Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Presence, gratitude and Gorgonzola grapes

I started a gratitude jar with Pablo recently. A few minutes here and there, where we both think about the things we're grateful for that day. (I know, gratitude isn't exactly an original topic this week, with Thanksgiving upon us.) The thought of that jar and my contribution to it, has made me pay attention to small things throughout the day. The color of that tree. Two people in a coffee shop, connecting. Pablo's green eyes, his dimpled smile, an intonation, a question, a memory. A right here. A right now.

This has been yet another way for me to be more present. I have been on a ruthless mission to fight and eliminate multitasking and divided attention, and to give my full presence to each thing I do.

This is hard. I struggle with it daily. But it has become a continual awareness.

I am always grateful for moments of true presence (whether it is a pleasant or not so pleasant moment). And thinking of gratitude helps me be more present.

With the holidays coming up, amidst the rushing, planning, obligations, engagements, and multitudes of busy, I wish for all of us many moments of full presence with our loved ones, gems of life, instants of complete acceptance of who we are exactly as we are in the present moment.

Now, how about a present moment dipping fingers in cheese?

I wanted to come to you with a quick and easy, last minute appetizer we just love. Perhaps an added fun touch to your holiday celebration.

I discovered it in the lovely book by Erin Gleeson called The Forest Feast, a wonderful resource of easy to complete, vegetarian recipes that are so festive!

I made these Gorgonzola pecan grapes when I cooked for the wedding of dear friends in July, and they were a big hit.  They are also PERFECT for making with a child or toddler. Smearing cheese, rolling grapes in nuts, and lots of finger licking = much fun in the kitchen for all ages :-)

Wishing you and yours a lovely, joyful, and flavorful Thanksgiving.

Gorgonzola Pecan Grapes

From The Forest Feast by Erin Gleeson

Prep time: 20 minutes

For 12 grapes

Age for babies: 12 months and up, cut up, supervised to see how the pecans are handled.

1/2 cup of creamy gorgonzola (make sure it's not too aged, nice and soft)
12 grapes (seedless probably better)
1/2 cup of pecan nuts

12 toothpicks

First place the pecan nuts in a food processor, and grind into tiny pieces. Place in a deep plate (makes it easier to roll the grapes in, and to keep the pecans in the plate too). Wash the grapes.

Take a tablespoon or so of gorgonzola, and smear it on a each grape so it's more or less covered.
Fingers are handy to complete this messy (yet so fun) task (Expect lots of finger licking here!!!).

Then roll the grape in the plate of pecan nuts until it's covered, and place on a plate.

Repeat with as many grapes as you need.

Once fingers are properly licked and washed :-) stick toothpicks in each grape, and serve!

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A day of presence, connection & French madeleines

I have known Chloe for eleven years, since the day she was born. She is someone for whom I feel such love and affection, a lovely bond that brightens my thoughts, and my days when she’s in them.
Such a fun and lovely day we had a few months ago, when we had a long overdue cooking day together.

We had a definite plan to make homemade butter (super easy by the way, see here how. I make mine with raw cream, but you can use regular heavy cream too. Something children can make to contribute to a Thanksgiving dinner, for example!), a perfect opportunity for her to show me her dance moves.

For Chloe has a bold, dancing spirit.

When deciding what else we would make that would be delicious and new, we put our minds together. Being French-American, Chloe loves Madeleines, those puffy, spongy little French cakes so scrumptious when dipped in milk or tea. And since it was the season, we made them strawberry Madeleines.

So we mixed, and shook, and baked. We watched cream turn solid. We scraped and smelled vanilla beans. We watched dough puff up, turn golden, and even a little too dark.  We drained, and rinsed, and squeezed the butter. And then we styled and photographed the Madeleines. Chloe was inspired, she observed, rearranged, and made beautiful images (the styling of the top picture is her creation!) For Chloe has a creative, studious spirit.

And then of course, Madeleines were eaten, savored in fact. Shared.

A "Madeleine de Proust" moment in the making...

I wanted to share this day here, because I got to work in the kitchen with someone I really admire. I am inspired by Chloe’s courage, willingness and trust in the face of fear, and her motivation and her joyous spark in the face of life.  She is someone beautiful inside and out, whom I profoundly believe in; someone I look forward to watching grow and flourish, as I have already for the past eleven years.

In those busy, 21st century lives we lead, of divided attention and too much rushing, I realize more than ever the need to be more present, to model a mindful life for my son, and to always take the time to nurture connection (I loved this video on the topic, by the way)

There are many things we can do together with those we love, our children, our parents, our friends, as a way of experiencing that bond, of being engaged and present together. Whether it’s gardening, traveling, eating, walking, painting, foraging, or in this case, cooking together. If you have a chance to seek and find ways to connect and be present with your children in this way, no matter how young, you will not regret it. It is infinitely worthwhile.

Also always worthwhile is to express what we love about those we love. I am thankful to have done just that here. Thank you, Chloe :-)

French Madeleines

Makes 20-24 little individual cakes

Prep time: 15 minutes (+ 30 min resting time)
Cook time: 6-8 minutes per batch

Age for babies: 10-12 months, in small quantity

You do need a special Madeleine pan for this. This one is good and affordable.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1/4 cup butter
Pinch of salt
Seeds from one vanilla bean
Zest of one lemon
8-10 strawberries (cut up), or a handful of chocolate chips

First, place the empty madeleine pan in the freezer (The key to that lovely puff of the madeleine is thermic shock, so don't skip this step!)

Melt the butter in a small pan (or in microwave).

In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and sugar.

Make a well in the middle of the flour, and place the eggs, then mix.

Add the melted butter, the zest and scrape the vanilla bean seeds. Mix, cover with plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven at 450° F.

Grease the madeleine pan. Stir the strawberry pieces or chocolate chips into the dough. (Since this is two batches, place the remaining dough back in the fridge).

Fill each shell about 3/4 of the way, and place in the oven for 6-8 minutes. Watch them carefully, as they're quick to burn (as you see in my pictures, an extra minute chatting with Chloe, and the edges got a little darker than we would have wanted!) As soon as they're golden and they've puffed up, take them out and remove from the pan, let them rest on a kitchen towel or a baking sheet.

These quantities will make about two batches, so if you have one pan, don't forget to stick it back in the freezer before making the second batch.

(Note you can make the dough 1 or 2 days ahead if need be, bake them the day you want to enjoy them! Once made, they'll stay fresh 1-2 days).

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