Monday, 20 August 2018

A Night and Dinner at the Moulin Rouge, Pigalle, Paris

My experience at the Moulin Rouge in Paris - dancing, dinner and the iconic Cancan!

This post contains some affiliate links. This means that if you decide to click on a link and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you) that helps me keep the blog running. Thank you for your support. 

I've wanted to go to Paris since I was in my early 20s. But then kids came along, with work and all the other stuff and I forgot. Until I was having a cuppa with my best friend one day and I was having a moan about how I'd let my travel ambitions slip and wish I'd gone to Paris one day.

"Let's do it!" She said. 

So we did. 

Although I'd have been happy seeing the Eiffel Tower and having a peek around the Louvre, my friend said she'd always wanted to see a show at the Moulin Rouge

So we did that, too. 


Photo by Moulin Rouge - used with permission

We stayed in a hotel in the Crimée area of Paris, quite a way away from the main tourist attractions, and about 50 minutes walk from the Moulin Rouge in Pigalle, a 30-minute metro ride or a 10-minute taxi ride. Blanche is the nearest metro stop to the Moulin Rouge. 

On arrival - you can't miss it - it's the building with the red flashing lights and the windmill on the top ('Moulin Rouge' means 'red windmill' in French). We had our tickets checked outside by a burly doorman and were ushered in. We went through security and lined up on a red carpet to wait for a table. 

A waiter called us through and we ascended some steps and into the hall itself. Here, I have to say, I was a bit bedazzled by what I saw. The whole hall had a large stage upfront, and tables set out in front of it. The lights were dimmed, and the hall was lit by beautiful little red lamps on the tables. We were shown to our table, right in front of the stage, towards the back of the hall (lucky us) and brought a bottle of champagne in an ice bucket to share. Above us, there was the illusion of the ceiling of a tent, fabric draped across the top of the hall and old fashioned Moulin Rouge posters adorned the pillars and the walls. Singers appeared and sang. 

We were handed a menu and we chose our three-course dinner, which we picked from the Minstinguett menu. I ate a mozzarella salad with juicy tomatoes, which was gorgeous - and then salmon with a tomato sauce and vegetables. I was surprised to find the meals quite healthy and low carb and the portions seemed fairly small, but just right. A chocolate tart arrived for pudding, which was luscious, with a light orange sauce. I'd read some reviews that the food wasn't highly rated, but we both loved it. The presentation made it feel extra special too. I'd definitely order from the menu again. 

Photo by Moulin Rouge - used with permission

Now. Despite some people taking photographs, it's worth mentioning that you're not allowed to take any photographs at all inside the hall. This includes selfies during dinner or the performance. A few people around us took photos during dinner and they were immediately told by waiters to stop. There is a photographer who circulates and will take a picture of your group as a souvenir. We decided to go for it, as it was a special occasion. We ended up with a large photo of us together and two match books with our individual faces on. It cost us €21 and was a good quality pic. I liked that she took two or three photos of us to make sure at least one of them turned out right. Nothing worse than getting a photo and finding out your eyes are closed or you were about to sneeze. It's a great memento of our night out. 

Once dinner is done and cleared away, you're left to finish your champagne at leisure. It's about now that the hall starts filling up with people who have come for the same show as you but didn't have dinner. Two more couples were seated at our table with us, their drinks were brought and the show started. Yes, it's cosy and you do feel a little squeezed in but who cares? It's part of the atmosphere. 

The lights dimmed and dancers started to appear as the show started.

Photo by Moulin Rouge - used with permission

I don't want to give too much away in case you go and see the show yourself (do go see it) but here are a few pointers:

1. Most of the dancers are topless, or wearing skimpy bikini-type costumes with feathers, sequins and other special effects. Don't be offended. You're in Paris. Just drink up the atmosphere and enjoy the show. 

2. There is some splashing. Yes, splashing. You'll see when you get there.

3. Most of the songs are sung in French. And even if you don't speak French, this isn't a problem as you'll get the idea of what the song is about. The show is made up of mini stories with acting and dance routines. Trust me. You'll get it. 

4. You'll most probably come away wanting to wear the costumes yourself. As soon as the lights came up after the last dance I was clapping and thinking 'Oh my gosh I want to wear those outfits' when I looked over at my friend who shouted eagerly, through the cheering, 'I want to wear those costumes!'. You'll want to wear the costumes. They're amazing. 

5. Forget Burlesque or sexy routines or the writhing Christina Aguilera/Pink/Maya video from the theme song from the Nicole Kidman movie. The performances are cheeky, yes, but not overtly sexual. 

As well as the dancers, there are other performances, including acrobats, a dancer with a hoop and a contortionist, which was amazing. 

