Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Weathering life, one simple soup at a time

In truth, I can't begin to describe the turmoils our lives are currently in. Remnants of previous turmoils, and new turmoils, waves of them, which I weather the best I can. Amidst angst and chaos, I have found myself at a loss for words in this space. This holiday week, I so wish I was coming to you with profound words and an elaborate scrumptious dish worthy of the greatness of love and life.

Yet humbly, all I can bring to this virtual table, is a few sparks of joy that have grounded me, made me remember to be grateful for love and life. And a simple soup to warm the soul.

Today, I feel grateful for...

... the overwhelming generosity and support of friends and family who truly care
... a dinner interrupted for a dance with my son
... this post by lovely Shanna, so true and inspiring
... the San Gabriel mountains, serene arms enveloping and watching over us in our new home
... a glimpse of Pablo's curls with the sun shining through, and his smile too
... your interest, patience, encouragements, comments & support
... every single challenge parenting has brought into my life
... our meals, pillars of our family life
... the warmth of our family's Thanksgiving celebration (I am making this casserole, and these rolls)
... screams of joy at the sight of the first Christmas lights
... the ability to know and share myself, to love and be vulnerable...

Pablo and I have the great fortune to be going to visit friends in Paris for a couple of weeks in December, a much needed break that is as highly anticipated as it was unexpected. I look forward to sharing with you (here, on Facebook and Instagram) the inescapable good food experiences it will entail...

May you have a joyful Thanksgiving, may your souls feel as nourished and full as your bellies...

Pumpkin celeriac soup (cardamom infused coconut milk base)

Prep time 20 min
Cook time: 50 min

Age for babies: 6 months + (coconut milk can be replaced with vegetable broth, milk - formula or breast - can be added in at the end for texture. Can be a soup or a puree).

1 small sugar pie pumpkin (about 3 pounds)
1 medium celery root
1 1/2 cup coconut milk
4-5 pods of cardamom
1/2 tsp salt
Pepper to taste

Preheat the oven at 350°F.

Wash the pumpkin, cut it in half. Scoop the seeds and strings out.
Place face down in a baking dish, add 1/4 inch of water. Bake for about 45-50 minutes, until very tender.

Meanwhile, peel the celery root, cut it up in small pieces. Place in a pan with the coconut milk and cardamom pods - which you can place in a little cloth bag if you have one so you can remove them easily when the celery is cooked, or as I did, you can just fish for them after :-).
Cover, bring to a light boil and simmer for 20 min or so, until the celery is very soft and ready to be pureed.

Remove the cardamom pods. When the pumpkin is ready, scoop out the meat into a blender. Add the salt, celery root in coconut milk and blend until very smooth, adding a few tablespoons of hot water to obtain your preferred consistency.

We ate it with these apple Gruyere muffins. A comforting meal indeed.

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Monday, November 11, 2013

Pumpkin fondue, & seeing the pretty mornings...

"C’est un joli matin", Pablo said at the breakfast table this morning. It is a pretty morning. 
And it is. And he can see it.

There will be moments of struggle today, of drag, of annoyance and frustration. And yet, it is a pretty morning. We are grounded in it.

I am so inspired and enlightened by his wonderful capacity to be in the moment, to really look at the world, no matter what the struggles of the day might be or have been.

What a resource that is. A tool to build resilience, for an expanding life.

Some years ago, I was scuba diving in a beautiful spot in New Zealand. To be away, to travel, to experience life and the ocean, what a privilege. It was a cold water dive, one of my first, and so as we sank down to admire the underwater landscape, the dancing kelp, the vibrant colors, I noticed I was very cold. My whole body was cold. And it made it very challenging to see the beauty around me. It took great effort, to shift my focus.

So often, our immediate needs cloud our vision. Crises cloud our vision. For survival, I suppose. Yet the key to seeing that pretty morning, was acceptance. Stop fighting the cold, and accept it. Accept needs (whether met or unmet). Accept the struggles without judging them. And the clouds will part, to reveal the pretty mornings, that exist no matter what.

One can always count on struggles, and on pretty mornings.

I have been working on that, lately. Or rather, realizing how very bad I am at accepting my own struggles, while I am able to meet Pablo's struggles with acceptance and empathy (most of the time!). My own struggles fluster me, make me feel inadequate. In short, grumpy :-) And stuck.

So here’s to the day where I will be better able to accept and embrace my struggles for what they are: life’s journeys, tools, resources for learning and growing.

At least, Pablo has helped me to not let my struggles blind me from those pretty mornings, those lovely seconds of joy or contentment or beauty inexorably present even on the worst of days.

I have very much been struggling to get back to meal planning ever since the move and recent upheavals in our lives. I have been so very thankful for my mother’s help during this time. And if one thing has remained constant through these past couple of months, it is our meals.

Our family meals have been our guaranteed moments of connection, of being grounded and present. Instead of a burden as one might see it (to prepare a four course meal in spite of chaos, rush or stress), it has been a resource. Something that has helped us all through the difficult times. Moments to grab and rescue us from the whirlwind of projections, fears, anxieties and plans, moments to keep us tethered to life, to the serenity of the here and now... which is all there really is.

So... for this week’s menu, scroll down, and if you have time for some fun family food, try this pumpkin fondue we shared on Halloween night with dear friends visiting from France. It was enjoyed by all ages :-)

I will try for a post a week for the time being, as I make time to work on my book / cookbook. I thank you so very much for your patience and loyalty. 

Pumpkin Swiss Fondue

Serves 4 per small pumpkin

Age for babies: The mashed up roasted pumpkin with a bit of cheese on it (alcohol-free recipe) could be given from 8 months on.

