Friday, November 25, 2016

Lentils, celeriac and a cooking practice

Every so often, I find myself having a conversation about our family dinners or Pablo’s lunchboxes, and I notice that look in the other person's eyes that says: “Wow I should really be doing that but I just could never pull it off, wouldn’t know where to start or make it a priority.”

I can relate. 

I feel or have felt that exact same way about a good number of things in my life, most notably meditation, yoga, working out, and writing.   Those are things I feel are important, improve my quality of life, they are things I feel a need to do. And yet, they are always a challenge to do regularly. Thinking about it feels daunting and exhausting, it makes me want to run the other way. And a lot of very busy families, understandably, feel that same way about every day real food cooking.

As I have recently been grappling with this in regards to writing (including for this blog), something dawned on me. Sometimes if we look at something from a different angle, something clicks. For me, it was looking at it as a practice.

This term has come to make more sense to me in regards to meditation and mindfulness, establishing a meditation or mindfulness practice. It’s not something you do to an end, it’s a moment of presence. A practice has nothing to do with proving anything to ourselves or others, with comparing ourselves or measuring results. It is an end in itself.

Since becoming a mother, it has been a recurrent theme for me to learn to apply what I want to teach my son, to myself. Things like self-acceptance, self-compassion, patience, perseverance. So it’s not surprising, though it’s taken it this long to finally dawn on me, that I should apply this piece advice I was given when he was still toddler, this secret to any new habit we want our children to have: regularity. Keep doing it, over and over. And it'll come. Like a ritual in the rhythm of life. Like a practice.

There are many ways to describe that same approach: to be process-oriented. To be present. To do something for its own sake. The journey matters more than the destination. Once we can, from deep within ourselves, look at something in this way, as a worthwhile practice in its own right that is enriching without any goals or comparisons, we are more easily compelled to do it regularly, to make it a part of our lives. (In my experience, for example, considering working out as a practice that I enjoy and makes me feel good, has been much more sustainable than when I looked at it as a means to an end, like weight loss).

In our modern accomplishment-centric lives, these practices of presence are our saving grace, and the catalyst to every day joys. We need to seek them out.

It is so hard for me to get back to writing when I haven’t done it in a while. The longer it’s been, the more I dread it and lose my confidence. And the harder it is. So if I give myself a goal of one post a week, or even one a month, it just doesn't work. I won’t have 3 free straight hours very often any time soon (ever?)  So what if I started thinking about writing the same way I think about meditation or yoga? Where even just a few minutes a day is better than 1 hr a week ? Would it help me integrate it into my routine, my every day?

If we look at writing, or cooking, in a goal oriented way, it becomes a test of our inadequacies, our motivation, our skills. We do it to be able to say we did it. We set some sort of bar, usually not based on our own needs but on others, on society.  “I should be cooking a big fancy 4 course meal every night.” “I should be able to dedicate 3 hours to writing this week.” “I should finish a post a week”. We compare ourselves to people we admire, and when it doesn’t happen, we beat ourselves up, we feel like s(/&**, not good enough, discouraged and it’s even harder to get back to it.

If we look at it like a practice, there is no measurement or judgment. Even a little bit becomes enough.  Perhaps we can even shift our focus to the enjoyment of that little bit, and trust it will get easier.  Or have compassion for ourselves when we miss a day, accept life is full of twists and turns, school events, moving friends, sick parents, headaches, unexpected deadlines. This is the stuff of life. All we can do is get back to it as soon as we can.  And when we do do it a bit more regularly, it gives us confidence, fulfillment. At least, we are doing it.

Let us take smaller steps. Maybe write a few minutes a day. Cook or prepare something very simple. And see what happens. Maybe having a “cooking practice” means cooking small easy things as often as possible.

How many of you reading this, feel this way about cooking? Do you feel like finding the time and confidence to cook real foods is daunting? Do you find it difficult to do on a regular basis?
Do you find yourself thinking it’s either a big fancy meal or nothing?

If you do, be kind to yourself. And when you’re ready, think of it as a practice. A cooking practice. Take it one simple dish at a time. Maybe it’s French style radishes with butter and salt. Or some cucumber tossed in crème fraîche and a splash vinegar. Maybe it’s getting a vegetable you haven’t cooked with in a long time (celeriac, anyone?), maybe it’s spotting a recipe and planning to make it this week (see below, hint, hint). 

Something small. And let go of the rest. You are good. You are enough. 

Now, speaking of simplicity, let me share this very simple lentil salad which is not only delicious, original, but can be made ahead for the week's lunchboxes or dinners.  

Celeriac Lentil Salad with hazelnut and mint

From Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

Yields 6-8

Prep time: 20-25 min total
Cook time: 20 min

Age: Avoid the hazelnuts for young children, but this is otherwise a good finger food / self-feeding dish from 8-10 months old.

2/3 cup hazelnuts (skin on)
2 cups lentils (green or brown)
4 bay leaves
8 thyme sprigs
1 large celeriac
1/2 cup olive oil
6 tbsp hazelnut oil
6 tbsp red wine vinegar
salt and pepper
1/2 bunch of mint

Preheat oven at 275°F. Place hazelnuts on a baking sheet or dish, and roast for about 15 min. Let cool and chop roughly.

