For the love of figs…

Since we will be in Greece in a couple of days, I guess Pablo’s menu this week will consist of a lot of his favorite things: tomatoes, feta, cucumber, olives, lamb, squid, bread & olive oil… and possibly FIGS.

To set us off on the right foot for this journey, our dear friend Minou invited us to join her and her dogs for an afternoon of fig picking, fig cooking and eating. And that we did…

This morning, the song “All we need is love” came on as I was watching my son play, and point, and babble and explore his little world. Watching him, thinking of how complicated life can be, of the time some lessons take to learn, the naivete of that song struck me. For as much as I appreciate the sentiment the song conveys, that sense of “yeah, I guess it all boils down to that”, my experience so far has been that it just isn’t so. We need way more than love, though I suppose it is the very first thing we need. Just like in cooking, love is the first of the ingredients, but a great many other things go into a dish for it to make our taste buds, tummies and souls feel good.

Contemplating the complexities of life for a few seconds made me even more thankful for all the very loving people we have, those in our life here, and those we will share joyful moments with on our journey. One of the people I am most thankful for, is our wonderful Minou. Friend, aunt, sister, godmother, confidante, cheerleader, supporter, listener, laugh partner, tear partner, dance partner, dog whisperer and beloved Minou. For the many joyful moments spent together, so many of them around lunches and dinners, merci.

Today, around figs picked from her tree, we talked and laughed. We cooked. Oh and of course, we ate too.

From this day, I’d like to share two wonderful fig recipes. A fig, feta & mint salad which possibly creates the perfect bite with a combination of sweet, savory & tart and a great contrast of textures.

Then I went on to experiment with a sweet-savory fig tatin with Manchego cheese, which we savored with some slices of prosciutto San Daniele.

Here’s to eating well, living well and loving well.

Fig, feta & mint salad

Age for babies: 8-10 months, cut up in small pieces, feta and figs make nice finger foods, and it’s a good way to expose them to mint.

Serves 4

2 medium blocks of sheep’s milk Feta cheese
12 figs, washed and quartered
A handful of mint leaves, washed
Olive oil
Fresh ground pepper

Place the two blocks of Feta on a platter. Place the quartered figs on and around them.

Using scissors, cut the mint leaves and spread over the Feta and figs.

Drizzle with olive oil, and some fresh ground pepper.

Fig tatin with rosemary & Manchego

Age for baby: 10-12 months, cut up as finger food at first.

Serves 4

1 frozen puff pastry sheet*
12 figs, washed and cut in half
6 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 sprig of rosemary
3 oz of Manchego, in thin slices
Olive oil / Rosemary infused olive oil
Fresh ground pepper

Preheat the oven at 375°F.

With a rolling pin and a little flour, flatten your puff pastry so that it is bigger than the pie pan you will use.

Sauté the figs, skin side up, in a large frying pan with some rosemary-infused olive oil for about 3 minutes, sprinkling some fresh ground pepper over them. Remove from heat and set aside.

Pour the balsamic vinegar in the frying pan, adding some fresh rosemary, and cook on low heat until it becomes syrupy, a few minutes (you should end up with about 3 tbsp). Remove from heat.

Butter a round pie pan. Pour the balsamic reduction in. Place the figs, skin side up. Add the Manchego slices.

Cover the pie pan with the puff pastry, tucking the dough on the sides inside the pie pan.

Bake for about 35 Min. Let cool to lukewarm, and then turn it over onto a plate for serving.

Serve with some slices of prosciutto.

*Being French, I am somewhat ashamed to admit that making puff pastry from scratch really scares me. I will probably get to it some day… In the meantime, I use the pre-made puff pastry sold frozen here. (The French actually commonly use pre-made puff pastry, readily available in all supermarkets). All you have to do is leave it out for about 15 minutes, then unfold it onto some flour and let it sit a few more minutes, until soft enough to be manipulated and worked with the rolling pin.

Baked eggplant, figs & goat cheese… & the meaning of sharing

I’ve made this analogy here before, but I often think of parenting as blindly planting wild seeds in a garden, and waiting to see how and when they will grow into something. I don’t think we teach our children so much as we are their model. The seeds contain all the complexity of our behavior,demeanor, focus and interests as parents. We can’t just will the fruit into being. We must plant, nurture and patiently wait. 

When it comes, the fruit is all the sweeter. 

And such a precious fruit is ripening within Pablo right now.

Pablo has started to share food. I mean that at every meal or picnic, he makes a point of taking some of the food in the main serving platter, and makes sure that everyone is served. He wants to give a piece of the  pie gratin, or salad, or cheese, as the case may be, to each person at the table. He does this as a task of importance and seriousness.

I am really of the mind that there’s no such thing as teaching sharing, and that making children share (especially infants and toddlers) teaches them absolutely nothing (except that sharing is an annoying but apparently necessary part of life). Sharing is sharing only if it’s completely spontaneous and voluntary, if it comes from the heart. The art of sharing is truly one of those fruits that grow unexpectedly, when you model it and let it happen naturally.

