A Few Months of Firsts

I’ve been here almost 2 and a half months and am pretty much settling into everyday life in Nice—“la vie quotidienne.”  I’m trying to take advantage of my time away from work and trying to keep myself busy, so I’ve tried a whole bunch of new things.

Knitting
I taught myself how to knit!  Mostly through online tutorials and YouTube videos.  Here’s picture of the first scarf I knitted for myself (and the link to the pattern).  I’m currently knitting a hat and scarf for Em for Christmas and I’ve added slippers for myself to my list.  I usually knit while making my way through 10 seasons of Friends and 8 seasons of Will and Grace 🙂

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Yoga
I’ve never done yoga before, not even the “sunrise yoga” during New Student Week at Northwestern or whatever.  I’m not very flexible and I don’t have spectacular balance, but I wanted to try it anyways, so I signed up for a month of Bikram Yoga.  For those of you who don’t know, Bikram Yoga is 90 minutes of yoga in 105 degree heat, and you burn 1000 calories!  I’ve seriously never sweated so much in my life.  It was intense and hard and took me a few times to get used to it, but it was one of those activities that made me feel healthy and relaxed afterwards.  It was definitely worth the 40 euros and now that I know some of the asanas (positions), I can do it at home.  I won’t be burning 1000 calories, but it will help me relax.

Running
Ok, it’s not actually my first time running, but it’s my first time training for a race other than a triathlon.  Since I went from playing ice hockey 3 times a week this summer to not playing at all since I’ve been in France, I decided I needed something to keep me active.  Running is the easiest, cheapest way to stay in shape here.  Plus, Nice is blessed with BEAUTIFUL weather (today is December 23 and it’s 60 degrees and sunny) and a gorgeous path along the Mediterranean Sea, so I can run outside most of the time.  I decided I needed a goal to actually be motivated to run everyday, so I found a half marathon in Nice this spring.  Now I’ve never run more than 4 miles at a time, so this is going to be quite a challenge.  In my training I’m up to 4.5 miles and I’ve got a few races in mind as “milestones” before the half marathon:

10K: January 6
10 mile race: February 17
HALF MARATHON: April 21

Now that that’s out there for everyone to see/read, I have to actually stick with it, right?  Wish me luck!

Raclette
One new experience that probably cancelled out several days of running was introduced to me by Melodie, a friend from hockey.  Her parents live in Nice (about 10 minutes away from me by car) and she and Andreea were in town to visit for the holidays and they invited me over for lunch.  It was so nice to see a few familiar faces 🙂

If you like cheese, you would LOVE raclette.  Traditional raclette involves heating a giant wheel of cheese and scraping off the melted part.

Wikipedia image

Wikipedia image

Our lunch was a more modern version of raclette.  Basically, raclette involves an electric table-top grill with small pans in which you heat slices of cheese.  The cheese is accompanied by platters of boiled potatoes, charcuterie (sliced prepared meats), cornichons (tiny pickles), and salad.  Once the cheese is nice and melty in the little pan, you pour it over your potatoes and meats, then pop in another slice.  At our raclette lunch, we had a peppery cheese, a plain cheese, a bleu-ish cheese, and a smoked cheese (my favorite).

Boiled potatoes in the white bowl on top of the grill, cheesy goodness under the grill :)

Boiled potatoes in the white bowl on top of the grill, cheesy goodness under the grill 🙂

Our lunch was accompanied by some very nice conversation.  Melodie and her family have lived in several different countries and her dad gave some great advice.  He said every country they’ve lived in has been different from the last (obviously), but the key is to not focus on what’s missing from the place you are now, but instead to focus on what this place has that all the others don’t.  Saudi Arabia is different from Italy is different from France is different from the US and each place has their own culture and different things to offer.  That really made me think, because I think I’ve been living the last few months with a “make the best of it” kind of attitude, which isn’t really the same thing.  My goal for the next 6 months is to discover all the things France has that the US doesn’t, instead of trying manipulate everything in France to being like the US.

