Strawberry rhubarb apple tart… & mindful eating

The other day, as we were enjoying a family dinner, my husband spotted a recipe book on the table and started to look through it as we were eating. (It happened to be the amazing and ever so appetizing Small Plates & Sweet Treats by Cannelle et Vanille’s creator, Aran Goyoaga). As we were eating, we started to get excited about the many recipes we were going to make off that book.

“You’re really turning into a Frenchman. Talking about food while eating”, my mother commented.

Indeed this is something French people love to do. Talk about food while eating food. Going on and on about it in fact!

I realized that unknowingly, the French are actually practicing mindful eating.

“Focus on the task at hand”, our teachers, or mothers, or grandmothers said. I guess this was another way to ask us to be mindful. To be in the moment with whatever we were doing.

This has been something I’ve been very consciously practicing with Pablo. Trying to stay away from outside distractions while at the table whenever possible. So while I do occasionally indulge Pablo with a small toy if he’s particularly tired and impatient at dinner time, I try as much as possible to keep our family engaged with our meal, with each other in conversation about our day, with the food we are eating (or will be eating), the cooking of it, the shape, flavor, color, texture of it. A lot of playfulness can arise with the “crunch crunch” of the butter lettuce, the fun of making a mini-kebab by prickling a piece of tomato with a piece of hearts of palm on the fork, or Pablo’s new favorite game, calling every item on the dinner table “Monsieur” : Monsieur Patate, Monsieur Radis, Monsieur Pain (Mr Bread) etc. (Yes, barely bearable cuteness ensues.)

I remember reading about mindful eating in Karen Le Billon’s book, French Kids Eat Everything, as one of her strategies to convert her picky eaters. It’s not about hiding broccoli in some pasta or baked good, or trying to distract our children into eating well, or rushing through meals to get them over with. It’s about showing them that eating is a pleasure.

And to find that out, you’ve got to pay attention while you eat.

Pay attention to how the food feels, how it tastes. Be mind and body (aren’t our best, happiest or most fulfilling moments in life when we are engaged both mind and body?). I remember how she described making a game of eating a chocolate mousse as slowly as possible, as a family, and talking about the experience together. What a clever idea to get kids engaged in the wonderful, vastly underestimated, communal, cultural and pleasurable experience that is the family meal.

Beyond easy and quick recipes, convenience and logistics, beyond calories and “healthy eating”, making cooking and eating about connection and pleasure, vs obligation and nutrition, is the core of this education of taste journey I’ve been documenting here. A journey that makes our life so much richer, each and every day.

Sharing today a seasonal variation to the French classic tarte aux pommes. It’s the first year I am experimenting cooking with rhubarb and its lovely flavor. This is really two recipes in one: one for the compote, which can be made on its own. But should you have a couple of apples lying around, the tart is a delicious way to put them to good use. Basil goes surprisingly well with strawberry and rhubarb, and adding it to the spelt crust was a fun, and successful, experiment.

Strawberry rhubarb apple tart on basil spelt crust

Serves 6-8

Prep time: 45 mn
Cook time: 15 mn + 35 mn

Age for babies: The compote by itself is great for a baby from 5 months on, though be sure not to use honey for a baby under 12 months. Add just a sprinkle of sugar. What you don’t use within a couple of days can be frozen for a couple of months (individual serving containers make it easier).
The tart can be given in small pieces (as long as no honey was used) from 8-10 months.



For the strawberry rhubarb compote

Yields about 2 cups.

2-3 stalks of rhubarb
1-2 cups of strawberries
2 tbsp of sugar (or honey)
1 tsp lemon juice

Peel the rhubarb by making a diagonal incision at the top and pulling off the stringy part. Repeat from both end, until all strings are gone (you will be taking off the pink part.)

Then cut the rhubarb in small pieces, place in a bowl with half the sugar (or honey), and let macerate at least 15 minutes. (The rhubarb with produce some juice in that time).

In the meantime, wash and cut the strawberries.

In a pan, place the rhubarb and its juice, strawberries, remaining sugar or honey and lemon juice. Cook over medium high heat for about 15-20 minutes, stirring often.

Mix in food processor or blender until very smooth. Pour through a fine mesh strainer, pressing with a spatula, for added smoothness.

