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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Maison Dix

When we decided to travel to the Languedoc region in Southern France our first choice bed and breakfast was already booked for the nights we needed.  We were so bummed - where were we going to stay now?? After looking around online and asking our friends and coworkers for suggestions, Maison Dix was recommended to us.

You know how they say things happen for a reason?

Maison Dix happened to us, and the reason why is because it's awesome.

Greeting us at the door, one of the resident chow chows
From the moment we arrived late in the afternoon on Saturday the owners, Erica and John, were warm and welcoming. This English couple uprooted their lives and made the permanent move to Neffies a little over a year ago and seem to be living the dream. Their beautiful old wine makers home has been lovingly restored to the highest standard. The bed and breakfast is comprised of four guest rooms and a guest apartment. They don't except children under the age of 16 so this is a perfect retreat for adults looking for a weekend getaway.

Upon checking in we were brought right up to our rooms so that we could settle in. We stayed on the second floor in the Syrah room (all guest rooms are named after local grape varieties - a cute homage to the buildings history). Our room was spacious, clean and tastefully decorated. The shutters were closed to keep the afternoon sun out and the terra-cotta tile floors helped keep the room nice and cool. The soothing blue grey walls and crisp white linens paired with the dark wood furniture made me want to pack up this room into my overnight bag and take it back to London with me.

Next we were shown around the common areas of the house, starting with the kitchen. Like the guest rooms the kitchen was refinished to the highest standard. The cream cabinets made me swoon at first glance and it had all the modern comforts of home (I nearly screamed with joy when I saw the Nespresso machine available for guests to use) - and guests can make use of an honesty bar for refreshments and treats (and at 1 EURO each it's a steal). The kitchen opens out into a comfortable living room area outfitted with oversized, comfy leather couches and a large table for those (rare) days when the weather prohibits having breakfast out on the patio. There is also a guest den, with a big screen TV (in case you just can't live without football for a few days), a large bookcase filled to the brim and a selection of movies for you to enjoy at your leisure.

After a quick run into town to grab a few necessities before the shops closed we decided to relax on the patio by the pool. There are various tables and sun loungers scattered along the patio from which you can take your pick morning, noon or night. There is an shaded, outside kitchen and living room at the back of the courtyard where you can relax, play some games or chat with other guests. Most mornings breakfast is served on the patio and I can think of no better way to wake up - warm french press coffee, fresh baguettes from the village boulangerie, local yogurts, sun ripened fruit and homemade jams...I'm drooling now just thinking about it.

There is another honesty bar in the outside kitchen area which also contains your complimentary bottle of local rose wine. One of the best moments of our entire weekend trip was spending a hot afternoon lounging by the pool, drinking the rose wine and playing board games. It really doesn't get much better than that.

If you have more time, or are feeling particularly active, you can take advantage of the gym or the bikes that are available for guests to use. We, unfortunately, ran out of both time and energy. Maison Dix is located in the small town of Neffies, which has a boulangerie, a small general store supplying locals with basics (and some of the best cheese we've had in a long time) and a superb restaurant, Les Goutailles, which draws in locals and visitors alike. We heard there was also a local bar, but after several bottles of house wine at dinner, the most we could manage was to stumble back to our home away from home - Maison Dix.

Interested in staying at Maison Dix? Check out their website here! I'd like to give a big THANK YOU to Erica and John for making our stay at Maison Dix warm, welcoming and perfect in every way! We can't wait to return again in the (hopefully) near future! Cheers!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Friday Favorites

Hello friends!

You know what time it is....time to get the heck outta dodge! I'm off this weekend to someplace that knows how to do summer right - Southern France! I can't wait to get my beach, wine and sunshine one!

To all of you in the UK - have a GREAT last bank holiday weekend, enjoy it because it's the last one until Christmas!

To all of your in the US - quit complaining, you get a long weekend next week!

To all of you, hi. What's up? How are you?

*This jacket 
Ok, I know I just said that I couldn't wait to get someplace warm and summer like, but this jacket makes me jones for the fall. Er, actually, I could have used it on July 1.

