Asparagus… or the meaning of food

Food is so many things. It is nourishment. It is connection with others, with the earth, with our bodies. And food is childhood. Deep in the learning curve of this blogging endeavor, my brain is all widgets and gadgets and html and links these days (when I’m not obsessing over how to best photograph an artichoke).  And it occurred to me there was this strange link between certain foods and childhood memories. You think of a food, and click, you’re back in your mother’s kitchen, with its smells, its feel. Not just a cerebral memory, a very visceral one. Well, when I see white asparagus, click, my brain goes right back to Sunday lunches at my mother’s apartment. The spring. The cool weather. The radishes. The cream sauce.

Marcel Proust wrote a vastly more eloquent version of this idea in In Search of Lost Time, in the famous Madeleine scene, where taking a bite out of the little French cakes brings him back to his childhood:



“[…] When from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.”


(I found this translated quote here, where you will also find a more extended version of the scene)

I just love the idea that taste and smell are “souls”… I suppose my goal is to be creating lots of originating links in Pablo’s brain when cooking for him, imprinting tastes and smells he will click back to, later in life. A way to leave a mark as a parent, strangely.

So Proust had Madeleines, and I have (among other things) asparagus. White asparagus, to be precise. Yes, I know. They make your pee smell weird. But their flavor and texture are so unique (and so different from their green cousin). My mother prepared them lukewarm, in a creamy sauce. With fresh tarragon.

I have adapted my mother’s recipe for Pablo (and us as well), to make it on the healthier side, using sheep’s milk yogurt instead of cream.

It makes a great finger food (a bit messy with the creamy sauce… but messy is the word of the hour… or year). And it is a wonderful opportunity to familiarize baby with the flavor of tarragon. I cannot think of a happier (tastier) place for tarragon to be!

The contrast between the warm asparagus and cold cream sauce is something interesting and new for baby, and the texture of white asparagus is very unique as well. It’s healthy, tasty and pretty to look at… Nourishment and sensory experience, two for the price of one!

 

White asparagus tips with tarragon sauce

Age: I offered asparagus tips (white or green) as a puree, boiled and mixed with potato around 6 months. As a finger food, I offered them plain (boiled, not steamed, so they’re less bitter) around 8 months, and with the yogurt sauce around 9-10 months.

A bunch of white asparagus

2 tbsp of plain sheep’s milk yogurt (Bellwether farms has a very creamy kind)

Some lemon juice

A pinch of salt

Fresh tarragon

Peel the asparagus: Cut off the foot of the stem, and with a small knife, remove the shiny film covering the bottom two thirds of the asparagus (not going all the way to the tip, see picture above.)

Put the asparagus in boiling water for about 12-14 minutes. Use a knife to make sure they’re done, when they’re very soft.

Deposit the asparagus on a paper towel to absorb the moisture. Let cool to lukewarm.

(Or reheat if you want to refrigerate and eat later).

Yogurt sauce: Mix the sheep’s milk yogurt, lemon and salt (adjust quantities to taste, though go very easy on the salt for baby). Cut up the leaves of tarragon with scissors, to make their fragrance and flavor come out, and stir into the creamy sauce.

Cut the very tips of the warm asparagus for baby (they’re less stringy, keep the rest for the grown-ups!) and pour some of the creamy sauce over them.

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Simple chocolate pudding…

First things first: happy spring everyone! It’s official, t’is the season of rebirth, and I for one, am excited about it. Secondly, a bit of “spring” housekeeping, I have finally posted a couple of new pages which I hope will be helpful… 

– A new FAQ page, with various questions I have received from readers and my answers.

