Rice Curry Salad

Greetings from summer!

The season of picnics and barbecues is upon us. I thought I’d share my mom’s recipe for a delicious rice curry salad, which is a perfect addition to the summer side salad rotation. It’s vegetarian and gluten-free and the perfect accompaniment to summer grilling or as itself for a picnic.

What you need:
2 boxes of a rice side (we use Near East’s Long Grain and Wild Rice, Original) You can also just use 2 cups of wild rice and adjust seasonings to your taste.
15 oz. bottled artichoke hearts
1.5 cups mayonaise
2 tablespoons + curry powder
5 scallions
1 small green pepper
1/2-3/4 cup raisins
1 cup green olives with pimentos

What to do:

Prepare the rice and let cool, covered (make the rice in the morning and the rest in the afternoon, for example).

Chop the artichoke hearts, scallions, and green pepper and combine in a large bowl. In a small bowl, combine mayonaise, curry powder, and about 1/2 the juice from the jar of artichokes.

Add the cooled rice to the large bowl and pour the mayonaise mixture over the top. Mix.

Next, mix in raisins first and then carefully fold in the olives.

That’s it! Remember to keep refrigerated. How about a close-up?

Happy summer!

Homemade Pesto

Who knew something seemingly so complicated was actually quite an easy and toddler-friendly kitchen project to do together? Our neighbor (who has a plot at our local community garden) had more basil than she could use, so she gave us a bunch. It was finally my opportunity to try making pesto myself.

I first did a bit of internet research and although we have a food processor, I decided to take the advice of this site and chop the basil by hand (Jax is scared of the noise of kitchen gadgets). It didn’t take very long, actually, and was the perfect activity to do while Jax smashed the pine nuts with the mortar and pestle.

What you need:
~a big bunch of basil (see photo below)
~pine nuts (about 1/2 cup)
~olive oil (about 1/4 cup)
~freshly grated parmesan cheese (about 1/8 cup)

What to do:
Smash the pine nuts with the mortar and pestle and finely chop the basil leaves.

As soon as Jax sees the camera he wants to reach out and “see Jax” on the screen.

In a bowl, combine the nuts and leaves and add olive oil and parmesan until the pesto reaches the desired consistency.

The pesto is ready to use!

We used it on chicken breasts pan fried with a tad more olive oil. The beauty of such a recipe is that it doesn’t matter if the proportions are off or if some of the leaves and nuts remain whole in the finished product. You can leave out the parmesan (recommended if you want to freeze the pesto) or replace the pine nuts with walnuts (something my sister swears by). You can use it like a meat rub, as we did, or mix it in to simple pasta. Jax loved the chicken, albeit without the chunky parts of the pesto. But a success all around, I’d say.

Buon apetito!

Zucchini Carrot Muffins

I have an all-or-nothing problem with fresh produce. I’ll either buy way, way too much or not enough. I’ve been reading the French classic cookbook Je Sais Cuisiner and am trying to get better about meal planning. But the reality is that sometimes veggies start to fade before we can munch them up.

This week we had an excess of carrots and zucchini, and they weren’t looking too good. Since it was 92F/33C degrees yesterday, making an easy but hot puréed vegetable soup didn’t sound too appealing. Instead, I tried my hand at making zucchini carrot muffins ?? with the added challenge of making them as healthy as possible. After some recipe research and drawing on my experience with muffins in the past, I came up with a pretty good recipe, based on this one, but with much less sugar. We were all out of whole wheat flour, but that would have made it a tad more healthy, too. In all, I’m quite pleased with the result and will definitely use it again.

What you need:

2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1/3 cup granulated (white) sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 average-sized finely shredded unpeeled zucchini
3 small-to-medium-ish finely shredded carrots

What to do:

Using a food processor, finely grate/chop the zucchini and carrots.

Preheat oven to 375°. Grease 12 muffin cups (I have been using a great all-natural grape seed spray).

In a mixing bowl, beat the oil with eggs, sugars, and vanilla extract.

Combine the flour, soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon; add to the wet ingredients; stirring until blended. Fold in the shredded zucchini and carrots.

Fill muffin cups about 3/4 full. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick stuck in the middle of one comes out clean.

Easy Coconut Birds’ Nest Cookies

My mom makes these cookies around Christmas time, but I thought they’d be lovely for spring as well. The combination of the sweet coconut nest and the bitter chocolate center is one of my most delicious memories from childhood.

