Ready & Munchin’

You know labor is near when you’ve downloaded your contractions app to keep track of their length, intensity and frequency and your mom moves in and brings with her delicious delicacies to make the wait bearable!

Upper left: dried grapes (malban) with raw walnuts  Lower left: fresh-from-the-field green almonds Right: Pickled mini eggplant  stuffed with peanut & spices

Upper left: dried grapes (malban) with raw walnuts
Lower left: fresh-from-the-field green almonds
Right: Pickled mini eggplants stuffed with peanut & spices

Last Days of Winter

The last stretch of winter is the toughest. You’re sick and tired of the gloomy weather, beaten by the cold and worn-out by the toll of heavy coats and layers on your shoulders. When these blues hit me, I take shelter in my kitchen where I always end up finding my remedy: Hello food innovation! Here are a couple of cold-weather-worthy recipes to try shortly before kissing wintertime goodbye!

Cabbage Cigars

photo 1-19I find that cabbage is usually not given its turn in most people’s diet from both gastronomical and nutritional perspectives. When raw, it’s commonly associated with abdominal conditions (such as bloating and flatulence) and is often kept away from cooking pots, as many find the smell of dissipating sulfur compounds in cooked cabbage unpleasant. Work around its minimal drawbacks and you’ll discern a smooth texture, a sumptuous flavor and a distinguished comfort in this winter veggie, a really great fix for cold days! You’ll also benefit from a great dose of vitamins such as vitamin K, vitamin C and folic acid in as little as 20 calories in a serving (75g).

Here is my favorite approach to savor cabbage:

*For a better digestion: parboil before cooking

*To mask its sulfuric smell: add some lemon juice and/or herbs (such as fresh or dried mint) to the cooking water

Cabbage Cigars is a melting-in-mouth dish! Cabbage leaves are stuffed in minced beef, rice and spices and seasoned with sautéed onion, garlic, mint and lemon juice. Here’s my recipe:

(Makes 6 servings)

1 whole cabbage

Filling:

  • 1 cup of sushi or Egyptian rice
  • ½ lbs. of ground beef
  • 1 tsp. of each: black pepper, allspice, ground cinnamon and salt

Seasoning:

  • 1 onion finely chopped
  • 1 head of garlic peeled (half of the cloves mashed and the other half left to distribute between rolls)
  • 3 Tsp. of crushed (dried or fresh) mint
  • 1 cup of lemon juice
  • 1-2 cup of water (or just enough to cover the cabbage in pot)
  • 2 Tsp. of vegetable oil

Blanch the cabbage leaves in boiling water until they are tender. Cut the leaves in half if necessary and take the thick stems out (save them to line pot). Mix the meat with rice and spices and put aside. Stir-fry onion, garlic and mint in vegetable oil in the bottom of the pot then line the pot with the cabbage stems. Stuff the leaves by placing a tablespoon of the filling mixture in the middle and rolling it like a cigar. Place each stuffed leaf in the pot, one tight layer at a time. Add some garlic cloves here and there. Place a small plate on the cabbage rolls to hold them in place and to avoid the stuffing from coming out. Pour the lemon juice over the rolls and add water to cover the cabbage. Cook for about 1 hour over low heat or until the leaves are very tender and the stuffing is well cooked. Serve warm with plain Greek yogurt or with a minty cucumber yogurt accompaniment. Yum, trop chou!

Spinach Stew 

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Spinach is a treasure food for a light and healthy cuisine. Rich in water, super light in calories and unlike other veggies, its nutritional profile is enhanced once it’s cooked. Known for being packed in iron, thanks to Popeye, spinach also provides an exceptional amount of other vitamins and minerals (vitamin A, vitamin B9, vitamin K, magnesium and manganese). Furthermore, some antioxidants in spinach are particularly beneficial for the eyes.

Spinach stew is a zesty wholesome dish, a great consolation on cooler days. Moreover, lemon complements spinach perfectly as it enhances beautifully its flavor and improves iron absorption. Here’s my recipe:

Makes 6 servings

  • 1 kg of  frozen chopped spinach
  • ½ lbs. minced beef
  • 1 onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • ½ cup Lemon juice
  • 1 bouquet of fresh cilantro
  • ½ tsp. of: black pepper, allspice, 7 spice mixture (optional)
  • 1 tsp. of salt
  • 2 Tsp. of vegetable oil
  • 1-2 cups of water

Blend the garlic and cilantro into a paste and stir-fry it in vegetable oil on the side. Stir-fry the onion in main pot with the rest of the vegetable oil. Add the meat and cook it while breaking it into very small pieces. Add the spices and salt. Cover the meat with the spinach and add water. Let it cook for 15-20 minutes. Add the lemon juice, cilantro-garlic paste, and stir all the ingredients together. Cover the pot again and cook for 5 more minutes. Serve warm with whole grain rice.

