Entries from August 2011

Paris with Kids: Our List

August 28th, 2011 · 11 Comments · Kitchenlightenment, Rituals, Travel

I’d like to begin by saying that is by no means a definitive list of everything one should do with one’s kids in Paris, nor is it a comprehensive one. You will not, for example, find any museum here. That’s because a) you don’t need me to tell you about the Louvre or the Musée D’Orsay and b) because the day we decided to spend more of our time wandering in neighborhoods and less time standing in line crossing our fingers that the girls (ages 7 and 9) would be able to appreciate whatever it was we were waiting to see, was the day we found our vacation rhythm. So this compilation of 26 moments, walks, restaurants, bakeries, shops, cafes, strategies, and parks is merely our list. But I will say that we ended every day exhausted, satisfied, and stuffed. Don’t you think that says a lot?

1. Breakfast in the Gardens. We like routines in our house and perhaps sadly, this extends to vacation. This is how we ended up hiking up rue Monsieur Le Prince from our apartment right near the Odeon Metro station, and stopping by a small local (reasonably priced) boulanger for croissants and caffe crèmes, then heading up to the oleander-ringed fountain in Jardins Luxembourg and eating breakfast. I would say there is no more perfect way to start a day. (more…)

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What is All That Stuff?

August 24th, 2011 · 10 Comments · Dinner, Seafood, Travel

At the end of an eight-hour Paris wander session that began in Luxembourg Gardens, took us down rue Mouffetard, and ended up in the Marais, I collapsed on our sofa and began to scroll through the photos on my camera. There’s Abby feeding the remains of last night’s baguette to the ducks. There’s Phoebe gaping at the 6-month-old monkey at the zoo at Jardins des Plantes, there’s Andy drinking a Kronenbourg at a cafe one block from Place des Vosges, there’s….my dog in New York. It was like the screeching of a record player seeing that image — which was part of a video that doesn’t automatically download with still images. You know it’s a successful vacation when you are looking at photos of your house and you have to struggle to remember what it feels like to be standing in your own kitchen. I played the video and looked around at all the stuff that was littering the counter — bottles of vinegars and bowls and knives and spice jars and…what is all that stuff? What was I making? We had become so used to cooking in our French kitchen with the bare minimum that I thought Maybe I should just throw everything away when I get home. That night I picked up sole (aka, the most family-friendly fish there is) from the fish guy at the Marche Saint-Germain, Andy made a simple salad with peas, butter lettuce, and tomatoes, and we sliced up a baguette. Making sure we saved a little of the bread for next morning’s ducks. (more…)

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Better on Vacation

August 22nd, 2011 · 17 Comments · Dinner, Pork and Beef, Posts by Andy, Quick, Travel

I remember, as a kid, thinking that food tasted better on vacation. I don’t mean this in the figurative sense, either. I mean that when my brother and I would come back to the house after four hours on the beach in South Carolina — my tawny brother coated in Coppertone Deep Tanning oil, with his Terminator glasses perched on his head, and me, with my zinc-ed nose and plaid Jams — we would have lunch on the screened porch, under a whirring ceiling fan, and marvel, as much as boys marvel, at the beauty of it all. This Boar’s Head turkey and Swiss: it was different, right? The Pepperidge Farm sandwich bread, toasted, the Utz potato chips: just a little fresher, a little more crisp. A tall glass, filled with tons of ice and a fizzy Coke: why didn’t soda taste this good at home? Not that we would have ever put it like this, but it was like our senses were heightened when we were away from home, and every Cheet-o, every Pecan Sandie, every drop of French’s mustard, every bread-and-butter pickle was that much more tasty, that much more special. This was discussed as an actual phenomenon, nothing imagined about it: it was different on vacation. We knew this to be true.

Turns out, we were just hungry. Food is food, of course, and it only tasted better because we were kids and we imagined that potato chips could somehow sense when we were on vacation and, in response, decide to make themselves just a little more delicious.