Now… (deep breath, it’s a long one…) 

This article written by Yoni Freedhoff, MD, called “Why is everyone giving my kids junk food?” was recently brought to my attention, and
several people have asked me (and I have been asking myself!) how I would deal
with the onslaught of junk food out there in the world towards our children,
whether at school, at birthday parties, playdates or at any other kid events
and venues. 
I have been baffled to encounter this even as early as now (Pablo is
22 months), in a toddler art class, as I shared previously. From the looks
of it, it’s going to happen a lot more in
the coming years. This is certainly a dilemma I never expected, which French
parents mostly don’t have to deal with. Without overgeneralizing, I can say
that it is widely accepted in France that you do not eat between meals or snack indiscriminately throughout the day,
that children will eat vegetables and
have a balanced diet and not eat n’importe
quoi.
(An expression particularly hard to translate into English, used to
designate things done without care or attention or reason.) So French parents don’t have to have that impulse I think a lot of us have (given the response to that article, there are quite a lot of parents in this boat), to protect our children from the world and the “assault”of junk food given everywhere.  And
actually, I wouldn’t be too happy about not just junk food, but also snacks and
juices, however “healthy” they may be, given at any occasion outside of meal
times. (And I do have the somewhat convenient excuse to give to other adults in these circumstances, that being French, we don’t do that; the cultural explanation has sometimes been my easy way out, I must admit.)
The author did a good follow-up article on helpful ways to deal with the institutions or people that might be giving the junk food, which I highly recommend. And the good news is, more and more parents in the US (and perhaps other countries where this might be happening?) have objections to it, and so I think the seeds of change have been planted in that area… 

That said, how will I deal with this, with Pablo, in the coming years?

Well… I’ve decided I’m going to do my very best to trust him.

The fact is, our children don’t live in a bubble. They will
be confronted with all kinds of undesirables throughout their childhood and life, that are
out of our control, whether it’s the food they’re offered, or the entertainment
they’re offered, or disrespectful children and adults they may encounter…
That’s life, isn’t it? 

We can’t remove all the undesirables. But we can prepare them to deal with them (and potentially learn from them). We can’t fight all of our children’s battles for them. And I don’t
think that we should. My goal is to raise a resilient human being, who feels
capable of sound judgment, capable of going through the process of dealing with
the world, capable of developing a filter, his own filter, before doing
something. And as hard as it can sometimes be for me, I am committed to let my
child experience trial and error. I feel I would otherwise be robbing him of a valuable learning opportunity.

BUT… we can lay the groundwork.

The first couple of years of life are so crucial this way
(though I do believe you can do it with older children or adults too, it’s
never too late, perhaps just a little bit more challenging). And so here are some of the things we are doing now, and have been doing ever since we begun this journey of Pablo’s education of taste, which will hopefully help him make better decisions later on.

1. Nurture his ability to listen to his own body

I find this fascinating about babies and toddlers. This is an ability I envy
very much, and which I’m relearning with my son. As a teenager, I definitely
went into emotional eating to fill some voids and gaps in my life, and it’s
taken years (still a work in progress) to become attuned to my body again and
regain a healthy relationship with food. Young children do know how to listen
to their body. And I am convinced that if we provide the right environment or
context to nurture that ability, it will grow and stay with them. They know
when they’ve had enough to eat. Basically young children can hear their body
loud and clear, provided there is no
interference,
from us. They even know what
foods their body needs. And
we want them to keep listening – to themselves. That’s why I steer away from
any emotional association to food (no, “one last bite to please mommy”, no
“come have a cookie to make you feel better”, no “no dessert if you don’t
behave”, you get the idea…) If he lets me know he no longer wants to eat, I
comply. I also let him feed himself as much as possible, so he knows he is in charge of his intake.

I have found that the 4 meals a day structure with no
additional, on demand snacks, as well as eating slowly and in courses teaches delayed gratification. And it helps
differentiate between the “desire to eat” vs. actual hunger.  If we give a snack to a child every time he
“feels like eating”, whether truly hungry or not, they don’t get to really sense hunger (I’m talking reasonable
hunger here, not starvation obviously.) Just before mealtime, Pablo is
definitely hungry (which is why he eats so well, and gobbles with amazing
appetite his watercress soup and boiled leeks in vinaigrette under my proud eye
;-)) He has an awareness of his body
telling him it needs some nourishment. The experience of that bodily sensation, in part due to delayed gratification, I think contributes to keeping this symbiotic
relationship between mind and body. (I have actually experienced this myself as an adult.)

