Staff – you’ll seldom find such helpful individuals. Family-friendly? Definitely. There were other babies and small patrons present – all accepted without fuss and kindly catered for. Downside? No changing tables for small babies, but the food and service were so good that this is just nitpicking. Budget – above average but acceptable, given the quality of produce. On my dime – anytime. Reservations – we walked in without one and were generously accommodated, however, another time I’d reserve, especially in high season.
Nossy Be, Beach and Lounge Restaurant
02 40 604 225
Plage La Baule, opposite 15 boulevard Darlu
Every year, as Christmas approaches, I make a mound of sherry truffles. They’re lovely to have on hand as a sweet treat for the end of a meal – just one or two will satisfy any sugary craving. Sherry truffles also make a special gift for the grown ups on your pressie list – I bottle mine in preserving jars, which not only look attractive but are also practical in that they may be later reused, once the truffles have all been scoffed greedily down.
Here’s my recipe:
150g rich tea biscuits
1/4 cup cocoa
1 cup icing sugar
1 1/2 cup dessicated coconut
2/3 cup raisins
6 Tbsp sherry (I used Harveys VORS Pedro Ximénez (PX)
Blend the biscuits into a breadcrumb consistency and reserve.
Blend the butter, cocoa, icing sugar and coconut in a food processor.
Add the blitzed biscuits and sherry to the mixer and blend again until the mixture becomes a ball.
Remove from processor, place in a bowl, cover with cling film and leave overnight. This allows the consistency to settle and not be too sticky when you roll it into balls.
Using a teaspoon, take lumps of mixture and roll them between your hands until they form a shape similar to a small ping pong ball.
Then roll the balls in a shallow dish of sherry before rolling them again in another dish filled with coconut. Not only does this help the coconut to stick, but it adds extra wickedness and sherry flavour to these rich, sweet mouthfuls.
May be served either with a cup of coffee at the end of a meal, or with a naughty little glass of post-prandial sherry, just in case the balls aren’t sherry enough for your tastebuds!
**I was sent a bottle of Harveys VORS Pedro Ximénez (PX) for the purposes of making my annual batch of sherry truffles. Whilst any sweet sherry will work with this recipe, the Pedro Ximénez has some deliciously intense notes, such as licorice, black treacle and chocolate, adding depth and extra flavour to this already moreish treat. RRP £21.76
In our house, sherry is one of those Christmas staples: somehow the holiday just wouldn’t be the same without a taste of the stuff. This year, I’ve followed some Harveys suggestions to update our sherry repertoire. Sherry on the rocks with a squeeze of fresh orange (just a small squeeze, mind you!), garnished with a slice of orange not only looks the festive goods but is also refreshing – perfect for cooling down the rellies when they get a little flushed and flustered during the family charades tournament.
Another brilliant take on the winter sherry tipple is mulled apple juice.
Slowly heat 200ml of Harveys Bristol Cream with 500ml of premium pressed apple juice, 6 cloves and 50 grams of sugar. Simmer for around 15 minutes – an ideal length of time for the liquid to warm and flavours to mingle.
Strain into a warm jug, garnish with slices of apple and serve in glasses with a star anise.
This is a beautifully warming beverage to warm everyone up after those bracing post-prandial route-marches. The sherry content can also be upped to a pleasant 300ml to 500ml of apple juice – giving it a little extra oomph without overpowering the mulled effect.
**Harveys sent me a bottle of Bristol Cream for the purpose of experimenting with their winter cocktail concepts. RRP £9.41 but I’ve spotted loads of pre-Christmas specials out there so keep your eyes peeled for special deals.
Christmas 2013 will be rather special in the Epic household for it will be our first with a baby: the Crevette. It may seem early to be gearing up for this but I find that with a very small, dependent person around, everything takes a lot longer than usual. (It just took over half an hour to type out the above two lines because of a loose bottle cap that spilled formula all over the baby, requiring a change of clothes for a wriggly child more intent on her next mouthful than being dry. Sound like anyone you know?) So, to avoid being a terrible Mrs Santa I’m starting my silly season to-do list NOW, just as the first Christmas cards are hitting the shops.
