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There’s a stereotype about couples who have their first baby. Their house becomes a “baby zone.” Baby toys, baby food, baby medicine, baby blankets, baby paraphernalia everywhere. That hasn’t happened to our house. But it has turned into a cat zone. My desk is piled high with prescription cat food and medicine, cat toys are everywhere, two food bowls, back stocks of litter and food piled in the corner. Cats on the bed, cats on the couch, cats on the table. I found a cat in the garbage area under the sink this morning while making pizza.
Ok, so we have two cats, not twenty, but in an apartment of 45 square-meters that’s enough to turn it into a cat-zone.


Dumpling is doing well. She has an infection in her mouth and is on antibiotics, but she’s eating (very) well and seems to have gained a bit of weight.  She likes to sleep with us at night and is very curious about what we are doing, and especially what I’m cooking. She needs to learn some manners though as she has a few bad habits such as scratching on everything and climbing everywhere.
Pistou is recovering. In fact, he seems to want to play with her, but she doesn’t seem to understand the game. There’s been a lot of nose touching and sniffing and there’s still apprehension, but things are looking promising. We still aren’t sure if we will keep Dumpling once her fostering period is up, it depends a multitude of things, but at least for now she’s settling in and we’ll be able to turn her into a friendly, sweet cat that can be in a multitude of homes.

Did you hear about the Costa Concordia? Last October the husband and I took our honeymoon on that boat, cruising to Savonna, Naples, Palermo, Tunis, Palma, and Barcelona. We had a big suit and balcony and loved every second. I also saw it docked in the harbor of la Seyne every so often, when it was too windy to dock in Marseille, bringing back happy memories. So it was sad for us to see this huge ship leaning on its side, half submerged in the sea.
I felt like singing Nearer my God to Thee but then I remembered I’m not religious and this isn’t the Titanic.

Anyway, today was rather productive. I got up early and started an apple pie before going out for an eight mile run around the harbor where there were no cruise ships docked today.

My fruit bowl is overflowing again and my smoothie drinking can’t keep up with it. So pie it was. Plus I’ve never made a pie before.
That’s right! This is my first apple pie EVER.


Apples and lemons and salt and sugar and cinnamon and nutmeg draining in a bowl. Let it sit for a few hours and let strain it through a colander to get your liquid base.


Add butter and boil it.


I didn’t make my own crust. One thing at a time. This is an organic pate brisée which is less sweet than many pie crusts but oh so buttery.


Add your apples.
Add your liquid.
Bake at 225°C for about 40 minutes.
Turn your head away when you open the oven. I think I burned my face.



I sat outside on the balcony with Pistou, who needed his outdoor time. There is a cat in that photo, I swear.


I worked on the still unfinished novel for a bit, guarding the door from the outside, while Pistou roasted in the jardiniere.


Dumpling isn’t allowed outside to go play yet.
The novel was going badly for a time, but I believe that it has picked up again. I managed 2000 words in 90 minutes and got somewhere with the story. That’s progress. Redoing the outline for the end was the best idea I’ve ever had concerning writing and I always hate to outline. When it’s done, I’m having a party. BTW: Do you live in Argentina? Or did you once live in Argentina? If so I need you.
After working on the novel I needed a break so I made granola. But that’s an entry for another day.

And I promise I’ll stop talking about my cats.

Also, if you’re wondering about the lack of a top on my pie, it’s not something that is often done in France. Pies have no crusty tops. And one thing at a time. I’ll do a top next time around.

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I went to bed on the 24th of December full, tipsy, warm, and thinking that after spending all day cooking and baking, I’d be completely uninterested in doing so again for a few days – at least until my vacation begins on the 28th.

So you can imagine my surprise when I woke up the next morning and my first thought was “I need to bake cupcakes.”

I mean really? I had other plans this morning. Like sleeping late, having a big cup of uninterrupted coffee. And most importantly working on the novel which is always on my mind these days. So much so that I’ve started dreaming about it at night.

All the same, there it was; the overwhelming urge to make cupcakes. I wasn’t even hungry and the thought of food was making my stomach cry out in protest or at least a nice long run first. But I’ve been wanting to try cooking a sweet with olive oil for quite some time and despite all my better intentions, I couldn’t resist.

These olive oil and cranberry cupcakes are moist, fluffy and a perfect way to get rid of that baking craving. The oil is not overwhelming but just an after taste that I am dying to try again, mixing with other flavors that will deepen the taste.

Adapted from Joy the Baker

  • 1 1/4 cups AP flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • handful of dried cranberries
  • 1 tsp of lemon zest
  • Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 200°C and grease your cupcake tin with olive oil.

In a large bowl pour in the salt, baking powder and soda, and sugar. Sift in your flour and lightly whisk together. In a smaller bowl, whisk together lemon zest, egg, olive oil and milk with a wire whisk until blended. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, mixing together all the while with a wooden spoon until just combined. Add in a handful of cranberries and stir again to make sure they get into the batter, but be sure to not over mix. Obviously, you could add the cranberries earlier to the dry ingredients, but they were a last minute addition on my part.

Pour the batter into your cupcake tins and bake about 15-20 minutes or until cooked through and lightly browned on top. Add glaze while cupcakes are still warm and let cool.

I used Joy’s glaze as well – the same recipe as her page except I used lemon extract instead of almond which I didn’t have. Simple and easy.

