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A Pocket Feast Paris

6 Aug

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Two summers ago, when a friend came to visit Paris. I was out of town but determined that she eat this, that and the other – that she dare not try an inferior macaron or miss out on the best Vietnamese fod in town. So I spent an afternoon in a coffee shop (Helmut Newcake) drawing all of my instructions into a notebook. Each page had something to eat and something vaguely cultural to do nearby.

I don’t know how many she followed. But the notebook was passed around, people ate things. Probably left a few buttery fingerprints on the pages, a good sign. Someone said, “but most of the cultural things are ALSO food things.” Which may have been a criticism but I took it as a compliment.

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One summer ago I bribed another friend into helping me make the notebook into a real book. She is both computer genius and wise editor. We sat in the garden in the south of France, dinking wine and brainstorming titles.

A Greedy Guide to Paris? Hungry Hippos Eat Paris?

I can’t remember when we thought of “A Pocket Feast” but it seemed appropriate, a nod to Hemingway’s Paris, a literal description of its size.

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One month ago the books arrived from the printer. Glossy and colourful, still with the hand-made, scribbled drawings from its initial conception. We are pretty proud of it. And of the website that Florence made: foodie recommendations based on the Paris book, but with tips for Berlin and Sydney as well. (More cities coming soon!)

Another friend made us beautiful wooden stands for the books: they are currently on display at Shakespeare and Company and La Cuisine Paris. Someone else is working on a very cute video advert. I am so so grateful for all of the support and help and love that went into A Pocket Feast. It took a whole family to make it real.

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If you would like to support us too: you can buy the guidebook A Pocket Feast Paris through our website – we ship worldwide. Buy one for yourself and one for presents – everyone comes to Paris evenutally! And you can like our Facebook page for more news and updates.

Thank-you a million – mille mercis! Et bon appétit!

growing up in a curious garden

8 Oct

conkers

The other day in the Buttes-Chaumont, I was almost hit by a falling conker. I picked one up , rubbing its shiny surface, whorls of colour in espresso and caramel. One autumn my brother and I collected enough to fill a hammock. I’m not sure what for, except that each one was shinier and more covetable and was thus added to the collection. I would keep one in my pocket as a talisman until it dried out and wrinkled.

Children love conkers – to battle with, of course – but also just to have. My granny wrote about it in her short story ‘Growing Up in a Curious Garden.’

Everything in the garden could be made use of, though not always successfully. Further round from the nursery window the japonica fruit made very good doll’s apples and near those my father fixed up what must then have been the latest fashion, devised by his friend Clarence Elliott of Six Hills Nursery.

It was an alpine sink, made from one of the stone feeding troughs then being thrown out by up to date farmers. It had been propped up by a brick pier at each end and carefully planted with small alpines and rocks. Now each autumn my sister and I puzzled as to how to preserve the wonderful sheen on the newly opened conkers.

We had tried shoe polish but this was not a success and in the autumn of the alpine sink we decided just to keep the conkers in water, which seemed to preserve that wonderful chestnut colour. We put our best conkers in jam jars, filled them up with water and put them in what seemed to be a convenient and safe place, under the piers of the alpine sink.

Then, as so often, we forgot about them. In the spring there were cries of despair from my father. The conkers had sprouted and, such is the power of nature, their sprouts had dislodged the alpine sink, scattered the precious plants and totally spoiled the effect. We were in disgrace.

Not much changes between generations. I love the idea of shoe polish. Her father was a great gardener and wrote several books on plants. Her love of gardening  shone clear. Except for certain pink flowers, she hated pink. Her daughter and daughters-in-law (my mother included) learned everything from her. My aunt said that she never had to remember the names of plants; Granny was an encylopaedia. She was incredibly knowledgeable about literature as well, but she rarely showed anyone her writing apart from the ‘Naughty Harold’ stories she typed up for us as children.

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‘Growing Up in a Curious Garden’ is a short story and memoir based on reminiscences with her sister Ursula. My granny Jillian walks the reader around their childhood garden, picking out plants and telling stories, She seemed to anchor her memories with flowers the way I do with food. (Which is not to say that she didn’t love to cook; I have already written about her lemon drizzle cake, her brownies and old-fashioned oatcakes.) This story is so vivid, so sharp and well-told without being sentimental that one day I sat down to illustrate it, though I had to google a lot of the plants. She saw it before she died, and politely informed me that some of the colours are wrong, including the Himalayan poppy on the front cover. I claim artistic licence.

cover

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It is not very long, only 3000 words. I wanted it in the style of a children’s book, giving due space to her words. Now it is a 38 page book, illustrated and printed in a large font similar to her italic black handwriting. It isn’t much, but it is a tactile memory of her as a daughter and sister, and as a mother, grandmother and writer.

I have printed a few copies of ‘Growing Up in a Curious Garden’ with the excellent Parisian photo service, Negatif Plus. If you would like one, please write and let me know. The cost covers printing and postage, no more. Mostly, I would like to share her words.

Details: 38 page book, 21x14cm, printed on 300g matte paper with a soft cover.

Cost: UK – £12 / Rest of Europe – £13.50 / Rest of the world – £15

Payment by cheque or Paypal. Write to frances.m.leech (at) gmail.com

new p38

epistles and apples

23 Aug

Once a week at least, I get a thin airmail envelope in our post box. The flatmate pouts; she gets bills and magazines she has to pay for. I know these letters are from Granny because she is the only person who still uses these letters – one side of A4 that folds into an envelope edged with red and blue.

She has been writing since before I could read. Her most recent thank-you letter arrived in record time, on the Tuesday morning after the Sunday supper we cooked for her. If I’m lucky, she includes stories about the war, on firewatch at the Bodleian, about farm school, about my father’s nursery in the larder. She normally tells me which roses are flowering in the garden, which of a dozen books she is reading.

She is an excellent correspondent. I am lacking in comparison – but I hedge my bets. I send enough postcards and short missives to various people in various countries that each week someone is guiltily prompted to write back. All colours of envelope, stars, pictures, once a mix CD. Epic tales of warthogs in Africa. I am lucky. It is a simple thing, to send a letter or a card, but incredibly joyous to rip open an envelope on the way up the stairs.

All that syrupy nostalgia to say: buy my stuff! Ahem. Purchase a few humble but colourful cards, send them to friends and family, make someone smile. Send them to me, even! Bonus: I have to post the cards to you, so you also experience the joy of receiving mail!

Greeting cards

A set of five unique drawings on creamy cards, coloured envelopes included. A random mix of fruits and vegetables, appropriate for all kinds of correspondence.  (Let me know if you want me to scrawl “Happy Birthday” or “Bon Voyage” etc. on them as well.)

£5 + postage

Commissioned drawings

One of a kind oil pastel sketch on thick A4 paper. Will draw any fruit, vegetable or teapot requested.

Only £10 + postage

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Payable by cheque or Paypal – send orders to: frances.m.leech {at} googlemail.com

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