Recipe! Black Sesame Cupcakes
Elisabeth is an accomplished baker, and regularly adapts recipes to suit her own--and others'--tastes. This recipe, for black sesame cupcakes, is an adaptation from Colleen Patrick-Goudreau's The Joy of Vegan Baking.
Black Sesame Cupcakes
Makes 10-12 cupcakes
Black sesame paste (or black tahini) is not a common dessert ingredient, but the result is quite delightful. In a cake, it resembles chocolate at first glance, but has a rich, nutty flavor that pairs excellently with the vanilla. In France, you can find black sesame paste (crème de sésame noir) from the Jean Hervé brand at Naturalia or other organic shops. Elsewhere, you may find it at Asian supermarkets or online. Regular blond sesame paste may also be used as a variation.
1½ cups whole-wheat flour
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
⅓ cup canola oil
1 tablespoon white distilled vinegar
1 cup cold water
4 tablespoons black sesame paste
1. Preheat your oven to 350°F (180°C).
2. Sift the flour, sugar, salt and baking soda into a large bowl and whisk until thoroughly combined.
3. In a separate smaller bowl, combine the vanilla, oil, vinegar, water and black sesame paste. Create a well in the center of the bowl with the dry ingredients, then add the liquid ingredients and stir just until combined.
4. Fill your silicone or paper cupcake cups three-fourths full and bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.
To make an easy black sesame glaze, combine some powdered sugar with a tiny bit of water and some more black sesame paste. Frost the cupcakes only after they have completely cooled. Alternatively, you can sift some powdered sugar onto the cupcakes for a simple but elegant result.
What's your definition of the "perfect life"? Does your vision involve a sun-splashed island where you can write your novel in utter peace and tranquillity, or do you dream of becoming the head chef at your very own restaurant? Maybe your perfect life involves a house with a white-picket fence and the sound of children's laughter pinging off the walls. In this series, we meet women who've forged their own paths, taking risks and living fearlessly to fulfill their "perfect life" ideals. Here, an American expat in Paris shares her living-my-dream story.
Was it a longtime dream to move to Paris?
I think it’s something I’d always wanted to do, on some level, ever since I began learning French at the age of 12. Later, when I began my first career as a teacher of English as a second language, I looked into teaching jobs in France, but most of them were open to people from the UK only. Finally, after I’d been working as a translator for a few years, I heard about the residence permit that I ended up getting, the Carte Compétences et Talents designed for non-EU citizens. As an entrepreneur who brought my own job with me, I had an easy time getting accepted for the first three-year permit and moved to Paris in the spring of 2009. Then in 2012, I had it renewed for another three years.
Is your family encouraging and supportive of the choices you’ve made?
At the beginning, they found the idea of my living on the other side of the ocean rather extreme, and would have preferred that I stay in the US. But because I work freelance, whenever I return for a visit I’m able to stay for long periods of time (a couple of months if I like), so that makes a big difference. They’ve gradually come to see that I really prefer living in Europe and are happy for me now.
How is your life different in France than where you were brought up?
I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin, so there are quite a few differences between that part of the world and Paris. First, because Paris is a major international hub and destination for travelers and expats alike, there are many opportunities to meet people from all over the world and get insights into their cultures and languages. I also enjoy the daily challenge of absorbing the world and expressing myself through the frame of a foreign language, although to stay at the top of my game as a translator, I make sure to keep my English active by spending time with Anglophone friends.
You’re a vegan; what, if any, challenges have you faced as an herbivore in a country known for foie gras and escargot?
There are fewer vegan choices on the menus of non-veg restaurants in France compared with the US, as a general rule, but this doesn’t impact me much because I cook so often at home and tend to go to vegan or vegetarian restaurants when I do go out. The main challenge I have faced as a vegan in France is the reactions of people who are not familiar with veganism or vegetarianism. In those situations, I just try to answer their questions and present the benefits of this way of eating. The very best way to do this, I have found, is to prepare a decadent vegan dessert and invite them to try it!
You work as a French-to-English translator; Can you tell us about your most recent project?
