Hazelnut cookies recipe

.The holiday season has got me thinking about wants and expectations.

Pablo had a wonderful Christmas, and was quite showered with gifts. It was his first “aware” Christmas, he knew about Santa Claus coming and bringing gifts. And I have been debating for some time about what I want to tell him about gifts and Santa Claus, because I would like him to enjoy thinking of and making gifts to others too. And I would like him to recognize how thoughtful others have been to him. And yet, I would like him to experience Christmas as a child, with all the magic of Santa, Rudolph, stockings and the whole bit.

I have on occasion witnessed older children wanting something in particular, and being excited about wanting it, expecting to get what they want, and being completely uninterested and underwhelmed by the many other gifts they receive, which seems like such a shame and waste. It just feels so ungrateful and entitled somehow, it makes me cringe. They know they’re going to get what they want, so they expect it. Which got me wondering: are expectations the root of ungratefulness?

Entitled people I’ve encountered in my life have never seemed grateful to me. If we expect something, feel entitled to receive it as a matter of normality, then I suppose there’s nothing to be grateful for. And if for whatever reason, we don’t get what we expect, it can go one of two ways: we blame others, or we blame ourselves.

Yet again, life isn’t that simple.

Looking in the mirror, I realized this is something I have struggled with myself. Expecting to get the things that I want in life. That has certainly been the cause of some bitter disappointments (and self-blame). And I have learned just how crucial it is to differentiate quite clearly in my mind what I want from what I expect. When it involves other people and things outside of our control (and every part of living involves things outside of our control), we have no business expecting anything really. The only things we should expect, besides stuff like gravity, are things within our control, that involve ourselves, our effort, our work. I feel it’s OK to want something, just as long as I am fully aware I may not get it, or not the way I envisioned it. And to be all the more grateful when I do get it.

Kind of like, wanting with a grain of salt.

Wanting is less closed-minded than expecting. It seems easier to let go of wants than of expectations. Wants come and go. But our expectations are ingrained in our brains, they are that picture in our head, by which we measure success or failure. If our reality of the moment matches that picture, we have succeeded. If not, we have failed. But that is such a construct of our mind, far removed from real life, right here and right now. I am starting to think that succeeding is letting go of that picture, those expectations. And failing, is to never see beyond the expectations, and missing out on the many awesome unknowns and unsuspecteds life has in store for us.

So I’m learning to maintain a clear boundary between what I want and what I expect. Some things are better wanted than expected.

I guess that’s what I want Pablo to feel when “Santa” brings gifts to him. To want them, but not expect them. I would like him to want to receive gifts, sure. But only to expect giving them.

How does one teach that? How does one learn it?

Perhaps this is one of those things children learn by osmosis, if their models clearly make the difference in their life. I’m hoping to teach him this as I go, by keeping that boundary in my awareness as an individual and as a parent.

As I have previously reflected, I found the kitchen to be one excellent place to learn, and teach this. Take these cookies for example. They were not what I expected. The thin tollhouse type chocolate chip cookies. But I guess in the end, I just wanted them to be good. And when a cookie expert friend of mine came over, and had 4 in a row in spite of his wonderful usual will power, I figured they were good.

So here they are. They are not the graceful greyhound of cookies. They are more the big paws golden retriever of cookies (for some reason, a dog analogy came to mind…) Sweet, nutty, chunky. But I find myself loving them and enjoying them for what they are, as I write these very words…  I hope you will too.

Hazelnut chocolate chip cookies

Makes about 20 cookies

Prep time: 15 mn
Cook time: 15 mn + cool off time

Age for babies: After 12 months, in very small quantity as a treat. (I didn’t give Pablo chocolate until after 16 months.)

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup hazelnut butter
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
3/4 cup chocolate chips

Preheat the oven at 375°F.

Line a large cookie sheet (or two) with parchment paper.

Beat the butter, sugar and brown sugar together until creamy. Add the egg & vanilla, and beat until smooth.

Add the hazelnut butter and beat until combined.

Add flour, baking powder and salt, and stir to combine. Add chocolate chips and stir again.

Drop small spoonfuls of dough onto the parchment. Bake 12-15 minutes.

Remove from oven and let rest on the sheet for 1 minute, before removing. Let cool on a rack, and keep in a tin box if possible.

