I met Nathalie about 10 years ago when we were both working for the same humanitarian organization in Paris. Her office was adjacent to mine, which eased our connection from office colleagues to friends.
I fondly remember our long conversations over lunches, and not necessarily always business related. We were lucky as our office was located in the Marais. It wasn’t yet so overly trendy and hip, just a cool neighborhood with lots of nice cafes and restaurants. We both liked a small indian restaurant that was serving traditional thalis, which basically is a combination of various delicious dishes served on a single plate.
Now Nathalie lives on the East coast of the United States and even though, we don’t get to see each other as much, we like to stay in touch. I couldn’t wait to hear about her routine and see how, as a French expat like me, she adjusted to living in the United States. I also know she is a great cook. I ate at her house once in Paris and was blown away by the vibrancy and beauty of all the dishes she had prepared. I think my husband was equally impressed and even took a picture of the dinner table!
Here’s a dish she prepared for her friend’s housewarming party. Isn’t it pretty!
1.Hi Nathalie, welcome to Mommies and Meals and thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions. Can you tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Nathalie. I was born in Paris fifty years ago from a Parisian father and a French Guyanese mom. I grew up between Paris and Cayenne (in French Guyana). I now live in New York, in a very nice little town called Larchmont. Only 35 minutes from Manhattan (on the Long Island Sound), it is a charming place close to the water with a lot of trees. I live there with my husband who is German and our daughter, Lou who is 12. We arrived in NY 6 and ½ years ago, and until last June I was working for a local non-profit organizing community projects for corporate foundations.
2. How has juggling motherhood and meals been for you so far? Has the transition been easy or difficult?
Juggling with motherhood and meals was easy. I love the fact that being a mother motivates you to eat even healthier. The challenge was more with my work: after a day at work I did not always have the right energy to be creative and inspired to prepare a good familial meal. I was coming back from work, rushing to pick-up my daughter from after-school activities, and then in the kitchen I was starting my second day activity. After a while I noticed that rushing did not make it: I needed to rest or just be quiet for 10-15 minutes (depending of the days). In fact I needed to get rid of my work energy to be in a good loving mood to prepare the last family meal of the day.
3. Interesting. I also feel that I better at giving after taking care of my needs. I am curious, as a fellow French transplant, how did you ease into living in the United States? What was your cultural experience like?
I have to say that it was quite a challenge at the beginning to figure out where to find good and fresh products in my local suburb. I had to get used to new brands as well as the American food markets. There are still some things that I missed like: having a near-by farmers market three times a week or the French yogurts… But I feel quite lucky that the New Yorkers are now really paying a lot of attention and love to the food they eat.
4. Ah, the American yogurts! I remember my family going grocery shopping here once and only seeing non fat or low-fat yogurts desperately asking where the “full fat” ones were! Let’s dive into meals. How’s breakfast like at your house?
Breakfast at our house starts with making tea. My husband and I agree on which type of tea we want for breakfast and then one of us is in charge. It’s important because it is the first smell and taste of the day. Then we toast some bread from the bakery (whole wheat, baguette or healthy loaf). While I am preparing Lou’s lunch bag, my husband put butter, marmalades and peanut butter on the table plus sometimes grapefruits. My daughter eats fresh bread with butter or cereals. I try to add some seasonal fruits so that she takes some natural vitamins (it doesn’t always work J!).
Fresh bread, butter and jam…sounds like you’ve maintained a very French breakfast! How about lunch? What does Lou eat at school?
My daughter is a vegetarian. She decided upon this a year ago. For her lunch bag, every morning I prepare sandwiches with grilled vegetables (zucchinis, eggplants) or grilled tofu + fresh tomatoes + cheese + homemade pesto + fresh herbs. In winter, I usually prepare a hot meal with pasta and vegetables. I add chocolate, cookies and fresh fruits.
What’s the dinner situation?
Dinner is the second meal that we take all together around 7m. It can be anything: it really depends on what I have in mind and what I found at the local shops. I normally prepare food before eating and I cook the same thing for every one knowing that my daughter won’t eat meat. We eat a lot of vegetables, rice or pasta, fish or shrimps, lentils.
