Monday, November 30, 2009

la pouëze

This is the name of the village where I am living. It's not a very pretty name and it's not a particularly charming village. It was once known for its slate quarry (best in the nation!) but now that the quarry is closed, the village has lost a lot of its life. La Pouëze is about 25kms from the city of Angers and it has a population of about 1700, most of whom commute to the city for work. An old-timer told me the other day that there used to be 24 cafés here and now there is only one. While the village is not all that lovely, it is in the countryside and there are lots of fields, country paths and woods to explore. My personal favourite is the small wooded park behind the château; it's where I go running when it's not too wet out.

We will likely be moving in the near future, depending on where I find work. The thing is, now that I've settled in here and we've set up the apartment so that it works for us, I'm starting to get attached to this place!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

bran & pumpkin spice muffins

Here is the recipe that I tried out for the first time today. It's from The Best Life Diet by Bob Greene. There is barely any oil and very little sugar, but they are very tasty.

bran & pumpkin spice muffins
1 1/2 cups bran
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp boiling water
3/4 cup pumpkin
2 eggs
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp milk
1/4 cup honey (I used brown sugar)
1/4 cup sugar
2 Tbsp canola oil
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 Tbsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1/8 tsp cloves (I added a little all-spice, for kicks)
chopped walnuts for topping (I used chopped almonds)

Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C) and grease muffin tins (makes 12+ muffins).

Mix bran, water and pumpkin in a medium bowl and let sit for a few minutes. In another bowl, whisk eggs, milk, honey, sugar and oil. Combine egg mixture with bran mixture and stir until smooth. Mix in the flours, baking soda, salt and spices. Stir until the dry ingredients are moistened. Spoon the batter into the muffin tins, sprinkle with chopped nuts, and bake for about 20 minutes, or until the tops are brown and a toothpick comes out clean.

rainy saturday

It was a typical November day today; the kind of rainy day when you don't really feel like heading outside. Luckily for me, I had already signed up for a morning yoga class, so I had an excuse to get out of the house (otherwise I'm sure I could've easily spent the day in my pyjamas!). After yoga, Jean-Marc and I checked out the Saturday morning market and stocked up on lots of fruit and veggies. The selection and prices at the market are a million times better than at the supermarket and I was able to find things, like cilantro and jalapeno peppers, that I was starting to lose hope on finding. After the market, we went out for a little lunch on our tickets restaurant, which are like gift certificates, given by employers as a perk, that can be used to pay for meals in a restaurant or for anything 'fresh' in the grocery store (fruit, veg, butter, cheese, meat, bread etc.). We then made a little trip to the organic store for more pantry items and headed back in the rain to our cozy apartment. As soon we got back I felt like baking something, both to warm up the apartment and to have something tasty on hand for the week. We still had a pumpkin from Jean-Marc's dad's garden, so I thought I'd make some muffins that I had seen in a book. Yum! I will include the the recipe separately.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

my favourite lemon loaf

There were a few sad looking lemons in the house so I decided to make my favourite lemon loaf. I originally got this recipe from a magazine (can't remember which one) where it was listed as a lemon blueberry loaf. I left out the blueberries one time and have been making it that way ever since. This time I added 1 tablespoon of poppy seeds, just for kicks. When I haven't had any lemons around, I've successfully made it with oranges.

The French refer to anything in the form of a loaf (savory or sweet) as a "cake" (pronounced "kék") so this is my "cake au citron."

lemon loaf
1/3 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
grated lemon rind of 1 lemon
1 Tbsp poppy seeds (optional)

for the glaze
juice of one lemon (or maybe two)
1/3 cup sugar


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Grease and flour a loaf pan (mine is 4.5 x 12 inches).

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time.

In a small bowl, mix flour, baking powder, salt and lemon rind.

Add the dry ingredients and milk to the butter/sugar/egg mix, alternating between dry and milk, ending with dry. Pour into the loaf pan and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the top is golden and a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean. (The original recipe gave a cooking time of 55-60 minutes. My oven doesn't indicate temperature, it just gives the numbers from 1-9, so maybe it runs hotter than I'm assuming. At any rate, my loaf was done - and maybe a little overdone - after 40 minutes.)

