Monday, September 30, 2013

French Kids Eat Everything: Book Review & Reflections

In a nutshell, I totally loved the book; her writing is compelling and colourful, the approach she advocates was for me a fertile mixture of common-sense and crazy, and it dealt with my favourite subjects: food, parenting, and anthropology. Be still my heart! Now I am going to throw a bunch of quotes at you and show you some pictures of how I totally reorganized the dining room after having read it.

p. 37
"Philippe and Janine [her husband and mother-in-law] scanned the menu [posted outside her daughter's school on the first day], clucking cheerfully at their favourites. But the list struck me as ludicrous. Beets? Fresh fish? This sounded like a meal in a Michelin-starred restaurant, not food for five-year-olds. And certainly not for my five-year-old.
     'Um,' I said hesitantly, 'something seems to be missing. There's only one choice every day.' I was thinking of school cafeterias back home, where kids always had a choice, although one that was often admittedly dubious from a nutritional perspective...
     'Everyone eats the same thing, bien sur!' replied my husband [a native Frenchman]. I had already learned that the phrase bien sur ('of course') usually implied I had unknowlingly committed some sort of social blunder, about something that seemed blindingly obvious to the French.
     'But what if the kids don't like what's being served that day?' I asked. This question gave rise to odd looks from the parents shepherding their children through the school doors.
     'They go hungry!'"

p. 71-72
"Suddenly timid [a guest at the first dinner party she attends after having moved to France], I turned quietly to Virginie. 'Where I come from, only a few people are interested in gastronomie. Why is it such an obsession for the French?'
     'It's a pleasure, but not an obsession!' she said, laughing.
     'Good food was democratized a long time ago,' added Sylvie, overhearing us. 'It's because of the French Revolution: the aristocrats no longer had a monopoly on the best food and the best chefs. The revolutionaries made French food culture accessible to everyone.'
     'Not just that!' interrupted Hugo. 'It's economic! Paris was Europe's first big city with a middle class that had enough income to eat at restaurants. Cooks couldn't depend on aristocratic patrons any longer, so they opened restaurants and that to compete for customers and public opinion. French food is about capitalism and competition leading to better food for everyone!'
     'Actually, it's about religion,' offered Sylvie. 'Catholic countries always have been more interested in food. French gastronomie is like a secular communion, like a sacrament or a ceremony.'
     By this point, I was completely lost. Maybe I was misunderstanding the word 'gastronomie'. For me, it meant elaborate, expensive, indulgent meals that had little to do with what interested me about food: nutrition, health, and price. ...
     'It's part of French culture,' someone else chimed in, 'that children should learn to eat well!' This got the most enthusiastic nods.

"From the French point of view, the world is made by adults and for adults. Few concessions are made to children. Their children dress like little adults: mostly pastel and matte colors, and no more pink on the girls than you would see on their mothers. The furtniture in kids' rooms is usually a miniaturized version of adult furniture (no princess loft beds with slides, thank you very much, and no princess potty thrones either). Children are expected to be quiet (tranquille) in public. They are not placed on a pedestal and are not expected to be at the center stage in a gathering."

p. 92-93
"Fischler's work on adults also confirmed my impressions. Americans tend to be anxious about food and to identify health, nutrition, and dieting as key issues they associate with eating. The French, on the other hand, almost never mention any of these topics when asked for their thoughts about food. Rather, they talk about pleasure, tasty food, socializing, culture, identity, and fun. In one of the most revealing studies, Fischler showed a picture of a chocolate cake to both American and French people and asked them for the first word that popped into their head. For Americans, the most common word was 'guilt'. For the French, the most common word was 'celebration'."

p. 139
"Back in Vancouver, the little kids we knew grazed constantly. They snacked at school and after school. They snacked at after-school events, sports practices, at the park, and at almost any gathering lasting more than about fifteen minutes. They snacked in their strollers and cars. ... Snacking is so widespread - and so ingrained in North American parenting routines - that I had just taken it for granted. I brought snacks with us to everywhere we went..."

