Monday, February 28, 2011

Homemade Peanut Butter

Here in France, as you already may know, they eat a wonderful chocolate hazelnut spread called Nutella that is a household and food stand staple. It is commonly put on crêpes, toast, baguettes, croissants, and waffles. They have it for breakfast a lot even though they consider it more of a dessert item. I haven't met one French person-or even one American person-yet who doesn't like the spread. For breakfast the French usually keep it fairly simple and prefer to go all out for dinner. Every morning my host mom puts all the breakfast items on the table and I chose what I want to make...and I almost always make something with Nutella. Here are a couple different ways I eat it for breakfast.

1. Nutella on toast (w/ bananas sometimes)
2. Nutella and jelly toast sandwhich
3. Nutella on crêpes (really, really good with bananas)
4. Nutella and peanut butter toast sandwhich (w/ bananas sometimes)

So option #4 is basically the whole point of this blog post because the French don't eat peanut butter! Why would they when they already have a delicious, chocolaty spread of their own. As much as I adore Nutella, I missed eating peanut butter for breakfast in a similar fashion as I do with Nutela now. I told this to my host mom and she tried looking for it in the grocery store, but couldn't find it. If they even have it it is probably in a foreign foods isle and a brand like Skippy. I like Skippy and those other brands of course, but I prefer to eat natural or organic peanut butter to avoid the hydrogenated oil and overload of salt and sugar. Yuck! This is when I told my host mom I could make some myself, after all it is super easy to make and probably less expensive.

The recipe I looked at to begin with was Alton Brown's from ( Here is the recipe that we actually used, since cooking measurements are different.

1 500g bag of roasted peanuts in shells (les arachides d'Amerique)
1 coffee spoon of salt
1 1/2 coffee spoon of honey
and enough sunflower oil to get the right consistency (sunflower oil is commonly used for cooking in France and had no effect on the final peanuty taste, so I'm guessing vegetable could work too)

Remove the peanuts from their shells and skins and place in a food processor along with the salt and honey. Blend it for about a minute or so. Then add a little bit of oil at a time, while blending it. The mixture should be spreadable and smooth. Ours wasn't as smooth as store bought brands, but that could be because the food processor we used is old.

The peanut butter turned out great and my host parents really enjoyed it. My host dad found it especially interesting that you can put it on celery (ants on a log!) because Nutella doesn't go with vegetables at all. He also thought it was funny when I mixed it with Nutella, but I told him that chocolate and peanut butter is another common combination in the US (resse's peanut butter cups!). It was fun to show them the American equivalent to Nutella, and I definitely recommend making your own peanut butter! Super easy and healthier for ya!


Last Friday I decided to take a day trip to the city of Collioure, France with another girl in my program. I want to start seeing other French cities, especially ones in the south. Also, I will going to Paris this week and am taking the train by myself so I thought I would figure out how the whole process works. So why Collioure? I actually had never heard of it before, my friend actually read about it in her Rick Steves travel book and it was some place she hasn’t been to yet in the south. She takes day trips to different cities every weekend! In fact the next day she went to Marseille. Anyway, Collioure is a city right on the coast really close to Spain and about a two and half hour train ride. With the 12-25 card the train tickets were only about 30 euros. Sites to see there include the incredibly blue ocean that inspired artists, such as Matisse and Picasso, le Château Royal, the church of Notre Dame des Anges, a wind mill, and a fortress. Navigating the Montpellier train station was super easy, I will definitely be able to do it all by myself later in the week. The train was about 20 minutes late to station and then halfway through the ride it randomly stopped because there was something going on down the tracks. The loud speaker in our car was too quiet and muffled to hear anything, so towards the end of the trip we paid a lot of attention to what stations we were stopping at. Willow says that that’s common…but not the whole train being late and stopping randomly.
Randomly stopped in the middle of nowhere, and surrounded by water???
Collioure’s tiny train station only has one platform and one ticket vendor.
Arriving you could already tell that this city was a little nicer than Montpellier. It was cleaner, quieter, and the houses were very colorful.

