Sunday Night Dinner: Asparagus

Spring has sprung!  Or at least most days it has.  The weather the last few weeks has been on-again-off-again rain, but when it’s not raining, it’s usually a beautiful 60F and sunny.  Sometimes I even take my lunch to the park in Cimiez, or to the beach with Isabelle and Caitlin 🙂

Anyways, spring is here and spring fruits and veggies are in season!  This week I decided to go with asparagus (les asperges, in French) in a pasta dish, since my half-marathon training is getting more intense (finished a 7-mile run yesterday)!  This super easy recipe is straight from here.  It also give some really good suggestions for variations, depending on what veggies are in season.

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 Penne with Roasted Asparagus and Balsamic Butter

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes

Ingredients:
½ pound asparagus
1 tbsp olive oil
¼ tsp + 3/4 tsp salt
¼ tsp + ¼ tsp fresh-ground black pepper
5 tbsp balsamic vinegar
½ tsp brown sugar
½ pound penne
4 tbsp butter, cut into pieces
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

Instructions:

1. Heat the oven to 400F (205C). Snap the tough ends off the asparagus and discard them. Cut the spears into 1-inch pieces.

2. Put the asparagus on a baking sheet and toss with the olive oil, ¼ tsp salt, and ¼ tsp pepper. Roast until tender, about 10 minutes.

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3. Meanwhile, put the vinegar in a small saucepan. Simmer until the vinegar is thick/syrup-y and about 2 tablespoons remain.

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4. Stir in the brown sugar and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Remove from the heat.

5. Cook the penne in a large pot of boiling, salted water until just done.

6. Drain the pasta and toss with the butter, balsamic vinegar reduction, roasted asparagus, Parmesan, and the remaining ¾ teaspoons salt. Serve with additional Parmesan.

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Serves 2, but can easily be doubled to serve more!  I ate it as my main dish with a few slices of bread, but it would make a great side, too (maybe to a delicious steak)!

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French word today:
bleu (bluh)– bruise
Après avoir fait du snowboard, j’étais couverte de bleus.
After snowboarding, I was covered in bruises.

A Day in the Alps (and a few days of recovery)

I’ve never been skiing or snowboarding in my life, but I’m currently living in southern France, right next to the Alps, so I thought “why not?”  I turned it into a (sort of) social event by inviting some people I’d met in Nice who’d expressed interest in skiing or snowboarding, so I wasn’t actually going alone.  After going back and forth in my head between skiing and snowboarding, I finally chose snowboarding.  I’d heard that snowboarding is harder, but I was hoping that my experience with edges on hockey skates would help me feel a little bit more comfortable with the edges on a snowboard.

Nice operates a “100% Neige” bus that goes from the main train station in Nice to one of the ski parks in the mountains for just 8 euros round trip, and it only takes about an hour and a half!  The ride is a straight shot north and is absolutely gorgeous!  The roads wind between mountains and along little streams and rivers, and eventually you can see the snow at the top of the mountains.  Then the bus stops going north and starts going up, winding back and forth until you’re actually driving through the snow.

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View from the bus

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View from the bus

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View from the bus

SNOW!

SNOW!

When we got to the park, we picked up our gear, got suited up, bought our day passes, and signed up for a lesson.  Then we took the téléphérique (an aerial tramway, of sorts) up to the “beginners” hills to meet our instructor.  He was nice, but seemed less than enthused to be teaching two beginning snowboarders.  The lesson was all in French, but that wasn’t the hard part.  It was exhausting because we would take turns sliding about 10 meters down the bank on our board with both feet strapped in, unstrap one foot at the bottom, and then drag our board back up to the top and strap ourselves back in.  Thank goodness there were two of us because a solo lesson would’ve been impossible!

My cool snowboard...