With only four ingredients and no baking time, these birds’ nest cookies are an easy treat to prepare in a flash. And because they don’t involve any raw eggs but do allow you do get your hands messy, it’s a toddler-friendly kitchen project, too.

~Ingredients~
1 bag coconut, 14 oz or about 5 cups
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1 cup (1/2 of an 11.5-oz bag) bitter dark chocolate chips (the less sweet the better to balance out the sugary nests ?? I used Ghirardelli 60% Cocao Baking Chips, but feel free to go even darker!)

~Directions~
In a large bowl, combine coconut and powdered sugar with a large wooden spoon.
Melt the butter and drizzle over the coconut mixture. Mix to combine.

Using a teaspoon as a scoop, form 1-inch balls of the mixture in your hands, lay on a cookie sheet, and while still holding with two fingers on the outside, poke your finger into the center to create a little crater for the chocolate. They’ll feel crumbly, but they will hold together once they’ve sat for a bit.

Once they are all laid out, melt the chocolate over low heat, stirring until fully melted and smooth. Using a teaspoon, drip the mealted chocolate into the center holes to fill.

Let the centers harden about 30 minutes, and then store in the fridge until ready to eat.

This recipe yielded 30 nests. Three days later, we are still enjoying them!

Easter Brunch

Hope you are having a wonderful spring weekend! We hosted an Easter brunch this morning with friends. On the menu:

~ Broccoli quiche
~ Asparagus in a delicious vinaigrette (brought by friends Amanda + Jon)
~ Fig + goat cheese crostini (also brought by A + J)
~ Salad
~ Coconut bird’s nest cookies
~ Sugar cookie eggs to decorate yourself

Bunny finger puppets greeted each diner.

We filled Jax’s eggs with fruity bunnies (by Annie’s) to distract him from the chocolates. Not that cereal that is basically fruit loops is that much better, no matter how organic the whole grains it’s made with! Jax got his hands on some candy anyway, and would not have any of the other real food – and he only picked at the special bunny-shaped macaroni and cheese! *But* it turns out, he is a huge fan of goat cheese. I’m constantly surprised by his taste in strong cheeses. He’s napping now so I hope some of that protein is sustaining him through his sugar high and inevitable crash.

Jax’s cookie egg creation. We didn’t dye eggs, but I thought this was a more age-appropriate egg decorating project anyway.

We walked to the playground after eating to burn off some of those chocolate-peanut-butter eggs Jax got his hands on (and chewed like crazy, foil and all – fun times fishing that out).

He now goes down the big slide all by himself!

Back home: time to water the plants

I’m proud of the flower box I put together yesterday (I found the box in the garbage last fall – you know how I can’t resist wooden trash!).

I put new geraniums into the hanging basket by the door. Geraniums survive the winter in Paris, but apparently do not in New York.

Even the yard is perky these days.

Happy Spring!

Dots and Doilies Baby Shower

We hosted a baby shower yesterday for friends Amanda and Jonathan. It was a blast, from the planning with a cool friend of the mom-to-be to enjoying the company. And the parents-to-be took away some nice loot and heartfelt well-wishes that I hope helps them feel prepared ?? and maybe even more excited! ?? for the arrival of their baby girl.

Doilies don’t seem like the most modern of party decorations (and I was trying to avoid anything over-the-top girly, since that’s not really Amanda and Jonathan’s style), but I thought they contributed an interesting visual element to the dots and circles in the ribbon and other decorations, inspired by this modern baby shower.


I made the mobile-esque hanging decoration out of an embroidery loop and some paper circles glued to ribbon.


Cucumber Boats from this Vegetarian Times recipe.


Honey Baked Brie: Just bake a honey-drizzled round of brie on parchment paper at 350 for about 20 minutes. It sounds weird and looks weirder, but trust me on its tastiness! I meant to add thyme as well but forgot.


I used this sugar cookie recipe and cookie cutters from here.


Vanilla pudding with berries (a cheater’s version here).

Pots of chocolate mousse with grated chocolate topping (the cheating version here).

The parents-to-be!

Guests included 2 other little ones around Jax’s age.

Present opening begins!

Favors: sugar cookies wrapped in parchment paper with a doily wedge accent, all tied together with ribbon.

The aftermath of a successful grazing station.

Red Balloon Birthday Party

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Happy First Birthday to Jacob DeWitt!

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Invitations

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The dining room setup: even the high chair was put to use.