However, their public bathrooms are still typical of France!

Here is the first one we stopped at. They are squatters with no toilet paper! I don’t understand! And even if the toilets have an actual bowl there is no toilet seat! Ok no more ranting about toilets. It was a beautiful sunny day, a little windy, but still warm. There were no clouds in the blue sky and the ocean is even bluer! We went straight to the beach because we were so excited.
First glimpse of the sea.
Sail boats.
The beach was rocky and I found a bunch of cool ones. This orange one is definitely my favorite.
Willow on the pier with Notre Dame des Anges in the background.
A view of Château Royal and the pretty water.

We were pretty hungry, so then we stopped and got lunch. We are near Spain so Willow really wanted to get Paella, not for me though because I don’t like fishy things! I got a chèvre chaud salade, which has become one of my favorite French salads. After lunch we then visited the castle! This is my first visit to an intact castle. Château Royal has a long history of different occupiers, ending with none other than Louis XIV who made the castle huge.

The best part of the castle was the many views from the ramparts of the ocean, Notre Dames des Anges, the windmill, and the fortress.

Next we walked back to the beach area to visit Notre Dame des Anges. The inside had a lot of decoration, especially the main altar.
If you put a euro in a machine the lights turn on and spotlight the work.
Then we walked to a small chapel that is right on the water and next to the pier.
Then we walked back to the other side of the castle to hike up to the windmill. Along the way you pass an art museum of paintings probably by the famous artists who were inspired by this area. We didn’t end up visiting this museum, being outside and enjoying the views was much better.

We then walked to back yet again to the beach area and explored the city streets. We found some delicious gelato and a store that sold photographs of Collioure by different photographers. Last year there was actually a snowstorm in March! The pictures of the beach covered in snow were amazing and hard to believe.
Once again we went back to the rocky beach and just hung out until we had to go back to the train. I found some more rocks, while Willow found a bunch of “lucky glass”.

We were also foiled yet again by the public bathrooms…at least this one came with a view and pigeons.

I definitely recommend visiting Collioure; it’s a wonderful spot for a day trip or even a night’s stay. Maybe go when it's warmer too so that you can go swimming in that gorgeous water!

Monday, February 21, 2011

J’ai fait du ski aux Alps françaises (Part 2)

Here is a map of the station so you can see the runs I mention
Saturday Continued
I haven’t skied since I learned how to snowboard in 8th grade, so I was nervous to see if I would even remember how to ski. I could of chosen to snowboard, but it would have been a little bit more expensive for the equipment and I haven’t snowboarded for awhile either-that was my “logical” reasoning. The first hill I went down a couple times was an easy green run and had no problems making large turns or controlling my speed. If looking at the map it’s the run on the bottom all the way to the left and labeled as blue-it’s an older plan of the station, so it’s a little different.
The view from the top of the little green slope. Our lodge is among the little buildings you can see.
Two of my roommates for the weekend and I at the top of the green slope.

I then decided to go up the chair lift with one of the girls I was sharing a room with and try the first set of blues, “Les Essards”. There is only one chairlift at this station and to get to these ones you get off at the first stop it makes. These blues were definitely not easy blues. I don’t like going too fast and this run has a lot of curves, so I had a lot of trouble going down since going slow in skis is hard. To go slow on a steeper hill you have to make a lot of quick turns, which I wasn’t used to or good at yet. Or you can pizza wedge stop all the way down, but that hurts your legs too much. Then finally at the end there was this big hill that you have to go down and I ended up bombing it cause I couldn’t go slow. It was so scary! Later I found out it is actually a red slope and that there was a way to avoid it by going back onto the green slope. After a rest I went back up the chairlift with the rest of my roommates for that weekend to try the blues again. It was a little easier but I still didn’t feel comfortable on my skis. One of the girls and I were regretting not choosing to snowboard because skiing was a lot harder than we thought it would be.