1 pumpkin
1 tbsp coconut oil or ghee
1 clove of minced garlic
2 cups of Swiss Fondue
Country bread (if you're in the mood for making bread, this easy country loaf from Local Milk is awesome)

Wash the pumpkin, cut off a top "hat" and remove the seeds and threads inside with a spoon. 

Preheat the oven at 350°F.

In a small bowl, mix coconut oil (or ghee) with minced garlic. Rub the inside of the pumpkin with it.

Place the pumpkin (with hat on) in a baking dish and bake for about 45 minutes, until flesh is tender. (This can be done a few hours ahead)

Meanwhile, a couple of options for the cheese fondue:

1- Go the very easy quick route as I have done on Halloween night this year, and buy a Swiss fondue mixture (Trader Joe's has a very good one with a mix of Emmenthal, Comté and Gruyère Cheese). Reheat per instructions.

2 - Make it yourself with or without alcohol. I like David Lebovitz' recipe here, especially the suggestion of replacing white wine with lemon juice and water for an alcohol free version. 

10-15 minutes before the meal, pour the Swiss fondue inside the pumpkin, replace the pumpkin hat and bake another 10 minutes at 350°F.

Cut up "mouillettes", country bread sticks, place the pumpkin in the middle of the table, and let the dipping begin!

When the cheese is gone, cut up the pumpkin and enjoy with some simple crisp romaine lettuce in vinaigrette. 

Onto the week's menu...

A slight modification on the menus from the past: Pablo now goes to daycare three mornings a week, and I shall list the content of his bento box-like lunchbox.  

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: creamy Brebis (sheep), sharp cheddar, Rustique Camembert (cow), goat gouda.

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).


Pablo's Lunchbox: 
Smoked salmon, avocado & quinoa salad, cooked zucchini with vinaigrette, goat gouda, tangerine.

Goûter (4pm snack) – Chocolate pudding

Appetizer / Finger Foods: Baked artichokes with shallot vinaigrette
Main course: Mixed vegetable jardinière with pork belly


Pablo's Lunchbox:
Boiled leeks with vinaigrette, hard boiled egg, cherry tomatoes & blue potato salad, cheddar, pear.

Goûter - Apple

Appetizer / Finger Foods: Broccoli spinach soup
Main course: Braised endives with ham au gratin (quinoa flour béchamel)


Picnic Lunch  
Fennel spinach watercress savory cake, lentil shallot salad, comté cheese, grapes

Goûter – Pear

Appetizer / Finger Foods: Pumpkin celery soup*, apple cheddar muffins
Main course: Trying these lentil cakes from Cannelle & Vanille


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Authentic Greek Salad
Main course: Flaxseed tortilla quesadillas with mozzarella and creamy mushrooms

Goûter - Yogurt with fresh figs

Appetizer / Finger Foods: Watermelon radish (with butter and salt)
Main course: Butternut zucchini Spanish tortilla, with butter lettuce


Pablo's Lunchbox: 
French-style grated carrots, tuna rice salad with tomatoes and beans, cheese, persimmon

Goûter - Tangerine

Appetizer / Finger FoodsPea salad
Main course: Pan-fried leg of lamb with flageolets beans.


Picnic Lunch
Persian cucumber sticks, sardine ricotta pea sandwich, cheese, fruit.

Goûter - Apple compote

Appetizer / Finger Foods: Cream of cauliflower
Main course: Sauteed shrimp with lime over red quinoa


Mixed quinoa salad with crudités, proscuitto.

Goûter - Blackberries & apple

Appetizer / Finger Foods: Green beans cauliflower herb salad
Main course: Dutch oven roasted chicken, roasted sweet potato fingerlings

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Back... with gratitude & vanilla rosemary cherry tomatoes

So there's this French saying. It was the title of a comedy. La vie n'est pas un long fleuve tranquille. Life is not a long tranquil river.


Sometimes, we are grateful for life's non linear, unexpected turns. Sometimes we tell ourselves they happen for a reason. Sometimes hindsight shows us the good that came out of the bad. And sometimes, we feel sorrow and mourn that long tranquil river of a life we might have imagined when we were children.

"Life is never as good, or as bad, as we thought." Une Vie. Guy de Maupassant.

I will spare you the nitty gritty details, but there was a separation, a move, a terrible illness, a hospitalization and hours and days in critical condition, just waiting. For the body and soul to make a move. For the better or for the worse. Crisis mode. Everything else in life fades away to deal with the chaos.

And then, there's slow improvement. Things are still difficult, still unresolved, and uncertain. The illness is still here. But life and healing are no longer hanging on by a thread. And remains the dire need for life to continue on its course, whatever that may be.

And in the midst of this past month of chaos, sanity had to be maintained. Ways to cope, to be grounded for my sake, for my son's sake. Life is never one thing. Days have been nerve-wracking, chaotic, driven, juggling. But also joyful, through minutes spent in the present moment with Pablo. Through meals we shared in the midst of boxes, and slowly, in what has begun to feel like our new home. Through seconds of taking in the beauty surrounding us, the San Gabriel mountains, the wild parrots in our tree, the cool morning air.

How beauty and connection matter. How they heal and nourish.

So this feels like such a homecoming. I'm a little nervous. To write here, to come back to this blogging community I had to desert for a month. Resurfacing has been hard. I have been so grateful for all your messages of encouragement and comfort and support. I am so grateful for your patience, that you're still here to read these words.

I've been nervous, I've felt stuck and afraid to have too much to express. But I'm starting to write again. To cook again. Some dust has settled on my camera. Soon.

In the meantime, I am sharing this lovely simple recipe I had cooked up before all this whirlwind of a month. A little something to quench that summer nostalgia October might bring.