My translation of Armand Chauvel’s novel The Green and the Red was published this summer by Ashland Creek Press, an independent publisher in Oregon that specializes in eco-fiction. It was an exciting project for me, not only because I really enjoy translating literature, but also because the novel presents readers with a new way of looking at food. It’s a fun story, set in France, about a vegetarian chef who meets and butts heads with the meat-loving marketing director of a sausage manufacturer. It offers humor, suspense and a little bit of armchair travel for those who haven’t been to France.
What advice would you give to others who dream of living abroad but don’t know where to start?
Try to make contacts in international circles, where you’re likely to meet people who have lived abroad and can give you insights into opportunities you might not hear about otherwise.
Describe your personal style.
I like to pair classic, neutral items with vintage or other unique pieces. I love to visit second-hand shops and vide-greniers (like a multi-family garage sale, but held in a neighborhood square) – buying things second-hand is a good way to minimize waste, and the items you find are usually quite well-made since they have stood the test of time. One of the highlights of my recent stay in Budapest was visiting a flea market and finding a cute flower-patterned Soviet-era skirt at a great price.
What do you do to stay physically and mentally fit?
In a city like Paris, you end up doing quite a lot of what I call “unintentional” walking. Even with the metro as your main form of transportation, your own two feet come into significant use because of all the stairs and long corridors. So I burn quite a few calories just by going places. Apart from that, I also go for the occasional run in Parc Monceau, a beautiful park that’s near my place. At home, I meditate in the evenings before going to sleep and find enormous benefits in that.
What might we find in your shopping basket on an everyday trip to the market?
On an average shopping trip, I might pick up some seasonal fruits and vegetables, plus a container of oat milk, some muesli, apricot jam, almond butter and a package of premade vegan pâte feuilletée (a kind of puff pastry dough). I sometimes use this to make my own homemade chaussons aux pommes (apple turnovers) for breakfast, or else a savory dish such as a pizza or a tarte aux tomates with a healthy dose of spicy Dijon mustard. I do most of my shopping at one of the neighborhood organic shops, but I also get harder-to-find produce items such as rosemary, Portobello mushrooms, kale and passionfruit at the weekly Batignolles organic farmer’s market, which happens to be only a few minutes from my apartment. For special vegan items like Vegusto cheese and white chocolate, I make a trek to Un Monde Vegan on the other side of town.
Do you have any personal care products you are faithful to?
For years now, I’ve used Aveda’s balancing infusion oil after happening upon it at a hair salon in the US. It smells heavenly and is a great moisturizer. Since moving to France, I have also discovered Aleppo olive oil soap and have become a big fan.
Are you philanthropic?
I’m involved with Bead for Life, a non-profit that creates sustainable opportunities for Ugandan women to lift themselves and their families out of extreme poverty. Another organization I support is The Fistula Foundation, which provides treatment to women with obstetric fistula in Ethiopia. I also support Les P’tits Cracks, a French non-profit that serves children with cancer, and some animal-protection organizations such as L214, Association Végétarienne de France and Sea Shepherd.
You are known among friends for your baking prowess; what other hobbies or hidden talents do you possess?
I sometimes do a bit of drawing and painting, and I also love photography. A truly hidden interest, in that I haven’t spoken of it much, is fiction writing. My translation work often leaves me with little energy to return to the computer at the end of a day and spend even more time looking at the screen, but I have some ideas that have been simmering away on the back burner for some time. One hurdle to overcome is that after working as a translator for years, I find it somewhat disorienting to write without the usual framework of a source text guiding and structuring the words I generate. This, however, is also exactly what makes it an enjoyable albeit challenging new experience – I have the freedom to say whatever I like, and the responsibility of making it take the right shape.
What other dreams are you hoping to fulfill in the months or years to come?
Now that I’ve been living in France for five years, I can apply for citizenship, so I’m currently working on gathering all the required paperwork for my application. I’m also hoping to visit and spend time in other countries in Europe and farther afield. I’ve visited most of the countries surrounding France, as well as Iceland, Hungary, Morocco and Tunisia, but so many more remain to be discovered!
Cupcake image courtesy of Elisabeth Lyman.