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Today was the first day of the year that it was warm enough to eat on the balcony. I didn’t make anything special for it as it was “leftover day,” trying to get rid of all the random stuff in our fridge to make way for more leftovers. I wish that I could portion things properly – like pasta. I know that I can make food and freeze it, but I have this thing about microwaves…
But I digress.
I had my lunch, which was roasted vegetables, tomato, homemade hummus, a slice of Itchebai cheese, and a hunk of crusty bread. Tomato soup. Crystal Light, courtesy of la famille who toted 6 packs of the stuff across the Atlantic at my request. Definitely a leftover day.
What is Itchebai cheese you ask? Well, it is French. Think cheddar with a Swiss twist.
This Christmas someone gave us a box set of small cookbooks on classic French cuisine by Larousse. What is Larousse? Obviously you’ve never had to buy a French dictionary. I was interested in making some sort of fruity pastry for dessert today and turned to the dessert volume for inspiration.
I’ve seen clafoutis in boulangeries here, in the pastry section, looking rather cake-like and fruity. Normally they are done with prunes or cherries. I had neither in the house, but I do have a package of frozen berries and pineapple. The husband is not a fan of fruits rouges.
While, the ones I saw in the shops looked like cake – clafoutis is rather like a flan that has been thickened with flour. Deceptively cake looking, but not cake like. Though I had seen it, I had never tasted, nor baked it, but there’s a first time for everything and if I’m going to live in France and study French cuisine, I better start cooking.
Clafoutis aux (Fruits Rouges ou Ananas)
Adapted from A l’heure du dessert, Larousse:
- 150 grams berries*
- 150 grams pineapple chunks*
- 3 eggs
- 70 grams powdered sugar
- 200 ml milk
- 30 grams flour
*as I mentioned above, cherries or prunes are the most common fruits added to clafoutis, but use any fruit you like. It’s all good.
Preheat your oven to 180°C. If you want to serve this in individual portions break out the ramkins, otherwise find a small size cake tin for four.
If you’re using frozen fruit; which is what I did, you might want to defrost them now. In the meantime, whisk your eggs together in a good size mixing bowl. Add the flour and sugar and whisk again until incorporated. Add the milk and mix until you have a nice, smooth, and fluid batter.
Put your fruit in the bottom of your cake tin or ramkin. There’s no need to grease them.
Pour the batter on top of the fruit.
Bake for 30 minutes.
Let cool and serve.
The original recipe supposedly serves 4. I halved it, but used three eggs instead of two, and it still served four. I guess I like smaller desserts than the editors of Larousse.
I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was, when the egg batter pushed its way down to the bottom of the pot and forced the fruit to the surface, which created a layered effect I wasn’t expecting.
While I don’t love flan, and clafoutis is not your typical rich, buttery, creamy, French pastry, this was something I could eat again. Not too sweet, comforting, mixed with the tart berry.
Next time I see one in the local bakery I’ll buy it to see how I compare to the professionals, but for now this French classic has won me over with it’s ease and adaptability if nothing else. I sound like an advertisement. Dinner’s just about ready so it must be the hunger talking…
In order to re-educate my brain’s attitude toward food, there was something else I needed to do besides eat mostly soup for the weekend. That was clean my kitchen. Any good cook from amateur to three star knows the importance of keeping the workspace clean. I’m pretty good at these things, my kitchen is usually pretty clean, the surfaces wiped and to the eye that isn’t looking hard enough, things seem to be in order. Until you open a drawer:
Or rather a box.
We live out of boxes. They’re nice boxes. Meant to be lived out of. But they are boxes nonetheless and they can get messy. It’s not just my spice box that was a wreck, but my pasta box, my baking box, my canned goods box. Now don’t get confused. I can tell you what’s in all these boxes. I know everything we have in the apartment food-wise. I can name the six different types of flour I have. Nothing is forgotten, it’s just strewn about.
I’ve been continuing to work with mindful eating. It’s only been what – 36 hours? – but I find it to be a very pleasant experience. It reminds me of the way a sommelier would taste that perfect wine she’s been dreaming of all her life. In my case, a nice 1999 Chateauneuf. I’ve been sticking to my soup theme with a few rice cakes or a bit of bread. I do find that I appreciate the color of soup, the aroma of soup more.
