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My 'Expert tips': Bonfire night in Easy Living

I was really excited this weekend because Easy Living magazine had contacted me last Summer to be part of a feature they were writing on bonfire night and the November issue was out!! So I rushed to my local newsagent and here I was.... on page 35, just before Designer Sophie Conran.



It was funny when they contacted me because I remembered the first time I went to a Bonfire party in Bristol fourteen years ago. It was my first Winter in the UK and that night, I was wearing a nice dress thinking we were off to a party to watch fireworks and have wine (wishful thinking). Honestly, an hour later, I could have worn a Christian Dior dress or a black bin bag, it would have made no difference! My whole body was swathed layers of fleeces that people had lent to me so I could cope with the minus 2 temperature outside!
Talk about cultural shock!! Nothing had prepared me to spend the whole night outside eating sausages and drinking beers and watching my British friends burn effigies.
These days, Steve and I do still celebrate Bonfire night but since we are a franco-kiwi mix, it's really just a great excuse for great food and another BBQ on our roof terrace with all our friends but in the middle of the winter. Steve still grumbles about his bonfire nights being in spring – but in his native New-Zealand, they have a BBQ on the beach for Christmas!
In the morning, Steve goes hunting for food - well...he goes off on his scooter to get sausages and a leg of lamb from the Stenton Family Butchers - which is by the way a fantastic, old-fashioned butcher between Brook Green & Ravenscourt Park which I highly recommend!
In the meantime Mila and I get everything we need to make some vin chaud, pumpkin soup, hot chocolate and a big bag of marshmallows to toast for the children later.
For outdoor parties like this, I put pretty, ceramic tea-lights like these ones on the table and use jam jars or glass yoghurt to create striking, luminous focus points around the terrace. If you display heaps of them, they look really beautiful and magical and if one gets broken, it's not the end of the world but my advice is keep things simple. If it gets windy, your decoration can be blown away and destroyed in a split second so focus on food presentation, lighting and keeping your friends warm and happy.
I like things to be natural and organic so I'll use white crockery, serve a feel-good orange pumpkin soup in sensual looking mugs with fresh bread and display the meat on vintage wooden boards et voila!
In the afternoon, my girlfriends will come around with their children and while the kids make masks, or draw pictures of fireworks to get into the spirit of things, we get things ready. When I was little, I watched my mum and my aunts for years preparing Christmas diner for 20 people and spent almost the whole evening in the kitchen so I don't do the whole Marta Stewart on my own in the kitchen. I love having friends around but I want to have fun too so we keep it pretty casual and simple... A lot of our friends are French or New-Zealander anyway so it's part of our cultures for everyone to bring something which we serve on big platters so everyone can help themselves. After watching the fireworks, we head back home, wrap the kids under warm blankets on a bench outside, get the BBQ and our gorgeous firepit going and that's it... And if anyone is looking for me, I will be by the firepit, a glass of vin chaud in one hand, warmly wrapped in my cashmere scarf and in my ugg boots waiting for Steve's famous Kiwi BBQ to be served.
But here are a few more tips
- Get organised (cathering for a big group is stressful if you do everything the same day) so ideally start shopping the Weekend before and get meat, vegetables the day of the party.
- Ask your friends to come and help you..cooking is lot more fun with friends and a glass of wine (or two) than on your own.
- Make sure everybody is dressed warmly as being cold takes all the fun out of the evening. I know I get really grumpy if I'm cold
- Have fun and enjoy...At the end of the day, a great party is down to good friends and good company and nobody will really care about how many hours you spent slaving in the kitchen.
And get the boys to take care of the BBQs because frankly it's half of the meal taken care for and they love it!
My very rich chocolate cake recipe
Serves 6 - preparation 10 min - cooking 20 min
200g butter, 200g dark chocolate - 5 eggs - 1 tbsp flour, 200g icing sugar

First heat the oven at 180 degres C (gas mark 4). Melt the butter and chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Tip the chocolate mixture into a large mixing bowl, add the eggs, one at a time and mix thoroughly. Beat in the flour and the icing sugar. Pour into a buttered and floured cake tin and bake for 20-25 minutes...
And I can tell you...this chocolate is rich but to die for!!!



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