30 January 2010

switzerland

a very scattered post about the end of my holiday vacation. let’s see if i even remember… ah, that’s right, after christmas with m, i hopped on a train to paris, and then a train to la suisse. it wasn’t very exciting – but that was perfect for me. i was tired. and recuperating in the swiss countryside was exactly what i needed.

s13out of all the countries i’ve visited, switzerland is the most beautiful for me, just because it’s so postcard perfect. the telephone lines are unobtrusive, there are happy animals everywhere, the hills just go on forever with a billion shades of green…

s01in the summer, you see cows everywhere. in the winter, there isn’t a trace of them… because they’re indoors keeping warm. but you do get to see a ton of sheep who can take on the cold.

s02i stayed with my cousin. and as great friends are… family is great because you don’t have to explain your odd quirks. for example, i love “drinking” my cereal out of a tall glass rather than a bowl. i know i could do it elsewhere and people wouldn’t care, but it’s so much easier when its family!

s03dramatic sunsets. a garden. a mailbox. all things i love about the swiss countryside.

s04not to mention there’s a croatian mother’s cooking that i got to happily eat <3. romanesco cauliflower, stuffed peppers, and of course raclette! (not all on the same night)

s05favorite: the animal park in goldau. you are given a box of deer food upon entry… and then as you walk, deer and other animals follow you in hopes of eating. isn’t in genius? they have to feed the animals anyway, but this way they earn money (selling food) and save money (not having to pay someone to feed them since the visitors do it).

s06but i don’t mind, since the money is going to a good cause: caring for all the bears, wolves, ducks, birds, and other animals native to switzerland.

s07i re-made the pear and speculoos tart. except here in switzerland, it’s called karamellgebäck. same exact stuff (even the brand), just a new name!

s08i spent one day in baden. a relaxed, explore-on-my-own-day, so nothing happened. except that i left with a cookbook. but that will be saved for another day.

s09it’s not by me if there aren’t any blurry lights!

s10because switzerland has so many valleys and hills, the temperature can change from one place to the next even if they are just a few minutes apart. i had a lot of fun watching the thermometer in my cousin’s car because it would go from –1 C to 5 C within 10 minutes.

for example, this photo. it snowed. but only on the left side! the other side didn’t get any snow. so i think that’s another thing i love: you never know what kind of swiss landscape to expect because there are just so many variations.

s11“chinese fondue” (ie, dipping raw meat in hot soup to cook it). bruschetta. radish cream and pecans. ice cream with a  hot berry sauce.

s12when you go up into the mountains to go sledging, you’re greeted with yet another view. mountains and fog. now i know why things like monasteries and temples are up high. you can’t help but just reflect and mediate when you see something this gorgeous.

s14perhaps this is a common combination…. but curry + chicken + pineapples + cherries. for me, it was a first. and it was delicious. and i can’t wait to discover other things that taste good with curry. my other favorite: chocolate-coconut-curry bar from theo chocolate. unfortunately, that’s in america so i have to wait.

s16the swiss have their version of the macaron, but they like to call it a luxemburgerli. it’s slightly different in that they’re narrower and taller than the french versions. texture wise, they are much airier. but they are definitely still macarons. just different.

s18and definitely still adorable.

s17the swiss also celebrate january 6th, but instead of a galette, they have a dreikönigskuchen – literally, three king’s cake. but it’s really a brioche. made up of about 7 baby brioche rolls and topped with almonds. and of course, a little figure hidden in one of the rolls.

after that, it was back to france! that vacation ended a while ago on jan 3rd.

it’s now jan 31st. and guess what? vacation is next week…! so, round three will be coming up!

i think i need a vacation from vacation. but here’s a hint of what’s to come: ghent-normandy-paris-turkey. oh la la!

25 January 2010

3x1

quichei love the idea of 3x1. as in, three things, but one of each.

for example, this quiche:

one meat (chicken). one vegetable (mâche). one cheese (brebis)

mix01or this granola:

one nut (cashew). one fruit (raisins). one sweetener (maple syrup)

it keeps me from going overboard. otherwise, i just want to add and mix everything because i love it all. but this way, your taste buds aren’t overwhelmed and you can really appreciate the combinations.

also, i am somewhat forced to keep things simple. not having a kitchen changed my relationship with food. before i’d do things that were complicated, took tons of space, required lots of equipment, and were time intensive… but now, i aim for the easiest but also tastiest. and versatile. but don’t you worry, i’ll go back to making puff pastry and layered cakes and macarons and other things like that this summer!

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For the quiche, it’s my usual recipe of a 1 egg : 100ml heavy cream ratio poured over ingredients scattered on a prebaked savory crust, then put back in a 180C/350F oven for 50ish minutes until done.