Another important factor, I’m finding is taking more pleasure and giving more mindfulness in preparing the food. Usually reheated from a big batch I made earlier. Even that can be pleasurable experience.
But tonight I’m going to try it with a real meal that I have planned. Nothing too spectacular. Just a pasta with lots of green veggies and a bit of tuna.
And then I will have a brownie. But these brownies aren’t just any brownies. There’s no flour, very little sugar, no milk, butter or cream. Each one has 120 calories (or less if you cut them smaller like I did – rather by accident)
They are made with beans.
You heard me. Beans. The recipe comes from Baker on the Rise and who doesn’t love healthy sweets? I couldn’t wait to try them.
Only one problem. I cannot find black beans ANYWHERE in Provence.
So I used red beans.
And olive oil because I didn’t have canola.
I like to hand chop my chocolate. Once you get the hang of it, there is something incredibly satisfying about chopping chocolate. I don’t know what it is, but it’s the crunch underneath the knife and the weight of your hands. Maybe it’s the tiniest miniscule pieces of chocolate that are wafting up my nose and into my mouth without me ever knowing…
Who can say if these would be good or not? I put them in the oven with apprehension and waited. I Skyped with my mom. It’s her birthday. Happy birthday Mom!
I even waited for the brownies to cool before slicing one and eating it. Mindfully of course.
It was fabulous. So moist and soft. Chocolatey and even the texture was perfect. There is no way to know that there is no flour in this recipe. If people don’t know they’ll just think you’re a master at soft brownies. The only drawback is that the brownies don’t really puff up when baking but had I used a smaller pan and had a thicker layer of brownie it wouldn’t have been a problem. To the eye, if you concentrated on the thickness, they were a bit lacking. In taste they were dark, bitter chocolate with sweet nibs of the chocolate that melted in your mouth. They were amazing.
Wish me luck for tomorrow. I’m preparing my soups and breads for the day and planning my pauses throughout the day to sit down and enjoy a meal.
And I really do have six different types of flour: buckwheat, whole wheat, all purpose, multi-grain/cereal, fluide flour, and corn flour.
It’s snowing again. And again, I’m not pleased. In fact, it’s freezing all over France. Only here in the Var has it risen above freezing and only then by 4 degrees. It would be an ideal day to spend time with a mug of homemade hot chocolate in my hands, gazing out the window with a wistful expression, remembering my childhood of snow days, snow angels, snowball fights, snow igloos and massive snow suits.
But that’s not happening this weekend. Not the hot chocolate part anyway. This weekend it’s all about the soup.
I’m into week 4 of quitting smoking. It’s not going so well. I hate everyone and have a lot of time on my hands to do it. I know that seems odd. I smoke and run. A cigarette for every kilometer.
I have another confession to make. And it’s pretty serious. Sometimes I go a little nuts on the sweets. And by a little nuts I mean a binge. And by a binge I mean a real binge. The one where you eat 24 cookies in 5 minutes without ever tasting anything. After that I eat a pint of ice cream and then a bar of chocolate. Time Elapsed: 12 minutes. It’s a bad food relationship and it’s been happening a little too much lately.
These two things combined create one very upset digestive system and a very unhealthy mentality towards food. Did you see the Mindful Eating article in the NY Times on Thursday? Though I do consider myself a Buddhist, I’ve never been a very good one. My mindfulness and meditation practices are pretty awful.
But since quitting smoking, I’ve found a need to snatch any moments of meditation where ever I can. See: Be Here Now from NPR for some tips on short meditation. It’s not perfect, but anytime you can take the time to “quiet your mind and open your heart” as Jack Kornfield says, you’re helping yourself in all sorts of positive ways.
What better way to renew a healthy and enjoyable relationship with food and cooking by practicing mindfulness while I eat?
Mindful eating is not a diet, or about giving up anything at all. It’s about experiencing food more intensely — especially the pleasure of it. You can eat a cheeseburger mindfully, if you wish. You might enjoy it a lot more. Or you might decide, halfway through, that your body has had enough. Or that it really needs some salad. ~Jeff Gordinier; NY Times
When I binge, I don’t actually taste anything. I couldn’t tell you if those almond butter cookies I made yesterday were good or not. If they tasted different than peanut butter cookies or if the white chocolate I put inside added anything in texture, taste, pleasure. The same with the handful of Brazil nuts I ate after. I still don’t know if they were salted.
