Baked apple & goat cheese…

It occurred to me recently that this period of my life, though I experience it now as complicated, and somewhat overwhelming, struggling to find balance, to find time, constantly juggling, dealing with uncertainty, learning to be more grateful, more in the moment… this period of my life might just be the one I will remember the most fondly when I’m 80 (if I get that far.)

This has happened to me before: to look back on certain times of my life with great fondness, when I know I didn’t consider myself “happy” or “satisfied” at the time. Conversely, times I do remember thinking were fairly happy, sometimes escape me completely, as if meaningless in the grand scheme of things. Youth is relative, and youth is blind to itself.

So I try to capture this thought and stay with it: what if this time of my life, right now, turns out to be one of the happiest, when all is said and done? That could potentially be depressing, as I could think, “This is it?” “That’s as good as it’s going to get?” “That’s not the picture I had in mind”.

And there’s the rub.
That freakin’ picture we have in our minds of what life, and people in our life, are supposed to be like.

Or… I can hang on to that image of myself as an 80-year-old woman, smiling back at this time of my life with great fondness. And I can actually listen to her.

She’s telling me this time is rich, with all its ups and downs, joys and sorrows, its wonders as a new parent, a new blogger. This time is complex, a bit stormy, definitely no flat sea around here. But I think 80-year-old me would smile and say, “Who wants a flat sea of a life anyway?”

Sometimes my expectations, my stresses, the whirlwind of life, make me forget her, and her wisdom. But if I can just reach out to her in those moments, she will teach me to be grateful for this time. The good thing is, I’m starting to really hear her voice now. Instead of hearing the voice of 10-year-old me telling me what my life was supposed to be, I am starting to hear the voice of 80-year-old me, telling me there’s no “supposed to”, telling me life is so much more than that. Setting me free to actually live my life and know myself as I evolve and grow.

There’s a sentence at the end of A life, by Guy de Maupassant, translated here from French by yours truly:

“Life, you see, is never as great nor as bad as we think.”

There’s a way to understand that sentence that is not as depressing as one might first believe. Life is just not what we think it’s going to be. And that doesn’t make it a failure. It’s okay. I wish I’d known that earlier. But I know it now.

So what brought on this philosophical debate in my brain, this Ghost of Helene Past, Present and Future of sorts? A recipe for an apple goat cheese millefeuilles. Of course it is.
(Millefeuilles is just a fancy name that means ‘a thousand leaves’, typically a dessert, a Napoleon, but also used for anything with multiple layers.)

See, when I saw this recipe in a tiny French recipe book called “Papillotes” (a series of recipes, savory and sweet, all cooked in parcels in the oven), I looked at the picture, and set out to make it, because frankly, apple and goat cheese, how could I go wrong? In my head, it looked just perfect.

I am learning that I’ve been getting the meaning of “perfection” all wrong. We say perfection can’t be reached when we can’t make life fit in with the picture we have in our head. When that picture is in fact much too narrow and simplistic to do real life justice. Perfection is everywhere. Life is perfect, by its very existence. Our expectations, ever so limited, narrow-minded, blind-sided, one-dimensional, are what is imperfect, though they may serve a purpose for us, like dealing with our issues.

So, making this millefeuilles, I certainly was reminded things never go the way you think. The apple wasn’t perfectly shaped. The goat cheese was a pain to slice thin, it got chalky in the middle and fell apart. But determined, I moved forward. Sometimes a “what the heck” attitude gets you through stuff where you head might not.

And the result was… delicious. Not like the picture, in the book or in my head. Not “picture perfect”. But “life perfect”. Because I made it. Because I shared it. Because the contrast of semi-crunchy apple and half-melted goat cheese is scrumptious. It was a highly satisfying three-in-one salad/cheese/dessert course (in the framework of the typical four course French family meal).

What can I say, another life lesson in the kitchen…

A quick note about cooking “in a parcel” in general, called “en papillote” in French (i.e. cooking a hermetically wrapped preparation in the oven). It’s a great and easy way to cook a whole range of foods. Not only does it protect natural foods from too much heat, but it also cooks à l’étouffée, meaning the foods cook in their own steam, infused with all the flavors and scents from the spices and condiments used. It’s both a quick and gentle way to cook, which helps preserve a lot of vitamins. On top of it, it is so much fun. Pablo was just delighted when I presented it like a “surprise package” or a “gift-wrapped treat on a plate”. We opened it, and he went “wooow” when peeking at its contents and inhaling the delicious scents. I have been quite obsessed with this method of cooking recently, and will be sharing many more recipes in the near future.