2. Prevent emotional eating later on

In a much broader sense,
insuring a healthy secure attachment to our children (I found much wisdom in author Daniel Siegel’s work, as well as in RIE and Janet Lansbury’s work in that area) also makes it possible for
them to listen to their body, to learn from the world, and develop a sound body
and mind.  I found in my own experience, that emotional eating can come from a void in that area. And attachment issues certainly have been known to affect a child’s way of dealing with peer pressure, which can come into play when it comes to eating junk food.
Ideally, food isn’t a tool, a means,
emotionally speaking. For reassurance, for comfort. Yes, it a means of
nourishment obviously, but I think it should be considered an end in itself. This way, it is separate from other activities,
which we do also as ends in themselves (more on this here). We eat because
it is a pleasurable experience and an opportunity to connect with our loved ones.

3. Avoid GUILT like the plague

One  instance where I have seen older children “binge”
on sweets or junk foods at parties, is because they feel they should do it
while they can, as a product of frustration. And then the whole guilt
vicious circle kicks in, which tends to stay with us through adulthood. I have
talked about this telling study I read in Karen Le Billon’s French Kids Eat Everything of most
Americans’ response to the picture of a chocolate cake, vs. most French
people’s reaction: Americans think “calories” and “guilt”, the French think
“pleasure”, “celebration”. I find this so
revealing.  Nothing like guilt and
dieting to make you want to inhale a whole chocolate cake or pint of ice
cream!  
The French tend to talk much
more about a balanced diet, than a healthy diet, they talk about “paying attention” to what they eat, vs.
dieting or self-depriving.
French children definitely enjoy sweets or savory treats, and mostly, I
think they do so guilt-free. Snack time (430p ish) is usually the opportunity
to have a sweet treat, for example, a piece of cake, a pastry even, something
of their choice usually. It makes those treats, in moderation, commonplace, no big deal, not something to pine for
and gorge on at the first opportunity. A lot of French families bake together
with children on weekends, and the cake is kept for snack time, creating a
wonderful sense of anticipation, and creating a pleasurable experience.

The
French would also let their kids have things like a few pieces of candy, French
fries, some potato chips or cheese crackers, a soda or juice, on special occasions, on vacations, for the occasional apéritif (pre-dinner snacks and drinks usually offered to guests at a dinner party, to munch on before sitting at the dinner table.) So instead of creating guilt around those things, they create a sense of
pleasure, celebration, and moderation at the same time. A sense that these
things are special, to be enjoyed
thoroughly – which is a nice little lesson in the enjoyment of the present
moment as well. Guilt-free.

That will absolutely be my strategy with Pablo, while emphasizing
enjoyment, the “special” factor, moderation, the need for balance. I don’t want to instill in Pablo a sense of guilt every time he has, or wants a “treat”. The fact is, there are times where we all feel like eating something, even though we may not be hungry. Denying that is futile. Acknowledgement, enjoyment and moderation are key.

4. Explain it to him

That each family has their way, that we don’t snack
indiscriminately so we better enjoy meals together. I have done this already. At 20 months,
he understood that we didn’t eat the popcorn offered in art class because we’re
going to eat lunch soon, and it’s going to be delicious and we don’t want to
spoil our appetite. Basically, let’s wait
for something better.
(And I guess a prerequisite for that, is that lunch is in fact better, i.e. that we eat
well, things that are really good and enjoyable and flavorful. That argument
might be less convincing if we were going home to eat boiled broccoli with dry
chicken.) Which brings me to my next point…

5. Show him how good, good food can be

Meaning, cooking delicious meals, making the food taste
good. And this is a commitment, for sure. A lot of people have told me they
just don’t have the time, and absolutely, this is a significant time, and to a certain
extent, financial commitment: to buy quality products, variety, to spend the
time to cook them in different ways.

