Sunday, 24 November 2013

So as I mentioned, I was in France towards the end of last week - visiting stores, checking the managers were happy with everything before Christmas, checking I was happy with everything before Christmas.

Feeling was good, though sales at the moment aren't the best. No manager complained about their level of any particular product - that was a relief, I can tell you! And they're all positive about our Christmas range. It's normal for French Christmas shoppers come out later than their British cousins, after all.

With sales sluggish, I'm planning to put together some analysis of last year, look at exactly when we saw an increase, how it developed and if there are any telltale, early stages.

I'm going to be applying my last ideal stocklevel increases before the next few orders. And as I say, before every order I check last years' sales for a period equivalent to the one this order is meant to last and increase levels as necessary.

There are a couple of products - our bestsellers, products customers are saying they 'esperent recevoir de père Noël' (are hoping to receive from father Christmas)... - that I want to keep an eye on. I'll look at the percentage sales increase per week for that product (or similar) last year. And make sure that, given each week's sales this year, they have enough to sustain them.

These are interesting weeks, you can feel the excitement - you could cut it like a ripe French cheese (brought back some super, buttery saint marcellin, by the way). But for the moment, we just have to sit and check (and double check and triple check) and wait.

If customers delay Christmas shopping much longer though, I'll have to start transferring November sales into December - and then things'll get really interesting!

So Paris wasn't all work - it's a playful city too. I made it back to my favourite Lebanese take-away, near the Pompidou centre, where I had a crisp, flaky lebanese pizza, slathered in aromatic thyme herb-mix, zaatar. Once again I promised myself I'd try making zataar - and this time I actually stuck to my word. See below for the not so so shabby results.

Paris always makes me want to buy candles; they do candles very well the Parisians, from historic Cire Trudon, to society-staple Diptyque, to young, fashionable brands like 'Popup Paris', which puts a diamond in 1 out of every 50 of its candles! Above, there are a few on a thyme-theme that I think you might like.

American brand Izola's candles are made from vegetable wax and come in recycled glass containers, $35; Cire Trudon has supplied royalty and the church since 1643 - Empire combines lavender, marjoram, thyme and rosemary, juniper, sage, pine and hay! €60; St Eval make all their products in Cornwall - like this thyme and mint scented candle, £7.85; Fornasetti's candles make a visual and olfactive statement, effusing incense, thyme, lavender, orris (or iris root) and cedarwood. Famous artist, Piero Fornasetti, collected owls wherever he went, and once even organised an exhibition of what he had 'deniched' - hence the print; €130 

Enjoy the rest of your weekend x

Zataar - 2 bunches of thyme, 3 tsp sesame seeds, 3 tsp sumac, pinch salt, olive oil; Pizza - 250g strong white flour, 125ml warm water, 1/2 tbsp dried yeast, 2 tsp sugar, pinch salt and pepper

Dissolve the yeast in 75ml of the water and leave for 10m. Sift the flour and then stir in the yeasty mixture, the sugar and seasoning. Add the rest of the water little by little. When it comes together, flour your hands and the work surface and kneed for 10m. Leave to prove for 1-2 hours. Knock the dough back and kneed again for a minute or two. Halve the dough and gently roll it and stretch it to form two pizza bases.
Strip the leaves from the thyme (you'll get thyme under your finger nails, but it smells lovely), chop finely and place in a mortar. Toast the sesame seeds and add to the thyme along with the sumac and salt. Pound for a couple of minutes. Add olive oil until you have a pesto-like consistency.
Spread over your pizza bases, adding black olives, chopped halloumi, roasted cherry tomatoes if you like, and bake at 190oC until your pizzas are crisp enough for you.

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