Thursday, January 31, 2013

Cream of sardines mushrooms... & the art of being humbled

There are humbling experiences in life. Seeing the Grand Canyon. Admitting life has gotten the best of us and asking for help. Witnessing true brilliance.

And then, there’s taking a toddler to the snow for the first time.

There’s parenthood, really. 

I apologize for being away from this space for the past week, and hope with all my heart it won’t happen again. Being back here feels a bit like coming home. And it’s good to be here.

After overbooking myself with a huge work project that chained me to my desk from morning to night, I was so excited to leave for 3 days of winter wonderland. Being a southern Californian for the past 15 years, cold weather has become this sort of romantic fantasy of snow angels, warm fires, hot cocoa, snowball fights and giggles on the slopes. And lovely hearty meals, of course.

I have shared before my struggles with expectations and perfect pictures in my head, and the challenges I face when those expectations and perfect pictures get confronted with reality.

So along with the lovely fires and cocoas and snow play and yummy cheesy potato dishes we did gratefully enjoy, there was a fair amount of backbreaking, sliding, snowing, chain-installing, frustrating (anyone has a tutorial on how to put snow gloves on a 21 months old who isn’t sure what his thumb is?) moments...

I’m sure I’m giving a good laugh to people in most of the world who are very familiar with kids in cold weather. Part of me was laughing at me too, as I was actually breaking into a sweat just putting Pablo in his snowsuit. And by the time I actually had him covered from head to toe and he could barely move, he was getting cranky and in no mood to try skiing. You get the idea...

Half-way through the weekend, I remembered the first day at the zoo.

When Pablo was probably about 8 months, I took him to the zoo for the first time. We were meeting a few other moms. I had planned everything just right, and was ready for that perfect photo in front of the elephants, and giggles at the monkeys. Long story short, a few long lines, missed meet-ups, naps and diaper changes later, we ended up seeing a couple of pink flamingos and a couple of parrots. And it was over.

Finding a way to be happy and thankful for that day, was hard. Letting go was hard.

And those couple of days in the mountains were an intense exercise in adapting to what the situation was throwing at me and making the best of it, keeping in mind what was important (i.e. having a nice time together as a family), while quickly mourning whatever expectations I didn’t even know I had. I guess it could be called rolling with the punches.

This is such an essential skill I am in the process of honing and which I have sorely lacked in the past. My 21 months old son is teaching me this. I am humbled by him too, every day.

So yes, parenthood is humbling, in so many ways. What have you found humbling in your life?

Now for a not-so-smooth segue, here’s a recipe for one of those nights you might need to roll with the punches.

We love canned sardines, they are healthy, delicious, easy. I introduced them to Pablo around 8 months. They make a nice finger food. And on those busy hectic nights, simply popping a can open can be a saving grace. I often serve them just plain with a vegetable and rice or quinoa. A few months ago, I had also shared a sardine eggplant brandade recipe which we always enjoy.

When in France last summer, I came across a small recipe book with nothing but recipes using canned sardines. I’m finally sharing this yummy and easy little recipe from it. Its presentation is playful for kids, they can even help spooning the stuffing in the mushroom "hats". And they make an awesome appetizer or lunch for grownups too. I hope you enjoy it.

Mushrooms stuffed with cream of sardines

Adapted from "Sardines en boîte, les 30 recettes cultes" by Garlone Bardel
Age for babies: 8-10 months
Prep time: 15 min
Cook time: 25 min

4 Portobello mushrooms (or 12 white mushrooms)
1 can of sardines in olive oil, drained and fork-mashed
A handful of chives, chopped
1/2 bunch of Italian parsley, chopped
1 cup of ricotta
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven at 350°F.
Rinse the mushrooms in running water, dry them, cut the stems off. Set aside.
Chop the mushroom stems finely.
In a large bowl, mix the ricotta, parmesan, sardines, chopped mushroom stems, chives, parsley, salt and pepper to taste.
Spoon the mixture in the mushroom caps.
Place the mushroom caps on parchment paper on a baking sheet, and bake for 25 minutes.
Serve warm. We served it with a mâche pea shoots goat cheese salad.
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Monday, January 21, 2013

Pablo's menu this week

I am so glad our menus seem to be useful and spark some ideas with many of you. Thank you for your wonderful feedback and insightful questions.

