Saturday, March 30, 2013

Fruit compotes, Spring & embracing our struggles









I talk a lot about process here. Enjoying the journey. Being in the moment. All that good stuff. 

I do because it’s not an automatic for me. I have to keep reminding myself, to keep practicing it. 
It’s sometimes a struggle. To enjoy the journey for journey’s sake, no matter the outcome.

Pablo is really into puzzles these days. He can really focus on them and he seems to enjoy figuring them out. In order to nurture his patience, his perseverance, I try to be as hands off as possible. The other day, I watched him struggle a bit putting some pieces together, getting some pieces wrong, some pieces right. He was really profoundly in the moment, enjoying this process, with no concept of success or failure, just pure journey. It took him a while to get it done, but he did. I said, ‘Well done’, myself feeling some accomplishment for him. But within 5 seconds, he took it apart, put it away and moved on to something else. 

At first, I was a bit surprised. If it were me, I would have taken a moment to contemplate what I’d done. 
A couple of weeks later, thinking back on this, I realized this was the epitome of journey for journey’s sake. He did not do the puzzle with any particular destination or goal in mind. Doing for doing, not for having done. He did it because he enjoyed the process, so the result was completely irrelevant to him.

Could I relearn this? Bake a bread just for the sake of baking, no matter how good or bad it tastes when done? (Probably the only way to make good bread, ironically.)

I suppose it is only human to be somewhat goal-oriented, but society seems to put so much emphasis on goal, success, trophies, results. All meaningless without a struggle. Without an interesting journey.

Pablo somehow knows this balance. He knows when he does something for a specific goal, and he knows when he wants to do something for its very process. Wise little guy he is. I learn from him every day.



I read this poem today. It hit me like an arrow in the bull’s eye. An excerpt from "Spring" by Jim Harrison (whole poem here) (bold emphasis is mine):

Something new in the air today, perhaps the struggle of the bud to become a leaf.
Nearly two weeks late it invaded the air but then what is two weeks to life herself?
On a cool night there is a break from the struggle of becoming.
I suppose that's why we sleep.
In a childhood story they spoke of the land of enchantment.
"We crawl to it, we short-lived mammals, not realizing that we are already there.” [...]
Of late I see waking as another chance at spring.

Maybe that's why spring feels so kindred to me this year. "The struggle of becoming". The beauty and truth of that phrase moves me. Because I am learning what my 2 year old already knows: the struggle of becoming is what makes life worth living.



In celebration of spring, we had a backyard picnic for our goûter yesterday. Sit in the grass, smell the jasmine, have some tea and homemade fruit compotes. 


























Finally sharing these terribly simple compote recipes, as some of you requested. 

Wishing you and yours a lovely Easter and spring season.






















Fruit compotes


Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 15-20 minutes

Age for babies: 4-6 months (individual fruit compotes first)

Note: I decided to share three flavors here: apple-mint, pear-blueberry, apple-mixed berries, all fruits that are available and seasonal at the moment. Many variations will soon be possible with summer stone fruits (I had blogged about a raw peach compote last summer). Obviously, this is a very flexible recipe, you can have more or less fruit, mix and match pretty much any fruit of your liking, add cinnamon, honey, lemon zest, thyme, basil, whatever you like. I use a blender as mine does a smoother puree than my food processor.

For apple-mint & apple-berries(Yields about 1 cup each)

3 apples peeled, cut up
5 sprigs of mint, leaves only
1 cup frozen mixed berries

Steam the apples and mint leaves (mint on one side only) for about 20 minutes, until apple is tender.
Steam (separately) the frozen berries for about 7 minutes. 

Puree half the apples + mint in a blender with 1/4 cup of cooking juices (add a couple of tbsp if compote is too thick).

Puree the other half of the apples + berries with 3-4 tbsp of cooking juices (adjust to obtain desired consistency).

Let cool, and eat at room temperature or chilled.

For pear-blueberry:
(Yields about 1 1/2 cup)

2 medium pears, peeled, cut up
1 cup of fresh blueberries

Steam the pears and blueberries for about 10-12 minutes, until pear is tender.
Puree in a blender with 2-3 tbsp of cooking juices (adjust to obtain desired consistency)

Let cool, and eat at room temperature or chilled.

I usually keep enough for the next day, and freeze the rest for later use. (They can be thawed in water bath or microwave).


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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Pablo's menu this week...




Posting our menus late this week as we took a short trip to the seaside near Cambria, California, halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. A wonderful combination of sea and countryside. 

I thought I'd share in this week's menu what we picked for Pablo when we ate at restaurants. I'm always baffled at kids menus here, offering nothing but dry chicken with steamed broccoli, overcooked beef patties, fries or spaghetti. We chose from the appetizer menu for him to have smaller portions, and shared some of our dishes with him, he loved to get a little taste of everything. This makes the restaurant experience just as exciting for him as it is for us (he already does get excited when I tell him we're going to eat at a restaurant!). We have always taken Pablo out to eat since he was a newborn, not often, but on a semi-regular basis, so having a meal out with him has never been an issue. I'm also thinking that eating family meals together with Pablo on a daily basis, in courses (taking about 1 hour for dinner), is really what makes it feasible - and pleasant - to go out to dinner with him, he is fairly well-behaved (i.e. engaged) and stays seated with us for the duration of the meal (with minimal entertainment if the wait's a bit long, like a book, maybe a toy car or a couple of crayons).

