Friday, July 21, 2017

A Few Surprising Facts About France

It's hard to believe we've been in France for nearly three weeks, but here we are! Still no cable or wifi in our apartment (nor a working shower or bathtub, but that's a post for another day), but it's such a beautiful place that we don't mind too much. And mobile data here is virtually free, which is how I'm writing this post! So I'll have a lot more to share in coming days and weeks - especially now that we can drive. But for now, here are a couple of things that I really, really wasn't expecting. I'm sure there will be more where these came from!

1. Portions are enormous You know how everyone says that American portion sizes are too big, and we need to eat more like the French? Well, they're half right. Eating like the French, at least the bit we're experiencing, means having a tiny breakfast, no snacks, then an enormous lunch and dinner. Most meals include a starter, entree, side dish, and a salad. Bread comes to the table with the main dish - but no butter or oil. Dessert is always offered, and often indulged in with an espresso - which also comes with sugar cubes and a tiny cookie of some sort. And the sizes of the plates are unbelievable! We almost always have food leftover, which we can only bring home thanks to a 2013 law that requires restaurants to provide doggie bags.

2. So. Much. Sugar. You try telling my kids that they can't have a lollipop. Or an ├ęclair, or a pain au chocolat, or a lemonade with lunch. Even when I do tell them that, 8/10 times the server or shop attendant will give them a little sweet for free anyway. Every cereal in the grocery stores is half sugar, and "all-fruit" jam is not a thing that exists on this side of the Atlantic. Sugar for DAYS.

3. Tout le monde vous aide Everyone wants to help you. If you're making an effort with the language, the people around you will appreciate it and will try to communicate. I've had strangers on the bus walk me to a museum, then point me to a better one around the corner that is more geared to kids. Shopkeepers slow down and listen to me, and find a way to ask me a question such that I'll understand and be able to answer. The myth of the rude French person must have been invented by some very unlucky travelers! Of course, I am also an average-looking, able-bodied white person with adorable children, so most people assume I am harmless and deserving of assistance.

4. NOTHING IS SAFE Seriously, I have windows the size of a Volkswagen with no screens, no bars, nothing. Road work with heavy machinery is done exactly adjacent to the sidewalk - it almost seems silly that the workers are wearing hardhats, given that those of us three inches away on the sidewalk don't have them! My kids, I have learned, have no survival instinct whatsoever. I'm hoping that will change with time.

5. The smoking I know, I knew this coming in, but it still surprises me how ubiquitous the smoking is. And it kinda makes me want to start up. I won't! But it's very attractive.

6. Expats will save you Last time I moved overseas, I had the benefit of enlisted Navy families serving as our sponsors and helpers. Here we have the same thing, except that people volunteer and just fill those roles without being asked. I wouldn't be anywhere near this calm if not for well-timed assistance from a bunch of different people. Thank goodness.

7. Everything tastes incredible Ok, this one's not a surprise. :) But it's true - everything tastes so great. We have a farmer's market three days a week, five minutes' walk from home, and the produce is unbelievable. I could eat a peach three times a day!

That's all for today. I'll get back into the swing of this blog plan soon! A bient├┤t et au revoir!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Chicken salad with guacamole and the world's ugliest squash dish

Well, I managed to screw up Mark Bittman's delicious squash recipe tonight. I'm so mad at myself - I peeled, seeded, and diced a huge local butternut squash during the kid's first nap this morning, so I braised and glazed a big handful in the afternoon for his (early) dinner. Practicing the dinner recipe = guaranteed dinner success, right? Not so much.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. For dinner last night, we turned to Rick Bayless for

Grilled Chicken Salad with Rustic Guacamole, Romaine, and Queso Anejo

For the dressing
1/2 c vegetable oil, plus a little
4 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
Fresh hot green chiles to taste (Bayless recommends 2 serranos or 1 jalepeno, I used a dried chile de arbol because we didn't have fresh)
1/2 c fresh lime juice (or a little less, or fill it out with bottled lemon juice)
3/4 c loosely packed cilantro (Bayless says roughly chopped, I didn't chop it)
1/4 t ground pepper

For the salads
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1 medium onion, cut into 1/2 inch slices
2 ripe avocadoes
2 medium romaine hearts, sliced into 1/2 inch ribbons (about 8 cups)
1/3 c grated queso anejo or another garnishing cheese

Heat oil in small skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and chiles; cook, stirring frequently, until garlic is soft and lightly browned (usually 1 to 2 minutes). Pour oil, garlic and chiles into blender jar or food processor. Add lime juice, cilantro, 1 scant teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Process until smooth.

Pour 1/3 of dressing over chicken breasts, spreading it evenly over all sides.