Country Victorian Baby Shower

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Art-Monit event & wedding planning

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Art-Monit event & wedding planning

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Art-Monit event & wedding planning

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Art-Monit event & wedding planning

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Art-Monit event & wedding planning

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My sister’s baby shower by Art-Monit event & wedding planning

Looking to plan a baby shower party? Here’s one stylish yet classic idea to get inspired from for a refined and sweet baby shower. It’s a Victorian-era themed Tea with a country feel. For such an impeccable setting both the location and the decoration are equally important.  Look for a venue with a classic, historic and elegant style to start with. Add delicate decorations: Flowers are a must; candles, kerosene lamps or lanterns can also add a romantic, vintage feel. For the table décor, use a flower centerpiece with soft colors (roses are particularly great to emulate an old english country ambiance) and an old-fashioned lace or crochet tablecloth. Fine china and antique or vintage inspired tea cups can also add a great effect if available. Use soft colors (white and pastel) in cake, cupcakes, cookies and party favors’ decoration. For party favors, marmalade jars and softly scented baby soap bars are chosen here for an old country touch.

Featured baby shower by Art-Monit event and wedding planning (www.art-monit.com)

My Little Miss Chatterbox

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I can’t recall when or how exactly this started but my daughter just can’t stop talking!

By her 2nd birthday she knew a few words, but now, only 6 months later, her communication superpowers are blooming and she sure is loving them and using them! Although she still makes a lot of mistakes in pronunciation and sentence structure, she’s expressing herself in full sentences, opening structured conversations, debating with arguments and asking a whole LOT of questions! What’s overwhelming is mostly the volume of talk! It’s not that I’m not used to this at home, though I didn’t necessarily think (or wish!) she would inherit that specific behavior from her dad!

She always has something to say or to ask about. From the second she opens her eyes in the morning “mommy what food are you serving me?” in her clumsy French “manger quoi, maman?”,  the interrogation journey starts… I hear “c’est quoi ça maman?” (eng: what’s that mommy) more than I feel the baby #2 kicks, although I have to say there has been a nonstop trampoline party going on in my belly lately!

She asks all sorts of questions:

  • Funny ones: in a restaurant where the waiter was wearing a bright yellow shirt and was taking forever to bring our food, “maman, il est ou monsieur jaune? (eng: where is Mr. Yellow?)
  • Weird ones: a 5 min cab ride turns into a drill of questions on the components of a taxi’s interior (most of which I had never even noticed before) from the little screw she found under the door handle to the taxi driver’s ID and registration number.
  • Smart ones: “Papa, comment on appelle ça en anglais?” (eng: How do we say this in English?).
  • Silly ones: “Maman, il est où papa?” (eng: Where’s daddy?) even though papa is holding her hand while crossing the street or when we’re all having dinner together and papa is just sitting next to her!
  • Quizzes: she asks questions that she already asked a million times before and knowing perfectly well what the correct response is. When I try to trick her and answer incorrectly she corrects me “maman, il est où papa” (eng: where’s daddy?) to which I respond “il est sur la lune” (eng: he’s on the moon) followed by her final response with an attitude and a giggle “mais non maman, papa est au travail!” (eng: no mommy, daddy is at work!).

If she’s not talking to me or to her father, she’s scolding a doll because she didn’t finish her dinner or she’s doing a monologue while playing with the blocks. A sneeze or a cough wouldn’t stop her, she just says “à tes souhaits” (eng: bless you) to herself or “pardon” and continues the chatter!

This phase has been a lot of fun, I’m loving watching her growing up, becoming a little adult with a LOL sense of humor and an overwhelming curiosity while providing us with a lot of entertainment and crazy laughs.  She has so much energy (verbal energy) that it’s so hard to keep up with her at times (or get anything – other than responding to her questions – done). It can be particularly draining when I am trying to focus on another conversation, an article or just thinking of something else I need to get done and she stops me 10 times to tell me for the zillionth time how she hurt her foot on the plane, or how huge Santa’s belly was, or that her teddy bear isn’t a bear but a pig…

At this development stage, it’s primordial to provide your toddler with a rich and nurturing communication environment to help grow his vocabulary, educate him and help him form his personality. Try to enjoy the ride as much as you can and while you will get tired of hearing the same questions and repeating the same responses, believe me it is one of the most fulfilling things you can experience to see your own child’s vocab, behavior and personality evolve gradually (but not so slowly actually!) by simply talking to him, describing to him what you’re doing, pointing things out, telling him stories, asking him questions and singing him songs…

I also find it very important to be a good listener and to be responsive to my daughter by giving her my attention when she’s talking to me and providing her with as accurate an answer to her question as possible (thanks Google).

Furthermore, while it’s well established that the reading itself is an important component in helping to enrich your child’s vocabulary and sentence construction, reading can also be an opportunity to start new conversations, to teach your child about new things or to give them a chance to express new ideas.

Personally I find that the key to constructive and effective communication with your toddler is to treat them not as child but as a mini adult. This doesn’t only mean that I assume that no question is too dumb and that she’s able to understand almost everything (so I don’t filter much and I don’t baby-talk my explanations much) but also that as a starting point I expect of her to act like an intelligent adult and not as a baby and I try as much as possible to convey to her that the same rules of communication and interaction that apply to me and her father apply to her and that she doesn’t get a special pass for screaming, pushing me or banging on the table because she’s 2! Of course balance is key however because as much as you want to take advantage of your child’s incredible learning potential, you should not be spending your whole day responding to questions as you have a responsibility to yourself (and your child) to stay sane and be balanced… teaching your child balance is after all, in and of itself, a very important life lesson!