February 3, 2014

The Family Dinner Cookbook

The Family Dinner

This morning started out with workout clothes on, the school run and absolutely no drive to get out of the car and workout WHATSOEVER. Call it fatigue, too much rain, February blahs, it’s all so pedestrian but the raging truth. Tossed in the backseat of the car were two cookbooks I had brought along to scan in the grocery store parking lot for tonight’s dinner.

First off, The Family Dinner by Laurie David. 

For some reason I was motivated to pull into the school lot and start paging through The Family Dinner, hoping that during my reading interlude somehow, somewhere the energy/desire/motivation to go and workout would bubble from the inside out and take me where I needed to go. Two hours later, happily tucked into Costa with a massive cappuccino at my side I discovered newfound motivation for my family’s dinner and for myself.

Laurie David writes with warmth, sincerity, humor and refreshing honesty. Feeding our children is one of the all time top responsibilities and guilt inducer  that is bestowed by genetic pre-conditioning mostly on us mothers. I have three children to feed. The oldest has been the poster child for picky eaters since he was three. Before that he would eat anything. Then one night at a  dinner party I sat next to a man who commented that his 5-year-old would only eat  fast food from McDonald’s. I assumed he was being facetious .

“What do your children eat?” he questioned.

“We  have one so far, and he will eat pretty much everything.”

“Just wait, that will go away.”

I swear that ogre put a hex on me because one month later food refusal began and has never changed to this day. The other two kiddies are average eaters, i.e., feeding everyone is WORK.

I love Laurie David’s book and what it represents. Thank you Laurie!


May 12, 2013

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Happy Mother’s Day to my beautiful, glorious children who bring me joy, surprise, love and wonder every single day ~

Happy Mother’s Day to my Mother who showed me the way with such love ~

Happy Mother’s Day to my gorgeous friends who sustain and support me as we all work on this together ~

Happy Mother’s Day to everyone who mother’s ~


January 10, 2013

We live in an area where every house has a gate.

It is unusual in the U.S. but very common in England. I think it goes back to a moat mentality, fearing conquerors in knight dressage leaping onto ones property at any given moment. So now we all have gates. They are old and creaky and not reliable. I told this to my “letting” agent upon signing our lease but he did not agree. Fast forward to an icy, cold London morning with a sick child at home.

It was one of those mornings where everything was off. My daughter woke up ill with the virus that was flying through her school. After racing out the door, late for other two’s school run, I realized that I did not have my phone. Is there any panic like not having your phone, lifeline to the universe? Normally I would have enjoyed the break but with my daughter home, alone, and feeling awful I felt full on panic. Additionally, I had to pick up a package at school and tick tock it was taking FOREVER. Finally back on the road – about a 20 minute drive in moving traffic, screech into the driveway, push the button – and gates do not open. What the %^&$ ? Why won’t the gates open??? I get out to call on the intercom and it is silent. Now I am truly hyperventilating. Child inside, can’t get in – only one possible solution – climb over the gate.

No problem, I can push myself over.

After five heave-hos I am riding the the ice covered brick part of the gate bare back holding onto that mare for dear life. Now what? I could stay, frozen till help arrives (possibly never) with my ailing child inside the house or I could roll myself off the gate with the grace of a hippopotamus and go splat on the other side. I voted for the roll. Slowly, slowly, eeeerrrrgghhhhhhhhhhh, got it. Success. Run inside the house to find said daughter relaxing in front of the TV. “You forgot your phone”.

I know.

September 12, 2010

I sat with a learned man recently who told me the story of the frog in boiling water. Evidently frogs are very thick skinned and possibly not particularly smart. So, say a frog is put in a pot of water at room temperature and is  happily swimming around. As the temperature of the water is turned up the frog continues to swim unaware of the increasing heat because it adapts to the temperature. It adapts and adapts and adapts and then BOOM – dead.