6. Be a model

Really, this is the most important way in which our children
learn anything. They’re watching us, all the time. If we snack all throughout
the day, yoyo diet, binge on junk food and then deprive ourselves of
everything  (all things I have done in
the past, before I had Pablo), then that’s the model we give our children. In
our family, we have really found a balance which I’m happy with as a model for
Pablo:  we eat well during mealtimes, do not eat
between meals, we rarely have junk food, we splurge on little treats once in a
while, in moderation, and this guilt-free, thoroughly enjoyable way to eat has,
quite simply, improved the quality of our life.

Well, if you’ve made this far into the post (sorry, it’s a bear!) you deserve a sweet treat… (Oh, sorry, we don’t use food as rewards, forget that then ;-)) I have recently made chocolate pudding for Pablo’s “goûter”, inspired by a type of pudding I used to love as a child in France, named Danette (a household brand name in France). You have gathered, I’m sure, from some of these images, that Pablo enjoyed it thoroughly!

This is very easy to make, and incidentally, it has the same
quantity of sugar as a fruit compote, if not a little less. Chocolate has many
health benefits as well (cocoa is high in magnesium, potassium, zinc, iron…), and French children eat it in
moderation, guilt-free, especially at snack time.

Chocolate pudding (homemade “Danette”)

Serves 6

Prep time: 10 mn (+ rest time in the fridge 2 hrs or more)
Cook time: 5 mn

Age for babies: 12 months and up

2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup quinoa flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup organic cocoa powder (unsweetened, non-alkaline)

In a pan (but not over heat yet), combine the flour, sugar and cocoa powder. Incorporate the cold milk, whisking vigorously (still no heat). Now turn on heat on medium and bring to a boil, whisking constantly. As soon as it boils, remove from heat, and keep stirring, until thicker (it comes to the consistency of yogurt, or maybe a little bit less thick). 

Place in individual ramekins or a larger bowl, cover with plastic, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving. Stir before serving. (It can keep in the fridge for 3-4 days.)

I served it to Pablo (I had some too!) with a couple of Petit Beurre cookies (basically simple butter biscuits).

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.)

Salmon-wrapped leeks au gratin… and 7 reasons why Pablo loves good food

Steering away from my philosophical ramblings a bit here… onto parenting ramblings! As Pablo is hitting that challenging age of the “terrible twos”, which actually are known to start around 18 months, I wanted to give a little recap on where he’s at with his “education of taste” so far.

Generally speaking, he’s at the stage where we hear a whole lot of “non” (French style of course!) throughout the day, there’s a lot of testing of boundaries, of button-pushing, a lot of curiosity about how far a power struggle can really go… A fascinating process really, especially if you look at it like a scientist making chemistry experiments. That seems to be the way Pablo looks at it, intrigued at what he can do, what he can get away with, what power he can have over others (annoying them, making them upset, or happy, etc.) That being said, that power can be scary to a toddler, so that’s when those reassuring boundaries come in.

A recent challenge was when Pablo discovered one of his many superpowers: taking off his bib in the middle of the meal. I had originally established a rule that we must wear a bib and sit in the high chair to eat. When he discovered I was annoyed when he was taking off his bib, he started doing it repeatedly, very early in the meal, and would push me into a power struggle. I fell in that trap a couple of times, and then realized the error of my way. A power struggle was making the situation worse, AND it was ruining my meal (a sacrilege to the French!) as I would get upset. And he wouldn’t eat anymore anyway. So I thought, OK, just go with a simple, calm consequence. So the next time he took off his bib mid-meal, I said nonchalantly, “Ok, you are done with eating? Fine by me.” (If he’s hungry, he’ll eat better at the next meal…) And I let him leave the table, while we continued to eat our meal. The first couple of times I did this, he was pretty surprised, and hung out near us, trying to get our attention. After about 4 times, he stopped taking of his bib during the meal. Now, at the end of the meal, he points to it saying “maman” with his sweet voice and signing “please”, to ask if he can take off his bib, I ask him if he’s finished eating, and if he’s not, we go on with the meal. If he is, so be it. Let me tell you I was relieved this worked! I guess both Pablo and I learned a valuable lesson on that one…

