Silent Sunday #104

It’s Sunday and my photo is from ma belle France.

The Musette: Torta della Nonna

Torta della Nonna is a classic Italian pastry but this is my much simpler, more rustic version. The base pastry is a light but crispy oil shortbread, while the filling is obviously made of custard with almonds (or pine nuts) on top.

Feel free to customise Torta della Nonna by adding all manner of ingredients from whipped cream to chocolate chips.

You can keep any uneaten torta  – as if! – wrapped in foil in the fridge for a few days.

Ingredients (serves 6)


  • 1 large organic egg
  • 150g (5 oz) golden caster sugar
  • 100 ml (1/2 cup) vegetable oil
  • 1 organic lemon, juice and zest
  • 225g  (8 oz) plain (all purpose) flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 300g (10 1/2oz) pastry cream
  • toasted almond silvers or pine nuts for decoration

Pastry Cream

  • 1ltr (4 cups) full-cream milk
  • 280g (1 1⁄4 cups) golden caster sugar
  • 1 piece organic orange peel
  • 6 large organic egg yolks
  • 50g (1/3 cup) cornflour (corn starch)
  • pinch sea salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • seeds from vanilla pod


1.Start by making the pastry cream. Heat the milk, salt, seeds and vanilla pod, and the orange peel in a large saucepan, on a low heat.

2. At the same time in a large bowl, mix the sugar and cornflour and add the egg yolks one at a time, stirring with a wire whisk until well mixed.

3. Increase the heat slightly, pour some of the milk mixture into the egg mixture, and then pour it all into the pan with milk. Continue cooking, stirring constantly until it thickens and bubbles for 1 minute.

How to Make Pastry Cream - Brown Eyed Baker

5. Remove from heat, discard orange peels and vanilla pod, mix in the vanilla bean paste and place in a bowl. Cover surface with cling (plastic) film and store in the refrigerator for a few hours or until ready to use.

6. Now make the pastry base. Sift the flour along with the baking powder. Set aside. In another bowl mix the egg with sugar. Now add in the vegetable oil and the lemon juice, mix to combine. Add the flour mix and gently combine until it comes together.

7. Dump pastry mix into 23cm (9″) cake tin and gently press out with fingers and the bottom of a glass tumbler.

8. Fill with chilled pastry cream, level the top and decorate with nuts.

9. Bake at 180C/fan 160C/350F/gas mark 4 for around 40 minutes until top is golden. Leave to cool and enjoy at room temperature.



One from the Vaults: Things my beloved says – I’ll be able to help more when my leg’s better!

I wrote this post back in May 2017 but sadly very little has changed. My beloved has been promoted to Officer in Charge of Drinks (OCD) which means he makes the coffee at breakfast, afternoon tea and opens bottles of wine – if I’m lucky! He’s recently become semi-retired but, thus far, this hasn’t lead to him doing more around the flat.

I’m married to the original high-maintenance man who basically does little other than his job. I pretty much take care of everything else. My family call him “The man who just turns up.” He’s not what you would call domesticated. There are times when I believe he was put on this earth simply to create more work for me. I joke that he’s MC (Master in Chief) Drinks but even that’s debatable. He does open the odd bottle and has been known to offer to make cups of tea or coffee, but rarely completes the task in full. He has on odd occasions inexpertly wielded a vacuum and very occasionally put the rubbish out, but that’s pretty much it. He has no idea how most of our electrical appliances work or where anything goes in the kitchen, despite having lived here for over 12 years.

My work-load has increased exponentially since he broke his leg over two months ago. Initially, he got around the flat on his crutches so he couldn’t fetch or carry anything, that was my job. Patience is not one of his strong suits. When he wants something, he wants it NOW! So imagine my surprise when he acknowledged my increased workload and said that as soon as his leg was better, he’d be able to help out more. As if the act of his leg mending is suddenly, and inexplicably, going to make him more amenable to helping out around the house. I also take objection to the more which somehow implies that he’s going to be doing more than he does at the moment. More than nada is still nada! To be honest, I’d just settle for him making less mess.