French word of the day:
racler (ra-KLAY)- to scrape
Quand le fromage fond, tu dois le racler et le mettre sur les pommes de terre.
When the cheese melts, you have to scrape it off and put it on the potatoes.

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Sunday Night Dinner: Mushrooms

Ok, so I have to tell you that as I’m writing this post, I’m sitting at Emilie’s Cookies in Old Nice eating a banana Nutella cupcake and drinking hot coffee and it’s wonderful and feels just like home 🙂  I think I’ve found my new favorite hangout spot.

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This week’s secret ingredient is: MUSHROOMS– champignons de Paris to be exact (they don’t have Portobellos here, that I could find)  So I made really easy stuffed mushrooms with 2 kinds of cheese, spinach, and hazelnuts… yummmm.  Adapted from here.

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Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes

Ingredients:
8 champignons de Paris (probably equivalent to about 4 Portobellos)
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp + 2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
3 oz spinach (I used fresh spinach, but you could use frozen, too)
2 tbsp breadcrumbs
2 tbsp parmesan cheese
3 oz goat cheese
2 tbsp crushed hazelnuts (could also use walnuts)

Instructions:
1. Preheat oven to 400F (205C)
2. To prepare the mushrooms, wipe them off with a damp paper towel and remove the stems.  I scraped the gills out (because these were a bit small and I wanted to make room for the filling), but you don’t have to.

Gills in the mushroom (left), gills removed (right)

Gills in the mushroom (left), gills removed (right)

3. Whisk together the balsamic vinegar, 2 tbsp olive oil, salt, and pepper.
4. Toss the mushrooms in the oil and vinegar mixture, place on a cookie sheet, and roast for about 10 minutes.  Cool to room temperature.

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5. While the mushrooms are cooling, saute the onion and garlic in the remaining 2 tbsp of olive oil.  Add the spinach and some salt and cook until the spinach is wilted.

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6. In another pan, roast crushed hazelnuts for 3-4 minutes.
7. In a bowl, mix together goat cheese, parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs, the spinach and onion mixture, and the hazelnuts.

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8. Scoop about 1 tbsp of filling into each mushroom cap.
9. Bake for another 5-7 minutes.

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10. Serve hot with spaghetti and pesto.

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I was doubtful that this would turn out well because I was originally expecting to use Portobello mushrooms, but it was delicious!  I LOVE goat cheese, and the hazelnuts gave it some very nice texture.  The 8 small mushrooms gave me 2 servings.  Also, it’s ANOTHER vegetarian recipe 🙂

French word for today:
colis (ko-LEE)- parcel, package
On fête Noël dans 7 jours– j’ai reçu plusieurs colis cette semaine, mais j’en ai aussi envoyé plusieurs !
We celebrate Christmas in 7 days– I’ve received several packages this week, but I’ve also sent several!

Sunday Night Dinner: Ratatouille

I can’t believe I’ve never made ratatouille before, especially after living with so many vegetarians last year (and this recipe is vegan)!  It’s seriously SO easy and SO delicious.  All you do is chop up a bunch of vegetables, throw them in a pot, and let them do their thing while you blog/do laundry/knit/Facebook.  Also, it’s the perfect meal for this time of year—a nice hot bowl of ratatouille, a crusty baguette, a warm blanket, and a book.  Sounds perfect 🙂

There’s also something comforting about this meal for me, which is weird because I’ve never had ratatouille before.  I have to say though that recently I’ve started to feel things kind of “click” here. Maybe I’ve just been in a good mood lately, but I’m finally feeling like I’m starting to establish myself the teensiest bit in Nice (but I don’t want to jinx it!).  I can get around without using a map, I’ve got friends to go out with, and I’m starting to think about the things I want to do when my parents come in December and Emily comes in March.  And the feeling all started this week with ratatouille, so I can tell this is going to become a comfort meal for me.