Unexpectedly indeed, for I hadn’t realized, that each time we sat down together at the table to share a meal, every time we shared the same dish we all ate, every time I offered Pablo to taste something from my plate at a restaurant, every time we cooked for the whole family, we were unconsciously modeling sharing. And Pablo assimilated it in this intrinsic way, so that it seems completely natural to him that everyone at the table should get their share so we can all eat together. 

I guess my point is this: a child will learn so much more about the real meaning of sharing by having a home cooked family meal, than by being forced to share his most prized possession. 

And with or without children, sharing a home-cooked meal with loved ones is such a deeply communal and connective experience. It is an active act of sharing and togetherness (no wonder Michael Pollan says “the family meal is the nursery of democracy”.)

I keep talking about life lessons at the table and in the kitchen. And wow, these lessons just keep appearing before my eyes, yielding my amazement and gratitude.

This is one of those very seasonal, extremely easy, delicious melt-in-your-mouth recipes with all the flavors of late summer. I hope you will enjoy sharing it with people you cherish.

Oh, and since we’re in a sharing kind of mood here :-), below the recipe is our weekly menu. Hope it can spark some ideas for your family.

Baked eggplant, with figs, cherry tomatoes & goat cheese

Serves 2-3

Prep time: 10 min

Cook time: 35-40 min

Age for babies: 10-12 months (though simple roasted eggplant with some goat cheese could be given from about 8 months)

1 eggplant

Olive oil

1/2 cup cherry tomatoes

8 small figs

Pepper

Preheat the oven at 400°F.

Wash the eggplant, cut off the top, and slice lengthwise.

Make incisions through the flesh but not the skin with a knife (three in each direction). Brush with olive oil.

Place in baking pan on parchment paper, flesh side down (skin up).

Bake for about 20-25 min. The skin will start to shrivel a little.

In the meantime, wash and half the figs and tomatoes.

Take the eggplant out of the oven, and set your oven to broiler.

Turn the eggplant halves over, place the figs and tomatoes on top. Place pieces of the goat cheese on top. 

Sprinkle with fresh ground pepper.

Place in the broiler for about 10-12 min, until the cheese is melted and golden.

Serve while hot! Bon appétit!

On to the week’s menu:

Cheeses of the week: Following French tradition, I always offer a little bit of cheese at the end of every meal, between the main course and dessert. Rotation this week: Danish blue cheese, Port Salut (cow cheese), goat brie and Petit Basque (sheep).

DessertsAt lunch, I offer a fruit yogurt (or plain yogurt with fresh fruit), but at night, I prefer sticking to plain yogurt (regular homemade* whole milk, sheep’s milk, goat’s milk and Greek yogurt for extra protein) to avoid too much sugar before bedtime.

If you would like a particular recipe on the menu, feel free to contact me! (I marked with a * the recipes that will be the topic of upcoming posts).


MONDAY

Lunch – Picnic at the park
Cucumber, hearts of palm, cherry tomatoes, cold chicken, avocado, goat cheese, grapes and cherries

Goûter (4pm snack) – Mango

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Baked eggplant with figs and goat cheese (above!)
Main course: Oven roasted pork tenderloin in mustard sauce, with blue potatoes

TUESDAY

Lunch – Picnic at the park again
Green beans, cauliflower, blue potato salad + roast beef + Babybel cheese, plums & cherries

Goûter – Peach

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Authentic Greek salad
Main course: Duck breasts with braised radishes and cherries*

WEDNESDAY

Lunch at the park 
Cold pea & herb salad, cherry tomatoes, ham, goat gouda, nectarine

Goûter – Nectarine

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: French radishes with salt & butter
Main course: Quails eggs en cocotte with smoked salmon, leek and zucchini from La Tartine Gourmande (this was so spectacular I can’t wait to make it again!)

THURSDAY

Lunch
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Grated carrots with orange juice dressing
Main course: Mushroom caps stuffed with cream of sardines

Goûter – Passion fruit

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Golden beet warm goat cheese salad
Main course: Pan-fried creamy turkey breasts with summer vegetables in parchment from Just One Cookbook

FRIDAY

Lunch
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Green asparagus with vinaigrette
Main course: Sauteed shrimp with lime and coconut quinoa

Goûter – Peach

Dinner 
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Cucumber salad with creamy yogurt tarragon dressing
Main course: Trying this tomato cobbler from Food Loves Writing, soft boiled egg

SATURDAY

Lunch
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Tomato, basil & onion salad
Main course: Steak tartare, butter lettuce with fresh herbs

Goûter – Plum

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Artichoke custard
Main course: Clams in fennel shallot broth from Cannelle & Vanille

SUNDAY

Lunch OUT


Goûter – Cherries

Dinner
Appetizer / Finger Foods: Corn coconut chowder
Main course: Caramelized fennel, goat cheese, kale clafoutis (crustless quiche)