Jacket curtesy of Matches Fashion

And just as I was posting that photo to my blog I learned that that jacket is SOLD OUT!! I'm going to go cry in a corner now with a bottle of wine...

**Hard wood floors made from Guinness barrels
Oh yes, you read that correctly.

photo curtesy of Mountain Lumber Co

MMmmmm floors made from beeeer...kinda

***Doesn't this photo just make you happy?

Source unknown but I found it on The Stroller Coaster

That's how I kinda feel today!

Have a great weekend everyone!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Around town: London doors

When you live in a city like London, at least in my neighborhood, all the houses tend to look the same. Sure, you have the occasional tall apartment buildings or apartment blocks that break-up the monotony, but for the most part your neighborhood probably looks a little something like this...

Unless you live in the West End...then your white mansion house totally kicks my row houses butt. But, I digress...

One of the first things we noticed when we moved to London was how little opportunity there was to make your apartment stand out in the little of a chance you have to show your neighbors just who you are.

Enter...the front door.

No literally - the front door.

It turns out the front door is the best way to express yourself, show your neighbors what you're like (without having to actually meet or talk to them).

One of our favorite things to do on a nice, warm weekend afternoon is take a stroll around our neighborhood. We always end up by the canal and on our way home we pretend as if we own one of these places and can actually change the door to fit us. What color paint would we chose? What color hardware? Would we play it safe with a black and gold combo or be a little more modern with slate blue and silver? Or would we go really crazy and paint it bright yellow or green?

I like to think that these doors give me a little peak into my neighbors life. What they are like and what kind of life they live. But who knows, maybe they chose the door color themselves or maybe its left over from the previous owners. Or maybe, like us, they just rent the place and their front door is a reflection of the owners and not the occupiers.

So for now, I'll keep picking out my favorite front doors, until I have my own to personalize.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Slow Roasted Tomatoes eyes are bigger than my stomach.

(like, usually all of the time)

Sometimes...I buy way too much food at the grocery store.

(or spend too long at the grocery store, I tend to hang out there like its my favorite bar)

It's really hard not too in the height of summer when everything is so fresh and so ripe and so delicious...

Some people make jam (some day when I have more than 24" of counter space I will too). Some people make  bread (how many zucchini/banana/pumpkin breads have you made-slash-been given-slash-given to other people when your bounty is about to go bad but you just can't bear to see it go to waste??

No? Just me?


See, I had these tomatoes that were about to go bad. They were getting kind of soft and I could just tell their insides were turning ever so slightly gritty and I couldn't stand the thought of them going to waste. So, I roasted them.

Do you know what happens when you cook something low and slow for a few hours? Something amazing. Something delicious. Something...magical. I don't know exactly how it happens, but the tomatoes turn slightly chewy and their flavor becomes concentrated and slightly smokey, earthy if you will. 

Not to mention it's seriously the easiest thing ever. I wouldn't even call it cooking. But you can, I won't tell on you. You can totally tell your friends that you made these from scratch and watch them marvel at how amazing you are (like they do ALL the time, I'm sure). I won't tell them that this recipe only takes 5 minutes to throw together and then you get to WALK AWAY for an hour or so.

(your secret is safe with me)

Roasted Tomatoes
You can use these in a number of fabulous ways - try adding them to a toasted bagel with cream cheese, chop them up and add them to a salad, or do like I do and add them to some pasta. I made this risotto recipe and swapped out the peas and mint for roasted tomatoes and basil. My heart sang, so will yours.

7 small, ripe tomatoes
2 (ish) tblsp Olive oil

- Preheat your oven to 300* F, line a baking sheet with parchment paper (this makes clean up wicked easy)

- Halve or slice tomatoes (depending on their size), drizzle with olive oil and lay them out on the prepared baking sheet. Lightly season them with salt and pepper (not too much, these suckers don't need a lot of doctoring up). 

- Roast in the oven for one to one and a half hours (depending on your oven, how well done you want them and what awesomely horrible reality TV is on at the same time).

*Notes* You can use any kind of tomato for this recipe. Cherry, roma, regular - the world is your oyster tomato. This works best with fresh, ripe tomatoes but feel free to use it year round when you inevitably grab some sad looking tomatoes in the middle of winter from the big box grocery store. This will save their life. The longer you roast them the more concentrated their taste will be.


