Getting thrown a medical curveball while living the dream in Paris, France

When living the dream throws you a curveball... All rights reserved -Bellanda

When living the dream throws you a curveball…
All rights reserved -Bellanda

As some of you know, I haven’t been as active as I was when I first began this blog about life in Paris. It’s not that I ran out of ideas, nor that I got bored with this amazing city. Unfortunately, I have been suffering from an illness that showed its first signs back in 2006. The symptoms have increased to such an extent over the last three years that my days of running around have been limited. Gone, for now, is my pink super cape that I wore figuratively to juggle my activities & different roles throughout the day. Here, is a new day… one that exposes me to things I never would have imagined… one that challenges me to rise above and to truly see what is important. Here is the day, when I will share something far more personal than my latest visit to some glorious place in Paris.

So, what’s it like being ill in Paris? Well, I guess it’s safe to say that being ill sucks no matter where you are… but I’d rather focus my attention on the positive, because I am lucky… lucky for each day that I get to spend with my dear man & supportive family. I’m lucky for each precious moment that I get to be with and watch my little ones grow up in this gorgeous city.

There are far worse places to be ill than Paris. Walking the streets of this beautiful city, while soaking in its history, always lifts my spirits. Yes, I wish I had more energy to run around and take part in all it has to offer, but knowing I’m near, gives me hope and inspiration to be able to fight this thing.

Looking at Paris from the medical standpoint… there again, I am lucky. I don’t know where I would be without the incredible medical system in France as well as the medical facilities here in Paris. Actually, I do know… I probably wouldn’t be here.

In 2009, unrelated to my present illness, my doctor ran a test based on a hunch… I can’t even imagine trying to explain that to an insurance company back home. It turned out that he was onto something. They found and removed a cancerous polyp, informing me that if they hadn’t removed it, I would have had no more than 5 years before it was too late. To this day, I am still too young for this kind of test to be approved randomly in the USA. As proof, even though my brother’s insurance company knew about my cancer scare, they wouldn’t allow him to have the same test performed until he was what they considered the right age, 50.

Since then, doctors have found and removed two other tumors in two other locations… and have been working hard to put my best medical interests at heart. My kids joke that I’ve been in just about every hospital in Paris, and upon seeing one I haven’t been to ask, “When do you get to go there?”

So, yes, I am thankful that if I had to have an illness, that it is being taken care of at one of the best facilities for rare diseases. I’m with one of the finest doctors in the field & can see him or any other doctor of my choice when I need to and not when the insurance company decides I do. I have access to medications that can hopefully slow down the progression of the illness with next to no out-of-pocket money, and doctors who will run tests to make sure that my well-being is priority. I’m not rich, nor do I have connections who hooked me up with these doctors. This is something available to all residents. All of these things make having a long-term illness easier, because let’s face it, it’s hard enough knowing that you’ll have to tackle health problems for the rest of your days.

I will continue to try to convert the not so great into something positive & humorous… as I did in my article: “Leave it to the French to Make Medical Stockings Sexy!” https://bellandainparis.wordpress.com/2012/12/13/leave-it-to-the-french-to-make-medical-stockings-sexy/  It’s a daily battle that isn’t always easy, but considering the alternative, I’m one of the lucky ones.

So, why so many illnesses? Do I blame it on bad genes? Probably not… my genetic line on both sides of the family live well into their late 90s. Bad luck? Perhaps, but it most likely didn’t help growing up in a small town in the USA that was poisoned by a local factory. They illegally dumped chemical toxins that severely polluted the ground, air & water to dangerous levels for almost 100 years before it ever became public.

Sadly, my story is far more common than one might expect. Remember the film, Erin Brockovich? I was not from this particular town, but their story is a familiar one. Today, people are fighting to get towns like these cleaned up. I recently read a fabulous book on this subject entitled, The Brook, by John Sinsimer. It was inspired by a true story. Having grown up in a place exactly like the one in this book, I want to thank Mr. John Sinsimer for all he has done to bring this kind of a subject to the forefront. It is both well-written and captivating.