There’s not one “secret” ingredient this week, since I got all my vegetables at the market!

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Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 35 minutes

Ingredients:
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion
2 cloves garlic
1 small eggplant
2 zucchinis
2 tomatoes
1 large green bell pepper
2-3 tsp herbes de provence (OR 2-3 tsp Italian seasoning OR 1 tsp dried basil + 1/2 tsp dried oregano + 1/2 tsp dried thyme + 1/2 tsp dried rosemary)
Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:
1. Quarter and thinly slice the onion; mince the garlic; cube the eggplant and zucchini– try to make the sizes of the cubes as uniform as possible; remove the seeds from the tomatoes and roughly chop; roughly chop the bell pepper.

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2. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large pot or Dutch oven.

3. Add the onions and garlic and cook, stirring often, until the onions are soft, about 6-7 minutes.
4. Add the eggplant and stir to coat with olive oil.
5. Add the zucchini and peppers, stir.

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6. Cover and cook about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep vegetables from sticking.

7. Add the tomatoes, herbs, salt, and pepper.

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8. Cover and cook over low heat for about 20 minutes.  The eggplant should be tender but not too soft.
9. Serve hot.

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This recipe made 2 servings (but I went back for seconds both times!)  Also, make sure you have a nice crusty baguette for afterwards to soak up all the juices.  Bon Appetit!

French word of the day:
comprimé (KO-pree-may)- pill, tablet
Il prend un comprimé contre le mal de tête.
He takes a pill for his headache.

Winter Activities

Even though it’s about 55 degrees and sunny everyday here, I’m still finding opportunities to do winter activities.

With the beach and the palm trees and the absence of snow, it’s hard to get into the Christmas spirit, but decorating my apartment has helped 🙂  I just got a little 3 foot tall artificial tree from the store, and a few decorations.  As a little craft project, I decorated my own ornaments!

My little Christmas tree

My little Christmas tree

Window clings

Window clings

Last week, I went to the Christmas market with some of my new friends.  It’s pretty big and impressive for such a small city like Nice.  There’s a small outdoor skating rink, a huge Ferris wheel, and a bunch of booths where vendors are selling everything from art to cheese to churros to toys.  Plus, there are beautiful lights all over the city!

Christmas tree made of little Christmas trees

Christmas tree made of little Christmas trees

Lights over the Christmas market

Lights over the Christmas market

One of the booths at the Christmas market, and a light show on the building behind it!

One of the booths at the Christmas market, and a light show on the building behind it!

Me on the Ferris wheel :)

Me on the Ferris wheel 🙂

A view of the square from the Ferris wheel

A view of the square from the Ferris wheel

I’ve been missing hockey a LOT, both playing and watching (but I guess I’m not missing much back in the US since the NHL is still locked out).  So when I found out there’s a French hockey league (and a team in Nice– the Eagles), going to a hockey game moved to the top of my list.  I went last night with my friend Donna (she’s Canadian, so she loves hockey too!)  They played Toulouse and Nice won 3-2!  It was much, much, MUCH smaller than any professional or semi-professional hockey game I’ve been to in the US—the rink was probably about as big and as full as a high school rink.  But it was still fun!  We were sitting behind some guys who were leading the cheering and had brought a big drum.  And it was only 6 euros to get in!  I’m definitely going to go again!

GO NICE AIGLES!

ALLEZ NICE AIGLES!

Me and Donna

Me and Donna

They won!

They won!

Finally, there was some talk at our expat coffee this morning of a ski trip… so stay tuned for that 🙂

French word of the day:
pantoufle (pahn-TOOFL)- slipper
Quand il fait froid, je me mets mes pantoufles.
When it’s cold, I put on my slippers.

Sunday Night Dinner: Butternut Squash

I LOVE butternut squash, and since I couldn’t have pumpkin for Thanksgiving, I decided to do my SND this week with butternut squash since it’s the next closest thing.

Squash in French is “courge,” and this one is a beauty!