Eww. Not a good story. But as I overcame the utter gruesomeness of it , I thought it actually is quite a brilliant analogy. Think of mothers. All the mothers of young and growing children that I know knock themselves out on a daily basis. They are exhausted and harried, constantly trying to catch up. It doesn't start out that way. Originally, as motherhood descends, the woman's life is still as she has known it for probably all of adulthood. But things happen. Children have needs and the needs of a baby doesn't come close to foreshadowing the needs of the bigger ones. Then, often, there is more than one. Or two. It's not like they have less needs just because there is more of 'em. But there is still only one mother. Ah, that's the rub. We don't multiply in ratio to the size of our growing families. So we adapt and we adapt and we adapt and then BOOM – we no longer remember who we were to begin with.

If every day we start to recover a small piece of our authentic selves, and nurture it with a modicum of  care, perhaps we can create a truly satisfying balance of past and present.

August 25, 2010

What is more comforting than an old friend? I mean a really old friend, like as in knowing each other through marriages, careers, children. Most importantly having been there when you were both fresh faced and young, desperately pondering if  you would ever figure it all out. I saw just such a friend the other day. Seeing her is as comfortable as putting on my favorite robe and tucking in with a delightful book. Our history makes our present all the more awe inspiring, horrifying and  grounding. I treasure my friendship with her aware that  these types of friends are few and far between. Having lost my oldest and most beloved friend from childhood nine years ago I relish the few relationships I still have in this category. It's one thing to have old friends and acquaintances. It's another thing to care.

August 8, 2010

It feels like a year. Okay, the expected re-entry process has been more difficult than anticipated. Picture a CD playing at full tilt that's ripped out of the player. That's me.  For one thing, let's discuss the bugs. Evidently there has been an infestation of mosquitoes from a horror movie since we left. Creature Features lives.  While walking around the backyard and surveying the weed situation, myself and my five year old were attacked by mosquitoes. They went down my shirt and up my pants legs. Who gets bit on their knees while wearing pants? I do. Then I noticed many small children in town looking like they had chicken pox on their faces. Upon further investigation it appeared that the evil mosquitoes had descended upon them as well. Ick.

I love farmer's markets. From the first sign of spring I am anticipating the energy rush of all the beautiful produce plucked so recently from the ground. Summer is my favorite time to cook and prepare meals, inspired by the gorgeous bounty. Obviously our local farmer's markets are not going to bear any similarity to the ones in France. We have different soil, light, weather conditions. So my expectations were not particularly high for the local market, and it was o.k. Smaller than last year, and a little anemic, though I did find some beautiful triple creme cheese with apricots and almonds that was amazingly delicious. We ripped it open, slathered it on water crackers and practically ate the entire chunk standing at the kitchen counter. 

Now for the boxes. Coming home to a house filled with packed boxes that need to be emptied overwhelms me with fatigue. This is the most difficult hurdle of all. Getting back into the swing of children's schedules and school necessities is "child's play"  compared to this. How do people cope with unpacking moving boxes? How would a French woman cope with the unpacking and organizing of hundreds of boxes. Those bastions of efficiency and energy would certainly not allow boxes to sit around for weeks collecting dust and above all, looking ugly.   One friend says attack it head on, get it over with, then on with your life. Another's advice is one box a day – it's not so miserable. I would love some advice on this.

August 2, 2010

I wake up in the shape of an upside down question mark and can't move. Oh, I see. It is due to two children in my bed, one on either side of me. There is snoring coming from the floor. My oldest has placed himself there sometime during the night. Re-entry after six weeks in France is not going to be easy.

Upon return the children all felt our house was tooo big after living in a sardine can for four weeks. Just goes to show the affects of environment even in the short term. The house does feel cavernous, but that is because it is empty. We moved a month before leaving and half the boxes have yet to be unpacked. Uggghhhhh…..

Ice. Being dry and parched from my jet lagged sleep I reach for a cold glass of anything and realize I can pull out ice. Ice is a great luxury in France. Restaurants rarely serve it and our apartment did not have a freezer – big surprise. The refrigeration systems there are teeny tiney dollhouse size, and electricity  chuggs along in what seem to be limited amounts in the old buildings of the Marais. Ice is a welcome friend.

