Sunday, March 29, 2015

Baking from scratch isn't always necessary

At home, I never use a box mix to bake something.... it just doesn't feel like baking. It feels like cheating. It's not from "scratch", and you can definitely taste the difference. Yes, I'm a bit of a baking snob. So for me, if I don't have the time to bake from scratch, I just use that as an excuse to go visit one of my favorite local bakers!

Here in France I'm living in the dorms at school and using a community kitchen for some of my baking escapades. It's rather challenging for SO many reasons - for instance, we only have one mixing bowl in the entire kitchen. Sometimes there are no spoons. There is no electric mixer or hand mixer. There's no hot water from the tap, so if hot water is needed, it has to be boiled. There is an oven, sort of.... it's actually a miniature countertop oven, or an over-sized toaster oven. Although originally I thought I would not be able to bake here, with a little creativity I've been able to make it work, and I've discovered that a standard size pie plate just fits!

This week I was having a chocolate craving and a longing for some time in the kitchen, but I wasn't up for the challenges of international baking, so I indulged in a box mix..... and it was GOOD! I was pretty skeptical when I saw the paper baking pan that came in the box, which was in two pieces and required some assembly, but amazingly it worked great. One bowl, some water, and a couple of eggs was all I needed. Quick and easy.... and delicious!

A few days later I was still (or yet again) craving chocolate, and remembered a recipe I'd found for some chocolate cookies. I use that word loosely because they turned out more like chocolate truffles or bonbons, rather than a traditional cookie.They are Brazilian Brigadeiro, and with only three ingredients and no actual baking, they were SUPER easy, and perfect for my kitchen situation.

Plain sugar for some, Speculoos cookie crumbs for the others

So, I'm learning to admit my prejudices against boxed baking mixes, and am letting go of some of my preconceived notions about baking. I am embracing the convenience of boxed mixes, and "baking" cookies that don't actually require baking. And through this process I am experiencing a little more freedom and a lot more goodness in my life!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Finding Beauty Around Every Corner

After a very busy and hard couple of weeks, I recently found myself with an unexpected free afternoon and I decided I needed to go explore somewhere new to gain some fresh perspective. So, within an hour I was boarding the train and headed to the village of Maintenon.

Random side note: When I arrived at the train station I found out that the train was free all weekend because of the high levels of air pollution. Evidently, when the pollution gets too bad, they make public transportation free to encourage people not to drive. This was a pleasant surprise and nice way to start my excursion!

I arrived in Maintenon and realized I had no idea which direction the village was, nor where the château was. I was so excited to get out and explore, and I guess I'm comfortable enough with traveling, that I just hopped on the train and knew I'd figure things out once I arrived.  The train station was out in the country, with just a few buildings around, and there were two roads leading away from the station, so I just started walking down one of them. Along the way I stopped someone on the street to ask for directions and was pleasantly surprised to find I was heading in the right direction, and it was only a short walk before I arrived in town. The village was exactly what I had imagined a traditional French village would look like before I ever came to France, and I was awestruck by the unique beauty that surprised me around every corner.


I made my way to the château of Maintenon and enjoyed a stroll through the nearly empty gardens, which is a rare luxury at most monuments and museums here in France. There is an ancient aqueduct that runs through the village that was truly awesome, and there were many canals running through the village and surrounding the château that felt very peaceful and romantic.

Look closely at the view through the arch and you'll see the aqueduct!

After thoroughly exploring the chateau both inside and out, I stopped for a cup of tea and a pastry at a little brasserie and enjoyed some people-watching.

It was such a rewarding excursion - exploring a new village, being surrounded by beauty, realizing that I actually can speak some French, and having some time to reflect and remember why I made this crazy decision to move to a foreign country.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Shopping in the Suburbs

This weekend I had the opportunity to go to IKEA with a couple of friends. Yes, I consider it an opportunity here because it requires someone to have a car and be willing to drive in the chaos of Paris. The first IKEA we went to was a fake IKEA - it only had kitchen and bathroom stuff, so we set out to find a real  IKEA and on our way we happened upon a little outlet mall so stopped to do some shopping. 

Confession: At home, I scorn the suburbs, as I prefer the mountains, the country, the beach or the city..... really anything but the 'burbs.  In France I am living in a small village and I visit Paris from time to time, which is perfect for me. So this weekend, when I found myself in the suburbs of Paris, I was shocked to find that I felt very comfortable and almost a sense of "home".  Maybe the truth is, I'm much more of a suburbia girl than I care to admit?
I spent my shopping time in a shoe store because shoes make my heart happy! I remember when I was a young teenager telling my mom that when I walked into a store I could hear certain shoes calling my name. She thought I was crazy, and you probably do to, but it's true.... there are some shoes that just speak to me, and it's nearly impossible to walk away without taking them with me. On this occasion I took lots of pictures, and only brought home one new pair of shoes. Here are some that knew my name and made my heart smile, but I had to leave them at the store, for now.