Cherry tomatoes braised with vanilla & rosemary

4 servings (appetizer, or a fantastic topping for a Spanish tortilla!)

Prep time : 10 min
Cook time : 10-12 min

Age for babies:  8-10 months (peeling the tomato skins might be necessary)

1 lb cherry tomatoes
1 sprig of rosemary
3 tbsp coconut oil
1 vanilla bean
2 tsp sugar
Salt & pepper

Wash the tomatoes, wash the rosemary and take it off the sprig. Mince the rosemary leaves.

Over medium-low heat, melt the coconut oil.

Make a lengthwise incision along the vanilla bean, and with a small spoon, grate the seeds off on each side. Scrape them into the coconut oil.

Add the tomatoes and rosemary. Sprinkle the sugar on top, and let cook for about 10 minutes over medium, rolling the tomatoes around every so often by gently tilting and shaking the pan (using a spatula might make mush out of the tomatoes as they cook.)

Enjoy just like that as an appetizer or side dish with some bread. Or place on top of a quiche or Spanish tortilla.

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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A Spanish tortilla, & making a case for meal planning!

In-between putting up yard sale signs, sorting closets and packing boxes, I take a much needed breather with you here to share a Spanish tortilla recipe we've been making often during these hectic weeks, and some thoughts on meal planning.

I was sharing with a friend that even in these hectic times, we're still eating real food and having delicious, albeit easily put together, meals. For me, it's just as quick to make a Greek salad, and pan-fry a lamp chop with eggplant, as it is to prepare processed foods or getting take-out. And so much better. She admitted this was true, but for her, the issue was the planning, the logistics of knowing what to cook, having it on hand etc. In short, it's all about the meal planning.

I can certainly understand this, because it used to be our case before we had Pablo. Trying to decide what to eat at the last minute when it's already late and we're already starving, not feeling like looking up recipes and not having a lot of things on hand... too tired to improvise. We never did a lot of processed or prepared foods, but certainly would go for rice, pasta or potatoes more than we should have. The amount and variety of vegetable was fairly dim (mostly tomatoes and cucumber, really), and the overall variety of our meals was seriously lacking. I would cook new recipes mostly for special occasions. On a daily basis during the week, cooking felt overwhelming, there just seemed to be no time for it.

Perhaps this sounds familiar to some of you. If so, let me tell you that the antidote to this cooking rut for me was meal planning. 

When I started consistent meal planning when Pablo was 12 months, it all changed.

It's ironic that I write about it this week, because I actually have not had the time to really make our formal weekly meal plan as I usually do. But these past couple of weeks have made me realize how much I have learned from meal planning after doing it for almost 1 year and half now.

When you meal plan month after month, slowly, cooking on a daily basis and cooking and eating meals made of real foods, becomes a habit, you can start doing it somewhat on auto-pilot. What used to feel like a huge endeavor, has become easy, a task almost done as a matter of courseImprovising such a meal feels natural and no longer daunting. Because you've tried so many different recipes, seen the ones you really like, your meal "palette", so to speak, is much wider. Opening up a recipe book and deciding to make something last minute feels fun rather than complicated. Some things keep coming back from week to week, tried and true, easy recipes your family enjoys. After months of meal planning, you start to have a "pool" of your family's favorites, and even on a week where you haven't had a chance to do the weekly plan, you can always count on making those staples (for us, it's things like French-style grated carrots or lentil salad, pan-fried Dover sole, pea salad, chicken basquaise, among others...) Like in everything else in life, practice makes perfect.

So it basically comes down to two things: Why do it? And how to do it?

10 reasons to make a meal plan

  1. It makes it a lot easier to have consistently balanced and delicious meals with a lot of variety
  2. It takes away the "what are we having tonight?" anxiety 
  3. It gives an opportunity to try new recipes, new ingredients
  4. Planning time for cooking helps experiencing cooking as a time to recharge, to be in the present moment, to slow down, be grounded within ourselves
  5. It helps waste less food
  6. It saves money on shopping
  7. It makes the grocery shopping more straightforward
  8. It helps take advantage of all the seasonal produce
  9. It creates opportunities of connection for the family (in the planning, cooking and eating part)
  10. It works! It's one of those things that you will not regret once you try it. I promise you it will make your life easier and less stressful, and your meals tastier. The process will feel so much easier once you start, too. 

How to go about it

Getting started
First, I would say start with trying it once or twice a week. Set aside 30 minutes on the weekend, grab 1 or 2 cookbooks that have been gathering dust on your shelf. Maybe browse Pinterest or your favorite food blogs for some ideas that spark your tastebuds.  And make the menu for one or two dinners for the following week. Print out the recipes, make your shopping list. Then set aside the day and time you will go shopping for it. Post the menus on the fridge, that way, the whole family can look forward to it! If you like it, slowly work your way up to weekly meal planning. (I've created a simple weekly menu template you can download here.)

Gather recipes
Start a list of recipes you want to make in the future. When you have a couple of spare minutes, browse through papers/magazines, food blogs (cut out / print recipes, make a folder to keep on hand), Pinterest (create a board with images of recipes you want to make), bookmark recipes in your own cookbook that make you salivate or intrigue you. I've created a very simple document for you to download to list recipes (this one is very basic, would love your feedback on whether it is helpful, as I'll be working on creating more documents of the kind in the coming weeks).  When you sit down to make a meal plan, you'll have a great list of ideas to work with.

Go with the seasons
Think seasonal. Keep a list on your fridge of common seasonal produce in your area. Look up recipes with those seasonal ingredients (I found a pretty good list here). See what's currently available by visiting your local farmer's market.

