Saturday, August 24, 2013

Transformation & change seem easier... with duck & braised radishes

This past week has felt about loss and burden. Being on the other side of it, perhaps makes it easier to talk about.

As I mentioned before, we are moving in a couple of weeks and are currently in the preparation phase, the one where you must tackle the clutter, the daunting mountain of things that make up a life and yet do not sum it up.

Part of me just wishes to escape this phase, longs for travel, for an escape, for Greece and France, for Paris at 5 in the morning, for dipping bread in olive oil and tomatoes by a Greek beach, for the discovery of new places and people in foreign lands, for walks in the countryside with no agenda.

As I climb up this mountain, I find myself longing for a flat road.

But this mountain is nothing but a transition, one that is helping me process loss, I suppose. The loss of my life as I knew it and had planned it. And the burden transformation necessitates.

Just like when Pablo started on solid food and I decided we were going to eat as well as he did, I must apply to myself what I have been practicing with him to nurture and support him through his difficulties.

In time of crisis, instead of distracting him, I aim to become very present, right there with him, supporting, putting emotions into words, patient and accepting.

So now I must stand beside myself, as I climb and get anxious, frustrated, exhausted and discouraged. Be present with myself, and supportive, patient and accepting. And later, there might be Greece and France.

Acceptance. This might just be the secret to it all. Unconditional, guilt-free, trusting acceptance. Of oneself and loved ones, of one's own needs, of help, of feelings, of life's meanderings. Only then can we see their beauty. Or their purpose.

Through it all, I'm always grateful for Pablo's gentleness and complete acceptance. His existence is my daily poetry.

As we manage the logistics of the chaos ahead, time for cooking will be very limited. But I realized last week that it wouldn't occur to me to start eating processed foods, quick frozen meals or to skip the family meals and eat on the run, even then. It's not an option in my mind. I certainly need the connection, togetherness, and simple beauty of our family meals more than ever. They help me recharge my batteries.

And  it's also not really necessary. What will our meals look like in the next few weeks, as we are surrounded by boxes and limited in kitchenware? Lots of Greek salads and crudités, (the summer season is still blessing us with gorgeous produce), easy pan-fried meats, fish, shrimp, and pan-fried vegetables like zucchini and eggplant. Quick proteins like smoked salmon and sardines and eggs. Lots of things we can make ahead, to have for a couple of days: grated carrot salad, lentil salad, chickpea salad, quinoa, gazpacho. If our meals are slightly lighter, we'll enjoy a little more cheese, yogurt and summer fruit as dessert.

One very simple meal I've been wanting to share with you for some time, but finally was able to take some pictures of before we sit down to eat it. This grilled duck with radishes and cherries offers a great mix of salty, slightly bitter and sweet. If cherries are out of season, you can certainly omit them, it's also delicious with just the radishes.

So I will post at a slower pace the next couple of weeks as we get settled, and will probably share very simple meals.

And I will be looking forward to sharing so much more from our new home, with a smaller kitchen (yikes!), but such a lovely window for photos, a vegetable garden and fruit trees to boot.

Roasted duck with braised radishes & cherries

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

Serves 2 + 1 toddler

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time : 35 minutes total

Age for babies: Mixed thoroughly into a puree, I would give this from 6 months on (perhaps adding some potato for consistency). More baby duck recipes here and here.

2 tbsp coconut oil
1 bunch of radishes 
10-12 cherries
2 tbsp sugar (or honey)
1 tbsp of balsamic vinegar
2 tsp salt (I used lapsang souchong salt here)
1 tsp pepper
4 small duck breasts

Wash and pat-dry the radishes, cut the stems short. Pit the cherries.

In a medium sauté pan, heat the coconut oil over medium heat. Add the radishes, the sugar and balsamic vinegar, and cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring here and there, until they become slightly golden.

Then add a little bit under 1/4 cup of hot water, and the cherries. Stir, lower heat to medium low, cover and let braise for about 15 minutes.  Then, keep warm/covered.