Heat a grill pan or gas grill to medium to medium-high heat (or start a charcoal fire and let it burn until coals are medium hot and covered with white ash). Lightly brush or spray onion slices with oil; sprinkle with salt. Lay chicken and onion on grill pan or grill. Cook until chicken is just cooked through and onion is well browned (3 to 4 minutes on each side). Chop onion into small pieces and scoop into bowl.

Pit and peel avocados, scooping flesh into bowl with onion. Add another 1/3 of dressing, then coarsely mash everything together with old-fashioned potato masher, large fork or back of spoon. Taste and season with salt (usually about ½ teaspoon).

Scoop the sliced romaine into large bowl. Drizzle on remaining 1/3 of dressing and toss to combine. Divide between 4 dinner plates. Scoop a portion of guacamole into center of each plate. Cut each breast into cubes and arrange over guacamole. Sprinkle each plate with garnishing cheese. Serve.

As you can see from my notes in the ingredients section, I didn't make this entirely according to the recipe. In fact, neither Josh nor I felt like dragging out the grill despite the fact that it's been in the 50s, in the Midwest, in January, so we cooked the marinated chicken breasts and the onions under the broiler and it worked beautifully. We didn't add cheese either, since I hadn't thought to buy any over the weekend.

Still, this remains one of our favorite salads. The dressing is flavorful and tart, the chicken stayed moist despite the broiler, and the roasted-onion guacamole adds a richness and sweetness that makes this salad feel like a great main course. Yum.

Now, back to the Braised and Glazed Butternut Squash with Pesto (click for the recipe). This recipe is genius. You simply cook a butternut squash, cut into cubes, in a little simmering stock in a skillet, then turn up the heat, remove the lid, and let the heat and the little bit of oil you used in the beginning turn that sweet squash into crispy, browned, lovely little bites of winter. Adding pesto, I thought, would bring enough complexity to the squash that we wouldn't feel glum having just a vegetable as a main course without much fanfare. The baby's version, sans pesto, was EXCELLENT, and I couldn't wait to show off for my husband.

So I got cocky. "I'll put the baby to bed, dear, just keep an eye on the stove and turn off the heat if the squash is fork-tender." I added too much stock, stayed away too long, and by the time I came downstairs a wet pan of overdone cubes awaited me.

It still tasted great! But imagine adding half a cup of pesto to the skillet I just described. The finished product looked, well, looked like it had already been to the digestion rodeo. Notice there are no pictures again? You'd be angry if I had posted any.

Accompanying dinner tonight was a pan of roasted broccoli and one of roasted zucchini coins, each cooked at 375 with a little olive oil and seasoning until finished. I threw a couple Spanish olives on the plate to bring some salty punch to the squash and Josh and I agreed that it was delicious - but this recipe is coming back, and I'm going to do it right next time.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Pork tenderloin review and a bonus green bean recipe!

I'm out of the habit of taking pictures while I cook, so you'll have to trust me that last night's Pork Tenderloin a la Mexicana was delicious and beautiful. Rick Bayless has done it again, and you should go buy his book right now. Mean it.

As you can see at the recipe link (or in your new copy of Mexican Everyday that you just bought), the pork tenderloin is cut into one-inch cubes, browned, and then set aside while you build a sauce of roasted poblano pepper strips, canned tomatoes, garlic, broth, and a couple herbs. It's a very simple, quick dish, as are most in this book, and it doesn't taste like much until the pork and the cilantro go in at the end. The meat was tender, the sauce was warm and satisfying, and it was all so lean and healthy that I didn't mind helping myself to seconds.

But even given all that, the real star of last night's meal was the garlicky green beans we had as a side dish. I struggle with green beans sometimes - we like them roasted, but that gets boring and I didn't want to turn on the oven. Spicy in a skillet is good but I really want fresh garlic, and it always burns. Plus my skillets are too small for a couple pounds, which we'll easily eat in a day or two. My solution was to brown thin garlic slices in oil with crushed red pepper flakes, remove all that from the oil and add two(ish) pounds of beans to the hot pot, and then just stir them around over high heat while the rest of dinner cooked.

It was amazing. So here's my first recipe of the revamped blog. Probably not original, but it's

Our New Favorite Green Beans

Cooking oil
2 lbs. trimmed and washed green beans
4 large cloves garlic
sprinkle of crushed red pepper

Heat a wok or pot (like this one) over medium-high. When it's hot, add a big drizzle of cooking oil - not extra virgin olive here because of the high temps. Slice your garlic thinly and add it to the hot oil, along with crushed red pepper to your desired heat. I used about 1/4 tsp. Stir the garlic around constantly until it's pretty uniformly brown, and then remove it with a slotted spoon.