Apple & goat cheese millefeuilles (napoleons) with honey and walnuts

Inspired from Papillotes by Martine Lizambard

Serves 2

Prep time: 20 min
Cook time: 15-20 min

Age for babies: It’s just baked apple and goat cheese basically, no reason why a 10 month old can’t try this, if you think he/she can handle the apple, as it is softened but still a bit crunchy. Do skip the honey if you give before 12 months.

1 apple, washed and dried
6 slices of aged goat cheese*
1 tbsp soft butter
2 handfuls of lamb’s lettuce (or other lettuce), washed and spun dry
A few walnuts
2 tbsp honey
2 tbps vinaigrette
Oven-safe parchment paper
Kitchen string

*Note about the goat cheese: I recommend using an aged goat cheese for this (though not very old, it should still be soft in texture), as opposed to fresh goat cheese. I used “bûche” here (found at Whole Foods in the US). Otherwise, I have fallen in love with the cheeses made by Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery, you could use any of their aged goat cheeses. (I have found some of their products in Whole Foods, though not consistently). I hear Laura Chenel also has a “Cabécou”, which you might be able to find and would work for this.

Slice the goat cheese (make 6 slices, ideally the slices are slightly larger than the circumference of the apple).

Slice off the top of the apple (where the stem is), then core the apple. Slice the apple into six pieces.

Preheat the oven at 350°F. Cut 2 square pieces of parchment paper, and butter the center of each one.

In the center of each parchment paper square, place three slices of apple, and three slices of goat cheese, alternating. Gather the corners of the parchment paper, and close the parcel hermetically with kitchen string.

Place in a baking dish in the oven for about 15-20 minutes. (The apple will soften but remain somewhat crunchy).

Meanwhile, in a salad bowl, toss the lettuce, walnuts and vinaigrette. Put the salad in two serving plates.

Remove the parcels from the oven and let cool for about 5 minutes before opening.

Deposit them delicately on top of the lettuce. Drizzle with honey.

A zucchini mint fritter, & a goat cheese giveaway!

Sometimes, parenting feels like being an optimistic, wild, very patient gardener (as all gardeners must be), just walking across a fertile field and throwing seeds out there, trusting something good will grow. Or something useful. We don’t know what will grow first, or when, or how.

And so last night, Pablo was being particularly charming by saying ‘merci’ to us every time we handed him something, and absolutely sensing this little inner satisfaction any parent probably feels when they hear their kid say “thank you” spontaneously. As if it were proof of good parenting. Wish it were that simple!

Feeding off our validation, he happily went on, “Merci, maman. Merci, papa. Merci, mamette.” Then he paused and looked down at his plate (which happened to contain a warm plum chards goat cheese salad he really likes). And he said, “Merci, miam miam.” Thank you, yummy food.

It took me a couple of seconds past the cuteness factor to realize what Pablo had just expressed: he was grateful, for the food, for dinner.

Gratitude, that’s definitely one of those wild seeds to throw in the wind with no clue in what form it might grow in our children. I certainly wasn’t expecting it then. Made me feel so warm within.

One of the things I’ve been trying to do since the very beginning with Pablo, is create good food associations. Food equals pleasure, family connection, laughter, friends, interesting smells, discovery… And beyond that, hopefully, food is generosity, love, harmony with the body, with the world.

And gratitude and appreciation of a wonderful, ordinary moment of the day.

I heard the sprouts of that food association when Pablo said it. Now it’s just keep nurturing it and watch it grow more.

Speaking of gratitude, I am most grateful to Vermont Creamery for giving me an opportunity to come up with some recipes, using their wonderful goat cheeses, as part of their Kid & Kid Campaign, like the cherry gazpacho with herbed goat cheese I shared last week.

If you know this blog, you probably know that I don’t do kids’ foods. Pablo eats what we eat (or we eat what he eats!). Past 12-15 months, nothing’s off limits as far as I’m concerned. So these fritters are as close to a kid’s food as I’m ever going to get, and our whole family enjoyed them thoroughly.