This weekend, then, it’s about two things. 1) A bit of a liquid diet to go easy on my digestion. 2) Learning to slow down and re-focus my brain and do things more mindfully – in small chunks of course because these things take lifetimes – but especially to be more mindful of my eating and my food.
This is where the soup comes in. When was the last time you tasted soup? Really tasted soup? All the textures, the tastes, the way it slides around your tongue, your mouth and then down your throat. It’s an intense experience if you have a good soup. It could be something as simple as leek soup with a twist of ground pepper. The bite-burn of the pepper, over the leek’s soft twang. When the leeks are puréed they are mushy – as all purée is – but there’s an interesting consistency, not thick, not thin. Almost like a thin oatmeal. Comforting.
There are lots of soups on the menu. Some homemade, some store-bought. Leek soup, Carrot and sweet potato soup, roasted vegetable soup with tahini (recipe below), tomato soup, lentil soup, zucchini soup. I’m stocked on soups.
And lemons. Got to clean out that liver.
Don’t get worried here. I’m not trying to starve myself. Though almost all of my soups are under 150 calories, I’m eating a bowl every 2 hours and keeping myself up around 1200 calories. I am allowing myself a bit of homemade focaccia bread or rice cakes as the mood strikes me.
Spiced Roasted Vegetable Soup with Tahini
based off of Babaganoush Soup by Sprint 2 the Table.
- 1 red pepper, seeded and sliced
- 100 g Eggplant sliced
- 100 g Zucchini sliced
- 3 garlic cloves
- 100 g red onion
- 1 tomato
- 2 tblspn EVOO, divided
- 1 tblspn Sesame Tahini
- 1 lemon slice
- 500mL Organic vegetable broth
And a whole lot of spices. But we’ll get to those.
First preheat your oven to 200°C. On a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper put all your veggies except the tomato. Keep the garlic in their skins. Drizzle with the olive oil. Bake for 20 minutes, turning everything halfway through. Take out of the oven when fully roasted, let cool and remove any blackened skins.
In the meantime boil your vegetable broth in a large pot, slice your tomato and add to the pot. Reduce to simmer. Add the roasted vegetables and cook for 10 minutes at a simmer so that the flavors have a chance to blend together. Add the other tablespoon of EVOO.
Then add your spices. Here are the ones I used all in ¼ or 1/8 teaspoons:
- ground cumin
- ground cinnamon
- ground ginger
- cayenne pepper
- ground nutmeg
- ground cloves
- ground black pepper
And add your tahini and lemon. Let simmer for another 5 or 10 minutes. Pour into a blender and blend until smooth. Enjoy with a bit of homemade bread. Enjoy it with mindfulness – every last drop.
Spend the day relaxing, reading, catching up on sleep. Like I’m doing with the cats. We’re all on the couch staying warm together.
I’ll be updating on my journey in Mindful Eating later on in the week. Try the experience with me. For dinner, lunch, or breakfast – or even during a snack – tomorrow turn off the TV, sit down comfortably and spend a good 20 minutes concentrating on what you’re eating. The texture, taste, smell, look. Enjoy it from all sides and experience your food.
Today is World Nutella Day. A day of chocolate hazelnut spread. A day of goodness. A day that should be celebrated by all.
I kind of stressed about what to make for World Nutella Day. There are soooooo many options but all of them seemed to be tried and true. I’m fearful of creating my own pastry recipes as I’m not a pastry chef and don’t believe – sometimes resulting in incredible fails – that pastry is a precise art.
So, let me tell you a bit about Nutella instead. It’s orginally Italian, though many people I know believe it to be French or Swiss. It’s manufactured by the Ferrero company. They also make chocolates called Ferrero Rocher and Kinder. If you’ve ever been to Germany, Switzerland or France, you’ve had a Kinder. They’re the chocolate eggs with toys in them. They have other types too, but Americans love the idea of the toy inside their chocolate.
I first had Nutella when I was an exchange student in Switzerland. My host mother set it out for me alongside a loaf of bread before she went to work. I got up, my first day in a new country and had a taste of hip-spreading goodness. And it was hip-spreading – I gained 15lbs in Switzerland.