Add the green beans to the still-hot oil, turn the heat to medium, and stir or toss them every few minutes or so while your main dish cooks. Color is good here - the little ones at the bottom of the pot were almost black, and they tasted great. Once everything else is ready, just salt your beans to taste, toss in the garlic chips, and serve. Bon appetit!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

This week's meal plan

In an attempt to stick with meal planning and sensible eating, and to return to blogging, I've decided to publish this week's meal plan and give you updates during the week. Please comment on this format and let me know what you'd like to see!

Following the typical holiday indulgences and a renewed focus on sensible budgeting, Josh and I are eating differently these days. More vegetarian meals are in the plan (to help with weight loss and savings), but simple carbs and processed foods are out. This includes bacon, which is a loss we mourn. Here's the plan for this week:

Sunday: Pork Tenderloin a la Mexicana, from Rick Bayless' "Mexican Everyday." This is my #1 go-to cookbook, and this recipe finds pork tenderloin cut into chunks and sauteed with roasted poblano strips (which I've got in the freezer) and canned tomatoes. Serving with garlicky green beans in the skillet.

Monday: Cilantro chicken salads with guacamole, also from Mexican Everyday. Yum!

Tuesday: Braised and Glazed Butternut Squash with pesto, from Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian." Here's my go-to cookbook for vegetarian inspiration, as well as for condiment recipes. I love his hummus and homemade ketchups, but this recipe will be a new one for us. Cubed squash is browned in a skillet, braised in broth, then glazed in the pan. I'll toss in a half cup of homemade walnut pesto, also from the freezer, during the glazing stage. Serving with roasted zucchini.

Wednesday: Braised Kale with Black Beans and Tomatoes, from We made this on a whim last week and loved it! Trim, tear, and wash your kale during a quiet daytime moment and keep it in the fridge in a mesh bag, and this recipe is a breeze. Serving over a cauliflower and celeriac puree - that last part is new, but celeriac was on sale at the farmer's market, so why not?

Thursday: Pea and Tofu Curry with parsnips, from Bittman's Vegetarian again. This is a total whim, and I'll use curry paste instead of powder. Wish me luck. One-pot meal, although I'd add rice if we weren't off carbs.

Friday: Crock-pot chili, a recipe I'll likely make up on the spot, with grass-fed beef from the grocery store and home-cooked beans. Yum.

Saturday: Fresh from the farmer's market again, we'll make the usual rosemary-roasted pork shoulder and rosemary-roasted potatoes, with a vegetable to be determined by what's fresh and gorgeous. This pork recipe is a winner if there are grapes at the store, but a lot will depend on what Joe and Maggie feel like eating.

So that's week one! I'll publish some more updates as we go, and please let me know if you start following along!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Heads up!

I can't believe it. My son is more than two months old now, and everything has changed.Wait, what? Let's try that again.There we go. Look at that! Lincoln has gotten so strong in the past few weeks. He's holding his head up 90 degrees during tummy time now, seeing toys, and babbling like crazy. And one day this week, he did something incredible. video
MY BABY CAN ROLL OVER. It was a revelation! It's, like, the first thing he's ever done! He just leads with that big head of his, kicks a leg a bit, and over he goes! Clearly he is gifted.

And speaking of BIG. Lincoln had his two month pediatrician appointment last week, and of course he impressed everyone. He is quite literally off the growth charts, at 100% for weight and height and 95% for head circumference. At first the doc's eyes bugged out a bit, but once he examined him he declared Lincoln to be just perfect. "Keep doing what you're doing," he told me, which was lucky because I don't know what else we could do!

And then came The Shots. As far as I'm concerned there is no question about vaccinating infants and children: herd immunity doesn't protect a kid when their classmate's parents bring mumps back from an overseas vacation, and there is absolutely no evidence that vaccines cause neurological problems other than in extremely rare cases or when a fever gets out of control. So at the end of Lincoln's appointment two nurses came in, asked me to look in his eyes and hold his arms, and at once they each plunged a needle into one of his thighs.

And he SCREAMED. He stared into my eyes, beet red, shocked, and in pain, and screamed like I'd never heard before. My heart broke for him and I understood why the nurses bolted from the room, because I wasn't feeling very friendly toward them at that point. Fortunately it was only a few minutes before Lincoln was calm enough to leave, and he fell asleep in the car on the way home.

The evening was a blur. He was just fine when we got home, playful and happy. He never developed a fever, thank God, but by dinner time he was just distraught. I know now he was overstimulated, exhausted, and in a little pain at the injection sites, but at the time I was sure he was in terrible agony and would never recover. For the first time since the birth, I asked Josh to take care of Lincoln overnight while I slept alone in my room. I just couldn't take it! Even though he was sleeping peacefully long before I went to bed, the emotion of the day was just too much.