Once the loaf comes out of the oven, heat the sugar and lemon juice for the glaze in a pan. Once the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is bubbly, pierce the loaf with a toothpick or knife all over and pour the glaze over the whole loaf. Let sit for a while before inverting onto a plate.


When I was here earlier this year I found a yoga studio that I wanted to try out but, since I was on such a tight budget, I never got the chance to check it out. Now that I'm back, I have decided that it's worth the cost to get out, exercise and meet new people. Last week I went for my first class and yesterday I had my second class. It felt so good! Not only did I get to exercise and reap the mental benefits of yoga, I got to practise with other people who speak this same language. It's kind of like music; regardless of what language you speak, if you can play/sing music together with others, you can communicate and build community. (the photo is of the front entrance to the studio and taken from the website:  )

Monday, November 23, 2009

making cards

Today I tackled a little chore that has been on my "to do" list for a while now: making greeting cards. I used to do this a lot in the past and have somehow fallen out of the routine or habit. I got Jean-Marc to print out some of his photos in a small format and then I cut them out and glued them to some paper. Not exactly super creative on my part, but at least it is something personal from both of us. All this cutting and pasting has me realizing how much I enjoy this kind of manual work. When I was a design assistant I quite often made spec boards, which showed all the chosen materials, paint colours, finishes and hardware on one board. I had a lot of fun putting those together and I even got extra work from other designers doing the same thing. As for my cards today, some of them are already destined for specific people and others are just waiting for an occasion.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

lemon oatmeal poppy seed scones

Yesterday I went to the Bio-Coop to pick up some things that are hard to find in regular French grocery stores: bran, bulk almonds, wheat germ and whole wheat bread. I saw some poppy seeds and couldn't resist buying them. I've never bought or cooked with them before but somehow I was drawn to get them and bake delicious things. Maybe I was craving something from back home. There is a bagel bakery in Vancouver, called Solly's Bagels, that makes the most delicious oatmeal poppy seed cookies, but after searching the internet I found no recipes that fit that description. I did, however, find this scone recipe. The original recipe seemed a little big, so I halved it and came out with 8 good-sized scones. All I can add is "yum!"

lemon oatmeal poppy seed scones
1 cup oat flour  (I just used oats and ground them with a hand mixer)
1 1/2 cups flour (I used half all-purpose, half whole wheat)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
grated lemon zest
1 Tbsp poppy seeds
1/3 cup buttermilk (I used regular milk with a little lemon juice)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).

In a large bowl, stir together the oat flour, flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, lemon zest and poppy seeds. Cut in butter until the lumps are smaller than peas. Make a well in the center and pour in the buttermilk. Stir just until the dry ingredients are moistened.

Pat dough into a 1 inch thick circle. Cut circle into 8 wedges like a pie. Place pieces onto a baking sheet, and brush the tops with melted butter and sprinkle with a little sugar.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes in the preheated oven, until lightly browned. (I ended up baking mine for closer to 30 minutes because I like them a little more toasted.)

my arrival in France

I arrived in France with my "visa de long séjour" just three weeks ago. My flight landed in Paris at around 9am and my husband Jean-Marc was there to pick me and my luggage up. Most of my stuff was already in France because I had sent it earlier in the year when I came to look for a job, but I still had two big suitcases full.

It was quite an exercise to go through my things - the stuff of life that I collected over the years - and decide what I wanted to keep and what I could part with. The truth is that in the past I was fairly attached to my things, but, through a series of big changes in my life, I learned to not identify with my material possessions and found that it is easy to let go. More stuff will come into my life and I know I will come across other amazing finds over time.

Now that I'm settled in, have unpacked my pots and pans and my few remaining possessions, I am feeling like I am home. I'm looking for work and slowly accumulating information that I need in order to be completely set up in France. The journey is exciting, sometimes frustrating, and always full of new experiences. The best part about it is that I'm sharing my life with an amazing person: Jean-Marc.