Schedule it in
Make it part of your schedule : decide what time you need to start cooking to get dinner ready at the desired time, and put it on your calendar. Plan on it the same way some plan to sit down to watch a TV program.

Make it a family project
Get your family involved in this if they're interested, have them pick a recipe, or an ingredient to work with. Have the kids help with preparations. Look at cookbooks together. Go to the Farmer's Market together. Make it a family project, a way to connect.

Trust you can work with the (little) time you have
Be realistic in the amount of time and help you will need to grocery shop and prepare the meals. You don't necessarily need a lot of time to prepare a great meal. Start with determining the time you'll have for a given meal, and select recipe accordingly.

Be colorful
Think rainbow, when looking for ideas and creating your meal plan, try to include vegetables and fruits of the different colors of the rainbow within a day, this way you will be sure to eat a lot of the vitamins and nutrients you and your family need. Rule of thumb: the brighter the color of a vegetable or fruit, the more vitamins.

Be savvy
Think leftovers. For example, the tortilla recipe I'm sharing here, we served it as an appetizer one night, so there was half left over, the perfect quantity for a picnic lunch the next day. Be on the lookout for recipes that lend themselves to this. The days you have a little extra time, plan on recipes that can be kept a few days and eaten later in the week, like hot or cold soups (which also be frozen for later use), stews, cooked vegetables eaten cold with simple vinaigrette (cauliflower, zucchini, green beans, potatoes, leeks are perfect examples, you can boil or steam them one night, and with easy raw vegetables like tomatoes and cucumber and some fresh herbs on hand, you will have a wide variety of combinations  for the next few days: potato-cauliflower-green beans chives, green beans tomato cucumber-parsley, zucchini-mint vinaigrette, leeks vinaigrette, tomato-potato, etc...)

Meal planners out there, do you have more tips to share?


(Your feedback is most welcome on those!)

Now, about this Spanish tortilla recipe (basically a kind of omelet or fritatta), it's delicious, fairly quick to prepare, and you can get very creative with it without fearing the result to go awry. We had a parsnip in our veggie basket that was getting soft, so I used it here. You can add any greens that might be getting bored in your crisper. Also a great opportunity to experiment with different herbs, adding them chopped and raw to the eggs brings out their flavor. In short, it's a very malleable dish which you can make your own easily. The wonderful directions and tips from Aran Goyoaga in Small Plates & Sweet Treats made this a sure-fire success.

I can remember having a simple potato tortilla at our Spanish relatives in Northern Spain some years ago... to this day, it just feels like the flavor of Spain. A little mind and tastebud traveling in these hectic times, is most welcome...

Spanish Tortilla with parsnip, zucchini, chards & dill

Adapted from Small Plates & Sweet Treats by Aran Goyoaga

Serves 4 as an entree

Prep time: 20 mn
Cook time: 20 mn

Age for babies: 10-12 months (depending on your child's tolerance of egg white).

1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 onion
1 large + 1 small Russet potato
1 parsnip (or you can just use 2 large Russet potatoes)
2 leaves of rainbow chards
2 small zucchinis
3/4 tsp salt
Fresh ground pepper
4 eggs
2 sprigs of dill

Prep the vegetables: mince the onion, peel and dice the potato and parsnip into bite size pieces. Remove the ribs of the chard leaves and chop grossly. Peel the zucchinis and dice them. Chop the dill.

In an 8 inch diameter frying pan (this is important, it's just the right size to flip the tortilla and cook it just right. I actually got my measuring tape to check this! It paid off), heat the olive oil over medium heat.

Add the onion and cook for 2 minutes until softened (not brown.). Then add the potatoes and parsnip with 1/2 tsp salt. Stir and cook for 5 minutes, stirring once in a while. Then add the zucchinis and chards and cook for another 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are tender.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk the eggs with 1/4 tsp salt, some pepper, and the dill.

When the potato mixture is done, using a slotted spoon, spoon the potato/vegetables (letting out the excess olive oil, but reserving it) onto an absorbent towel on a plate. Pour the extra olive oil out of the pan, except for 1 tbsp (I was only left with about 2-3 tbsp when all was said and done).

Then add the vegetables to the eggs and stir.

Heat the frying pan over medium heat, and pour the tortilla mixture in. With a wooden spoon, stir in a circular motion at the center of the pan, until the eggs start to cook. Then let it be for 2-3 minutes. Run your spatula along the edges.

Get as flat a plate as you can find. Place the plate over the frying pan and flip the tortilla onto the plate. Then gently slide it back into the frying pan to cook the other side, about 2-3 minutes, depending on how runny you like it inside. (It took me about 3 times to really perfect this move! If you miss the "flip" or it falls apart a little, oh well, still going to taste great! :-))

Then you can leave it in the pan or slide it onto a plate to serve. Let it cool a bit, it's best eaten just warm or even cold. (It keeps 2-3 days in the fridge, and can be reheated in the microwave.)

We have served it with a butter lettuce or endive salad, or with a side of cantaloupe and prosciutto. Delicious!

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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Transformation & change seem easier... with duck & braised radishes

This past week has felt about loss and burden. Being on the other side of it, perhaps makes it easier to talk about.

As I mentioned before, we are moving in a couple of weeks and are currently in the preparation phase, the one where you must tackle the clutter, the daunting mountain of things that make up a life and yet do not sum it up.

Part of me just wishes to escape this phase, longs for travel, for an escape, for Greece and France, for Paris at 5 in the morning, for dipping bread in olive oil and tomatoes by a Greek beach, for the discovery of new places and people in foreign lands, for walks in the countryside with no agenda.

As I climb up this mountain, I find myself longing for a flat road.