The Brook by John Sinsimer

The tragedy that surrounds such environmental events is mind-boggling. When you have witnessed friends and loved ones die at a young age… and others who are battling disease just to get through the day, you realize what is most important. My energy is too precious to focus on being angry, and hating the world is not my style. I prefer to be a lover of people, places & cultures. I decided long ago that I could either get angry, or I could take whatever energy and time that I have on this earth and live the dream as best I can. There are things we can control and other things we cannot. How we decide to handle the things we cannot control, makes all of the difference in the world.

In this Social Network age, that links complete strangers from across the globe, we often don’t truly know what someone is living unless they decide to open up. Until now, to so many of you, I was just another gal living it up in Paris. I’m still that gal, I’m just a little more real.

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Paris Sans Voitures… a true pleasure!

Paris Sans Voitures 2015

Paris Sans Voitures 2015

Ever experience crossing the busy Champs Elysées or La Place de la Concorde on foot? As with many big cities, it can be a bit of a challenge, even with the pedestrian lights. I’ve been caught numerous times on the middle platform clinging to my little ones until the light changed yet again, praying that they wouldn’t jet back into traffic as we waited.

This past weekend was different. We got the chance to walk in the streets of Paris… literally! What a pleasure and special opportunity. It was the first time that the city of Paris liberated its streets from cars, giving the opportunity for Parisians and tourists to enjoy the city without stress and added noise/pollution.

Paris Sans Voitures 2015

Paris Sans Voitures 2015

Although this was not the kind of day to leave your real camera at home, I decided to simply enjoy the walk with my loved ones. As many of you know, my energy levels can be inconsistent due to my illness. Unfortunately, this particular weekend, carrying my camera equipment was out to the question. That said, I couldn’t imagine not sharing this special event with all of you. Hope that you don’t mind the smartphone images… it’s the spirit of the event that counts, right? 😉

French Bread: Total Addiction!

A love affair with French bread! Bellanda ®

When people think of France, they often think of bread, cheese and wine. The products are so incredibly good that I have had countless meals consisting of just that, and would highly recommend it. However, before you run off and randomly pick a place to buy your bread, there are some things that you should know and look for. Not all bread in France is equal and not all bread sold here would be considered good by the locals. *Gasp!

Perhaps I have had too much time on my hands since I became ill two years ago, but have you ever wondered what makes French bread so good? Here is a little information that I wish I had before I came to France. In order to increase your chances of buying quality bread, look for the words boulangerie, boulanger or artisan on the exterior of the establishment. In 1993, an act concerning bread was passed and then amended into law in 1998 under the leadership of Jean-Pierre Raffarin.  As a bread lover who gained about 10 pounds on my first trip over to France, this is really a plus.

The bread act reserves the words boulanger and boulangerie for those establishments that use raw materials such as flour, water, yeast and salt. They knead their dough, monitor fermentation, shape and bake the bread in the place of sale. It also stipulates that the products used to make bread should at no time be frozen and that the bread in itself should not be frozen at any time. If these rules are not applied, the establishment must write the term dépôt de pain(s) or pain(s) on the exterior of the bakery.

This little piece of trivia might save your taste buds, and your meal. In addition, it could even save you the embarrassment of offering stale and dry tasting bread to your French friends. Yes, I’m not proud, but I have shamefully done this.

So, what is the secret is to making French bread? What do they do to it to make it so crunchy and delicious? Is it possible for nonprofessionals to make decent bread? Could I make French bread? While wondering all of these things, it struck me that I was living in a city full of truly amazing bread. Why would I even want to try to bake my own bread? Yeah, I’m crazy… my dear sweet man and I began testing whether we could come close to baking what might be considered, French bread. That is to say, if any bread could ever be considered French having been made by someone from New York. In doing so, I have eaten more bread than any petite woman should be proud of, but it was a lot of fun trying.