A bit of housekeeping... Speaking of useful, I wanted to let you know I'll be starting a sort of Q&A page, with many questions I've received and my answers. I will be posting also the 8-12 months baby feeding page very soon, as well as a page with a list of places we sometimes go out to lunch when we're on the go and healthy and tasty options I've found for Pablo.

Also to stay connected with us and get all the updates, subscribe by email (box on the right) or like us on Facebook here.

Now that that's over with... here are some images that have inspired our tastebuds this week, from the San Diego farmer's market we visited, to our CSA delivery, to our very own backyard.

Pablo has very much been enjoying picking tangerines from our tree, it has become his afternoon ritual to pick one, peel it, separate the pieces and eat it.
I read this Magda Gerber quote recently:
 "Be careful what you teach, it might interfere with what they are learning."
It stuck with me, as it is more challenging for a parent to apply than it seems. But in this spirit, I am amazed at how rich this simple activity of fruit picking has been for Pablo. He's outdoors, learning about food that grows on a tree. Learning that the local squirrel quite enjoys the ones that fall from the tree on their own. He's learning about patience. "No, that one isn't ripe yet, it'll have to wait until tomorrow." Peeling and separating is great for those fine motor skills. And he's probably learning a million subtleties that escape me completely. He enjoys that whole process thoroughly, all the way to the moment where he takes the peelings to the trash can. I should start a compost really, to make that process complete, of going back into the earth to regrow more delicious foods. Just writing this has gotten me determined to get that started soon...
Would love to hear about your experience growing your own food.

In the meantime, wishing you a good 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: Burgundy Cow Cream, Petit Basque sheep's milk cheese, and Goat Brie, and Munster (great with cumin).

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).


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Grated carrots French-style
Main course: Pan fried chicken livers salad with raspberry vinaigrette

Goûter (4pm snack) – Apple blueberry compote, tangerine


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Boiled leeks with vinaigrette
Main course: Buttermilk chicken from Life is Great, with coconut rice


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Authentic Greek salad
Main course: Lentil cakes with poached egg from Cannelle & Vanille

Goûter - Apple peach compote

Appetizer / Finger Foods: Grated carrots French-style (leftover)
Main course: French lamb stew (navarin) with new vegetables*


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Hearts of palm and cherry tomatoes
Main course: Ham and cauliflower puree

Goûter – Banana

Appetizer / Finger Foods: Watercress sorrel soup
Main course: Pan-fried Dover sole fillets with microgreens puree


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Blue potatoes, garlic & green beans salad
Main course: Beef patty, rutabaga & dino kale mash

Goûter - Apple pear compote

Appetizer / Finger Foods: Leftover Watercress sorrel soup
Main course: Sardines and Roasted cabbage from Food Loves Writing


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Broccoli couscous salad
Main course: Garlic Shrimp with peas

Goûter - Kiwi

Appetizer / Finger Foods: Spinach, pear, pomegranate salad found on Williams-Sonoma site
Main course: Pork loin braised in milk from Bon Appétit with roasted baby butternut squash


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Green asparagus with vinaigrette
Main course: Herbed lamb meatballs in coconut milk, with quinoa, from Cannelle & Vanille's cookbook, Small Plates and Sweet Treats (Those were so amazing I will be blogging about them very soon.)

Goûter - Tangerine

Appetizer / Finger Foods: Mâche, beet, Feta salad
Main course: Leftover pork loin (cold with mustard), broccoli puree


I will be sharing great hearty recipes for snow weather, like French tartiflette!

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

An artichoke custard... and hard simple wants

On an exhausted late evening, I browse through Pinterest, and look at streamlined, minimalistic interiors, unencumbered kitchens. I pin. I look around me at the piles of things to deal with on my desk. Piles of things to deal with in my head.

I fantasize about life on a farm. Going back to nature. Back to a simpler life.
Simpler, meaning what? More real. More beautiful and joyful. Less busy, more focused. All that and more. A tall, but worthy order. 