But this mountain is nothing but a transition, one that is helping me process loss, I suppose. The loss of my life as I knew it and had planned it. And the burden transformation necessitates.

Just like when Pablo started on solid food and I decided we were going to eat as well as he did, I must apply to myself what I have been practicing with him to nurture and support him through his difficulties.

In time of crisis, instead of distracting him, I aim to become very present, right there with him, supporting, putting emotions into words, patient and accepting.

So now I must stand beside myself, as I climb and get anxious, frustrated, exhausted and discouraged. Be present with myself, and supportive, patient and accepting. And later, there might be Greece and France.

Acceptance. This might just be the secret to it all. Unconditional, guilt-free, trusting acceptance. Of oneself and loved ones, of one's own needs, of help, of feelings, of life's meanderings. Only then can we see their beauty. Or their purpose.

Through it all, I'm always grateful for Pablo's gentleness and complete acceptance. His existence is my daily poetry.

As we manage the logistics of the chaos ahead, time for cooking will be very limited. But I realized last week that it wouldn't occur to me to start eating processed foods, quick frozen meals or to skip the family meals and eat on the run, even then. It's not an option in my mind. I certainly need the connection, togetherness, and simple beauty of our family meals more than ever. They help me recharge my batteries.

And  it's also not really necessary. What will our meals look like in the next few weeks, as we are surrounded by boxes and limited in kitchenware? Lots of Greek salads and crudités, (the summer season is still blessing us with gorgeous produce), easy pan-fried meats, fish, shrimp, and pan-fried vegetables like zucchini and eggplant. Quick proteins like smoked salmon and sardines and eggs. Lots of things we can make ahead, to have for a couple of days: grated carrot salad, lentil salad, chickpea salad, quinoa, gazpacho. If our meals are slightly lighter, we'll enjoy a little more cheese, yogurt and summer fruit as dessert.

One very simple meal I've been wanting to share with you for some time, but finally was able to take some pictures of before we sit down to eat it. This grilled duck with radishes and cherries offers a great mix of salty, slightly bitter and sweet. If cherries are out of season, you can certainly omit them, it's also delicious with just the radishes.

So I will post at a slower pace the next couple of weeks as we get settled, and will probably share very simple meals.

And I will be looking forward to sharing so much more from our new home, with a smaller kitchen (yikes!), but such a lovely window for photos, a vegetable garden and fruit trees to boot.

Roasted duck with braised radishes & cherries

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

Serves 2 + 1 toddler

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time : 35 minutes total

Age for babies: Mixed thoroughly into a puree, I would give this from 6 months on (perhaps adding some potato for consistency). More baby duck recipes here and here.

2 tbsp coconut oil
1 bunch of radishes 
10-12 cherries
2 tbsp sugar (or honey)
1 tbsp of balsamic vinegar
2 tsp salt (I used lapsang souchong salt here)
1 tsp pepper
4 small duck breasts

Wash and pat-dry the radishes, cut the stems short. Pit the cherries.

In a medium sauté pan, heat the coconut oil over medium heat. Add the radishes, the sugar and balsamic vinegar, and cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring here and there, until they become slightly golden.

Then add a little bit under 1/4 cup of hot water, and the cherries. Stir, lower heat to medium low, cover and let braise for about 15 minutes.  Then, keep warm/covered.

(At this point, I do a few other things like set the table, prepare our vegetable first course. Then I continue a few minutes before we sit down to eat)

Preheat your broiler at 500°F.

Make a salt and pepper rub by mixing the salt and pepper (and some lapsang souchong tea strands, I'm obsessed with this tea right now!) in a bowl.

Make a few incisions (3 in each direction) through the skin of the duck breasts (but not all the way through the skin). Rub each side with the salt & pepper.

Place the breasts on parchment paper in a baking dish, skin side down.

Place in the oven (very close to the heat elements) for about 5 minutes, then turn them over (skin up), for another 5 minutes. Then turn off the oven and let rest with the oven door open for another 5 minutes.

Serve 2 duck breasts on each plate, top with some radishes and cherries and drizzle the cooking juices from radishes over both.

Bon appétit!

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Monday, August 12, 2013

Baked eggplant, figs & goat cheese... & the meaning of sharing

I've made this analogy here before, but I often think of parenting as blindly planting wild seeds in a garden, and waiting to see how and when they will grow into something. I don't think we teach our children so much as we are their model. The seeds contain all the complexity of our behavior,demeanor, focus and interests as parents. We can't just will the fruit into being. We must plant, nurture and patiently wait. 

When it comes, the fruit is all the sweeter. 

And such a precious fruit is ripening within Pablo right now.

Pablo has started to share food. I mean that at every meal or picnic, he makes a point of taking some of the food in the main serving platter, and makes sure that everyone is served. He wants to give a piece of the  pie gratin, or salad, or cheese, as the case may be, to each person at the table. He does this as a task of importance and seriousness.

I am really of the mind that there's no such thing as teaching sharing, and that making children share (especially infants and toddlers) teaches them absolutely nothing (except that sharing is an annoying but apparently necessary part of life). Sharing is sharing only if it's completely spontaneous and voluntary, if it comes from the heart. The art of sharing is truly one of those fruits that grow unexpectedly, when you model it and let it happen naturally.

Unexpectedly indeed, for I hadn't realized, that each time we sat down together at the table to share a meal, every time we shared the same dish we all ate, every time I offered Pablo to taste something from my plate at a restaurant, every time we cooked for the whole family, we were unconsciously modeling sharing. And Pablo assimilated it in this intrinsic way, so that it seems completely natural to him that everyone at the table should get their share so we can all eat together. 

I guess my point is this: a child will learn so much more about the real meaning of sharing by having a home cooked family meal, than by being forced to share his most prized possession. 