4. When it comes to meal planning, how do you get organized? Do you have a set of recipes that you repeat every week? Do you improvise with what you have? Where do you look for recipes?
I always improvise although sometimes I feel that I am always cooking the same type of ingredients. I like to watch Ina Garten and Bobby Flay cooking shows for tips and inspiration. When I don’t know what to cook, I google recipes with the ingredients I have bought.
5. Funny, I do that too! How often do you go grocery shopping in a given week?
I go grocery shopping when needed (sometimes 3 or 4 times a week). Now that I am not working, my plan is to have a clear fridge and buy as fresh as possible. My husband is going to freak out: he loves to see the fridge full of things!!!
6. I like this idea! That’s how my mom used to and still does her grocery shopping: one day at a time! The best way to eat fresh and limit waste. What is your weekly budget on groceries? How often do you eat out?
I don’t go with a budget. When my husband goes for grocery shopping once a week, he usually spends around $100. I think that we spend approximately $200 to 250 per week in grocery shopping. We eat out when we go out may be once or twice a week (it really depends on the season).
7. Do you have any tips that you would like to share? Do you have any rules or rituals when it comes to family meals?
My only tip would be to eat fresh. The best would be to grow our own vegetables: the fresher, the better. Food should always be vibrant so that we can have a vibrant life! It is going to nurture our temple: our bodies, souls and families. My ritual is to respect food and understand where it comes from. I love to buy from people who are passionate about the food they sell…It’s a good sign.
8. Agreed! What is in your fridge right now? Can you give us a peak?
- Fresh eggs from the farm
- Butter (I wished it was from the farm),
- Clarified butter
- Coconut milk
- Almond milk
- Rum punch with dry banana and vanilla beans,
- Blueberry jelly
- Apple spread and orange marmalade
- Sparkling water
- Sour cream
- Black berries
- Fresh pastas
- Soy sauce
- Thai green curry paste
- Kosher dill pickles
- Rose water, orange blossom water,
- Condiments (BBQ sauce, ketchup, fish sauce, Italian tomato paste, tabasco, homemade chili sauce…)
- Anchovies in olive oil
- Condensed milk
- Cod liver oil
- Vinho Madeira and beers….
9. Intrigued by the rum punch! Can you share your ten must have items that you always have in your fridge or your pantry?
- Soy sauce
- Olive oil
10. And finally, can you share some of your favorite recipes that your family loves?
The favorite one is Colombo. It is a French Guyanese dish that you will find in all French West Indies. Of course, every family have its own recipe!
- Chicken or Pork
- Sweet onions
- Fresh ginger
- Curry powder
- Whole cloves
- Green beens
- 2 Lemons
- Green mangoes or apples
- The meat needs to be marinated a day or a couple of hours in advance with: sweet onions, fresh ginger, a little bit of curry powder, 2 or 3 whole cloves, oil, vinegar and kosher salt.
- It starts with pan frying the meat in a big Dutch oven (or any type of large cast iron cookware). We call it “roussir la viande” which means that the meat will get kind of reddish/as if a little bit burnt. When the meat is ready, I add the onions with the marinade and then the vegetables: potatoes, green beans, zucchinis and eggplants. On the side, you have to prepare your curry.
- Two big tablespoons of curry powder (the best is Colombo powder which is a mixture of yellow curry, curcuma, grounded cumin, fenugrec, coriander and a little bit of cayenne or any chili pepper) + hot water + olive oil + two squeezed lemons and plenty of garlic.
- You pour the curry sauce over the meat and vegetables with finely slices of green mango (or green apples) and let it gently cook until it is delicious. We serve it with rice. It smells sooo good in the kitchen: I hope you will try it!
An authentic Guyanese dish and awesome recipe for a homemade curry powder. How cool is that? Merci beaucoup Nathalie. A pleasure to read you as always! And yes, for having tried Nathalie’s Colombo, it’s a winner! Can’t wait to try it myself.