And I wonder. 

Why is it so difficult to achieve simplicity?

It occurs to me that there’s nothing easy about it. It’s a different kind of hard. Rather, it is our convoluted lives that seem very easy to slip into. But they create so much waste, don’t they? Details, fears, attempts to control, to predict, to please.

So what does the desire for simplicity mean to me, exactly? I know I have been attracted to the idea of going back to the basics. Back to real & simple things, foods, emotions, relationships. We want to go back. So did we start out this way? Have our convoluted lives led us astray from what really matters?

What is it that I want, when I tell myself I want simplicity? Here's what I came up with so far.

I want clarity. About what matters in life, what life is really about, about my needs, wants, how to fulfill them. My regrets, sorrows, how to process them.

I want essential things to be in the forefront of my life. It is very frustrating to feel like we know what is essential in our life, and yet not be able to devote it enough time, while other menial, unessential things take up most of our time. 

I want to favor the experiential over the material. I would rather tour the world than own a house. I would rather do than have. I’ll take a great meal over a pair of shoes any day.

I want to be grounded. Or rather find balance, of mind and body. Of self and the world. Of head and ground. I breathe, therefore I think. 

I want to let go of a lot of things I can’t control, of unanswered questions. Lay them to rest. For now. The power to unburden myself.

I want to be a fusion, of past, present and future.

Wow. Now that I think, and write of it, I guess simplicity is pretty freakin’ complex.

It takes some qualities I sometimes lack.
Patience and trust. With and in ourselves, our processes.
Courage. To go outside of our comfort zone, to let go of easy for the sake of beauty, to face Pandora’s Box which sorting through and simplifying may unleash.
Inner strength. To keep standing free.

I’m getting better at all that, mostly. I guess these qualities need to be practiced, honed.

It’s a great conundrum. The simultaneous realization of the equally crucial need to achieve simplicity and to grasp human complexity, as two sides of one coin. The key to living a life that I may look back on with a warm heart, when I’m an old woman. To living a day that I may look back on with a warm heart, the following day.

Maybe that's it.
To live each day so I may look back on it with a warm heart the following day.

That’s simple enough. I can do that.

So I wanted to tell you about that day with the crème d’artichaud.
The artichoke custard. A simple dish, of artichoke and eggs. Yet so delightful.

The artichoke is actually a nice metaphor for that day. It’s beautiful. Simple and complex. You boil it. You peel all its leaves, some of them prickly, some of them soft. You get to the bottom, and its furry cocoon. You get past that, and you have it. The essence of artichoke that makes it all worth it.

This was a morning where I could forget my office and enjoy the kitchen. Our friend D was coming for the day; she’s my favorite recipe guinea pig. She quite enjoys the job too. Our days with her are sun-kissed, full of play, laughter, silliness, dance, dog play and mud play, cooking and eating, expensive cheese and cheap wine.
There was beauty in that day, of souls, of carefree joy, of meaningful connection between generations and beings. Later, I got weighed down by worries, a bit impatient, a bit irritated. I acknowledged it, it helped a little. I took some comfort in the help and support of loved ones, in feeling sad when I needed to. Sadness is grounding. It’s experiencing loss in the moment.
In the end, simple togetherness was the bottom of that artichoke of a day.

So food metaphors aside, simplicity is hard. It’s a work in progress. My desk and counters are still cluttered. It often feels like my life is too. And I’m not too fond of sorting through. But no matter. Because that day, I look back on with a warm heart.
And I wish you many of those days, with or sans artichoke custard. But preferably with.


Artichoke custards

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

Makes 4-5 individual ramekins

Prep time: 20 mn
Cook time: 50 mn

Age for babies: 10-12 months because of whole milk and whole egg.

*Vegetable custards are a GREAT way to introduce new vegetable and herb flavors to children, they're easy to eat and creamy. Check out my savory herb custard here.

4 large artichokes
1 3/4 cup whole milk
2 egg yolks
1 whole egg
Pinch of salt
Pinch of piment d'Espelette (optional)
Pinch of nutmeg

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Wash the artichokes under cool running water, cut the stem at the edge of the leaves. Put them in boiling water and let simmer over medium-low heat for 30 minutes.

