Cooking and Baking Abroad

I love cooking and baking, but as an American student studying/living abroad, I have found accomplishing these things to be a challenge. 

The problem with cooking (and baking) abroad comes in two parts: ingredients and conversion. Finding the right ingredients (and sometimes, figuring out what they are called in a different language or what the equivalent ingredient would be) usually requires research, and converting US measurements into metric is not always easy.

Recipes do not always translate well– especially if you do not have access to as many cooking utensils as you would at home! I found it useful to look up recipes on British websites like allrecipes.co.uk, where they are already posted in metric. Some ingredients are different, but for the most part it’s easier to go that route than converting an American recipe.

In 2010, during my study abroad in France, I didn’t have many opportunities to cook or bake for myself. I lived with a host family, so most of the time I was not in charge of cooking anything. On a few occasions, I was able to have baking experiments: chocolate chip cookies, and another time while on a trip, macarons.

Failed chocolate chip cookies

Round 2 of the failed cookies were slightly better

Neither of these experiments were successful. Converting what I see as the “classic” American cookie (the Toll House Chocolate Chip cookie) recipe into French took more work than I thought, and finding the ingredients was tough. When my friends and I finally got around to baking them, the ingredients weren’t quite right and we ended up with a thin block of crisp chocolate chip cookie that bore little resemblance to my beloved gooey and soft chocolate chip cookies. The second half were slightly better, but still not as good as they should have been.

The macarons were a disaster. My friend Any and I didn’t have all the ingredients, so we substituted ground almonds for almond flour and tried to assemble delicate macarons from this lumpy concoction. We ended up with cookies that were more like balls than smooth macarons. We called them “macaboules”, and they were truly horrific. (To be fair, macarons are not the easiest to make, and I haven’t tried making them again since then!)

In Finland, I lived in an apartment with two other exchange students. This means that most of the time, I was cooking my own meals. The cooking was fine– though I will admit that I ate lots of very strange combinations of food, not all of which are worth recreating. Baking happened somewhat accidentally. I always tried to buy fruit, and one week I waited too long to eat bananas so I ended up with overly ripe bananas that were more or less inedible as they were. I didn’t want to waste them, but all I could think of to do with them was to make banana bread. So that’s what I ended up doing.

My friend Charlotte and I during the cookie experiment of 2010.

My French baking experiment friends: Charlotte and Camille!

My friend Mareike and I made cookies together one during one of the last few weeks in Finland.

I ended up baking a lot in Finland. I had a strange schedule and more time on my hands than normal. Almost every week I would make scones, banana bread, or chocolate chip cookies. Often I ended up sharing these treats with my friends, many of whom had never had them before. Banana bread and American-style chocolate chip cookies were particularly special. And baked treats were great to bring on trips to cut down on food expenses while traveling!

For those of you that WANT to bake while abroad, here are the recipes I used. These are all very easy to make, though banana bread/banana cake usually seems to involve getting more bowls and utensils dirty and takes the most time overall.There is a lot of room for variation in these three recipes. The comments section of many recipes often includes suggestions from others on ways to improve the recipe; I highly recommend clicking through to the original recipes and reading some comments if you want ideas! I’ve included my own suggestions here.

Note on measuring: A kitchen scale is useful for getting precise measurements, but you can also find measuring cups similar to ones in the US. My flatmate had a measuring cup (well, more like a jug) that came in 100 gram measurements, with different lines for rice, flour, sugar, and water. This worked just fine for me, but if you don’t like estimating amounts, a kitchen scale or a select number of measuring cups/spoons might be worth the investment! Often, if you have teaspoons and tablespoons, you can use those to approximate the amount based on American measures (i.e. 8 tbsp = 1/2 c). This chart is helpful.

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The first banana bread.

Chocolate chip & walnut banana bread

Banana Bread/Cake (original recipe)

Makes 1 loaf of banana bread, about 12 servings.

  • 250g plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • pinch salt
  • 115g butter
  • 115 g sugar*
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 – 3 over-ripe bananas, mashed

Directions:

Time: prep ~ 15 min, cook time ~ 1 hr

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 C. Lightly grease a 23x13cm loaf tin.
  2. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt.
  3. In a separate bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar (chop the butter into small chunks to make this easier if you are creaming by hand with a fork). Stir in eggs and mashed bananas until well blended. Stir banana mixture into flour mixture until well combined. Pour mixture into prepared loaf tin.
  4. Bake in preheated oven for 60 to 65 minutes, until a knife inserted into center of the loaf comes out clean. About halfway through, if the banana bread is starting to get golden brown or is cooking too fast, you might want to cover it with aluminum foil and/or reduce the heat so that it does not burn. Reducing the heat will make it take a bit longer. Leave to cool in tin for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire cooling rack or a plate.

