Alice, Lital: can you introduce yourselves, please?
I grew up in Toulouse, and I came to Paris to study fashion design at the Dupperré school. I lived and worked there for a long time as a fashion designer for top-of-the-range ready-to-wear brands, a job that I now do freelance from my home in Normandy. Lital also works as a freelancer in the telecom industry. She was born in this house and, like me, went to Paris to attend the Celsa school to work in communication.
Please tell us about how your life changed. Your move from the city to the countryside of Normandy. What was the trigger?
The idea took root when Lital’s mother put this house, where we used to spend our weekends, up for sale. LItal didn’t envisage life in Paris with the children. It’s true that it was with her that I discovered the idea and the happiness of getting out of Paris more often, and enjoying nature. The house had not yet found a buyer and one Sunday evening in the car on the way back to Paris, after a wonderful summer weekend spent in it, Lital said to me “we’re going to buy it”.It took us a while to make the decision. We even considered turning it into a restaurant with rooms to give us the courage to make the move. A year before we signed, we had planted our first fruit trees in the garden. Like a promise to take root here!
Lital, what is the story that links you to this house?
My parents bought it before I was born. I spent the first 17 years of my life here. After 12 years in Paris, although it wasn’t in the slightest bit premeditated, it didn’t seem strange at all to return and settle here again. This time, as a parent, it’s very different. Alice and I quickly reappropriated the house. Almost all the rooms have changed, but what remains above all is the astonishing energy that is here, it’s palpable.
How have you arranged it to suit you and your three children?
We’ve streamlined it, lightened it up, added some colour. I removed lots of doors (from cupboards but also between rooms) to ventilate and open the spaces, and covered the very dull grey scraped lime with a bright white coating. We’ve enlarged the living room and now it’s a generously sized room. We transformed the kitchen, which was very rustic, by painting it in deep khaki. Upstairs there is “our wing” with our bedrooms, where we have added colour and wooden floors, as well as the “guest wing” which we haven’t renovated yet. Our teenager has just moved in there, following Simona’s birth. As I said before, we were quick to plant fruit trees (about fifteen in four years). We’ve added to the existing flowerbeds (my mother-in-law had green fingers) and created new ones. And then there’s the vegetable garden, which we already want to enlarge, and a permaculture mound. The garden is a space that we’re investing a lot in. We’re continually enriching it and adding our own favourites. We’ve even created a hen house, shared with two other families in the hamlet, for fresh eggs!
What sort of atmosphere did you want to create here?
Simple, warm, lively. Not too rustic even though you can’t totally avoid it! I like having contemporary elements. It’s a happy mix of contemporary things, antiques and found objects, works of art from our friends… and lots of plants! I have a lot of plants. I multiply them by taking cuttings. Every morning I go round them all. I look at how they’re doing, what’s grown, which flower has opened … there’s something new and wonderful of every day! I love the impact this show has on the garden in front of it.
Four years after your arrival here, what changes have you noticed in your daily life?
Our choice of life here is intimately linked to the desire to see our children grow up, to get closer to nature and to manage our work-life balance. I’ve always dreamed of working freelance, and choosing this life has given me the courage to make it come true. We feel much more connected to the earth and the sky. The seasons are very important and give rhythm to our lives. The garden calls to us differently in autumn and spring, and I am more sensitive to the cycles of the moon. In terms of consumption, we enjoy tasting our own produce! But we also have the pleasure of visiting the gardens of all the local producers we buy from. I was already sensitive to the seasonality of the products in Paris (besides I already did my Saturday shopping here in Verneuil when I came for the weekend) but here it’s even stronger and more apparent. And I quickly forged a very strong bond with my organic baker who became a friend. I owe my first sourdough to him, and he gave me lots of advice! The same goes for my neighbour, a former farmer, who helps me in the vegetable garden and shares his knowledge. This year, for the first time, we made cider with him!
Has this new life helped the launch (and development) of your blog, Alice In Food?
Yes! Already, working at home is allowing me to do things that require my presence (like taking care of my yeast or my kefir), organising my harvests (fruit, vegetables, flowers, seeds) and doing my transformations: dishes, bouquets, preserves, jams and so on. In Paris, I cooked mainly after work, late at night. Here I still do some “night cooking”, but I have the comfort of being able to work in my kitchen and garden during the day and then start my activities as a stylist in the evening. As a result, I’ve been able to enhance my blog. The idea is to share my family recipes, but also my everyday recipes – often plant-based – but also my “green” ideas that I practice. I draw my inspiration from what surrounds me: flowers, wild plants, the countryside. Every year I discover new plants, new places. I love this relationship with time and nature. It doesn’t happen immediately, you have to observe, to wait…
Where does this visceral passion for food come from? Are your children susceptible to it too!
My mother always made everything at home, and it was very good. So I’ve had this culture since “forever”, but I don’t know what happened to get me so hooked on it as a discipline. As far back as I can remember, it’s true that I’ve always loved to eat and prepare food. Two anecdotes come to mind: when I was little, I hated being served children’s food. I always wanted to taste the adults’ food! I also have a kind of “culinary memory” that always impresses Lital: when I remember a place or an encounter, I always remember what I ate. It’s a bit like clothes, I always remember what people wore! It’s a kind of library of my tastes. I draw from everything I’ve tasted throughout my life, and above all, I have an insatiable culinary curiosity that ranges from salty to sweet, and from traditional French to the most exotic of dishes. My children love to eat. As kids, they always tasted everything quite happily. They were among those who delighted in eating spinach or courgettes, much to the astonishment of some of our friends. In winter, they eat all kinds of greens three times a week without complaining! My youngest son often helps me in the garden. He’s done his own vegetable garden, he’s planted flowers and vegetables, and he knows how to recognise them! To me it seems essential for me to pass on this taste to them. My eldest son – he can be very persuasive – may ask me for industrial products that he says he prefers to mine. But that’s just a bit of provocation, because behind my back I can hear him praising the merits of my homemade spread!
Which recipe books would you say we absolutely must read?
Claudia Roden’s book of Jewish cuisine, an indispensable classic. The Silver Spoon by Phaidon which is the basis of Italian cooking, with very simple recipes. Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi (to name just one). A Modern Way to Cook by Anna Jones. It’s the only one by this vegetarian author that’s translated into French, but her latest, The Modern Cook’s Year, is great too! Finally, Faites Votre Pâtisserie by Lenôtre (an old reference book) and the entire collection of l’Epure Les 10 Façons de Préparer, each with one ingredient and ten recipes.
Which product you enjoy working with most?
Flours, there are so many of them! With a little water and salt, you can already make a thousand bread recipes.
How do you see the future here?
Alice, do you have a summer recipe to make as a family, exclusively for readers of The Socialite Family?
Alice and I quickly reappropriated the house. Almost all the rooms have changed, but what remains above all is the astonishing energy that is here, it's palpable.
Photography: Valerio Geraci – Text: Caroline Balvay @thesocialitefamily