Drain the artichokes and let them cool enough to be able to take out all the leaves and the fur, and be left with the 4 bottoms.

(Keep the leaves as a great appetizer, dipped in a shallot vinaigrette, as described here.)

Preheat the oven at 350°F. Place a deep baking pan (large enough to contain the ramekins, use two if needed) filled with hot water (this is the water bath).

Over medium heat, bring the milk to a near boil. Place the artichoke bottoms and hot milk in a blender and puree until smooth (it will be very liquidy). Pour in a large bowl (with a spout if you have one).

In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the whole egg, adding a pinch of salt, of piment d'Espelette and nutmeg.

Add the egg mixture to the artichoke/milk mixture and whisk together. Taste and add salt to taste.

Pour the custard into each ramekin, and place the ramekins in the water bath in the oven. (The water level should be halfway up the ramekin or a bit more).

Cook for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool. Great served at room temperature or slightly warm.

We served with a pea shoot & mâche salad with an orange juice dressing (1 tbsp OJ, 1 tbsp white wine vinegar, 1 tsp mustard, 5 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp walnut oil, salt and pepper).

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Friday, January 11, 2013

King's almond galette... long live food rituals

During the whole month of January, most French families have one favorite food ritual they can look forward to. The “Kings' galette”.

It is originally made to celebrate the Epiphany on January 6th. The tradition of the cake on that day is typically French and was instituted by the church in the 13th century. But contrary to a lot of countries in the world where the Epiphany remains a very religious celebration, it has become widely secular in France

Part of what makes this so fun, is the placing of a “fève”, nowadays a small porcelain figure, inside the galette. This was an 11th century Roman tradition of placing either a coin, or for the poorest, a dried fava bean (fève in French) inside a loaf of bread to determine the leader of a group (whoever got the piece of bread with the coin or bean was the leader).

The celebration as most French families do it today is a sort of hodgepodge of these two traditions. A “fève” (it is now mostly a small porcelain figure) is placed inside the almond galette. The tradition says it is to be cut into the number of guests plus one, the portion “for the poor” (to be given to the first poor person passing by – I remember my mom telling me about the “for the poor” piece, and how it made me realize as a young child that some people out there may not have enough to eat.) A napkin is placed over the galette, and the youngest member of the group goes under the table and designates to whom each piece is to be given. The one who gets the piece with the fève is designated the “king”, and gets to choose his queen (or vice versa).

We know how rituals in general are good for young children especially. They are landmarks in their life, something expected that makes them feel safe, something fun to look forward to, whether it’s the bedtime ritual, or the Sunday morning ritual, whatever that may be for each family. When we go through a ritual, we are in the moment, engaged, centered. When I think ritual, I think: comfort, slow, reassuring, mindful, grounding. I think as adults in this busy 21st century life pulling us in all directions, we need our own rituals just as much as our children do. (I recommend this great post on Food Loves Writing on this topic, by the way).

So of course, you may not be surprised to hear some of my favorite rituals are food rituals. Cooking and enjoying family meals, are some of the rituals that help keep me grounded every day.

Food rituals are a big part of the approach to food in France. I grew up with all kinds of them, whether it was the placing of a fork under the plate for the vinaigrette to eat artichoke leaves, or the tapping of the soft-boiled egg and the dipping of the mouillettes, or the cutting of a radish into a flower to insert a sliver of butter in it, to be devoured with a sprinkle of salt.

A ritual means you are taking the time to do something of value, and you are mindful of what you are doing, you are engaged in it, with mind and body. Food rituals are a great opportunity to teach, and learn, this mindfullness in an organic way, as they make food fun, they make the eating experience special and pleasurable. They create a positive association, all wonderful things, all part of the education of taste.

This galette is definitely one of the most beloved food rituals for French kids. It is usually an opportunity for the whole family to get together and share a playful moment. Usually families have the galette a few times throughout January, an excuse to get together with friends and relatives they may have missed during the holidays. It’s a wonderful moment where all generations get together, to be all about the galette, and the fun of waiting to find out who gets to be king or queen.

Now, if you will allow me to go on a tangent here, for the sake of contrast.

