Friday, July 12, 2013

Creating a new normal, one bite of eggplant leek pizza at a time

What a hard week this was, and as I finally sit down to write these words, I do it with a deep sigh
of relief and contentment. Of finally being back in this space, with you, and share what's been on my mind (and at our table).

A few weeks ago, I was chatting with a mom friend, and somehow I mentioned that Pablo loved radishes. She was slightly surprised, and told me that even though she loved radishes, it had never occurred to her to give them to her toddler.

The other day, at a barbecue, another mom told me she felt absolutely certain her daughter would never try eggplant.

Recently, there was an article in the New York Times’Motherlode column where a mom vowed for one whole week to forgo processed foods and home cook. As journalist Maryn McKenna pointed out, is home cooking really the Mount Everest of parenthood?

Some time ago, I found a blog who had kindly linked back to my blog, and found a thread of comments where some moms, while marveling at Pablo’s menus, seemed to find them simply unachievable. A week without pasta? Six kinds of vegetables in one meal? Unthinkable, apparently.

You see the common theme here. Eating mostly real foods, home cooking, eating as a family on a daily basis, exposing infants and young children to a wide variety of foods... appears to be far from mainstream. And I’m always slightly puzzled by the surprise reaction I often get (“Pablo really eats all this stuff? You really cook every day?”), because I was fortunate enough to grow up in an environment and a culture where there’s nothing extraordinary about feeding young children radishes, Brussels sprouts, eggplant, duck or aged goat cheese, about cooking meals with real food (is there any other kind?) and eating in courses on a daily basis. In many places and for millions of families around the world, this is completely normal and feeding oneself any other way would be considered very strange.

Sure, there are financial factors and the lack of time, but mostly, I noticed the barrier is in the mind. And that’s one of my goals with this blog, to show it can be done. Not effortlessly (what is?), but reasonably easily.

As I was watching Pablo happily macking asparagus (sans vinaigrette no less!) today at lunch, it struck me again how very normal this is to him. And scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed, it is obvious there's a whole community, a movement out there (Michael Pollan being one of its most famous proponents), and more and more resources and education, working to normalize real food and home-cooking. 

And I've never been much of a "movement" gal, but I am happy, and proud, to be a tiny part of this one. It seems like a tall order to change mentalities of a whole generation. What we can do though, is normalize flavorful, real food for our children (from the very first foods they eat), have them grow up in an environment where good, real food, variety and enjoyable family meals are just the norm. And they will come to expect, and seek, these things as they grow up. These foods will become the comfort foods of their childhood.

I realize I might just be preaching to the choir here, as most of you reading this blog are probably reading it because you’re already sold on this idea. I guess my point is that by practicing this in your home with your family, by giving thought to mindful eating, making it a parenting priority to give your children a lifelong love of a good meal, by embracing the process of cooking as something that ultimately, and in many different ways, makes our lives and that of our families better, by not giving up in the face of societal pressures, you are part of this movement as well. Your children might just consider any other way to nourish oneself an abnormality. 

Speaking of abnormal, for this new installment of the Summer Goat Cheese series in collaboration with Vermont Creamery and the Kids &Kids Campaign, I am sharing this “pizza”, of sorts. See, I have a confession to make: I actually do not like pizza. It does nothing for me. Call me a French snob, but I would have to be pretty desperate to eat a Domino’s pizza or the like. I don’t get the excitement around it, I don’t get why it is pitched to kids as the best food ever, I don’t get why a kid’s birthday party without it seems unthinkable to so many people. Perhaps a trip to Naples, Italy to the birth place of pizza would change my mind, and that’s definitely on my bucket list, but for the time being, I remain a pizza skeptic.

I suppose I could have called this a flatbread rather than a pizza (though it’s not very flat, as I prefer pizza dough to be thick and a bit chewy), since it doesn’t really have any of the traditional pizza ingredients. But no matter what you call it, it has turned out to be one delectable experiment. 

It all started with the eggplant caviar I made for the Fourth of July. Slightly sweet and tangy. A delicious dip, which my mom couldn't get enough of with some savory thyme crackers.