We brought back some wonderful fresh fish, which we're cooking up this week. Sharing some images of a simple baked fish as my mom made it, with lemon, onions and fennel, as well as some gorgeous brown beech mushrooms we got in our CSA basket, which we also cooked simply with olive oil, parsley and garlic. With fresh quality products, the simpler the better. 

Hope you are having a flavorful week, and have been feeling Spring "whispering", as Sarah Kieffer so poetically writes it here




Cheeses of the week: Following French tradition, I always offer a little bit of cheese at the end of every meal, between the main course and dessert. Rotation this week: "Coupole" aged goat cheese from Vermont Creamery (amazing), Gruyère, Babybel for the road.

DessertsAt lunch, I offer a fruit yogurt (or plain yogurt with fresh fruit), but at night, I prefer sticking to plain yogurt (regular homemade* whole milk, sheep’s milk, goat's milk and Greek yogurt for extra protein) to avoid too much sugar before bedtime.

If you would like a particular recipe on the menu, feel free to contact me! (I marked with a * the recipes that will be the topic of upcoming posts).

MONDAY

Lunch (picnic at the beach)
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Shallot lentil salad, cherry tomatoes, saucisson (dry salami)
Main course: Prosciutto, avocado.

Goûter (4pm snack) – Brioche (on the road)

Dinner (at Robbin's in Cambria)
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Carrot ginger soup with coconut cream
Main course: Hanger steak, creamed spinach

TUESDAY

Lunch (at Dockside in Morro Bay)
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Baked oysters with lemon/garlic (Pablo just loved those)
Main course: Pink shrimp, rice pilaf & coleslaw

Goûter - Clementine

Dinner (at The Black Cat in Cambria)
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Celery root soup with cream of cilantro* (this was amazing, I will be experimenting with this recipe to share it here)
Main course: Mushroom sage gnocchi, vegetable cheese polenta


WEDNESDAY

Lunch
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Tomatoes & cucumber salad
Main course: Tofu, baby bok choy puree

Goûter – Pear-strawberry compote

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Spring pea & chive salad
Main course: Dorados (brought fresh from Morro Bay!), jasmine rice in coconut milk

THURSDAY

Lunch
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Grated Carrots French-Style
Main course: Beef patty, quinoa noodles

Goûter - Banana

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Sunchoke soup
Main courseSoles fillets with micro-radish puree


FRIDAY

Lunch
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Avocado, cherry tomatoes
Main course: Ham, purple potatoes (boiled, with little butter and salt)

Goûter - Mango compote

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Cauliflower & green beans salad with lots of herbs
Main course: Duck confit, cannellini beans

SATURDAY

Lunch- OUT

Goûter - Pear-blueberry compote

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: White asparagus in creamy tarragon yogurt sauce
Main course: Buttermilk chicken thighs, creamy rosemary heirloom carrots baked in a parcel*

SUNDAY - Happy Easter!

Lunch (with friends)
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Andalusian Gazpacho
Main course: Grilled leg of lamb with flageolets beans French-style

Goûter - Chocolate pudding (it is Easter after all!)

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Watermelon radish, endive blue cheese salad
Main course: Cold leg of lamb with mustard (the best!)


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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Spring lamb meatballs... & living life in the slow lane






I often feel like I'm galloping through life at full speed, and pulling on the reins as hard as I can, to slow down, to really feel my life, to see it and enjoy it in a palpable way. But time has that sand-going-through-your-fingers quality, and for some reason, that sensation seems exacerbated when you have children. How can Pablo be almost 2 already?

So I'm searching. I'm searching for the secret to living life in the slow lane. 

My jasmine brought this to mind. We are blessed with a large wall of jasmine, and its scent pervades our backyard for a couple of months a year. I mentioned it a couple of times recently... I can see it through my window from my desk, where I spend a lot of time. I look at it, like an anchor. I watched it dormant this winter. I smiled when I noticed the pink buds multiplying a few weeks ago. Then the first couple of white flowers came out last week. And today, it's in full bloom. I just wish it would stop there, stay there.

At night, I stick my nose out my window just to smell it a few more seconds. I just want to be with it.

I know the art of slow living has to do with being in the moment, but ironically, the times we are in the moment, are the ones that go by the fastest. And yet that are the most worthwhile. So you see my conundrum.

Or is it about being content? When we are content, life slows down a bit. When we remember it's not going to last and start wanting more, it accelerates again. Life has sometimes felt jerky that way.