I posted another fritter recipe last year and was so surprised at the response it got! People really like fritters! These zucchini mint goat cheese fritters are not only good, they’re good for you (thank you, coconut oil!), and they’re easy… But I shall rest my case now, because I bet I had you at “fritters” 😉

And with one treat comes another: presenting now my first giveaway! So, for a chance to win a Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery gift basket, with three different kinds of goat cheese and some vanilla crème fraîche, use the Rafflecopter tool below to enter in a variety of ways. The giveaway ends next Friday night.

And scroll below for the fritter recipe!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Zucchini mint goat cheese fritters, with smoked salmon, dill crown & red pepper creamy goat cheese garnish

Makes about 10 fritters

Prep time: 20 min
Cook time: 15 min approx

Age for babies: 10-12 months, great finger food.

1 pound of zucchini
1 tsp coarse salt
1 onion
1 egg
1 tbsp chopped mint (= 2-3 sprigs)
3 oz fresh goat cheese
1/2 cup of spelt flour (AP works too)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup coconut milk
1/3 cup milk (goat or cow)
Coconut oil for frying

To serve (optional):

10 small slices of smoked salmon
Crown dill (or dill) for garnish 
Roasted red pepper creamy goat cheese

Cut off the ends of the zucchini, wash them, and grate them by hand or in a food processor.

Pour in a bowl, add the coarse salt and let it sit for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, finely chop the onion and mint. Lightly beat the egg. Crumble the fresh goat cheese with a fork.

Put the grated zucchini in a thin dishtowel (or cheesecloth), and wring the heck out of it to get rid of the excess water. Quite a bit of green liquid should come out.

In a bowl, mix the flour and baking powder. Add the egg, coconut milk and milk. Add in the zucchini, chopped mint and onion and stir. Gently incorporate the crumbled goat cheese.

Preheat the oven at 200°F.

In a frying pan, melt 1-2 tbsp of coconut oil on medium/medium-high. Drop large spoonfuls of the batter in, pressing on top to flatten a bit. Cook for 3-4 minutes, until the edges are golden. Flip them and cook for another 2-3 minutes.  Cook in 2 or 3 batches depending on the size of your pan.  I had to add about 1 tbsp of coconut oil with every batch.

Set on absorbent paper, then transfer to a baking sheet and place in the oven for about 10 minutes to keep warm and increase crispiness factor.

Serve warm with a slice of smoked salmon on top, and garnish with a bit of roasted red pepper creamy goat cheese and some crown dill.

Or you can skip the salmon and just spread some of the creamy goat cheese on, Pablo enjoyed that part very much!

(The fritters keep well in the fridge, reheat in the oven at 350° for 5-10 min).

A warm goat cheese salad, & 8 tips for an enjoyable restaurant meal with your kids

Life can be such a whirlwind, even if that whirlwind is made of lots of in-the-moment moments and exciting new collaborations. Such was this past week for me, with a few days camping in the wilderness completely offline (will share more on that soon). Also I was thrilled to have a couple of guest posts on two of my favorite (albeit completely different in theme!) blogs. If you haven’t already seen them and are inclined to do so, there’s one on parenting on Janet Lansbury’s blog, and another about writing on Shanna and Tim’s Food Loves Writing. Very grateful, for these posts brought in a lot of new followers, so if that’s you, welcome!

For this new installment of my Summer Goat Cheese Series in collaboration with Vermont Creamery’s Kids & Kids Campaign, I wanted to share a version of the French restaurant classic: the salade de chèvre chaud (warm goat cheese salad). Most restaurants, cafés and brasseries in France have it on their menu, it is what the French would consider a “run-of-the-mill” first course (or main course for lunch). This is also a dish Pablo LOVES, and which I would order for him in a heartbeat in a restaurant, as I think would a lot of French parents for their kids (or themselves for that matter.)

This is giving me an opportunity to write a somewhat practical post on taking kids (including infants and toddlers) to the restaurant.

One of my favorite connecting time with Pablo is when the both of us go out to lunch once in a while. We have taken him out to eat with us since he was a couple of months old, and continued to do so every so often since then. Between 6 and 12 months, I would bring his food with me (I would pack some vegetable finger food as a first course, a puree for the main course, some cheese and a yogurt for dessert) and give him a taste of what we were having depending on what it was. After 12 months, Pablo started to eat pretty much the same as us, I could easily just order for him from the menu.