We had a lot leftover, so after spotting the fresh pizza dough sold at Trader Joe’s, it gave me an idea. And when I imagined VermontCreamery’s beautiful goat cheese crottins melting over the top, I was sold. I hope you will be too. 

The tangy sweetness of the eggplant caviar is so nicely complemented by the burst of salty in the goat cheese and the subtle savory flavor of the leeks.

Think of it. As you and your family might enjoy a bite of this eggplant, leek, artisan goat cheese pizza, in a small way, you will help create a new normal for generations to come. Talk about two birds with one stone ;-)

Eggplant caviar, leeks & goat cheese pizza

For the eggplant caviar (yields about 2 cups)

Age for babies: 6-8 months, this is a great baby puree which you can freeze too.

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes

3 tbsp coconut oil (or olive oil)
1 medium eggplant
1 green apple
Juice of one lemon
3 medium tomatoes
4-5 sprigs of thyme (stems removed)
Just under 1/2 cup of apple juice
Sprinkle of piment d'Espelette (optional)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

Meanwhile, start peeling and dicing the eggplant. Place in a large bowl and sprinkle with half the lemon juice. Then core, peel and dice the apple, add to the same bowl and sprinkle with the rest of the lemon juice.

When the water boils, place the 3 tomatoes in it for 2 minutes.

Run the tomatoes under cold water to stop the cooking, and peel them. Cut them in half, and gently squeeze the seeds out. Then dice them and set aside.

In a nonstick pan or Dutch oven, melt the coconut oil and add the eggplant and apple. Sauté over medium heat for about 3 minutes.

Then add the thyme, tomatoes and apple juice, sprinkle with salt and piment d'Espelette and cook until all soft and mushy, about 25 minutes.

Process in a food processor or blender until very smooth.

Can be kept in the fridge with a layer of olive oil on top for up to a week.

For the pizza: 

Age for babies: 10-12 months, cut up small as finger food.

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 22 minutes

1 pizza dough (I used Trader Joe's plain pizza dough, but will make this one, or this one next time)
1 cup of the eggplant caviar
3 goat crottins, either the aged Bijou, or fresh crottin (or mix and match!)
A few sprigs of thyme (stems removed)
3 leeks
2 tbsp olive oil or coconut oil

Preheat the oven at 450°F.

Prepare the pizza dough depending on the one you're using, roll it flat and as thin or thick as you like it.

Wash the leeks by making a lengthwise incision and running water through. Then slice in 1/2 inch pieces.

Melt the oil in a frying pan, and gently cook the leeks over medium low, stirring every so often, until they are soft, about 10 minutes.

Half the crottins transversely.

Spread the eggplant caviar all over the pizza dough. Add the leeks on top, the crottin halves and sprinkle with thyme leaves.

Bake for about 10-12 minutes, until dough is cooked and cheese is beginning to melt and color.

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  1. I love pizza, but it has to be done properly - dominos is not pizza. The most gorgeous slice we ever had was from a little side street bakery in Rome, simple ham mushroom and mozzarella and it was amazing.

    I'm gutted I cooked the aubergine last night though because this looks yummy and Elma loves it roasted.

    1. Ah, I'm sure an artisan pizza in the streets of Rome would make me a convert ;-)

  2. Oh how I love your words. Your writing deeply resonates with me. Cooking and feeding your child real food isn't always the easiest option but for me it's the only one. I admit after a long day at work and having picked up my toddler from daycare I quite often dread coming home to cook. But I do, night after night, and much as I complain I feel good inside knowing Lucia is well nourished. And loved. Because food is definitely an expression of love. And I agree, I would much rather Lucia turn to real food as comfort when she's older rather than open a pack of chips or call for Dominos!
    On a side note, I made your sardines, peas and cottage cheese tartines for lunch and it was gobbled down by us both. Love eggplant so will definitely give these pizzas a go.

    1. Thank you kindly, Jane. So glad you liked the tartines! I also feel very much that food is an expression of love!

  3. Helene, This resonates so much with me, even as not-a-mom. I am so used to being outside the mainstream in so many ways, often I don't think about it. But when I encounter a series of arguments against X, whether that's eating real food or loving your husband or wanting time more than money, it sometimes wears me out and makes me sad. I love knowing there are people like you out there, supporting this so beautifully. You inspire me! Thank you for writing this one.

