Green fingers

Gosh, it has been an awfully long time since I’ve written a post, and ever so much has happened in the last few months… I’d figured I’d like to start with something happy, fresh and positively green, as it’s mid-Summer here in South Africa and our garden is full of flowering roses, lavender, raspberries, blackberries and our herbs are going “bos”* as we say in Afrikaans, and the difficulties experienced seem, fortunately, far away.

We had an odd piece of bricked up ground, that we turned into a beautiful thyme patch with citrus trees when we first bought our house, it has been through a couple of incarnations since then, although some of the thyme remains and the trees are growing happily, if somewhat slowly for now. Realising that our existing herb garden behind our kitchen was quickly becoming overrun with gooseberries, strawberries and rose geranium, and wanting to build a water trough for our waterblommetjies**, we decided in September last year, to re-appropriate the thyme patch and set about designing a herb garden with raised beds and a gravel pathway.

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We both loved the gardens at Versailles and the wonderful practice of planting flower beds interspersed with herbs and veggies through the public gardens in the Marais District, and this set the tone for our project.

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We had fantastic wrought iron arches made for our roses and blackberries to trail up, built sturdy wooden boxes, from reclaimed wood, for our raised beds and dug and laid a gravel path to make walking through, and picking our herbs easier. Next on our agenda, is finding or designing trellises for our potted grapes.

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We planted heaps of sweet basil, garlic chives, parsley and chervil, mint julep that has spread like wildfire, spicy peppers, rocket, tarragon, sage, onions, coeur de boeuf tomatoes and coriander throughout this little patch. We created height and interest in the garden by planting a variety of standards; we grouped olive trees, rosemary, bay and orange blossom jasmine in each of the boxes.

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We planted pennyroyal through out the walkways and it has threaded itself through any and all gaps, it’s such a pleasure to walk on as it seems to stay cool and releases the most pungent, minty smell as you bruise the leaves. Roses add a lovely soft dreamy pink touch of colour to the mix of plants, climbing side by side with the blackberries & reaching towards the sun.

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This little garden is such a happy place and reminds me of the hidden garden in the book “The Secret Garden”. Other than our sage, which appears to be struggling with the recent heavy rains we’ve had, everything is growing beautifully – big, green and deliciously savoury in scent. There really is nothing quite like the vivid green smell that tomato plants give off as you brush past them!

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Suffice it to say, best laid plans and all, we never managed to add the trough for our waterblommetjies, and although they appear to be quite happy in their original spot, they do need more space, so I’ll need to come up with another idea soon.

I’m sitting outside on the stoep, quite close to our Parisian inspired garden, and there are all sorts of happy birds hopping around in there – Cape robins, Piet-my-vrou’s and LBJ’s and the occasional lizard baking in the sun. It’s hard to believe that it started out looking sparse and now it is a veritable green paradise. I’m hoping to harvest our beefsteak tomatoes in a week or two- the cherry tomatoes are ripe and surprisingly sweet, and have been sustaining me as garden snacks while I prune and plant when the weather’s cooler. I’ve been scattering the dried seeds from our rocket and coriander plants in the garden, in the hopes that they will reseed themselves for the next summer season.

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Companion planting was a happy discovery for me years ago, and I still believe firmly in the results it yields, and of course our bees are happier for it too. If you’re looking for a fantastic reference book, I’d suggest reading Jane Griffiths books, they can be found on her website: http://www.janesdeliciousgarden.com and she’s ever-ready with hints, tips and advice for dedicated & aspiring gardeners alike.

I’ll introduce you to our bees soon, as we had our first crop from our industrious hive recently and the honey we got was simply amazing. There is nothing quite like home harvested honey – the taste far exceeds anything I’ve ever bought, and you know that what you’re getting isn’t half sugar syrup or worse. I loathe cutting trees down, and sadly, one of our espaliered figs broke in a recent storm. I’ve retied it, and went so far as supporting and taping the broken limb together, in the hope that it might recover, but the leaves are wilting and I think I may have to cut it after all. Horrid business that. I’ll let you know how that goes next time. Have a super weekend all!