Notes: The original recipe calls for 115 g of dark brown sugar. Light brown sugar works just as well. I like to use a mix of 1/2 granulated sugar and 1/2 brown sugar. You can also make it with just granulated sugar. Brown sugar makes it more moist than white sugar and gives it a slightly different flavor.

Variations: Add a handful or two of chocolate chips/chopped dark chocolate, chopped nuts (especially walnuts or pecans), dried fruit (I’ve done this with cranberries, though raisins would be good too!). Chocolate + nuts is particularly good, and makes it a bit more filling. I also like to add some cinnamon and vanilla extract/sugar, and plain banana bread with “chai” spices like allspice, clove, cardamom, and nutmeg would also be delicious!

If you don’t have a loaf tin but have muffin tins, you can make this into muffins as well– according to a comment on the original recipe, a 12-muffin tin will make 2 batches using this recipe. Fill muffin cups up halfway and bake for 20 minutes at 150 C or until a knife, when inserted, comes out clean.

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Chocolate chip cookie ingredients

Cookie dough!

Chocolate chip cookies

Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies (original recipe – also translated into French!)

The full recipe makes 60 cookies. Making half (30 cookies) seems to be sufficient most of the time, unless you eat a lot of dough first 🙂

  • 150 g chocolate chips (dark or semi-sweet)
  • 160 g flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 100 g butter, softened
  • 90 g sugar
  • 90 g brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract*
  • 1 egg

Directions: 

Time: prep ~ 15 min, cook ~ 10 min

  1. Preheat oven to 190 C.
  2. Combine the dry ingredients through the salt. Cream the butter and sugar and vanilla. Add egg and beat well.
  3. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in chocolate. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto greased baking sheets or baking sheets lined with parchment paper.
  4. Bake for 8 – 11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool two minutes, move to wire racks (or plate) to cool completely.

Store cookies in airtight container. Putting a slice of bread in with the cookies will keep them from going stale as quickly (and help soften them up if they’re hard!), though it will get you weird looks and questions. 🙂 If you have a freezer, you could freeze them as dough balls for quick baking later.

Notes: You don’t have to be very precise with this. 100 g of both sugars will work, as will using 150 g of flour. It gives a slightly different texture, but it tastes like it should! If you don’t have access to chocolate chips, chopping up dark chocolate will work as well. The original recipe calls for vanilla extract, but you could use vanilla sugar. This blog explains how to use the full vanilla bean.

Variations: Some people make Toll House Cookies with chopped nuts. Using this recipe, 1/2 cup (about 50 g) of chopped nuts would be ideal. Try white chocolate instead of dark chocolate. This even works as a sugar cookie– just omit chocolate entirely. Add cinnamon to the chocolate-less dough and sprinkle sugar/cinnamon on top if you want a snickerdoodle-like cookie. You could substitute some oatmeal for some of the flour if you wanted oatmeal cookies.

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Blueberry-lemon scones.

Blueberry Scones (original recipe for Lemon-Blueberry scones – uses American measurements)

  • 300 g flour
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoons (70 g) butter
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 2 lg eggs
  • 125 g powdered sugar*
  • 50 – 100 g blueberries (fresh or frozen)*

Directions:

Time: prep ~15 minutes, cook ~15 minutes

  1. Preheat the oven to 230 C. In a large bowl combine the flour, salt, sugar, and baking powder. Mix them well to make sure there are no clumps and everything is combined evenly.
  2. In a smaller bowl, combine the milk and eggs. Whisk well.
  3. Cut the butter into chunks and put it into the bowl with the dry ingredients. Using your hands, “smoosh” the butter into the flour over and over until there are no more clumps and it is completely combined with the flour. It should look like coarse sand.
  4. Stir the blueberries into the wet ingredients then pour all of that into the bowl of dry ingredients. Stir it all together until everything has combined (thorough mixing is not necessary). The dough will be very wet and sticky, don’t worry.
  5. Liberally flour your countertop (and your hands!) to keep the wet dough from sticking. Dump the ball of wet dough onto the floured surface and pat it down into a circle about 8 inches wide and one inch thick. (Alternatively, dump it right onto your baking sheet, covered in parchment paper/foil and pat it down.)
  6. You can cut the circle into 8 wedges and space them out or bake them in a circle and cut them later — this method keeps the inside slightly more moist, in my opinion. Place the scones on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper or foil (for easy clean up).  Bake for 12-15 minutes.
  7. If you’re using icing, make it while the scones are baking. Place one cup of powdered sugar in a small bowl and add milk by the tablespoon into it. You want the icing thick but still loose enough to drizzle over the scones.
  8. When the scones are golden brown on top, remove them from the oven and let cool. If you’re using icing, make sure they’re cool before you ice them 🙂