I have started taking Pablo to a toddler art class at a well-known national kids’ activity center. And to my great amazement (aka inner cringing), at 9:50am, the toddlers are offered a snack! And not only that... but the snack consists of a good ¼ cup of goldfish (cringe cringe). And not only that... but the goldfish is to be eaten while the teacher reads a story!

So I kindly said we “didn’t do snacks” in our family, let Pablo have 3 goldfish so he didn’t feel completely excluded, and that seemed to work fine. I have three major issues with this, one of which I’m interesting in exploring here:

  1. I don’t think a snack is warranted at 9:50 in the morning. Pablo has a good breakfast around 8am, and then eats lunch at 12pm.
  2. If there must be a snack, does it have to be a high sodium processed food like goldfish, seriously? How about some grapes, or slices of apple?
  3. But most importantly, are we conditioning our children to be unable to listen to a story, or watch a movie, or do any activity requiring to sit still and pay attention, without munching on something? Talk about teaching mindless eating, which can have such terrible health consequences later on. And when we eat, must we be doing something else? Precisely I am teaching Pablo to focus and savor his (good quality) food, listen to his body, and enjoy the moment.
So at the far opposite side of the spectrum of mindless goldfish eating, the celebration and savoring of the galette as a multigenerational group experience, where everyone is in the moment, not doing anything else than enjoying the galette and each other’s company in a playful way, is a fantastic food ritual creating so many wonderful associations in our minds.

So why not give it a try with your loved ones? Start the new year by creating a new tradition, a new family ritual, by experiencing a moment of togetherness with the ones you love, sharing a playful moment of connection where children and adults are on the same plane.
Every bakery and supermarket sells galettes starting January 1st, but I’ve started making it myself in the US out of necessity, and it is very easy and just delicious homemade.

As far as the crust, let me just say it: I am scared of making puff pastry! But that won’t stop me from trying some time this year, I promise. But for this one, I did what most French do, I bought the frozen puff pastry, and it works just fine (I got mine at Trader Joe’s, it was very good).

So, are you willing to give it a try? Would you like to institute new food rituals for your family? Which food rituals do you already have and cherish? Please share, I really would love to know.

Kings' Almond Galette

Adapted from this great video tutorial in French
Prep time: 25 mn
Cook time: 35 mn

Serves 8

Age for babies: 10-12 months to be given a taste of almond paste and puff pastry (watch out if you put a fève of course, no whole almonds until they've got some molars).

2 sheets of frozen puff pastry
1 stick of unsalted butter, soft
1/2 cup sugar
4.5 oz almond meal
2 eggs + 1 for the egg wash
1 tbsp milk
1 fève (an almond does the trick)

Take the puff pastry out of the freezer, leave it out to thaw, if soft enough, gently unroll onto a floured board.

In a large bowl, beat the soft butter and sugar together until combined. Add the almond meal and beat until combined. Add the two eggs, one at at time, mixing well each time.

Place one sheet of puff pastry on parchment paper. If it broke or crackled a bit, patch it together (but don't make it a ball, patch it together flat). Use a large round pie mold as a cutter to make a circle.  Repeat for the second sheet.

With a brush, wet the edge around the crust, paying attention not to go over the edge.

Spoon and spread evenly the almond mixture in the center of the crust. If you wish, place the "fève" now, vertically so it's easier to hide. I used an almond.

Delicately place the second circle of puff pastry over the first. With your fingers, press all around, turning the edges inward a bit to seal the galette. With a small knife, make small incisions all around the edge of the galette (without actually cutting through the dough).

In a small bowl, mix the milk with the remaining egg. Brush this egg wash onto the top of the galette, careful not to wet the edges, as it would keep the galette from swelling nicely.

Place the galette in the fridge and let it rest for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven at 450°F.

Brush the galette a second time with the egg wash. With a knife, let your creative spirit flow and draw a crown or anything you like on top (careful not to pierce through the dough though). I was particularly creative and just did straight lines....

Place the galette in the oven and bake at 450°F for about 10-12 minutes, until the top is golden. Then lower the heat to 350°F and bake for another 20 minutes.

