18 December 2011

Price of Gas in France, Part 3

27 days ago I posted an update here on the price of regular unleaded gasoline in France, comparing it to what we were paying in April — 1.56€ per liter.

Walking to the gas station this afternoon to take this photo, I was not prepared for what I saw.

Today Agip is selling one liter of unleaded for exactly the same amount as last month — 1.50€.

I have no idea how these things work. Have fears about Europe's debt crisis finally calmed? Is winter putting the freeze on the Arab Spring? Something else?

The only thing I know for sure is that at this price, driving from Lyon to Le Croisic for the holidays will cost approximately 100€ in gasoline.

Even when paying highway tolls, this is significantly cheaper than taking France's fast train, at least for a family of four. So much for our geste pour la planète.

Next up: Christmas au Croisic.

07 December 2011

Almost Gluten-Free Holiday Cookies

Here's a cookie recipe I threw together today using the ingredients that inspired me as I walked into the pantry.

It was 3:15pm, about an hour before the start of that great French institution (one worth keeping) that kids around the hexagon

observe with ritualistic gusto — goûter, or afternoon snack time.

To be fair, goûter really deserves its own post. And it'll get one in the near future.

So for now let's get back to the cookies.

I call them "almost gluten-free" because there's still a little wheat flour in them. I know that doesn't do you any good if you're allergic or intolerant. But for anyone trying to reduce their gluten intake, I think this can be a good compromise. You can always substitute with more rice or chestnut flour.

They're also entirely dairy free. Instead of butter they're made with an equivalent measure of palm oil.

Here's what you'll need:
  (petit disclaimer - some amounts listed below are, well, approximations. I tend to cook and bake the way my Nona did - a handful of this, a pinch of that. But I've made variations of this recipe a few times now and have never been disappointed with the results. I also usually bake by weight and not volume. Get those conversion charts out!)

   - 150 grams of rice flour*
   - 200 grams of chestnut flour*
   - 50 grams of wheat flour (T80 seems to work well)
   - 100-150 grams of sugar (any kind'll do)
   - 200-250 grams of palm oil* (room temperature and cut into cubes)
   - 1 egg, also room temperature
   - zest and juice of one lemon (preferably organic)
   - 1 or 2 tablespoons of vanilla
   - about 3 handfuls of shredded coconut
   - 4 handfuls of shelled sunflower seeds
   - pinch of salt

* you should be able to find this in your local health food store

Before I get to the "How" of these amazing cookies, let me draw your attention to the heavy artillery I turn to when baking.

This Kitchen Aid mixer, a gift we offered ourselves two years ago, has already seen enough action to merit a medal of some sort. Now, you don't absolutely need an electric mixer to make these amazing cookies, but it sure helps.

Not only is it robust, handling the thickest cookie, bread and pastry doughs effortlessly, it's rather handsome too, with its shiny, nail-polish coating. Ours has found a permanent home on the kitchen countertop.
(thank you kitchenaid.co.uk for the photo)

Here's how to do it: 4 easy steps
1) preheat your oven to 160°C (320°F)
1) mix sugar, palm oil, egg, vanilla, lemon zest and juice until smooth
2) slowly add remaining ingredients until everything is well mixed
     (cookie dough should easily form a big ball. Option - refrigerate for 1/2 hour)
3) scoop onto greased or paper-lined cookie trays (I use a small cookie scoop)
    then gently press hash marks into each cookie with a fork dipped in sugar
    (the way you would for peanut butter cookies) - makes 45-50 cookies
4) bake for around 15 minutes (depends on your oven - today's batch took 20)
5) cool on a wire rack before eating

I call these "holiday cookies" because they're crispy and nutty with little bursts of lemon that dance around on your taste buds. But mostly because the taste reminds me of the Russian tea cookies, the ones shaped like miniature snow balls, mom used to make during the holidays.

Bon appétit and happy holidays!

04 December 2011

Lyon's Festival of Lights

2011 marks the 13th year the city of Lyon has hosted the Fête des Lumières, a multi-day/night festival which draws millions of spectators from France and beyond.

For four consecutive nights (8-11 December), Lyon will shine with more than 70 light shows scattered throughout the city. Monuments, hillsides, bridges and façades will all flash and glimmer with innovative and artistic video and light projections.

This short clip below (from previous years' festivals) captures the magical ambiance that reigns over the city during four of the darkest (and sometimes coldest) nights of the year.

Fête des lumières 2011 par ville-de-lyon

But it's not just the artists or out-of-town spectators who appreciate and participate in this festival; the heart and soul of La Fête des Lumières belong to the Lyonnais themselves.

Wiki lore has it that the Virgin Mary saved the town's inhabitants from plague in the year 1643. To express their gratitude, the residents of Lyon decided to place small candles in their windows every year on December 8th.

But I know of at least one window in Lyon where the candles on this night burn for a different reason.

Several years ago I was teaching English to an automotive engineer who happened to be Jewish. As December 8 approached, I asked him to tell me why this day was important in Lyon, fully expecting to hear either about the Virgin or the Basilica of Fourvière.

Instead, I was treated to a fantastic story mystics and martyrs. All Jewish, of course. With the lights taking on a whole new significance.

Whatever the "real" origin of this festival, one thing is for sure: it creates the opportunity for throngs of people to gather in a cheerful atmosphere of light and joy for several nights. It's also a great runner-up to the end-of-year holidays that follow.

As you're walking (elbowing) your way from one projection to another (the city center is closed to cars) you can buy mulled wine, hot chocolate or apple cider from hundreds of stands set up along the streets. Others sell beer, hot dogs and other cold-weather munchies.

For the first three nights (8, 9, 10 December) the light shows begin at 6pm and go until 1am, unless noted otherwise. On Sunday the 11th, the programs run from 6pm to midnight. For the complete program, including information about parking, public transportation and a comprehensive map of events for all four days, click here.

Two years ago I braved the masses to take a few of my own photos of the illuminations. Below are three of them.

Looking down into the city from the Croix-Rousse hill.

These lights "planted" in front of Hotel de Ville
resembled the fluorescent flora on Pandora from the film Avatar
which premiered in London during Lyon's 2009 Fête des Lumières.

Looking up the Rhône from the Morand Bridge on December 8.