France

Family Food in Paris

by Caroline

My children have been to Paris four times.

I have to pause after writing that sentence. My children have been to Paris four times? How did that happen? How did they get so lucky?

Well, first there was the wonderful boat trip, a week exploring rivers and canals in southwestern France, that my parents took us all on to celebrate their 50th anniversary. Tony and I considered the consequences of jetlagged children in a confined space and (twist our arms) decided to stop in Paris first. Subsequent summers brought my sister teaching in Oxford, a friend living temporarily in Portugal, other friends on sabbatical in Paris and– through it all — a convenient nonstop flight from San Francisco to Paris bringing us closer to people we love. So now here I am, the mother of two children who have a fair amount of experience in the City of Light.

The City of Cheese,” Ben might say, with a grimace. “The City of Sauces,” Eli might add, shuddering.

It seems churlish to complain, but the world’s food capital doesn’t do very well by my vegetarian family. And honestly, that’s ok with me; we eat what we eat and don’t expect people — or countries — to accomodate our habits. But it has made staying in beautiful Paris a little more difficult than it might be for families whose kids will happily tuck into steak frites or a cheese crepe. We find ourselves challenged in a city where restaurants don’t want to make adjustments to the dishes on the menu (just try ordering plain pasta!) and don’t like to accomodate a child who can’t make it through a full three-course meal. In one of my favorite small guides to the city, Karen Uhlmann’s Paris for Kids, she writes, “I use my museum method for taking children to dinner in Paris (one museum, then one park): One pasta night for you; one bistro night for me.” She then goes on to describe her children eagerly trying duck for the first time (and loving it) or a place that offers an oyster ice cream that her children are still talking about (I bet they are!) I aspire to her experience, and keep her recommendations on the shelf for a time when my kids have expanded their palates.

For now, since Parisiens don’t expect (and don’t really want) children at restaurants, we make like Parisien families and try to stay out of them. In the past, we’ve rented apartments and cooked for ourselves, using the glorious produce available in the various markets. But this year, we weren’t staying in Paris long enough to justify an apartment. We didn’t pack food; we stayed in a hotel. It offered a spectacular breakfast buffet that kept us going for hours; we ate salads from the wonderful Monoprix for lunch; and then we collapsed in the hotel while Tony fetched us take-out for dinner. We wound up eating a lot of Italian and (perhaps weirdly) sushi in Paris, and it worked out just fine.

Our hotel picnic dinners gave us some nice downtime together before we headed back out into the beautiful night.

Three Lovely Salads

by Caroline

As I approach my tenth wedding anniversary, I’ve been reminiscing about our extravagant celebration of my parents’ fiftieth, a cruise in southern France, guided over by a wonderful crew, including the inimitable Chef Charlie. Charlie made every meal an event, and now when Eli asks to light the candles or Ben folds all our napkins in a new way, I think about what we all learned at Charlie’s table.

Of course, life is not a cruise through southern France, and there is no Chef Charlie here to make one of the things I loved most about this trip: our daily lunch of les trois salades. Here, it is just me with my vegetables, but with the farmer’s market and the CSA ramping up, I’m doing pretty well with some new combinations. Check these out:

wild rice salad with oranges & pumpkin seeds

The recipe came in our CSA box, and is credited to Jonathan Miller:

2 c cooked rice (I used a mix of brown and wild rices; this is, of course, a perfect use for leftovers)
the zest and juice of one orange
3-4 more oranges, peeled, sectioned, and chopped into bite-sized pieces
1/3 c toasted pumpkin seeds
a handful of chopped cilantro or parsley
a handful of spinach leaves

Toss all the ingredients in a bowl, and season with olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste. You could also add some grilled fish or chicken to this, or crumble in some feta or ricotta salata.

Salad #2

chickpea and dried cherry salad

This one came from Real Simple magazine; the amounts are for 4-5 people, but, like any salad, it scales up and down easily, and to taste.

6 cups of mesclun (I had baby romaine, arugula flowers, and miner’s lettuce, so it was particularly pretty)
2 carrots, scrubbed or peeled, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 15 oz can chickpeas, rinsed
1/2 c dried cherries (a staple in my house since I discovered this recipe)
1/4 c fresh dill sprigs
4 – 5 T vinaigrette

Toss all the ingredients together, season to taste with salt & pepper, and serve.

And finally, courtesy of one of my food heroes, Jamie Oliver, comes the tarragon salad.

tarragon salad with grapes & shallots

Again, the measurements aren’t entirely precise here (I’m sure my handfuls are smaller than Jamie Oliver’s) but it’s a salad: use amounts that look good to you.

2 shallots, peeled and very thinly sliced
a pinch of sugar
4 T white wine vinegar
4 small bunches of fresh tarragon, leaves picked from the stems
4 handfuls of green and red seedless grapes, sliced in half
ricotta salata or pecorino cheese, grated on top, to taste

salt, pepper, and olive oil to taste

Toss the shallots with the sugar and vinegar and let sit a few minutes, while you pick over the tarragon and slice the grapes. Toss the tarragon with the grapes, shallots, and some of the shallot-y vinegar. Grate cheese over the top, and season with salt, pepper and olive oil.