Notes: The powdered/confectioner’s sugar is for making icing. If you don’t have it, you can just sprinkle about a tablespoon of granulated sugar or coarse sugar over the top of your scones before baking (use a milk or egg wash first if you want, but it shouldn’t be necessary). For the blueberries, the recipe calls for half a cup — you can eyeball that, or add a couple handfuls of blueberries. Whatever you want, really!

Variations: Almost any fruit will work! I’m partial to blueberry and raspberry scones, but apricot, strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, and cranberries all make delicious scones! Different dried fruit would also work. Add chocolate chips if you want your scones to be more like dessert– white chocolate and raspberry is a delicious combination. Adding orange, lemon, or lime zest is great. Try chocolate chip and orange, raspberry-lime, or lemon-blueberry. Make the recipe without any fruit or sugar for a plain scone that would be great with butter or jam (though you might want to add more milk, it might be pretty dry!). Try cinnamon scones by adding a couple tablespoons of cinnamon to the recipe (and of course no blueberries), and sprinkling cinnamon sugar over the top, or making a cinnamon-vanilla icing! The possibilities are endless.

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At any rate, I highly recommend having a baking experiment or two while abroad! It can help ease homesickness and stress, and making foods from your home country to share with friends can be a great way to share culture, especially if they join in!

Other resources: 

  • food.com has the option to show recipes in metric measurements, though they will not convert the temperature.
  • JSWard has a guide to converting recipes and cooking in metric, very handy.
  •  This website does conversions of cooking measurements for you – just make sure you put in the ingredient (it also has temperature conversionsbutter conversions, and “common conversions” for other measurements used in the kitchen)
  • In chart form, common conversions from US to Metric, as well as conversions between US amounts! Includes dry and liquid measurements and even pan measurement equivalents.
  • More British sources for recipes… BBC Good Food and Sorted Food.
  • If you don’t mind doing conversions yourself, I love Budget Bytes and (US) Allrecipes.

Have you had any experiences with baking or cooking food from home while abroad? How did it go? I’d love to hear your stories! 

(Also, if you have any questions or if you would like to see more posts like this, let me know!)

Originally posted on my blog on Students Gone Global.

The Promise of “Cheap” Travel

Hello!

This might come as a surprise to some of you, but I’m becoming a skeptic of cheap travel. 

This is taboo to say, I think. Especially for a student.

But hear me out.

Excited to fly to Stockholm. Photo courtesy of my friend Sophia.

Excited to fly to Stockholm. Photo courtesy of my friend Sophia.

I love to travel, and I cannot afford to go all the places I want to go… at least not full price. But the more I travel, and the more I research opportunities to travel, the more I’m realizing how inconvenient it is. I mean, sure, Ryanair and Easyjet are wonderful things, but when it comes down to it: how much are you gaining from the few extra euros?

Everyone and their mother has heard of Ryanair (or Easyjet or Jetblue… insert other budget airline here). It’s a great option, and I will almost certainly be using it at one point while I’m abroad. That hasn’t happened yet, though.

As it turns out, for the places I want to go are not easily accessible by Ryanair. (Or other “budget” airlines!) For example, to get from my university town of Joensuu, Finland to Aix-en-Provence, France (where I’ll be this summer), I would have to take a bus or train from Joensuu to Lappeenranta, then a flight to “Milan”, “Dusseldorf”, or “Barcelona”. None of those airports are actually in the cities associated with them. Mostly, to get from those places to the nearby (bigger) airports, I’d have to take a bus, train, or taxi. And then another flight, bus, or train to Marseille. And then someone would have to come pick me up, or I’d have to take a bus to Aix.

IMG_2522

Sometimes surprisingly cheap: train travel!

And of course, I’d have to pay luggage fees.

