I am half-Swedish, half-French. The Gallic side won.
When she was 19 years old, my mother moved to Paris from the suburbs of Stockholm to be a model. Within a year, she met my father, who was 15 years older, had a baby, and was pregnant with me when she got married, all in the span of 24 months. Modeling was left behind; the learning curve for motherhood (and the French language) was long and difficult.
Food is an essential part of being French, but the women in my father’s life always had the cooking responsibilities—he didn’t even know how to make an egg—and my mother never truly became interested in the kitchen. My grandmother died when I was just two, but her best friend Helene, my pseudo French grandmother, often invited me for the traditional after-school snack known as le goûter—in the apartment where she lived from age 7 to 95. This is where I first tasted a lemon tart, but not just any lemon tart. The acidity was balanced with a sweet flaky crust that melted in my mouth. I was enthralled, and perhaps her culinary genes magically passed on to me.
Our family moved to the United States when I was ten—my father wanted better weather and thought the USA would offer better opportunities for his children. After learning English and adapting to South Florida as best as I could, I found refuge in a cooking school where I spent the summer of my 13th year chopping vegetables. It taught me the basics (such as butter makes everything taste better but may not be the healthiest eating habit). I’ve been building on that education ever since—cooking seasonally before “farm-to-table” became a public mantra, becoming especially vigilant about the provenance of meat since having two daughters of my own. They also are quite interested in what goes into their mouths and where it comes from–we have a Black Angus farm behind our house in upstate New York, and we can watch them eat grass and roam freely.
We make pizza instead of ordering it—the girls’ favorite uses fig paste, goat cheese, and arugula. (Yes, they’re New York kids.) They’ve been to McDonald’s once in their lives—with my mother; they liked the fries, and thought everything else was gross. A few years ago, we were on a Disney cruise where the waiters automatically gave them the children’s menu. My daughters would push it aside, saying, “I’ll start with the tuna tartare….”
Family dinner is an integral part of our lives, most nights of the week. I generally make dinner while the girls do their homework at the dining room table, but they often join in the prep, like chopping the shallots for an endive salad; then the textbooks and laptops give way to mix-matched place settings—no paper or plastic. (Three years ago, the kitchen cabinet with all my china and crystal fell down, so for my 50th birthday I asked each of my friends to give me one plate, creating a glorious mosaic.) The rule about food is: You have to try everything. But there are no rules about the conversation, no taboo subjects. The 15-year-old is more serious and focused; the 11-year-old is more ironic and wry.
It’s basically impossible for tweens and teens to avoid the relentless societal message that thin is good, and my daughters are no exception. But my skinny girls have a not-skinny mother who relishes the abiding pleasure of food, its connection to the earth, and its ability to create memories, so they can see another parameter. Like my mother, I married a Frenchman (the real pastry chef in the family), but my daughters have taken over baking my killer chocolate-chip cookies. Along with my passion for anything chocolate and watching weepy movies, I have passed along a soulful satisfaction that will nourish them in many ways. My work is done.
Okay, NOT done. NEVER done.
Anna Moine is a serial entrepreneur when not cooking and gardening, her other passion. She has worked with many French cosmetic brands, now consults on spa projects, and launched a jewelry business four years ago when she happened upon a druzy: www.almbijoux.com
2 shallots, chopped fine
1 part aged balsamic vinegar (at least 10 years old–invest in it!)
3 parts first batch Italian olive oil
3 large endives, cores removed and sliced 1/4 inch thick
Anjou pear, cut into small squares
Gorgonzola or similar blue cheese
handful of walnuts
optional: lardons (small cubes of crispy bacon)
Macerate shallots in balsamic vinegar for a minimum of 15 minutes, and slowly add olive oil.
(I make a big batch and save it for a week.)
Combine with endives, pear, cheese, walnuts, and optional lardons.