Yet another example, for the record, of the way adulthood sometimes seems to exist to crush dreams.

This past week, though, we’re beginning to reconsider the cold logic of…reality. We spent eight unreal days in Paris, and we cooked in five of those nights* and while I’m aware of how this will sound, each of those meals was better than anything (more…)

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August 19th, 2011 · 21 Comments · Rituals

When I first got my MacBook Pro a few years ago, Abby and I became obsessed with the Photo Booth application — the one that takes your picture and superimposes fake backgrounds to make it seem like you are riding a roller coaster or flying through outer space or floating inside a fish tank. There’s also a background for Paris and when we snapped that photo we got a big laugh out of the resulting image. Look at us! In Paris! Ha ha ha ha! There’s the Eiffel Tower! The day I took Abby and her sister on a trip like that was a day far off in the future, like all those other days in the far off future, such as the day they would be able to keep track of their own shin guards or the day they could drive themselves to ballet or the day we fly through outer space.

But then — voila! — a friend offers a free apartment in Paris (free) any time in the summer (free) and before I know it, we’ve got ourselves another milestone crossed (which is, by the way, free). All of which is to say that the photo above was actually taken at the base of the real Eiffel Tower in the real Paris, where we’ve been wandering and eating and ferris-wheeling and eating and carousel-ing and eating and eating and eating for the past six days. And though I think it took the girls a few days to realize that Paris was something other than a tangle of really old streets you have to hike through in order to get to the crepes and the pan au chocolat and the palmiers and financiers and beignets and macarons, I think they are starting to register how far away from their little world back home they really are. And how strange and wonderful a feeling like that can be.

This post originally was going to be my Bon Vacances email, the one where I say enjoy your vacation I’m going on my annual digital diet, but we’ve been having so much fun in our French kitchen that I think next week we’re going to do our best to post some of the meals we’ve cooked. Mixed in will hopefully be some guest posts that I’m really excited about. In the meantime, some highlights from the week… (more…)

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My New Obession

August 18th, 2011 · 6 Comments · Dinner, Sides, Salads, Soup, Vegetarian

This recipe for Potato Salad “Buttered” and Lemoned, comes from the Canal House cookbook series, volume 1, and when I first flipped through the pages and landed on the recipe, I thought something along the lines of: Holy Freaking Cow. I need to make this NOW. Who cares if it calls for preserved lemons, the recipe for which is in the section called “Why Buy it When You Can Make it,” and which, upon further inspection, would take 30 days to actually make. Who cares if, for me, NOW roughly translates to “someday when kids are bigger and I have more time, about a zillion years from now.” Well, finally, in the beginning of this summer I motivated to preserve a huge batch of lemons. Now it’s “harvest” time and I’ve been using the tart-sweet-briny bits in just about every salad that has graced the dinner table. Totally worth the wait.

And it goes without saying, that if preserved lemons are my new obsession, Canal House is my ongoing obsession. If you are not a subscriber, please remedy this immediately! (more…)

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Hidden Dollhouse, Part 2

August 17th, 2011 · 21 Comments · Children's Books, Gifts, Culture, Rituals

So I’m sure by now you are all wondering where and how the girls have spent all their hard-earned summer book club points. There have been trips to the soccer shop (Phoebe bought a Rooney jersey, Abby a miniature black and yellow ball which she has been kicking against the backyard wall nonstop, much to the delight of my neighbors, I’m sure); and trips to amazon (they decided to pool their earnings and go in on walkie-talkies together); and then there was the trip to ebay to buy Abby furniture for her dollhouse. By dollhouse, I mean what you are looking at above — the bottom two shelves of her bedroom’s built-in bookcase. Abby has created little worlds for herself all over the house, most notably in the kitchen, but I think this is my favorite one of all because it’s a work in progress and has been for over two years. Together we’ve wallpapered the kitchen with Old Navy wrapping paper, renovated two bathrooms with leftover scraps of ceramic and marble tiles from our real house, laid down wall-to-wall carpeting (fabric swatches from the store), and created enormous jewel–and-giftwrap-on-felt wall-hangings worthy of MoMA. A lot of the furniture in the two story apartment complex was in my dollhouse when I was a kid, but over the years we’ve supplemented with ebay purchases. It can take Andy and me years to make decorative decisions in our real house, so it’s immensely satisfying to wallpaper Abby’s bathroom with a sheet of origami paper in five seconds. In other words, I don’t know who enjoys this project more — Abby or me.

