Friday, June 7, 2013

A chocolate treat, & a blog anniversary




It's 6:58 am and the house is still sleepy. Well, except for the two year old who came to join us in bed a couple of hours ago, now tossing and turning and devising ways to wake up his still comatose parents. He manages to slip off the bed, and like a puppy breathing and panting in his slumbering master's face, he yelps, loud and clear: "Park?"

I surface, groggy, and start thinking about my day as we put together breakfast. Boysenberries, yogurt, honey, cereal, milk, bread, butter, jam... and the wheels start turning.

The anniversary post, that's right. It's up there on my calendar, like an obvious fact. Of course I'm going to write an anniversary post. Waited til the day before, of course. What the heck do I want to say about it? That the past year has been so great, and what a wonderful journey it has been already, how much I've learned--

Pablo, "Maman? Manger petit-déjeuner! Miel!"

9:30 am, in the car, driving to work. Nice to work away from the house once in a while, alone time in the car, it gives a mom some time to think in full sentences.

So what have I learned from this blog? Stuff I would never have suspected, social media, analytics, html... photography, food styling. But it's more than that. It's expanded my horizons. Made me discover a great blog community of talented people, bloggers, cooks, photographers, food stylists, parents, writers (or all of the above) that I have come to feel so close to, even though I've never met them in person. I've learned so much from this blog, this one, this one and this one. And this one too. Oh and this one. So many others.

Oh, and I should talk about how it gave me such an appreciation for the process. Blogging, cooking, parenting. Learning. Life. All processes. I've learned how they're the meat of life.

I park, it's time to go in and switch hats from blogger to translator (my day job). It's hard to do. As I wait, I futz around with my phone, check Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. That would have never happened a year ago.

12 pm. Lunch with my good friend A. I tell him about this new exciting collaboration I'm going to be doing for the blog, and a giveaway. He's happy for me, seems to have faith in the whole thing, points out how much the blog has grown in a year. I guess he's right.

1 pm. Driving home, running a couple of errands. More time to think.

OK, so how much I've learned, discovered, a sense of accomplishment, so grateful-- Wait a minute. Am I writing an Oscar acceptance speech or something? That's what this all sounds like. There's no award here. Just one small year.

Yeah, but a big step for me. Anniversaries are good chances to look back and acknowledge. And be grateful. The post should be a thank you letter, really. To all the awesome readers, their feedback, their questions, their comments, their loyalty and support. That's what's kept me going.

3 pm. Home, it's late. I got the chocolate, I have to get those chocolate fondants going. Pablo is still napping. Then I have to sit down and write this post. I whisk the chocolate and butter together. Doubt sets in.

What if this post sucks? Well, all I can do is be as honest as I can and let the chips fall where they may. There's been many times in the past year when I've wondered whether this blog had any value, whether I it was good enough, whether I had enough to contribute, whether it was really useful or helpful to anybody. Otherwise what's the point?

The hand mixer whirs through the eggs and sugar.

There were the times when I wondered if the blog way too unfocused, is it a mom blog, a food blog, a baby food blog, a personal ramblings blog? All of it? What did I want it to be? A space of sharing. A resource. A journal that somehow could be helpful to its readers. And a celebration. Of cooking and eating as paramount to life and family.

I add flour. Whisk it together with the chocolate. It's so creamy and beautiful. I must take a picture (or ten) of that whisk with the glistening chocolate on it. Then stick it in the fridge.



























To heck with self-doubt, it's so sterile. At least I know these chocolate fondants will be good. Hope the photos come out all right. My photography's gotten better, but I still have so much to learn and try. Feels like a tall order sometimes. Life feels like a tall order often sometimes too, I guess.

4 pm. Pablo's up from his nap, and I sit down to finally write the post.

Should I go to Starbucks to write? I could focus there. It's getting late though...

Pablo proceeds to tell his zoo story with such passion, sound effects, gestures and all. It's hard not to smile. And it's also hard to focus. Another late night looms.

I face the screen. Pablo comes for a cuddle, lets me know he's eating compote with his Mamette (grandma) in the jardin. Lets me know again. Runs through my office again. Gives me a kiss. A compote-y kiss. I manage to write a few thoughts.

It feels kind of flat. But it's honest at least. Will have to finish later. Should have gone to Starbucks. But then again I would have missed the compote-y kiss.




5:20 pm. I preheat the oven and pour the chocolate batter in the ramekins. I set up the little table I have for taking pictures of food for the blog.

How hard can it be to make chocolate cake look appetizing? Kind of hard. Actually, I have a decent feeling about these photos, I think they're going to turn out OK. I've gotten slightly more confident about writing, cooking, taking photos since last year. Something else I owe to the blog.



I take out the fondants, 10 minutes, they're too soft. So delicious though. They're pouring their chocolaty heart out onto the plate. A little too much. I stick the last one back in the oven for a minute.

