About a year and a half ago we took a short plane ride from Casablanca to Bordeaux to visit my husband’s cousins who were living there at the time. It was a dream of a weekend — delicious homemade meals at home, a stroll around the gorgeous old city with pints near the waterfront and coffees, too, and a bit of gelato thrown in for good measure, a trip to the sea whereupon we spent an entire day drinking champagne along the fizzing Atlantic in bright sun and wind and eating beautiful cheese and various snacks, a four-course gluten-free dinner cooked by me in less than two hours whilst the rest of the party drank gin and tonics and lounged around the impeccably kept apartment. It was a dreamy few days and indeed captured that rather indescribable French joie de vivre.
Sierra was just over one year old then – my little bee! – and gaining her walking legs; she was also starting to eat more than milk for meals and enjoyed nearly everything put in front of her (I do miss those days). As is the custom in Europe, dinner tended to be on the later side — say 8 or 9 pm which was just a tad too late for a little one. So before we adults cracked another bottle of wine and sat down to eat Anna would scramble a few farm-fresh eggs and quickly grate a carrot that she cooked down in a pat of salted butter and a teaspoon or so of coconut oil. Sierra loved those carrots and so, I must admit, did I, and once home in Morocco they became a staple of her dinner repast.
But these carrots are not just for miniature palates.
They are lovely as an accompaniment to a simple dinner of buttered chickpeas with salt and roasted fingerling potatoes. Or stirred in a heaping pile into a pot of quinoa to be served with baked tofu or salmon. This is not fancy food but it is nourishing and satisfying for appetites both large and small. On really busy nights — such as tonight, when we spontaneously spent hours at the pool and then a few more at the playground with little friends — these carrots are a lifesaver along with a plate of softly scrambled eggs dressed with cheddar cheese and lots of freshly cracked pepper and a few slices of avocado.
When I look for ‘new’ recipes these days they are most often found in Alice Waters’ “The Art of Simple Cooking” or occasionally the New York Times Food section or williams-sonoma.com or I rejigger tried and true favorites of my own to make them even more streamlined and easy to set on the table. Gone are the days when I’d spend hours cooking something for a dinner party and frankly I don’t miss them. I’m grateful I had them, and those endeavors were perfect for that stage of my life, but now I want the freedom to go for a late afternoon-into-evening walk along the Wadi Trail with Sierra and spend as much time as she wishes watching the birds, jumping off rocks, or simply exploring this strange landscape. I do the bulk of my prep work during her nap or when she is happily occupied and try to leave the quick cooking til the very end to finish the meal. This haphazard method works for me. I also think I have gotten much quicker at peeling, chopping, whisking, and creaming — and thank goodness for it, because there are still cakes to be baked, never fear.
If food is fuel than please let it be made up of whole grains and tender vegetables and (mostly) plant-based proteins and plenty of cool, fresh water in abundance. Having access to these luxuries I try not to take for granted; having the means to fill our bowls and bellies with healthful offerings is not a given. I give thanks for all of it, and for weekends away, and for the days we have together.
To make vegan, replace the butter with olive oil.
Makes 4 servings as a side dish.
1 cup quinoa, cooked according to package directions
3 medium-large carrots, peeled if not organic, and then peeled into long strips using the peeler
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 tablespoon salted or unsalted butter
Pinch of salt if using unsalted butter
Make the quinoa and set aside. Prepare the carrots.
In a large frying pan over medium heat, melt the coconut oil and the butter. Add the shaved carrots and cook over medium-high heat until the carrots are wilted, then slightly crisp and buttery. Add the salt if using. Remove from heat and put on a cutting board; let cool until they’ll not burn your fingers. Then roughly chop and fold into the quinoa. Serve.