King’s almond galette

During the whole month of January, most French families have
one favorite food ritual they can look forward to. The “Kings’ galette”.

It is originally made to celebrate the Epiphany on January 6th.
The tradition of the cake on that day is typically French and was instituted by
the church in the 13th century.
But contrary to a lot of countries
in the world where the Epiphany remains a very religious celebration, it has
become widely secular in France. 

Part of what makes this so fun, is the placing of a “fève”,
nowadays a small porcelain figure, inside the galette. This was an 11th
century Roman tradition of placing either a coin, or for the poorest, a dried
fava bean (fève in French) inside a
loaf of bread to determine the leader of a group (whoever got the piece of
bread with the coin or bean was the leader).

The celebration as most French families do it today is a
sort of hodgepodge of these two traditions. A “fève” (it is now mostly a small
porcelain figure) is placed inside the almond galette. The tradition says it is
to be cut into the number of guests plus one, the portion “for the poor” (to be
given to the first poor person passing by – I remember my mom telling me about
the “for the poor” piece, and how it made me realize as a young child that some
people out there may not have enough to eat.) A napkin is placed over the
galette, and the youngest member of the group goes under the table and designates
to whom each piece is to be given. The one who gets the piece with the fève is designated the “king”, and gets
to choose his queen (or vice versa).



We know how rituals in general are good for young children
especially. They are landmarks in their life, something expected that makes
them feel safe, something fun to look forward to, whether it’s the bedtime
ritual, or the Sunday morning ritual, whatever that may be for each family. When
we go through a ritual, we are in the moment, engaged, centered. When I think
ritual, I think: comfort, slow, reassuring, mindful, grounding. I think as adults in this busy 21st century
life pulling us in all directions, we need our own rituals just as much as our children
do. (I recommend this great post on Food Loves Writing on this topic, by the way).

So of course, you may not be surprised to hear some of my
favorite rituals are food rituals. Cooking and enjoying family meals, are some of the rituals that help keep me grounded every day.

Food rituals are a big part of the approach to food in France. I grew
up with all kinds of them, whether it was the placing of a
fork under the plate for the vinaigrette to eat artichoke leaves, or the tapping of the soft-boiled egg
and the dipping of the
mouillettes, or the cutting of a radish into a flower to
insert a sliver of butter in it, to be devoured with a sprinkle of salt.
A ritual means you are taking the time to do something of value, and you are mindful of what you are doing, you are engaged in it, with mind and body. Food rituals are a great opportunity to teach, and learn, this mindfullness in an organic way, as they make food fun, they make the eating experience special and pleasurable. They create a positive association, all wonderful
things, all part of the education of taste.


This galette is definitely one of the most beloved food rituals for French kids. It is usually an opportunity for the whole family to get together and share a playful moment. Usually families have the galette a few times throughout January, an excuse to get together with friends and relatives they may have missed during the holidays. It’s a wonderful moment where all generations get together, to be all about the galette, and the fun of waiting to find out who gets to be king or queen.

Now, if you will allow me to go on a tangent here, for the
sake of contrast.

I have started taking Pablo to a toddler art class at a
well-known national kids’ activity center. And to my great amazement (aka inner
cringing), at 9:50am, the toddlers are offered a snack! And not only that… but
the snack consists of a good ¼ cup of goldfish (cringe cringe). And not only
that… but the goldfish is to be eaten while the teacher reads a story!


So I kindly said we “didn’t do snacks” in our family, let
Pablo have 3 goldfish so he didn’t feel completely excluded, and that seemed to
work fine. I have three major issues with this, one of which I’m interesting in
exploring here:


    1. I don’t
      think a snack is warranted at 9:50 in the morning. Pablo has a good
      breakfast around 8am, and then eats lunch at 12pm.

 

    1. If
      there must be a snack, does it
      have to be a high sodium processed food like goldfish, seriously? How
      about some grapes, or slices of apple?

 

    1. But
      most importantly, are we conditioning our children to be unable to listen
      to a story, or watch a movie, or do any activity requiring to sit still
      and pay attention, without munching on something? Talk about teaching
      mindless eating, which can have such terrible health consequences later on.
      And when we eat, must we be doing something else? Precisely I am teaching Pablo
      to focus and savor his (good quality) food, listen to his body, and enjoy the
      moment.

 

So at the far opposite side of the spectrum of mindless
goldfish eating, the celebration and savoring of the galette as a multigenerational
group experience, where everyone is in the moment, not doing anything else than
enjoying the galette and each other’s company in a playful way, is a fantastic
food ritual creating so many wonderful associations in our minds.

So why not give it a try with your loved ones? Start the new year by creating a new tradition, a new family ritual, by experiencing a moment of togetherness with the ones you love, sharing a playful moment of connection where children and adults are on the same plane.