The really good thing here though, is that Pablo remains an excellent eater, happily eating lots of different vegetables (and other foods) at every meal. He has not focalized his testing and resistance to boundaries over the actual food he eats. And I do think that is, at least in part, because of the “toolbox” of strategies I’ve followed since day one of solid foods (around 4 1/2 months), and some of the positive food associations I have tried to nurture. So I wanted to share some of those strategies here, in case someone might find them useful… In no particular order:

1. Variety, novelty, curiosity

Introducing as many different kinds of foods, vegetables, herbs and spices from the very start. By 18 months, there were very few things Pablo hadn’t already eaten. Also trying new foods has become a habit for him, nothing unusual about it (we still try new dishes on a regular basis). I always make sure he tries, and I make tasting something new playful and fun, by being silly with it, telling him it will tickle his mouth (and his curiosity, and hopefully his fancy!). The point is to make it an exciting fun experience.

2. No assumptions, keep the faith

When he seems to reject a food (spitting it out), I remain nonchalant about it, and reoffer it several times over the following weeks, confident that he will most likely enjoy it eventually. There’s nothing so far he has consistently rejected. I have noticed many times it’s not that he doesn’t like the food, but rather that he feels like eating something else on his plate. And sometimes he will chew a food, and then spit it out, which tells me he probably likes the taste, but is unfamiliar with the texture. (This happened with endive salad, he used to chew and spit. But instead of concluding he didn’t like it, I kept giving him a few pieces when we would eat them, and he now swallows the whole thing. Took him a while to become familiar and comfortable with the texture.)

3. No “one more for Mommy”

I have made a big effort to avoid any emotional association to food, except that it’s a pleasurable sharing experience. I try not to offer him food to comfort him, or reward him in any way. Also we try to never imply that he should eat to please us (if we did, what happens the day he specifically wants to displease us?), hence the no “one more for mommy” rule. Trying to remember that young children are in tune with their body and what it needs, if we let them listen to their body – which also led to…

4. Baby’s boss… of his body

Letting him decide when he’s had enough (and letting him feed himself as much as possible). I offer a variety, he chooses how much he wants to eat, as I always feel confident that he can make up for a lighter meal at the next meal. I found he really enjoys having a couple of different things on his plate, and pick one, then another, discerning the difference. Probably helps build a positive association between food and a feeling of independence and self-confidence, too.

5. Eating together

We do eat together as a family 95% of the time, and we all eat the same thing (following the French four-course meal format). Eating is a time of togetherness, another positive association.

6. Food for the senses

Keeping eating, cooking, and food in general, playful, introducing fun rituals, letting him touch food with his hands and explore it in a sensory way (taste, smell, touch, even hear: the crunch of an endive or the pschh of chicken browning in olive oil). Within reason of course.

7. “Non, non” to snacking

No snacking. Pablo eats 4 meals a day, 3 + 1 afternoon snack. It doesn’t even occur to him to ask me for a snack, since he’s never had them. He is fine hanging from 8 to 12 or 1pm, and then until 4-5 pm, then 7:15pm. This insures that he has a healthy appetite when we sit down to eat.

So… Pablo’s “non” have not (perhaps yet?) landed on the food. We shall see how things evolve, Pablo may very well start refusing to eat anything but pickles, or noodles, at 2 or 3. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, though I am committed to stand by my strategies above to get me through it.