Probably one of the greatest unspoken French rules of eating, is that a meal should be thoroughly enjoyable. If it is stressful or rushed, it feels like a waste. On recent trips, and as Pablo is at the height of toddlerhood (27 months now), I have been very grateful and so happy to see how great he is when we take him out to eat. He loves it, he stays at the table and is fairly well-mannered (the walls usually remain clean when we leave!), he eats heartily and with interest. I can relax and enjoy the meal with minor adjustments here and there.

A lot of people have witnessed this and expressed great surprise, and have asked me what my secret is. I never thought of it as a secret, but thinking back on it, that thoroughly enjoyable meal with our children has a few preconditions. Here are eight strategies and tips that have worked for us:

1 – We eat together as a family on a daily basis

So sitting down together for a meal, and eating the same (real) foods as us is nothing out of the ordinary for Pablo. It makes sense that children that are most often fed alone, before the grown-ups, wouldn’t do too well sitting at the table in a restaurant for a while. I’m really big on the family meal for many reasons, this one included. Plus, when children are fed separately, their meal is usually much faster than a family meal would be. (I’ve actually noticed on a couple of occasions where I ate a meal without Pablo, how much faster I eat then. Eating with him, encouraging him to eat slowly and mindfully, and being engaged with him during our family meals has helped me to slow down my eating greatly too.)

I should add also that thanks to a few strategies practised over time, our meals, at home or at the restaurant, are mostly sans power struggles or boundary testings, which is a blessing.

2 – We eat in courses at home

Just like at a restaurant. Pablo is used to eating a first course, then wait a little bit before the main course, then cheese and fruit or yogurt for dessert if desired. I’ve talked about the many benefits of eating in courses in this very popular post. This is definitely an added benefit. When we go out to eat, the waiting factor is a non-issue. While we wait for the food, we have a nice little conversation about what we ordered and how the chef in the kitchen is preparing it, that usually gets his imagination going. Or we people watch, Pablo loves that too 🙂

3 – We engage him as an integral member of the meal

If we go out with Pablo, it is to have a nice meal with him. Otherwise, we go out without him, which we sometimes need to do and that’s fine. So I always make sure he’s part of the conversation, like any person you would have dinner with. This is definitely a time to connect. (When you think of it, how rude would it be to go out with someone to then proceed to have private conversations that exclude them?)

4 – He’s used to real food, and a wide variety of it

Forget kids’ menus. In most restaurants I’ve been to, they are a crying shame (as is the idea of kids’ food, in my opinion…) So I always order on the regular menu for him, and we share some of our dishes with him. The portions are often so big anyway, it works out perfectly. For example, recently at The Black Cat in Cambria, I ordered the celery root cilantro soup (which inspired this post) to share with him along with a couple of appetizers for us, and we shared our entrees with him, so he could get a taste of everything (which he loves).

The fact that he eats just about everything is a big factor as well, due to the fact that he’s been exposed to a wide variety of foods (vegetables, meat, fish) since 5 months old and especially during that golden window 6-18 months roughly where infants are so willing to try new foods and put just about anything in their mouth (a crucial period to steer away from kids’ foods). Even if he were to reject anything new now (which is not the case), he’s already tried so many different things these past two years of life that I would be hard pressed to find a (real) food he hasn’t already had. So no matter where we eat, there will always be something he will enjoy eating.

5 – He’s used to mindful eating

I usually avoid distractions at the table, so the meal is an end in itself and a pleasurable experience deserving of our full attention. Same goes at the restaurant. I definitely avoid all screens across the board (I will admit seeing kids or adults focused on their phones or other screens at the table drives me crazy). If there are television screens in the restaurant, I try to ask for a table away from them (or better, choose screen-free restaurants!)  I might bring a small book or a crayon or two if the meal or the wait get a bit long.

6 – We go at the right time

I try to have realistic expectations, i.e. make sure Pablo’s not too tired, that he’s had a good afternoon nap or good night sleep if it’s lunch out. Also I try to make sure he’s had plenty of independent, self-directed play prior to the meal so he’s relaxed and ready to connect (but not overtired). And we go early enough so he doesn’t start to fade mid-meal. At home, we usually sit down for dinner between 6:45 and 7p, when we go out, we try for 6:30-6:45 to have plenty of time to enjoy the meal. I also make sure he’s bathed and in his pajamas when we go (or for a fancier meal, I bring his pajamas with me and change him at the restaurant after the meal). Thus the meal is the last, relaxing event of the day for everyone.

