Have you ever been to Paris? If so, can you remember that feeling you had when you first set foot on its streets? If you thought something along the lines of, “I have to live here,” you’re not alone. For most that sensation is fleeting, but for Texas native Ajiri Aki, life in The City of Lights was an undeniable calling… and with an impressive track record in the fashion industry and museum world, she had the chops to make the leap across the pond. Fast forward a few years: Ajiri and her husband live in the heart of Paris with their exuberant toddler, Noomi. The only problem? Being a first-time mom and an expat in Paris isn’t all romance and croissants, so Ajiri created MANNA as a resource for fellow women living away from their home countries, and to provide moms with Parisian inspiration and information (in English!).
If you ask us, there’s no one we’d rather get our intel from. With a drop dead gorgeous apartment and a pulse on all the best places to eat, relax and revel around town, Ajiri’s got Parisian living down. And throwing an effortlessly chic party for her two year old? Well, she makes that look like a piece of cake. Click through for all the inspirational details from Noomi’s picturesque second birthday party…
*photography by Marjorie Preval
What a breathtaking view you have. How long have you lived in Paris?
I first came to Paris 15 years ago for 2 days as a student and fell completely and utterly in love with this beautiful city. Life abroad can be challenging and a never ending adventure at the same time. Whichever way it goes, each day I still have to pinch myself that I have lived here now for almost 4 years. We live in the center of Paris in the South West corner of the 11th arrondissement. In a 10-minute walk I am in the Marais for shopping and cafe grazing, 7 minutes to the Canal St. Martin, where most of my current favorite restaurants are, and a 15-minute walk North to the super cool Buttes Chaumont Park.
And what’s the story behind your beautiful home?
We live on the top floor of an early 1900’s building with wraparound terraces opening to every room and a great view of the rooftops of Paris. Prior to our wedding, I was still living in New York City when my husband found this apartment and sent me pictures after he had already taken it. It was a risky move on his part, but he knew this is not the kind of spot you pass on (in Paris you have 1.2 seconds after seeing a space to submit your dossier and then cross your fingers!)
When we moved in, it was the perfect blank canvas with details I always dreamt of: crown moldings, french doors, and hammered gold door handles. I arrived with nothing but suitcases of clothes, shoes, and books, so there was a lot of work to be done to turn the place into a proper home. As excited as I was, decorating stressed me out at first. I had no idea where to shop and drooling over my favorite American magazines and blogs was great for my Pinterest board but most of the stores did not have a Paris location or ship internationally.
I finally embraced taking my sweet time as I visit flea markets, discover the best home stores, and improve my DIY skills. Lucky for me, my Swiss husband is a wizard with wood, tools, and rewiring old lamps.
Is your china collection a product of your flea market adventures as well?
Many tourists and expats are eager to get to the big famous flea market here, Marché aux puces de Clignancourt. I love going also when I have that kind of time, but honestly most the gems I’ve found — like these china plates and teapots from the late 1800’s — all come from antique shops or trolling Brocantes on the weekends.
Tell us about the charming party you’ve created for Noomi’s second birthday.
Doing a garden party just really fit with the time of day we wanted to start, the fact it was the first day of Spring, and our space. I bought a lot of plants and flowers for the entry to greet the guests, guide them down our food table (made of old railroad tracks) with antique garden chairs, and onto our terrace with an antique garden table and chairs.
What did you serve?
In France, goûter (snack time) for the kids is at 4:30, which is fairly close to the time adults have an apéro (cocktail hour). This worked out perfect for a tea party: sandwiches and sweets. I wanted to step up the tea sandwiches a bit, so I dug up some recipes and a friend who owns the cutest sandwich shop here created a special sandwich for me to serve at the party.
Noomi’s Garden Party Menu:
Egg Salad Sandwich
Chicken Rillette Sandwich (get the recipe here!)
Shaved Radish with Salty Herb Butter Sandwich
Cucumber with Prosciutto and Arugula Sandwich
BLT with Bacon Jam
Goat Cheese Périgord Tartine (get the recipe here, courtesy of folks and sparrows!)
Smoked Salmon Tartine
An indoor garden party needs to have tea. But an event during the children’s goûter (read: sugar and lots of running around), and one that is so close to apéro hour for adults, needs an extra something-something. Alongside prosecco, I served a cocktail infused with Kusmi’s decaffeinated citrus earl grey in lovely teacups I found at an antique shop in the 11th arrondissement.
Get the recipe for Ajiri’s Earl Grey Infused Gin Tea Cocktail here!
The children drank lemonade that my husband whipped together with some sparkling water and lemons.
Ajiri and Noomi pose for a quick photo-op
Now for the important stuff. What’s the scoop on all those amazing sweets your had set out:
The kids were not very interested in the sandwiches because they usually want something sweet for goûter. So I made mini vanilla cupcakes and bought the most amazing cakes I have ever had in my life from Aux Merveilleux de Fred. I bought two cakes and not one crumb was left at the end of the party… it was crazy!
The Merveilleux (right) is layers of meringue with chocolate whipped cream and coated with shavings of dark chocolate. And The Incroyable is meringue with speculoos biscuit whipped cream and coated with shaved white chocolate. I am very serious when I say this is hands down the best cake I have ever had in my entire life.
If you visit Paris, add this cake shop to your list and go try their little individual cakes. There is always a line, but after you try one (or three), you’ll understand why.
Tell us what you packed inside of those cute striped favor bags…
With the garden theme, I wanted to give all the kids tiny potted plants, but they wouldn’t fit and favor bags full of seeds is not cool. Instead, I dumped the theme and went with an assortment of random toys that probably drove their parents crazy (little men that stick to the wall, magnetic fishing game, magic tricks, etc…) But in honor of Noomi’s garden, I still sent each child home with one of the mini grass pots from the table to take care of.
Happy second birthday, Noomi!
Visit MANNA for more inspiration from Ajiri Aki.
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