Oxtails in coconut milk recipe

Sitting at my dining room table with my pile of cookbooks, I make the menu for the coming week. My mind is racing, there’s work, deadlines, tonight’s dinner, swim class, gym class, the bank, the store… It’s already 6 o’clock, where did this day go?

Then I grab a cookbook from the pile, Art of the Slow Cooker, and the tagline reads: “Good things come to those who wait.” Oh, crap. That’s right, I’ve got to slow down, focus and enjoy the present task, the rest will get done. Somehow.

Time, time, time. Such a precious commodity. Seems to become even more precious (and rare!) when you have children. Life can be such a juggling act sometimes, a whirlwind, a whoosh. It’s scary, gives me vertigo. I have to pull on my own reins and stop to enjoy the present moment. A few seconds cheek to cheek with my son. Looking at fesh produce at the farmer’s market. Enjoying a meal with friends and family. Notice the beauty of a blue sky. Of a white sky. November is upon us, Thanksgiving around the corner, so it’s pretty a good time to be particularly aware of things we’re grateful for. The big, and the little things.

In these moments of stress and struggling to get everything done, time somehow becomes the enemy. How crazy is that? Time is our life. Time is our present. Time is all we’ve got. When we’re out of time, well… that’s it. Time should never be the enemy. It is our most precious possession. So in these whooshy whirlwind-of-life moments, I try to remember that, in a screeching-tire-smell-of-rubber brain moment. And I look down at what’s in front of me: oh yeah. Crock pot recipes.

I discovered the time-saving wonders of the crock pot a few years ago. I talked about how to get organized for a sit down meal in my Anatomy of a French four-course family meal, and the crock pot sure makes that much easier. Spend 20 minutes early in the day for a little prep, and when dinner time comes, serve and enjoy! You only have the vegetable starter to think about, like this one. Or this one.

This is my favorite crock pot recipes (this crock pot recipe book, by the way, is worth checking out, so many wonderful, easy yet fine cuisine recipes in it). This dish is so exotic tasting and delicious, makes great use of these spices you may have lying around in your cupboard. The meat is so tender, the sauce so “parfumée”, as the French would say, literally “perfumed”, meaning complex with many flavors and scents to it. Yet there really isn’t anything complicated about the recipe. It’s one of those dishes that gets a lot of “wows”, yet I never feel I should get much credit given the simplicity of it. Somehow the simple process of marrying these ingredients with time brings a wonderfully complex chemistry of flavors in the plate.

Hope you give it a try and the time of one scrumptious bite of this dish, your life can slow down just a little bit and precious seconds can be enjoyed for all they’re worth.

Oxtails Braised in Coconut Milk, with coconut Jasmine rice

Inspired from Art of the Slow Cooker by Andrew Schloss

Ages for babies: I would say 12 months and above, because of the myriad of spices and ingredients. The meat is very very tender and very easy to gum down for a baby with few teeth.

Serves 6

Prep time: 20 Min (Given the long list of ingredients, I recommend prepping and measuring all the ingredients first)
Cook time in crock pot: 4-5 hours on high, 8-10 hrs on low

1/4 cup flour
1 tsp of kosher salt or fleur de sel
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1/8 tsp ground allspice
6 large pieces of oxtails (12 oz each) – the author of the book says you could use veal or beef shanks if you couldn’t find oxtails, but I have not tried it.
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp of finely chopped ginger root
1 cup beef broth
3/4 cup fat free or light coconut milk
1 cup diced tomatoes, drained of their liquid as much as possible
1 cinnamon stick
6 cardamom pods
2 bay leaves
Some fresh cilantro for garnish

For the coconut rice:
2 cups of Jasmine rice
2/3 cup coconut milk
1 1/3 cup water

Mix the flour, salt, pepper, coriander, cumin and allspice in a medium mixing bowl. Roll the oxtails in the spiced flour mixture until they are coated on all sides. Remove and pat off excess spiced flour (reserving that spiced flour). Add the turmeric to the flour mixture and set aside.

In a deep skillet or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium high heat. Brown the oxtails on all sides, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to your crock pot.

Add the onion and carrots to the skillet and sauté over medium heat until brown, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for 30 seconds, stirring often. Add the reserved spiced flour mixture, and stir to coat the vegetables. Stir in the broth, coconut milk and tomato, and boil, stirring often, until the sauce is slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.