At lunchtime we tried asking if we could switch over but one of the guys helping out said that we couldn’t today, but most likely tomorrow we could. So, we were kind of relieved and of course were going to try some more skiing after lunch. What they gave us for lunch was not very good. It was a tuna sandwich on a baguette! I know that is not an uncommon sandwich to eat but it is definitely a food that people either like or hate. I don’t eat fish and I especially don’t like tuna cause it has such a strong fishy smell. I did try it though since I was hungry and dinner was going to be late that night, but in the end I just the top slice of the baguette and the other snacks they gave us. After lunch we hit the slopes again going back on the blue runs. The weather was a lot warmer and sunnier than I thought it would be, which was plus because I didn’t bring or have my parents send me my normal winter jacket. We were getting a little bit more comfortable skiing, so we decided to take the chairlift up to it’s final stop from where you can take the blue slopes down or go up the “butt-pulls” to the very top of the mountain. We decided to take the blues down because going up to the top meant coming back down a red or a black! These blues were a little harder and scarier than the ones just below, so I fell going down once trying to go slow. After that we decided to take another break at the café at the bottom of the slopes and get some beverages. Even though I was baking in the sun I opted for a cappuccino because I was getting so tired. There were no chalets at the station, but there were two random cafes on the slopes and one larger one at the bottom to get drinks and food at. By the time we were done with that we only had about an hour left before the slopes closed and we met up with everyone to go back to the lodge.

Once back at the lodge they had chocolate and vanilla pound cake, hot chocolate, and vin chaud (spiced hot wine) for us to snack on before getting ready to visit the little town of Vallouise. It was a cute little mountain town with a few restaurants, bars, shops, and a church. We returned to the lodge welcomed by a strong smell of cooking cheese. We knew were getting some kind of typical Alps dinner, but we thought it would either be reclette or fondue. Instead what we smelled was a different cheese from the Alps called reblochon, baking in a dish called tartiflette. This dish is basically a casserole of potatoes, lardons (cubes of pork fat), onions, cream, and the reblochon layered on top. It was really, really good! The tartiflette was also accompanied by a walnut and apple salad and chocolate mousse. Everyone thought that the lodge definitely redeemed their lunchtime failure with this meal.

Sunday Morning
After a long night’s sleep (everyone in my room crashed at around 10pm!) and a less hectic morning, we were ready to hit the slopes. Oh but, this morning they decided to actually give us our lunches ahead of time, so I had to bring my backpack again-bleh! Another annoyance is that my friend and I weren’t able to get snowboards for the day. They said it wasn’t a money issue, but that they didn’t have the equipment there…we thought they were being kind of lazy because there was definitely extra boards and boots the day before. It was fine though, and we just accepted the fact and went out. I went down the green hill a few times to warm up, I definitely retained the skills I learned the day before, but one of my knees was sore. After that we decided that we wanted to find the blue runs that are up on the left side of the mountain because we heard they were super nice from the director of the study abroad program. To get to these ones you first had to ride the chairlift to the top, then take a small “butt-pull” to where you can cross a red and get to a catwalk.

Going on the catwalk or narrow trail was fun, though it was kind of scary since it’s narrow and on a steep cliff.
These runs were great. They had a better view of the mountain range and weren’t as busy. After going down a couple times we decided to cut back over and go back to bottom. The catwalk to get back was even cooler, longer, and scarier than the other one! It curved around a cliff. I wish I could have taken a picture but it was a long trail and I didn’t want to lose speed. Going back down I finally felt comfortable skiing and wasn’t as afraid to go fast. I wanted to do that same run again, but alas we decided to tackle our goal for the day before lunchtime. So, many people have told us the view from the top was amazing and that it was definitely worth it to go up there. Remember to get back down you either have a choice to take black or red slopes down! Our director told us that the red slope all the way to the right was a little easier and then it meets up with the nice blues on the far. To get up to the top you have to take a long butt-pull, one that goes really fast on a steep angle. Luckily, none of us fell off because I don’t where you would go since the path cuts through the trees!
This is the lovely view from the top! It was another warm and beautiful sunny, even up there.
Me on top! Woohoo! The reds we took down were steep and hard, but once we got back to the blues they felt super easy and I zoomed down the rest of the mountain. Afterwards I was super tired and we went and took off our boots and had some lunch (a normal meat and cheese sandwich). Then we went back on the slopes and did a few more runs until it was about time to leave.

My last views of the mountains from the ski slopes.

Sunday Night
After leaving the station we had about an hour and a half to shower and get our stuff together. Before boarding the bus at 5pm we got our bagged dinners, I had a lot of hope since the lunch was good…but nope they gave us smoked salmon sandwiches!!! That is even worse tuna, and I think most people on the trip would agree. I believe the reason why they gave us these fish sandwiches was because there were a couple of vegetarians on the trip that still eat fish. But still, they could have just made us cheese and vegetable sandwiches!

We were all hoping that the rest stop that we would stop at later to eat at, since we couldn’t eat on the bus, would have a gas station and food. It didn’t however because it was a stop before the highway with just dirty and flooding bathrooms. We had to stop at a place before the highway because prior in the day two people got hurt and had to go to the hospital (nothing too serious!) and weren’t back in time to leave with us, so they rode with one of the helpers at met up with us there. Everyone was not too happy about having to eat a bad dinner with no option of buying something at a cold and dark rest stop! We only stopped one other at time at another small rest stop with awful bathrooms-all public bathrooms here suck but that subject will be touched on in another post. We got in a little bit earlier than planned, but the bus didn’t drop us off where the schedule said they would. Prior to leaving I had told my host parents to pick me up at the scheduled place at 11:30. The scheduled place wasn’t that far away from where we actually got dropped of but it was dark out and in an area under construction, so I didn’t want to walk there alone. Everyone else though started to leave already by tram or walking a different path home, and the other people who told their parents to pick them up at the original place were able to call them and have them pick them up there. My host parents don’t have cell phones and they already left the house. I think the director would have walked with me but she ended up having to go to the emergency room herself, she must have fallen or something because she had a broken rib. Anyway, I eventually found my host parents while I was walking around the area where we were supposed to be dropped off.

So, in the end I think the ski trip was worth it money wise (160 euros for everything) and I really enjoyed the skiing in the alps, but I’m not sure I’m as satisfied with the actual organization of the whole thing and having to go in such a large group. I’m definitely excited to start traveling with just a few people at a time. Next blog post you will see the wonderful daytrip I took with one other girl to the city of Collioure!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

J’ai fait du ski aux Alps françaises (Part 1)

Last weekend I went on a program organized ski trip to the French alps. We went to Pelvoux station in Vallouise that is kind of near Grenoble in the Écrins national park.

Friday afternoon and night was solely a travel day. We left by bus at 5:30pm and got to the lodge at about 11:30pm. It got dark out fairly quick so during the ride there the mountains and cliffy terrain we wee driving through were hard to make out. At the lodge we got to go to our rooms right away and get settled in and sleep. I roomed with two girls I had already known and one who I’ve had a class with at the U of M before, but didn’t really know. She has been in Montpellier since September, so it was cool to hear about all the stuff she has already done and she had some good advice for us. The program told us to bring towels and bed sheets with us, which I did. When we got there the beds did have bed sheets on them already, but I’m still glad I brought my own because they did not look clean at all! My pillowcase had a mysterious black stain on it, one girls bed had lots of hairs, another’s had some weird stains, and there was random specks of glitter throughout the room. Also, we didn’t have any toilet paper. Everyone else seemed ok with their room so maybe they just didn’t finish cleaning our room or something.

Saturday Morning
We woke up at about 7:30am and got ready for the day then went to breakfast down in the dining hall. It was a pretty basic breakfast of cereal, toast, yoghurt, fruit, coffee, etc… All of our meals were included in the trip and they told us to bring backpacks with us to put our bagged lunch in. I had never skied with a backpack before, but I guess it’s pretty common to do so and eat your lunch on the mountain somewhere. So, I packed up my backpack with some other stuff and we met at the bus. Of course, once we were already on the bus they said we were just going to meet up at noon and get our lunches all together. Also, the ski station was practically across the street from our little lodge so taking the bus there was silly. It must have just been a way to keep us all together. Once we were there we went into this small building to get our skis, boots, and poles. There was not a big chalet where everyone goes to eat, get rental gear, and store his or her equipment. So this process took a while, especially since only 2 or 3 people getting everyone their stuff. This process was definitely not at all like the ski places I’ve been to in MN. I’ve heard though that French do things inefficiently and take their time for a lot of things, which I’ve found to be partly true. However, once we got our stuff we could start hitting the slopes right away.