Friday, August 19, 2011

Friday Favorites

Hello friends!

I think this week has been better than last, don't you agree? The sun is actually shining today, there weren't any riots this week and I am one week closer to a long bank holiday weekend. Win-win, am I right?

*Ok, I know I lead with shoes last week, but seriously?

found in Pinterest via prettyfrenemy

How could I not?!

And now, I need your help. Where on earth do I buy these shoes?! Ok, I'll stop with the ?! But for reals, I need help. I searched the original site, Pretty Frenemy, and found that they posted it from another blog. And that blog didn't have an original link. I tried reverse searching, image searching, typing-every-descriptive-word-into-the-google-search-bar sarching - and nothing! C'mon people, help a girl out. Where can I find these gorgeous things?! (sorry, one last ?! for good measure)

Get a quick lesson on pretty much anything you want to know about photography! From camera and photography basics to lighting to lenses to different subjects (macro, travel, architecture) this round up has it all! Just be sure to set a timer before you jump in - you could spend all day on there!

Ok, so this I didn't find on the internet but I have been obsessing over it ever since I found it a few weeks ago. I happen to find it while I was grabbing lunch one day in a deli that I don't normally go to. I think it was fate. Besides being the most delicious yogurt I have ever had, it comes in these little terra cotta pots! I really am obsessed with this yogurt. Its from France and I can only find it at this one deli. Its creamy and smooth and incredibly light in texture and in taste. Plus, think of all the amazing this you can do with these precious little pots.

You could make molten lava cake in them!

You could make homemade candles in them!

You could use them to store stuff in - like pencils or paperclips or q-tips!

You could fill them with pretty flowers and bunch together on a table...see? The possibilities really are endless.

Happy weekend everybody!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Greedy Goat (goats milk ice cream)

On Saturday I met a good friend for lunch and a wander around my happy place - Borough Market.

After nibbling our way around some of our favorite stalls, we came across a vendor that I hadn't seen before. Not only was it a new stall but they were selling ice cream so I knew had to try it.

And then I took a closer look...

Was I reading that correctly?! 

Did that sign say...Goats milk ice cream??

I have had normal ice cream, gelato in Italy and even glace in Paris. But never have I ever had goats milk ice cream. This, was a must try.

It looked like ice had the normal ice cream flavors on offer (strawberry and chocolate as well as about a dozen others) even scooped up like normal ice cream. But what was it going to taste like? didn't really taste like ice cream, but it sure was delicious!

I bypassed the typical ice cream flavors and went straight for the most savory flavor I could spot (something about the goats milk was putting me in a savory mood rather than sweet). I chose lemon lime basil, it sounded exceptionally seasonally appropriate to me! It would have been perfectly refreshing on a hot summer day (but since I live in London where it refuses to get hot during the summer, it felt more like a fall day). The verdict?


It wasn't bad - far from it actually. But I couldn't quite wrap my head around what I was eating. It was cold. I was eating it with a spoon. But it wasn't exactly ice cream. It had the texture of sorbet and the slight tang of goats cheese. There were tiny bits of lemon and lime rind that added texture and a pop of flavor. It was smooth and creamy but at the same time light and clean.

So, why goats milk? The folks at Greedy Goat boast that goats milk ice cream is naturally lower in fat and calories than cows milk ice cream, and it is suitable for people who are lactose intolerant.  

Less fat, calories and chance of getting a stomach me converted!

Ok, maybe not converted - but I'll sure as heck try it again!

If you are in London and fancy a try, check out Greedy Goat in Borough market on Thursday, Friday or Saturday.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Risotto with peas

Growing up my father always had a big garden in the back yard. It occupies the back right corner of the yard, its size varying from year to year depending on how much time my dad had and how many vegetables he wanted to grow. Now that it's just him and my mom in the house the garden has gotten so big that sometimes I think it is going to take up the whole yard. But back when I was a kid I was fortunate enough to have grown up with an abundance of fresh vegetables during the summer months.