Put some salted water to boil in a medium saucepan. Peel the celeriac and cut into bite-size strips or cubes. Place in boiling water and cook for about 10 minutes, until just tender. 

Place lentils in a medium size saucepan and cover with water so the water is about 1 to 2 inches above the lentils. Add the bay leaves and thyme (you could even tie them together so they can easily be removed after). Bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes, until al dente.

Drain the lentils and remove the herbs. In a large bowl, combine the hot lentils with olive oil, 4 tbsp of hazelnut oil, vinegar, about 1 tsp of salt and pepper to taste.  Add the celeriac and gently stir. Taste to adjust seasoning to your liking. 

Let it cool down, taste again, and add a splash of vinegar if needed. Drizzle the last 2 tbsp of hazelnut oil and stir in chopped mint and hazelnuts. 

Will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days. Keep some chopped mint and hazelnut in separate containers to add upon serving. 

Enjoy :-)

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Monday, September 26, 2016

Back with a Ham & Olive Bread

Hello lovely readers, it’s been a while, hasn’t it ? Where the heck have I been, you may ask ? There is no short answer to that…

First, quite simply, it’s hard for me to get back into it when I stop for a while. I  start doubting writing this blog is of any use or value. Daily life fills up quickly and somehow time is short. And six months go by in a poof... 

Then, my posts take time : to write (hopefully) meaningful words, to make the food and photograph it well but quickly enough so we can eat it before it gets cold, has been challenging.

Bottom line is, I am a single working mom - with precious help from my mother and flexibility since I work from home - but there are definitely days where I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders and just want to shrug it off – typically not a good frame of mind to write ;-)

I have been working on being present in the moment, and sometimes that means just living and doing, and not necessarily writing about it.  In the past year, I have had much fun with making some new foods, such as homemade cheese, crème fraîche, butter and yogurt. I have experimented with wild yeast and sourdough fermented bread, with fermentation and preserves.
Pablo and I have also been traveling, connecting with our international family and friends, discovering new places, new foods, been on many adventures. 

Lastly, I have recently felt a desire to talk about other things than food, as strange as it sounds to myself as I’m writing this, because I do really love to talk about food!! Although a lot of our life, our family life, our community life, our connected life, revolves around the table and the kitchen, 
I have been very interested in mindfulness and mindful parenting, in oral storytelling, in child development, in writing poetry, in cognitive theory and pedagogy...
Certainly food and parenting have been the two main catalysts and areas of practice of all these interests. But I have struggled to find a way to write about these things here, always looking for some sort of link with food or a recipe, thinking what I felt I wanted to say was just hors-sujet. Irrelevant to this particular blog theme.  I am thus working on another blog, perhaps even more personal, a sort of diary, so that those coming here for a recipe don’t have to be subjected (as much!) to my ramblings about life (more on that other blog very soon for those who might be interested.) 

That said, here I am. Pablo is five, he just started Kindergarten, and I feel a renewed inspiration and desire to share our life around food with you in this space. 

I’ll try to post our menus as that seems to have been useful in sparking some ideas for readers. I am also posting Pablo’s lunchboxes on Instagram (@frenchfoodie) if you want to check those out.

I may write shorter posts, have fewer pictures, but my goal is to be back here regularly. I am so grateful for your continued support.

So now, this ham and olive bread (which the French call a ‘cake salé’) has been a staple of our gatherings and picnics for many years, and it happens to be perfect for the lunchbox too.  Nearly impossible to miss, delicious, keeps well, quick to make… I have never tried to modify it, though now I’m thinking I could try it in muffin form, or with a better flour like einkorn.  If you feel adventurous and play with it, let me know how it turns out!



Ham & Olive Bread

From Les Cakes de Sophie by Sophie Dudemaine

Makes 1 loaf, approximately 12 slices. 

Prep time: 15 mn
Cook time: 45-50 mn

3 eggs
1 cup + 1/4 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
100 ml* (a little under 1/2 cup) canola or sunflower oil
125 ml* (a little over 1/2 cup) milk
3.5 oz (a handful) grated gruyere or Swiss (can be replaced with mozzarella, though less flavorful)
6-7 oz ham
2.5 oz green pitted olives
1 pinch of salt
2 pinches of pepper

*Tip: I use my old baby bottles as measuring cups, they have both ounces and ml. 

Preheat your oven at 350° F. 

Dice the ham and olives coarsely. 

In a large bowl (or you can use your stand mixer with the whisk on medium speed, which makes it even easier), combine the eggs, flour, baking powder, salt and pepper (The mixture will be thick and somewhat uncooperative). 

Add the oil gradually as you whisk it in. Since I use an old baby bottle as measuring cup (see tip above), I pour the milk in and warm it for 20s in the microwave while I whisk in the oil. 

Then add the warm milk gradually and whisk to combine as you go. 

(If you used a stand mixer, remove the bowl and finish by hand from here). 

Add the grated cheese and stir. Add the ham and olives and stir.

Line a 8 x 4 loaf pan with parchment paper (this makes it easy to remove the loaf from the pan unscathed, but you could also just butter the dish), and pour the batter in. 

Bake for about 45-50 minutes, until the blade of a knife or a skewer stick comes out clean. 

Keeps about 3 days wrapped in plastic. 

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