As I come to know our new surroundings, our new adopted city and our new home, I quietly revel in the calm bliss of being back in the States. All of the things I missed about the U.S. are ever-present.
The people are positive.
They are helpful.
They are friendly to your children.
They think big.
In fact, everything comes in bigger quantities – the kindness of others, the casual friendliness of strangers, the generous portions of meals, every produce in jumbo sizes. In the overwhelmingly huge supermarkets where I feel like I am walking through a small European airport, I can’t help but get the big sacks of produce simply because – I can. Why wouldn’t you get 20 apples rather than 10? And who doesn’t need a bag of 30 onions at a time? I think my time living in remote parts of Africa made me a hoarder of groceries because many of the places we lived – Rwanda, Guinea-Bissau, Angola – ran out of produce for weeks at a time. I now have a habit of buying loads of food, then feeling the need to use it up quickly since things should be cooked fresh. Then I have to go out and restock more food. Can’t run out. So there is a buzzing tension in my head between using up all of the food in the house and needing to run out in order to store more food. It is a bit obsessive. This combined with the new challenges of living in the suburbs – just can’t walk out of my house to a corner market like I used to – means that our house is now brimming with apples, pears, celery, carrots, onions, yams, and potatoes as if we were preparing a rustic feast every evening. We do our big weekly shopping, and then I get to plan my meals for the entire week.
This, for me, is a big thing.
I have never been a planner, especially with food.
I used to let the mid-week and weekend farmer’s market determine what was to be on the table. Improvisation was a big part of our lives, from eating to traveling. But our new life is teaching me to think about weekly planning, monthly planning, thinking ahead – and it is actually a very comforting process.
In terms of food and meals, planning makes for thoughtful cooking. We can get the variety in foods we need with seasonal produce, knowing what we will be having in the evening in advance rather than come that quiet panic in late afternoon – what are we having for dinner?
For me, all this makes for a calmer aura around dinnertime. With a new baby and a 6 year old, there is less time for cooking, less capacity for improvisation.
So today, I am thinking about the big ways in which small things are making a positive impact in my life. Planning, taking the time, thinking things through. Reflecting on our daily foods, being conscious about what we are eating, learning about the big ways in which local, seasonal foods will make an impact in our meals and in our overall health. All of which brings me to thinking about the big/small things I came back to the U.S. for. Why we made this big move back when we were very happy in Paris.
The food projects, writing projects, a new business, connecting with new people, reconnecting with old friends and seeing our children’s experience within the U.S. culture, full of space for children, open to bold new ideas with no prerequisites – all the things, big and small, which exists sparingly elsewhere. Someone recently said to me that in France, and in Europe, the general attitude is that you know tomorrow will be the same as today. It is reassuring and secure. People want this stability. But in the U.S., there is somehow a belief that tomorrow will most likely be a better day than today. There is this hope, and it permeates in the general culture. This is what we came back to absorb and live in. It is a small difference in perspective, but makes a big difference in how a society functions and how people can thrive – or not.
To celebrate thinking big, I wanted to share two recipes – with apples – because apples represent all that is big, beautiful, bold – and I am hoping for more inspiration from this fruit as the season progresses.
The first is a simple tart apple ginger compote with ‘cream’ (yogurt for babies under 12 months, whole cream or sour cream for toddlers and older) to give to little Cy and to serve as a compote with ice cream to Magnus for dessert. Then my favorite apple almond tart from the Normandy region in France – thick, crunchy, tart and sweet at the same time.
Warm Apples, Cream and Fresh Ginger Compote
4 Pink Lady Apples
2 Tablespoons Greek yogurt (or any yogurt you prefer), or 1 tablespoon cream
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh ginger
- Wash, peel and cut the apples into small bite-size pieces.
- Using a steamer, steam the apples and ginger until tender.
- Puree the apples and ginger until smooth. Let cool and serve with yogurt, cream or ice-cream.
Apple Almond Tart
6-8 Fuji or Pink Lady Apples, peeled and cut into small cubes
6 Tbsp brown sugar
2 cups sour cream
1 tsp almond essence
3 egg yolks
3 Tbsp ground almonds
1 frozen prepared pastry pie crust
- Preheat oven at 380 F.
- In a bowl, toss together the apples and 3 Tbsp of the brown sugar. Let it stand while you prepare the pie crust.
- Line a tart dish with the pie crust. Poke holes in several places with a fork.
- Sprinkle 1 Tbsp of the brown sugar on the pie crust, then add the apples. The apples can be brimming over – they will shrink while baking. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden.
- Meanwhile, in a bowl, mix the sour cream, almond essence, egg yolks and the last 2 Tbsp of the brown sugar. When the tart is golden, take out of the oven and add the cream mixture. Sprinkle the ground almonds and bake for another 30-40 minutes until golden. Let it cool for a few minutes before serving. It is also delicious after completely cooled – the flavors intensify.