Trial and error, that's the good stuff of life. The real stuff. Not perfection and expectations. Cooking, parenting, blogging, they've all taught me that. I'm so glad I know that now. I should talk about that in the post. What a  strange intimacy, it feels like the people who have been reading the blog know me. Really know me. Perhaps better than some of my friends. It's nice to feel visible. I should thank the readers for that too.



The last fondant is perfect, slightly crusty on top, totally melty in the middle. Pablo sees me taking pictures, he runs to get his camera too. I do the most unthinkable, un-French thing possible: feed him a spoon of chocolate cake and spoil his appetite before dinner. Oh well. It's a special occasion. We photograph these gushing chocolate fondants from every angle. We're behind schedule.

6:45 pm. Bath and dinner prep time. The naked giggling toddler comes running in and out of the kitchen. A daily pre-bath ritual in our house. I think of my friend Pascale, a published author, and the most helpful piece of writing advice I ever got.

'Be as profoundly honest as you can possibly be', she said. 'Give the naked truth.'

7 pm. Setting the table outside for dinner. Oysters tonight.  And a surprise Camembert for cheese. We celebrate my mother's 5 years of life in the US.




It has been a great food year for our family, really. Pablo eats oysters, pickles, asparagus, blue cheese... you name it. He's still an adventurous eater, the jovial eater who gulped that gazpacho a year ago, and he's a budding cook too. We have been eating as well as I always wanted him eat, and these wonderful family meals have brought us so much joy and connection. I should say that too. 

God, it's going to be a long post. Who has the time to read that, seriously? No matter, write it anyway.







8:30 pm. Pablo's in bed. We're doing dishes. And it comes to me.

Naked truth. I should just share what my day was like. My thoughts, doubts. Just be an open book. I can do that, I have come to trust this space. It feels like home.

So... thank you. You, reading these words. This blog wouldn't exist without you. You have made my life better, made me feel helpful and useful in a small but real way, and that is so very rewarding.

There goes the Oscar speech again. All right. 'nuff said. Moving on to the chocolate cake now.

I thought a sweet treat was in order, it is an anniversary after all. I made these simple dark chocolate fondants for Mother's day and they were a big hit. I hope you will enjoy them too.



Dark chocolate fondants


Makes about 5 (depending on size of ramekins)

Prep time: 15 mn + 2/3+ hours rest time
Cook time : 10-12 mn

Age for babies:  15 months+ is when I introduced Pablo to chocolate (as a special treat)

4 oz dark chocolate (I used organic 85% cocoa)
4 oz (1 stick) unsalted butter + a little extra for the ramekins
4 oz (1/2 cup) sugar
1/2 scant cup flour
4 eggs

Break up the chocolate into a bowl, add 1 tbsp of water and melt in the microwave (in mine, in took about 1 mn 20. Or melt over very low heat on the stove).

Stick the butter in the microwave for about 12 seconds to soften it (or use room temperature).

In a large bowl, use a fork at first to work the butter and the chocolate, then a whisk until it becomes a smooth mixture.

In another medium bowl, beat the eggs and sugar together until it is foamy and light yellow/white, about 2-3 minutes. Add the flour and mix with a whisk.

Pour the egg/sugar/flour mixture into the chocolate mixture and mix thoroughly until combined. Place in the fridge for 2-3 hours (or more if you need to).

Preheat the oven at 400°F.

Butter the ramekins, fill them 3/4 of the way up with the chocolate batter.

Place in the oven, and therein lies the only tricky part of this recipe: the cooking time will vary a lot depending on your oven and the size ramekins you use, if they're narrower or wider (then it might only need 7 or 8 minutes). Some there's some trial and error to get the consistency just right, though this is a recipe you might not mind having to make two or  three times to get it just perfect ;-)  My favorite is when there's a crust on top, but with a liquidy center. For me with slightly narrower/taller ramekins, the sweet spot was at about 12 minutes. You can test by sticking a knife on the side and in the middle. However, I overcooked them slightly one time, by leaving them in the turned off oven, and they were still very good, just all solid. Slightly undercooked and they will kind of fall apart when you take them out of the ramekins. That being said, they are still absolutely scrumptious that way, just on the gushy side. (You can serve them in the ramekins too.)

They are delicious served warm, but also lovely cold.




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18 comments:

  1. Congratulations on your first year of blogging! I love the way you composed this post, as I resonate with the idea of mentally "writing" throughout the day (or often for me, over the course of a few days), before finding the time to sit down and actually write. That's often the way it goes, isn't it?!

    I look forward to following you as you begin your second year!