Everyone says that wrapping paper is more interesting to most babies than the presents themselves; I’m sure The Crevette will find the same. And I’m not a huge one for over-emphasising all things material at a time which really should be remembered for spiritual reasons. That said, I would still like to give the little shrimp something memorable – and durable -to mark her first Christmas with us. So, as she will be embarking on solids (way heeeey!) by then, this is what Mrs Claus will be leaving under the tree:
It’s a lovely set for kids from three years on, so I’m a bit ahead of the game here. I figure we can put it away until such time as the Crevette can be trusted with her own mug and is hopefully past the throwing-food-and-eating-accessories-at-Mummy phase.
Then, when it’s time for The Crevette to start a little business supplying the neighbours with baked goods, or to start training for the Junior British Bake Off (no pressure, ma puce!), Le Creuset have the perfect set to start her off:
Or if quiche and clafoutis are more her thing, we could always invest in the pie baking set:
So that should take care of the next three Christmases for the Crevette. Given her already evident fascination with food and mastication I’d be most surprised if these gifts don’t prove to be a hit.
It’s sometimes surprising to think of London as France’s sixth biggest city, with a French population greater than centres like Bordeaux or Nantes. With so many French people living here, Monsieur included, there’s a definite demand for French food to stave off their homesickness for familiar edibles. Factor in a large population of Francophiles and the market grows unquantifiably larger. Even Ocado, the supermarket delivery service, has seen fit to introduce French supermarket staple brand Reflets de France to its warehouse shelves.
Now there’s a new kid on London’s French food block, called Bonjour French Food. For a monthly subscription fee of £29.00 (express delivery direct from France included) you can elect to receive their boxes of French food products, one per month, each with a theme. Each box contains between five and seven French food products for you to try, along with a little bilingual magazine crammed full of product information, recipes and food news. If you don’t want to subscribe, you can always order one-off boxes for £31.00, either for yourself or as a gift, and if you’re feeling particularly generous you can arrange gift subscriptions of multiple months. Bonjour French Food can also arrange for corporate gift quantities, if required.
October’s Bonjour French Food box had the theme of l’apéro, the French institution of pre-prandial drinks with a snack. Here’s what it contained:
- petits sablés, little buttery biscuits a bit like French shortbread, only not nearly so chunky,
- chocolate fondant pudding mix by the brand of Par Marlette, using all organic ingredients and a little salt from the pans on the exclusive Île de Ré,
- wild boar terrine blended with mandarin and rocket,
- duck breast terrine with honey and walnuts,
- dry sausage rolled in pepper – beautifully stinky, just as it should be,
- and a tomato, capsicum, anchovy and garlic spread.
When my box arrived, I was jiggling with excitement because I had no idea what might be inside. After carefully opening it I found that everything was safely wrapped in shredded paper with vibrant blue tissue and nothing was included that could have either broken or perished en route. The product sizes allow just enough for a taster or two for two people, although the pudding mix caters for up to six people. That works, though, because you wouldn’t serve the pudding with the apéritif; it’s really just a sweet extra to round off the box and give the glutton another occasion to sit down with French food, and a digestif, perhaps, at the other end of a meal?
After the unwrapping, and a good, hard sniff of that sausage, I worked my way through the little Bonjour French Food magazine, which is beautifully presented and includes background to the manufacturers of the box contents – particularly useful if you’re not familiar with the brand. The website is easy to navigate, there are opportunities to give box feedback via Facebook and Twitter, and there are competitions to win further products – for free!
If you’re keen to indulge with a Bonjour French Food box, there’s currently a £5.00 off code if you visit their website, http://www.bonjourfrenchfood.com
Follow Bonjour French Food on Twitter: @BonjourFrFood
**I received one Bonjour French Food box, free of charge, for the purposes of this review.
I haven’t posted on Epicurienne in months. Ten months to be precise. As I write this it is slowly, with my left hand only. No, I didn’t lose an arm; I did the longest cooking to date in my lifetime and baked a baby. She’s sitting here on my lap, gripping onto her father’s ancient desk, alert and keen to be part of the action at all times. Today, she’s learning how blogs work.