And with or without children, sharing a home-cooked meal with loved ones is such a deeply communal and connective experience. It is an active act of sharing and togetherness (no wonder Michael Pollan says "the family meal is the nursery of democracy".)

I keep talking about life lessons at the table and in the kitchen. And wow, these lessons just keep appearing before my eyes, yielding my amazement and gratitude.

 I came across this incredible photograph on Pinterest, and clicked to seek the recipe, but alas, this beautifully photographed blog is in Polish and I couldn't track down the eggplant recipe. So I improvised my own version, with goat cheese of course, given that I am continuing my Summer Goat Cheese Series with Vermont Creamery

This is one of those very seasonal, extremely easy, delicious melt-in-your-mouth recipes with all the flavors of late summer. I hope you will enjoy sharing it with people you cherish.

Oh, and since we're in a sharing kind of mood here :-), below the recipe is our weekly menu. Hope it can spark some ideas for your family.

Baked eggplant, with figs, cherry tomatoes & goat cheese

Inspired by a Pinterest photo from this beautiful Polish blog
Serves 2-3

Prep time: 10 min
Cook time: 35-40 min

Age for babies: 10-12 months (though simple roasted eggplant with some goat cheese could be given from about 8 months)

1 eggplant
Olive oil
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes
8 small figs
Aged goat cheese - I used half a Cremont from Vermont Creamery
(You could also use crumbled fresh goat cheese here.)

Preheat the oven at 400°F.

Wash the eggplant, cut off the top, and slice lengthwise.

Make incisions through the flesh but not the skin with a knife (three in each direction). Brush with olive oil.

Place in baking pan on parchment paper, flesh side down (skin up).

Bake for about 20-25 min. The skin will start to shrivel a little.

In the meantime, wash and half the figs and tomatoes.

Take the eggplant out of the oven, and set your oven to broiler.

Turn the eggplant halves over, place the figs and tomatoes on top. Place pieces of the goat cheese on top. 
Sprinkle with fresh ground pepper.

Place in the broiler for about 10-12 min, until the cheese is melted and golden.

Serve while hot! Bon appétit!

On to the 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: Danish blue cheese, Port Salut (cow cheese), goat brie and Petit Basque (sheep).

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).


Lunch - Picnic at the park
Cucumber, hearts of palm, cherry tomatoes, cold chicken, avocado, goat cheese, grapes and cherries

Goûter (4pm snack) – Mango

Appetizer / Finger Foods: Baked eggplant with figs and goat cheese (above!)
Main course: Oven roasted pork tenderloin in mustard sauce, with blue potatoes


Lunch - Picnic at the park again
Green beans, cauliflower, blue potato salad + roast beef + Babybel cheese, plums & cherries

Goûter - Peach

Appetizer / Finger FoodsAuthentic Greek salad
Main course: Duck breasts with braised radishes and cherries*


Lunch at the park 
Cold pea & herb salad, cherry tomatoes, ham, goat gouda, nectarine

Goûter – Nectarine

Appetizer / Finger Foods: French radishes with salt & butter
Main course: Quails eggs en cocotte with smoked salmon, leek and zucchini from La Tartine Gourmande (this was so spectacular I can't wait to make it again!)


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Grated carrots with orange juice dressing
Main course: Mushroom caps stuffed with cream of sardines

Goûter - Passion fruit

Appetizer / Finger Foods: Golden beet warm goat cheese salad
Main course: Pan-fried creamy turkey breasts with summer vegetables in parchment from Just One Cookbook


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Green asparagus with vinaigrette
Main course: Sauteed shrimp with lime and coconut quinoa

Goûter - Peach

Appetizer / Finger Foods: Cucumber salad with creamy yogurt tarragon dressing
Main course: Trying this tomato cobbler from Food Loves Writing, soft boiled egg


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Tomato, basil & onion salad
Main course: Steak tartare, butter lettuce with fresh herbs

Goûter - Plum

Appetizer / Finger FoodsArtichoke custard
Main course: Clams in fennel shallot broth from Cannelle & Vanille


Lunch OUT

Goûter - Cherries

Appetizer / Finger Foods: Corn coconut chowder
Main course: Caramelized fennel, goat cheese, kale clafoutis (crustless quiche)

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Friday, August 9, 2013

On trust, & a banana goat cheese cassolette

So I have been stuck. Pulled in too many directions. Vaguely anxious about an uncertain future. Overworked and exhausted. And away from this space these past 10 days. Partly because time is sadly a-lacking. We are moving in the coming month, so I apologize in advance if things are a little slower than usual around here in the next few weeks, as I juggle through this big transition. 

While I hope this daunting task will be cleansing, a new beginning, it’s gotten me feeling all over the place, inside and out. And when I feel too overwhelmed, deregulated, I get stuck.

I have much to learn from my 27 months old son in this area.

Pablo has been into Legos recently. With incredible patience and focus, he piles the pieces as high as he can, experimenting with balance. The tower falls apart, he starts over, unfazed.
But yesterday, he was grumpy. He didn’t nap long enough. And he started playing with his Legos. Except every single time something would fall apart (every few seconds), he would get so frustrated, cry and scream. So I sat next to him, acknowledged his feelings and commented on his struggle, as I always try to do (much more on that here). He was so upset, I started to suggest he maybe change activity, that perhaps he was too tired and cranky for it at the moment. But then, it hit me: he keeps going. Yes, he feels frustrated and annoyed, he cries and screams. And he picks up the pieces and starts over again, without a hint of hesitation. He doesn't show any inkling of wanting to stop. He can deal. He is able to feel his feelings and keep going. He doesn't get stuck.