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The den is just to the right of the living room and on the way outside. We had The Red Balloon movie looped and playing in here (at my desk) to set the scene. Because there is very little dialogue in the movie, it served as background music as well. Balloon garland and paper lanterns from Pearl River.

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These “red balloon” mini sandwiches were an idea I got from the wonderful Party Perfect blog, the readers of which helped me brainstorm. These photos show the toddler-friendly cream cheese version. Paris plates from Marshall’s.

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I also had an adult version: ham and swiss cheese with French mustard on pain au levain (French sourdough bread we are lucky to find at our farmer’s market, along with those olives in the foreground).

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The inside menu: cupcakes, mini “red balloon” sandwiches, the all-important fromage plate, salad, and sangria.

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I made the pennant bunting myself out of heavy scrapbook paper and embroidery floss. It was easy to divide the 12×12″ pieces into triangles, dividing in half lengthwise and in thirds crosswise and drawing long diagonal lines from top to bottom (does that make sense?), resulting in 10 triangles per sheet. The whole bundle of paper, cutouts, labels, stickers, and punch-outs were in vintage 50s prints. I used less than a quarter of the stack and created a whole party from it:  liners for the invitation envelopes (above), the “Happy Birthday” garland hanging from the window in the center, and photo “frames” for baby photos adorning the wall.

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The paper straws and wooden disposable utensils are from Can Do Chefs.

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The birthday boy, greeting guests by the door.

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Outside we had the non-alcoholic drinks: lemonade served in a this dispenser, Orangina, Perrier, apple juice boxes, milk boxes, and sippy cups for the little ones. Our wonderful next-door neighbor Jane let us borrow the beautiful folding bamboo chairs. She even had a 1-year-old-sized version. {I didn’t take any photos during the party, so I’ll post more outside pictures when I get them! Edit: See below!}

Balloons
The red balloons were a huge hit with all the toddlers.
{Hint: when mylar balloons are popped, they don’t become choking hazards as the rubber ones do.}

Update: Some more photos from Grandma & Grandpa Weintraub show the scene outdoors!

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Toddler sized French bistrot chair

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One of the most fun activities for the little ones was to smash those balloons!

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They played in a band, too

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A lone balloon at the end of the driveway let arriving guests know they were in the right place.

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We all love you, Jax!

Birthday

What a wonderful day! Thai food lunch with Seth and Corry (who’s visiting from Paris), then dessert at Magnolia bakery:

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Then a trip to the Lion Brand Yarn Studio (where I picked up some bamboo yarn):

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Then some afternoon shopping, a wonderful experience with a friend who will open doors, push the stroller, and entertain a cranky baby… Thanks Corry!

I was in the mood for French food for dinner, so we scoped out a couple of restaurants yesterday. We decided on Jean-Claude. It’s literally just down the street, incredibly reasonably priced, and authentic. I had: a salad of haricots verts & walnuts & bleu cheese, Steak-frites and a glass of Côtes du Rhone, tiramisu and a decaf cappuccino. Seth had onion soup, mussels (moules) and fries, some of the tiramisu and most of the wine.

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A fantastic day. And of course I’m reminded of my 30th birthday, when I saw this just before hopping on a train from Paris to London:

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and what he looked like in the park yesterday:

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Happy Birthday, Cécilia!

This past Tuesday was Cécilia’s birthday, which brought back memories of last year’s celebrations {which I never really blogged about!} For her 30th birthday her chéri Séb organized a surprise birthday party in the countryside for the weekend of May 3rd. Since it was also the year of my 30th {May 13} and Julie’s {July 19} the two of us were also honored at the dinner and served the most beautiful desserts. I got in on the dancing, enjoyed a sip of champagne, and have such wonderful memories of that weekend with friends old and new.

I was 4 months pregnant at the time, and this year it’s Cécilia & Séb’s turn to be awaiting a baby boy ?? and in just a couple months! Today I’ll share 31 photos for 31 years. Joyeux anniversaire!

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Julien

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Julie

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Cécilia’s parents have a pond in their backyard. How awesome is that?

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New Yorkers in the French countryside

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Waiting…

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Surprise!

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This photo is the reënactment of another moment, from the summer of 2002:

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Everything was pink, Cécilia’s favorite color.

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Paëlla!

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These sugar sculptures were made by the most talented {17-year-old!!} pastry chef:

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There’s a poney, too. A child’s dream backyard!

