Friday, January 27, 2012

Toddlers and restaurants

This morning I read an article entitled Non, non and non: Discipline and three-course meals on that struck a familiar cord. Enter the two-year-old into a Parisian cafe. French customers eating at tiny tables nearby (about 3mm away from your own table since there isn't much room in there) glare down from their Le Monde to give you a sly, almost threatening, look. The look says "you better be able to control that child while I sit here and sip my cafe and read my paper!"

I can proudly say that I am one of the moms who can control my toddler. He was raised to sit calmly and quietly while enjoying his hot chocolate and croissant. Usually a small toy car can hold him off while we wait for our meal. Other times, we rely on i-touch toddler apps. It's not always perfect, of course because he can get frustrated and antsy, but he's sat through (and enjoyed!) meals at michelin-starred restaurants, our regular crepe cafe, among others. One day, some friends invited us to an Indian restaurant near Opera, and they were shocked to see that my son, then barely two years old, sat through the whole meal reading books, chatting, and flirting with our friends. None of them has children, and they told me that they were inspired by our dynamic and were excited to see that it is, in fact, possible to take toddlers out to dinner if you know how to teach then to just chill.

Culture shock: a cafeteria at Disney World. I've talked a bit about the unhealthy options available at US sporting events. Well, the same goes for theme parks. Sugar, preservatives, sodium, fat, more sugar, and yes, more fat. That's what there is to be had at Disney World. We were there over Christmas break and even though we had a wonderful time, after three days of hot dogs, corn dogs, pizza, fish n chips, and coke, I was ready to give my kingdom for an asparagus, or anything green. At Sea World, I was able to find a chicken caesar salad, and the closest thing it came to green was wilted lettuce with the salad. However, Parisians give their kids sugar, and they give their kids fat. My son loved his hot chocolate and croissant - how much more butter can you get? And if sugar makes kids hyper, then why can Parisian parents get their kids to stay still, while the parents at Disney World cafeterias sat there while their kids ran circles around the table?

Parents that were sitting next to us at these theme park cafeterias had terrible table manners, and their attitude at the table was completely different than the kind of restaurant culture you'd find in Paris. In Paris, the meal is the center of attention, each dish is considered and appreciated, and eaten with cutlery. It's harder to see a toddler in the US using cutlery than it is in Paris. In the US, parents usually cut up chunks of food and place it on a placemat, or simply on the table in front of the child, and the child grabs the chunks and stuffs it into his/her mouth. My son has always used a plate, and he's been manipulating spoons and forks ever since he was six months old. Granted it's not perfect, but his eating etiquette is far more pleasant to look at than what we saw in those cafeterias.

Yes, it can be difficult to encourage a two-year-old to sit still through a meal. But if you create a comfortable dining experience and explain to a child that a meal is an important place for a family to come together and enjoy delicious food and take the time to point out the lovely cutlery, plates, flower arrangements, and also the flavors and details of each ingredient, then they are far more likely to appreciate the meal for what it is, and stay still.

Practice makes perfect. Take your toddler out for a 15-minute hot chocolate break at a nearby cafe, and start there. Bring a book, enjoy the drink, and then leave. Talk to them about the restaurant, the decoration, the people, the table, and talk to them about anything at all. I guarantee this will make the experience far more enjoyable for everyone involved.
food available at Disney's Animal Kingdom
food available at Disney's Animal Kingdom
food available at Paris's Rolland Garros - "legumes" means vegetables

drinks available at Paris's Rolland Garros - tropicana fruit juice and sparkling water

Thursday, January 12, 2012


Because it's still January, and I venture to guess that many of us are still in "resolution" mode, I thought of sharing some low-calerie detox recipes I've been making for my boys. After the gluttony of the holidays, junk food at theme parks, and gigantic portions at Florida hotels and restaurants, our family needed to cleanse. 

The first is one of my favorite salads. It contains a lot of beautifully balanced flavors, including sweet, tart, nutty, and vinegar, a lot of protein, and a lot of color!

Ingredients: 1 can Kidney beans*, 1 can corn, 1 apple, 1 romaine lettuce heart, walnuts (the more, the merrier!), baby spinach (ditto), 1/2 cup Craisins, and a splash of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and coarse salt as a dressing.

*I like to wash canned red kidney beans to remove the extra sodium.

You could also add Rochefort or Blue cheese to this salad because the flavors pair beautifully with the beans.

Here's a vegetable quinoa soup that was a big hit on a cold (76 degrees - HA!), rainy, Trinidadian Sunday afternoon:

Sweat onions and garlic in a pot with a bit of olive oil. Add chopped carrots, zucchini, celery, peas, and green beans (in this order, considering their cooking times). Add enough chicken or vegetable stock to cover all the vegetables, and season with coarse salt. Add 1 cup of quinoa, let it poof, and bingo! 

These recipes make your body and soul feel good. Go forth and cleanse.

Friday, January 6, 2012

A New Year and an Anniversary

This month marks Blue Ribbon Chronicles' one-year anniversary. It has been an enjoyable, even therapeutic, experience writing about everything from street food in Trinidad, tajines in Morocco, hot chocolate in Paris, to my trials in Le Cordon Bleu kitchens.

The blog has gotten almost 9,000 hits, and I've received encouraging comments from followers (both people I know and total strangers from different countries around the world). 

I feel I have so much more to say, so many stories to tell about food adventures inside my kitchen, at outdoor food markets, in posh restaurants, and by the side of the road. 

My son will start attending pre-school regularly next week, so I've resolved to take that time to write blog entries, test recipes, and launch my business as a personal chef. I created a website and printed business cards. 

2011 was a magical year of cooking in Paris, and now I'm ready for real life. The real world of looking at your dreams in the face, and saying, "I'm going for it". I'm sure there will be plenty of disasters like last month's croissant catastrophe, but I'm hoping these experiences will only help me get better at this cooking business. 

It's only the 6th of January, and I've already achieved two of my new year's resolutions. 

One: cancel cable tv. My husband did that while we were away in Paris, and I haven't gotten it hooked up again. I haven't watched it in 10 months, and don't miss a thing. I feel more productive and less, well, stupid. I have a shameful addiction to vampire shows, to be specific, and they were making me stupid. Let's ignore the fact that I have them all on DVD, shall we? But those are for special occasions.

Two: I'm now making two different vegetable dishes with every meal in an effort to bring down my husband's cholesterol. I'm proud to say that the other day, my husband made us Mac 'N Cheese (yes, from a box), and green beans on the side, and my two-and-a-half-year-old ate only the greens and not the Mac 'N Cheese. Nice.

My third resolution is to begin my career as a person chef, full blast. With the condition that I love it. I'll let you know how it goes. 

Oh, yes, and I plan to continue writing this blog. Thanks for reading.