Bread. Wandering through the grocery store yesterday in a bit of a culture shock stupor I was at a loss as  what to buy. The bread aisle  looked  cartoonish ,  filled with Disney-like bundles of plastic. At the corner boulangerie in Paris the smell of fresh bread wafted in the windows in the morning and by afternoon their  shelves were empty. And it was DELICIOUS. Chewy in that perfect way, rolling with flavor. The bread here looks about as appealing as eating a sponge.

Cheese. Well, maybe I'll purchase some cheese. That was a mistake.

Olives.  Love olives. Always have. One of the tastiest concoctions we had in Paris was a thin crusted pizza on the Champs-Elysees with cheese, tiny capers and olives. It was sublime. That is one recipe I will try to recreate. The olive selection here is all in bottles, but there is a nice olive salad in the deli that looks fresh. We will have one of those please.

Fruit. Generic and  industrial looking. The berries at the local market in Provence were still warm from being picked. This fruit looks like it's been hermetically sealed in a vast refrigeration system. This was getting depressing. I picked up a peach, hard as a rock and ice cold. Eww.

Why is our food so disgusting? Perusing our local grocery store is a viewing of food like substances with very little real food.Not a novel discovery but  visually shocking when coming from such a different food experience for my family. Summers with my grandparents when was a child were a bounty of fresh produce picked everyday from their own garden. And it was absolutely delicious.  Sitting at the kitchen table chatting while munching on sliced green peppers and warm, sweet tomatoes was vividly recalled for me with the beautiful produce of Provence. The leisurely abundance of the Provencial markets was replaced with the fervor of Paris, but the food remained the same.

Change #1 – pay strict attention to what I feed my family and where it comes from. No more lip service. 

July 29, 2010

The service could not be worse. I am giving Laduree a second try before an early morning hair appointment. I stand by the sign telling the world to please wait to be seated. I wait for 8 minutes and am the only person in line. As two women blow past the sign and seat themselves it feels prudent to follow suite. There appears to be one person working/serving/ignoring the tea room on Rue Royal. She looks at me, then looks away. I walk into the less than half filled room and sit down at a table, taking note of several sticky, dirty cup rings. Five minutes pass and a woman appears, asking me something in French. I don't even make an effort.

 "Do you speak English?" . 

"How many people are sitting here?"


 "This table is for four."

"Where would you like me to sit?"

She points half-heartedly to the next table over. 


I wait another ten minutes for someone to take my order. A man appears. 

"Are you ready?'

"I've been ready for 20 minutes."

I am served a not particularly great cup of coffee and four pastries that could be gathered at a Residence Inn breakfast buffet.

 What brought me back you might ask? Pure nostalgia and love of the macaroon. I adore macaroons. Each little bite is a scrumptious burst of flavor, light, airy yet somehow chewy. The colors are divine with a highly imaginative assortment of yummy flavors. Then there is the nostalgia. My first encounter with Laduree was 20 years ago on my honeymoon where I fell head over heels into enchantment. It was early spring, brisk outside, warm and bubbling in. The tea salon was chock full of chic and stunning patrons. Particularly appealing was that so many of them were mothers, daughters and utterly adorable granddaughters. It was a Parisian paradise, American in Paris in vivid, breathing technicolor. 

That experience has never been close to recreated.

This summer I finally brought my mother to Laduree. The decor looked shabby, ignored and in need of grooming. The room no longer sat with its back straight up against the chair but had developed the American slouch. Our service was god-awful, beyond rude. It was hot and there was barely any ventilation. My enthusiasm did not completely dim so we ordered omelets and a club sandwich (my five year old was with us) and had an enjoyable time. Unfortunately, my daughter was not with us. The plan was for her to meet up with us with her dad and brother, who was, as usual, running behind  by two hours. But that's another story. As we were leaving our unhurried group arrived. Long story short, (well, relatively) ~ while indulging in reverie at my favorite bookstore in the world – Galignani – I receive two phone calls from my husband complaining about Laduree. Our daughter doesn't know what to order, there is nothing she likes on the menu. This strikes me as odd.  She is very easy to please in a restaurant and almost never complains. Next call, our son wants salmon, should we get it here?