It would start with asparagus. The asparagus bed had its own separate location apart from the rest of the garden, seemingly posher than the humble potatoes and corn. As soon as we saw their little tips peeking up from the soil we knew the season was in full swing. It took many, many years for me to finally like the taste of asparagus (without a pound of melted velveeta cheese slathered on top, oh the horror). The same goes for peas.

One of the most vivid memories I have of growing up in my parents house was picking fresh peas from the garden. As a child I loathed the taste of cooked peas - somehow the only ones that I could remember were dull and brownish from being cooked too long in the microwave (sorry mom). But fresh peas, oh those were something different. My parents would send my sister and I out to the garden with a plastic bag and we were to fill it with peas. They were lucky if they ended up with half of the bounty that was growing, the other half in my belly with a trail of empty pods stretching out behind me. I'd seek out the perfect pea pod - not too big (as that meant the peas were too starchy and slightly bitter), not too small (you wanted to actually be able to eat something out of the pod) but just right - the peas would be sweet and tender, and I would gobble them up like candy.

These days I have a better appreciation for the taste of cooked peas, but even now I find it hard to get them cooked just right when we are dining out. And of course now in my life there is the British staple of mushed peas served with fish and chips. But even that is a tricky dish to get right. I don't have the luxury now of picking fresh peas from my parents garden, so the farmers market is my next best option. When I saw a bag of fresh peas last week I knew I had to do something remarkable with them. 

I have (slowly) been reading through The Silver Spoon (the holy grail of Italian cooking) and noticed a recipe for Risotto with Asparagus. And that's when the lightbulb went off - Risotto with Peas and Mint. It was my first time cooking risotto and I am hooked. These something so methodical and hypnotizing about stirring a pot for 25 minutes, slowly adding stock, stirring, stirring, stirring. This dish requires very few ingredients so it is critical to use the freshest, best quality ingredients that you can get your hands on.

Risotto with Peas and Mint
Inspired by a risotto recipe by The Silver Spoon cookbook

1.5 litres (2 1/2 pints) of vegetable or chicken stock (homemade or low sodium from the store)
40 grams (1 1/2 oz) butter
3 tblsp olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
350 grams (12 oz) risotto rice
1 cup fresh peas
1/2 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese, plus more to serve
Fresh mint, chopped, to taste (I used 10 leaves, about 1 1/5 tblsp chopped)

- Bring the stock to a boil. In a large sauce pan melt the butter and olive oil, add the onion and cook over low heat until the onion is slightly soft and starting to turn translucent. Tip in the rice and stir until the grains are well coated.

- Add a ladleful of the hot stock and cook until the liquid has been absorbed, stirring constantly. Continue to add the stock, one ladleful at a time, making sure that all liquid is absorbed before adding more, stirring constantly. This should take around 20 minutes, give or take a few minutes. After the last ladle of stock is added tip in the peas. Once all of the liquid is absorbed add the fresh grated parmesan cheese and chopped mint and stir just to incorporate.

- Add a few fresh mint leafs and grated parmesan cheese to serve. Makes four generous servings.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Friday Favorites

Hello lovelies!

Is it just me - or has this been one hell of a week?! Everything from AAA downgrades to market tumbles and riots in my own backyard.


Please excuse the schizophrenia of this weeks Friday favorites...clearly, it's been that kind of a week.

*These 8" Ballerina Christian Louboutin shoes
image courtesy of the Daily Mail
These are amazing/crazy/badass/cartoon-like/beautiful all at the same time. I think they fit the craziness theme of this past week, don't you? These Swarovski crystal encrusted beauties were created specially for an auction fundraiser for the English National Ballet back at the end on June. Check out the full article here in the Daily Mail.

Also tips on this weeks craziness theme but seriously, you can't tell me that you have never felt like that article. Genius.

***The Happiness Project

I finished reading this book last week and it has resonated with me in more ways than I can count. I decided to read the book because I thought it would be a witty-light hearted account of one womans mission to be happier in her every day life for one year. It was that and so much more. It was more "self help" than I would have guessed but it brings up so many good points and so many (as Oprah says) "Ah-ha" moments that I can't seem to let go of. Even if you don't start your own "official" in-depth Happiness Project I guarantee that if you read this book you will start changing small things in your life that will make a big impact. AH HA!

and lastly...