So between deadlines and to-do lists, I struggle to find ways to take my time. To reclaim it. It's hard. This blog has been a great opportunity to do that: in order to write the posts I want to write, I have to take my time, slow down. To cook the recipes, to photograph them, to write my thoughts here.

And I suppose that, as always, it's the little things that help the most. Looking for slower moments every day. Opportunities for slowness. Moments of awareness, of enjoyment, or even of sadness or worry. Just being with it. Moments when we do not think of what comes next, but focus on the here and now. Like dancing with Pablo. Gardening (or trying to...). Cooking. And meals.

Meals are such moments for us. That's why I cherish them so much. Far from wanting to get dinner over with, we consciously try to slow it down, trying to be mindful while we eat (I remind Pablo - and myself - to eat slowly several times a meal. It's not about what we're eating next, but about what we're eating now.)

And these things have helped me pull on the reins of time a bit. But it does fly...

I think of my jasmine again. In January, I trusted the rain was feeding its roots to make it grow and bloom when it would be ready (with a hint of impatience). In March, I am enjoying it in all its glory, I take seconds every day to smell it and marvel at it (with a hint of helplessness, at how fast it will fade away). In August, I will accept it has gone through its cycle, and will be grateful for the joy it gave me (with a hint of sadness).

Trust that things will happen as they need to, enjoy the worthwhile moments as best you can, accept the fluctuating and cyclical nature of life.  In short, go with the flow. All a work in (slow) progress here.

In the meantime, we shall have our meal outside tonight. Just for the smell of jasmine in the spring.




I have been enjoying thoroughly cooking from Small Plates & Sweet Treats by Aran Goyoaga (I talked about her inspiring blog when I shared her leek flan recipe a while ago). This lamb meatballs recipe has become one of our family favorites, and is especially appropriate with the spring season (I usually cook leg of lamb for Easter).  We love lamb meat and have it on a regular basis (I started giving it to Pablo around 7 months). It is so flavorful, and this easy preparation really brings out the best of its flavor.




Herbed lamb meatballs in coconut milk, with quinoa

Very lightly adapted from Small Plates & Sweet Treats by Aran Goyoaga

Serves 4

Prep time: 20 mn
Cook time: 20 mn

Age for babies: I would offer this between 10-12 mo because of the egg.

1 lb ground lamb
2 slices of bread, crust removed, crumbled (I used a ancient grain spelt bread)
1 clove of garlic
1 egg
1/2 bunch of Italian parsley
10 sprigs fresh mint
4 sprigs fresh oregano
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut milk
1/2 cup sheep's milk yogurt (or whole milk cow if you can't find sheep)
Juice of 1/2 lemon

For the quinoa:
1 cup of quinoa
2 cups of vegetable broth (or water)
Leftover coconut milk (*I usually use cans of coconut milk, and using 1 1/2 cup above, there's a bit leftover, which I add in to cook the quinoa)


Peel the garlic, pick the leaves of the mint and oregano off the stems. Place the garlic clove, oregano, mint and parsley in a small food processor to mince them very finely. (Alternatively, you can mince everything by hand).

Beat the egg lightly with a fork.

In a medium bowl, combine lamb, crumbled bread, minced garlic & herbs, egg, 1/2 tsp salt, paprika and black pepper.

With your hands, mix just enough to combine. Form the meatballs and set aside on a plate.

In a large shallow pan, bring the coconut milk and 1/2 tsp of salt to a low simmer. Add the meatballs (they will not be submerged in the liquid). Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

Make the quinoa: in a fine strainer, rinse the quinoa until the water runs clear, drain well. Combine the quinoa and broth (and little bit of coconut milk if using) in a medium pan, bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until translucent and you can see the germ spiraling out of the grains, about 15 minutes.

Remove the meatballs from the pan. Stir the yogurt and lemon into the sauce.

Serve the quinoa in bowls. Add the meatballs. Drizzle some of the coconut/yogurt sauce on top.



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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Simple chocolate pudding... and the fight against junk food







First things first: happy spring everyone! It's official, t'is the season of rebirth, and I for one, am excited about it. Secondly, a bit of "spring" housekeeping, I have finally posted a couple of new pages which I hope will be helpful... 

- The 8-12 months section of "Feeding Baby" (finally!)
- A new FAQ page, with various questions I have received from readers and my answers.

Now... (deep breath, it's a long one...) 

This article written by Yoni Freedhoff, MD, called "Why is everyone giving my kids junk food?" was recently brought to my attention, and several people have asked me (and I have been asking myself!) how I would deal with the onslaught of junk food out there in the world towards our children, whether at school, at birthday parties, playdates or at any other kid events and venues. 