    1. Thanks, Shanna! Always honored when you come by the blog :-) I remember reading on your blog that sometimes the posts that people respond to the most are the ones you least expect. This is the case for this one, I wasn't so sure about it when I clicked on "publish", but happy to see it resonated with people today, including yourself. You and your blog are definitely an inspiration in the real food movement.

  4. You are right...I think for many people it is a mental block. With 9 month old twins to care for, and no support network (we live away from friends and family, having moved during my pregnancy), my husband and I are often exhausted. But it is still easy enough to prepare real food for our daughters. Their menus are not elaborate, nor perhaps as varied as I would wish them to be. But it is easy enough to make lumpy purees and finger foods out of many of the same things we eat: roasted vegetables, mashed fruits, yogurt, grains and so forth. I trust that they will like good food, and they do. The pizza you made sounds wonderful!

    1. You're absolutely right Robin, doesn't have to be "fancy" or elaborate to be real and good. It's all about debunking that myth.

  5. I have always fed my kids what I eat, I cook all the time and use as little processed foods as possible. I remember a time my youngest were about 3 y/o and we were shopping in the grocery store. Passing the veggies my babies said (together) Asparagus ! They were so excited. A mom walking in the opposite direction asked how I did that. Did what, I asked ? How did I get my kids to eat vegetables, hers refuse. I replied that I've always fed then vegetables since they first started on foods, and they've always loved them. She said I'm lucky because most kids won't eat them. As we went our separate ways I thought, well they would if more parents would give their kids vegetables from the start.

    1. Ah yes, I have had that very exchange at the supermarket or restaurant as well. And even if for whatever reason a parent didn't start feeding a child that way, it's never too late to make the change (might be a bit more challenging certainly...) That's why I really love Karen Le Billon's book "French Kids Eat Everything", she explains how she converted very picky eaters and helped them change their eating habits. So it's possible, a matter of commitment from the parents... I think a lot of parents also fall in the rut of just giving children what they will eat for sure, and that narrows down their exposure and interest in real food.

  6. Yum! I grew up with a French father and am so appreciative of the love of food he imparted to my brother and I. My husband and I don't have kids yet, but I love reading your blog and getting inspired to introduce them to all the delicious things there are to eat instead of processed "kid food". Not to mention we both like your creations too (can't wait for eggplant caviar!) :)

    1. Hi Shannon, thank you so much! I always love to hear from readers that are not necessarily parents (always nervous to ostracize them with such posts, glad that's not the case ;-)) Let me know what you think of the eggplant caviar if you give it a try :-)

  7. I love your blog! I love your recipes! I wish i could live with you for one week and actually see how to plan and lay out a meal with courses. Especially with kids. My 4 children are all very good about eating what i make, and love real food. The problem is definitely with me, not them.

    1. Aw thanks so much, Jordin! Sounds to me like you're doing great, if your kids love real food and eat what you make them!

    2. I think part of it is finding the right ingredients and finding the right recipes. I want more variety. And it is hard to find enough of everything, and for the right price. How do you do it all!? How do you find all the wonderful stuff!?

  8. i need to find stores like you have!~~! :) I do think i heard Tampa is getting a trader Joes :)

    1. Ah yes, Trader Joe's is a godsend. I think pizza dough is fairly simple to make though, or you might find it frozen in other stores...

  9. My 7 month old just gobbled up the eggplant caviar, moderated with a little potato. Thanks so much for your blog!

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this comment to let me know, that's wonderful! Makes it all worthwhile :-)

    2. Just wanted to add an extra thank you. My little one has had a cold and this eggplant caviar was her favourite dish during her illness. Very smooth for her sore throat and comforting I imagine with the tang of tomato and lemon. Thank you so much!! I was so happy to have something that she had an appetite for!

      I've just made another batch, double quantity (although I didn't double the lemon or apple as they seemed a little dominant in the first batch I made).


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