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*Bos: direct translation is “bush” or wild **Waterblommetjies: also known as Cape pondweed or Hawthorn, is an edible aquatic flowering plant

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Liebe Liebster Award

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Wowzer – I got a surprise mail towards the end of Jan’ that I had promised myself I’d read, accidentally archived it and totally forgot about it until today… I’ve been nominated by Erin Vitali, she of the cheery blog One Hundred Twenty Three Days for the Liebster Award.

Happiness!

It’s a space full of the write stuff 😉 that endeavours to inspire a life lived with intention for herself and her family. It’s rather serendipitous that Erin, who is all about living positively, nominated my blog, given that my foray into blogging started as I fell ill and was finally diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis late last year.

It’s incredibly hard to remain upbeat and focus on the positive outcome from necessary lifestyle changes, when one is challenged with an illness that flares up, as and when it wants to, and has no exact or preordained treatment path, as each person’s pathology is different. It has left me violently ill; nauseas for days, unable to sleep, walk or function as I had before, and it has impacted on my ability to complete simple tasks – including blogging as often as I had initially intended.

At any rate, while I will eventually post about what has worked for me through trial and error, and enabled me to find balance, feel better and cope with more grace than I felt I had in reserve, for now, let’s just say that this was an inspirational nomination and I appreciate it immensely. Thanks Erin! Love & light to you and yours and happy blogging.

The Liebster Award Rules

  • Acknowledge and link back to the person who nominated you (Thank you Erin!)
  • Answer the 11 questions asked by the person who nominated you
  • Share 11 random facts about yourself
  • Nominate 11 bloggers with less than 200 followers. Please note my list is incomplete at present – I am looking for other blogs and will update this asap, if you’ve seen some great new blogs, please let me know in the comments so I can check them out & add them to my list? Thank you!
  • Give your nominees 11 questions to answer on their blog when they post about the Liebster Award.

Random Facts About Myself:

  1. I studied Agricultural Science at school in an effort to avoid needlework classes, and ended up studying to be, and working as a fashion designer
  2. I don’t have a favourite book per se, but I do have a serious attachment to The Collected Works of Herman Charles Bosman & anything by Roald Dahl
  3. I keep bees
  4. When I grow up, I’d really like to be an archaeologist, or a nose, or a herbalist
  5. I love travelling with my better half, and we tend to plan our overseas trips around where we’d most like to eat
  6. I have a knack for keeping my orchids happy & blooming regularly
  7. I dislike bread & butter pudding (Really – how could you possibly call a sloppy sandwich pudding?!Eew!)
  8. I practice yoga
  9. I have 3 wonderful furry beasties who enjoy tea & biscuits in bed with us in the mornings
  10. I love the Aesop “Rose by any other name” soap – my absolute best!
  11. My lucky number is 23

Q&A From My Nominator:

  1. Grab the book nearest to you, turn to page 29, and find line 4. What is the book and does it say? Animalium Curated by Katie Scott and Jenny Broom; “of hard bone, they have supple cartilage that makes their bodies lighter and more flexible.”
  2. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live?  We travel regularly, and whenever we come home to South Africa, I’m reminded why we live here & I’d be hard pressed to leave. If we HAD to move, I’d say France would be top of the list… or Mongolia.
  3. If you could change one thing about the world, what would you do? Change the laws governing ownership of animals. I think that people should have to pass an empathy and responsibility test before purchasing a pet/s and adopt from shelters before supporting breeders.
  4. Is the glass half empty or half full? I’d like to know what’s in the glass?
  5. When is the last time you ate a homegrown tomato? Recently actually – we grow ‘matoes in our garden – yum! 
  6. What did you want to be when you grew up? I’m still growing up…
  7. What is your favorite time of the day? Late afternoon when the light changes to a warm golden colour and everything feels softer and less edgy
  8. What inspires you? Kindness
  9. What is your favorite childhood memory? Climbing trees & watching the stars with my Oupa
  10. What three things in nature do you find most beautiful? Deserts, rain after a dry spell & old roses
  11. Who are your Nominees? Gosh, this was a difficult task – not because there aren’t great new blogs out there, in fact I’m sure there are, it was just difficult finding other newbs, easily through the WordPress Reader page… 
    1. Keepers of the Green
    2. Dear to Heart
    3. What an Amazing World
    4. Fourth Generation Farm Girl
    5. Blissful Brit (thanks Erin for the heads up!)