I have been baffled to encounter this even as early as now (Pablo is 22 months), in a toddler art class, as I shared previously. From the looks of it, it’s going to happen a lot more in the coming years. This is certainly a dilemma I never expected, which French parents mostly don’t have to deal with. Without overgeneralizing, I can say that it is widely accepted in France that you do not eat between meals or snack indiscriminately throughout the day, that children will eat vegetables and have a balanced diet and not eat n’importe quoi. (An expression particularly hard to translate into English, used to designate things done without care or attention or reason.) So French parents don’t have to have that impulse I think a lot of us have (given the response to that article, there are quite a lot of parents in this boat), to protect our children from the world and the “assault”of junk food given everywhere.  And actually, I wouldn't be too happy about not just junk food, but also snacks and juices, however “healthy” they may be, given at any occasion outside of meal times. (And I do have the somewhat convenient excuse to give to other adults in these circumstances, that being French, we don't do that; the cultural explanation has sometimes been my easy way out, I must admit.)

The author did a good follow-up article on helpful ways to deal with the institutions or people that might be giving the junk food, which I highly recommend. And the good news is, more and more parents in the US (and perhaps other countries where this might be happening?) have objections to it, and so I think the seeds of change have been planted in that area... 

That said, how will I deal with this, with Pablo, in the coming years?

Well... I’ve decided I’m going to do my very best to trust him.

The fact is, our children don’t live in a bubble. They will be confronted with all kinds of undesirables throughout their childhood and life, that are out of our control, whether it’s the food they’re offered, or the entertainment they’re offered, or disrespectful children and adults they may encounter... That’s life, isn't it? 

We can't remove all the undesirables. But we can prepare them to deal with them (and potentially learn from them). We can’t fight all of our children’s battles for them. And I don’t think that we should. My goal is to raise a resilient human being, who feels capable of sound judgment, capable of going through the process of dealing with the world, capable of developing a filter, his own filter, before doing something. And as hard as it can sometimes be for me, I am committed to let my child experience trial and error. I feel I would otherwise be robbing him of a valuable learning opportunity.

BUT... we can lay the groundwork.

The first couple of years of life are so crucial this way (though I do believe you can do it with older children or adults too, it’s never too late, perhaps just a little bit more challenging). And so here are some of the things we are doing now, and have been doing ever since we begun this journey of Pablo's education of taste, which will hopefully help him make better decisions later on.

1. Nurture his ability to listen to his own body

I find this fascinating about babies and toddlers. This is an ability I envy very much, and which I’m relearning with my son. As a teenager, I definitely went into emotional eating to fill some voids and gaps in my life, and it’s taken years (still a work in progress) to become attuned to my body again and regain a healthy relationship with food. Young children do know how to listen to their body. And I am convinced that if we provide the right environment or context to nurture that ability, it will grow and stay with them. They know when they’ve had enough to eat. Basically young children can hear their body loud and clear, provided there is no interference, from us. They even know what foods their body needs. And we want them to keep listening – to themselves. That’s why I steer away from any emotional association to food (no, “one last bite to please mommy”, no “come have a cookie to make you feel better”, no “no dessert if you don’t behave”, you get the idea...) If he lets me know he no longer wants to eat, I comply. I also let him feed himself as much as possible, so he knows he is in charge of his intake.

I have found that the 4 meals a day structure with no additional, on demand snacks, as well as eating slowly and in courses teaches delayed gratification. And it helps differentiate between the “desire to eat” vs. actual hunger.  If we give a snack to a child every time he “feels like eating”, whether truly hungry or not, they don’t get to really sense hunger (I’m talking reasonable hunger here, not starvation obviously.) Just before mealtime, Pablo is definitely hungry (which is why he eats so well, and gobbles with amazing appetite his watercress soup and boiled leeks in vinaigrette under my proud eye ;-)) He has an awareness of his body telling him it needs some nourishment. The experience of that bodily sensation, in part due to delayed gratification, I think contributes to keeping this symbiotic relationship between mind and body. (I have actually experienced this myself as an adult.)

2. Prevent emotional eating later on

In a much broader sense, insuring a healthy secure attachment to our children (I found much wisdom in author Daniel Siegel's work, as well as in RIE and Janet Lansbury's work in that area) also makes it possible for them to listen to their body, to learn from the world, and develop a sound body and mind.  I found in my own experience, that emotional eating can come from a void in that area. And attachment issues certainly have been known to affect a child's way of dealing with peer pressure, which can come into play when it comes to eating junk food.

Ideally, food isn't a tool, a means, emotionally speaking. For reassurance, for comfort. Yes, it a means of nourishment obviously, but I think it should be considered an end in itself. This way, it is separate from other activities, which we do also as ends in themselves (more on this here). We eat because it is a pleasurable experience and an opportunity to connect with our loved ones.

3. Avoid GUILT like the plague

One  instance where I have seen older children “binge” on sweets or junk foods at parties, is because they feel they should do it while they can, as a product of frustration. And then the whole guilt vicious circle kicks in, which tends to stay with us through adulthood. I have talked about this telling study I read in Karen Le Billon’s French Kids Eat Everything of most Americans’ response to the picture of a chocolate cake, vs. most French people’s reaction: Americans think “calories” and “guilt”, the French think “pleasure”, “celebration”. I find this so revealing.  Nothing like guilt and dieting to make you want to inhale a whole chocolate cake or pint of ice cream!  