Tuck the cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, and bay leaves around the pieces of oxtail, and pour the sauce over the meat in the crock pot. Cover and cook for about 4-5 hours on high (or 8-10 hours on low).

About 20 Min before dinner, cook the rice with the proportions of water and coconut milk indicated above.

Serve some rice on a plate, place the oxtail on top and pour some sauce and carrots over the meat. Enjoy!

Cream of sardines mushrooms… & the art of being humbled

There are humbling experiences in life. Seeing the Grand Canyon. Admitting life has gotten the best of us
and asking for help. Witnessing true brilliance.

A

nd then, there’s taking a toddler to the snow for the first
time.

There’s parenthood, really.

 

I apologize for being away from this space for the past
week, and hope with all my heart it won’t happen again. Being back here feels a
bit like coming home. And it’s good to be here.

After overbooking myself with a huge work project that
chained me to my desk from morning to night, I was so excited to leave for 3
days of winter wonderland. Being a southern Californian for the past 15 years,
cold weather has become this sort of romantic fantasy of snow angels, warm
fires, hot cocoa, snowball fights and giggles on the slopes. And lovely hearty
meals, of course.

So along with the lovely fires and cocoas and snow play and
yummy cheesy potato dishes we did gratefully enjoy, there was a fair amount of backbreaking, sliding,
snowing, chain-installing, frustrating (anyone has a tutorial on how to put
snow gloves on a 21 months old who isn’t sure what his thumb is?) moments…

I’m sure I’m giving a good laugh to people in most of the
world who are very familiar with kids in cold weather. Part of me was laughing
at me too, as I was actually breaking into a sweat just putting Pablo in his
snowsuit. And by the time I actually had him covered from head to toe and he could
barely move, he was getting cranky and in no mood to try skiing. You get the idea…

Half-way through the weekend, I remembered the first day at
the zoo.

When Pablo was probably about 8 months, I took him to the zoo
for the first time. We were meeting a few other moms. I had planned everything
just right, and was ready for that perfect photo in front of the elephants, and
giggles at the monkeys. Long story short, a few long lines, missed meet-ups, naps
and diaper changes later, we ended up seeing a couple of pink flamingos and a
couple of parrots. And it was over.

Finding a way to be happy and thankful for that day, was
hard. Letting go was hard.

And those couple of days in the mountains were an intense exercise
in adapting to what the situation was throwing at me and making the best of it,
keeping in mind what was important (i.e. having a nice time together as a
family), while quickly mourning whatever expectations I didn’t even know I had.
I guess it could be called rolling with the punches.

This is such an essential skill I am in the process of
honing and which I have sorely lacked in the past. My 21 months old son is
teaching me this. I am humbled by him too, every day.

So yes, parenthood is humbling, in so many ways. What have you found humbling in your life?

Now for a not-so-smooth segue, here’s a recipe for one of
those nights you might need to roll with the punches.

We love canned sardines, they are healthy, delicious, easy. I
introduced them to Pablo around 8 months. They make a nice finger food. And on those
busy hectic nights, simply popping a can open can be a saving grace. I often serve
them just plain with a vegetable and rice or quinoa. A few months ago, I had also shared a sardine eggplant brandade recipe which we always enjoy.

When in France
last summer, I came across a small recipe book with nothing but recipes using
canned sardines. I’m finally sharing this yummy and easy little recipe from it. Its presentation is playful for kids, they can even help spooning the stuffing in the mushroom “hats”. And they make an awesome appetizer or lunch for grownups too. I hope
you enjoy it.

Mushrooms stuffed with cream of sardines

Adapted from “Sardines en boîte, les 30 recettes cultes” by Garlone Bardel

Age for babies: 8-10 months

Prep time: 15 min

Cook time: 25 min

4 Portobello mushrooms (or 12 white mushrooms)

1 can of sardines in olive oil, drained and fork-mashed

A handful of chives, chopped

1/2 bunch of Italian parsley, chopped

Preheat the oven at 350°F.

Rinse the mushrooms in running water, dry them, cut the stems off. Set aside.

Chop the mushroom stems finely.

In a large bowl, mix the ricotta, parmesan, sardines, chopped mushroom stems, chives, parsley, salt and pepper to taste.

Spoon the mixture in the mushroom caps.

Place the mushroom caps on parchment paper on a baking sheet, and bake for 25 minutes.

Serve warm. We served it with a mâche pea shoots goat cheese salad.