My cool snowboard…

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View from the téléphérique

When the lesson was over, the instructor taught us how to use the J-bar lift, a surface lift that pulls individual skiers/snowboarders up a hill while they hold onto a pole, as opposed to sitting on a chairlift.  When I finally got up to the top of the baby hill (it took a few shaky tries), the only thing left to do was go down, which proved harder than it looks.  You always see these snowboarders just coasting along downhill.  Believe me, it is NOT that easy.  I fell like 6 times (really hard!) on my back and my knees on the first trip down the mountain.  I kept trying to use my board edges like the instructor said, but I could feel myself over-rotating and then I would catch an edge and wipe out.  We went up again and half way down the second run I decided to give up on the edges.  I kept my board straight and went down at what I felt like was a pretty fast pace (it wasn’t…) and managed to stop myself by half turning my board/half falling.  I decided to try a third time and managed to stay standing for most of the run, which I was satisfied with, I guess.

View from the top of the "hill" we were going down

View from the top of the “hill” we were going down

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Learning how to snowboard is a lot like learning how to skate in hockey skates.  First, you have to be going fast to use the edges of your board or skates.  It took me years to be able to go fast on hockey skates, so no doubt it would take me years to feel comfortable on a snowboard.  Second, you have to be going fast to learn how to stop, but no one wants to go fast until they know how to stop.  It’s a vicious cycle, but I think it’s easier on hockey skates, since we have so much more padding.

All in all, it was a great day.  The sun was shining (I even got a little sunburned), the sky was blue, the air wasn’t filled with smoke (like it is in the city).  But next time, I’ll try skiing instead.  The next morning when I woke up, I could feel every muscle in my body and I had some nasty bruises on my tailbone and my knees.  I have a new respect for mountain sports people!  It was freaking hard, but I can’t wait to try again 🙂

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French word for today:
ventouse (ven-TOOZ)– suction cup/sucker
Les tentacules du poulpe sont garnies de ventouses.
Octopus’ tentacles are lined with suction cups.

Sunday Night Dinner: Fennel

I’ve never had fennel (le fenouil in French) before and really didn’t know what to expect when I picked a bulb up at the market.  Raw fennel has an anise-y scent and flavor, but when you caramelize it the fennel becomes mellow and delicious 🙂  I have a bunch of cans of chick peas in my cupboard, so here’s what I found, adapted from here.

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A little bit funny-lookin’

Citrus Couscous with Fennel, Chickpeas, and Olives

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:
1 large fennel bulb
2 + 1 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin (the original recipe calls for coriander, but I don’t have any)
1 1/2 cups (or 1 15-ounce can) cooked and drained chickpeas
12 black olives, halved and pitted
Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
Zest and juice of 1 orange
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup instant couscous

Instructions:

1. Trim fennel and cut into 1/4-inch thick wedges.

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2. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add fennel and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and caramelized, about 15-20 minutes.

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3. Add cumin, chickpeas, olives, and lemon juice to pan and stir to combine. Continue to cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally.

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4. While the fennel and chickpeas are cooking, juice the orange into a liquid measuring cup and top off with water to make 1 1/2 cups of liquid.

5. Add liquid to a small saucepan along with 1 tablespoon olive oil, orange zest, lemon zest, and salt. Bring to a boil.

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6. Stir in couscous, cover, remove from heat, and let stand for at least 5 minutes.

7. To serve, fluff couscous grains with a fork and spread on a dish. Spoon chickpeas and fennel over couscous.

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This recipe is good for Friday nights during Lent– no meat, but the chickpeas add a little bit of protein.  Alternatively, serve alongside a (perhaps) Middle Eastern style meat dish.  Serves 2-3 as a main meal, 4-6 as a side dish.

French word for today:
profiter (pro-fee-TAY)- to take advantage of
À Nice, on profite de beaux temps, mais il neige beaucoup au nord !
In Nice, we’re taking advantage of the beautiful weather, but it’s snowing a lot in the North!