If you don’t have lots of tarragon, or don’t want a full salad of it, by all means augment with other greens. But try it just once with nothing but tarragon; it’s delicious, and truly, you will feel transported. Perhaps not all the way to southern France, but pour a crisp white wine and slice some crusty bread, and you’re almost there…

Barbeque Red Hook Style

by Lisa

I don’t know how I missed this, but I found this post, languishing in my Drafts folder, and, well…better late than never.  When we were in NJ, my great friend Molly had us over for the day, and we did lots of fun things, including the Circus on the Barge. But maybe the most fun was the BBQ on the roof of her Red Hook house.  Molly and her husband have spent a few years building a really cool modern home, smack in the middle of a incredibly cool mixed use neighborhood (where there were more kids square block than on my suburban street, and also cool coffee shops and bars and boutiques and industrial spaces and well…we could easily make ourselves very happy as their neighbors…)

Their roof is awesome, and her husband fired up the charcoal grill and cooked piles of meat: sausage, chicken, hot dogs….and corn…

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we had impromptu tables of vegetables and dip and breads and salad:

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coolers of drinks for adults and kids, and lots of old friends. There were lots of little ones, too, who had a fine time eating and cooling off in the tub/pool sunken into the corner of the roof/patio. The adults had an outrageous Key Lime Pie and for the kids,  of course, no  east coast childhood is complete without these:

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even if they no longer come from a truck.

It was a pretty perfect barbeque.  Thank you, Molly & family, and all my friends.

We might not have Paris…

by Lisa

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Not long ago, on a family trip to San Francisco, Ella, Finley, and I found ourselves staring at the counter of a French bakery, at a pile of croissants.  They didn’t know what they were, and as I explained to them the wonder that is a croissant, I found myself telling them not about croissant, exactly, and how good they can be, but about the summer I spent working in the French Alps at  a summer camp.  They know many stories from this time, including the fact that no one, not a soul, spoke even a word of English, so I was forced very quickly to abandon all pretense of speaking, looking, or acting even vaguely English-speaking.  They know that we ate baguette and cheese, or sugared candy or chocolate every day for afternoon snack.  They know that my first night, on the all night train, the youngest child, an adorable little 4-year old, looked up at me and said, “But you don’t speak French” (in French, of course), when I had uttered what I thought was a perfectly comprehenisble sentence in French.  Things changed quickly and by the end of the summer, I could enter the mountain village store and be served and local restaurant and be served without disdain; I dreamed in French, and upon my return to Paris functioned like a native speaker. Sadly, this is no longer true.

France was also the place where I learned to eat meat again, but that’s another story. The anecdote I found myself telling my children a we stared at that golden counter was about breakfast.

On the counselor’s mornings off, we got to order from the bakery, which meant croissant–plain, chocolate, etc.–and whatever we wanted would be brought to our room, with our choice of cafe au lait, chocolate chaud, etc…It was quite wonderful to wake up to perfect croissant and eat them and go right back to sleep while the French children screamed.

And every morning we drank big bowls of cafe au lait or chocolate, too, which Ella and Finn found really funny.

Not long after, as I was marketing I spied a box of frozen TJ chocolate croissants, so of course I bought them, and for some reason had the impulse to sneak them into my cart so Ella didn’t see.  Of course, Caroline and her family were fortunate enough to travel and eat in France last summer, and you can read about it all beginning here, but for the forseeable future, I’m going to have to recreate a little bit of France in our California home, so I bought the box.

We were in the midst of a rainy long weekend, and while many were away on ski weekends, I had been baking, and braising and nesting and so that night, I planned a petit dejeuner. The croissants are frozen, and you place them out on a cookie sheet overnight to proof, or rise.   I did this, set the table, boiled some eggs, set out bowls for the chocolate and coffee, prepped the espresso machine, and filled a bowl of fresh fruit.

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I also left a sign that said “Do Not Touch! Not Cooked!” on the croissants, since Ella and Finn are known to be curious when it comes to food, and they were bound to be up first.

The next morning, Ella was exuberant: “I can’t wait to taste my first croissant!” she said, and while they were baking, I made the chocolate and coffee and whipped some cream.  They thought the bowls of chocolate chaud were hysterical, but they happily slurped them up just like a child should on a cold, rainy holiday morning.

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When the croissant came out, Finn knew right away he was on to a good thing, because the moment he picked one up–before putting a single bite near his mouth– he exclaimed, “Mmmmm!  They’re so buttery and warm!”  And even though they are not the best croissant you will ever have, they were lovely, and that is all you really need to know.

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The Salad Trio

posted by Caroline

Years ago, the “sorbet trio” became such a ubiquitous feature on San Francisco menus that it was the subject of a piece in the local paper. The enterprising reporter called dozens of restaurants, from Gary Danko and Postrio to more modest locales, asking what the night’s sorbet trio was. Everyone had one, whether it was a fancy lemon-tarragon, creme fraiche, and espresso, or a more humble choc-van-straw. And then just as quickly as it took over, it faded, replaced by the unexciting line at the bottom of the dessert menu: “Selection of House made Sorbets.” OK, fine. But I kinda miss the trio; I didn’t have to choose.

On the boat, we experienced the daily salad trio. Sometimes it looked like this:



And sometimes it looked like this:

And while the boys wouldn’t touch les trois salades, we learned to eat them all quite happily, making small (or not-so-small) mounds on our plates each day, admiring Charlie’s ability to balance flavor, texture, and color.

“Who will make us our three salads when we get home?” we asked each other sadly. I’ve never been the kind of person who cooks a week’s worth of dinners on a weekend afternoon, not much of a freezer or a prep-in-advance kind of cook, really, but the three salads have inspired me to spend an extra hour or so shredding carrots, boiling potatoes, and chopping veggies to keep ready in the fridge. I’m eyeing leftover rice and pasta with new interest, considering the possibilities of toasted nuts and diced fruits. I may not manage the salad trio at home, not right away, but I have aspirations, which is a start. I may even, if I keep it really simple, bring the boys along with me. Stay tuned…