 

Every bakery and supermarket sells galettes starting January 1st, but I’ve started making it myself in the US out of necessity, and it is very easy and just delicious homemade.

As far as the crust, let me just say it: I am scared of making puff pastry! But that won’t stop me from trying some time this year, I promise. But for this one, I did what most French do, I bought the frozen puff pastry, and it works just fine (I got mine at Trader Joe’s, it was very good).

So, are you willing to give it a try? Would you like to
institute new food rituals for your family? Which food rituals do you already
have and cherish? Please share,
 I really would love to know.

Kings’ Almond Galette

Prep time: 25 mn
Cook time: 35 mn

Serves 8

Age for babies: 10-12 months to be given a taste of almond paste and puff pastry (watch out if you put a fève of course, no whole almonds until they’ve got some molars).

2 sheets of frozen puff pastry
1 stick of unsalted butter, soft
1/2 cup sugar
4.5 oz almond meal
2 eggs + 1 for the egg wash
1 tbsp milk
1 fève (an almond does the trick)

Take the puff pastry out of the freezer, leave it out to thaw, if soft enough, gently unroll onto a floured board.

In a large bowl, beat the soft butter and sugar together until combined. Add the almond meal and beat until combined. Add the two eggs, one at at time, mixing well each time.

Place one sheet of puff pastry on parchment paper. If it broke or crackled a bit, patch it together (but don’t make it a ball, patch it together flat). Use a large round pie mold as a cutter to make a circle.  Repeat for the second sheet.

With a brush, wet the edge around the crust, paying attention not to go over the edge.

Spoon and spread evenly the almond mixture in the center of the crust. If you wish, place the “fève” now, vertically so it’s easier to hide. I used an almond.

Delicately place the second circle of puff pastry over the first. With your fingers, press all around, turning the edges inward a bit to seal the galette. With a small knife, make small incisions all around the edge of the galette (without actually cutting through the dough).

In a small bowl, mix the milk with the remaining egg. Brush this egg wash onto the top of the galette, careful not to wet the edges, as it would keep the galette from swelling nicely.

Place the galette in the fridge and let it rest for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven at 450°F.

Brush the galette a second time with the egg wash. With a knife, let your creative spirit flow and draw a crown or anything you like on top (careful not to pierce through the dough though). I was particularly creative and just did straight lines….

Place the galette in the oven and bake at 450°F for about 10-12 minutes, until the top is golden. Then lower the heat to 350°F and bake for another 20 minutes.

While it’s baking, boil 1/4 cup sugar with 1/4 cup water, until sugar is dissolved. Let it cool.

When the galette comes out of the oven, brush sugar water on top and let cool, it’ll give it that nice shiny gloss on top.

Eat lukewarm. (Can be reheated in the oven for 10 min at 200°F.)

Zucchini almond gratin… & the pursuit of real food & community

Our childhoods are made of joy (hopefully), sorrows, regrets, losses, traumas small (and sometimes big). They’re also made of unsuspected blessings we didn’t have the tools (or wisdom, or distance) to appreciate at the time. As an adult and especially as a parent, I have found myself sorting through these childhood experiences, processing, understanding, accepting what needed to be processed, understood or accepted (a lot of that goes on while I chop, fry or whisk). A sort of spring cleaning, decluttering of the soul, if you will.

So there are some things about the way I grew up that I am only now grateful for. Things that were just part of my environment in France, that were in the order of things where and when I grew up, in a small town in Normandy in the 80’s. Things that were just the norm then and there, but that have become the object of a deliberate pursuit today.

Like real food, for example. A trendy topic if there ever was one. Real food was just regular food when I grew up. Processed foods were minimal, artisan products were the norm. Going to the market, eating seasonal fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as meats and fish (a lot of meats and fish are seasonal in France, scallops for example can only be fished between October to May), from small local producers… all that was just the way it was. There was no other alternative, really. Only now do I realize what a blessing it  was.

Or things like a sense of community. It wasn’t as explicit as that. We lived in a small town, walked most places, knew the baker, butcher and fishmonger enough to have a chat with them and know their kids’ names. I never really saw the benefits of all that then.

Now that I am a mom in Los Angeles, whose toddler is being offered junky popcorn from CVS in art class, it’s a whole different ball game. But there’s a lot to be said about creating these things we value for ourselves deliberately.

This week, my husband, my son and I went to our little neighborhood farmer’s market. It’s close enough for us to walk to, through a residential neighborhood, where I noticed the purple jacaranda trees blooming and raining purple onto the streets. It reminded me that the first anniversary of this blog is coming up in a couple of weeks. I can remember taking a picture of the purple leaves and talking about the farmer’s market in one of my first posts. My life follows the rhythm of the seasons again. There’s some calm serenity to that, in stark contrast with an anxious-ridden sand-through-fingers sense of time passing.