Fulbright Seminar on the EU

Every year, the Belgian Fulbright Commission holds a “Seminar on the European Union” in Luxembourg and Belgium. Last week, 39 American Fulbrighters from several EU member states gathered in Brussels for the conference. I was honored to be one of the representatives from France.

I was really excited for this trip because I’ve been living in Europe for 5 months but don’t know much about the politics here and, as a busy engineering and French major, I’d never really had an opportunity to take a class at Northwestern. I learned more about international politics in this week than ever before! Throughout the seminar, we visited several different EU institutions, where we listened to speakers, sat in on meetings, asked questions, and met some very important people. I was particularly interested in science policy in the EU and how politicians and scientists collaborate to create and advocate for evidence-based policies, as it seems like the gaping chasm between science and the US government is growing every day. Although we didn’t get to discuss these issues specifically, I learned a lot about the challenges that researchers face today and also know that it’s important, now more than ever, to encourage support for scientific programs funded jointly by the EU and the US.

Each institution told us about its purpose and the problems it’s currently facing. Here’s a breakdown:

Luxembourg
Reception with the US Ambassador to Luxembourg—On the first evening of the seminar we met Ambassador Robert Mandell at a reception at his house. We had the opportunity to mingle with him and his wife and some former European Fulbrighters to the US.

European Court of Justice—We sat in on a hearing with Europe’s version of the US Supreme Court. It was a case from the Netherlands about the owner of a coffee shop called “Bulldog,” who started making energy drinks. Red Bull was not too happy about this because the names sounded too similar. Most of the proceedings were in Dutch, so I used the opportunity to practice my French by listening to the French interpreters 🙂 After the hearing, we had a question and answer session with Judge Koen Lenaers, the Vice President of the European Court of Justice, and then lunch with 2 staff members.

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European Court of Justice

Brussels
European Commission—The European Commission is the executive body of the EU (and the building looks like the Ministry of Magic in Harry Potter…) We listened to presentations on economics, foreign policy, the state of the European Union, and US-EU relations.

European Commission

European Commission

European Commission

European Commission

NATO—On Friday, we visited NATO and met the US Ambassador to NATO, Ivo Daalder, who spoke with us very candidly about the role of the US in the (miliary) work of NATO. We also heard some very informative presentations about what exactly NATO does (from a NU alum! Go Cats!) Then we had lunch as guests of NATO, which is something they only do twice a year!

US Mission to the EU—On Friday afternoon we listened to presentations on the European Parliament, the US Mission to the EU, and the US Foreign Service, followed by a reception with Deputy Ambassadors Manzo and White from US NATO and US-EU.

Brugge
College of Europe—Finally, on Saturday we went to the College of Europe, which is an independent university institute of postgraduate studies, with students from all over the world. One of the most impressive things is that you have to be bilingual to attend the College of Europe (French and English are required), but most people speak at least 4 languages… and up to 11 languages! Then we heard an interesting presentation about US-EU relations. It was interesting to see that a lot of the political and economic differences between the two nations stem from differences in culture.

Brugge: "the Venice of the North"

Brugge: “the Venice of the North”

Belfry of Brugge

Belfry of Brugge

The seminar was a great opportunity to expand personal and professional networks, but we also got to do some sight-seeing in Brugge and had some down time to explore Brussels (read: eat waffles, chocolate, and fries with mayonnaise and drink lots of beer) 🙂 I made a bunch of new friends and now I have couches to sleep on all over Europe!

Grand place, the central square in Brussels

Grand place, the central square in Brussels

Manneken Pis, a famous Brussels landmark

Manneken Pis, a famous Brussels landmark

 

Belgian waffles!

Belgian waffles!

Lots of beer!

Lots of beer!

 

Chocolate demonstration

Chocolate demonstration

And some new friends :)

And some new friends 🙂

 

French word for today:
flaque (d’eau) (flak doh)– puddle
Il pleut depuis une semaine et il y a beaucoup de grandes flaques d’eau sur la terre.
It’s been raining for a week and there are a lot of puddles on the ground.