(At this point, I do a few other things like set the table, prepare our vegetable first course. Then I continue a few minutes before we sit down to eat)

Preheat your broiler at 500°F.

Make a salt and pepper rub by mixing the salt and pepper (and some lapsang souchong tea strands, I'm obsessed with this tea right now!) in a bowl.

Make a few incisions (3 in each direction) through the skin of the duck breasts (but not all the way through the skin). Rub each side with the salt & pepper.

Place the breasts on parchment paper in a baking dish, skin side down.

Place in the oven (very close to the heat elements) for about 5 minutes, then turn them over (skin up), for another 5 minutes. Then turn off the oven and let rest with the oven door open for another 5 minutes.

Serve 2 duck breasts on each plate, top with some radishes and cherries and drizzle the cooking juices from radishes over both.

Bon appétit!

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Monday, August 12, 2013

Baked eggplant, figs & goat cheese... & the meaning of sharing

I've made this analogy here before, but I often think of parenting as blindly planting wild seeds in a garden, and waiting to see how and when they will grow into something. I don't think we teach our children so much as we are their model. The seeds contain all the complexity of our behavior,demeanor, focus and interests as parents. We can't just will the fruit into being. We must plant, nurture and patiently wait. 

When it comes, the fruit is all the sweeter. 

And such a precious fruit is ripening within Pablo right now.

Pablo has started to share food. I mean that at every meal or picnic, he makes a point of taking some of the food in the main serving platter, and makes sure that everyone is served. He wants to give a piece of the  pie gratin, or salad, or cheese, as the case may be, to each person at the table. He does this as a task of importance and seriousness.

I am really of the mind that there's no such thing as teaching sharing, and that making children share (especially infants and toddlers) teaches them absolutely nothing (except that sharing is an annoying but apparently necessary part of life). Sharing is sharing only if it's completely spontaneous and voluntary, if it comes from the heart. The art of sharing is truly one of those fruits that grow unexpectedly, when you model it and let it happen naturally.

Unexpectedly indeed, for I hadn't realized, that each time we sat down together at the table to share a meal, every time we shared the same dish we all ate, every time I offered Pablo to taste something from my plate at a restaurant, every time we cooked for the whole family, we were unconsciously modeling sharing. And Pablo assimilated it in this intrinsic way, so that it seems completely natural to him that everyone at the table should get their share so we can all eat together. 

I guess my point is this: a child will learn so much more about the real meaning of sharing by having a home cooked family meal, than by being forced to share his most prized possession. 

And with or without children, sharing a home-cooked meal with loved ones is such a deeply communal and connective experience. It is an active act of sharing and togetherness (no wonder Michael Pollan says "the family meal is the nursery of democracy".)

I keep talking about life lessons at the table and in the kitchen. And wow, these lessons just keep appearing before my eyes, yielding my amazement and gratitude.

 I came across this incredible photograph on Pinterest, and clicked to seek the recipe, but alas, this beautifully photographed blog is in Polish and I couldn't track down the eggplant recipe. So I improvised my own version, with goat cheese of course, given that I am continuing my Summer Goat Cheese Series with Vermont Creamery

This is one of those very seasonal, extremely easy, delicious melt-in-your-mouth recipes with all the flavors of late summer. I hope you will enjoy sharing it with people you cherish.

Oh, and since we're in a sharing kind of mood here :-), below the recipe is our weekly menu. Hope it can spark some ideas for your family.

Baked eggplant, with figs, cherry tomatoes & goat cheese

Inspired by a Pinterest photo from this beautiful Polish blog
Serves 2-3

Prep time: 10 min
Cook time: 35-40 min

Age for babies: 10-12 months (though simple roasted eggplant with some goat cheese could be given from about 8 months)

1 eggplant
Olive oil
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes
8 small figs
Aged goat cheese - I used half a Cremont from Vermont Creamery
(You could also use crumbled fresh goat cheese here.)

Preheat the oven at 400°F.