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This week’s recipe: butternut squash ravioli with brown butter sage sauce.  Now, you can make this recipe using wonton wrappers for the ravioli, but I couldn’t find wonton wrappers at the store, so I made my own ravioli!  It wasn’t pretty but it was pretty tasty 🙂

Ingredients:
For Ravioi:
2 c flour
3 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp olive oil

For Squash Filling:
1 small butternut squash
2 tsp butter
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 c parmesan cheese
1 egg white

For sauce:
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp fresh sage (I used dried)
salt and pepper

Instructions:
If you’re using wonton wrappers, skip these directions.  To make the ravioli:

1. Mound the flour in a bowl or on a clean workspace.  Create a well in the middle with a fork.
2. Crack the eggs into the well, add the oil and salt

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3. Using a fork, beat the eggs and slowly incorporate the flour by pulling it in from the sides of the well. As you continue to pull more flour and mix, the dough will start coming together.

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4. Using your hands, work the dough until it comes together (add more flour if it is sticky, add a few splashes of water if it is too dry).  Knead the dough for 8-10 minutes until smooth and elastic. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and set aside for 20 minutes or so.

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5. After 20 minutes, unwrap the dough and divide it in quarters.
6. Roll out one quarter of the dough until it is very thin (Note: this is easiest with a pasta machine, but it can also be done with a rolling pin– I have neither of those.  Luckily, I live in France and wine bottles are readily available!)

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7. Cut dough into squares that are approximately 3 inches by 3 inches.

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8. Repeat for each quarter of dough.
*** A few things to note: whatever dough you’re not working with at the moment should be wrapped or covered so it doesn’t dry out.  Also, if you’re stacking the pasta squares, dust each one lightly with cornstarch or flour so they don’t stick together.

For the squash filling:
1. Preheat oven to 350F (175C).
2. Place the squash cut side up on a baking sheet. Place 1 tsp butter in the hollow of each half. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover the squash with a sheet of aluminum foil tucking in the edges.

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3. Bake squash for 45-60 minutes, or until tender and easily pierced with a fork.
4. Scoop the cooked squash into a bowl and mash until smooth.
5. Mix in the nutmeg, cinnamon, and Parmesan cheese until well blended. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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To assemble ravioli:
1. Place a wonton wrapper or pasta square on a clean, flat surface.
2. Brush edges with a lightly beaten egg white.
3. Place about 1 tablespoon of the squash mixture in the middle of the square.

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4. Fold over the square either corner to corner or edge to edge.  Crimp with a fork.

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5. Repeat with remaining wonton wrappers/pasta squares until all the squash mixture has been used.

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6. Fill a pot with salted water, bring to a boil.
7. Drop the ravioli into the boiling water and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, or until tender. The raviolis will float to the top when they’re done. Remove, drain, and keep warm until sauce is prepared.

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For the sauce:
1. Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat.
2. Stir in the sage.
3. Continue to cook and stir until the sage is crispy but not browned. Add salt and pepper to taste.

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And this is how it turned out!

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This recipe made 22 large raviolis, and I froze half of them to eat another time.  I actually wasn’t a fan of the brown butter sage sauce.  Last night (Monday) when I had my leftover ravioli, I actually just made a quick creamy bechamel sauce and added some emmental cheese, sage, salt, and pepper and I liked that a LOT better.

Bon appetit!

Today’s French word is:
être bénévole (et-RUH bay-nay-VULL)- to volunteer
Est-ce qu’être bénévole t’interessérait?
Would you be interested in volunteering?

Fun in the Sun

The weather this week was REALLY crappy.  Rain, all day, every day, and that’s not an exaggeration. With no sunshine and little motivation to leave my apartment and brave the endless rain, this week left me feeling a little down in the dumps.  So yesterday, when the sun finally came out, I decided to take full advantage of it with an adventure to la colline du Chateau.