For the basil spelt crust

1 cup (150g) spelt flour
5 tbsp (75g) butter, softened and cut up
4-5 large leaves of basil, minced
1.5 tbsp ice water
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp sugar
pinch of salt

In a bowl, mix the flour, minced basil, sugar and salt.

Pour the dry ingredients on a work surface. With your hands, work the soft butter into the flour mixture, by rubbing your hands together, until you get a sandy texture. Then place the flour/butter mixture in a circle with a whole in the middle.  Place the egg yolk and water in the middle, and mix with your hands until you obtain a ball of dough.

Then fraise the dough: flatten the ball into a rectangle (of sorts), and with the heel of your hand, press the dough, little by little, onto the work surface. This is very simple (and therapeutic!), but a picture is worth a thousand words on this one, so you can get a visual here. Do it a couple of times.

Wrap in plastic and place in the fridge for 10 minutes.

To put it all together

2 apples
4-5 oz rhubarb strawberry compote
2-3 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp butter +  for mold 

Preheat the oven at 375°F.

Butter a tart pan (preferably with removable bottom).

Roll dough onto a lightly floured surface so it’s slightly bigger than your pan.
Press the dough into the pan, pressing the sides with your thumb.

Spoon and spread the compote over the dough.

Peel and core the apples, reserve the peel. Slice them thinly. Gently place the apple slices on top of the compote, in a circular motion around the pie pan (I can never do this perfectly by the way, there’s always an odd piece of apple that doesn’t fit!)

Sprinkle with a bit of sugar, and add a few bits of butter throughout.

Place in oven for about 30-35 minutes, until the apples are soft.

While it’s in the oven, boil 1/2 cup of water with the apple peel and sugar for about 10/12 minutes.

When you bring the tart out of the oven, brush some of that syrup over the apples for a nice gloss.

Let cool and eat warm, or cold.

Making Speculoos cookies and a children’s trifle

 

 

We got back from our month-long trip to Greece and France, and I must admit it has
been a bit of a challenge to adapt back to “real life”. Probably because this
intense month of bonding with friends and (re)discovery and experience felt
more real than our so-called “real life”. Most of our time was spent
focusing on things that really matter, and very little time on menial things.
It just always makes me wonder, “What if life could always be this pure and
intense?” Part of me feels energized and motivated from the trip, and another
part feels sad, nostalgic and daunted by the mountain of things to do. I
must start cooking and writing in hope my spirits will lift.

 

In the meantime, I shall reminisce about a week in Normandy spent with our
friends Christelle and Jean-Max and their children, Calista, 9 and Philéas, 5.

 

 

 

 

These children are what I would
consider very French children (the kind Karen Le Billon talks about in her book). While they love pasta and sweets and French
fries, they are also quite the foodies. I was delighted to hear them critique
their school lunch menus (which are amazing by American standards, but
considered mediocre by most French parents), saying the food left to be
desired, the pasta was too greasy, and the meat overcooked. Philéas declared he
only liked a particular brand of Camembert cheese (he also went through a phase
where he declared himself a “cheese vegetarian”). And Calista professed her
love of cooking. When I asked what they liked to cook, they mentioned one of
their favorite desserts: the Speculoos trifle. At my puzzled look, they asked,
“What, you don’t know what a Speculoos is?” I was soon initiated. It turns out
a Speculoos is a very simple, yet tasty, cinnamon spice cookie, as widely known
as Oreos in the US.
It’s from Belgium
originally, but has become a favorite of the French (and of Amélie Poulain in the French film,
Amélie).

 

So we decide to make home-made Speculoos to use for
the trifle. The children bring out the ingredients, Philéas mixes, Calista knows
all about making a well in the dry ingredients to pour the wet. As we shape the
dough, Calista suggests adding more butter, as it is too dry. She’s correct,
that does the trick. We are in Normandy
after all, the land of cream and butter. In doubt, add more.

Watching Philéas getting so excited about making tonight’s
dessert, and Calista licking the bowl of cream, I feel thrilled at the idea of paying homage
to their gourmet spirit in this space. Their mother is a dear childhood friend of mine,
we’ve known each other since we’re 11, and the thought of our children cooking
and eating together couldn’t make me happier.