****This mug
image courtesy of apiecebydenise on Etsy
Milk? Check.
Cookies? Check.
Only having to use one hand to carry milk + cookies = genius

Let's hope this weekend is the return to normalcy.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

A love letter to my Nespresso machine (and a recipe for biscotti)

My darling Nespresso,

When we were first introduced I was really quite hesitant. You seemed so phony and unsophisticated (trust me, this letter gets better). How could you give me what I really needed, how did I know what you had to offer was real?

I had been hurt in the past. My previous commitment had left me luke-warm and flaky. My only other option was to turn to the evil Big Daddy down the street.  He was inconsistent and dark, too dark for me but I had no place else to go.

So when you came into my life, all vintage-y cream and silver like, thinking that you were all that and a bag of chips, I was hesitant.  You were so suave and said I could call you anytime and you would be there for me overnight. How could I believe that you could fully commit yourself to me so quickly.

But then. Oh, but then. You offered yourself to me in perfect portions, and you let me decide how much I wanted each day. Your milk, so smooth (or frothy, depending on what I wanted). I could have you hot, I could have you cold. You left it in my hands.

I could decide how strong I wanted you every day. Sometimes I like it when you're a little weak, sometimes I like it when you're strong. But no matter what I do to you, your performance is always flawless. And for that, I love you.

Forever yours,


Disclaimer: this is NOT an advertisement. Nespresso has no idea who I am and I'm pretty sure they never will. I just have an unnatural attachment to my coffee machine and I had to tell the whole world (or the 20 people that read this thing). the end.

Almond Biscotti
Inspired by Food Blogga

1 cup of whole plain almonds (unsalted)
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp baking powder
3 - 3 1/2 cups flour 
3 medium eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract (go on, use the good stuff!)
1 tsp orange flower water*

- Preheat oven to 350*F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a small bowl lightly beat one egg and set aside. In a dry pan, tip in the almonds into a single layer and roast over low heat until fragrant, about 10 minutes. This is a simple step but please don't overlook it! It really enhances the flavor of the almonds and gives them some depth.

- In a large bowl combine the toasted almonds, sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, baking powder and 3 cups of flour.

- In a medium bowl whisk together the eggs, vanilla and orange blossom extract until combined. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir together. You may need to get in there with your hands at the end to get it to form into dough. Add remaining 1/2 cup of flour if needed, the dough should be sticky but you should be able to form it into a ball without falling into pieces.

- Divide the dough into two pieces and form each piece into a log, approximately 3" x 12" and brush the tops with the egg wash that was previously prepared. If you want smaller pieces of biscotti, break the dough into three or even four pieces and use two baking sheets.

- Bake in the over for 35-40 minutes until the tops are golden on top and are set all the way through. The dough should still be slightly soft in the middle. Cool on a wire rack until they are cool enough to handle. One loaf at a time, move to a cutting board and slice with a serrated knife on an angle (if you want to be fancy). Make sure you slice while the loaves are still warm, but cool enough to touch.

- Take the sliced pieces and lay out on their sides onto two baking sheets, be careful not to cram too many on to one sheet! Turn off the oven and put the sheets back in for 40-60 minutes. The longer you leave the biscotti in the warm oven the crisper they will become! I left mine in there for over an hour (oops!) and they are perfectly crunchy - though you definitely need a cup of coffee to enjoy them at their best! I suggest leaving them in there for 30-40 minutes if you like a slightly softer biscotti.

- If you want to get fancy, melt some chocolate in the microwave in 30 second bursts until smooth and drizzle over the cooled, sliced biscotti. Or dunk the biscotti in the chocolate to get more of the sweet stuff and leave to dry on parchment paper.

- If you don't have or can't find Orange Flower Water you can use almond or orange extract, use slightly less depending on how concentrated they are. Otherwise, you can omit this completely and they will still taste great!

- Get creative! Feel free to substitute your favorite nuts, and even add some dried fruit or chocolate chips!