I always politely suggest that it might be time to start shopping for a real kitchen table, but Abby is committed to her makeshift masterpiece, four tea party plates piled on top of each other. The kitchen is from the dollhouse I owned when I was little. The dolls are Plan. (Christmas present, 2009.) (more…)

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Korean Pancakes for Dinner

August 15th, 2011 · 24 Comments · Dinner, Seafood, Vegetarian

Phoebe has been on a tear in the kitchen lately. I would love to say this is due to the fact that she’s watched her parents cook every night for her whole little life, and so now, at 9 1/2, her interest in cooking has finally kicked into high gear, but I think it’s more likely due to something else: Farm Camp. She has spent the last four weeks spraying pigs to keep them cool (did you know they don’t sweat?) harvesting yellow cherry tomatoes (which we then bought at the market for $8 a box), examining microbes in the compost pile, herding sheep, and cleaning and collecting eggs. In other words, we’ve been paying for her to do slave labor.

Not really — there are, of course, other activities like soap-making, hikes around the lake, painting with egg tempera, and cooking with the farm chef — a guy named Dan. I don’t know who this Dan guy is, but he not only sent home a little packet of inspired plant-based recipes after the session ended, but he also sent home a blossoming little cook. Last week, Phoebe invited our 20-year-old neighbor/friend/babysitter for dinner and oversaw the production of a pile of Korean Pancakes for her. And when we were finished she held up the heel of a carrot and asked where we keep the compost pile. I guess I know what our next project is. (more…)

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Aren’t You Impressed?

August 10th, 2011 · 19 Comments · Dinner, Pasta, Vegetarian

How…why….does one find oneself prepping homemade macaroni and cheese in a 425° oven on a 100° day when there is a perfectly fine box of 10-minute stovetop Annie’s Mac & Cheese in the pull-out pantry? It seemed so logical the day before when I made dinner plans out with my friend Elizabeth and her husband. I had a babysitter booked so I suggested they drop their kids at our place while the four grown-ups went out to a local Italian spot. I’ll make sure there’s dinner here for the kids, I offered. “George likes macaroni and cheese, right?”

“It’s his favorite thing,” said Elizabeth.

It’s not that I like Elizabeth more than most of my friends, but…well, maybe I do. And maybe that’s why, when she and her husband come over, I find myself splurging for the truffled Pecorino on the cheese plate instead of the aged gouda, or going out of my way to track down the delicate farmer’s market kale instead of the tougher Stop-and-Shoppy kind. Do you have friends like this? Who you want to impress? I mean, Who bring out the best in you? Everybody does, right? This is what I convinced myself when I was whisking up the bechamel at 5:00, boiling gemelli, cranking my oven past the 400-degree mark — because apparently 15 out of 20 days over 90 degrees in New York has not been hot enough for me. But, I have to say, 45 minutes later I did have a damn good looking baking dish of golden, bubbly mac-and-cheese to serve Elizabeth’s boys. So what if Elizabeth herself wouldn’t be eating it — she would see my macaroni magnum opus when she dropped them off and…I had to wonder where this thought was leading me. She’d see it and…what? Like me more? Seriously. Why? What the…? Who am I cooking for? What am I trying to prove? What is wrong with women? I don’t know a single man who would find himself in this position. Do you?