 

This dessert is very easy to make for children, and it is a wonderful refreshing treat for the whole family. The cookie softens
under the yogurt and the fruit adds a splash of sweetness. It is a reasonably healthy
treat, which I will make in Los Angeles,
if only to be transported back to Philéas and Calista Land, for a trifle in time.

 

Calista & Philéas’ Speculoos trifle

For the cookies (Prepare dough one day ahead)

(Original recipe found here)

2 cups all-purpose
flour

½ cup brown sugar

1 egg

1 tsp allspice

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp baking powder

½ cup (100 g) butter,
melted

In a large bowl, mix the flour, brown sugar,
allspice, cinnamon, salt and baking powder.

Make a well (hole) in the middle of the dry
ingredients and add the lightly beaten egg and melted butter.

Gently mix together (easier done with both hands)
to form a tube of dough that holds together (if too crumbly, add a little more
melted butter).

Wrap in plastic and keep in the fridge overnight or
more.

Preheat the oven at 350° F.

Cut into ¾ inch slices. Place them on a baking
sheet over parchment paper.

Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes. Let cool.

(Recipe invented by Calista, 9, and Philéas, 5)

3 cups of Greek yogurt (use the creamiest you can find, and avoid 0% fat)

2 tbsp of crème fraîche

(*Alternatively, you can easily find and use whole
milk plain yogurt with cream on top)

2 tbsp Brown sugar

4-5 cups of cut-up fresh fruit (For us, it was 5
peaches and nectarines. Use what’s available in season, pears and apples in
winter, stone fruit in summer. Organic canned fruit could also be used)

Speculoos cookies
Lay Speculoos cookies flat to cover the bottom of a
serving dish.

In a bowl, mix the yogurt and cream. Then add the
brown sugar and mix.

 

Pour the yogurt mixture on top of the cookies, and
use a spoon to spread it evenly.

 

Place the fruit on top and place in the fridge
until ready to serve.

 

 

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At the farmers’ market… for bites of summer


I love love love farmers’ markets. I feel at home in them.
Their atmosphere says so much about their location. Being at a farmers’ market
somewhere in the world, I feel I can get a sense of the place in general, of
its people, its culture, its idiosyncrasies. It’s just enough to feel like I have
an idea of what it is like to live there, for just a moment. The atmosphere at
a market in Paris, Aubagne, Barcelona,
Tokyo or Bali is completely different, and yet they have something in common. A sense of
community perhaps? Or just simply the universal need (and love) for food.

Far from Bali, there’s the
little Sherman Oaks Farmers’ market, a few blocks away from our house, a nice
stroller outing on Tuesday afternoons. It’s the little market that could. Yes,
we are in Los Angeles:
we have to walk past a freeway on-ramp, go underneath an overpass and breathe
in that smog that gives us such lovely sunsets, to get to the market set up on
the overflow parking lot of a giant mall. But it is peach season, and we need
peaches. Among other things. So off we go.

As we walk on the lookout for anything with wheels – an
absolute fascination for Pablo – I encounter this bit of grass covered with
purple petals… from jacaranda trees (I finally found out the name of that tree
for this post!). Those are the little gems of Los Angeles. Sometimes, the best views are
either up close or far in the distance, not so much in midrange. Like in
difficult times in life, I suppose. You only get through those by either living
in the moment (which children are so wonderful at), or dreaming far ahead – or
a bit of both. Sure, just outside that shot, there are trash cans and abandoned
front yards of foreclosed houses. But in the distance, there are clouds over
the Hollywood hills. And up close, there is
purple. I needed purple today.

Riding on that purple… we arrive at the market. It is small,
the selection is somewhat limited. But there are lots of peaches, plums, apricots
and cherries. It’s the heart of the season. I’m excited. And Pablo is too!

I know from what I’ve written so far, one might think Pablo
just eats everything. And well, it’s pretty much true. But it sometimes takes
him a few tries. Just a couple of weeks ago, I gave him an apricot for the
first time (he was too young last year). He put it his mouth, because he can’t
help himself. Spat it right out. Weird texture. Not what he was expecting. Ok.
We’ll try again. And again. I have faith in the apricot.