The French tend to talk much more about a balanced diet, than a healthy diet, they talk about “paying attention” to what they eat, vs. dieting or self-depriving.

French children definitely enjoy sweets or savory treats, and mostly, I think they do so guilt-free. Snack time (430p ish) is usually the opportunity to have a sweet treat, for example, a piece of cake, a pastry even, something of their choice usually. It makes those treats, in moderation, commonplace, no big deal, not something to pine for and gorge on at the first opportunity. A lot of French families bake together with children on weekends, and the cake is kept for snack time, creating a wonderful sense of anticipation, and creating a pleasurable experience.

The French would also let their kids have things like a few pieces of candy, French fries, some potato chips or cheese crackers, a soda or juice, on special occasions, on vacations, for the occasional apéritif (pre-dinner snacks and drinks usually offered to guests at a dinner party, to munch on before sitting at the dinner table.) So instead of creating guilt around those things, they create a sense of pleasure, celebration, and moderation at the same time. A sense that these things are special, to be enjoyed thoroughly - which is a nice little lesson in the enjoyment of the present moment as well. Guilt-free.

That will absolutely be my strategy with Pablo, while emphasizing enjoyment, the “special” factor, moderation, the need for balance. I don’t want to instill in Pablo a sense of guilt every time he has, or wants a “treat”. The fact is, there are times where we all feel like eating something, even though we may not be hungry. Denying that is futile. Acknowledgement, enjoyment and moderation are key.

4. Explain it to him

That each family has their way, that we don’t snack indiscriminately so we better enjoy meals together. I have done this already. At 20 months, he understood that we didn't eat the popcorn offered in art class because we’re going to eat lunch soon, and it’s going to be delicious and we don’t want to spoil our appetite. Basically, let’s wait for something better. (And I guess a prerequisite for that, is that lunch is in fact better, i.e. that we eat well, things that are really good and enjoyable and flavorful. That argument might be less convincing if we were going home to eat boiled broccoli with dry chicken.) Which brings me to my next point...

5. Show him how good, good food can be

Meaning, cooking delicious meals, making the food taste good. And this is a commitment, for sure. A lot of people have told me they just don’t have the time, and absolutely, this is a significant time, and to a certain extent, financial commitment: to buy quality products, variety, to spend the time to cook them in different ways.

6. Be a model

Really, this is the most important way in which our children learn anything. They’re watching us, all the time. If we snack all throughout the day, yoyo diet, binge on junk food and then deprive ourselves of everything  (all things I have done in the past, before I had Pablo), then that’s the model we give our children. In our family, we have really found a balance which I’m happy with as a model for Pablo:  we eat well during mealtimes, do not eat between meals, we rarely have junk food, we splurge on little treats once in a while, in moderation, and this guilt-free, thoroughly enjoyable way to eat has, quite simply, improved the quality of our life.






Well, if you've made this far into the post (sorry, it's a bear!) you deserve a sweet treat... (Oh, sorry, we don't use food as rewards, forget that then ;-)) I have recently made chocolate pudding for Pablo’s “goûter”, inspired by a type of pudding I used to love as a child in France, named Danette (a household brand name in France). You have gathered, I'm sure, from some of these images, that Pablo enjoyed it thoroughly!




This is very easy to make, and incidentally, it has the same quantity of sugar as a fruit compote, if not a little less. Chocolate has many health benefits as well (cocoa is high in magnesium, potassium, zinc, iron...), and French children eat it in moderation, guilt-free, especially at snack time.






Chocolate pudding (homemade "Danette")

Serves 6

Prep time: 10 mn (+ rest time in the fridge 2 hrs or more)
Cook time: 5 mn

Age for babies: 12 months and up

2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup quinoa flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup organic cocoa powder (unsweetened, non-alkaline)

In a pan (but not over heat yet), combine the flour, sugar and cocoa powder. Incorporate the cold milk, whisking vigorously (still no heat). Now turn on heat on medium and bring to a boil, whisking constantly. As soon as it boils, remove from heat, and keep stirring, until thicker (it comes to the consistency of yogurt, or maybe a little bit less thick). 

Place in individual ramekins or a larger bowl, cover with plastic, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving. Stir before serving. (It can keep in the fridge for 3-4 days.)

I served it to Pablo (I had some too!) with a couple of Petit Beurre cookies (basically simple butter biscuits).




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Friday, March 15, 2013

Sunchoke gratin dauphinois... & a secret of good living







It took parenting and cooking to teach me how to live my life. 

This sentence could very well be a description for this blog. That’s what I've been wanting to share here: parenting, cooking, life (and a French touch). Not necessarily in that order. Their connection never ceases to amaze me.

What I mean by that, is that the meaning meat of life, the secret to happiness and fulfillment, the secret to no-regret-living, is to live for, and by, the journey. Or the process. (Journey’s a pretty word for process, really.) Or at least, I'm pretty sure it's a big part of it.

And as life would have it, parenting and cooking are both process-oriented experiences. In fact, they are experiences that only work if you focus on their process, if you’re able to enjoy their process. If you’re able to trust their process.