I got a call right before Elizabeth was due at my house. She was running late at work so her babysitter would drop the boys off and she would meet us at the restaurant. “Hope that’s OK!”

No. Nothing about this was OK. At all.

Mac & Cheese Notes

I followed Bittman’s recipe to the letter for this one. Except at the end, I use my friend Kate’s trick and crumble potato chips into the bread crumb topping. Also, I like prepping the M&C in advance when I’m entertaining families — it’s a nice “bridge” dish that can be the main for the kids and a side for the grown-ups. (Especially if BBQ chicken is on the menu.) Just prepare until the point where you top with bread crumbs, then refrigerate, pull out about an hour before you want to serve, and continue with instructions.

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Zucchini: A Hate Story

August 8th, 2011 · 31 Comments · Dinner, Domestic Affairs, Quick, Sides, Salads, Soup, Vegetarian

Dear Jenny,

This might sound paranoid, but one can never be too safe. I have this feeling that some kind of shadowy, proxy war has broken out in our house lately. It’s small, seemingly innocuous things that, when I add them up, suggest something more ominous might be afoot. It’s coming home every Saturday morning from the farmer’s market, unpacking the loot, and finding two or three large zucchinis staring up at me from the bottom of the bag, zucchinis I was not aware were purchased. (The old Trojan horse strategy.) It’s telling me, again, how popular the “green fries” post continues to be with DALS readers (so weird!), and asking me, all innocent-like, if we should throw a little zucchini on the pizza tonight before it goes bad. (Classic psy-ops technique.) It’s standing in the kitchen, and hearing you say, “Mmmm, this looks delicious, we have to make this sometime, look,” only to realize that the recipe you’re pointing to is for something called “zucchini crudo,” which, upon closer inspection, is really just raw squash, sliced thin, with a little lemon juice drizzled on top. And it’s somehow always managing to say this in front of your little agent provocateurs, who then respond, (as if) on cue, “Daddy hates zucchini!”

No, Daddy does not hate zucchini. Daddy does not have the energy to hate zucchini. Zucchini is not worthy of hate. (Garlic mashed potatoes, on the other hand…) Here’s an attempt to clarify my position, once and for all: I would never willingly choose to eat zucchini. I find zucchini bland. Bland can be okay, but I also find it kind of flaccid and soggy, and it’s that soggy, slightly gelatinous quality, that weird spongy texture, when combined with the blandness, that keeps it from rising even to the level of inoffensiveness. Zucchini, to me, is the Three and a Half Men of vegetables: Can I endure it, if absolutely necessary? Yes, I can. Do I enjoy putting it in my mouth? No, I don’t. Will I swallow it whole in order to get it down because of said mushiness issues? Yes, I will. I mean, have you ever heard anyone take a bite of zucchini, drop the fork, and say, “Holy sh@t, that zucchini is INSANE?” Because I have not. But, honestly, I feel like you know this already. We’ve been married thirteen years, and my position vis a vis zucchini has remained steadfast. (About as steadfast as your position on bell peppers and olives, for the record.) Which makes me wonder: why the renewed guerilla campaign? Why all the subterfuge? When you say you love zucchini, and resent that you hardly ever get to eat it anymore because I don’t really like it: what, exactly, do you love about it? Help me out here. I want to know. Or is this, getting back to the proxy war thing, not about zucchini?

Andy (more…)

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Is Family Breakfast the New Family Dinner?

August 4th, 2011 · 16 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Rituals, Vegetarian

And by that question I mean, is it easier for families to get everyone around the table at the same time eating the same thing first thing in the morning — before the playdates and the meetings and the deadlines conspire to pull everyone in different directions?