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For the granola, i used a recipe inspired from here:

300g oats / flocons d’avoine

100g wheat flakes/ pétales au son de blé

320g cashews / noix de cajou

75g brown sugar / cassonade

50g sunflower oil / huile de tournesol

200g maple syrup / sirop d’erable

400g raisins / raisin sec

1. in a large bowl, mix together the oats, wheat flakes, cashews, and sugar.

2. then pour the sunflower oil and maple syrup into the mixture and stir it all together.

3. spread the mixture out on a lined baking sheet and bake at 150C/300F for about 40 minutes. stir it occasionally so it bakes evenly.

4. remove from the oven, let it cool, and mix in your raisins.

voila! simple. but vanishes quickly… very quickly.

24 January 2010

a search

time to share with you yet another reason why i’m nowhere ready to leave france just yet.

gsearch01do you see the lovely lady on the right? it’s my mother. not right now, of course. i think when she was in her early twenties, so around my age right now.

gsearch02but first, let me first tell you a short story. i dug up these photos years ago and have always been enthralled by the mysterious people in them. mainly because they are obviously not asians so they really stand out in the stack of ancient family photos.

when my mom was a college student in taiwan, she needed a place to live. so back then, one found housing in taiwan not by reading ads in papers… but by just knocking on people’s doors. so she knocked on a door of a nice house, and found a family from germany living there.

gsearch04the father was a chemistry professor teaching for a year and brought his entire family over. they had just arrived and happened to need someone to help show them around and be their guide. voila! so my mom lived with them. she became super close with one of the daughters and had a wonderful time living with them.

after that, they went back to germany, and as expected… lost contact.

gsearch03but i’ve got their names. yellowed photos. their old address. their handwritings. their city. the university. therefore, for my last vacation in april, i’ll be spending a few days in germany to see if i can find any of them.

gsearch05i’m in love with the search itself. not the result. it isn’t important that i actually find them. what’s important is the learning of german. the physical act of actually traveling to germany. the exploring of a city. the talking to people.the visiting of a university. the tasting of something delicious at a restaurant or bakery while i’m there. the wandering around. the visiting of the university. the discovering of something random. etc.

gsearch06 which is why i’m boycotting the internet for searching. because it’s too quick, too easy, and cuts out all the adventure. if my physical search “fails” then of course i’ll start googling. but not until at least after i’ve tried it my way.

and besides, i can use technology to search from anywhere. but to be neighbors with germany is a lot tougher, so i’d rather take advantage of my proximity to germany while i’m here in france.

gsearch07so yes. it may be fanciful. and impractical. and unrealistic. but it’s an adventure and who knows what will happen while i’m on my quest!

22 January 2010

cheater

fevreif you read any food blogs that have a connection to france, for sure you’ve seen some galette de rois loving recently.

thursday night we had a galette de rois party, about 15 galettes in total. the flavors were: frangipane, raspberry, chocolate, and apple. 

no nice photos of the galettes because i was too busy slicing, serving,… and… peeking.

because hidden underneath all those layers are little fèves. literally “bean”, the fèves are small ceramic surprises baked into the cake. whoever bites into the slice with the fève gets to wear a crown and is queen or king for the day. but be careful not to chip your tooth!

all the bakeries compete with each other by the fèves that they put in their cake. because around this time the fabophiles come out in full force to collect the different fèves.

for the patisserie that our galettes came from, it was little russian matryoshka dolls. which i’ll take any day over the harry potter and sponge bob fèves that other places are using.

and i now have a mini collection!

in my defense, i only started peeking and setting aside certain slices for me at the end when we had lots of leftovers galettes and everyone had already received their obligatory four slices. not to mention there are nice people who gave me their fèves. i’m hoping my collection will grow because the complete set will spell out epiphanie. so we’ll see if i’m successful in a few days as i hunt down the people who don’t want their fèves :)

21 January 2010

doing & thinking

meltedthe snow actually melted a while ago.

and the circus left a few days ago as well.

but i’ve realized that my ratio of doing to thinking has reversed since i’ve been in france.

at UT, i was always in class, in studio, studying, working, prepping, driving, memorizing, experimenting, making, photographing, developing, soldering, partying, etc. – i rarely had time for myself to think.

but here in france, i don’t do much. so that leads to a lot of thinking.

which is bad. because i’m leaving may 11th and i’ve yet to accomplish many of the goals i set for myself before i came to france.

so now, i’m ramping up my efforts!

snow here are just a few random things i will do before i leave:

-finish my german grammar book + 2 french grammar books

-find out how french style bakeries ended up taiwan when it is definitely not part of the (historical) culture

-start searching and interviewing people for my research for my eventual plans to go to grad school

-make friends with the patissiers and fromagers and other people who work in specialty shops here in evreux

-see if i can even do the CAP patissier program

-continue my bookshelf/collection/memory photography project

that’s just a glimpse. the entire list is scattered across multiple pages in my handwritten journals.

but it all makes perfect sense – i am never productive until i start feeling pressure. and in this case, pressure is a set date of when i’m returning home.