Well, it took the Farmer’s market, and the nice man selling
apricots, to do it! When the man handed him, personally, an apricot, Pablo was so proud and delighted. He tasted
it, touched it and held it like his most prized possession all the way back
home!  It made me think the love for food
goes far beyond our taste buds. At the outset, there’s taste, then texture,
smell, feel. And then there’s the whole experience around it. That is why I
love farmers’ markets: a place to experience
food.  But back to taste buds…

Peaches have been the highlights of
the goûter (afternoon snack) recently. Mostly just plain and simple. Juicy bites of summer. (Can you
feel the juice dripping down your chin?)

But this afternoon, we experimented on that theme… mixing up
a slightly overripe peach with wonderfully fragrant mint from my beloved topsy-turvy. Pablo
picked the mint himself, and chewed on it happily! I guess the kid likes mint…
and peaches. Let’s mix them up then.

So I give him an apricot to get started (he spits out a
cookie to attack the apricot… happy
mommy), while I mix up a peach with a few leaves of mint.

 I take a few pictures, give him the mixture, and then…

… he takes it upon himself to dip the apricot in the
peach-mint compote….

Mint. Yum. Apricot. Yum. Peach with mint. Double yum. Add
some apricot. Pablo heaven.  

Peach & mint raw compote

(Age note: I started Pablo on
raw fruit – berries, pear, kiwi, banana – around 7-8 months. Before that, for
all compotes, I steamed the fruit and mixed it with some cooking juices to make
it very smooth.)

Wash, peel, cut up and mix! Depending on
your processor, this can make a fairly chunky compote, so make sure your little
one can handle little chunks of fruit (which can easily be gummed down)

For fun – add some apricots to
the mix (no need to peel them)

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Peach lavender custard… at Gopher Springs Farm

There is something both fascinating and somewhat irritating about seeing things come full circle. I grew up in a village in Normandy, France, where I spent minutes, hours and years devising plans on how to leave the land of cream and apples, go to a bigger city, a bigger country, elsewhere. And I eventually made it to the next big town, then to Paris, then to Los Angeles.

Now, here I am, reading through wonderful food blogs, many of them describing the simple life on a farm, eating what you grow, the return to the soil, and I find myself irresistibly charmed by the whole idea. Did I go around in a circle all these years? I suppose it is what I learned, where I failed, the joys and sorrows and experiences along that circle which make up my path thus far. All to find myself longing to get back to where I started, appreciating now what I took for granted then. Maybe that’s what wisdom is all about. Finding my way back to the apples.

  

Don’t get me wrong, I do love big cities, Paris, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, among many. I love the mix of culture, the open-mindedness and diversity and vibration of a city, each in its idiosyncratic way. But I realize now more than ever, and perhaps because I now have a child, that I need the soil. I want the basics, the elements. Soil, water, fire, air. I want to get back to what’s real, and I want my son to experience those things fully while young. Instead of a disconnected view of a world of instant gratification, I would like to teach him to appreciate the genesis of things. The genesis of a crunchy sweet apple.
This is why I have felt so incredibly fortunate and privileged to meet Eric & Franka who invited us to spend a day with them, their son Dexter and their cat Pépé, harvesting fruit (ok, Pépé didn’t do much harvesting, but Dexter and Pablo did help!) at their wonderful place in Topanga Canyon, the newly formed Gopher Springs Farm.  In the middle of Los Angeles in this haven of Topanga, is another little haven: on the grounds of an old school from the 1930s, a pink house with an oddball history, surrounded by old fruit trees and land (a rare commodity in the city), inhabited by a trio with a vision to build a life of farming here. A life I admire and which we were fortunate to share for a day.
That day starts with harvesting apples. Three different kinds on the property. Then onto the peaches and nectarines. The apricots have already been harvested, partly by the local coyote. The plums aren’t ready yet. As Franka points out, their fruit trees (apples, plums, peaches, nectarines, figs, apricots, persimmons) are the old kind, planted in the 30s probably, the fruit tastes wild and natural, for lack of a better description. “Like in Europe.”
 

They’re building this place from the soil up. Eric speaks of his compost, of the importance of good, rich, healthy, nurturing, giving soil. And he works at it, patiently and lovingly, this compost is going to be a life source. Vegetables and fruits will grow strong and flavorful and juicy in it. The idea just makes me want to plant my hands deep in the rich soil and just feel its potential. This is one potential you can really count on.

They’re also building from the air down. He speaks of bees, he knows so much about them. He’s not a beekeeper, he’s a bee-charmer, devising ways to make the bees want to set up hive and produce honey here, and pollinate the fruit trees. It’s already working, the trees are more bountiful this year than ever before.