In case you can’t tell by now, we’re big fans of a shared meal at the end of the day. But that’s most likely because, after a few harrowing years with apron-hangers and witching-hours babies, we’ve found our dinner rhythm. We know the meals we can make blindfolded. We know what kind of surgery — rice removal surgery — has to be performed on the porcupine meatballs in order for Phoebe to eat them. But if morning is the best time for your family to unplug and connect — what’s stopping you from declaring breakfast the new family dinner? Actuallly….What’s stopping you from declaring the all-parties-present road trip or bike ride or the weekend hike the new family dinner?

For all of our inspired steaks and salads, we here at DALS haven’t yet cracked the breakfast code. Every week at Trader Joe’s we beg the girls to keep breakfast in mind as they shop — we will buy them anything if it doesn’t fall into the starch-fest category, aka pancakes, bagels, waffles, french toast, aka their morning-time default mode. (Our morningtime default mode: Smoothies, which the girls go back and forth craving and rejecting.) But no matter how many cartons of strawberry yogurt and granola we lug home, we’re usually back to our pancake routine by Wednesday. If I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll have Nigella’s homemade mix in the countertop canister, but it’s usually Trader’s buttermilk batter we’re shaping into silver dollars and the girls’ initials. If we’re going to have the same thing every day, might as well make it interesting.

Initial Pancakes (shown above) I find they turn out better when you drizzle the letter into the pan in its mirror image and then flip to its correct positioning.

Fakey Crepey Remember when we handed the girls ten bucks and challenged them to find something new at the farmer’s market? The first time they came back with lavendar honey and two sourdough rolls. The second time, they wisened up and found the newest vendor at the market: they found the crepe guy. With his French accent, twirly wand, and charming little cones,  I am no match for him, but I make what Abby now calls my “Fakey Crepey,” achieved by thinning out my pancake batter with milk, then smearing Nutella across the middle. It ain’t Paris, but it’ll do for now.

Silver Dollar Stack A perennial favorite in my house. (How could it not be?) The trick is to pile the tiny cakes as dramatically high as possible.

Nine Years. Nine Blueberries When I was six, I made my mother insert six blueberries into my pancake. When I turned seven, I made her insert seven. The ritual continued for an embarrassingly long time. When I told Phoebe about it, she responded “Grandma better get ready to make you a big pancake next time!” And then: “Make me one with nine!”

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August 3rd, 2011 · 24 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Kitchenlightenment, Posts by Andy

Psssst. Don’t tell my bosses, but I was doing a little pleasure reading at my desk today. More specifically, I was reading an old piece from GQ* by the food writer Alan Richman. Here is a sentence from that story, which I was going to try to build a whole dessert post around, but then gave up when I realized there was nothing I could add that could possibly make it better, or more true:

Show me a man who believes his favorite desserts are those he has eaten as an adult, and I’ll show you a man who has had an unhappy childhood.

Mine is either the snickerdoodle or the s’more, too close to call. Jenny’s is Jell-O chocolate pudding pie, with real whipped cream and a graham cracker crust. Discuss.

*And, okay, I was reading this, too. How good?

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What’s Your Default Dinner?

August 1st, 2011 · 25 Comments · Pork and Beef, Quick

When I was an editor at Cookie, we ran a page called Default Dinners. It was devoted to meals we fell back on again and again that could be made in minutes and usually with the help of some storebought product that one of the editors would swear tasted fresher than homemade. The genius of these kinds of meals, I find, is that they call for doing something slightly more ambitious than pressing the “start” button on a microwave — whether it is assembling or quick sauteeing — so even though most of the heavy lifting is taken care of for you, you get to play out your yummy mummy fantasy and pretend you’re serving a mostly home-cooked dinner. (I have a theory that this is the real reason Sandra Lee’s Semi-Homemade empire is as successful as it is.) My pick for the page was chicken or vegetable curry made with Maya Kaimal’s Simmer Sauces, which I had just discovered. And it wasn’t a phase — almost three years later, I still think of Whole Foods as “The Place That Sells Maya’s Simmer Sauce.” I always pick up at least one or two when I’m there. (more…)

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