Marveling at rituals… and the artichoke

Even though artichoke bottoms (different from the artichoke hearts) are very good for baby purees at a young age, I must admit this is one vegetable I have been avoiding… It’s so much work! You have to boil it, peel all the leaves, then take out the “furry” part, to be then left with the small bottom, that saucer looking part. People compare the complexity of human character to peeling an onion, but I for one think we should switch that analogy to artichokes!

Only as an adult can you recognize all the trouble your parents went to in order to please you. As a kid, I only remember artichokes were fun because of the fork-under-the-plate ritual… The French commonly eat artichokes by dipping the leaves into vinaigrette. To facilitate this, you put your fork underneath the plate so the plate is tilted. The vinaigrette pools in the lower part, and the leaves to be eaten stay on the top part, without soaking in the dressing. Of course you pick up the leaves with your fingers, dip them in the vinaigrette, and rake the “meat” with your front teeth. And as one of those ingrained back-to-childhood links, as soon as I look at an artichoke, I picture that plate sitting on the fork.

Introducing Pablo to the artichoke and its ritual was a lot of fun. He certainly took to it, biting the leaves was perfect since he only has his front teeth. The bottom of the artichoke, diced, makes an excellent finger food. Or can be otherwise made into a puree.



In the process of documenting this photographically, I
realized just how beautiful and intricate an artichoke is! Every time you peel
one part, another color, or texture appears. How does nature come up with this
stuff?

Artichoke with vinaigrette

Age: Artichoke puree can be given at 6 months; as a finger food, around 8 months.

Health benefits: High in antioxidants and fiber, good for the liver and digestion, contains potassium, vitamin C and folic acid.

2 artichokes
Olive oil
Juice of a lemon

Cut off the foot of the artichoke, and put it in boiling water, covered, for about 30 minutes. Let it cool.

Peel off the leaves to be eaten dipped in vinaigrette.

Take out the furry part, and you are left with the bottom, to be diced or pureed.

Baby vinaigrette: Simply mix 2 tbsp of olive oil with the juice of half a lemon, add a bit of salt and pepper (optional).

Option 1: Cut it up to serve to baby as finger food (with or without vinaigrette)

Option 2: Make a puree. Steam ½ potato, mix it together with 2 artichoke bottoms. Should make about 2x 2 oz portions.

Other puree possibilities:

Artichoke-green beans puree (6 months and up): Steam a handful of green beans for about 10 minutes. Mix with one cooked artichoke bottom, and some milk to desired consistency.

Artichoke, peas & tomato puree (12 months and up): Steam ½ cup of frozen peas for about 15 minutes. Put 1 medium tomato in boiling water for 4 minutes. Peel the tomato. Mix together the steamed peas, tomato and artichoke bottom, add some milk to desired consistency.

Herb pairing for purees: Italian parsley, basil.

An artichoke custard… and hard simple wants

On an exhausted late evening, I browse through Pinterest,
and look at streamlined, minimalistic interiors, unencumbered kitchens. I pin.
I look around me at the piles of things to deal with on my desk. Piles of
things to deal with in my head.

I fantasize about life on a farm. Going back to nature. Back
to a simpler life.

Simpler, meaning what? More real. More beautiful and joyful. Less busy, more focused. All that and more. A tall, but worthy order.

Why is it so difficult to achieve simplicity?

It occurs to me that there’s nothing easy about it. It’s a different
kind of hard. Rather, it is our convoluted lives that seem very easy to slip into. But
they create so much waste, don’t they? Details, fears, attempts to control, to
predict, to please.

So what does the desire for simplicity mean to me, exactly? I know
I have been attracted to the idea of going back to the basics. Back to real
& simple things, foods, emotions, relationships. We want to go back. So did we start out this way? Have
our convoluted lives led us astray from what really matters?

What is

it that I
want, when I tell myself I want simplicity? Here’s what I came up with so far.

I want clarity. About what matters in life, what life
is really about, about my needs, wants, how to fulfill them. My regrets, sorrows, how
to process them.