That’s just not a reasonable option. While I love train rides and flights, there is nothing glorious about spending so long in transit or hauling luggage around. If I were traveling with a carry-on only (which WILL be the case one day…), I would still worry. Even on bigger airlines, sometimes you end up on planes that are so small that you can’t possibly fit your standard (maximum sized) carry-on luggage into the overhead compartments. The stress of traveling in such a haphazard way when you have a very specific destination to get to and don’t want to waste your time or money city- and country-hopping your way through foreign airports to get there just isn’t worth it. At least for me.

That is not to say that there’s anything wrong with budget travel.

I think the danger of it comes in when travelers unsuspectingly lock themselves into the “budget” option without considering the more standard alternatives… the ones that aren’t “budget”. Sure, a flight from Paris to Marseille COULD be $300, but if you know where to look, a flight on a major airline between the same airports might also be $70. If you’re checking bags, or want to go to specific (more central) locations, rather than the out-of-the-way options provided by airlines like Ryanair, then you should be INCREDIBLY thorough in your research.

Consider transportation to the airport, fees, transportation between airports/your final destination at EVERY leg of the trip. IMG_2778

It takes time and patience to figure it out. Also math. All to answer the question: how can you puzzle together the ABSOLUTELY cheapest option?

There reaches a point where it is no longer fun to play with the endless options. When you realize that maybe the “cheap” options that everyone tells you about aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Or maybe you just find out that an extra 3 euros gets you a better departure time, or an extra 20 gets you a snack and a free checked bag. Or, against all expectations, the budget option is actually MORE EXPENSIVE than the more traditional route. I can’t say which is better– the adventure and stress of piecemeal travel might be your style, and I certainly want to try it out in some capacity!

In the meantime, though, for your convenience…

Here are my suggestions for places to find cheap flights without the hassle. Add your favorites in the comments– I’d love to know how everyone gets around 🙂

Have you travelled on “budget” airlines? I’d love to hear your experiences!

(originally posted on my blog on Students Gone Global)

For the Treatment of Wanderlust

Hello, all!

I suffer from a chronic case of wanderlust. I am forever dreaming of the places I want to travel to, and I have a near-constant desire to pack up and go anywhere. This love of travel makes it unnecessarily difficult to fall in love with one place, with a few exceptions. I find myself daydreaming of places I’ve never been, thinking of all the adventures I could be having anywhere else in the world that aren’t where I am now.

For me, the solution to wanderlust involves either travelling in some manner or distracting myself from my desire to travel. Both solutions end up tying into each other, but here are some ways that I deal with my wanderlust.

For the Treatment of Wanderlust

  1. Explore local attractions. When was the last time you wandered around your town and had adventures? Have you been to all the touristy places? The places off the beaten path? Maybe try a new restaurant or go to a festival or something like that. Go to the cool local places like shops and galleries or museums.

  2. Check out the travel section at the library. There are lots of blogs and books that talk about travel or travel experiences. It’s fun to read stories about someone else’s adventures and although it won’t cure your wanderlust, it will help you imagine you are elsewhere in the world. (You just have to use your imagination.)

  1. Make something inspired by your travels. This doesn’t necessarily mean travels you have already had! Try making a playlist of songs that remind you of a certain place or experience, or making a photo album/collage of places you have been or want to go. Reliving some of those experiences can be a bit nostalgia-heavy, but at the same time, you may feel as though you are travelling again!

  2. Travel via the internet. Back to the travel blogs with you! Have you checked out travel pictures on Flickr? Tourism websites with virtual tours? Google Earth? Learning or reading about a new place, or seeing images of an interesting place to try to experience it in a different way is one fairly easy way of travelling without even leaving your room!

  3. Practice a new language. Experiencing a new language is kind of like experiencing a whole new culture! Why not explore the world in words? source: http://www.destination360.com/travel-resources/travel-books

  4. Cook a meal inspired by a different culture. Try to cook a meal (maybe even from scratch!) inspired by a different culture or country! When is the last time you tried to make sauerkraut from scratch? Sushi?

  5. Start planning a trip. Dig in for some research and start planning a trip. Even if you can’t afford it, it’s fun to think about how you could go somewhere you really want to go. How much would it cost for plane tickets? Lodging? What major attractions would you want to see? Figuring this out when you are suffering from wanderlust can help make it feel better– at least you are planning for a trip, even if you aren’t going yet!

How do you deal with wanderlust?

A demain!
– Aly