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…and the party continued into lunch the next day…

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Eating Our Way Through Easter Weekend

What a month March has been! Seth’s family was in town, and then my parents came, and between the two groups, Seth and I drove all around France, from Normandy to the Mediterranean Sea. Since Easter weekend is still fresh in my mind (probably because I’ve never eaten so much), I thought I should post about that first.

Seth, my parents, and I spent the weekend in Roanne, which is a relatively little-known city near Lyon. Most outsiders know Roanne because of the famous restaurant Troisgros (150? lunch, anyone?), but to us, it’s the place I was warmly welcomed as an exchange student for the 1996-1997 school year. I stayed with three lovely families, and am thrilled we’ve kept in touch. Because we only had about 24 hours in Roanne, we visited two of my three host families.

Apero at the Vernays

We started out Saturday chez Gérard and Josiane, my first host parents (their daughter, Julie is a good friend of mine and lives in Paris – lucky me!!) , along with their son, Francis (it was his 27th birthday! Joyeux Anniversaire!), and his girlfriend, Laura. We ran into a little traffic on the Paris side of the trip, so we didn’t arrive for lunch until about 2pm. Everyone held out and when we arrived, the feasting began!

The apératif (pre-meal drink course) was served with the most amazing spread of appetizers: endive with herbed cheese, crab in home-made mayonnaise, toasted spiced bread with goat cheese, dried sausage, and the original version of pigs in a blanket: delicious sausages in a puff-pastry.

Pork Dishes at the Vernays
On to the main course: two different kinds of pork (the mustard sauce was particularly memorable), potatoes, and green beans. Seth looks overwhelmed!

I don’t know how I missed taking a picture of the cheese course. It was a beautiful spread on a rustic wooden cheese plate. I also missed photographing the wine, which was made my a family friend. My parents loved it (I think they’re wine drinkers now!) and Gerard & Josiane sent them home with a bottle. We were so stuffed after the cheese that we decided to take a walking tour of Roanne before the dessert course. Julie and I showed my parents the center of Roanne, with its pedestrian walkways, and most importantly, our high school (Lycée Jean Puy). The bar near the high school is called “Bar du Lycée” which always made me laugh, since in the states you can’t drink until college.

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Roanne’s most famous bakery is called Pralus, inventor of the original Praluline, which is a brioche with candied nuts (almonds? pecans?). We picked up a small one to try later on, since we knew we would not need to eat anything for days.

Praluline

Back at the house, we moved on to the dessert course. It was an especially vast spread since it was Francis’s birthday and his girlfriend made a special crumble for him. I thought the Easter-themed papillotes were cute. This is the first year the Révillon chocolate producer has made them for Easter (they are usually a Christmas & New Year’s tradition).

Easter Papillotes

Josiane made my and Julie’s favorite dessert: the île flottante (“floating island”). The island is made of sweet whipped egg whites, floating in a sea of custard.

Ile Flotante

The chocolate mousse was a hit, and my mom got away with the recipe for both that and the île flottante.

Desserts in Roanne

Dad played a couple of tunes after dessert.

Dad Playing Guitar at Vernays

By the time “lunch” was over it was about 9pm! Our hosts:

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It was time to move on to Renaison, chez Michel and Martine, where we spent the night and Easter Sunday.

We had mini pastries for breakfast Easter morning and tried not to overdo it, since we knew we were in for another delicious meal. If the size of the bread loaf alone was any indication (about a yard long by maybe a food wide?), we were not going to go hungry.

Easter Lunch Renaison Everyone

Michel took this picture of the group enjoying the apéritif of champagne.

Avocado Crab Verrine

With the apéro we had crab in a cream dip with avocado and toasts with tapenade and a fish spread.

Escargots

The first course was escargots. The sauce is amazing! Put anything in butter, parsley, garlic, and shallots, and I’m sold. This photo shows just one of the two trays of escargots we ate.

Easter Lamb

The traditional main dish for Easter in France is lamb. This lamb was tender and delicious, served with green beans wrapped in slabs of pork breast akin to bacon. Martine served it with whipped mashed potatoes.

After some salad, guess what was next?

Fromages de France Plate

A spread of regional cheeses and yogurts, as well as some camemberts (one of them aged in calvados, a liquor from Normandy).

Easter Cheese Plate

To finish it off? Warm Tarte Tatin. The name comes from the Tatin sisters who first made a homemade apple tart in this method. Served with some crème fraîche, it was a delicious finale to an afternoon feast.

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