June 19, 2013
During our recent trip to Corsica, we chanced upon U Salognu -- "the sunny place," in Corsican -- as we do many of our happiest discoveries: by following a roadside sign.
"Traditional Corsican cuisine," the sign promised from a grassy shoulder off the road that leads from Cargese to Piana. We hadn't had lunch yet, the hour was creeping dangerously into mid-afternoon territory, and we pulled over hopefully.
It was an old sheep pen made of stone, like there are thousands of abandoned ones across the island, but this one had been restored and turned into a tiny restaurant: six tables inside, and maybe twice more on a terrace outside, overlooking a deep, untouched valley with a waterfall in the far distance.
On the door, another sign announced, "Our menu is composed of ingredients from local sheep breeders and our own farm." We looked at each other with mirror twinkles in our eyes.
June 12, 2013
Camille Labro is a French cook and food journalist who writes for M, the weekly magazine published by Le Monde. On her blog, Le Ventre libre ("the free belly"), she shares her gastronomic adventures and joys, and explores ways to eat better in an urban environment.
She is the mother of two children, and I am delighted to have her as a guest in my Parents Who Cook interview series. Read on for her many inspired tips! (Interview conducted in French and translated by myself.)
Can you tell us a few words about your children? Ages, names, temperaments?
Noé, 8, loves to read, eat, bike, and roller-skate. Cléo, 6, loves to read, eat, dance, and draw. They are both very sociable, adventurous with flavors as with experiences, full of existential questions, and very jealous of the gastronomic meals I eat without them: they devour the pictures while calling me every name in the book.
Did having children change the way you cook?
Not really, but it has given me structure, and has forced me to cook more regularly and to think of the nutritional qualities of the meals. I've set a rule for myself ever since they started eating more or less everything: I prepare balanced meals with a small first course (usually a raw vegetable), a dish (protein + carb + vegetable), and a simple dessert (yogurt or fruit).
Do you remember what it was like to cook with a newborn? Any tips or saving grace for new parents going through that phase?
When my children were very young and I was still breastfeeding them (I did for nine months each), I wasn't working very much, so I had time to cook. I would place the baby in the bouncy chair next to me and talk about what I was preparing. In general, he/she was very attentive and liked the movements, the noises, the smells (better than a mobile!). And if he/she was getting impatient, I would give him/her a stick of carrot to suck on or a crust of bread to gnaw on.
Otherwise, for parents who work, I think the main tip is to prepare lots of things in advance. Pick one day a week, Sunday for instance, to go to the greenmarket and cook lots of dishes that you'll freeze: stews, soups, gratins...
And there are other simple things you can do, like wrapping small steaks or fish fillets individually for freezing (you can transfer however many you need to the fridge in the morning and have them thawed by dinnertime), freezing pesto in ice cube trays (one ice cube per person for a dish of pasta), washing and drying all your fruits, vegetables, and greens in advance so they'll be ready to use. It takes some logistics to alleviate the workload for the rest of the week.
As for dinner parties, it's hard to pull them off when you're a young parent... But you can always invite your friend over to cook dinner! I've done that often when I was feeling overwhelmed: you like to cook ? Come eat at my place. I'll take care of the shopping and set the table; you'll cook while I take care of the baby. It can be done as a group, too, with other young parents, and you take turns playing the different roles. It's fun, convivial, and a good way to show solidarity!
June 5, 2013
Interestingly enough, one of the most popular recipes I've ever posted on Chocolate & Zucchini is not for a cake or a salad, but for a personal hygiene product: it's an easy-as-pie formula for homemade natural deodorant made with coconut oil, baking soda, and starch.
I myself have been using it for two years, and I am so happy with it I sing its praises to whomever will listen: just a couple of weeks ago, I converted the sales assistant at the store where I splurged on this cute dress.
I have tinkered with the formula a bit since that initial post, and thought I would now share the latest version.
The first modification I made was to add a few drops of palmarosa essential oil. Its rose-like smell is quite lovely, and because it has anti-bacterial properties (among many others*), it reinforces the action of the deodorant on your body, and ensures that said deodorant remains uncontaminated. In France, it is easily available wherever essential oils are sold -- at organic food stores, for instance, or online.
The second upgrade comes courtesy of Didier, a resourceful and generous reader who explained at the bottom of the French version of the post that he had modified the formula to include a small portion of beeswax**, which made the deodorant more temperature-stable. Indeed, the basic formula is mostly composed of coconut oil, which is solid at low room temperature, but turns to butter then oil when the temperature increases.