When we were in Australia, I kept seeing these large billboards asking if I needed a husband. They were promoting a handyman service whereby qualified tradesmen come around to do all those jobs you’ve been waiting for ever for “him indoors” to do. Sadly, they don’t appear to have a French franchise. But that’s exactly what I need. I have a million and one jobs around the house that require someone (other than me) who’s handy with a paintbrush and screwdriver. My beloved isn’t exactly bad at DIY but again he never finishes any of the jobs he starts and tends to make so much mess that it’s not worth even considering asking him.

The accidental loss of one of his crutches has forced him to start walking without either of them. However, he’s still not doing any more around the house. Instead he’s still expecting me to wait on him hand and foot! He’ll be taking his first solo business trip without the crutches next week when he’ll be away for just over a week, including the UK Bank Holiday week-end. This will give me enough time to get everything clean and tidy and then, on his return, he’s going to get a rude awakening.

Of course, I still have to organise my reward. I’m thinking a few days away on my own, somewhere I’ve not been before, in mid-June. Suggestions welcome.

Thursday doors #156

Here are some more Italian doors from our most recent stay in Piedmont.



Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Dan’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

Visit to La Coulée verte René-Dumont ou La Promenade plantée

Finding a local treasure is always a delight in Paris and la Coulée Verte is indeed one of those, an off-the-beaten-path place to stroll surrounded by greenery and unique views of the city.

Nogent-Bastille Station – Nogent Tourisme

The Promenade plantée is an extensive green belt that follows the old Vincennes railway line. Beginning just east of the Opéra Bastille with the elevated Viaduc des Arts, it follows a 4.7 km (2.9 miles) path eastward that ends at a spiral staircase leading to the boulevard Périphérique beltway.

Paris’ promenade was one of the first projects in the world (if not the first) to repurpose elevated old railway lines as urban gardens. 

What’s The Story Behind La Coulée Verte?

la coulée verte - the garden house

La Coulée Verte René-Dumont is an elevated walkway in the 12th arrondissement of Paris. It follows the once well used and then abandoned railway line that ran between Place de la Bastille and Varenne-Saint-Maur. This once busy route, which opened in 1859, was active until the last train pulled out of the Bastille Train Station in 1969.

Stand at Place de la Bastille and look at the modern Opera House, Opéra Bastille, which opened in 1989. That is exactly where a large railway station, la Gare de la Bastille, was located for over one hundred years.

La gare de la Bastille

La Coulée-Verte René-Dumont follows the old railway line for 4.5 km (2.8 miles) from behind the Bastille as far as the Bois de Vincennes.

René Dumont : "Nous sommes en train de jouer avec la planète comme des enfants lâchés dans une maison en papier avec une boîte d'allumettes"

And who is René Dumont? René Dumont (above) was an agronomist and environmentalist who worked hard for rural citizens in France and Africa. In 1974, he was the first-ever candidate to run a “Green” campaign in a French Presidential election. It seems fitting that la Coulée Verte, a stretch of reclaimed land, is named after him.

The Coulée Verte was originally named the Promenade Plantée, and you may still hear it referred to by that name. La Coulée Verte Paris was the inspiration for the High Line in New York City which opened in 2009.

What to See on La Coulée Verte

the viaduc des arts in Paris 12

Starting behind the Bastille Opera House, la Coulée Verte runs above Avenue Daumesnil. Underneath the old viaduct are some artisanal boutiques in the Viaduc des Arts. We always have a bit of a potter here – no charge for window shopping!

la coulée verte René Dumont

Once atop the viaduct, we follow the pathways past rosebushes, hazelnut and lime trees, gorgeous garden beds and wild vegetation.

views from la coulée verte René Dumont in Paris

The surprising views of buildings in the 12th arrondissement add to the pleasure of this walk. Being 10 metres (3.28 feet) above street level can be rather intriguing!