p. 144-145
"'When I first arrived in Vancouver, it seemed so rude!' [Celine, the author's French friend who'd lived years living in Canada] exclaimed, when I got her on the phone. 'First of all, someone is eating alone, in front of you, and not sharing. And they're often standing up or walking around. The French feel uncomfortable seeing someone eating if they're not sitting down. And I couldn't believe how messy it was!' ...
     And another thing Celine said intrigued me. 'Americans have no self-controll!' she kept repeating. This, again, reflects French views: people should show self-restraint when it comes to eating. This means that treats are rare, should be eaten only occasionally, and should be savoured. Moreover, it means that food should be eaten only at mealtimes, and only at the table. In breaking all of the French food rules, Americans were guilty of demonstrating a lack of self-control. For all of these reasons, the American approach to snacking seems both slightly bizarre and vaguely repellent to the French. ...
     Feeding children in France often feels like taking a train in Switzerland: it's always on schedule. In their daily routine, French children, like their parents, eat at the correctly scheduled time. ... Just as important, French children do not eat at unscheduled times. But scheduling meals does not mean (and is not viewed as) deprivation. The French anticipate eating. They have mastered the art of making food delicious at all times, and they themselves regularly indulge in it. The same is true with the gouter [the 4:30 PMish after-school snack children get; everybody eats supper at around 7 PM or 8 PM], which is associated with many cozy rituals...
     We'll just have to have really delicious snacks, I thought. Suddenly, this didn't seem like such a bad idea after all."

p. 161
"These meals taught me that pleasure (le plaisir) is the most important goal for the French when they're seated around the table. The French children I met seemed to know this intuitively. This was confirmed when I looked up surveys of French children's eating habits. In the biggest one to date, the following statement got the highest 'agreement' out of kids:
     The most important thing is to enjoy your food."


What challenged me most in the book was snacks. I was already down with most of the other food rules, such as avoiding emotional eating, sitting together as a family to eat, choosing real food, etc., but the snack thing was tough to wrap my head around. I realized by the end of the book that I really did know it was truly wiser than my pro-snack approach; after all, when I started weaning Ambrose my first step was to limit milk before mealtimes, because I knew that if allowed to nurse freely, he'd eat less, and be hungry at bedtime, requiring more milk all night, and on and on. The French approach is all about creating delicious, nourishing meals, and ensuring that nothing disinclines the children from eating well at those meals. So we've stopped giving Ambrose snacks and I don't even let him have fridge milk before supper. No more bed time snacks, no more almonds at night. And you know what? He eats more! Why am I so surprised?? Carefully cultivating the right degree of hunger before a well-prepared meal is essential to make sure that meal is enjoyed!

What I concretely applied at home involved a reorganization of the whole dining room. I wanted the table to be the center of our home life, a beautiful little oasis, I wanted our dining room to be beautiful and tidy even if no other room was. But stuff always ended up on the table, and aside from getting baskets, I couldn't think of what to do about it. The book motivated me strongly to find a solution, so I put together a book shelf my mom had given us, and tah dah! We now have a shelf for books being read, mail, and other papers and things that otherwise would end up on the table. We also have a place to put our bags, and I brought our table cloths and candles onto that shelf for easy table beautification (these were formerly in the bathoom and living room, respectively). And it looks awesome! After a few days, I decided to integrate the no distractions rule more fully and moved Ambrose's play kitchen to the living room, bringing in his little table, for which I made a tablecloth as well. This worked well, as he's gotten used to enjoying a little table at preschool and will sometimes complain that our table is too big for him.

It's going really well! Toys and things drift in, so I tidy the room a couple of times per day, and so far the family's clear-the-table instinct is not quite as strong as I'd like it to be, but it's definitely improved the ambiance at mealtimes. Knowing the room is beautiful is encouraging in my efforts to create lovely meals (as, conversely, knowing it's a mess makes the task of cooking seem like a pointless chore). Ambrose is really enjoying the candle-lighting ritual, and had learned to wait until we've prayed before eating. Lovely!