While it's baking, boil 1/4 cup sugar with 1/4 cup water, until sugar is dissolved. Let it cool.

When the galette comes out of the oven, brush sugar water on top and let cool, it'll give it that nice shiny gloss on top.

Eat lukewarm. (Can be reheated in the oven for 10 min at 200°F.)

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Monday, January 7, 2013

Pablo's menu this week... & a list 12 tried & true recipes

Lists are very popular it seems, especially this time of year. I like them myself, I have to say. It's an opportunity to discover new blogs, new recipes, interesting posts and people. So I shall succumb to the temptation, and give you a list of 12 tried and true recipes (I could have made it 20, but I know you've got stuff to do! ;-)) you will most definitely find in our weekly meal plans again in 2013. They're some of our family's favorites (though definitely a non-exhaustive list), I hope you will find them inspiring as well. In no particular order:

This so nutty delicious spelt bread from Mummy I can cook!
The absolutely therapeutic cardamom flatbread from Vanilla Bean
The ever so original oak ice cream from Local Milk
The just plain delightful clam fennel & shallot soup from Cannelle & Vanille (I've tried many of her soups, all fantastic)
The highly satisfying carrot risotto by Food Loves Writing
The addicting chilled  pea soup from TasteFood 
The unbeatable buttermilk brined roasted chicken from Life is Great (already on the menu this week)
The exotic carrot ginger soup from Deer Eats Wolf
This summer smile of a tomato polenta pie by Fig & Fauna
The finger-lickin' good honey pork belly recipe by Just One Cookbook
This surefire easy (and awesome) little bread by Girlichef
This savor-every-bite zucchini rice gratin by Smitten Kitchen

All right, enough salivating, moving on to the week's menu. And some images and produce that have inspired us this 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: Italian truffle cheese, Petit Basque sheep's milk cheese, and St Marcellin (creamy cow).

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).


Lunch- OUT

Goûter (4pm snack) – Arkansas Black apple


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Butternut squash leek soup from Cannelle & Vanille
Main course: Buttermilk chicken from Life is Great, parsnip puree with Gruyère on top


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Green beans & blue potato salad
Main course: Bison patty with baby bok choy puree

Goûter - Apple mango compote

Appetizer / Finger Foods: Cold tofu & salmon eggs Japanese style verrine*
Main course: Cheesy mushroom polenta


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Artichoke and pea shoot custard* (similar to the savory herb custard I posted a while ago)
Main course: Mushrooms stuffed with cream of sardines*

Goûter – Banana

Appetizer / Finger Foods: Artichoke leaves with vinaigrette and green olives
Main course: Roasted duck with vegetable jardinière


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Grated carrots French-style
Main course: Ham and quinoa

Goûter - Apple pear compote

Appetizer / Finger Foods: Fava beans and goat cheese soup from MyLittle Fabric
Main course: Salmon wrapped leeks au gratin


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Cannelini beans & tomato salad
Main course: Roasted beet goat cheese tarte

Goûter - Kiwi

Appetizer / Finger Foods:  Endive mâche hearts of palm salad
Main course: Squash risotto from Rachel Eats


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Cucumber with yogurt tarragon sauce
Main course: Trying the herbed lamb meatballs in coconut milk from Cannelle & Vanille's cookbook, Small Plates and Sweet Treats

Goûter - Tangerine

Appetizer / Finger Foods: Lentil leek soup from Vanilla Bean
Main course: Shrimp in soy ginger sauce baked in a parcel* with coconut rice


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Leftover lentil leek soup
Main course: Pan fried chicken liver with mâche salad

Goûter - Apple blueberry compote

Appetizer / Finger Foods: Celery Root, sweet potato, quinoa crumble from Cannelle & Vanille's cookbook, Small Plates and Sweet Treats
Main course: Soft boiled egg

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Sunday, January 6, 2013

Hazelnut cookies... and the art of wanting with a grain of salt

Happy New Year, since this is my first post of 2013... The past six months on this blog have been incredibly fulfilling and I’m looking forward to more this coming year.

The holiday season has got me thinking about wants and expectations.