After the last post I wrote, about an autumnal visit to the delicious Chez Bruce, (God, typing one-handed is slooooow!) one of my blogging buddies left a comment to ask where I was. PlanetRoss said: ‘Where are you? I’m sure you’ve eaten since October.’ You’d think so, wouldn’t you. At the time, his comment caused my lips to curl at the irony. By the end of November, I’d developed hyperemesis, an extreme of morning sickness, kindly publicised by Kate Middleton so that I didn’t have to translate the Latin for all and sundry for the next six months. That’s right, people, I had my head over a sink until the end of the seventh month of bun production. And that is why this book, bought with all good intention the minute the test stick had two very positive lines, was possibly the most unnecessary expenditure of the entire pregnancy:
As you can possibly appreciate, it’s hard to eat well when 95% of foodstuffs are going to revisit your line of sight following ingestion. I got to the point where my only true friends for months on end were Primula cheese spread on water crackers (chive flavour) and clementines. The growing bun also permitted chocolate to cross the placenta and enter her bloodstream. ‘Why don’t you just eat chocolate? At least it stays down.’ Monsieur pleaded after another evening of full-on, sink-blocking regurgitation. ‘Because it’s full of caffeine and will turn me into Jabba the Hut.’ I replied, silently wondering in a haze of desperation if either con could be really as bad as the constant stomach churning and illness I was currently subjected to. At that point, I had hardly gained weight, apart from that of The Bun, a fact you’d find hard to believe if you could see me now. These days I’m your classic, post-pregnancy Wide Load with an order out for low fat shirataki noodles.
So, to recap, Monsieur and I were thrilled to be expecting The Bun, and then I was pretty much ill for the duration. Even doing a supermarket order online (no vicious smells to send me back to the sink) made me want to vom. A roasting smoked chicken, which I’d usually demolish with a little help from ‘im indoors, had me slamming doors and running up stairs to escape the suddenly vile odour. Rotting leaves on a green down the road saw me retching so hard that I had to take alternative routes to the train so as not to smell them. I was so consistently ill at work that it was truly painful to keep the secret until the traditional twelve weeks were up and we’d had a scan to say that The Bun was baking nicely. I couldn’t really go out to eat, as you can imagine. I knew the location of all public loos en route to work and I could no longer blog, thanks to plummeting energy brought on by being sick so frequently during the day, not to mention that thoughts of my once-beloved food were now liable to make me very queasy indeed. I felt like the Exorcist child. Miraculously, my head never once swivelled, but it came close.
Towards the end of the bun baking I could barely eat for a very different reason: now, the sweetest little parasite in the world, who’d sucked all sustenance from me in order to grow, was a healthy enough size to be causing her mother breathing issues. Sitting at a table only ever lasted a short time before I had to leave and bounce on my giant birthing ball, the only seat in the house that was comfortable enough for my growing girth to balance upon. Invitations to dine with friends were turned down with apologies. I wondered if I’d ever eat well again.
And so the buzzer eventually went off and a bun came out of the Epic oven. When Monsieur came to pick us up from the hospital after a week’s stay (don’t mention the infections, the guess-what’s-in-it-leftovers food, or the rat tooth marks on the corner of my morning cereal packet), car seat in hand, he suggested stopping at Gail’s to pick up some San Francisco sour dough bread to add to a little celebration picnic he’d prepared for us at home. I needed no persuading. Gail’s is a stone’s throw from the area’s famed fromagerie, Hamish Johnston, an Aladdin’s Cave of stinky goodness that had been off limits to the runny, raw milk cheese-lover whilst baking The Bun. After nine months of smelly cheese deprivation, I was in through the cheese shop’s front door like a (very large) bullet, ordering hunks of Wigmore, a wheel of ripe and sticky Camembert, chèvre rolled in herbs, another in peppercorns, a mound of English-produced cheese imbued with garlic. BLISS. My gastro-mojo was BACK.
I’m on maternity leave until Spring, so there’s no excuse not to blog. Since The Bun’s arrival I’ve been making up for lost time on the food front – entertaining like mad (The Bun has a fan club, it would seem), checking out food shops and new supermarket products and daring to dine out with a buggy in tow (not as bad as I’d expected). So watch out for more regular posts on Epicurienne and get out your dribble bibs ‘cos I’m back and ready to EAT. Gobble, gobble, gobble.