Home made dog treats

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Our dogs, collectively known as the “foofins”  have rather snobby palates and it’s quite difficult to find them treats that are healthy, tasty & get the nod of approval. So I went looking for a recipe for DIY dog treats and stumbled across a great post on curbly.com (http://www.curbly.com/users/capreek/posts/13538-how-to-make-your-own-diy-dog-treats) that uses two ingredients and some ingenuity.

It’s ideal for making with kids, if you have any around the house, otherwise you could borrow some if friends or family need down time, as apart from the baking time, there’s very little that can go wrong or that they can hurt themselves with. It’s also an important way to reinforce what treats can safely be given to animals (No chocolate!) and respect & responsibility for their furry friends.

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The basis of the recipe is oats, wheat germ or flour and baby food. From there you can add bits and pieces that you think your furry friends will appreciate, such as bacon fat, cheddar (although I’m a little concerned about cheese and arteries…), parsley, blueberries, grated carrot, home made salt free meat stock etc.

They’ve also added a handy list of things you should not feed your animals to their post, the link is here: http://www.aspca.org/Pet-care/ask-the-expert/ask-the-expert-poison-control/people-foods?qna=1

For my first batch, I used instant oats and apple Purity, the recipe and pics are below, please let me know how it goes & what your furry beasties think?

Happy Saturday all!

DIY Dog Biscuits

Ingredients:

2, 5 cups Instant Oats

2 jars Purity Baby Food

1/2 cup fine coconut (or desiccated coconut if you prefer)

2 heaped tablespoons of salt & sugar free peanut butter

1/2 cup flour (I used white cake flour, you can use brown or nutty wheat – whatever suits best)

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Method

Mix the oats, coconut & baby food and then stir in the peanut butter, I mixed everything up in bowl with a wooden spoon as it required very little arm power and food that it combined quite quickly.

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The mixture may be quite sloppy at this stage, so I slowly added part of the flour until I reached a “doughy” stage and it felt firm and was easy enough to work with.

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Working on a floured surface, I used the palms of my hands to flatten the dough so I could cut shapes out.

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You may need to add more flour to your working surface as you go, as the oils in the peanut butter will warm up with handling and become sticky.

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I used cookie cutters my Mom bought me at Thrums ages ago – princess shapes, which I figured suited our dogs well…

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I found the mixture made 2 baking trays full of goodies in varying shapes and sizes.

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Bake in the oven at 180’C for 25 minutes or until golden brown on top and firm to the touch, as the biscuits cool, they will harden up.

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Store in an airtight container for up to 2 months, 1 month or 3 weeks if adding bits of meat or other wet ingredients.

P.S. For cats, I would imagine using the water from tins of tuna instead of baby food could work – just make sure the treats are baked through, flatten your dough so than it’s nice and thin and crisps up easily, and then use smaller cookie cutter shapes.

Elderflower Vinegar Recipe

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Elderflower cordial, particularly those made by both Belvoir & Kuhestan, is one of my favourite in store finds as it is not always readily available.

That said, it is relatively simple to make & this discovery led to our planting an Elderflower tree in the garden about a year ago, so that we could make our own cordial.

Sadly as our tree is still quite small, she only produces so many heads during flowering season, and not enough for the requisite cordial making amount. While looking up cordial recipes ages ago, I came across some infused vinegar recipes, and I decided to give it a shot with the blossoms that have sprung up now.

It’s a good way to use up odd bottles of vinegar you may have in your pantry; I’ve mixed apple cider vinegar with white grape vinegar in the pictures below.

The recipes all call for either fresh or dried Elderflower blossoms & vinegar, be it grape or apple cider, you could even try balsamic, which is what I use when I make Tarragon vinegar as I find it imparts a really lovely, slightly sweet flavour to the end product.