The Can Can was my favourite part. I imagined it would be just a chorus line of ladies kicking up their fluffy skirts, but it was so much more than that. It was energetic and loud, with lots doing the splits and others leaping up into the air. And I loved that Can Can dress they all wore. I'm trying to get one. Just for fun. Or for the weekly shop. Whatever. I loved it, with the cheeky little ankle boots. Someone get me a red, white and blue Can Can dress with matching navy ankle boots for goodness' sake. 

As the evening finished, we paid up any extras with our waiter (beware that extra drinks are expensive, with soft drinks around €8 each and small bottles of water around €5 each). A half bottle of champagne each is included in the price you pre-book - check your ticket for details. You can go for dinner like we did or choose to just go with a bottle of champagne to share between two of you, if you prefer. 

We walked out into the balmy August air, joined the hoards of people across the road taking selfies with the lit up red windmill in the background and hailed a taxi back to the hotel. 

It sounds cheesy I know, and I'd tell you if it was anything different, but we had an absolutely amazing evening. We'll remember it always. And while some reviews I've seen have said it wasn't all it was cracked up to be, I don't get it. The service was faultless. the food was really good and the champagne, too. We really did feel very special. 

And, I'm an art lover. 

Ever since I was a teenager I was loved the art of Toulouse Lautrec and other nineteenth century French painters. In the 1880s, the Moulin Rouge was the centre of the Paris art scene (and the red light district, which is still true). And, although the building isn't the original one he would have been in (the original was destroyed by fire), to be sitting on the spot where the Can Can was first performed, where my art heroes once enjoyed shows like the one I saw, sipping on chilled, fizzy champagne with my best mate in the world while watching dancers kick and do the splits in their frilly dresses and ankle boots, I was in complete joy. 

Thank you, Moulin Rouge, it was emotional. 

We travelled by Eurostar (which takes just over 2 hours to Paris from London) and visited the Moulin Rouge on our first night. You can have a look at the range of Moulin Rouge tickets here

Got any questions? Are you visiting Paris or the Moulin Rouge? Ask me in the comments below and I'll do my best to answer them. 

Because no photography is allowed inside the Moulin Rouge theatre, all photos in this post were kindly provided by the Moulin Rouge, and are posted with permission. 

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

The Link Between Psoriasis and Sleep

Can there be a link between psoriasis, the itchy, flaky skin condition - and quality of sleep? I have a look at the evidence... 

This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you decide to click on them and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you) that goes back into helping me keep the blog going. Thank you for your support. 

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

It's been a frantic couple of weeks. On the Monday I set off for a couple of days to Warwick Castle for a short break with the kids. I didn't sleep the Sunday, because I kept thinking I had to get up early on Monday. I didn't sleep on the Monday night because youngest daughter got overwhelmed being away from home and wanted to sleep with me in the big bed. She moves about a lot in her sleep, so I was awake from 4am. 

Tuesday afternoon we got home, and I prepared for my trip to Paris on the Thursday, again getting almost no sleep in between. No sleep again in Paris, because it was hot and someone in the next room from me in the hotel woke me up coming back from a night out slamming their door and putting on a (loud) movie at 2am. 

On the way back from Paris, I noticed my scalp was intensely itchy and that I was self conscious about the flakes falling onto my shoulders. My diet had been good, so it couldn't be that. I had travelled, but I couldn't really say I'd been stressed. I drank water as we walked around, so I don't think I was dehydrated. And with a one-hour time difference, it wasn't as if I was jet-lagged. 

Could it have been the sleep? 

According to science, definitely. 

Apparently, there's a lot of evidence, scientific and anecdotal, that sleep can cause your psoriasis to flare up. At home, I protect my sleep with blue-light-blocking glasses, early bedtimes and no screens after 8pm. But when I'm travelling, I don't always have the luxury of knowing I'm settling in for a good night's sleep.  Which explains why I was absolutely elated my psoriasis was fading on the Saturday, but back to intense itching and wearing white clothes again by the following weekend. 

A Brazilian study in 2012 found that when mice with or without psoriasis were deprived of sleep, the inflammatory response in the body increased, and the anti-inflammatory response decreased. They found that this response normalised after 48 hours of rebound sleeping, but summarised that lack of sleep should be considered a risk factor for the onset of psoriasis. 

Having suffered with psoriasis for 25 years, I also know that it can work the other way around, and that psoriasis itself can actually stop you getting a good night's sleep. 

The nights I've been Googling for something that could ease my itchy, burning skin until the early hours - it plays on your mind and sends you straight to your Amazon shopping basket. Psoriasis can also be linked with IBS - so being up all night with stomach ache or rumbles in your tummy is another way your sleep can be impacted. And then there's the discomfort. People are shocked when I tell them that my scalp psoriasis used to be so severe that I'd wake myself up digging my nails into my scalp and scratching away, and find blood under my nails in the morning. My husband would wake me up to stop me doing it. It's terrible, but it doesn't make for a good night's sleep. 

