It started off with fan mail—she loved Cookie, and now Momfilter, and wanted to tell us about her food blog. But when we checked it out, we were intrigued by this mom of six kids and 14 dogs who left city life for the country, and asked her if she’d tell us all about her. Now we’re her fans.
Give us a little background on yourself/what you do…where you live, etc.
I grew up in Hong Kong, studied and lived in Singapore, London and in Paris where I met my Icelandic husband. This led to a lot of shuffling between Paris and Reykjavik until we settled in Paris. I had worked in television for 10 years and frequently traveled around the world especially in Asia Pacific. After my first child I was longing for a ‘mommy’ lifestyle so I decided to work on a free-lance basis, mostly with my husband who is a photographer and art director. We longed for a country life and fulfilled our dream – we now live Médoc, France since 2010.
How old are your kids, and what are their names?
Tiger-Mia is 9, Hudson Paul is 6, Louise Erna is 4 and Gaïa Johanna is 13 months. I also have two step-kids Gunnhildur Sif, 16 and Thorir, 14 – they live in Iceland and stay with us as much as they can. All together we have four girls and two boys!
I know you moved to the Médoc from Paris. How long ago was that, and how was the adjustment for you, for your family? I’m not sure how old your kids are, so unsure if anyone had to change schools.
We moved to Médoc nearly two years ago. Although it was very exciting to leave Paris for a new life, I felt unsure about how I would cope. We had always wanted to leave the city and live a country life, especially for our children. This is our gift to them.
At first, I felt ‘unplugged’ when we moved here. It’s quite a change to be in such overwhelming nature. Médoc is not only about vineyards, but also the ocean, the dunes, the pine forests, the wildlife, hunters and surfers. It’s like living in another land! We have the luxury to live in a very untouched part of France. Médoc has kept its authenticity. Local residents are wine-makers, farmers, hunters – and social conversations always relate to nature.
The kids are very young so it was easy to change schools – they adapted very quickly to their new environment, and we were very lucky to have amazing teachers with small classes.
We have so much space here, in every sense of the word. Bigger rooms, a huge garden and beyond it a forest just for us. The children experience life in a different way, we go less to shops and restaurants, but instead there is more home cooking, trips to the beach, exploring vineyards and castles. One of the highlights last fall was mushroom picking in the forest. We found all these amazing cèpes, and we let the kids prepare them for dinner. I will never forget when we discovered a beautiful wild beach with white sand, just ten minutes away – we call it our secret beach, and made a map .
We are more than passionate about dogs. We had a few in Paris, but coming here has enabled us to get serious about it – now we have fourteen dogs (Jack Russells, fox terriers and one German pointer).
How remote are you–what’s the closest town? How do you deal with food shopping?
We are fairly isolated, living in the middle of a pine forest. The beaches are 7 km away, and the closest village where the kids go to school is 4 km away. Pauillac and Margaux, where all our favorite vineyards are, are about half an hour’s drive. We mainly like to shop in regional markets that move from town to town depending on the day of the week. They are very charming, filled with fresh products such as vegetables, fruits, honey, meat, fish and flowers. We know a lot of the Médocan farmers and it is so interesting to talk to them. It is very important for me to bring our children to the markets – I want them to participate in choosing fruits and vegetables – they learn a great deal through this and know what is in season. About once a week, we go to a major supermarket for basic products (it’s about 15 minutes from our home). Bread is very important and we are always on a quest to buy the best baguette. It is not abnormal for a French person to drive an extra mile to another village because the ‘boulangerie’ (bakery) is better.
How did you get into doing your food blog? Were you raised with parents that were really into cooking?
Since I was a child, I always loved good food, and my father was a always thinking about food, restaurants, where to get the best duck, best noodle soups, best dumplings. On my mother’s side, being French, we would regularly go to France for the holidays, being introduced to amazing French food. I think I spent most of my childhood in restaurants and banquets. I got a taste from the best of both worlds, and my love for food and cooking is growing stronger everyday day! I only started cooking in my early twenties, but I really developed my culinary sense when I became a mother. I also worked on a restaurant guide where I spent the most valuable time with the best chefs in Paris – that was a real treat and I have learnt a great deal from them. I often think about a recipe, an ingredient, a taste first thing in the morning. It was only natural to share my cooking recipes and experiences with everyone. I also feel that living in Médoc is very unique and I would like to share my life experience.
Are your kids all good eaters? Are there picky eater kids in France?!
My kids are like my husband and I – they also love eating. They are very interested in food and often ask about the up and coming meals, and always participate in cooking with me. We have always taken them to restaurants since they were babies and as a result they are open-minded about food. Once in a while there are foods they are not too keen on, but we are quite firm in making them try everything and it usually works. In France, table manners and respect for food is part of their education. We are very firm with not having elbows at the table, holding cutlery properly, not speaking with their mouth full, politeness, etiquette… Good manners start at the table.
What is a quick breakfast,lunch, dinner in your house?
For a quick breakfast, I would say baguette/croissant with butter and jam. I can make a very quick quiche Lorraine with salad for lunch, and always make sure I have the ingredients for it in my fridge at all times. For dinner, grilled lamb chops with garlic and rosemary (we have lots of rosemary bushes), or a simple grilled steak with spinach.