Some recipes suggest you store the vinegar in a cool, dark place, but allow it to infuse in a sunny spot, while others suggest storing & infusing must be done in a cupboard or other sheltered space. I’ve opted for my kitchen windowsill this time round, and if nothing else, it looks lovely seeing the light filter through the flowers & vinegar. I’ll let you know how it turns out…

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Elderflower Vinegar Recipe

Fresh Elderflower blossoms

Vinegar (enough to cover the flowers in your jar)

Screw top jar or bottle

Method

Select the freshest blooms (discard the browning ones & any creepy crawlies that may have hitched a ride)

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Gently rinse them under running water, I like to use a fine mesh sieve so I don’t loose any flowers

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Snip away any excess stems

Pop the flowers into your chosen jar or bottle (be sure to send it through the dishwasher on high heat or a water bath to sterilise it first!)

Decant the vinegar into the jar

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Ensure the blossoms are well covered

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Allow to infuse in a sunny spot for 2-3 weeks & admire your handiwork from time to time, giving it a gentle shake when you do

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Strain through a sieve or muslin cloth (cheese cloth) into a pretty container & use on salads throughout Summer. As this is not boiled, I would imagine the shelf life to be relatively short, I’d say it’s best to try use it up within 3 months & store in a cool dark place.

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Colouring fabric with Natural Dyes

‘Tis almost the season to be jolly, and regardless of whether or not you believe in Santa, it’s also the season where our household traditionally gives gifts to friends and family, which is sadly often a stressful, and sometimes,thankless job.

This year I’ve decided to make gifts in an effort to be more industrious, personal and crafty (I won’t mention the salt dough ornament fail, but once that’s fixed, I’ll post more about that), so various unsuspecting souls will be receiving jams, marmalades, gingerbread men and napkins this year…

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When we were at Merci in Paris (I do so love that store!) we bought some really lovely linen in the most amazing colours; chartreuse, dove grey and duck egg. Not the lightest of goodies to be dragging back home I assure you and certainly an expensive luggage weight addition, but, at any rate, these beautiful items got me to thinking and my thoughts wandered off down the path of decent dinner napkins and where to find unusual colour combinations.

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As I have yet to find options that I love, I thought I’d make my own – Our roses are in full bloom and our raspberry and blackberry bushes are laden with fruit, some of which has already been taste tested by the various feathered beasties in our garden, so these were perfect specimens for making natural dyes with.

I bought 100% linen fabric, which I’m happy enough with, I do wish it was a heavier weight and had more of slub to it, but it has taken the colours beautifully so I can’t really complain… had wanted to use the hemp fabric I have, but there was only a meter left and I’d like to make large, formal dinner napkins.

The recipe I followed can be found here on the Pioneer Thinking website (http://pioneerthinking.com/crafts/natural-dyes) or on Anjouclothing.com (http://anjouclothing.com/2011/06/24/dye-job-au-naturale/).

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To achieve the colours I have, I used approximately a cup each of raspberries and blueberries and a refill packet of Turmeric from Woolies and probably about 8 heads of roses in various shades of pink and red, with enough water to cover each ingredient in its own pot.

It’s a fun project – it does take some time, so be prepared to pre-wash and pre-shrink your chosen fabric and then fix the fabric for an hour first, before the actual dying, in a water base with either salt or vinegar depending on whether you’re using berries or herbs, plants or bark. There after you’ll be simmering the fabric in the strained natural dye solution for another hour. I left the lighter colours in the pot with the dye until it was cool to ensure the colour would take nicely. You can create ombré, dip dye or tie dye effects using elastic bands or string. I’m off to find other (safe, non-salt dough ornamental) DIY projects for prezzie making, happy colouring & don’t forget gloves, turmeric does not a good mani make!

Lunch time greats in Paris

This is just a super quick post for anyone looking for a lunch time treat while out and about in Paris.

Marché des Enfants Rouges

We met up with my step-sister (a Paris native) at the Marché des Enfants Rouges, which is apparently the oldest covered market in Paris, France. It was established in the early 1600s and is located at 39 Rue de Bretagne in the Marais.