20 January 2010

christmas with m

chezm09my only wish for christmas came true. to be with a family. but it was way more than i wished for – they were so warm. so friendly. so welcoming. like i was truly one of them, even though i was a stranger from the other side of the atlantic.

chezm02first, my friend M took me to her neighbor in an attempt to buy some goat cheese. however, in the winter it’s too cold for the goats to produce milk, so there was no cheese to be bought. there are ways of “faking it” to force the goats to produce cheese in the winter, but this little farm puts the happiness and health of the goats before anything else. and for that, i’ll happily wait until spring to taste good goat cheese!

chezm03in m’s own backyard she has her own little goat as well as a rooster and some hens. aren’t they adorable?

chezm05for the appetizer, a yummy tapenade (pureed olives and olive oil) and oeufs de lompe (nicknamed the poorman’s caviar).

chezm06for dinner, escargot! no need to explain that one. and honestly, i have seen much stranger things in taiwan. multicultural heritage, one point!

and a salmon tourte (a savory meat pie made with puff pastry.)

chezm07cheese course! the thing i always look forward to after the end of the meal. yes. end of meal. bread and cheese is an after dinner thing here.

chezm08ok, there are actually two things i look forward to. can’t forget dessert. macarons and a rich hazelnut chocolate bûche de noel.

end of christmas eve. the next day…

chezm19christmas! it’s the same feeling regardless of what country you’re in: the excitement of everybody gathering around the tree. each person ooohing and aaahing over their gift. the doorbell ringing as guests arrive. the kisses. the hugs. just being around people you love.

chezm12as usual, i like to hang out in the kitchen. apricot and walnut sauce for the turkey. and a salmon apple millefeuille.

chezm13how nice my photos come out always depends on how i am feeling. thus, i usually don’t like making photos of strangers, because i just don’t know them and am not comfortable. but with m’s family, everybody made me feel at home so i had no “i’m the awkward stranger with the camera” moments. and the results? lovely photos!

and for that, i’m not sure i could ever just be paid to take photos of someone or something. i always want to genuinely know the subject, or else, what’s the point? photography can’t be about the money for me, because my photos will always fail if so. the photos are just a side thing – the thing i like most is meeting people and talking to them. or food. i want to taste it, to learn how it’s made, to find the story behind it – the photo is a very small part. although, sometimes i feel people mistake it as being the most important.

chezm14in english, we call the turkey a turkey because originally we believed it to come from, well, turkey.

but in french, it’s called dinde. a contracted version of de inde. which means, from india.

but it all doesn’t matter because the europeans were confused when they came here and started naming stuff. the turkey is actually native to north america. voila! little bit of random information for you.

chezm17hello hello dessert! chocolate cake. candied oranges dipped in chocolate. lemon cream.

chezm20once you’re stuffed, then you sit around and play board games. being an only child, it’s definitely one thing i didn’t get to do too much when i was younger. so i’m happily catching up now!

chezm23i love how much you can learn about a person with a quick glance at their bedroom walls. usually i prefer bookcases, but M has all her books packed up because she’s moving.

chezm24the day after christmas. aka “recovery period from everything you ate the previous two days before.”

chezm25i also adore how it’s quite normal for people to eat the eggs that come from the hens they raise. the eggs are never perfectly shaped or spotless, which just makes them so much more special. new goal: raise my own hens one day. or at least live next to someone who does.

chezm26i’ve also yet to visit a french home where the jam isn’t homemade.

chezm27fontainebleau. even in winter, it was still a beautiful visit.

chezm29it’s a shame i won’t be here in the summer, only because i love summer so much. but i’m going to be so happy in the texas heat…! the day i don’t have to wear socks, i absolutely can’t wait.

chezm30i also can’t wait for the day when i have my own place – a house or an apartment, somewhere in the world – where i can welcome someone as nicely as i’ve been welcomed here in france!

chezm32i know goat cheese and fruit filled macarons doesn’t really go together taste wise… only in terms of visual delight. actually, who knows, they might taste delicious together! one just has to try.

chezm33more cheese. and a rare horizontal photo from me! i’ve definitely taken a liking to vertical photos recently.

that was how i spent my christmas 2009. and it was perfect. i indeed received the best present ever that money can’t buy. it’s a clichéd saying but it’s so true.