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    1. Thank you so much. Yes exactly, I most often write the post throughout a few days. Thanks for the feedback, I'm glad that came through clearly in the post, I had some last minute doubts but just had to click on "publish" before nitpicking at it any more... :-)

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  2. I read the entire post and very much enjoyed it. The dessert looks so simple and so tasty. Will have to try it soon and again in 3.5 months when my little guy is 15 months old. It's been a real pleasure following you as you have made the introduction of solid foods an extremely smooth process. BTW, I really, really love your stuffed mushrooms with sardines. It's a true hit with my son, my husband and me. Happy 2nd year of blogging.

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    1. Kathy, thank you so much first and foremost for making it through this entire post! And for your kind words of course, I am so happy the blog has been helpful to you and your little one. And glad you love the mushrooms, they are quite delicious, I need to make them again soon. BTW, you could potentially give a taste of this cake from 12 mo and up, nothing in it really a 12 months old can't have, and it is actually low in sugar per serving. So you could give him a little taste. For Pablo, I just decided to wait a little longer on the chocolate, and he loves it now, but it's a once in a while treat.

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  3. A big congratulations on the first anniversary. You should be very proud of what you've achieved here. I found your blog when my girl was 8 months, she's now nearly 18 months and this space has been my go to source for advice, inspiration and recipes that really work. I admire your courage in sharing your life with us. Bring on the second year!

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    1. Thank you, Jane. I had never hoped to be a go-to space when I started, reading those words made me very happy :-)

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  4. Happy anniversary! So exciting to have had this blog for a year. I'm not sure when I found it, or how, but I am so glad that I did. You've helped me learn so much more about cooking and food and the French way of eating, and for that I am so grateful!

    I also love hearing about your day. This post was so lovely, and I read the entire thing. :) I know your second year will be even more amazing than your first!

    Also I can't wait to try this chocolate recipe. I'm so excited.

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    1. I know a lot of readers are moms, which is awesome, but I also love the fact (which I never expected) that I have readers like yourself looking to have more cooking and joy of eating good real food in their life :-) Thank you for your enthusiasm and loyalty (and for reading the whole post ;-)) Hope you enjoy the chocolate fondant!

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    2. You are most welcome! It's great to have a place I can come to and find unique, interesting, and delicious recipes. :)

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  5. Read the whole thing. Loved it. Glad to know you sometimes slip and give a spoonful of dessert before dinner. I often forget and lose track of the schedule. Then I think of you and try to get back on track.

    I wrote once before to thank you, and don't mind doing it again. Your work has been lovely to follow and inspirational in my quest to be a good mother which, to me, means working to create a culture of appreciation for real food (which also happens to be the most delicious), and creating time for my family to connect during meals. I think it is critical to our being bonded and close now and in the future. Thank you for providing support for me in these goals that are close to my heart yet difficult, at times, to achieve.

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    1. Yes, life is full of slip-ups ;-) What great compliments you pay me, Hiedi, I am touched. I really love how you describe your quest for your family, I couldn't agree more. What a fulfilling feeling for me if this blog has a small part in supporting that noble quest.

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  6. Happy Anniversary! What a beautiful dessert, and post. I appreciate all your honest thoughts and musings. And thank you for the kind mentions! I don't think I deserve all your praise, but I appreciate it. :) Have a lovely day Helene!

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    1. Thank you kindly, Sarah. I'm always so excited when I see a comment from you :-) It means a lot. I really admire your work (your recipes, your images and your words), it is always an inspiration for me.

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  7. happy blog anniversary helene! Your blog is one of those that I truly enjoy reading from top to bottom, because I can always feel your sincerity and the thought and care that has gone into each post. WHen I first started blogging, my posts were.. shit. I cringe lookign back at some of them, sometimes I wish I started out beign more careful with the photos and the writing so I have an archive I can be proud of --liek you-- but I can't bear to delete old posts either, argh!I totally get what you mean abotu gathering the momentum to write before actually writing anything. For me, a post now, takes about 2 days worth of effort at least, cooking/photographing and styling and then just composing everything and editing, yikes. anyway too much rambling, the chocolate treat looks, well, a real treat! hope youve had a good day!

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    1. Thanks Shu Han! I am sure your first posts were nothing of the sort! :-) You should be so proud of your blog, it is so well done, established, so engaging to read (and delicious to eat, that goes without saying), I've learned a lot from it, you're very talented and I can't imagine you straying away too far from the food world...

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  9. I stumbled upon this post, almost a year after it was published. Don't know how I missed it after devouring most of your other posts, but it's one of my very favorites. Thank you for taking risks and being honest, it's so refreshing. And thank you for taking the time and energy (mental and physical) to keep up with this blog, it has been extremely helpful with my now 18 month old. Thanks again and congratulations on almost two years of great blogging, you're an inspiration.

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    1. Thank you kindly, Kelly, what heartwarming words. So happy the blog has been helpful. Take good care :-)

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