And what do you like to make for those 3 meals when you have more time?
I love making waffles in the morning, especially on week-ends. Lunch would be a duck confit with roast potatoes. For dinner, I love a good pan-fried foie gras with chasselas grapes and figs, or a roasted veal shin with garlic, bay leaves and polenta. For the kids, it’s definitely veal Milanese with tomato spaghetti.
What is your favorite thing to make, and why?
Baking meringues because they are so beautiful to make and heavenly to eat. I practiced a long time before making them perfect! I love flavoring them with violet, orange blossom and rose water. There’s something so romantic and old-fashioned about them, like a delicate flower.
Do you exercise?
I lead such an active life with my kids, the dogs, gardening and cooking that exercise is the last thing I have time to do. I think I go through stages – in spring and summer, running through the pine forest is lovely. I also recently found in the attic an old Cindy Crawford DVD called ‘Shape your body’ – it’s so 90’s. I can do it at home, it lasts 45 minutes and it works for me. My favorite exercise is taking long walks with our 14 dogs. It’s hard enough to keep up with them! I eat very well, but never snack in-between meals. I think that is the key to keeping fit.
Is your family playing a lot of music in your house, and if so, what is on your playlist?
We always listen to music. For cooking and dining, we love the Avett Brothers, Rufus Wainwright and Frank Sinatra. For lounging around I love Chet Baker and movie soundtracks, especially from ‘Atonement’ and ‘Big Night’. The kids have a special 5-6 pm music ‘hour’ choice, so we will put on Katy Perry, Adam Levine, Justin Bieber, Inna Modja, Vanessa Paradis and we have a little disco in the kitchen!
In the US we seem to talk about things much more like how much tv can the kids watch, or how much time on the ipad or ipod. Are these issues in your house, or in your community?
Our kids are allowed to watch one movie on request after 6pm only if they finished their homework– we have a good DVD movie library. We don’t let them watch regular TV.
What’s your mom uniform? Meaning, what is the easiest and most frequent thing you put on that you are happy in?
I am most happy and comfortable in a little black dress with pink, red or tan ballerina flats from Repetto or black Hunter wellington boots for wet days. And when it gets chilly I feel cozy in my multi-colored Missoni poncho or my APC trench coats – I have them in three colours – grey, khaki and beige. That is my uniform.
Do you have a fail-safe beauty product or routine?
I am totally devoted to French pharmacies – I buy all my beauty products there. I can’t live without Embryolisse face cream, La Roche Posay Hydranorme moisturizer, Avène’s Ystéal eye cream, Nuxe’s multi-function oil and Innoxa’s blue eye drops.
How do you celebrate your kids’ birthdays?
I love birthdays! I plan it well in advance and make my own piñata, decorations, cake with royal icing, cake pops, candies… We plan a theme and play around it. We have all the space we need here so the kids can go wild with outdoor games like treasure hunting, egg races… I also like organizing little workshops making jewelry boxes. It has proven to be very popular with my three daughters.
What websites inspire you and for which parts of your life?
For food, Google is my window of the world. I love searching for endless versions of recipes and facts. For fashion, I love Garance Doré. I recently started Pinterest and promise myself not to spend more than 15 minutes on it.
What’s a typical weekend like?
Even on weekends, my husband is up very early because of our dogs. If I am lucky, I like to lounge in bed with magazines and a Woody Allen movie. The kids like to play in the nursery/playroom. It’s my favorite room in the house, filled with toys, identical to the one in Peter Pan. After a waffle brunch, we like go to the market. If the weather is nice, we will spend the day by the pool, playing with puppies (when we have a litter) and gardening with the kids. They love taking care of their plants and flowers. When we want a city day, we’ll go to Bordeaux (it’s hour from here), go to a nice restaurant, go to our favorite shops, especially ‘Fromagerie Deruelle’, an amazing cheese store. In summer, we like to go to Cap Ferret for a day, it’s so lovely, by the sea, and have lunch at Chez Hortense. The kids play on the beach, with a great view of the dune of Pilat. When the weather is cold, wet and grey, we have an art day painting, sculpting and drawing followed by a family movie and popcorn.
What’s the thing that always stays on your to-do list, never gets crossed off and nags at you?
With so many kids, mess challenges me.
Best family trip?
We love going to Ravello in Italy. It’s on the Amalfi coast, we’ve been going there regularly and all agree that it is heaven on Earth.
What is your favorite advice to give (or what do your friends always come to you for)?
There are two very different kinds of advices I give: to pursue your dream, your passion, your love. And the other one involves beauty products advice – when my friends come to visit we head straight to the French pharmacies.
You feel your best when…?
I have cooked a delicious meal that everybody liked, and we go lounge on the hammock.
Whipped cream, which I indulge in frequently, even though I am semi-lactose intolerant, and beautiful dresses which I can’t resist.
Proudest moment in parenting?
Breastfeeding. In France, breastfeeding rates are still low, especially after six months. It was a challenge at first, but I managed to breastfeed my kids for up to eight months. I think I gave my children a very good start.
Best parenting advice you ever got?
Nip it in the bud! It’s best to deal with a problem immediately – be firm but fair.
All images by Oddur Thorisson.