This recipe was to make six cupcakes, but I had some left over batter so I made two cupcake-cookies with what was left. Ideally I should have paid attention to how much batter I was spooning into the mold so my cupcakes would have come out the same size, but details details…

For the rest of the day, I plugged away at my novel. If you’re a writer, or know a writer, or even an avid reader, you’ll know that characters tend to take their lives onto themselves and seem to run away with your imagination like hijacking a vehicle. Well, my narrator has done just that. She won’t stop talking, detailing every little thing that happened to her. The closer I get to the end, the harder she hangs on, making sure that I don’t miss a beat, a moment, a second.

Do you ever have moments when you’re so enthralled in your work that you do stupid things like stick your finger in your ear or pick your nose (hey, when you have to pick, you have to pick – just not in public) or make weird beeping noises to yourself and yell at your computer-

Only to look up and see your super cute student looking at you through the classroom window?

Yeah. I had a fabulous day.

He really is that attractive. That smile with the dimples…

Anyway.

I should be writing. No really. I should be writing. I’m behind about 2000 words from where I want to be tonight. But I never celebrated my 50K. I never made apple pie, or pumpkin ice cream (though I don’t know how I would as I don’t have an ice cream maker) or anything savory. I didn’t have the time.

But tonight, I’m wiped, I’m out of steam, my head is a muddled mess of characters and settings and prose, etc. Sometimes I write sarcastic things into the narrative that my characters would never say. Clearly I need a break. I need to celebrate. I need to clear my head and dope myself up on sugar.

I need cookies.

And these are my most deadly cookies yet.

Dark chocolate Nutella, cocoa powder, oatmeal, cereal flour, dark chocolate chips.

They’re amazing.

  • 1 cup oats
  • 1 cup cereal flour
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons Nutella
  • 1 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • dark chocolate chips
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt.

Cream butter and sugar as normal. Add egg and cocoa powder, mix well. Add 2 tablespoons of Nutella. Mix well.

Add all your dry ingredients, flours, oats, powders, salts. Mix together until its well blended. Add your last tablespoon of Nutella and your chocolate chips. Mix one last time, quickly on low speed. Just enough to combine everything but not blend the Nutella in, you want a little bit of a swirl.

Spoon onto a greased cookie sheet and bake at 180°C (350°F) for 11 minutes.

 

When it comes to the flour, I know cereal flour is a strange choice – I mean really, who wants seeds in their cookies? But it’s good. Not only does it add a great crunch, but the cereal flour is slightly salty, added to the bitterness of the cocoa, the amazing sweetness of the Nutella and chocolate. There are so many rich, complex flavors here. I had to step away from the kitchen and lock myself in the bedroom just so I’d stop eating them and write this entry.

 

Melty chocolate goodness with salt and bitter cocoa, warm just out of the oven.

And in case you’re wondering I’m at 55,000 words.

Tomorrow I have a 1 hour wait at the train station in the morning and the afternoon. Not to mention the 20 minute train ride. I was going to buy a pastry, but now I have cookies – and plenty of time to write.

Also, yes that is my computer right next to the mixing bowl. I told you it was covered in flour.

It’s been seven days since my last post and we’re now twelve days into the novel. I reached 40,000 words last Thursday night, officially Friday morning. 7 days, 25,000 words. Today I hit 46K. Am I tired? Yes. For NaNoWriMo only 50,000 words are required to win. As I’m at 46K and not even one third into the story, I’m aiming for about 120k. By the end of November? Can I do it? I have no idea.

For those of you wondering what you get if you win, the answer is nothing but the satisfaction that you wrote a novel. And a certificate you can print from the website. I still have mine from 2009. It was on the fridge for a year.

For ten days the weather was rainy. Wait. Did I say rainy? I mean POURING. And WINDY. This wasn’t your typical run of the mill wind. This was wind with an attitude. This was wind that broke my super strong titanium umbrella. This was wind that blew off the roof of a building on my running route – that was a surprise one morning. This was wind that picked up fish from the sea and tossed them on the sidewalk. It was kind of gross. It’s called the Mistral. It came early this year. Had it lasted one more day I would have called in to work. I couldn’t handle it anymore.

By Wednesday, flood trucks were by the shore in case they had to suddenly evacuate. A friend told me the roads into and out of St. Tropez were closed off, the city completely shut down. I was lucky. Parts of the Var are under water. This is only disturbing when you realize that those parts are on the side of a mountain.

And yes, I ran everyday, through the wind and rain. 10K. I’m masochistic.

But it’s gone – for now – and there are sunny skies. I never realized how much noise the wind made. The silence outside when hanging laundry on my balcony is golden.

Let me update you on food. Because that’s what you’re hear for. With laying down this many words per day and trying to keep some semblance of a figure, I haven’t been cooking much. There’s a party tomorrow and Thanksgiving for the in-laws in two weeks and I will make SOMETHING when I hit 50K tomorrow, a trip to Table du Vigneron if I finish… well, I have to lay off the food. But I’m still cooking.

There was butternut squash soup at 25K.

Soup has always intimidated me, but it was super easy and so yummy, even cold. I’ve conquered my fear of homemade soups, much to my husbands dismay.

There were banana cream desserts. Creme fraiche, a teaspoon and a half of sugar, softened banana cooked over a low flame for 10 minutes and then cooled in the refrigerator for a few hours. I should have put them in the blender for a smoother finish, but can you get any easier than that? Not really.

And there were buttery, garlic wheat knots for yesterday at my 40K milestone. The husband and I going through them like they’re going out of style. I might have to make more.

The best part of each one of these delights is that they were not only easy to make, but they allowed time for me to step away from both the computer and the stove. I got to go back and forth, I got to take breaks and relax my mind, which for all intents and purposes is a little fried.

But I’m only 12 days in and there’s a whole two-thirds of a novel to finish. It’s time to go pick up the pace…