views from la coulée verte René Dumont

You can’t help but be transfixed by the large figures adorning a building on Avenue Daumesnil. In fact, this is the Commissariat de Police for 12th arrondissement and the enormous figures are based on Michelangelo’s Dying Slave sculpture in the Louvre. The Commissariat de Police, looking somewhat Art Deco in style, was built in 1991 and designed by architects Manolo Nunez- Yanowski and Miriam Teitelbaum

Jardin de Reuilly on la coulée verte René Dumont

The Jardin de Reuilly- Paul Pernin is one of the largest green spaces in the 12th arrondissement. We were tempted to stop for an impromptu picnic but we pressed on across the suspended bridge to explore the little gardens and statues at the edge of the park

statue and flowers on la coulée verte

Right by Jardin de Reuilly-Paul Pernin on rue Albinoni are several large and eye catching pieces of street art.

street art on rue Albioni

Ecological in nature, we marvel at the artist Ruben Carrasco’s work.

street art on la coulée verte René Dumont

On Allée Vivaldi, there is a Velib station for renting bicycles. This, for me, is the perfect place to swap from walking to cycling.

We follow Allée Vivaldi under the tunnel until we reach another of our favourite spots in 12th, the Bois de Vincennes.

the tunnel de Reuilly on la coulée verte René Dumont

Here there’s plenty to occupy us at Paris’s second-largest green space (after the Bois de Boulogne).

Wordless Wednesday #123

Wednesday is devoted to photos from Australia on one of my many #adventuresdownunder.

Trip to an abandoned railway line in Paris

If you’ve visited Paris as many times as I have you’ll have checked off all the essential tourist hubs and now want to experience the nitty-gritty of the real Paris.

Far from the tour buses that run through Place de la Concorde and the groups taking selfies on Île de la Cité, the outskirts of Paris are home to cultural charms that are worth every minute of the metro ride. Or, if you’re up for it, a journey along a different set of tracks.

The defunct 19th century railway La Petite Ceinture (little belt) once encircled Paris, linking the city’s margins. The 30km (19 miles) line was constructed between 1851 and 1867, but fell into disuse in the 1930s, after which its walls were tagged with graffiti, and rare plants and animals moved into the abandoned space. Today, the city is working to repurpose La Petite Ceinture as a biodiverse pathway across the capital.

The railway’s first refurbished section, located in the upscale 16th arrondissement, was opened to pedestrians in 2007. Here at the most western edge of Paris is the sprawling Bois de Boulogne, home to the Longchamp Racetrack, the Fondation Louis Vuitton and the Jardin d’Acclimatation. On the park’s border, the Musée Marmottan Monet was once the hunting lodge of the Duc de Valmy, and now houses the world’s foremost collection of Claude Monet paintings. The painter’s second son, Michel Monet, bequeathed his entire collection to the museum in 1966.

Musée Marmottan Monet - Paris tourist office

In the adjacent 15th arrondissement, a one and a half kilometre (one mile) stretch of La Petite Ceinture is also open to the public. Beginning at Rue Olivier de Serres, the tracks run up against Parc André Citroën. On the other side of the park sits La Javelle, a popular hangout and open-air concert space on the western bank of the Seine.

Inauguration de la Porte Asiatique du 13ème ! - Chinatown Paris

Follow La Petite Ceinture farther south east to 13th arrondissement, and there’s a reconstructed part of the railway that connects the Jardin Charles Trenet to Le Jardin du Moulin de la Pointe. This neighbourhood is known as the Chinatown of Paris – the Quartier Asiatique – and showcases an eclectic mix of newly constructed high-rises and traditional Haussmann-style architecture. With Chinese grocery shops, restaurants and businesses, the atmosphere here is unlike anywhere else in the rest of the city.