One of our many attempts at making bread. BELLANDA ®

One of our many attempts at making bread… I forgot to slant the knife when slicing the top, so it doesn’t have that pretty flaky layer crunch. Just another excuse to make more bread.
BELLANDA ®

I am not a professional baker, nor do I claim to be. This experiment gave me new-found respect for all of those bakers out there, making bread to feed the mouths of many. After more trial and errors than I can count, using various kinds of flour, proportions and techniques, we I have finally come up with an easy way to make bread. It is as close as we can get to the real thing. In addition, it stays good and fresh for 4-5 days!

In fact, we actually prefer our bread to that of any dépôt de pain(s). I know that this is going to sound crazy coming from someone who lives in France, but after realizing that I had turned more stale bread from uneaten baguettes into breadcrumbs than we could possibly use, we eventually stopped buying all kinds of bread.

We make bread about once a week (1 kilo of flour), that is unless my French in-laws are here. Then, we need to make it almost daily. Apparently, it is our fault, we are told. They just keep saying, “We can’t stop eating it!” Coming from my in-laws this is a true complement… both of their fathers were French boulangers!

After their most recent 10 day visit, I decided that opening a boulangerie is out of the question for me. I had a hard time keeping up with their bread appetites and couldn’t even imagine the number of hours it takes to make enough bread to feed such a bread loving country. As easy as our recipe is, I would have no life! Instead, I have decided to share the recipe with all of you. Depending on where you live and on your tastes, you will need to adapt the ingredients to your liking. For those of you who live in the USA, this might be a challenge due to the lack of flour varieties. Before I moved to France, I thought there was only one kind of all-purpose flour… silly me! Apparently, there are many different kinds. If you do manage to make the recipe work over there, please let people know how you did it in the comments section of the blog.

Let’s get started! Believe it or not, you don’t need many ingredients to make delicious bread.

Ingredients: Flour, Fresh Bread Yeast, Water, Flour BELLANDA ®

Ingredients: Bread Flour, Fresh Bread Yeast, Water, Salt, Flour
BELLANDA ®

For those of you who have been waiting for this recipe, I’m so sorry for the delay. I hope that the wait will be well worth it.

UPDATE:

Due to a “Nouvelle Recette” (New Recipe) for the brand of flour we used in our original recipe, we have made changes to our recipe. We now use 1/2 a kilo of flour Type-65 and 1/2 kilo of flour Type-80. This has gotten us as close to our original finished product as possible. If you find something that works better, please don’t hesitate to mention the flour in the comments section, and we will give it a try.

Ingredients for original recipe:

1 kilo of flour – ( 1/2 a kilo of flour Type-65 and 1/2 kilo of flour Type-80 )

625 grams of warm water

25 grams of Fresh Bread Yeast (I buy GB Extra Duo Cubes 2 x 25 g ) No, they are also not paying me to write about them. 😉

14 – 16 grams of salt (to your liking)

We use a mixer with a hook and carefully place the ingredients in a certain order. I am sure you can do this your own way, or even mix it by hand, but now that we found this to work best, we try to do it the same each time.

  • Add half of the water into the bowl. Then, add the 25 grams of Fresh Bread Yeast broken up into pieces into the warm water.
  • Add half of the flour on top of the water/yeast mixture.
  • Add the rest of the water, followed by the rest of the flour.
  • Lastly, add the salt (Be sure not to let the salt get in contact with the yeast)
Mix Ingredients BELLANDA ®

Mix Ingredients
BELLANDA ®

  • Mix ingredients until the flour mixture comes completely off of the sides of the bowl.
Mix ingredients until the flour mixture comes completely off of the sides of the bowl. Bellanda ®

Mix ingredients until the flour mixture comes completely off of the sides of the bowl.
Bellanda ®

  • Remove dough from hook. Cover with a cloth or plastic wrap and let sit in the bowl for about 30-40 minutes, or until the dough doubles in size.
Bread Dough Should Double in Size after around 30-40 minutes. Bellanda ®