I want

essential things to be in the forefront of my
life
. It is very frustrating to feel like we know what is essential in our
life, and yet not be able to devote it enough time, while other menial,
unessential things take up most of our time.

I want to favor the experiential over the material. I
would rather tour the world than own a house. I would rather do than have. I’ll
take a great meal over a pair of shoes any day.

I want to be grounded. Or rather find balance, of mind and
body. Of self and the world. Of head and ground. I breathe, therefore I
think. 

I want to let go of a lot of things I can’t control, of
unanswered questions. Lay them to rest. For now. The power to unburden myself.

I want to be a fusion, of past, present and future.

Wow. Now that I think, and write of it, I guess simplicity is
pretty freakin’ complex.

It takes some qualities I sometimes lack.

Patience and
trust
. With and in ourselves, our processes.

Courage. To go outside of our
comfort zone, to let go of easy for the sake of beauty, to face Pandora’s
Box which sorting through and simplifying may unleash.

Inner strength. To keep
standing free.

I’m getting better at all that, mostly. I guess these qualities need
to be practiced, honed.

It’s a great conundrum. The simultaneous realization of the equally crucial
need to achieve simplicity and to grasp human complexity, as two sides of one coin. The
key to living a life that I may look back on with a warm heart, when I’m an old
woman. To living a day that I may look back on with a warm heart, the following day.

Maybe that’s it.

To live each day so I
may look back on it with a warm heart the following day.
That’s simple enough. I can do that.

So I wanted to tell you about that day with the crème
d’artichaud
.
The artichoke custard. A simple dish, of artichoke and eggs. Yet so delightful.

The artichoke is actually a nice metaphor for that day. It’s
beautiful. Simple and complex. You boil it. You peel all its leaves, some of
them prickly, some of them soft. You get to the bottom, and its furry cocoon. You
get past that, and you have it. The essence of artichoke that makes it all worth
it.

This was a morning where I could forget my office and
enjoy the kitchen. Our friend D was coming for the day; she’s my favorite
recipe guinea pig. She quite enjoys the job too. Our days with her are sun-kissed,
full of play, laughter, silliness, dance, dog play and mud play, cooking and
eating, expensive cheese and cheap wine.

There was beauty in that day, of
souls, of carefree joy, of meaningful connection between generations and beings.
Later, I got weighed down by worries, a bit impatient, a bit irritated. I
acknowledged it, it helped a little. I took some comfort in the help and
support of loved ones, in feeling sad when I needed to. Sadness is grounding. It’s
experiencing loss in the moment.

In the end, simple togetherness was the bottom
of that artichoke of a day.

So food metaphors aside, simplicity is hard. It’s
a work in progress. My desk and counters are still cluttered. It often feels
like my life is too. And I’m not too fond of sorting through. But no matter.
Because that day, I look back on with a warm heart.

And I wish you many of those
days, with or sans artic

Artichoke custards

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

Makes 4-5 individual ramekins

Prep time: 20 mn
Cook time: 50 mn

Age for babies: 10-12 months because of whole milk and whole egg.

*Vegetable custards are a GREAT way to introduce new vegetable and herb flavors to children, they’re easy to eat and creamy. Check out my savory herb custard here.

4 large artichokes
1 3/4 cup whole milk
2 egg yolks
1 whole egg
Pinch of salt
Pinch of piment d’Espelette (optional)
Pinch of nutmeg

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Wash the artichokes under cool running water, cut the stem at the edge of the leaves. Put them in boiling water and let simmer over medium-low heat for 30 minutes.

Drain the artichokes and let them cool enough to be able to take out all the leaves and the fur, and be left with the 4 bottoms.

(Keep the leaves as a great appetizer, dipped in a shallot vinaigrette, as described here.)

Preheat the oven at 350°F. Place a deep baking pan (large enough to contain the ramekins, use two if needed) filled with hot water (this is the water bath).