But that’s not the point. What is important is that I learned about a wonderful and versatile dessert. Nutella can be used for all sorts of amazing recipes. Or simply enjoyed with a spoon out of the jar.
You can find all sorts of Nutella recipes on the World Nutella Day website. But let’s keep it simple. Here are some ways you can use Nutella to add that special, sweet indulgence to your dessert:
But wait: who could forget my fabulous 50k Oatmean Nutella Cookies? Not me. They were filled with chocolate, Nutella, cocoa powder, rolled oats and a multi-grain flour that gave these cookies a fabulous crunch. Make them right away.
Enjoy it in coffee or hot chocolate if you’re somewhere snowy and cold.
You can even make your own as I might be doing later – try this recipe for a bit of variation: Hazelnut and olive oil chocolate spread. If there’s anyone who knows how to make homemade Nutella it would be Juls, a Tuscan girl.
So there you have it. There’s not much more to say about Nutella except that it’s fabulous and today of all days is the day to indulge.
Happy Nutella Day!
In France, February 2nd has it’s own name: la Chandeleur, also known as Candlemas. It has to do with the Virgin Mary and Jesus and before that it supposedly had to do with asking the fertility gods to come back and bless the various barbarian tribes of Europe.
Far from being a religious celebration, the French have forgotten all about the Virgin Mary and Jesus and instead, February 2nd has become all about the food. Much like everything else in France. I think that’s what I like about the French. It’s always all about the food.
From bars and cafés to gourmet restaurants, February 2nd is where we all sit down at the table – or stand around the stove – and eat crêpes.
What can I say about crêpes that hasn’t already been said? Other than if you haven’t had one, make them immediately. They aren’t pancakes because they are too flat and thin and they aren’t pannenkoeken for kind of the same reason and because they are French. Pannenkoeken I’ve been told are encouraged to puff. It would be a crime to puff a crêpe.
There are two types of crêpes that can be served today. Sweet and savory. Both are easy to make, but require a different set of ingredients. This meant I had to make a mess of my kitchen.
Some of you out there might have plenty of space to work with. I don’t. I live in an Ikea-sized apartment. The kind you see set up as an example of small living spaces. We’re still setting up.
Anyway. First get out your crêpe pan. It’s thin, flat, and thin. My crêpe pan was inherited from the husband’s grandmother and is rather small, but that’s alright. It just means we get to layer our crêpes in the end.
Prepare your savory:
Makes 8 crêpes
- 150g Buckwheat flour
- 1 egg
- 375ml water
- ½ tsp salt
Buckwheat flour or sarrasin has an essential color, flavor and texture that is important to the savory crêpe. It’s just that much better than all purpose flour because it’s thinner and more wheaty in taste. I have no idea what to call it – wheaty seems good.
Anyway, whisk your ingredients together. Set aside.
Prepare your sweet:
Makes 8 crêpes
- 125g flour (see below)
- 30g unsalted butter, melted
- 25g – 30g sugar
- 1 egg
- 120ml water
- 120ml milk
There are other batter recipes out there, but this is the one I used and it came out lovely. A word on the flour – I used farine de fluide which supposedly exists as fluid flour in English speaking countries, but I had never seen it until I moved here. It’s very, very fine. I might see if there’s something else I can do with it other than crêpes because I have so much of it now, but anyway, if you don’t have farine de fluide, all purpose works fine.
Mix everything in a bowl, whisk together. Set aside. In the meantime, do your dishes. And prepare your toppings. People recommend letting your batter sit for an hour or two, but I let it sit for 30 minutes and it was perfectly fine.
You can put practically ANYTHING on your crêpes. Seriously. Take your pick. I’ve seen hamburger crêpes, chicken curry crêpes, cheese filled crêpes, lamb crêpes, whatever. I decided on an egg with veggies and some aged gruyère. The husband had an egg with ham.
This was my first time handling the crêpes entirely on my own. The two years previous the husband did the cooking and flipping. It was a stressful moment.
The photo is blurry, but I still thought it a neat shot.
The thing about crêpes is: for the perfect one you want the batter to be completely even on the pan, and as thin as you can possible get. You want to be able to almost see the black of the pan under your batter.