And then you can guess what happens. You itch, you scratch, you feel like rubbish and you don't sleep. Then your lack of sleep pushes up the inflammatory response in the body and aggravates the psoriasis. Which itches and burns and stops you sleeping. It's a cycle. 

So what can you do? 

If you're trying to heal your psoriasis, take it from me that you need to make sleep a priority. As much a priority as sunlight and healthy food, if not more so. 

Here are some ways you can help protect your sleep if you are trying to ease your psoriasis: 

Invest in a pair of blue light blocking glasses (these are the ones I use). They'll make your brain think it's dusk and your sleep hormones will kick in, giving you a head start on bed time. 

Educate yourself about how necessary sleep is. I love the book How We Sleep by Matthew Walker. It's a real eye opener, and you won't look at bedtime in the same way again. Sleep is absolutely crucial to our health and this book will arm you with the science of how your body works to help you get more of it.

Go to bed at the same time every night, and actually go to bed. Don't watch TV, movies or open your laptop. Turn off your phone, so you don't end up scrolling through your notifications. All this will wake you back up. Make time to sleep. Decide that at bedtime it's sleep time and prioritise your snoozing.

Moisturise your psoriasis, overnight. I use either Lush's Dream Cream or, more commonly Pure Potions Skin Salvation Ointment. I massage it into my psoriasis patches and then sleep with an old towel over my pillow. It helps calm the itching, meaning you're more likely to sleep better. Then I just shower it all off in the morning. 

Keep your nails short. I cut my nails really short, and this means that if I do accidentally scratch my scalp, the damage done to my skin is minimal. 

Try supplements. I found CDB oil fantastic at helping me sleep. (You can get 10% off the brand I use by the way, with this link and the code'JO10'). A few drops under my tongue at the end of the day and my sleep is honestly better. 

Avoid caffeine - I gave up caffeine completely after I found it gave me gut problems (burping, stomach pains) every time I drank it. Now I drink camomile or peppermint tea, or water. Caffeine is not your friend when you're trying to sleep, or, in my opinion, if you're trying to heal psoriasis at all.

I hope that these tips work for you - this is the sleep toolkit that I put into place once I feel like I'm out of balance. I've already started doing it and I feel better already. Let me know what you think in the comments below! 

Monday, 13 August 2018

Steak Beef Burgers with Black Garlic Chimichurri

A tasty twist on a traditional Argentine chimichurri salsa, using soft, treacly black garlic instead of fresh for a balsamic-like flavour. 

This post contains some affiliate links. This means that if you decide to click on the links and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you) that helps me keep the blog running. Thank you for your support.

My husband, who is from Argentina, is exasperated at me because I keep messing about with chimichurri and trying new flavour combos. 

I just can't help it. 

I've made rocket (arugula) chimichurri, mustard chimichurri and wild garlic chimichurri. And then, as if I thought I couldn't do anything else with it, this idea decided to keep me awake one night: chimichurri made with black garlic.

Oh YES. 

If you've never tried black garlic, it's just regular cloves of garlic but left to ferment. You actually end up with a sticky-soft, treacly clove of garlic in a pale brown papery skin that tastes almost exactly like rich, sweet balsamic vinegar. 

It's pretty cool. 

And the best bit? This dish is ready in about 20 minutes. 

I hope you love it. 

Steak Burgers with Black Garlic Chimichurri
Serves 4
400g steak mince/ground beef
pinch of sea salt
2 tsp olive oil (or other preferred fat)

For the black garlic chimichurri: 
small bunch of fresh parsley (about 30g)
2 cloves of black garlic, peeled from their papery skins
small pinch of salt
2 tsp white wine vinegar
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

To make the burgers, put the beef in a bowl and add the salt. Mix well, and then divide into four, forming into burger patties. Wash your hands. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and fry the burgers, turning occasionally, for about 6-7 minutes per side, until cooked through. 

While the burgers are cooking, make the chimichurri. In a small food processor, blitz the parsley, black garlic, salt, vinegar and oil until smooth. Alternatively, you can chop everything finely and mix together with a fork. It might be easier to actually mash the black garlic cloves alongside the edge of the bowl rather than try and chop them too finely. 

Once the burgers are cooked, serve them with the chimichurri. I love these served alongside a salad, olives and some sliced avocado. 

Made this recipe? Tag me in on a photo on Instagram at @joromerofood.  

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If you're looking for more quick meals ideas, check out this community ebook I contributed to. It's full of complete meals that cook up in 30 minutes or less and all the recipes are totally AIP compliant. Go check it out here!