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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  1. I always appreciate your combination of larger themes and specific recipes--thank you, Helene! Flannery likes to share, too, and I think she's doing so from the same influence you describe. It's a lovely experience. She also is learning to tease, too...holding something out and then whisking it into her own mouth with a giggle!

    Two very specific questions:

    1. Do you have a local (L.A.) source for the Vermont Goat cheeses you've mentioned, or have you had them shipped? Just checking in case there's a local source I've overlooked.

    2. I so appreciate your sharing Pablo's menus--weekly planning is still a work in progress for me--but I am wondering about volume. Could you share a few details about how much he's consuming at this point?

    Thank you!

    1. Thank YOU, Lisa! I love how you describe Flannery teasing. It is incredible how they develop a sense of humor this young, isn't it?

      To answer your questions:

      1 - I have found Vermont Creamery cheeses at various Whole Foods, not every single time, but often enough. Most Whole Foods definitely have their creme fraiche and butter, which are excellent as well.

      2 - Volume is a hard question because I really let Pablo decide completely how much he eats. And it varies widely from day to day, from week to week. I do limit the protein to no more than about 1 oz per meal, but sometimes he'll have just a bite or two. I do keep serving the vegetables first when he's most hungry, and this strategy is MOST helpful (for us too, actually). For the rest, we just make a big salad for the family, and we give him a little bit, and more if he wants more. Also, his appetite varies a lot from meal to meal, he never has 4 big meals, sometimes he's more hungry at lunch or dinner. My take is to trust him completely in listening to his body. If he doesn't eat that much at one meal, he makes up for it at the next.

      Not sure if this really answers your question? I do control the quantity for protein, and things like bread or pasta when we have it, and I keep watch of the ORDER in which he eats the different foods, so he starts with vegetables, not with bread for example.

      Hope it helps! :-)

    2. Thank you for the additional information. I will definitely talk with the cheese buyer at my local Whole Foods.

      I understand completely your comments and approach re Pablo's meal volume. Flannery seems to be going through a high-volume phase, perhaps not surprising given other physical developments, so my question was one of curiosity rather than trying to artificially set a target.

  2. What a beautiful post on sharing (and sharing food, and life, and goodness in general). I love how you paired eggplant with figs. I would never have thought of that but it makes perfect sense :)

  3. Another beautiful post Helene! You are so right- the idea of sharing (or even eating right) should never be forced on a child- I feel somehow they learn so much better when they're just in it. Well that was the way I was brought up at least!

    And liek I said earlier, I am in awe of how you manage to plan a fabulous menu for Pablo every week and be all cool and organised about it. I am such a non-planner yikes!

    1. Goodness, Shu Han, if you saw my desk right now, the words "organized" and "cool" would definitely not come to mind! So many other areas of my life are so chaotic, I guess it's all a question of priorities... Thanks for the kind words, and for coming by :-)


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