Wash the eggplant, cut off the top, and slice lengthwise.

Make incisions through the flesh but not the skin with a knife (three in each direction). Brush with olive oil.

Place in baking pan on parchment paper, flesh side down (skin up).

Bake for about 20-25 min. The skin will start to shrivel a little.

In the meantime, wash and half the figs and tomatoes.

Take the eggplant out of the oven, and set your oven to broiler.

Turn the eggplant halves over, place the figs and tomatoes on top. Place pieces of the goat cheese on top. 
Sprinkle with fresh ground pepper.

Place in the broiler for about 10-12 min, until the cheese is melted and golden.

Serve while hot! Bon appétit!

On to the week's menu:

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: Danish blue cheese, Port Salut (cow cheese), goat brie and Petit Basque (sheep).

DessertsAt 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 - Picnic at the park
Cucumber, hearts of palm, cherry tomatoes, cold chicken, avocado, goat cheese, grapes and cherries

Goûter (4pm snack) – Mango

Appetizer / Finger Foods: Baked eggplant with figs and goat cheese (above!)
Main course: Oven roasted pork tenderloin in mustard sauce, with blue potatoes


Lunch - Picnic at the park again
Green beans, cauliflower, blue potato salad + roast beef + Babybel cheese, plums & cherries

Goûter - Peach

Appetizer / Finger FoodsAuthentic Greek salad
Main course: Duck breasts with braised radishes and cherries*


Lunch at the park 
Cold pea & herb salad, cherry tomatoes, ham, goat gouda, nectarine

Goûter – Nectarine

Appetizer / Finger Foods: French radishes with salt & butter
Main course: Quails eggs en cocotte with smoked salmon, leek and zucchini from La Tartine Gourmande (this was so spectacular I can't wait to make it again!)


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Grated carrots with orange juice dressing
Main course: Mushroom caps stuffed with cream of sardines

Goûter - Passion fruit

Appetizer / Finger Foods: Golden beet warm goat cheese salad
Main course: Pan-fried creamy turkey breasts with summer vegetables in parchment from Just One Cookbook


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Green asparagus with vinaigrette
Main course: Sauteed shrimp with lime and coconut quinoa

Goûter - Peach

Appetizer / Finger Foods: Cucumber salad with creamy yogurt tarragon dressing
Main course: Trying this tomato cobbler from Food Loves Writing, soft boiled egg


Appetizer / Finger Foods: Tomato, basil & onion salad
Main course: Steak tartare, butter lettuce with fresh herbs

Goûter - Plum

Appetizer / Finger FoodsArtichoke custard
Main course: Clams in fennel shallot broth from Cannelle & Vanille


Lunch OUT

Goûter - Cherries

Appetizer / Finger Foods: Corn coconut chowder
Main course: Caramelized fennel, goat cheese, kale clafoutis (crustless quiche)

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Friday, August 9, 2013

On trust, & a banana goat cheese cassolette

So I have been stuck. Pulled in too many directions. Vaguely anxious about an uncertain future. Overworked and exhausted. And away from this space these past 10 days. Partly because time is sadly a-lacking. We are moving in the coming month, so I apologize in advance if things are a little slower than usual around here in the next few weeks, as I juggle through this big transition. 

While I hope this daunting task will be cleansing, a new beginning, it’s gotten me feeling all over the place, inside and out. And when I feel too overwhelmed, deregulated, I get stuck.

I have much to learn from my 27 months old son in this area.

Pablo has been into Legos recently. With incredible patience and focus, he piles the pieces as high as he can, experimenting with balance. The tower falls apart, he starts over, unfazed.
But yesterday, he was grumpy. He didn’t nap long enough. And he started playing with his Legos. Except every single time something would fall apart (every few seconds), he would get so frustrated, cry and scream. So I sat next to him, acknowledged his feelings and commented on his struggle, as I always try to do (much more on that here). He was so upset, I started to suggest he maybe change activity, that perhaps he was too tired and cranky for it at the moment. But then, it hit me: he keeps going. Yes, he feels frustrated and annoyed, he cries and screams. And he picks up the pieces and starts over again, without a hint of hesitation. He doesn't show any inkling of wanting to stop. He can deal. He is able to feel his feelings and keep going. He doesn't get stuck.