Bread Dough Should Double in Size after around 30-40 minutes in a bowl covered in plastic.
Bellanda ®

  • Remove dough from bowl and knead with a little extra flour on the counter, pushing the air out.
  • Form dough into desired shape or shapes. You can make one very large loaf or divide it up as you would like.
  • Place on wax paper and cover with a cloth.
  • Let rise for another 20-30 minutes.
  • Warm oven to 240°C Bake  // 460°F  Bake – Place a water recipient in the oven. You can put the water in at this moment or  wait until your dough is ready for baking (we wait until we put bread dough in oven). The water will help give the bread that crispy exterior/moist interior that French bread is famous for.
Various Bread Forms and  Bellanda ®

A Couple of the Many Bread Forms you can make and Tools Bellanda ®

  • Slice the bread in a slanted, sideways motion.
  • You may want to use a spray bottle to mist a little water on the surface of the dough before popping it into the oven.
  • Promptly place the dough into the oven (on the same wax paper you used when making the dough rise).
  • Immediately lower the temperature to 220°C // 430°F
  • Bake for around 20-25 minutes, or until desired coloring of the bread.
  • Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack.
Fresh bread hot out of the oven! Bellanda ®

Freshly baked bread, hot out of the oven!
Bellanda ®

Sit back and enjoy the smell of freshly baked bread wafting throughout your kitchen. Your ears will also get a treat from the wonderful crackling sound the bread makes when removed from the oven. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!

Total bread addiction! Bellanda ®

Total bread addiction!
Bellanda ®

 ENJOY!

Last Days of 2013 in Paris… Thank You For Making This An Awesome Year!

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I began this Paris expat blog a little more than a year ago, but we now have 5100+ followers with visitors from 108 different countries across the planet. This has been an incredible blogging journey and I hope that you will accept my heartfelt thanks for such a wonderful reception.  I had heard that the blogging community was strong, but I never imagined that I would gain a blogging family who would also interact with me on Social and Professional Networks like Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn. What a lovely surprise. You’ve helped make 2013 extraordinary.

The Last Days of 2013

Paris: The Last Days of 2013
Photo: Bellanda ®

I look forward to sharing 2014 and Paris with you.

Bellanda ® Photo : ©2014 Bellanda  All rights reserved.

Bellanda ®
Photo: Bellanda ©2014 
All rights reserved.

I’m Not a French Chef, But Moving to France Has Changed This Expat’s Eating Habits!

This Expat Has Changed Her Eating Habits Since She Moved to France.

This Expat Has Changed Her Eating Habits Since She Moved to France.

As someone who has openly admitted to giving Americans a bad name when it comes to food and cooking, I have made huge changes since I moved to France. Although, we will still go to a fine restaurant from time to time to eat things we can’t possibly make ourselves, my New York lifestyle of going out to eat, grabbing or delivering something has become almost non-existent. Most importantly, my pasta no longer sticks to the wall like wallpaper paste, and you can actually cut and chew a piece of meat that I have cooked (much to the relief of my dear sweet man and children).

Although I know that I will never truly be French in my attitude and habits, food has become almost sacred for me. I’m not sure when it happened, but when I was recently asked if my eating habits have changed since I moved to France I was surprised by my answer. The change is in fact so dramatic that I’m not even sure if I should be proud or embarrassed.

As I write this blog post for you, I almost feel like a food snob. Okay, I think the word almost  is an understatement. I’m not proud, but I think that I have actually become one! We buy fresh foods found at the market. By fresh, I mean… literally. I cringe at the thought of buying or eating meat, fish or poultry that wasn’t cleaned/prepared for me in front of my very eyes. I don’t think I ever saw a fish head until I moved to France, and although I get laughed at by my French friends, I still don’t want to see it on my plate. Somehow, I don’t think I will ever evolve to that, nor do I want to. That said, fish and other meat products should be fresh. Who knew that fish doesn’t smell fishy if it is fresh? Okay, please don’t answer that. I’d like to continue thinking that I am not the only one who thought, all fish smells fishy.