I kind of failed that so my crêpes are a little thick, but that’s alright. It just means they took longer to cook and were slightly harder to flip.
Pile your toppings on your crêpe. Make a little sandwich with the savory ones. It’s delightful.
Crêpes are designed to be enjoyed one at a time, made one at a time standing over a stove top. So it’s the type of thing you eat standing up. Enjoying a glass of cider. The husband was in charge of that. Pajamas are par for the course.
Anything goes for the sweet crêpes too. There’s the crêpe suzette which is set on fire and lots of fun. But we wanted to keep it simple. Crêpes with powdered sugar are the easiest, simplest option, but even better is Nutella.
Enjoy your February 2nd and all of your coming weekend with some crêpes and cider. On Sunday enjoy them with Nutella because the 5th is World Nutella Day. I’m still not sure what I’m doing… maybe I’ll go with what a friend suggested and just break out a big spoon.
I never thought I’d say this. Actually, I never even considered that this would be something I’d think of never saying. But here it is:
For my next birthday, I want a spice rack.
How do you turn the left into the right?
I love granola. I can eat and have eaten an entire box in 1 go. But even organic, store-bought granola is LOADED with extra sugars and extra calories and a lot of things I don’t need. So making my own granola was something I wanted to try – once I stopped obsessing over it and eating entire boxes.
That moment has come. I have turned plain rolled oats into granola. And I’m proud of it.
It’s not the most successful, but who cares. It’s mine. My own recipe and everything.
Ok, so it’s not totally my own. I took ideas from other people but the basic idea of granola seems to be do whatever you want with in reasonable granola rules of stickiness and sweetness. I can do that.
- 1 ¼ cups rolled oats
- ¼ cup whole almonds, unsalted
- 2 tablespoons tahini
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 4 dried apricots
- 5 dates
- 2 tablespoons dried cranberries
In a low baking pan, or I guess you can use a baking sheet, pour your mixture onto the pan and press to flatness. Bake for about 12 minutes.
Take the mixture out of the oven, stir in your apricots, dates and cranberries. Bake for another 8 minutes. Doesn’t it look pretty even before it’s all stirred together?
Remove from oven and let cool before eating.
According to the recipe creator on livestrong.com a ¼ cup of this had 80 calories. About half of the calorie count in the store-bought stuff. Maybe it’s not a crunchy as it could be. Maybe it’s not as well cooked or as clumpy. It’s my first batch and DAMNIT, it’s fabulous.
The tahini mixed with honey makes this granola sweet and nutty at the same time. Way better than peanut butter, because sesames have that extra lip-smacking taste to them that mix so well with dates and apricots (and now cranberries). The almonds are mild and give that extra crunch so necessary in granola.
Enjoy as a snack after an eight mile run. Or way after, since I made this at 5pm and my run was at 10am.
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.
There has been a new addition to my household. No, I’m not pregnant and I didn’t get another cat.
Sure there are fancier ones out there where you can adjust thickness and can do all sorts of fancy things that mine can’t but I still welcomed my new addition with open and excited arms. This roller is simple stainless steel, held to the counter by a C clamp and makes spaghetti, tagliatelle, and lasagna sheets – perfect for ravioli. Tonight, I made tagliatelle.
While I’ve mastered the cookie, the biscotti, almost mastered the bread dough, I have yet to master the pasta dough. No butter or sugar? No yeast? No water? Just egg and a tiny bit of olive oil? WHAT?
Je ne comprends rien.
But I had 2 eggs and flour and olive oil, so there you go.
I used 1 1/2 cups of whole wheat flour. It’s not particularly how I like my pasta, but this flour had a fine grind to it that I’ve read can be important for pasta dough.
All rolled into a little ball.
And now all rolled out.
And the roller is christened by rolling out it’s first dough into nice strips of tagliatelle.
Lots of tagliatelle.
So, what does one make with all this pasta?
Veggies! Spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes, red onion.
Blue cheese of course.
In the pan and looking like once again, I’ve made WAY too much.
Next up: Ravioli. Lots and lots of ravioli. With squash and sausage. But not at the same time.
And now let’s all give my pasta roller a hearty welcome on the step to making me have to add another 5 kilometers to my morning run.