When I packed my bags to move to France, I agonized over which shoes to bring with me, and I ended up bringing only eight pairs.... which means I put nearly thirty pairs of shoes in storage and giving away more than ten pairs. I consoled myself with a promise that I could buy four new pairs while I'm here (one for each season, of course!) Ok, so I might have a bit of a shoe addiction.... but alas, every gypsy needs a good pair of traveling shoes!

I don't have a picture of my new shoes, but I'm sure you'll see them on my feet in future posts!

Sunday, March 1, 2015


When I first started thinking about moving to France, I thought I would like to live in Aix-en-Provence. I didn't really know anything about France, but I had heard stories about the beauty and tranquility that can be found in the South. However, as things progressed, my opportunity to live in France landed me in the forest just outside of Paris. It is beautiful here, and I am grateful for this experience, but last weekend I finally had the chance to travel south and see what I had dreamt about for years.... Aix-en-Provence.

It was everything I had imagined and then some! The weather was warm and sunny. The people were kind and generous. The atmosphere was calm and relaxed, and I had time to simply enjoy all of these things.

As a true foodie, I managed to eat my way around the city, doing plenty of sightseeing along the way. My first morning I found a delightful patisserie that was very reminiscent of a Denver coffee shop, and it was just a few steps away from my hotel, so this became my morning hangout. The baristas were friendly, the pastries were delicious and it was a great atmosphere for some quiet morning reflections.

The best almond croissant I've ever had!
 I was fascinated by the creativity of the various flower and herb gardens I saw around the city. I'm definitely copying this when I have a place to call my own again.

Creative gardening
Before I went down to Aix, I was connected with several "friends-of-friends". One of the best surprises was the couple who own a delicious shwarma shop - La Goullette. I was told by a friend to stop by and order a specific sandwich that's named after him. I assumed I'd get a good sandwich, but I also made new friends. After lunch, they insisted that I stay for tea, and then they joined me every day for some sightseeing and each afternoon we did a little language exchange conversation - French, Arabic and English.

Tunisian mint tea
Aix is known for it's many open-air markets. There is one that supposedly has been open every single day for the past 700 years!! And don't even think about trying to get a spot to sell your wares, as they are handed down amongst family from one generation to the next.
Cheese, cheese and more cheese!
One of the many things I love about France are the plates du fromage et charcuterie. After a day of tasting my way around the city, I wasn't really hungry for dinner, but needed to eat something.  This was the perfect conclusion to the day.

Cheese, meat, salad, bread and wine - the perfect dinner
After all of the grey days this winter, it was wonderful to be in the warm sunshine and surrounded by rainbows of color at the flower markets. I was so tempted to by myself some fresh flowers, but I decided they wouldn't travel well.

This reminded me of Seattle's Pikes Place Market
Aix has so many beautiful fountains. You can find one in nearly every square and intersection. Some were funny sculptures with water shooting out, others where serious pillars of granite with cascades of water, but this one caught my eye.... It was a big ball of ferns and moss with this sweet little spurt of water bubbling up from the inside and quietly dripping down the sides.

The food in France is delicious, but one thing I've missed has been the organic, local, vegetarian, natural food scene from Denver and Boulder. So maybe in addition to being a foodie I'm also a little bit of a hippy.... Anyway, one of my new friends in Aix recommended this delightful epicerie - the woman buys her ingredients at the market each morning and then creates beautiful meals that are organic, vegetarian, gluten-free, and so good! I arrived late in the afternoon and these were her "left-overs" from the day. 
Sweet potato quiche, lentils, herb potatoes, and a beet, carrot salad
 I am so thankful that I hired a guide (yet another friend of a friend) to do a walking tour of the city. We spent two hours roaming all over the medieval parts of the city and I learned so much history and saw things I never would have found on my own. When we finished the tour we stopped for tea and pastries just as the sky opened up and poured down rain. It rained for the rest of the afternoon, so I took the opportunity to check out one of the museums.
The wind and rain at one of the markets
On my way out of town I made one last stop for one more crepe from this amazing little crepe stand that can be found under ground at the edge of this fountain.

All of the people who said I would love Aix were right - this city has captured a little piece of my heart and resonated with my soul. I felt at home here. It is a beautiful, interesting city where nobody seemed to be in a hurry, but instead everyone seemed to be intentionally enjoying life.... or maybe this was simply me projecting my personal joy and contentment onto my surroundings. Whatever the case may be, I am grateful for this adventure and the beauty I experienced.