I very much want to take a vacation in France, bien sur, and I very much recommend the book if you need some motivation to integrate your vision of the good life with the reality of your space and time management, and especially if you are caught in a snacking-pickiness-bad sleep cycle with your kids! Vive la bouffe!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

gift economies & a sense of community

I forgot to blog about this last week (things have just been busy, so busy, too busy; as of next week I'll have more free time) but I decided to fold up the zucchini patch and give away what I harvested that day. We already had four or five in the fridge. All of them were taken save one. I would like to live in a neighbourhood where this was common. I have a street neighbour who puts out potted plants for free (which is where I got my ficus, and my hibiscus, and my oregano, if you've kept track). It makes me happy. We need to do more of what makes our neighbours happy. We need to be that change. This is my baby step.

Monday, September 23, 2013

rainbow cake!

So fun!

I've had this recipe pinned forever, and we decided to make it for Ambrose's birthday party. We got a car this weekend, visited our dear friend Carolina, Brazilian coffee-maker extraordinare and juicer-owner, and juiced a bunch of fruits and veg for dyes, then had a little peach juice party. Just juicing was good fun! We want one now!

I greased all the pans but didn't flour them, so they generally didn't cooperate well in coming out. Still, the whole process was really neat, the cake tastes great (we slapped it together for family sampling), and it really doe slook gorgeous, even though my purple layer looks kind of gray. Whatever! Rainbows and clouds (cream cheese and yogurt, no sweetness at all, just a bit of nutmeg) and rain drops (edible silver ball bearings)!!! So much cuteness!

I have to make more spinach juice and make a new batch of cakes, lined with parchment paper this time, and freeze them for thawing and assembling Saturday, the day of Ambrose's party. Yee haw!

Recipe note: I don't have 5.5" cake pans, so I used a multiplying factor of 1.45 on all ingredients to translate it to 8" dimensions. The flour combo was 40% ground almonds, 60% white rice flour. As usual, no lab gums. Delish! I also used an extra egg yolk with the carrot juice for the orange layer. Next time will use more beet juice.

lined up for duty! my faith in the blackberry juice faltered so I also bought grape juice. not a good idea actually.

look how frothy and abundant the beet juice was!!

Beating the dry ingredients - my kitchenaid mixer needs to be repaired, so I actually had to use a hand mixer. Weird! Also notice how white it is!! I bought white sugar for the first time in... ever? for this cake.

dyes mixed into the batter portions

"look at all the fascinating colours!!" he said.

Ambrose was delighted with the colours, and we had a lot of beet, so I used tiny amounts of beet juice to dye his yogurt (and a few cups of milk) pink.
mixed. notice how similar the blueberry and blackberry/grape look? They do look distincitve when baked.

tah dah!

It was fun. I need to get silicone cake pans. I don't know how I can go back to eating regular cake, now.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

this week in pictures

I'm on a rice paper kick! With a fish and veg filling yesterday.

The hot filling kind of helps cook and soften the noodle-paper. You could deep fry them, I guess, but we just ate them straight, with sriracha. Today I made egg & veg ones with a sauce of peach, olive oil and sriracha. Yum!

Ambrose took this picture of me at dinner.

This one too. Blurry but adorable.
We went for a walk in the wildish path behind our house before lunch today and foraged some grapes from our neighbour's vine, growing over the fence into the path. They were amazing. Champagne grapes maybe? The more I taste of real, fresh, fragrant, homegrown food, the more I realize how bland, starchy, and awful most grocery store produce is.

I decided zucchini season is over, so I harvested the last of the goods and ripped out the vines to clear the patch. I then tossed the plants back over the bed to compost in place. The potted plant behind the flowers you see is a free oregano plant I got from a neighbour.

This is how carrots peek out of the garden.

Little man working in the garden. You can see the new configuration of stones, the maturing kale, and the zucchini vines ripped up in a heap.