Franka and I sit under the nectarine tree, talk about being expats, living improbable lives here in LA, lives we would have never imagined as kids. Meanwhile, 13 and 14 months old Dexter and Pablo help picking the apples, take a single bite out of each one they grab, before handing it to each other. Sharing an apple under the tree. I think this makes us all feel happy and warm inside. We’re all thankful to be spending this vacation day of sorts together.

Voltaire said it. “We must cultivate our garden”. I understand how profound that phrase is so much more fully than ever before. What a breath of hope and joy to see someone truly practice that. That is most definitely what is happening at Gopher Springs Farm, and I look forward, like the patient (or impatient) gardner-in-training that I am, to watching them grow…

Some things we saw: horses, frog, rabbit, mouse, artichokes, woodpecker hole, wild fennel.

Some things we heard: donkey, crickets, bucket of rainwater splashing, toddler babbling, toddler grunting, toddler giggling.

Some things we did: harvesting, eating, talking, wagon riding, laughing, cooking, sweating, laughing, smiling.

Some things we made: friends, and peach lavender custard.

Peach Lavender Custard

Age: Obviously this is for the whole family, but you can offer this at 8-10 months. This is a little bit on the sweet side, so not an every day dessert for baby, but a nice introduction to custard and lavender, for special occasions.

Note: It is pretty healthy as far as desserts go, with the help of the coconut milk, and the protein from the eggs balances the sugar & fat contents.

Makes 6 ramekins

1 1/2 cups of unsweetened coconut milk

1/4 cup + 2 tbsp cane sugar

Scrapings from 1 vanilla bean (split lengthwise and scraped)

2 tbsp edible dried English lavender buds

4-6 ripe, cut up peaches

Preheat the oven at 325°

Combine coconut milk, cream, sugar, vanilla bean scrapings & lavender buds. Bring to a light boil, remove from heat and let steep for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks. Take six ramekins and place a few pieces of cut-up peaches into each ramekin.

Pour the milk-lavender mixture through a fine mesh colander into a bowl (press the lavender with a spoon in the colander to squeeze the flavor out of it.)

Pour the whisked egg yolks through a fine mesh colander (not the same one, or wash it up first) into the milk-lavender mixture and whisk until combined.

Pour the milk-lavender-egg mixture into each ramekin, on top of the fruit.

Place the ramekin in a deep baking dish, and pour boiling water up to the level of the custard mixture inside the ramekins, being careful not to pour any water inside the custards.

Place in the oven for about 30-35 minutes, until set.

Let cool, and serve at room temperature or chilled.

(Optional: Sprinkle some cane sugar on top and torch for a caramelized top crust)

Check out Bangers & Mash hosting Herbs on Saturday this month!
http://bangermashchat.wordpress.com/2012/07/01/july-herbs-on-saturday/

Check out Lavender and lovage for more on the herbs on saturday contest!
 http://www.lavenderandlovage.com/herbs-on-saturday

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Apple Banana Custard |

Apple Banana custard is perfect for all kids who are fussy, either with drinking milk or eating fruits or both. They will for sure enjoy it. Apple and banana, both are very healthy fruits, however, you can substitute it with your choice of fruit.

Apple Banana Custard

Preparation time: 15 mins
Cooking time: 30 mins
Serves: 6

Apple Banana Custard Ingredients

Apple Banana Custard Ingredients

Ingredients

  • 750 ml milk
  • 6 tsp custard powder (vanilla flavour or your choice)
  • 2 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp cashew nuts (chopped)
  • 1 apple (chopped)
  • 1 banana (chopped)
  • some sliced apple for garnishing (optional)

Method

Apple Banana Custard

Apple Banana Custard

Take 8-9 tbsp milk in a bowl and mix 6 tsp custard powder in it and set it aside.

Heat rest of the milk at medium flame, add 2 cups sugar in it and stir well.

When the milk start boiling, add the custard powder mixture and cashew nuts in it and keep on stirring until the milk thickens.

When the milk thickens, switch off the flame and let it cool down.

Now add chopped apple and banana with the custard.

Keep it in refrigerator for about 2-3 hours and serve it cold.

Serving Instructions

Serve apple banana custard as a dessert after lunch or dinner.