Over medium heat, bring the milk to a near boil. Place the artichoke bottoms and hot milk in a blender and puree until smooth (it will be very liquidy). Pour in a large bowl (with a spout if you have one).

In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the whole egg, adding a pinch of salt, of piment d’Espelette and nutmeg.

Add the egg mixture to the artichoke/milk mixture and whisk together. Taste and add salt to taste.

Pour the custard into each ramekin, and place the ramekins in the water bath in the oven. (The water level should be halfway up the ramekin or a bit more).

Cook for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool. Great served at room temperature or slightly warm.

We served with a pea shoot & mâche salad with an orange juice dressing (1 tbsp OJ, 1 tbsp white wine vinegar, 1 tsp mustard, 5 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp walnut oil, salt and pepper).

Veggies can be sexy too… artichoke, parsley & an egg

Children can teach us so much and vastly improve our lives. Being with Pablo has taught me how to be fully engaged in the present, how to appreciate the process of things without impatience, how to marvel at the amazing power of human connection. And thanks to him, we’re also motivated to eat wholesome, delicious and healthy foods day in and day out.

Now that Pablo is 15 months old, I’m doing less and less purees and have to come up with creative and yummy ways for the whole family to eat a lot of vegetables. He has been exposed to pretty much every vegetable I could think of since he’s five months old and really enjoys their flavor, so it’s now up to me to live up to that appreciation by offering vegetable dishes that are actually good. Steamed and boiled plain vegetables can be dreary, and as I was going through a book we got at Christmas called The Food of Spain by Claudia Roden, I realized the Spanish really know how to make their veggies look – and taste – sexy! Stuffed peppers, marinated mushrooms… and of course, the gazpacho, among many others.
I found this recipe using parsley and artichoke bottoms, and even though I find artichoke somewhat daunting to prepare (not a last minute kind of veggie), this recipe made me a convert: it is worth the trouble! Just because it’s fun to combine food rituals, we served it with a soft boiled egg and parsley mouillettes (strips of bread, usually buttered, you dip into the egg yolk – a ritual & tradition French kids adore), and of course chewing on the artichoke leaves with vinaigrette. Let me just tell you: it was finger-lickin’ good! It’s so great to be able to say that about something else than fried chicken! Pablo simply devoured it (I think chewing on the artichoke leaves was therapeutic for the teething as well.) It just felt so wonderful to have such a healthy meal be so scrumptious.

Artichoke bottoms with green sauce

Inspired from “The Food of Spain” by Claudia Roden

Age: 8-10 months, maybe before, if your child has previously tasted all the ingredients (for allergies.)

Health benefits: Artichoke is an amazingly nutritious food, with antioxidants and fiber, great for the liver & digestion. Parsley has vitamin C, A, K & antioxidants, among many nutrients.

Serves 4

4 large artichokes
1/2 slice of white bread, crust removed
2 garlic cloves
2-3 tbsp olive oil (for frying the bread) + 3 tbsp (for the mixture)
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1/2 to 3/4 cup chopped Italian parsley (only leaves, no stems)

Wash the artichokes and cut off the ends of the stems. Plunge them in boiling water, cover and cook until tender, about 25 mn. (If the leaves can be pulled easily, it’s done.)

Fry the bread and whole garlic cloves in olive oil over medium heat, until brown all over. Drain on a paper towel.

Place the bread and garlic in a food processor, add the vinegar, parsley and olive oil. Blend until you obtain a creamy sauce. (Add a little olive oil if it’s not creamy enough).

Once the artichokes are cooked, drain and let cool. Then pull off all the leaves, to be eaten with vinaigrette as appetizer, as described here.

Carefully pull off the “fur” to get to the bottom… of the artichoke 😉

Scoop some parsley mixture in the artichoke bottom and serve at room temperature.

Serving suggestion:

With a soft boiled egg (3 mn in boiling water) and the classic French “mouillettes”, spread with some of the remaining parsley mixture. Dip away!

Note: for Pablo, the texture of the bottom was a little too crunchy, so I pureed it (grossly) with the parsley mixture and he ate it right up!