Through both, I am learning to let go of expectations, to be present in the moment, to nurture instead of control. For both, I am finding that learning from others and trusting one’s own instincts is not contradictory, but complementary. Thanks to both, I am learning to be attuned to myself and to the world.

I’ve been struggling to write for many years. Wanting to, and yet finding it excruciating, or myself incapable of it. But I see now writing is much like cooking and parenting. It’s all about the process too. The end result, well... it’s not what matters most. And it shouldn't be the motivation for it. If it is, it comes out shallow, inauthentic, mediocre. Just like cooking to impress. And how absurd - and damaging - would it be to have a child only for the picture-perfect lawyer or doctor we would like him to become?

We must live for living's sake, cook for cooking's sake, eat for eating's sake, write for writing's sake, and nurture for nurturing's sake. A thing that is an end in itself, is always worthwhile. 

So I am writing, here, finally. Perhaps I couldn't write before I learned that lesson. Parenting and cooking might have just made a writer out of me. How wonderfully and poetically surprising life can be, when our minds are open enough to take it in.

I could bitch about how I wish I learned these things earlier in life. And I do sometimes. But to heck with hindsight, it was just part of my journey to learn it this way. And the onslaught of spring is making me feel optimistic. The jasmine has burst out into the night air, heavy enough to carry the mockingbird's relentless nocturnal song of seduction. (I can hear him in the darkness as I'm writing these words.) So I wanted to say it: I am grateful for this unforeseen revelation, this new understanding of life. I’m just so glad about it. And when one is glad, one should say it. Or write it. Share it, in short.

Or cook it. And can I just say gratins are a perfect way to share gladness?




I have blogged about sunchokes before, we have enjoyed many sunchoke soups this winter, simple ones and fancy ones, and I recently cooked them in a gratin for the first time. This is a twist on the classic French potato gratin. A very tasty twist indeed. I hope you enjoy!











Sunchoke gratin dauphinois

Adapted from Petit Larousse des Recettes de Légumes du Potager by Valérie Lhomme

Serves 4

Prep time: 30 mn
Cook time: 65 mn

Age for babies: 10-12 months

2 lbs sunchokes (try to get larger ones that are not too quirky shaped, for ease of peeling and slicing)
1 1/4 cup whole milk
1 bay leaf
1 whole garlic clove
4 tbsp butter
1 1/4 cup heavy cream (or crème fraîche)
2 eggs
2 pinches of ground nutmeg
3.5 oz of grated Swiss cheese (Comté is a good one. Manchego works well too, or other flavorful hard cheese)
Salt & pepper

Peel the sunchokes, putting them in cold water as you go. Then slice them either by hand or with a mandoline or with the slicing accessory of your food processor.

Preheat the oven at 350°F.

In a medium pot, bring the milk and bay leaf to a low boil, remove from heat, cover and let cool to lukewarm.

Peel the garlic clove. Rub your baking dish with 2 tbsp of butter, and rub the bottom of the dish with the garlic clove.

Lightly beat the eggs in a small bowl. Remove the bay leaf from the milk. Whisk in the cream, the eggs, the nutmeg, and salt and pepper.

Place one layer of sunchoke slices in the baking dish, pour some of the milk/cream mixture on top, sprinkle with cheese, then add another layer of sunchokes, pour the rest of the milk/cream mixture and sprinkle the rest of the cheese (do one more layer of each if needed). Top with small dabs of butter, and bake for 1 hour.

Check if the sunchokes are done with a knife, should go in easily, like for a potato.

We have served this as a side dish with a roasted chicken, or a duck stew. Or it can be savored on its own with an endive salad.



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Monday, March 11, 2013

Pablo's weekly menu... and a shrimp & lime recipe





Oh the guilt, of this week spent away from this space. Alas, I didn't make my mid-week recipe post... :-( Work has been overwhelming, and I am actually pretty grateful I was able to keep up with our planned menu (By the way, if you want to have a look at some of the recipes I try during the week and our other adventures in food, join me on Instagram, I will be sharing even more now that we set the clock forward... later daylight = prettier pictures!)

I am working on a longer post for this mid-week, but in the meantime, I'll replace some of my talking with some listening! (Always a good thing.) I would love to hear your thoughts on these (I'll start...)

What is one of your favorite recipe/post from this blog?  

What food blogs do you love?
So many. Check out some of the blogs on my Blog Love column on the right!

What recipe you've never tried, would you love to finally make?
Puff pastry, popovers, homemade cheese.

How much time do you spend cooking on a typical weekday (for all meals)?
60-90 minutes 

Besides the week's menu (scroll down for that), I wanted to share this very easy and delicious shrimp recipe found in a family cooking magazine I got while queuing at a French supermarket during my last visit there (it was advertised as: "Our best recipes for less than 1 euro per person!")



Hope you enjoy! 