7 – We make sure he’s hungry


Snacking is very limited in our household, so the family meals are enjoyed fully and eaten with good appetite. Pablo has an afternoon snack (usually pretty light, he doesn’t seem to get that hungry) between 4:30 and 5pm. If we go out to dinner, I might offer it a bit earlier to insure he has a good appetite.

When we get to the restaurant, we also try to limit eating too much bread before the food arrives. (Bread is never served first in a French restaurant typically, but to accompany the meal in reasonable quantity, definitely not the thing to get full on when you’re most hungry.)

8 – Choosing the right restaurant


We don’t necessarily go for the typical “family-friendly”, as it can mean a loud environment. So first we choose a restaurant where we enjoy the food (seems obvious, but my point is that that takes priority over being “kid-friendly”.) We also try to go to restaurants that do have high-chairs or boosters: Toddlers tend to get fidgety and expecting them to sit still in a booth bench for example, is unrealistic, they’re bound to want to slide around, jump etc.

Also we choose restaurants that are not too loud. I found that Pablo gets tired and over-excited and stimulated fast with a very loud place (as we do.) So a place that lends itself to conversation is best (though since we usually go earlier than the crowds would, that often works out).

There you have it! I hope this is helpful. Would love to hear your tips and feedback!

In the meantime, enjoy this warm goat cheese salad, and if you want more information about Vermont Creamery and the Kids & Kids Campaign, check out their Facebook Page and Pinterest page too. As good as this salad was, their cheeses are so scrumptious I always enjoy them most pure, from the tip of my fingers 🙂

Golden Beet Warm Goat Cheese Salad, with Sorrel Almond Pesto

Serves 2/3

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 45-60 minutes

Age for babies: 8-10 months, the pieces of beet topped with warm goat cheese make a great finger food.

Lamb’s lettuce (mâche) (or other lettuce of choice, watercress would do nicely too)

2-3 golden beets

For the pesto dressing:

20-25 leaves of sorrel (or other herb of choice, or use the beet greens – see note below)

2-3 tbsp sliced almonds

Olive oil (I used 1/2 cup here)

Juice of half a lemon

Salt & pepper

Preheat the oven at 450°F. Cut the greens off the beets, give the beets a wash and wrap them individually in foil. Place in a baking pan and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until tender when you prick them with a knife. 

When done, remove the foil and let them cool. (You can do this a few days ahead and just have the cooked beets in the fridge, ready for salads etc.)

Make the pesto: Combine the sorrel leaves and almonds in a food processor, and add the olive oil progressively until you obtain a thick but pourable dressing. Then add the lemon juice and season to taste. (You will probably have leftover dressing, which can be used on any salad).

(*Note that you can make any other kind of pesto dressing of choice here, check out this awesome one from Food Loves Writing)

Peel the beets and cut medium thick slices lengthwise. 

Preheat your broiler at 500°F, and place the tray at the top position, close to the heat.

Prepare your plates: put some mâche in each plate, add a little dressing on top (alternatively, you can put all the mâche in a bowl and toss it with some dressing prior to plating).  Place a few slices of beet on top of the mâche.

Then take the cheese out of the fridge and cut thick slices lengthwise with a knife or cheese wire cutter if you have one (one Coupole makes 3 to 4 thick slices).

Place the slices of goat cheese on a non-stick baking pan, or on parchment paper in a baking pan, and broil for a few minutes, until it starts to get golden. (Watch this carefully, it melts fast! It should only take a couple of minutes).

Place the warm goat cheese slices on top of beet slices in each plate, top with a little pesto dressing, and serve immediately.

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)

French Foodie Baby: At the goat farm…

The other night, at dinner time with Grandpa and Grandma,
Pablo was served some pork chop with mushrooms. He happily grabbed his fork in
one hand, and with the other hand, picked a mushroom from his plate. He
examined it, and turned to me: “La mer?”
Loosely translated as: “Does this thing I’m about to put in my mouth come from
the sea?” We then had a conversation about the forest, the place where you can
find bunnies, deer, trees, creeks. And mushrooms.

I felt very happy about this exchange, because I realized
that Pablo is interested in where his
food comes from
. He knows it’s not just magically there. Not only does he
know a process of shopping, and cooking went into it (which he participates in
more and more), but he also knows the food grew, or lived, somewhere. And I
have, without giving it much thought, just as part of our conversations at the
dinner table during our family meals, pointed out to him where the things he
eats do come from. Shrimp, fish, oysters from the sea. Herbs from the garden.
Apricots and peaches from our market friend Sam’s trees. Cherries we picked
ourselves. Eggs laid by chickens. I am very matter-of-fact about naming the
meat we eat as well, whether it’s duck, chicken, lamb, etc.