La colline du Chateau (Castle Hill) is considered to be the birthplace of the town of Nice.  Long ago it was called Nikaia by the Greeks, who set up a trading post near the coast in the 3rd century BC, but it was later occupied by the Celtic Ligurians and then conquered by the Romans.  The defense system that had been built up to protect the castle and the lower part of the town (Old Nice) was dismantled in 1706 by Louis XIV and converted to a park at the end of the 19th century.  Today, although the Chateau no longer exists, the park is a beautiful attraction and the site of the highest altitude in Nice at 92 meters above sea level.

Ruins of the Chateau

Ruins of the Chateau

It’s not hard to get to the bottom of the hill, but then you have to take either the Ascenseur du Chateau (elevator) or 213 stairs to get up to the park.  I decided I could use the workout, so I took the stairs.  There’s a lot to see at the top of the hill around the park.

The elevator is through the doorway, while the stairs run above it

The elevator is through the doorway, while the stairs run above it

An artist selling his surrealist paintings on the stairs

An artist selling his surrealist paintings on the stairs

The Chateau cemetery holds family tombs dating back to the early 1800’s, and the cemetery is separated into Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant sections.  The tombs are absolutely gorgeous and well cared for, and most hold flowers, fresh from La Toussaint a few weeks ago.  It’s a nice, quiet refuge from the hustle and bustle of Nice, especially around this time of year.

Chateau cemetery

Chateau cemetery

As you keep walking up the hill, the view gets better and better.

Gorgeous

Gorgeous

Snow in the mountains!

Snow in the mountains!

All along the way there was a ton of mosaic artwork on the walls and on the ground.  Most of it was Roman-themed (I’m assuming), with some weird sea creatures, ships, and gods.

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Cool artwork

At the very top is the park, which has a few cute cafés and brasseries, a playground, and some boutiques and souvenir shops.

My mid-afternoon snack :)

My mid-afternoon snack 🙂

It attracts people of all ages.  I even saw some kids around my age slacklining (but I didn’t have the guts to go say hi…)

Slacklining (walking on a rope between two trees)

Slacklining (walking on a rope between two trees)

Here’s a few more pictures.  It was a beautiful afternoon 🙂

A view of the whole city

A view of the whole city

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The coast

The port in Nice

The port in Nice

The lighthouse

The lighthouse

Me :)

Me 🙂

When I got home, I decided to keep the good feeling going and do one of my favorite things: BAKE!  I haven’t done any baking since I got to France, but since I’ve pretty much mastered the use of my convection oven and finally bought all the typical baking ingredients and hardware, I figured I’d give it a shot.  I made what I like to call “loaded banana bread” with bananas, applesauce, toasted hazelnuts, chocolate chips, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger.  Here’s the recipe (adapted from here)!

Ingredients:
2 c (220 g)  flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
4 overripe bananas
2 eggs
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 c (115 g) apple sauce
3/4 c (170 g) sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ginger
1 c (80 g) hazelnuts
1+ c (100 g) chocolate chips

Instructions:
1) Preheat oven to 350F (180C)
2) In a large bowl, mix the dry (first four) ingredients together and set aside.
3) In another bowl, mash the bananas with the oil and applesauce.
4) Mix in the eggs and then sugar, vanilla, and spices (by hand).
5) Slowly incorporate the flour mixture.
6) Toast the hazelnuts in a skillet for 4-5 minutes or until they smell nice and nutty 🙂
7) Fold hazelnuts and chocolate chips into batter.
8) Grease and flour two 9×5 inch loaf pans (or I just used one large round cake pan).
9) Bake for 40-60 minutes or until a knife comes out clean from the center.

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Yummmm (Dianne, this is for you)

Yummmm (Dianne, this is for you)

Can’t forget our French word for today!
grande roue (grahn DROO)- ferris wheel
Il y a une grande roue et une patinoire à la place, près du marché du Noël!
There’s a ferris wheel and an ice rink in the square, near the Christmas market!