Pablo had a wonderful Christmas, and was quite showered with gifts. It was his first “aware” Christmas, he knew about Santa Claus coming and bringing gifts. And I have been debating for some time about what I want to tell him about gifts and Santa Claus, because I would like him to enjoy thinking of and making gifts to others too. And I would like him to recognize how thoughtful others have been to him. And yet, I would like him to experience Christmas as a child, with all the magic of Santa, Rudolph, stockings and the whole bit.

I have on occasion witnessed older children wanting something in particular, and being excited about wanting it, expecting to get what they want, and being completely uninterested and underwhelmed by the many other gifts they receive, which seems like such a shame and waste. It just feels so ungrateful and entitled somehow, it makes me cringe. They know they’re going to get what they want, so they expect it. Which got me wondering: are expectations the root of ungratefulness?

Entitled people I’ve encountered in my life have never seemed grateful to me. If we expect something, feel entitled to receive it as a matter of normality, then I suppose there’s nothing to be grateful for. And if for whatever reason, we don't get what we expect, it can go one of two ways: we blame others, or we blame ourselves.

Yet again, life isn't that simple.

Looking in the mirror, I realized this is something I have struggled with myself. Expecting to get the things that I want in life. That has certainly been the cause of some bitter disappointments (and self-blame). And I have learned just how crucial it is to differentiate quite clearly in my mind what I want from what I expect. When it involves other people and things outside of our control (and every part of living involves things outside of our control), we have no business expecting anything really. The only things we should expect, besides stuff like gravity, are things within our control, that involve ourselves, our effort, our work. I feel it’s OK to want something, just as long as I am fully aware I may not get it, or not the way I envisioned it. And to be all the more grateful when I do get it. 

Kind of like, wanting with a grain of salt.

Wanting is less closed-minded than expecting. It seems easier to let go of wants than of expectations. Wants come and go. But our expectations are ingrained in our brains, they are that picture in our head, by which we measure success or failure. If our reality of the moment matches that picture, we have succeeded. If not, we have failed. But that is such a construct of our mind, far removed from real life, right here and right now. I am starting to think that succeeding is letting go of that picture, those expectations. And failing, is to never see beyond the expectations, and missing out on the many awesome unknowns and unsuspecteds life has in store for us.

So I’m learning to maintain a clear boundary between what I want and what I expect. Some things are better wanted than expected.

I guess that’s what I want Pablo to feel when “Santa” brings gifts to him. To want them, but not expect them. I would like him to want to receive gifts, sure. But only to expect giving them.

How does one teach that? How does one learn it?

Perhaps this is one of those things children learn by osmosis, if their models clearly make the difference in their life. I’m hoping to teach him this as I go, by keeping that boundary in my awareness as an individual and as a parent.

As I have previously reflected, I found the kitchen to be one excellent place to learn, and teach this. Take these cookies for example. They were not what I expected. The thin tollhouse type chocolate chip cookies. But I guess in the end, I just wanted them to be good. And when a cookie expert friend of mine came over, and had 4 in a row in spite of his wonderful usual will power, I figured they were good.

So here they are. They are not the graceful greyhound of cookies. They are more the big paws golden retriever of cookies (for some reason, a dog analogy came to mind...) Sweet, nutty, chunky. But I find myself loving them and enjoying them for what they are, as I write these very words...  I hope you will too.


Hazelnut chocolate chip cookies

Makes about 20 cookies

Prep time: 15 mn
Cook time: 15 mn + cool off time

Age for babies: After 12 months, in very small quantity as a treat. (I didn't give Pablo chocolate until after 16 months.)

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup hazelnut butter
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
3/4 cup chocolate chips

Preheat the oven at 375°F.

Line a large cookie sheet (or two) with parchment paper.

Beat the butter, sugar and brown sugar together until creamy. Add the egg & vanilla, and beat until smooth.

Add the hazelnut butter and beat until combined.

Add flour, baking powder and salt, and stir to combine. Add chocolate chips and stir again.

Drop small spoonfuls of dough onto the parchment. Bake 12-15 minutes.

Remove from oven and let rest on the sheet for 1 minute, before removing. Let cool on a rack, and keep in a tin box if possible.

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