Saturday, September 1, 2012

Planes, trains, automobiles... and chicken with French cheese!

This week, we made our way from Greece to Lille in Northern France. Talk about a change of scenery! From 90° to 65°, from sand & white to red brick, from Mediterranean to northern food. As good an opportunity as any to share with you some thoughts I've had on adaptability.
Traveling with a 16 months old has definitely been a lesson in adaptability for everyone involved. I should say I am very lucky and grateful to have a toddler that falls asleep in 3 minutes in any bed, takes naps in the car when convenient, and will eat, or at least try, just about any food, which has made me incredibly proud.
Adaptability has got to be one my top priorities for Pablo. I think it’s a key component to becoming a happy, flexible adult. Being adaptable is another, less poetic way to say open-minded. It means accepting the world around, looking at it, letting it in, as opposed to trying to bend the world to what we already know. And nothing like traveling, to teach open-mindedness and adaptability, whether it is with food, environment, people, weather, activities, schedule. And as much as I expect Pablo to adapt to this new life while traveling, starting with Greece (a place where rhythms are very different than in the US, eating dinner very late, napping mid-day), I have also learned to adapt to a different schedule and a different type of vacationing with a toddler. I have been more lenient with table manners (oh how I missed the high chair in Greece…), Pablo wandering around with his 18 months old cousin Margarita, eating a piece of tomato here, a piece of bell pepper there… There was way more snacking than I would allow back home. But I adapted, because I didn’t want to be stressed and spoil both our time. What kind of lesson would I be teaching him in adaptability if I couldn’t myself be open-minded and flexible?
I think young children can be incredibly resilient, and we may often times underestimate their ability to handle change and transitions and new environments. Perhaps it is us adults who sometimes have a hard time with change and pass on our discomfort to our children. Just like many foods, if we expose them to it very young, it will become part of their world. And when you think about it, life is nothing but changes and transitions, isn't it? The world is there to be experienced, and home is where love is, and I think this is one of the essential lessons Pablo is getting out of this trip, as we go from friends to friends, all with different styles, and different lives, but all with the warmth of friendship in their smiles as they welcome us into their homes.

I would like to share a specialty dish from Northern France, made with a local cheese called Maroilles, which may be substituted for another strong cheese in your area. I still remembered this wonderful dish from a few years ago when my friend Linda made it for me on my last visit to Lille. And Pablo had to have a taste this time as well. It is ridiculously easy to make, and just delicious, though admittedly not the lightest of meals... But once in a while, you've just got to succumb to cheese and cream... Pablo certainly did, and he loved this dish.

Chicken au Maroilles

Age for babies: Depending on the cheese you use, especially if it is raw milk cheese, I would wait until after 12 months.
Serves 4
12 oz of Maroilles cheese (or other strong cow milk cheese, such as epoisse, reblochon)
1.5 lb chicken breast
8 oz crème fraîche 
1 shallot
Olive oil
Salt & pepper
Fresh tagliatelles or linguine
Cut the chicken breast in bite-size pieces. Remove the rind of the cheese and cut it in cubes.
In a frying pan, melt the shallot with a bit of olive oil, until translucent. Add the chicken and sauté over medium heat for a few minutes, stirring. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add 1 cup of hot water, and let simmer until the chicken is cooked and the water has reduced, about 10 minutes.
Bring a pot of salted water with a drop of olive oil to a boil.
Over medium heat, add the cheese cubes and mix until the cheese melts, about 5 minutes. Once the cheese is melted, add the cream and stir well. Keep warm.
Add the fresh pasta to the pot of boiling water and cook for a few minutes, as instructed on the package.
Serve in deep plates: pasta first, chicken and cheese sauce on top.
You can serve this with a simple endive salad (endive is also a specialty Northern France) with a walnut vinaigrette (1 part red wine vinegar, 2 parts olive oil, 1 part walnut oil, 2 tsp of mustard, salt & pepper). The bitterness and crunch of the endive and tanginess of the vinaigrette will compensate the saltiness of the cheese.
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  1. very jealous of all your travels, and reallye nlightening to hear about your philiosophy to travel and to life. I admit I don't do well with change of environments, and crave the comfortable. it is true though,t hat we learn so much more from being able to adapt to our environment.

    (the chicken looks delicious yet simple! that cheese is also intriguing, nv seen or heard of it till today!)

  2. I always love finding your comments Shu Han! You're not too far from Lille, just a Eurostar trip away, you'll have to go have some mussels and some maroilles there soon! If you like strong stinky cheese, this is the ticket! :-)


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