Friday, March 27, 2015

Ivy is 2 years old! Happy birthday!

Happy birthday Ivy! We had a small family celebration two days ago...cake and candles and a birthday song. We're having a bigger party with lots of friends on Sunday. I know Ivy won't really care either way, but our other kids will love having a party.

Ivy had just licked the frosting off the candles...yum

Two different family members gave us money to buy pastries for Ivy's birthday present. Fantastic idea!

We went to Eze Bord de Mer today after school. Eric went spearfishing and had grand hopes, but he saw very few fish this time. He did catch one small fish that we'll eat tomorrow.

Zari made paper crowns for everyone this week.

The kids love to belt out "Let It Go"

Now for some Ivy updates:

She's waking up once a night to nurse, then is up for the day around 6:30 am. Doable. We've been staying in her room since January, since we've had guests almost nonstop. I'm looking forward to having my own room again!

Ivy has been out of diapers during the day for almost 2 weeks now. Hooray! I have packed the cloth diapers away and am considering selling them. Any takers for about 18 pocket diapers & soakers with snaps and FOE binding? Especially anyone in France? They have been used for 7 years but are still functional.

Her language skills continue to surprise and amaze me. The other day, Inga was (yet again) bothering Ivy, and Ivy said, "Mama, Inga hit me." Great. Now she has learned the skill of tattling. She loves to look for Smart cars; "Encore baby cars mama! Encore!"

Ivy loves looking for "pretty flowers" and putting on dresses to dance in. Actually all of our kids do, Dio included. I introduced them to Riverdance last night. It was a hit.

Catch-up time...

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Fool-proof artisan bread

I've been perfecting a no-knead artisan bread for the past 7 years. I've combined recipes and techniques from the New York Times no-knead bread and the book Artisan bread in 5 minutes a day. I've got it down to a science now.

This recipe takes only a few minutes. It requires NO kneading. And it's almost impossible to mess up.

The bread is deliciously chewy and bubbly in the inside, with a thick, crackly crust. It keeps well for several days wrapped in a kitchen towel or linen bread bag. 

You don't need to be around for 3-4 hours to make this bread. It takes maybe one minute to mix the night before or, in a pinch, first thing in the morning. Then, when you're ready to bake the bread, another minute to form the loaves. And no waiting for the bread to rise: as soon as the oven is hot, the bread is ready to bake!

How does it work? I theorize that it's a combination of a wet dough, a long fermentation (hence the small amount of yeast), and the steam created in the oven. Instead of creating gluten strands by kneading the dough, you simply let the gluten form by itself during the long overnight rise. The amazing crust develops as the wet dough and the steam on the outside work their magic. And, because of the long rise, you get a more complex flavor--not as strong as a true sourdough, but much better than conventional homemade bread.

Here's how to make my bread:

American recipe
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 1 tsp yeast
  • 5.5 - 6.5 cups flour (you can use up to 3.5 cups whole grain flour. If so, you'll use a total of around 5.5 cups. If you use all white flour, you'll need to increase it to 6 or even 6.5 cups, depending on the humidity and type of flour)

European recipe
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp yeast
  • 5 - 5.5 cups flour (I use whatever flour is available, usually type 45 or 55. I usually end up with 5 1/4 cups of white flour, less if I'm using some whole grain flour)
You can also add other ingredients into the dough: nuts, dried fruits, flax seeds, etc.

Why the different recipes? I'm not sure, except these are the proportions that have worked for me in the States and in France. It's probably due to the difference in humidity, atmospheric pressure, and types of flour.

Step 1: Mix the dough the night before
Choose a large container with a lid. Mix together the ingredients until you have a wet, sticky dough. No wetter than this: see how it looks almost shaggy? It needs a bit more flour

I added at least 1/4 cup more flour. This dough pictured below is perfect. It holds its shape in the bowl, but when you pinch it, it comes away very sticky. If the dough is dry enough to knead, you've added too much flour. You should NOT be able to knead it!

Step 2: Cover and let rise overnight
* Accelerated version: put the dough in a warmed oven and let rise 4-8 hours, until it's ready. I often do this in the morning if I've forgotten to make the dough the night before.

Step 3: The dough is ready when it looks like bubbly pancake batter
Normally this would be the next day. It's typically ready in the morning unless your house is very cold. You can bake your bread any time during the day.

Step 4: Time to bake bread! Turn the oven on to 450 F or 230 C
Put an old pan on the bottom rack of the oven. This will be where you pour water so the loaves cook in a steam oven. It will get lots of mineral deposits, so don't use a nice pan!