Fresh Fish from Local Market

Fresh Fish from Local Market

As if the fresh meat and fish idea isn’t enough, I can’t help but gasp at vegetables or fruit in a can. If you just opened one up for dinner, please don’t hate me. The one thing I noticed here in France, is the ease with which one can find local markets that are open several times a week. Pretty much everything I buy come from the nearby fresh markets, leaving the supermarket for staple items like flour, sugar, etc. There is one hump I can’t get over… I buy mayonnaise and I will never put raw egg on my homemade Fettuccine Alfredo (Now, it is my Mother In Law who is gasping). The germ and virus fearing American in me just can’t get over that whole salmonella thing.

Although my Mom shakes her head and laughs about how crazy I have become about not buying something canned, I somehow feel better when she compliments my cooking and asks me to give her recipes.

Market Vegetables

Market Vegetables
Bellanda ®

Fresh Market Vegetables

Fresh Market Vegetables
Bellanda ®

You might be shaking your heads by now thinking, Who knew Bellanda was so crazy? She seems so normal in the Social Media Circle.  Hold that thought… Things are about to get worse or better depending on where you stand. When my children were little, one of them made a comment about carrots coming from the fresh market.  They were shocked to hear that they actually came from the ground before they made it to the market. Thus began a whole new way of thinking and buying food. We went online in search of a farm, and we not only found one not too far from Paris, we found one where you pick your own fruits and vegetables.

If you caught my Halloween Pumpkin Post, one of our little farms just happens to be the same place we buy our pumpkins at Halloween:  La Cueillette Plessis in Lumigny.  http://www.cueilletteduplessis.com/index.php

La Cueillette Plessis in Lumigny D20 - Route de Lumigny 77540 Lumigny Photos: Bellanda ®

La Cueillette Plessis in Lumigny
D20 – Route de Lumigny
77540 Lumigny
Photos: Bellanda ®

Put on your boots and grab one of the many wheelbarrows at your disposal to start loading it up with fresh delicious fruits and vegetables.  We do!

"Mommy, look what we pulled up from the ground!"

“Mommy, look what we pulled up from the ground!”
Bellanda ®

"Only take the red ones..."

“Only take the red ones…”
Bellanda ®

Oh, and don't be afraid to get your hands dirty... That is the fun part!

Oh, and don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty… That is the fun part!
You can wash them later when you rinse off your vegetable at the big outdoor sink.
Bellanda ®

Farm Fruits and Veggies Bellanda ®

Fall Season Farm Fruits and Vegetables.
Oops! It looks like we forgot to tell our little ones not to crush the freshly picked salad.
Bellanda ®

Although we don’t play farmer  as often as I would like to, it is a must for so many reasons: great produce, decent prices, and we get to teach our little ones about buying what is in season.  With the ability to buy any and all fruits and vegetables throughout the entire year, I didn’t even know what in season meant back home.

Much to the amazement of my Mom, we eat a real breakfast and cook two meals a day. I think the only reason she doesn’t call the men in white suites to bring me back home is because from time to time I will make a sandwich for lunch. My children adore them, so I try to ignore and put up with my Mother In Law saying in an almost shocked tone, “Oh, I see they’re eating American today? I guess they can eat French for dinner.” Even though I see sandwiches everywhere here in France, apparently I will never be truly French, no matter how much my eating habits have evolved… but hey, I’m totally okay with that.

Quiet Moment In Paris…

Paris has its quiet moments...  All rights reserved. Bellanda ®

Paris has its quiet moments…
Bellanda ®

Sometimes we get so caught up in the details of life that we forget to step back & truly see.

Soak in the calm and beauty of Paris…

Then, take it inside of you and bring it wherever you go.

Best wishes to you.

Bellanda