Harvesting carrots - taken by Tony. The harvest was decent, given how little TLC I gave to this whole side of the garden.

Fucking beautiful.

I don't have a weekly schedule to show you because I've been working a lot and it's a bit fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants. But I am glad I have some of them archived here; I think for the next little while I will do a very regular two-week rotation of the top favourites, plotting crock pot meals on evenings I work, other nights being leftovers or a bit more ambitious.

Monday, September 9, 2013


So I have been wanting to ferment some beets since I tried the dragon/buddha/macro bowl at Aux Vivres. Those bowls are like a party of happy doing the macarena on your taste buds.

beets. why u so mysterious?
So I decided it was time to get to business, seeing God had it in his plan that I should date a Missouri farm boy. So I got me some beets pulled out of the ground yesterday (I will never, ever stop talking about this, because those of you who know me KNOW I kill everything I plant and seeing something pulled out of the ground to eat is a spiritual experience EVERY TIME) and they are impatiently waiting to be made into pro-biotic versions of Los del Mar.

BUT when I've looked up recipes, there's SO much conflicting info!

Some recipes call for FULLY cooked beets, some call for 5 minute shock-boiling, then slicing and peeling, some call to leave the peel on because there are living organisms ON THEM (mortified squeak), but I'm like "Y'all, I just wanted to ferment some beets! Why does this have to be so difficult?"

So ladies, I need help...what's the deal? How do I ferment these beet babies? Do I cook them? Should I leave on the peel? What will be most nutritious? Do I use whey? Isn't whey...not a whole food? Do I omit whey and use more salt instead?

I would like to have them shredded so I can make gorgeous salads with them!

Lunch time all the time

So I'm trying something new, which is to make all my lunches for the work week at once, something that would save me tons of time prepping (and save me from forgetting the night before and rushing madly the morning of) but I've largely refrained from doing so because Im really scared of the monotony that would create. Eating the same thing over and over 5 days in a row doesn't sound very appealing, but what the heck, I cant judge something without trying it.

So this is what I made, a sort of chili I guess you would call it.

 For the meat base, I used a meatloaf I never got around to cooking, mixture of ground turkey and ground beef with minced broccoli and cauliflower and spices, I'm not sure which I put in there. Sliced an onion, a red pepper, a zucchini (thanks Amy!!), added green and yellow string beans, some carrots, cubed sweet potato and added some chopped fresh tomatoes as well as the last of last year's canned tomato sauce I made, and finally a mix of beans (red, white kidney beans, some chickpeas and I think some split peas as well). Added oregano, paprika, dried chili, chili powder, and jalapeno hot sauce. Shoved all that in the crockpot for a few hours on high. The result is exactly like chili, or maybe a tomato stew. So now I have lunch for the whole week (and a couple bowls that we ate for supper as well). Although I'm loving the result, I know that by Wednesday I'm going to start dreading lunch time haha so I think what I will do is make two recipes every week, freeze the individual portions and mix and match.

Do you have large scale crockpot recipes that are easily freezable and microwavable you would suggest?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Basic Slicable Loafpan Gluten-Free Bread

I am happy to present a revised, simplified gluten-free loaf of bread, xanthan and guar gum-free as ever, faster than the soaked recipe I posted previously to prepare. Family-approved. I've been using some version of this for months, but as Ambrose's preschool teacher requested a formal recipe I rolled up my sleeves and wrote down some numbers as I went. Enjoy!

1 1/2 c warm water
1 tbsp dry active yeast
1/2 tbsp salt
2 c white rice flour
1/2 c buckwheat flour
1/4 ground flax
2 eggs

Mix the dry ingredients first, then stir everything else in willy-nilly. No need to knead. Turn into a buttered bread pan (if your home isn't gluten-free, be sure there are no traces of wheat bread crumbs on the pan!). Let rise 2 hours. Bake 400 F for 30 m, then pop out of the pan and continue to bake on bread stone, or oven wire racks, for 10-15 minutes till golden-brown and very fragrant. Let cool fully before slicing.