I have been trying to follow his example. Feel what I feel. And keep going. It's hard.

I guess it’s also where trust comes in. To keep going, one must trust. Oneself, and life itself. And the process too. I have learned much about trust in raising Pablo. I have learned to trust him so he can trust himself (more on that also here). I trust him to know what his body needs, what his brain needs. I trust his abilities, to learn, to struggle, to be. And the thing about trust, is that it is so often self-fulfilling (as is fear).

So I’ve been trying to swivel my brain, from fear to trust, via acknowledging the present moment.

The other morning, up at dawn to work out at the park, I felt exhausted and feared I would not make it through this workout. I noticed how discouraged I felt, that daunting feeling of what’s ahead. Then I made myself trust that somehow I would get through it.

I thought of the blog, the photos and recipes I needed to work on. I felt behind and feared not to be able to find the time. Then, I looked at the incredible diffused light through the cloud cover over the park. I noticed that perfect, enveloping veil of light and imagined photographing a beautiful plate of food, right there. Then I made myself trust that I would find the time for a new recipe when I would be ready.

I saw two old ladies walking side by side and chatting, two old friends. It reminded me of the friend who is no longer among us, the one I used to walk with, the one I had imagined myself walking and chatting with at 80. I felt sadness and remembered. I knew she would have trusted me to pull through these tumultuous times. I must do that for myself now.

The thing is... the things that have felt the best, the most successful, the most right, in my life, were the things I did with fundamental trust and yet no specific expectations.  Like giving birth. Like cooking for my son, and raising him. Like writing this blog. Conversely, things I did with high expectations and much hidden doubt, have often been epic failures. 

Live and learn.

So speaking of having trust and no expectations, how about uniting banana with goat cheese?

For this new installment of my Summer Goat Cheese Series in collaboration with Vermont Creamery and the Kids & Kids Campaign, I decided to give this unlikely combination a try, and I didn't regret it. Vermont's Cremont cheese, a mix of goat and cow's milk, has the perfect texture for this. This dish could be an appetizer, or a light lunch along with a salad, or served as a cheese/dessert course. It’s sweet, and savory, and melts in your mouth, and makes you want to lick the bowl :-) Pablo certainly did!

 If you've been following the Summer Goat Cheese Series, have you tried any of the goat cheese recipes with your children and family? How did they like it? Would love to hear your feedback!

And by the way, if you're looking for more goat cheese inspiration, you should check out all the great blogger recipes here.

Wishing you a lovely, peaceful and flavorful weekend.

Banana Goat Cheese Cassolette

Adapted from this original recipe

For 2 cassolettes

Prep time: 10 min
Cook time: 25 min

Age for babies: 8-10 months (this is very soft consistency, perfect for finger food)

2 bananas
1 Cremont goat cheese from Vermont Creamery  (or bûche type aged goat cheese)
2 thin slices of pancetta
1 shallot
2 sprigs of fresh tarragon (I think dill would work great too)
1-2 tbsp heavy cream
Salt & pepper

Preheat the oven at 400°F.

Slice the goat cheese cross-wise to obtain 2 thick slices. Mince the shallot. Take the leaves of tarragon off the stems and cisel it. Cut the bananas lengthwise, then into bite size pieces.

Take two oven safe ramekins or cassolettes. In each, sprinkle half the shallot, add the banana pieces, then a slice pancetta, then the slice of goat cheese on top. Add the fresh tarragon, drizzle the heavy cream on top, and add a dash of salt and fresh ground pepper.

Cook in the oven for about 25 minutes. 

Serve while hot.  Enjoy! (So Pablo could have his own individual serving, I transferred from the hot cassolette to a cold ramekin for him.)

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Monday, July 29, 2013

A sweet custard, a verrine, & our weekly menu

"How was your week?", people ask. But are they ready for an honest, full answer? 

Because for me, it was...

A busy week. Made of work deadlines, toddler activities, juggling writing, cooking, photographing between bath times, meal times and nap times. 

A grateful week, for the precious help of my mother and support of good friends. 

A stressful, anxious week, with the anticipation of big life changes and all the daunting effort, work and energy they require.

A flavorful week, rich with the bounty of summer produce and local farmers.

A hopeful week, with faith in the fruits of difficult decisions and doing our best in the present.

A sad week, for the helplessness felt in the face of the struggle, pain and suffering of loved ones.

An inspiring week, with lots of ideas and connections, things to express, to explore.

A tired, humbling week, longing for sleep and rest, a reality check that my brain and body cannot function non-stop. 

A joyful week, of reaping other fruits, the things Pablo has learned without my teaching, the awe and wonder of watching grow what I sowed. A spontaneous thank you, or gesture to share food, a rythm or a song, a new skill, a desire to help, a willingness to try new things, a wish to connect with others, and sprouts of empathy in his demeanor. 

Such are our weeks and lives, aren't they? Never just one thing. They are in our image, complex, mixed, impossible to define. Therein lies their beauty. They can't be labeled, or dismissed for being one thing, these nuggets, these increments of our lives. 

So with the acknowledgement of last week, ready or not, we begin a new one. With a sweet treat, and a menu, to get us on our way...


It has been a while since I've shared our weekly menu, and a while since I shared a dessert recipe, so I shall fix that with one post. Crème Caramel, which is basically a cold caramel custard, is a classic dessert in France. You can easily find it already-made in the yogurt section of any supermarket. All schools offer it once in a while for dessert to children (you know, French schools serving a daily four course lunch to children and all). It is a combination of such simple ingredients (milk, eggs, sugar), makes a great sweet treat.

I had made this incredible Lapsang Souchong tea caramel some months ago for an ice cream, and had been looking for a way to use what was leftover. Since 99.9% of the time, our desserts consist of cheese and/or yogurt and fruit, it had been sitting in my fridge. Well, it has now found its purpose!