I have been trying to follow his example. Feel what I feel. And keep going. It's hard.

I guess it’s also where trust comes in. To keep going, one must trust. Oneself, and life itself. And the process too. I have learned much about trust in raising Pablo. I have learned to trust him so he can trust himself (more on that also here). I trust him to know what his body needs, what his brain needs. I trust his abilities, to learn, to struggle, to be. And the thing about trust, is that it is so often self-fulfilling (as is fear).

So I’ve been trying to swivel my brain, from fear to trust, via acknowledging the present moment.

The other morning, up at dawn to work out at the park, I felt exhausted and feared I would not make it through this workout. I noticed how discouraged I felt, that daunting feeling of what’s ahead. Then I made myself trust that somehow I would get through it.

I thought of the blog, the photos and recipes I needed to work on. I felt behind and feared not to be able to find the time. Then, I looked at the incredible diffused light through the cloud cover over the park. I noticed that perfect, enveloping veil of light and imagined photographing a beautiful plate of food, right there. Then I made myself trust that I would find the time for a new recipe when I would be ready.

I saw two old ladies walking side by side and chatting, two old friends. It reminded me of the friend who is no longer among us, the one I used to walk with, the one I had imagined myself walking and chatting with at 80. I felt sadness and remembered. I knew she would have trusted me to pull through these tumultuous times. I must do that for myself now.

The thing is... the things that have felt the best, the most successful, the most right, in my life, were the things I did with fundamental trust and yet no specific expectations.  Like giving birth. Like cooking for my son, and raising him. Like writing this blog. Conversely, things I did with high expectations and much hidden doubt, have often been epic failures. 

Live and learn.

So speaking of having trust and no expectations, how about uniting banana with goat cheese?

For this new installment of my Summer Goat Cheese Series in collaboration with Vermont Creamery and the Kids & Kids Campaign, I decided to give this unlikely combination a try, and I didn't regret it. Vermont's Cremont cheese, a mix of goat and cow's milk, has the perfect texture for this. This dish could be an appetizer, or a light lunch along with a salad, or served as a cheese/dessert course. It’s sweet, and savory, and melts in your mouth, and makes you want to lick the bowl :-) Pablo certainly did!

 If you've been following the Summer Goat Cheese Series, have you tried any of the goat cheese recipes with your children and family? How did they like it? Would love to hear your feedback!

And by the way, if you're looking for more goat cheese inspiration, you should check out all the great blogger recipes here.

Wishing you a lovely, peaceful and flavorful weekend.

Banana Goat Cheese Cassolette

Adapted from this original recipe

For 2 cassolettes

Prep time: 10 min
Cook time: 25 min

Age for babies: 8-10 months (this is very soft consistency, perfect for finger food)

2 bananas
1 Cremont goat cheese from Vermont Creamery  (or bûche type aged goat cheese)
2 thin slices of pancetta
1 shallot
2 sprigs of fresh tarragon (I think dill would work great too)
1-2 tbsp heavy cream
Salt & pepper

Preheat the oven at 400°F.

Slice the goat cheese cross-wise to obtain 2 thick slices. Mince the shallot. Take the leaves of tarragon off the stems and cisel it. Cut the bananas lengthwise, then into bite size pieces.

Take two oven safe ramekins or cassolettes. In each, sprinkle half the shallot, add the banana pieces, then a slice pancetta, then the slice of goat cheese on top. Add the fresh tarragon, drizzle the heavy cream on top, and add a dash of salt and fresh ground pepper.

Cook in the oven for about 25 minutes. 

Serve while hot.  Enjoy! (So Pablo could have his own individual serving, I transferred from the hot cassolette to a cold ramekin for him.)

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