Sautéed shrimp with lime & coconut rice

From the French magazine "Best of Gourmand"

Serves 3

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time : 35 minutes

Age for babies: 12 months and up

12-15 large shrimp (depending on size)
1 lime
1 rosemary sprig
1 sprig of lemon thyme
2 cups vegetable broth
1 1/2 cup of rice of choice (I used Jasmine)
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk
2 tbsp sunflower oil (coconut oil would be good too, I think!)
A few drops of sesame oil
Salt & pepper

Rinse the rice. In a large pot, sauté the rice with 1 tbsp of oil, until translucent. Pour the broth over it, and cook over medium-low heat until the liquid is absorbed. Then add the coconut milk little by little, stirring constantly, until absorbed. (By then, rice should be tender. If not, add a tbsp or two of hot water or coconut milk, until rice is tender.) Add salt & pepper to taste, stir and cover to keep warm.

Wash and dry the lime, slice them. Wash and dry the herbs, and pick the leaves off the stems.

In a frying pan, heat the remaining sunflower oil and sesame oil. Add the shrimp, lime slices, rosemary and lemon thyme leaves, and cook over high heat, stirring often, about 5 minutes.

Sprinkle with salt & pepper.

Serve immediately, over the coconut rice.


Now for our week's menu...

Cheeses of the week: Following French tradition, I always offer a little bit of cheese at the end of every meal, between the main course and dessert. Rotation this week: Italian truffle cheese, Goat Brie, Enoteki (sheep's milk).

Desserts: At lunch, I offer a fruit yogurt (or plain yogurt with fresh fruit), but at night, I prefer sticking to plain yogurt (regular homemade* whole milk, sheep’s milk, goat's milk and Greek yogurt for extra protein) to avoid too much sugar before bedtime.

If you would like a particular recipe on the menu, feel free to contact me! (I marked with a * the recipes that will be the topic of upcoming posts).

MONDAY

Lunch (picnic at the park)
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Grated carrots French-style
Main course: Prosciutto avocado tartine

Goûter (4pm snack) – Pear-apple compote

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Watercress carrot greens soup
Main course: Lemon chicken thighs, parsnip puree inspired by The Food Dept

TUESDAY

Lunch
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Endive, blue cheese, walnut salad
Main course: Beef patty, peas

Goûter - Apple compote

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Leeks with vinaigrette
Main course: Shrimp & lime over coconut rice (recipe above!)


WEDNESDAY

Lunch
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Rainbow chards goat cheese salad with blood orange dressing from Vanilla Bean (we loved is to much last week, having it again this week!)
Main course: Lamb meatballs in coconut with quinoa*

Goûter – Kiwi

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Shallot lentil salad
Main course: Veal blanquette

THURSDAY

Lunch
Appetizer / Finger Foods: White asparagus in yogurt tarragon sauce
Main course: Feta, mint, zucchini quiche

Goûter - Banana

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Portuguese white gazpacho from Leite's Culinaria (1st gazpacho of the season!)
Main course: Sardine eggplant brandade


FRIDAY

Lunch
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Leftover white gazpacho
Main course: Turkey breast and snap peas in creamy mustard sauce*

Goûter - Mango compote

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Green beans, tomato, cauliflower salad with lots of fresh herbs
Main course: Oven roasted pork ribs with fingerling potatoes

SATURDAY

Lunch- OUT

Goûter - Pear-blueberry compote

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Authentic Greek salad
Main course: Whole grilled branzino, Moroccan style

SUNDAY

Lunch
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Cucumber in creamy dill sauce
Main course: Smoked salmon, avocado, mascarpone tartine with poached egg

Goûter - Sumo tangerine

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Broccoli spinach soup
Main course: Tofu & coconut rice



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Sunday, March 3, 2013

Pablo's weekly menu... & a crisp pea salad




I think I'm getting into a groove here, posting a simple salad or soup recipe with the menu on Sunday or Monday, and another recipe mid-week, Wednesday or Thursday. How does that sound to you, my good readers? (So thankful for you, by the way). I have a very bad tendency to overextend myself and spread myself too thin, but I'm slowly improving on that front (I think.)  So this should be a reasonable compromise for the time being...

Scroll down for the week's menu, we had some changes of plans last week, so you will find some of the dishes I didn't get to try last week. My mom visited the fair city of Seattle and brought back several dozens oysters and clams and a gorgeous fresh Pacific lobster tail. We savored it simply grilled and topped with crème fraîche and fleur de sel... What a feast! The excitement was such I didn't even think of photographing it! I never want to eat frozen lobster again... 

By the way, I wanted to invite you to follow me on Pinterest if you're not already, where I pin recipes I have tried and loved, or want to try, in case you're looking for extra inspiration!

Speaking of inspiration...


A piece of spring
Pierced me with love for this empty place
Where a prairie creek runs
Under its cover of clear ice
And the sound it makes,
Mysterious as a heartbeat,
New as a lamb.
(Excerpt of "In the Late Season", by Tom Hennen)
I know it's only March 3rd, but I'm feeling the breath of spring... And a bite of the lovely pea, herb & spring onion salad I'm sharing today, made it even more palpable.