And then I came across the photo of a verrine (pretty edible things presented in a glass, basically) on a French website, and decided to simplify it greatly to create an easy, yet delicious and crowd-pleasing dessert perfect for a summer (or any season really) afternoon, or for a dinner party. 

Smoked tea infused crème caramel, & a verrine of shortbread cookie, stone fruit, yogurt, and smoked caramel custard

For the crème caramel:

Makes 4-6 ramekins, depending on size (lower, shallow ramekins tend to set better)

Age for babies: 12 months and up with the honey, in very small quantity.  I gave this to Pablo for the first time at 27 months (and it was love at first taste!)

2 cups of whole milk
1 vanilla bean (or 1/2 tsp vanilla extract)
3 eggs
3 tbsp honey (heat it up to make it liquidy if needed)
This awesome Lapsang Souchong caramel from Local Milk blog (of course, plain caramel will do as well.)

First, make the caramel (recipe here).

In a pan, combine the milk and vanilla (if using a bean, scrape the seeds off into the milk, and put the bean in the milk as well). Bring to a slow boil, cover, and remove from heat. Let the vanilla infuse for 5-10 minutes.

Preheat the oven at 400°F.

Pour the hot caramel into the bottom of the ramekins, just enough to coat the bottom. It will harden and cool quickly. (*Note that I was able to keep this caramel covered in the fridge for a couple of months. I just reheated in the microwave to liquify).

Then, whisk the eggs in a bowl, add the honey and whisk until combined.

Remove the vanilla bean from the milk, (strain the milk through a fine mesh if desired), and pour the hot milk over the eggs, all at once, and whisk vigorously for a minute or so.

Pour the milk/egg mixture over the caramel in the ramekins.

Place the ramekins in a baking dish, and pour some hot water in the dish, so it goes up about 3/4 of the way up the sides of the ramekins.

Place in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until set. You will know when you tap on your baking dish, and the middle of the custards is no longer liquid (though it will giggle a little.) 

Remove from the oven and the hot water bath, and let cool. Then place in the fridge for 1 hour or more.

When ready to serve, place a plate on top of the ramekins, hold on to both and turn the plate over, shaking gently until you hear the soft "schlug" of the custard coming off the ramekin. Lift the ramekin, and pour the leftover caramel at the bottom of the ramekin over the custard. 

For the verrine:

Age for babies: Omitting the crème caramel, I would give this as an afternoon snack for example from 8-10 months (yogurt, cookie, fruit mixed together and set to rest for 1 hr, so the yogurt softens the cookie).

1 plain shortbread cookie
1 spoonful of plain (full fat if possible) Greek yogurt (this one is by far the best I've had in the US, by the way)
1 spoonful of European style, plain yogurt, with cream on top preferably
Seasonal fruit of choice: here I used plum and nectarine 
1 bite or two of crème caramel

In a small bowl, mix together the Greek yogurt and regular yogurt with some of the cream on top. 

At the bottom of a glass, break/crumble the shortbread cookie.
Add the yogurt, the cut up fruit on top, and then a spoonful of the crème caramel.

Note: You can make these ahead and leave them in the fridge until ready to serve. It gives the yogurt time to imbibe the cookie, which makes the whole thing even more scrumptious!!

And now, on to the 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: Comté, Port Salut (cow cheese), and a lot of goat cheese these days, thanks to my collaboration with Vermont Creamery and the Kids & Kids campaign. (Have you been following the "Summer Goat Cheese Series"?)

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).


Lunch - Picnic at the park
Boiled leeks and potato salad, cherry tomatoes and cucumber sticks, hard boiled egg, Babybel cheese & plum

Goûter (4pm snack) – Crème Caramel (recipe above!) and lychees

Appetizer / Finger FoodsGolden beet warm goat cheese salad
Main course: Oven-roasted pork ribs, grilled eggplant


Lunch - Picnic out again
Spring pea & herb salad, cherry tomatoes, avocado, roast beef, cheese and plum or peach

Goûter - Lychees

Appetizer / Finger Foods: White asparagus with tarragon yogurt cream sauce
Main course: Duck breasts with braised radishes and cherries*


Lunch at the park 
Grated carrots French-style, sardine cottage cheese pea sandwich, cheese, fruit

Goûter – Nectarine

Appetizer / Finger Foods: Authentic Greek salad
Main courseQuails eggs en cocotte with smoked salmon, leek and zucchini from La Tartine Gourmande


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Cold zucchini with mint vinaigrette
Main course: Bison patty with endive blue cheese salad

Goûter - Grapes

Appetizer / Finger Foods: Trying this Yellow Tomato Corn Gazpacho from What's Cooking Good Looking blog
Main course: Pan-fried Dover sole, broccoli spinach puree



Appetizer / Finger Foods: Cucumber fennel slaw
Main course: Mushroom prosciutto tartine

Goûter - Peach

Appetizer / Finger Foods: Artichoke custard
Main course: Lamb chops with the herbed roasted carrots and pesto from Food Loves Writing


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Choice of leftover appetizers: grated carrots, zucchini, and/or cucumber fennel slaw
Main course: Soft boiled egg, simple ratatouille

Goûter - Plum

Appetizer / Finger Foods: Grilled avocado with cherry tomatoes and herbs from Minimally Invasive blog
Main course: Clams in fennel shallot broth from Cannelle & Vanille


Lunch OUT

Goûter - Cherries

Appetizer / Finger Foods: Green beans cauliflower herb salad
Main course: Slow-cooker chicken thighs with endive, yam, goat cheese gratin*

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