On the subject of its history, Timeout.com says; “This historical market takes its name from the 16th-century orphanage that used to occupy the site; the red of the children’s clothes indicated that they had been donated by Christian charities. Although the orphanage closed before the revolution, the imposing wooden edifice remained, and was reopened as a deluxe food market in 2000 after extensive campaigning from locals.”

While you can select pretty much anything to eat from the variety of food stalls in the market, stocking everything from fresh fish to Turkish and Cajun delights, Breton crepes, baguettes, Moroccan and Portuguese delicacies, fresh produce such as seasonal fruit and veggies, a host of cheeses and everything in between, and grab a table on the outskirts of the market or undercover and eat on the go, we stopped instead at L’Estaminet for lunch and had an absolute blast.

If you do decide to eat in and around the market, I’d suggest you “tag team” it; get an obliging friend to hold down your table while you look around & vice versa, it is a popular spot and fills up quickly! Might be best to ply said friend with a cold cider or glass of vino in lieu of favour asking…

Back to L’Estaminet, our waitress was simply divine, friendly and quick,  and as they were very busy (clearly a firm favourite with locals) and a bit squashed, we were often passed our drinks and wine through the window you can see to the RHS of the front door in the picture below:

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L’Estaminet at Marché des Enfants Rouges
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View to seating area outside (thank you Google!)
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Alley – thank you again Google

C had pigs trotters and Bianca & I had their special which consisted of  gazpacho and a cheese and charcuterie platter  – this lasted all of about two minutes as we wolfed everything down with a bottle or two of champagne – yum! Good value for money and a great spot to take friends too.

http://marchedesenfantsrougesfr.com

FYI: The market is located off of the Rue de Bretagne in the 3rd arrondissement and is open on:

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 8:30am to 1:00pm and from 4:00pm to 7:30pm

Friday and Saturday : from 8:30am to 1:00pm and from 4:00pm to 8:00pm

Sundays : from 8:30am to 2:00pm

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Dessert 😉

Breizh Café

Second on the list is a fabulous Creperie that Bianca took us to; Breizh café, a restaurant dedicated solely to a fantastic offering of plate sized galettes and crepes. Their selection of local ciders was extensive and the recommendations were spot on. The potions are large so it’s worth walking around for a while beforehand to work up an appetite so you can have both sweet and savoury! Bookings are a must or you will wait, they do turf tables out once the bill is paid, so if you are intent on lounging, keep ordering drinks…

http://www.breizhcafe.com

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Galette with parma ham and a poached egg
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Bookings are essential!
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The wood panelled interior with Bretton inspired pictures of Breizh Café
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Breizh Café

P.S. Apologies – not all of these pics are my own, seems when I updated to iOs 8, things went beyond haywire with my photo gallery

Merci!

“I love Paris in the springtime”

had been playing over and over inside my head for months prior to our trip this year. I had high expectations of the visual and foodie delights the city I had dreamt of visiting FORVER had to offer and even higher expectations of the shopping circuit we had planned. Needless to say, Paris did not disappoint! What a pleasure of a city – the underground is excused from my memories, thanks to its malodorous, inefficient self, but that could just be the snob in me talking… Most of our travels in and around Paris were taken on foot or in taxi’s, the most memorable trip was with a rather suave driver who upon my entry into his vehicle remarked on my perfume; “What is it he enquired?”

“Why,” I said; “it’s Chanel of course.”

“Oui – of course,” he said, with a smile; “The best fragrances are French indeed.”

When we travel, our trips are planned around sights we’d like to see, some traditional and others less so, where we’d most like to eat (we plan in advance to ensure we get bookings if we are unable to make electronic reservations) and where we’d really like to shop. We work out where everything is, and if it’s in walking distance, that’s what we do – it really is one of the best ways to orientate yourself and see things you’d otherwise miss, like the fabulous formal gardens positioned throughout the city.