Step 5: Sprinkle generously with flour and gently scoop the dough away from the sides
I probably use between 1/4 - 1/2 cup. You'll want lots of flour because the dough is VERY sticky.

Try to leave as many of the air bubbles intact. 

Step 6: Form the loaves on parchment paper or a silicone baking mat
The key is to handle the dough as little as possible. The more air bubbles you leave, the better the end result. I usually tuck the loaves under 2-3 times and that's it.

If you're making baguettes, let the bread dangle as you tuck, as I'm doing in this photo.

You can either put the parchment/silicone on a flat baking sheet and put the combination in the oven. Or if you have a pizza stone warming in the oven, slide the parchment/silicone onto the stone when it's ready to bake.

Step 7: Sprinkle generously with flour and wait for the oven to reach full temperature
The loaves are ready to bake once the oven is hot.

If you forget about your bread, it can rise for up to 2 hours and still turn out fine. I've done this many times :) If the loaves have flattened out too much, gently tuck them under once. You really can't mess this bread up!

Step 8: Right before putting the bread in the oven, slash loaves with a serrated knife.
Diagonal, criss-cross, X, concentric rings....whatever you like

Step 9: Pour a glass of water into the old pan on the bottom rack.

Step 10: Bake for 35 minutes
The loaves will rise a lot as they bake, so don't be worried if they look funny, lumpy, or small when they go in the oven.

Step 11: Eat. Preferably hot. With lots of butter.
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Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sunday fun day sleepy day

Ivy definitely has chicken pox; I took her to a family doctor around the corner on Tuesday. Other than being more cranky than usual and sleeping poorly the first two days, Ivy has had an easy go of the chicken pox. Thank goodness--the girl is covered with hundreds of spots!


I was nursing Ivy early this morning, and the first thing she said was, "Zari my bear chercher." I didn't hear her clearly, so I asked:

"Qu'est-ce que tu veux que Zari cherche?"

"My bear."

"You want Zari to get your bear?"



Inga sometimes falls asleep in odd places:

Yesterday Zari took over my camera. I pulled a face, and Ivy immediately copied what I was doing.

Inga slowly woke up

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Monday, March 09, 2015

Chicken pox?

I need your help, o anonymous internet armchair doctors. Is this chicken pox?

Yesterday morning Ivy woke up covered with these red bumps, plus a mild fever. They go from head to toe, front to back. Some are larger and look a bit scabby. She still has a fever today, but neither the fever nor the spots seem to bother her too much.

If it isn't chicken pox, what else might it be?
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Friday, March 06, 2015

Happy 4th birthday Inga!

Inga turned 4 on Monday. Wow.

Remember her birth story--how the midwife didn't get there on time and I had to resuscitate her? Remember the ensuing drama about her resuscitation? (in 3 parts...reflections, resuscitation, and final reflections)

How did she go from a tiny newborn...

to a monstrously chubby baby...

to the world's most chill toddler...

Inga and Dio tandem nursing

to a strong-bodied, strong-willed girl who loves jumping off furniture and singing French songs from school and talking about cats & fairies & puppy dogs?

She and I ate lunch at our neighbor's restaurant, Chez Palmyre. Always a treat to eat there...if you're ever in Nice, be sure to make a reservation (4-6 weeks in advance for dinner, 2-4 weeks for lunch). The photo makes her seem very serious, but she was giggling and being her usual silly self the whole time.

Entrée: Paté en croute
Plat principal: croustillant de saumon avec sauce pistou
Dessert: panna cotta avec crémeux au caramel et morceaux de spéculose

The weather has been amazing this week. Monday was a high of 22C, warmer than normal for early March but I am not complaining. We've enjoyed several afternoons at the beach, at the park, and at the chateau.

Ignore the women in the bikinis...notice Eric heading out to go spearfishing

My "new" shoes via Leboncoin.

For Inga's birthday, we all went on the Ferris Wheel on the Place Masséna, thanks to my mom. She got a set of rubber stamps and crayons from Eric's parents. I usually make birthday cakes, but Inga chose a raspberry tart from a bakery. It was delicious!

Other news this week:

Ivy learned how to say Inga the right way, instead of "gaga."

Ivy fell down the attic stairs. I didn't see it happen, just heard a sickening crack-thump and then her frantic cries. She came out of it with a bump on her forehead and some blood where she bit her lip. I'm determined to build a hatch over the opening to prevent this from happening again.

Inga & Ivy going down the slide together at the chateau

Why, doesn't everyone wear 4 hats at a time?

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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Ski day!

