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Best of 2012

Happy New Year! Here’s to 2013 and the glorious meals, peals of laughter, new friends, and unforgettable adventures I hope it has in store for you.

Before we remove the protective film from this brand new year, I’d like to take a moment to look back on some of the best things 2012 brought. The two biggest, happiest events for me have been (1) the birth of my baby boy in the spring — Milan is now seven and a half months and he’s a ray of sunshine — and (2) wrapping up the manuscript for my upcoming vegetable cookbook, which will come out mid-2013 under the title The French Market Cookbook.

Here on Chocolate & Zucchini, after a little post-baby break, I was delighted to come back with two new series of Q&A posts: Draw Me A Fridge (in collaboration with my friend Alexia Colson-Duparchy) offers a sneak peek into our guests’ fridge habits, while Parents Who Cook asks parents about their kitchen life after they had children. I also picked up the Edible Idioms series where I’d left it, except now they’re illustrated by Mélina Baumert‘s wonderful watercolors.

Aside from these, here are some of the highlights of my year — and if you care to share your own, I’d love to hear about them!

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Three Very Good Things: Squash and Coffee Soup, Lo Bak Go, and Honey Lemon Tea

{This is part of a series in which I share three delicious things recently tasted and enjoyed. Please feel free to share your 3VGT list in the comments below, or on your own blog!}

My latest “three very good things” are as follows:

~ Red Kuri Squash Soup with Arabica Whipped Cream

I was just in Valence for a work project, and had the opportunity to dine at one of Anne-Sophie Pic’s establishments: not the three-star gastronomic restaurant, but her chic bistro, simply called Le 7 (after the highway that runs alongside it!).

We had a wonderful evening and ate very well, and I was especially taken with my first course, a velvety soup of potimarron (a.k.a. Hokkaido or red kuri squash) served with a scoop of whipped cream spiked with Arabica coffee.

I had heard about another vegetable/coffee pairing that Pic does, partnering beets with Blue Mountain coffee, and this one works just as well, shaking up the sweetness of the winter squash with a measured touch of bitterness. Coffee is an underused ingredient in savory cooking; shouldn’t we all do something to change that?

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Best of 2011

Happy New Year! May your 2012 be a year of glowing health, simple pleasures, serene prospects, and dreams fulfilled.

2011 has been an eventful and wonderful year for me, full of exciting and gratifying projects in both my personal and professional lives. I got to travel around France (Deauville, Aix-en-Provence, the Basque country, Corsica) and beyond (Marrakech and Toronto), I was invited to be the host of an international food festival and the writer in residence at a chefs school, I worked on The Art of French Baking and on a new book of my own devoted to vegetables (to be released by Clarkson Potter next year), I did a two-week stint in the kitchen at my favorite vegetarian restaurant in Paris, I had my kitchen and living room remodeled, and I was admitted as a member of a famous French chocolate appreciation society, which had long been on my life list.

Beyond those big events, here are some specific highlights from my year, in no particular order. I’d love to hear about yours, so feel free to share in the comment section!

Most frequently made dish: Chicken in a bread crust, inspired by a dish demo’d by Saturne’s Sven Chartier at the Omnivore Food Festival.

Most frequently made dessert: Butterless apple crumble, a dairy-free version of the classic that is possibly even better for breakfast the next day.

Most elusive ingredient: Kale, a beautiful and nourishing green that is near-impossible to find in Paris, but which I filled up on while in Canada.

Most popular ingredient: Chestnut flour, which I brought back from Corsica and have been slipping into everything since.

Favorite new utensil: Bear claws, handmade in Canada, to toss salads.

Favorite homemade condiments: Dukkah, an Egyptian spice mix, and Celery salt, after a recipe by my friend Heidi.

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Three Very Good Things: Bumble Bee Dumplings, Excellent Vegan Food, and Old-School Chocolate

I want to express my sincere thanks to all of you who took the time to share recommendations for my stay in Stratford and Toronto. I spent most of my time in Stratford and very little in Toronto, so I feel another trip is in order to explore the city and try many more of the tempting places you wrote about. But I did make it to Chinatown, to the Kensington and St-Lawrence markets, and to the Distillery District (all in one walk-intensive afternoon).

And even though I spent little more than a day in Toronto, my picks for this week’s Three Very Good Things are all drawn from the city:

~ Bumble bee dessert dumplings at Lai Wah Heen. I had a very good and very fun lunch at this upscale dim sum place, located inside the Metropolitan Hotel, and we ended our meal with these deep-fried, mochi-like dumplings, filled with a green tea paste. Adorably shaped, too, as I’m sure you’ll agree. They tasted like Japanese wagashi, only deep-fried, and the interesting plating touch — that sprig of curly parsley, those loose strands of grated carrot — makes me laugh in retrospect.

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Three Very Good Things: A Fennel Salad, Not Enough Kale, and Pedal-Powered Chocolate

I am writing this installment of the Three Very Good Things series from Canada, where I’ve been for a week now, as the Gastronomic Writer in Residence for the Stratford Chefs School. I’m having a wonderful time, the weather is unseasonably balmy, squirrels are running around everywhere, and I am eating very well. Here are a few highlights from this past week:

~ A salad of shaved fennel, frisée, and slim artichoke wedges, topped with fresh herbs and crispy prosciutto.

This exceptionally well-balanced and well-dressed salad was served at the “restaurant lab”, where second-year students of the chef school cook and serve dinner every weeknight. It was served as an appetizer-sized portion, but I could have eaten a bucket of it.

~ Kale, kale, and more kale. Kale is an elusive ingredient in France: it is grown essentially as an ornamental plant (I’m told the name is chou vert demi-nain) and not commonly sold as a vegetable. So I took the opportunity of being in Canada, and having access to a well-equipped kitchen in Stratford, to get organic dino kale from The Gentle Rain, the local health food store.

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