Bois de Vincennes - Paris tourist office

In the neighbouring 12th arrondissement, La Petite Ceinture is raised above ground level, similar to The Highline in New York City, offering expansive views of the surrounding quartier. A small park with community gardens has been constructed around the tracks and merges into Square Charles-Péguy. You can look out across the Bois de Vincennes, Paris’s largest park which stretches for almost 2,500 acres and encapsulates the Parc Floral de Paris and the Parc Zoologique de Paris.

La librairie "L'eau et les rêves" : la tête dans les nuages et les pieds dans l'eau - PlumCulture

From here, La Petite Ceinture cuts through a large park that runs up to the border of 19th arrondissement and right across the Villette Canal, where one of the most unusual bookshops in Paris can be found floating in the water. Anchored towards the canal’s middle section, L’Eau et les Rêves stocks a collection of marine-inspired literature, fiction, nonfiction and guidebooks in an old barge.

Album Photos Les photos du Hasard Ludique

Now trace the tracks of La Petite Ceinture all the way to 18th arrondissement, where there are further rehabilitated sections of railway, but also refurbished train stations, such as Le Hasard Ludique. Originally the Gare Saint-Ouen, the building was a train station from 1863 until 1934. It has gone through several reincarnations since then, and is now a restaurant, concert venue and arts space. During the autumn, spring and summer months, the tracks here are open to the public.

La REcyclerie | Urbansider

Farther down the road, housed in another abandoned station, is La REcyclerie, an eatery dedicated to “upcycling” – in addition to its café and bar space, it offers educational classes, talks and film screenings.

Les antiquaires des puces de Saint-Ouen auront leur magasin en ligne | Les Echos

This now leads to Paris’s famed Boulevard Péripherique, the road that marks the city’s borders. Cross at Porte de Clignancourt to reach the Marché aux Puces de Saint Ouen, Paris’ largest flea market.This sprawling mishmash of open-air and covered shops has been drawing antiques collectors for centuries. It’s ideal for picking up one-of-a-kind mementos, window shopping or just people-watching.

The iconic Wallace fountains in Paris - French Moments

The most rewarding part of wandering around Paris is that you never quite know what you might come across along Paris’s labyrinthine streets. It could be a rare book from a bouquiniste (bookstall), the spotting of a particularly chic Parisienne or perhaps stumbling upon one of only four Wallace drinking fountains in the entire city that aren’t painted green. It’s what makes Paris endlessly enthralling to its residents, and what makes all visitors fall in love with it.

Musical Monday: Cindie Lauper

This week, it’s the turn of American singer, songwriter, actress, and activist Cyndi Lauper whose career has spanned over 40 years – a bit like mine!

Her album She’s So Unusual (1983) was the first debut album by a female artist to achieve four top-five hits on the Billboard Hot 100— Girls Just Want to Have Fun (featured below),  Time After Time, She Bop and All Through the Night —and earned Lauper the Best New Artist award at the 1985 Grammy Awards. Her success continued with the soundtrack for the motion picture The Goonies and her second record True Colors(1986). This album included the number one single True Colors and Change of Heart, which peaked at number three. In 1989, she had a hit with I Drove All Night (2nd video).

Since 1983, Lauper has released eleven studio albums and participated in many other projects. In 2010, Memphis Blues became Billboard‘s most successful blues album of the year, remaining at number one on the Billboard Blues Albums chart for thirteen consecutive weeks. In 2013, she won the Tony Award for best original score for composing the Broadway musical Kinky Boots, making her the first woman to win the category by herself. The musical was awarded five other Tonys including Tony Award for Best New Musical. In 2014, Lauper was awarded the Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album for the cast recording. In 2016, the West End production won Best New Musical at the Olivier Awards.

Lauper has sold over 50 million records worldwide and has won loads of awards. An inductee into both the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Lauper is one of the few singers to win three of the four major American entertainment awards.  

Lauper is known for her distinctive image, featuring a variety of hair colours and eccentric clothing, and for her powerful and distinctive four-octave singing range. She has been celebrated for her humanitarian work, particularly as an advocate for LGBT rights in the United States. Her charitable efforts were acknowledged in 2013 when she was invited as a special guest to attend U.S. President Barack Obama’s second-term inauguration.


French Fancies: Cristaseya

We’re staying partly with fashion in Paris this week but today’s brand doesn’t have the same accessibility of those of the last few weeks.

Rue Ambroise Thomas is not just a quiet Parisian dead-end street. Up on the first floor of number 7, unmarked from the outside, devotees of crisp cotton-poplin shirts and cashmere sweaters find a cozy mecca. Decorated with abstract ceramics and pared-down wooden furnishings, the atelier of the decade-old label Cristaseya feels more like an apartment than a store or studio.

Cristina Casini started Cristaseya a decade ago with a partner, Keiko Seya, who has since left the business. They were both stylists without any design experience, but they were bored by the never-ending stream of new trends accelerated by social media and fast fashion. They decided to create a label together that had a commitment to quality materials and shapes that could last for years.

Since 2013, Cristaseya has been quietly and carefully turning out roomy wardrobe staples like languid suits, shirt dresses and sharp trench coats. Its pieces arrive not in the form of seasonal collections but in twice-yearly “editions. The label offers more than ready-to-wear too, including jewellry, sculptures and home goods, often made in collaboration with artisans from Greece and Italy.

cristaseya, edition 18, ss 2022
cristaseya, edition 18, ss 2022

The brand evokes a feeling of intimacy, owing in large part to the tight-knit family behind it. Founder Casini and her husband, photographer Andrea Spotorno, lead it together, and the editions are inspired by their Italian culture and their travels. The label produces much of its knitwear at Casini’s mother’s factory, Maglierie Cristina, in the Italian province of Reggio Emilia, and its fabrics are often custom.

As such, the label has cultivated a loyal following, and thanks to its genderless shapes, the collection is for anyone with the confidence to wear oversize layers and the curiosity to seek out something made with an almost obsessive consideration. It makes sense, then, that Cristaseya’s fans are often creative people too. But, IMHO, the best thing about the brand is that you simply can’t get it everywhere, nor will you see it tagged frequently on Instagram.

cristaseya left edition 10, ss 2018 right edition 14, ss 2020

Cristaseya has remained under the radar, kind of like one of those hidden-gem restaurants that you don’t want to tell anyone about for fear that it gets too popular and the magic disappears. That’s how Casini likes it. The former stylist, who moved to Paris from Milan in 2005, is press shy and disinterested in the conventions of the fashion world.
She claims:

The aim has never been and will never be to make more and more money. Instead, it’s to get to a safe financial point where we can all have a nice life and continue working with passion, traveling, going to the restaurants that we like, and having fun—me and all my team.

What that means is Cristaseya has remained small and rare. While the label is no longer quite the “little secret” it was, the ethos remains.

From the beginning, seasonality was downplayed for editions that last and together make the ideal wardrobe for the Cristaseya woman. Initially, every prior edition was available alongside the current release. Now, pieces from previous editions can be special ordered, and the brand typically tweaks and rereleases its core pieces in every collection.

The current edition, the label’s 18th, includes many Cristaseya favourites, including oversize cotton shirts, caftans, pyjama sets, bright knits and Japanese washi-paper suits.

cristaseya, left edition 10, ss 2018 right edition 15, fw 20202021

cristaseya left edition 13 bless cristaseya jacket, fw 20192020 right edition 08, ss 2017

The quality of everything is impeccable, but there’s still such a strong narrative. The label’s pieces may appear simple, but they always have a modern twist in the silhouette, cut, or colour.

Cristaseya launched its e-commerce site just five years ago, and it has an unusual strategy: The website “opens” for business for only a few weeks at a time when editions land or when pieces from past editions are available. This guarded approach and small scale differentiate it from other designer labels with a similar commitment to quality and timelessness.

All images courtesy of Cristaseya

Silent Sunday #103

It’s Sunday and my photo is from ma belle France.