We drove up to Isola 2000 for a half-day of skiing. Left at 10 am, got back at 7:30 pm, and had 5 hours of skiing in between. Inga threw up on the way there, and Ivy puked on the way back. But both times we caught it in a container, so no mess. Hooray!

Our downstairs neighbor and her son were staying in a hotel at the ski resort, so Ivy and Inga and I went swimming at the hotel pool.  Nothing like swimming in a very warm pool while overlooking snow-covered mountains and seeing skiers whiz by right past the window.

I love that Eric wears the same jacket from when were were dating 17+ years ago. He doesn't even own a proper ski jacket--it's a rain jacket with a sweater underneath! Canadians are weird.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Ivy is 23 months...and we haven't disappeared

Hey friends, family, birthy people, lurkers, long-time readers, first-time readers...I'm still here!

We had an incredibly busy few weeks renovating from morning until midnight most days--with occasional breaks to feed our children and to put on another DVD. Here's a synopsis of what we did from when I last wrote:

Back bathroom
  • removed the old tiles
  • opened up a doorway to get the tub in
  • replumbed the entire bathroom & the WC
  • rewired the bathroom
  • installed new tiles & grout
  • installed the jacuzzi
  • ripped out and put in new flooring
  • plastered the walls, then applied paintable wallpaper and painted the walls/ceiling/trim
  • installed light fixtures & heated towel rack

Back bedroom
  • repaired the cracks & peeling plaster in the ceilings
  • re-wallpapered one wall
  • repainted

Master bedroom/bathroom
  • tiled the wall where the sink will go
  • built a cover for all the pipes & electrical work
  • removed old wallpaper, installed new wallpaper
  • repainted all the walls & trim
  • installed a sink made from an antique marble-topped coiffeuse
  • gilded 3 mirrors with Lefranc & Bourgeois' dorure liquide (gilding liquid). This stuff is amazing, by the way. I bought a bottle of tin and a bottle of classic gold. They're small at 75 ml but they go a long way.

  • Removed crumbling paint and plaster from one of the walls (due to water leaking from the neighboring building)
  • wallpapered all the walls--a temporary fix but at least it looks 100x better
  • painted

Oh, and we also repainted the rest of the apartment (walls, ceiling, trim) except for the attic bedroom. French paint is...weird. When it dries, it turns flaky and powdery. I'm used to American paint that turns into a stretchy film.

Why did we go through this insanity?

We had to get the house entirely ready for a TV show! I can't write about it until it airs, but it's on HGTV and it will be fun to watch :) Filming took place over 5 full days.

The day after we finished filming, we started a new project: taking out the dividing wall in the living room. We're back to having plaster dust everywhere.

We have "Pierre," an electrician and master-of-most-trades via HelpX, assisting us for the next few weeks. After the ceilings, walls, and floors are patched up, we'll rewire the attic bedroom, retile the WC, and finish lots of other small projects.

Here's our living room minus the dividing wall

Dio helping with the demolition

And I'm stressed 
So, on top of all of the renovations and filming, our boiler back home broke. It's only 3 years old and supposedly still under parts & labor warranty. It took our installer almost a week to figure out how to get the right part ordered. Lots of drama and phone calls later, and in the end we bought a replacement boiler at our expense (helped by a huge manufacturer's discount, but still $$$). Then our oven back home broke too. The poor family renting our house has been camped in our master suite with several space heaters going. They're cosy enough as long as they don't venture outside the bedroom! I've been trying to get things repaired ASAP but of course things can only happen as fast as the parts arrive. 

Now let's talk about Ivy!

I missed Ivy's 22-month update and am determined to get this one done on time. She has such a vibrant personality. She's whip-smart and speaks 3-4 word phrases in French and English and often both. She loves to nurse and will tell me exactly where she wants to sit and which side.  Typical things she said today (with translations, too!)
  • Non, pas ça manteau. Ce manteau. No, not that coat. This coat.
  • Non, pas ca pipi. No, I don't want to go pee.
  • Epic! Encore Epic! (Epic is her favorite film. She asks to watch it several times a day.)
  • My chaud. Manteau off. I am hot. Take my coat off.
  • My baby. I am a baby.
  • "ih" ça chair. I want to nurse in that chair. "Ih" is how she says nurse. No idea why.
  • My chaussures sale. My shoes are dirty.

She had 3 non-consecutive nights of sleeping all night. I had a party...and then it ended. Now she's back to waking up 2-3 times a night. Argh. This girl is the trickiest sleeper we've ever had.

She loves to stick her tongue out. She has a bouncy run and she holds her arms out when she runs, almost as if she'll flap away.

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