Way before our children ask us where babies come from, they should ask us where their food comes from. Or at least, let’s hope they do. And let us have a good answer for them (one that does not include an unpronounceable ingredient, as Michael Pollan advises). If we want our children to eat and enjoy real, nutritious, clean foods and give them a lifelong love for them, we must 1/ have, 2/ nurture, an interest in those foods, a curiosity of the what (it is, it tastes like, smells like, feels like, looks like), the how (it was grown, made, prepared, cooked), and the where (it comes from.)
This pursuit of connection with our food, this love and
interest for the sources of our food, has been so fulfilling, nourishing, as it were. And it led us a
few weeks ago, to Mariposa Creamery Farm Stay, in Altadena, California.

Gloria and Steve, who both have day jobs while running this goat and farming community, welcomed us in their haven for a couple of
wonderful days. By wonderful, I mean the type of vacation that makes you wonder
whether that should be your full time life. Because then, every morning would be
a little bit like this…

We wake up early and step outside within a few minutes of
waking. We hear the birds, and the goats in the distance. Haphazardly dressed,
Pablo refuses to put shoes on and wants to go explore the vegetable garden. It
exudes free growth. It’s not a perfectly trimmed garden with ranks and beds.
It’s a freestyle vegetable jungle. Pablo explores, passed the tall fennel,
chards, amaranth, squash flowers, around the artichokes and the shiso. 

I try to
follow but his small size gives him the advantage, to explore and find
treasures. And a treasure he does find. “Tomate”.
There, hidden in the depths of this jungle he’s so simply made his own, hangs
a small, perfectly vermilion tomato. He extends his little hand and gently
picks it. We both take a bite. 

Oh, that bite.

He continues on, feeling the earth on his feet. Steve greets
us as he picks some chards for our breakfast. The goats bleat over there, on
the other side of the big house where many people of all trades seem to evolve
productively.  We walk over there. Pablo
stops by the berry bush to pick a blackberry, and we meet the carpenter, whose
shop is next to the creamery. He shows us how he spreads the seeds of the wild
flowers around every so often. So they keep growing wild throughout the
property, and they do. Bright orange and yellow blotches everywhere, which a certain goat
might be allowed to exit the enclosure to enjoy, every once in a while…

We wonder into the chicken enclosure, and find Gloria grabbing
some fresh eggs for breakfast. Pablo is eager to hold one. Pablo is eager to
hold two. One gets broken, so he holds on to the other one carefully. Lesson
learned. 

Now for another lesson, a goat milking lesson. The
suggestion that I may milk the goat straight into my coffee enchants me. I
follow suit.

Pablo is familiar with the milking movement, as it is also
the sign for milk in sign language, which we used when he was an infant. This
was always his favorite sign 😉 But he is a little intimidated by Brin, the
goat we are getting our milking lesson with. 

He decides it is wiser to feed her
treats while we learn. He watches baby goat Spike get some milk from Brin.

The fresh
milk tastes exactly that. Fresh. It is not gamy as I expected, though I like
gamy. It tastes very mild and delicious. Oh the wonderful things that can be
made with that milk. And Gloria and Steve do make so many of those wonderful
things here. They teach a cheese making course I am hoping to take some day.
And yogurt.

We hang with the goats for a while, the 5 months old one are
just about Pablo’s height. They are terribly photogenic. Dare I say hams even?

Petting, nudging, observing, climbing, jumping ensues. Kids.

We get this sense of family. The goats, Biscuit, Apple,
Ice Cream, Rhubarb among others, are raised with love and warmth. It radiates.

It’s breakfast time. What a feast Gloria has made for
us. One of our most memorable breakfasts ever. Fresh squeezed orange juice from
that tree, right behind us. Homemade bread, with fresh chèvre. Homemade jam,
homemade ketchup. Roasted potatoes, fresh herbs. Artisan sausage from a friend
of theirs. Pablo discovers a love for sausage. And eggs of course. Sauteed
chards with homemade goat feta. Goat milk yogurt. Brand new apricots deposited
by a neighbor in the mailbox last night, packed in an egg crate. Juicy as can
be.

