The other day, as we were enjoying a family dinner, my husband spotted a recipe book on the table and started to look through it as we were eating. (It happened to be the amazing and ever so appetizing Small Plates & Sweet Treats by Cannelle et Vanille's creator, Aran Goyoaga). As we were eating, we started to get excited about the many recipes we were going to make off that book.
"You're really turning into a Frenchman. Talking about food while eating", my mother commented.
Indeed this is something French people love to do. Talk about food while eating food. Going on and on about it in fact!
I realized that unknowingly, the French are actually practicing mindful eating.
"Focus on the task at hand", our teachers, or mothers, or grandmothers said. I guess this was another way to ask us to be mindful. To be in the moment with whatever we were doing.
This has been something I've been very consciously practicing with Pablo. Trying to stay away from outside distractions while at the table whenever possible. So while I do occasionally indulge Pablo with a small toy if he's particularly tired and impatient at dinner time, I try as much as possible to keep our family engaged with our meal, with each other in conversation about our day, with the food we are eating (or will be eating), the cooking of it, the shape, flavor, color, texture of it. A lot of playfulness can arise with the "crunch crunch" of the butter lettuce, the fun of making a mini-kebab by prickling a piece of tomato with a piece of hearts of palm on the fork, or Pablo's new favorite game, calling every item on the dinner table "Monsieur" : Monsieur Patate, Monsieur Radis, Monsieur Pain (Mr Bread) etc. (Yes, barely bearable cuteness ensues.)
I remember reading about mindful eating in Karen Le Billon's book, French Kids Eat Everything, as one of her strategies to convert her picky eaters. It's not about hiding broccoli in some pasta or baked good, or trying to distract our children into eating well, or rushing through meals to get them over with. It's about showing them that eating is a pleasure.
And to find that out, you've got to pay attention while you eat.
Pay attention to how the food feels, how it tastes. Be mind and body (aren't our best, happiest or most fulfilling moments in life when we are engaged both mind and body?). I remember how she described making a game of eating a chocolate mousse as slowly as possible, as a family, and talking about the experience together. What a clever idea to get kids engaged in the wonderful, vastly underestimated, communal, cultural and pleasurable experience that is the family meal.
Beyond easy and quick recipes, convenience and logistics, beyond calories and "healthy eating", making cooking and eating about connection and pleasure, vs obligation and nutrition, is the core of this education of taste journey I've been documenting here. A journey that makes our life so much richer, each and every day.
Sharing today a seasonal variation to the French classic tarte aux pommes. It's the first year I am experimenting cooking with rhubarb and its lovely flavor. This is really two recipes in one: one for the compote, which can be made on its own. But should you have a couple of apples lying around, the tart is a delicious way to put them to good use. Basil goes surprisingly well with strawberry and rhubarb, and adding it to the spelt crust was a fun, and successful, experiment.
Strawberry rhubarb apple tart on basil spelt crustServes 6-8
Prep time: 45 mn
Cook time: 15 mn + 35 mn
Age for babies: The compote by itself is great for a baby from 5 months on, though be sure not to use honey for a baby under 12 months. Add just a sprinkle of sugar. What you don't use within a couple of days can be frozen for a couple of months (individual serving containers make it easier).
The tart can be given in small pieces (as long as no honey was used) from 8-10 months.
For the strawberry rhubarb compote
Yields about 2 cups.
2-3 stalks of rhubarb
1-2 cups of strawberries
2 tbsp of sugar (or honey)
1 tsp lemon juice
Peel the rhubarb by making a diagonal incision at the top and pulling off the stringy part. Repeat from both end, until all strings are gone (you will be taking off the pink part.)
Then cut the rhubarb in small pieces, place in a bowl with half the sugar (or honey), and let macerate at least 15 minutes. (The rhubarb with produce some juice in that time).
In the meantime, wash and cut the strawberries.
In a pan, place the rhubarb and its juice, strawberries, remaining sugar or honey and lemon juice. Cook over medium high heat for about 15-20 minutes, stirring often.
Mix in food processor or blender until very smooth. Pour through a fine mesh strainer, pressing with a spatula, for added smoothness.
For the basil spelt crust
1 cup (150g) spelt flour
5 tbsp (75g) butter, softened and cut up
4-5 large leaves of basil, minced
1.5 tbsp ice water
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp sugar
pinch of salt
In a bowl, mix the flour, minced basil, sugar and salt.
Pour the dry ingredients on a work surface. With your hands, work the soft butter into the flour mixture, by rubbing your hands together, until you get a sandy texture. Then place the flour/butter mixture in a circle with a whole in the middle. Place the egg yolk and water in the middle, and mix with your hands until you obtain a ball of dough.
Then fraise the dough: flatten the ball into a rectangle (of sorts), and with the heel of your hand, press the dough, little by little, onto the work surface. This is very simple (and therapeutic!), but a picture is worth a thousand words on this one, so you can get a visual here. Do it a couple of times.
Wrap in plastic and place in the fridge for 10 minutes.
To put it all together
4-5 oz rhubarb strawberry compote
2-3 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp butter + for mold
Preheat the oven at 375°F.
Butter a tart pan (preferably with removable bottom).
Roll dough onto a lightly floured surface so it's slightly bigger than your pan.
Press the dough into the pan, pressing the sides with your thumb.
Spoon and spread the compote over the dough.
Peel and core the apples, reserve the peel. Slice them thinly. Gently place the apple slices on top of the compote, in a circular motion around the pie pan (I can never do this perfectly by the way, there's always an odd piece of apple that doesn't fit!)
Sprinkle with a bit of sugar, and add a few bits of butter throughout.
Place in oven for about 30-35 minutes, until the apples are soft.
While it's in the oven, boil 1/2 cup of water with the apple peel and sugar for about 10/12 minutes.
When you bring the tart out of the oven, brush some of that syrup over the apples for a nice gloss.
Let cool and eat warm, or cold.