Now, one of the new dishes we tried recently, is this recipe found in a French cooking magazine grabbed while waiting in line at a French supermarket last September.  The cover intrigued me, “Our best recipes, for less than 1 Euro per person”. It turned out to be a great resource for delicious, easy and affordable family recipes. I blogged about their savory herb custard a few weeks ago. These salmon-wrapped leeks were really delicious and an original variation on the classic baked endives and ham.

I hope you get a chance to try it, and in the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts, anecdotes and your own strategies to help your children eat well…

Salmon wrapped leeks au gratin

Adapted from Best Of Gourmand Magazine

Serves 4

Prep time: 25 mn
Cook time: 35 mn

Age for babies: 10-12 months, cut up in very small pieces.

8 slices of smoked salmon
8 medium leeks
1 stem of fresh dill
3.5 oz grated Swiss cheese
2 tbsp butter

For the béchamel sauce:
3 tbsp butter
3/4 cup milk
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp flour
1 pinch of ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper

Wash the leeks, and cut the green part, leaving only the whites. Make an incision lengthwise to wash them while keeping their shape. Steam for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the béchamel: In a small saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the flour and stir to obtain a “roux” (brown mixture). Pour the cold milk, then the heavy cream and bring to avoid, stirring constantly until the sauce thickens. Add salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Preheat the oven at 400°F. Wrap each leek in a slice of smoked salmon.

Place the salmon wrapped leeks in a buttered baking dish. Pour the béchamel sauce over them.

Sprinkle with the Swiss cheese, and bake for about 15 minutes.

Wash the dill, remove the stem. Sprinkle over the gratin when it comes out of the oven. Serve hot.

Rainbow brandade… and the beauty of food

Sharing an adaptation of a classic French dish today: the brandade. It has many variations, but
typically it is a mixture of cod fish and potato. To add a healthy twist with
some leafy greens, I mixed in Rainbow Chards.

Photographing produce and foods for this blog, I have been amazed to see how beautiful they can be.  I think it is an important part of the enjoyment of food and cuisine: the appreciation of the aesthetics, the beauty, the perfection of what nature has to offer. I heard on NPR / Splendid Table a fascinating interview with a man with no taste. In order to enjoy eating, he has to enjoy its other components, such as the aesthetics and the texture. Still thinking of food as a means to nurture other areas of development for our children, looking at the amazing colors of these chards with Pablo, at their veins, marveling with him at the intricate work of Mother Nature, was one sneaky little lesson in aesthetics, and in the value of seeing the beauty in the little things around us.

This is a dish I don’t freeze, it’s best made right before
serving. It’s about half an hour total prep time, with 20 minutes of free time
while it cooks. Well worth it though! This was so tasty we made some for
ourselves as well! The fish taste is very subtle, so it’s a good way to get a
toddler to eat fish if he/she has been resistant to it before.

Bon appétit!

Cod &
Rainbow Chards Brandade

Age : 8-10 months

Makes one portion.

1 medium potato, peeled, washed and diced.

4 leaves of Rainbow Chards, washed and cut-up

3.5 tbsp milk (whole or formula)

Black Cod (wild caught and fresh preferably) – a piece of
0.7 to 1 oz

2 tsp of butter

Place the diced potato in a pot, add the chards and ½ cup of
water. Cook covered on low heat for about 20 minutes (make sure to add a bit of
water if it evaporates).

Add the piece of fish and cook for another 5 minutes.

Drain, and place the chards, fish and milk in the food
processor. Mix to desired consistency.

Optional step: Put the brandade in an broiler-safe ramekin,
sprinkle some breadcrumbs, place the pieces of butter on top, and put in the
preheated broiler for a couple of minutes, until golden brown on top.

Variations:

– You can replace the Rainbow chards with any leafy green of
your choice: spinach (you can use frozen, then add a bit less water when
cooking), Swiss chards, kale, etc.

– You can also experiment with other fish: Dover sole, tilapia, or salmon.