This is how people lived hundreds of years ago. This is how
some people live today, right here in a suburb of Los Angeles. And how wonderful, brave and
beautiful.

After breakfast, Pablo wanders on the path in the back of the house, among
the wild poppies, fruit trees and artichoke plants, holding a piece of cheese
in his hand, mumbling to himself “squeeze, squeeze”, the goat milk the cheese
came from.

I love that he can experience this freedom here. This rich environment.

Certainly our morning is a very romanticized version of farm
life, which is tremendous hard work and commitment. But what a worthwhile
venture.

It sometimes feels like the kind of life that I want, for myself, for Pablo. At
the same time, I have no idea how we could get there, or how it would fit with
the other stuff our life is currently made of. Sometimes we must make choices.
As long as we don’t live by default. Food for thought, for now.

Inspired by our memorable breakfast at Mariposa and Gloria’s
homemade cheese, and until I can take her cheese making class and talk to you
about making homemade Camembert (!), I thought I’d try my hand at simple goat
cheese ricotta for this tartine. I found numerous recipes online, but I found
some details to be critical for success (after a couple of failed attempts), so
sharing how I went about it here.
I heard of the happy marriage of eggplant and sumac
powder, a Mediterranean spice that’s lemony and slightly on the sour side, on The Splendid Table recently, I wanted to give it a try. It is
confirmed, Lynne Rossetto Kasper is never wrong when it comes to good food. 

Before moving on to the recipes, if you want more info about Mariposa Creamery, check out their website, awesome airstream farmstay, and their Facebook page, for a daily goat cuteness fix.

Tartines of eggplant, ricotta & soft egg

Prep time: 10 mn (ricotta aside)
Cook time: 10 mn + 5 mn

Age for babies: 8-10 months for the ricotta and sauteed eggplant (break up the tartine in small pieces for a great finger food). 6-8 months for the egg yolk, 10-12 mo for the white.

Makes 2 tartines

1/4 cup homemade goat ricotta (see recipe below)
2 slices of bread, homemade if possible (this one is awesome)
1 egg (room temperature, if fridge cold, plunge them in hot tap water for a minute or so)
2 tbsp coconut oil
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small eggplant
A few pinches of sumac
Salt & pepper

For the ricotta (this yields about 1/3 cup)


2 cups of raw or pasteurized goat milk (not ultra-pasteurized, it won’t work)
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar

Pour the milk in a non reactive pan (glass, non-stick, or stainless steel) and stir in the salt. Heat on low, stirring every once in a while so the  bottom doesn’t burn, until the milk just begins to boil (or reaches 180-190° on instant read thermometer, better to have it a little hotter than a little cooler, I found).

While the milk heats, line a colander with cheesecloth (4 layers worked for me), and place the colander over a large bowl.

When the milk has come to a light boil, remove from heat, and add the vinegar. Stir gently a couple of times, and let it sit undisturbed for about 5 minutes. The curds should form fairly quickly.

Check with a spoon that you have curds, and gently pour into the cheesecloth-lined colander to drain.

After 20 mn, you will have a creamier/wetter ricotta, great for spreading. After 1 hr or more, you’ll have a firmer, more crumbly ricotta.

Can keep in the fridge, wrapped, for 5-7 days.

For the soft egg


I used this exact method found on Cannelle & Vanille, and it is foolproof.

Fill a small pan with enough water to cover the egg, bring to a boil over high heat. When the water starts boiling, swirl a spoon in it. Gently drop in the room temperature egg with a spoon, and swirl it around in the water for a few seconds, so the yolk stays in the center.

Cook for five minutes. Prepare a bowl with ice water.

Remove the egg from the boiling water and transfer to the ice bowl for a minute or two.

Then carefully peel the egg, and gently slice in two. The white should be cooked, but the yolk soft.

Putting the tartine together


Peel and slice the eggplant. Drizzle or spray the slices with a little olive oil.  In a frying pan, melt the coconut oil, and sauté the eggplant on medium high for a few minutes. When the slices start to get brown on one side, flip them, add salt & pepper, lower to medium and cover. Let cook for about 10 minutes, until the eggplant is very soft.

Toast your bread slices to taste.

Spread a generous amount of ricotta. Add a few slices of eggplant. Sprinkle with sumac, and add half an egg on top.

Enjoy with a side salad, for example.