As soon as we arrive at the market, we notice a buzz, a hustle bustle we haven’t felt in a few months. The trepidation of the warmer season. We always stop by our friend Sam’s organic fruit stand first. Sam is kindness incarnate. He always takes time to cut up a piece of fruit for Pablo. He has a soft spot in his heart for Pablo. And it’s mutual. Pablo looks forward to going to see Sam at the farmers’ market.

So there, at Sam’s stand, is where I start to get very excited (and proceed to flood Instagram with shots of produce!). Stone fruits are here. Tender delicate apricots, white nectarines so sweet they make the apricots taste bland. Cherries.

We stay there longer than we need to, just to baste in the warmth of the moment. Pablo munches on a nectarine, the juice dripping from his chin, peeks at the cherries. People pass by and smile.

Then we’re off to our favorite tomato and vegetable stand. The first tomatoes grown outdoors are here. And fava beans, and zucchini. It’s held by a family farm, a couple and their two grown sons. They throw in a couple of free tomatoes and fresh basil. Last time, they handed Pablo a bunch of carrots he proudly held and walked with.

Pablo has become almost famous there. He feels at home. He makes his stops. Grabs an ice cube or two (or three) from the fish guy. Stares down one of the produce stands for samples. Grabs an olive from the Greek vendor.

On our way out, we notice a new stand. A bakery held by an Armenian family. They laugh as they see Pablo run with abandon and hop like a bunny.  We chat and they tell us they mill their own wheat with a handcrafted stone mill they brought back from Switzerland. I can’t wait to go visit their bakery. The bread is beautiful, artisanal. New friends.

Then it’s getting late, it’s bath time and soon dinner time, and we’ve gotten everything we need. But we don’t want to leave quite yet. This half hour spent there, is a half hour of happiness. And real food. And community. We don’t take it for granted for a minute. Well, Pablo takes it for granted, as he should. To him, that’s the norm. He’ll appreciate it some day. In 20 or 30 years. But right now, it is contributing to who he is inside, and who he will become.

And as we walk home, I feel a moment of pride. Of contentment. I am able to provide this environment for my son, here and now. That’s my job. Providing him with the right environment, and then trust him to thrive in it. Or to struggle in it, as he inevitably must. But an environment where he feels safe, loved, trusted, with a sense of community, and real food.

This morning, we ate the boysenberries we got at Sam’s stand, and they seemed even tastier with the image of Sam’s smile in our minds. Last night for dessert, Pablo and I shared some plain yogurt and an apricot, two spoons in one bowl. His little chubby hand grabbed the apricot half, he looked at it, then looked at me and said, smiling, “Sam!” before biting into it wholeheartedly.

So among the exciting new produce of the season, we came across some zucchini, which we love, as simply as just cold, boiled with mint vinaigrette, or in a terrine, or in a ratatouille.

I was overdue to share a gratin with you here. Gratins are a family favorite for vegetables. This one was scrumptious, and I hope you enjoy it too.

Zucchini almond gratin

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

Serves 4-6

Prep time: 15 min
Cook time: 35 min

Age for babies: 10-12 months, in bite size pieces as finger food can work well (avoiding the sliced almonds, which would be hard to gum down)

4 zucchinis
2 tbsp coconut oil
2 tbsp olive oil
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 eggs + 1 yolk
1 pinch of nutmeg
3.5 oz of grated Parmesan (a packed cup) (You can also use Pecorino, Manchego, or Gruyère)
4 tbsp almond meal
1 tbsp butter
3 tbsp sliced almonds
Salt & pepper

Wash and slice the zucchinis (no need to peel them). Melt 1 tbsp coconut oil and 1 tbsp of olive oil in two large frying pans  (each) (or do several batches with one pan). Place the slices of zucchini in the pans and fry until just golden, about 2 minutes on each side. (By the time you’re done flipping over the slices in one pan, it’s time to do it with the other pan). Add a pinch of salt and pepper, and place on absorbent paper or cloth to let cool a bit.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the cream, eggs and yolk. Add nutmeg, salt & pepper, a third of the Parmesan, and the almond meal.

Preheat the oven at 400°F.

Butter a baking dish (with your hands, it’s way more fun). Place one layer of zucchini slices at the bottom of the dish. Pour a bit of the cream/almond mixture over it. Add another layer of zucchini, then another layer of cream, and so on until you’re out of zucchini slices. End with a layer of cream. Sprinkle the sliced almonds over it, and the rest of the Parmesan.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until golden.

Serve it warm, as an entree with a butter lettuce in an almond oil vinaigrette, or as a side dish with a roasted chicken, for example.