The next day, everybody woke up refreshed and recovered. (Lincoln and I at 6, Josh at 10:00. He deserved some extra rest). And since then he's been just awesome, sleeping in his crib now and smiling and cooing more every day. What a crazy ride these first two months have been! Thank goodness there will be more exciting milestones than there will be innoculations.

Monday, March 28, 2011


I must be the luckiest person on the planet. Or at least in the Northwest, at the moment - no, the planet. I've got a great husband, an incredible, miraculous baby, financial stability, good food, cute pets, and some of the best friends around. And then there is my family, who are generous, kind, supportive, enthusiastic, and brilliant, almost to a person. And this week we were lucky to have two of them come to town.On the left is my cousin Lizz, my mother's sister's daughter, who was born when I was 12 and was the first girl cousin who lived nearby. Thus I was her biggest fan then, and continue to be now that she's a thoughtful, accomplished young woman. In the middle is my dear Grammy Atwood, my mother's mother, who has been a fixture in my life since before my birth, I'm sure, and who continues to inspire me. They flew out from Maine midweek and it has been a joy having them both.Lincoln has never napped so well! Having a comfy Great-Grammy who'll help soothe him when his inevitable gas cramps take over is a gift beyond measure.

Lizz and Gram brought the blessed sun with them from Maine, it seems, so we tried to get out every day. On Wednesday I drove the lot of us to Fay Bainbridge State Park, which is a family favorite. The afternoon haze kept us from spotting Mt. Ranier, but we enjoyed the cool walk and views of the Cascades.

Lincoln slept peacefully in his Ergo baby carrier, and thank goodness he likes it. I'd be lost without the thing, which supports his weight safely on his legs and distributes it over my hips. Some carriers dangle the baby by his crotch and my shoulders, but this one rocks.
What a delight to walk and talk and enjoy the outdoors with adults whom I love and admire.

The rest of their five days here was taken up with walks downtown, communal naps in the living room, fresh local seafood and lots of priceless quality time among family. Josh took part in the fun and we all delighted in the weather and one another - and last night, the ladies watched the baby while Josh and I stole an hour for dinner out together. What a gift! I cannot wait to introduce him to the rest of the clan.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Seven weeks

Time goes so quickly! I mean, I am so, so glad to be past those first few weeks when everything was unknown, but I kind of can't believe how big and different Lincoln has become.

I'm not kidding about the big part, either. This little man has gained almost half his birth weight over again! Earlier this week, Lincoln had a little potty incident (read: peed all over his outfit) and the only spare PJs we had downstairs were six month size. Josh decided to go ahead and try them on, even though I was sure they'd be far too big. Guess what? In our family, six weeks = six months, apparently.

We have had a great couple of weeks. I'm feeling more capable and human every day, so we invited a few friends over last weekend. Their daughter is three, and she led Josh around the house by the hand, playing and talking up a storm while the rest of us played with the baby.
I'm really going to miss that outfit! It's a little too tight now, but it's just so adorable that I might try to stuff him into it one more time.
We are so lucky to have found great friends in all the places the Navy has taken us. This family (I don't want to use their names without permission) gave us a BUNCH of baby supplies from their stockpile, including a diaper bag and two big bins of cloth diapers! They showed us how to fold and use them this week, so I'm hoping to transition to cloth in the next couple weeks.

A few days later, Irish came over with her daughter. Madi is seven months old now, crawling and cooing and eating real food - and wearing the same size diapers as Lincoln. Yikes! She's also just the most beautiful baby you've ever seen. Besides Lincoln, of course.
Those cheeks! Those eyelashes!
Irish got in on the Lincoln cuddling action, and remarked how much smaller than Madi he seems - he's still got that little baby tendency to curl up and be all soft and sweet. When he's not screaming his fool head off, of course.

Irish and her family have handed down a LOT of great baby things to us too, and this visit was no exception. She brought along an A-frame play gym and some rings and toys to dangle from it - Lincoln is old enough to look at the toys and even bat at them now! And the best part is, it gave me an excuse to take more pictures in another cute outfit. The onesie and pants are NINE month size. Hoo boy. And that beautiful sweater was hand knitted for him by his great grandmother, my Grammy Meixell. I am so glad we'll be visiting them in Maine this spring.

Look at that eye contact! That toy has been a HUGE hit. The next day, Daddy got in on the action.
I didn't catch it with the camera, but he actually got his hand around Pooh Bear's leg at one point. Lincoln is a genius.

So it's his seven week birthday today, and our fella weight 14 pounds, 7.5 ounces. He's growing great, and his weight is actually evening out a little - no more two ounces per day, thank goodness. I'll post sometime soon about what he's eating, since just like the birth, it hasn't gone the way we imagined. In the meantime Josh is off to bring home the bacon, and I'm off to marvel at Lincoln's impressive motor skills. Who's up for a visit?