We’d decided to head off to see the catacombs in the 14th Arrondissement on one of our free days (we always keep a couple of days open here and there, while we’re travelling, just incase there’s somewhere we’d like to head back to, or something new we didn’t know you could do prior to arriving wherever we are).

Sadly, I’m an impatient tourist, and have little time for queues unless I believe that the sight is truly worth waiting for. We had been warned that it was best to get to the catacombs very early in the morning to avoid a wait, and despite that, arrived at 10am-ish (what we’d thought was early while on holiday, oops!) and of course there was a queue that stretched around the block and back again, undulating past itself like a sweaty snake, if snakes could indeed sweat – it was already 27 degrees outside and those poor souls unlucky enough to be on the sunny side of the street were already drenched. The queue, the heat and the sudden desire to be sipping bubbles instead of waiting for hours on end made up our minds for us and we decided we needed somewhere else to go while walking down the Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy.

Luckily for us though, my better half had read somewhere about a rather wonderful oyster and champagne bar, called Huitrerie Regis, that was situated close by that he’d been keen to try out, and so we set off, navigating our way down the pretty tree lined roads, interspersed with high end fashion boutiques, smaller stores with up and coming young designers, café’s and restaurants towards what we thought would be our tiny, sparklingly bubble filled and sea salt flavoured salvation.

Sadly our debauched lunch was not to be- The Oyster bar was under construction and would only be opening up again at the end of the month, long after we’d made our way from Paris to Antibes. In light of this disappointment, we decided to head back to our new favourite shopping destination instead and so found ourselves back at Merci in the Haut Marais district after a hideously hot, long walk and a 15 minute cab ride- clearly not orientated enough to head in the right direction.

Find them here: http://www.merci-merci.com/en/

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Wallpaper in the bathrooms at Merci
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Picture of the upstairs furniture & decor department by Larapportuese .fr
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Salad bar offerings at Cinéma Café by plylerdoesfood.com
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Bac Sac planters by bacsac.com

This delightful store has first rate deli’s and cafe’s attached to it and we were lucky enough to squeeze (literally – everything is far too small when you’re close to 6 foot and your partner is 6’5″) into a table at the Cinéma Café.

It is a delight, with knowledgeable and affable staff, quirky decor and great alternative music. All the while, the triplets of Belleville was playing on the wall behind us and we enjoyed the yummiest (and most disgustingly healthy) lunch of chilled cucumber & courgette gazpacho, laced with tahini and basil and then a tasty salad of fine green beans, toasted hazelnuts, Italian flat leaf parsley, orange peel and honey drizzled over the top –  flavoursome and not in the least bit bad for one’s waistline. With that we munched on a lentil, mushroom, onion, celery & tarragon salad and a charcuterie platter that was laden with salami and parma ham – deelish. All the (relative) healthiness was happily undone with dessert; a sour cherry cake, French style with a dollop of fresh double thick cream for good measure. Yum!

The emporium (store seems too passé a word) itself is an upbeat, vibrant spot, with something for everyone; bed linens woven in a phenomenal array of colours – chartreuse to charcoal, mocha to pale rose pink, lilac to burgundy – you name it, it’s probably there, and the best part is mixing and matching them all! If like us, you detest having to buy run of the mill prezzies, then the offering they have for kids, kidults and real adults will leave you feeling happy to part with your hard earned bucks. From colour-in-your-own-wallpaper’s to quirky storage options such as paper vases and recycled material window baskets to lighting options and couches, perfumes and books, to crockery and cutlery you’d be happy to leave some of your clothes behind for (just not the ones you’d bought in Paris…) to make space in your luggage, they are well stocked with a great variety of goods.

We found the teaspoons from our Cutipol cutlery set here and better yet, the long handled versions too – happy surprise indeed! There are great clothing ranges on offer for men and women, just be aware that the sizes are not always South African friendly – especially for guys; if you have feet larger than a size 10 or your shoulders command a size XXL, you may leave disappointed.

While I sadly cannot offer up a review of the oyster bar or the catacombs, I really do recommend, for a fantastic dose of retail therapy a’ la Paris, with a fabulous, well priced lunch thrown in for luck, that you make your way to Merci.