When husband and said children arrive later at Galignani my daughter tells me how much she dislikes macaroons. Oh well.

C'est la vie.   


July 28, 2010

Back at the apartment I have noticed several bruises on the sides of my upper thighs. Upon reflection I know exactly how I got them. When I walk from the kitchen area to the bedroom I have approximately 8 inches  within to navigate to get to the bedroom. Sound confusing? It goes something like this. Pretend you have just walked into your very small, very hot apartment (because the air conditioning works two hours at a time). You make a hard left to enter the kitchen area and pull a cold drink out of the little refrigerator under the kitchen counter. As you raise your head up it bangs into the very pointy, very hard "thing" overhanging the counter. Stumble backwards two to three inches and do a quarter turn to the right. Realize you need to powder your nose (insert your own euphemism) . Do another quarter turn to the right, go into bathroom. Oooops, can't use that one. It is all blocked up (according to  rental agent it's all part of the charm of staying in a historic building. She also stated that some of the French buildings pre date one's in US by 200 years. Added plus ~ history lessons.) But back to the business at hand. Walk out of bathroom and turn right, yyykkkkeees! You just ran into the very pointy credenza in the kitchen. Ouch, bruise number one.Step six inches to the left. Walk two feet to the bedroom, OUUCCCHHHH. Just jabbed left thigh into metal hook that holds back bedroom curtains. Godd#$!* it!!!! Turn side saddle and inch your way across entire expanse of the bedroom i.e..the width of the bed, and turn left. Walk three feet thru the second bedroom. Now comes the tricky part. Angle your body to a perfect 90 degrees so as not to run into the armoire but additionally not fall on your face as you step down into the terrarium/chemical toilet bathroom. Look out window, wave at your neighbors and sit. Mon Dieu. 

July 28, 2010

My five year old is adorable. He has golden blond hair, sweet brown eyes and the ability to endear himself to most anyone who meets him. This is quite fortuitous as he is very precocious and given to some outrageous "antics". I have always heard that the French were not nice to children, that they did not particularly wish to see or hear them. Traveling with three children who are very American, i.e., loud and opinionated, I have yet to meet a person in France who was not only lovely to them but also quite engaging.

Sunday in Place des Vosges is everything a Paris romantic dreams of. Two young women setting up music stands and breaking out into arias worthy of La Scala. Another corner and there sits a violin player and cellist. The music swirling out into the courtyard is magical. Artist after artist selling paintings while displaying their published works in international artist magazines. These are not weekend watercolorists but full time successful painters. One of these artists had the most alluring paintings of Paris I had seen so far. His color, perspective and the flow of his lines jumped off the canvas.

As we chatted about his work I noticed that he was quite taken with my children, particularly my youngest. "Little American Boy' he kept chuckling, "Little American Boy". I would not be surprised to see a painting of my little American boy at Place des Vosges one Sunday soon.

As we wandered through the Marais looking for food and adventure we settled into a tiny cafe run by a woman and her husband. She took the orders, gave suggestions, sprayed hot children with cool Evian water and washed the dishes behind the sink. It was sweltering but that did not stop the steaming food from flying out of the kitchen prepared by her husband. While we read the chalk board menu she emerged from the kitchen with a wet cloth and wiped out two items, smiling and shrugging, "sold out". Evidently the only english words she knew.

My two older children (13 and 9) wanted something cold to eat but the little guy wanted spaghetti. As our ubiquitous helper served up the plates she spilled a tiny drop of hot tomato sauce on the little guy's shoulder. "Ohhhhhhh, no no no !!!" she put down the plate, wiped off his shoulder and gave him a two genuine kisses on his soft little cheek. I can't say I blame her, he is irresistable, but it was so sweet and sincere and motherly. Maybe times have changed here but I don't think so. There will always be people who don't want to see or hear children, but there will always be a lot more who do and do it with love and care. 


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