That’s all the time I have today to write, but I’ll write the second post sometime tomorrow night or Saturday.

The views from outside of our window on Saturday morning.

Friday, February 11, 2011

More Fun Activities!

Le Parc Zoologique de Henri de Lunaret
Last Saturday I went to an awesome and FREE zoo in Montpellier with three other girls in my program. The zoo is actually a short walk away from the Paul Valéry campus, so we all planned to meet there at noon and walk together. Well of course there was bus strikes going on that day, so I had to wait a while for the bus and was a little. Wasn’t a big deal or anything, it’s just annoying that there are strikes practically every Saturday! This zoo is mainly outdoors except for a building that has a mini-rainforest in it (this is not free so we didn’t go in). The weather that day was sunny and perfect for walking around the large, wooded paths of the park…I didn’t even wear my jacket! Sorry, to brag friends and family back in MN, but it was super nice. The zoo was a lot bigger than I imagined, it took a while to walk from each animal habitat to the next and the paths/signs were kind of confusing. This of course didn’t bother us because we had fun just wandering around and running into whatever exhibit was hidden up ahead. One of our favorite exhibits that we saw was the Lemur house because lemurs are just so darn cute! I liked the turquoise-eyed lemurs, but the all around favorite had to be the classic ring-tailed lemur. These guys were the most active, jumping all around and SUN BATHING! Also, there was one that was missing an arm.
It’s kind of hard to make out, but this guy and others were sitting upright with their tummies facing the sun and their arms outstretched! So cute.
Turquoise-eyed lemur resting/being pensive.
Another favorite animal of ours was this guy right here. When we first walked up to the enclosure he ran in front of the window quickly and we were like “Oh it’s a fox!” but after about 5 seconds we were like “what is going on, this fox is not normal…he’s too tall and big!”
Well, upon reading the placard, which was in French, we found out that it was actually a maned wolf that has many foxlike attributes.
Besides animals the park also had some awesome wood sculptures that I took tons of pictures of and climbed atop. Here is a rhino, which was my favorite. I took a carving and construction class last semester, so that is probably why this was so interesting to me. Such a charming and grand sculpture!
Here is a curious looking baby bear.
This is me on top of mama bear. A list of animals we saw: exotic birds, a European otter, lemurs, too many hooved animals, the fox-wolf, macaques, a wolf, lions, bears, a cheetah, ostriches, giraffes, caracals, painted dogs, and zebras. That isn’t even all of the animals that they have! We got tired so we decided skipped over the Asian and oceanic animals. Afterwards, I went to the Quick near campus with Merrill to get a burger. Quick is the French version of McDonalds, but it’s not as good.

La Pantinoire
Later that night my host brother and his friend took me to the relatively new indoor ice rink near Odysseum. One part of the complex has a normal indoor ice rink and plays music. The other part of the complex is a “night club” with a dj, fog machine, strobe lights, colored lights, with ramps, tunnels, and “dance floors”. Think of a place like roller garden, but on ice! It was cool but strobe lights and fog machines make ice-skating difficult. I only fell down once! That’s pretty good for not skating since last winter.

That’s all for now! This weekend I’m going skiing in the alps with my program…another winter sport I haven’t done in a long long time. I will definitely be starting out in the jardin des enfants (bunny hill) and green slopes. Skiing is one of those things you never forget how to do, like riding a bike, right? Wish me luck!
p.s. I believe this is a map of the mountain we will be at.
p.p.s I thought this sign from the zoo was funny.
No feeding the lemurs bananas or baguettes! Only in France!