It's been a blissful couple of weeks. 10 days of holidaying - a sandwich of Florence-Home-Paris - that has left me refreshed and smiling again.
A few days with L, M and Nonno and Nonna in Florence were not unbearably hot, but sadly filled with the buzz of mosquitosand I have come home with a rather furious allergic reaction to their bites that almost puts me off wanting to go back in the summer. We saw all of our favourite sights, drank in our favourite cocktail bar and ate in our favourite restaurants. Then, we went off in search of some new adventures and took M on her first train journey to Pisa and then piled into a little car with Nonno behind the wheel, driving all over the road and ignoring the lanes as Italians seem to do, up to Fiesole, where ancient Roman ruins hide amongst more traditional Italian buildings that overlook the whole of Florence. I took my camera everywhere, looking like a proper tourist, and soon I hope, the restaurant will have a few of my shots up on the wall. One day soon, with the trip fresh in my mind, I will write a dedicated 'Things to do while you're in Florence' page and with any luck, if you ever visit, you'll see us sipping our drinks too across the room filled only with Italian voices.
A few days at home left lots of time for work in the garden, especially picking all of the dwarf and broad beans that had popped up whilst we were away. We also arrived just in time for the start of the blackberry season and got our hands stained picking one and a half kilos in just two days. We enjoyed the novelty of having our own fresh fruits from the garden but I couldn't help but make something a little bit special with them too while I had time. This blackberry, orange and hazelnut tart was so enjoyed by the three of us that I had little choice but to make it again for the restaurant as a special.
We had barely scraped our plates clean when it was time to jump back into the car in the small hours of the morning to make a second trip down to Bristol airport that week.
This trip however, I was to be alone and I fought the tears back as I waved goodbye to L and M to spend the longest time away from them I have ever done.
All this to travel to Paris to pick up sister E, who you may remember has been au-pairing for the last year just outside the French capital. What a year she has had! Aside from phone calls, postcards and facebooking, I've been following her little blog and was really looking forward to seeing everything she has been telling me about.
As her family had gone off camping for the weekend, we were left to our own devices and took the chance to visit some of E's favourite new haunts. I see why she has fallen in love with the city. I think I re-fell in love with France and the French, something I'd forgotten about in my wonderful little Italian inspired world.
There were many highlights to our weekend: pressing my face up against patisserie windows, an hour and half wait to see the riders approach the Champs-Elyses on their last stage of the Tour de France, the best falafels I have ever eaten in the Marais,
mint tea in the Paris mosque and a couple of visits to Pierre Herme for macarons and a tarte infinement vanille. Of course we indulged in some culture too; a trip to Musee Rodin and then to l'hotel des invalides to see Napoleons enormous tomb - as well as visits to Paris' rich areas where we were well and truely ripped off having a hot drink sitting on a bar terrace. At the end of our weekend alone, we were greeted by E's French family who welcomed me as if I had known them as long as E had.
We cooked, spoke French, watched two very excitable young girls put on their dance shows and then got up the next morning to play even more before the inevitable trip to the train station came along with its tears and goodbye hugs, kisses and promises to be back very, very soon.
It was total bliss, perhaps being an au pair would be a great thing to do for a year given the chance, especially if you end up with a family as warm and generous as E's.
Blackberry, orange and hazelnut tart
400g sweet shortcrust pastry
50g toasted chopped hazelnuts
1 large egg
100ml creme fraiche
zest 1 orange
300g fresh blackberries
a little butter to grease a 23cm springform tin
Preheat the oven to 180C. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface and transfer carefully into the greased springform tin.
Place a sheet of greaseproof paper over the top and fill with baking beans. Bake blind for 15minutes until the pastry is cooked though and just golden.
Whisk together the egg, creme fraiche, half the hazelnuts and orange zest in a small bowl.
When the pastry is cooked, carefully remove the baking beans to their tub to cool down again and take the greaseproof paper away. Fill the pastry case with blackberries and pour the creme fraiche mixture over.
Scatter the remaining hazelnuts over the dish and return to the oven for 20 minutes until the creme fraiche mixture has a little colour and is cooked through.
Serve warm or cold as you like.