Spring is far from the words above in Southern California... No covers of clear ice here. But that ice breaking to release a rushing creek is a perfect metaphor for the season of renewal. There's just something in the air right now.

The other day, I noticed our jasmine bush was full of buds, soon to invade the air with its intoxicating scent. And as I looked up, our resident mockingbird was sitting on the line. Not calling for love at all hours of the night quite yet. But thinking about it.

T'is the season of anticipation.

May this crisp salad ease you into it...


UDPATE: Turns out what I used above wasn't spring onions, but green (or spring) garlic! They do look strangely similar! And you could make it with green garlic as I did (unwittingly), but it has a serious kick! Meanwhile, can't wait to find real spring onions here (like scallions, but with more of a rounded bulb). May just have to grow them myself! And since green garlic season is in full swing, am currently working on some recipes to share soon :-)

Pea, herb & spring onion salad

Adapted from Petit Larousse des Recettes aux Légumes du Potager by Valérie Lhomme 

Serves 3-4

Prep time: 10 mn
Cook time: 3 mn

Age for babies: 8-10 months, omitting the dressing. Peas are a great first finger food. If used as finger food, only give the peas, as the spring onions & herbs would be too hard to chew. You could also finely mix peas/chives together with a drizzle of olive oil as a cold puree.

3 cups frozen peas (fresh peas are hard to come by here, if you can find them, all the better, use about 2 pounds unshelled)
1 handful of chives
5 sprigs of Italian parsley
3 spring onions (or scallions)*
1 handful of micro broccoli (or microgreens of choice) (optional)

*Note: Spring onions definitely have a kick to them, you can make them milder and more tender by soaking them (once chopped) in cold water for 1 hour (up to 24 hours in the fridge). Otherwise, go for scallions, shallots, or omit entirely.

Dressing:
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp Balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp soy sauce
Drizzle of honey (optional)
Salt & pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Put the frozen peas in and let cook 3-4 minutes (from the time you put them in, not when it starts boiling again.)
(If you're using fresh peas, cook them 4-5 minutes).

Drain them and pour them in a large bowl of cold water and ice cubes.

Wash the herbs and microgreens. Chop the chives and parsley with scissors. Cut off the dark green ends of the spring onions, keeping only the bulb and light green stem. Wash and chop the onions (*see note above on soaking).

Prepare the dressing by combining all the ingredients.

Drain the peas, mix with onions and herbs.

Just before serving, add in dressing and mix well.



Onto the week's menu... Wishing you a crisp, flavorful week.


Cheeses of the week: Following French tradition, I always offer a little bit of cheese at the end of every meal, between the main course and dessert. Rotation this week: Goat gouda, Comté (type of Swiss), Enoteki (sheep's milk).

Desserts: At lunch, I offer a fruit yogurt (or plain yogurt with fresh fruit), but at night, I prefer sticking to plain yogurt (regular homemade* whole milk, sheep’s milk, goat's milk and Greek yogurt for extra protein) to avoid too much sugar before bedtime.

If you would like a particular recipe on the menu, feel free to contact me! (I marked with a * the recipes that will be the topic of upcoming posts).

MONDAY

Lunch
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Pea, herb & spring onion salad above!
Main course: Smoked salmon, dill, endive tartine

Goûter (4pm snack) – Homemade chocolate pudding*

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Oysters on the half shell
Main course: Roasted chicken thighs with clementines from Sassy Radish (we didn't get to make it last week, had lobster brought back from Seattle instead!) + leftover sunchoke gratin dauphinois*

TUESDAY

Lunch
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Avocado
Main course: Trying this leek feta lemon quiche from London Bakes

Goûter - Apple compote

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Turnip and turnip greens velouté*
Main course: Lamb chops, creamy carrots & rosemary baked in a parcel


WEDNESDAY

Lunch
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Authentic Greek salad
Main course: Duck breasts with braised pink radishes*

Goûter – Homemade chocolate pudding*

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Cauliflower, green beans salad
Main course: Dover sole filets with micro broccoli puree

THURSDAY

Lunch
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Cucumber Feta rolls from Good Life Eats
Main course: Ham, quinoa

Goûter - Banana

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Tomato, heart of palm, purple potato salad
Main course: Mushrooms stuffed with cream of sardines


FRIDAY

Lunch
Appetizer / Finger Foods: White asparagus in creamy tarragon sauce
Main course: Tuna steak baked in parcel with avocado and cilantro*

Goûter - Pear-blueberry compote

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Artichoke soup, a recipe I found here
Main course: Pan fried skirt steak, & the Swiss chards with blood orange dressing from Vanilla Bean

SATURDAY

Lunch- OUT

Goûter - Kiwi

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Leftover artichoke soup
Main course: Shrimp & lime over coconut rice

SUNDAY

Lunch - OUT

Goûter - Tangerine

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Butternut leek soup
Main course: Oven roasted pork ribs, fingerling potatoes




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