This isn't much of a problem if you're staying home: you can either keep the deodorant in the fridge, or embrace the creaminess and apply it like a lotion. But when you travel, it can get messy. Last summer, we were on vacation in the Basque country during a heatwave, and my deodorant split, leaving me with a liquid layer of coconut oil at the top, and a starchy sludge at the bottom. I survived, but vowed to find a more travel-friendly formula.
And this is most definitely it: since beeswax doesn't melt until 63°C (145°F), it keeps the deodorant nice and set even at a high room temperature (even if you vacation at Furnace Creek Ranch in Death Valley), and prevents it from splitting or leaking from the container, so you can use it whenever and wherever you like, all summer long.
What about you: do you make your own cosmetics? What's your favorite formula?
* I often use essential oils to cure various small ailments, and my go-to reference book is Danièle Festy's Ma Bible des huiles essentielles.
** The beeswax I used was special-ordered from the guy who sells honey at the Anvers greenmarket on Friday afternoons.
June 3, 2013
A few of my favorite finds and reads for May:
~ A French Tastespotting-like site devoted to vegetarian and vegan recipes.
~ I am intrigued by these Miso Almond Brownies.
~ A gorgeous sun-shaped spinach pie.
~ Roti prata being shaped and cooked at Namnam restaurant in Copenhagen.
~ DIY polka-dot tablecloth.
~ How cheap canned tuna is made (in French).
~ My Life in Sourdough, a mini-series about dating and cooking in NYC, directed by my friend Marie.
May 28, 2013
Our spring has been less than exemplary, with record low temperatures and downpours. And in a country that loves (loves!) to complain about the weather, the season has turned into a total moan fest.
I usually try to steer clear of such discussions -- is there anything less constructive than griping about something no one can control? -- and just nod non-noncommittally whenever bad-weather comments are made. But in this instance, even I have to admit that boy, this May has felt a lot like a November.
And so, in order to bridge the gap between the expected season and the actual one, I decided to make a springtime pot-au-feu. It would combine the comforts of this epitomic cold-weather beef stew with the vibrancy of the first sprightly vegetables that have bravely managed to sprout and grow despite the unseemly meteorologic conditions: pencil-thin new carrots, baby fennel bulbs, green peas, and waxy little potatoes.
For a really good pot-au-feu, you need to cook the meat for a goooood loooong time -- four hours is just about right -- and you need to make it the day before you intend to serve it: this allows the flavors to deepen, and gives you a chance to skim some of the fat from the broth, making the whole dish lighter and more refined.
The classic wintry pot-au-feu typically includes leeks, carrots, turnips, celeriac, and potatoes, and sometimes cabbage, which are added to the meat as it cooks until they become very very tender. In my version, since the vegetables I wanted to feature were quick to cook, I first stewed the meat with the odds and ends I keep in the freezer for stock-making purposes, such as leek greens and fennel tops, to produce a flavorful broth in which to cook the star vegetables at the last minute.
The lovely, lovely thing about pot-au-feu is that is it meant to be served in two installments: first the broth, with fresh herbs and good crusty bread, and then the meat and vegetables, with more of the broth, strong mustard, and perky little cornichons*.
Pot-au-feu is ordinarily a dish that I would cook for company, but this time I decided to make it just for us, with good meat I had purchased through the Ruche qui dit oui!. We got three splendid dinners out of it during a very busy week when it was a blessing to have our evening meals ready to reheat in minutes. (I will also note, if case you have a young child at home, that my one-year-old took to the dish like a duck to water; this currently holds his record for most food-related enthusiasm.)
* You can even wedge in a third attraction by cooking marrow bones (one section per guest) in the broth for 30 minutes, and serving them with toasted bread after the broth and before the meat, sprinkled with fleur de sel and black pepper. Marrow bones may also be roasted in the oven at 200°C (400°F) for 25 to 30 minutes.
May 22, 2013
This week's expression is, "Haut comme trois pommes."
Literally translated as, "high as three apples," it is used to point out that someone -- often a child -- is small or very short. I've seen it translated to "knee-high to a grasshopper," although I've never heard that cute English expression myself.
Example: "Il était haut comme trois pommes et devait courir pour rattraper ses soeurs." (He was high as three apples and had to run to catch up with his sisters.)
Listen to the idiom and example read aloud: