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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13 comments:

  1. I do so wish that my little one wasn't allergic to eggs - he would love somethimg like this custard. At least I think he would.

    Ah simplicity. Means so many things to different people. I don't think living on a farm would be simple - it may appear that way from our city vantage point but the farmers I know work very, very hard at what they do with no break, no holiday, 24/7 365 days a year. Feeding pigs and chickens and milking goats may seem simple but in reality it's just another type of complex.

    The simple I strive for is freedom, freedom from worry, freedom from doubts and freedom from anxiety. And even that's not simple. We are complex creatures and it's very difficult to find that space where we are just content.

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    1. Hi, thank you so much for your insights. I make a definite difference between simple and easy. I know life on a farm is far far from easy, but I meant "simple" in the sense of in touch with real things that really matter. I guess that's my point. Simplicity is very complex after all. I like it how you call it freedom though. Different word, but I think we're talking of the same goal.

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    2. I think so too. I completely agree with you about stepping back to find the way things used to be. There's something simple, and wonderful about thinking how would my great-grandmother handle this or do this? I often think of her and my great-great-aunt. In this world of everything faster and cheaper, I think it's better to go slower and use quality. And to have the freedom to do so.
      BTW - I'd love to live on a farm too :) I have 4 hens but would love to have a larger flock and goats and sheep and oh, everything.

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    3. Oh I am very jealous, I would love to have chickens! :-) Maybe some day!

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  2. Beautiful! Do you think I could substitute jarred artichoke hearts without much trouble? I just happen to have quite a few jars going spare in my pantry.

    Would you ever serve this for le gôuter? I am trying to establish an afternoon snack ritual with my daughter and looking for ideas.

    I adore your blog. It makes me wish I were French! (And not Texan! HA!)

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    Replies
    1. Hi Lacy, thank you so much for the kind words!
      About the artichoke hearts... This is actually made from artichoke BOTTOMS, which are different from the artichoke hearts sold in jars here. The hearts are usually pickled, and they are leaves from smaller artichokes, they taste quite different from the bottoms, which are thick and meaty. For some reason, I could never find frozen or jarred artichoke bottoms here (in France, they're very common.) I suppose you could give it a try though... I would recommend rinsing them thoroughly to get rid of the vinegar taste. I don't know how well they would puree with the milk? If you do try, let me know how it turns out! (otherwise, the jarred artichoke hearts are great in salads.)
      This being a savory custard, I would give it as an appetizer / first course for lunch or dinner. At gouter, I usually give something sweet, fruit, pureed or fresh, with a couple of organic oat cookies.
      Thanks so much for following the blog! And hey, there's always Paris, Texas! ;-) Could be the cradle of a French-Texan renaissance!

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  3. As I have been making changes to our meal plans, I have two questions for you that continually pop up:
    1) You never seem to to eat leftovers (occasionally I see you list them, but not very frequently)...do you always just make the exact amount for the meal, or do you ever freeze things?
    2)Considering that you don't eat many leftovers and most of your lunches are something different...if you don't mind me asking, how much do you spend on food each week? (and I live in Santa Barbara, so I'm sure your cost in LA is comparable) I feel like we often thrive off of leftovers for lunches (especially my husband who takes his lunch to work). If I was actually making a full lunch and dinner everyday- I feel like I would spend so much more and get so burnt out on meal prep. Maybe it all works itself out some how, I don't know.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Jodi! Thanks for your questions!
      1/ Leftovers. We do have some, but not a ton. Because of our meal plan, I try to make just enough for a meal, unless I planned otherwise. Leftover chicken will be eaten for lunch the next day, often we have leftover soup or grated carrots (a couple of servings), that sort of thing, we'll just have it for the next lunch. We do freeze some things, like chicken basquaise, or purees. Comes in handy for those improvised nights.
      2/ It varies from week to week, but I guess we're somewhere around 200-300 a week for a family of 4. CSA delivery is great. As far as getting burned out, I do have my mom helping me, which is priceless. But cooking has become quite therapeutic for me, and the meals are some of our favorite moments of the day. So that makes the logistics around the meals easier to handle. You'll notice that our lunches are usually not that involved, just a salad and something cooked very quickly, there's rarely more than 15 mn prep for lunch (unless I do something a bit more involved to post on the blog). That being said, leftovers for lunch are a great time saving option for sure. I hope that answers your questions... Cooking for every meal can be a tall order, so you have to find a balance that works for your family and keeps you happy.

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  4. Thanks Helene. I guess my concern was trying to fit in more variety and not eating the same thing too much, but realistically, leftovers for lunch does work well for us so I guess that's all that matters. Our food budget is definitely lower for the time, so leftovers are probably the best option until then! But thanks for all of your posts, it is nice to have a resource for ideas!

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  5. that's lovely helene. I really felt what you were saying. sometimes at the end of a long hard day I wish I just lived on a farm and had nothign to worry about. (but I guess even farmers have their own set of problems) but then what's really impt for me is to take in all the simple pleasures of the day and just to dwell in things that make me happy :)

    p.s. artichoke custard looks delicious :) I love artichokes but hate preparing them..

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    1. Thanks, Shu Han.
      I know, artichokes can be a pain, I avoided them for the longest time, but Pablo loves them so much, chewing on the leaves, I've given them another shot!

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  6. I have to say this is a perfect recipe as my daughter loves the artichoke leaves but does not care too much for the heart, whilst I can now use those to make these lovely artichoke custards for him!

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    1. sorry I posted my comment before finishing! my son will love the custards as he is too young for the leaves!

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