After a week in Paris, we headed south for a week unlike any we’d ever experienced (or likely will again). To celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, my parents gathered our family on a barge that toured rivers and canals in the south of France. We were the only passengers, cared for by a crew of five including –most importantly, for this blog’s purposes–a chef named Charlie.
Charlie had his work cut out for him. Among the 13 of us are five vegetarians (two of whom sometimes, depending on the circumstances, eat fish), one vegan, two on low-salt diets, one who tries to avoid chocolate (quel dommage!). We had been in touch about our dietary preferences ahead of time, but in Charlie’s broken English and my faltering French, we spent an hour the first afternoon going over the details, a conversation that resulted in this list:
Later it was simplified to this:
Only Ben and Eli never learned how to eat Charlie’s cooking, and he never quite learned how plain they really wanted their food. By the end of the week, when even unsauced pasta didn’t appeal, I realized it wasn’t his food that they were objecting to; they just wanted home cooking. Failing that, we rationed our one precious jar of peanut butter, spreading it ever-more-thinly on each day’s crusty baguette. The rest of us learned to eat like royalty, trying unfamiliar flavors and combinations, indulging in rich sauces and a week’s supply of wine and cheese served at every meal; the boys stuck with the most prosaic meal of all: pb&j.
Week 2 at the Koloa Sunshine Market, we came for the regular things: greens, radishes, mountain spinach, tomatoes, fiddlehead ferns, mountain apples, and a back breaking assortment of mangoes, papayas, pineapples, passion fruit, apple bananas. Everything was rough and beautiful as always, and Ella and Finn knew their way around the small market this time, so they were excited to help pick out our haul and scavenge from table to table. There was a lot of begging, and a lot of giving in on my part. They understand what a farmers market is from our life back home, so this was an adventure they could understand. And if a part of their excitement about being on Kauai involved purchasing and eating lots of local (and new to them) produce, who was I to deny them?
We had to buy an extra pint of tomatoes and several more bananas to replace the ones that they ate while walking around, but we got all of the things we needed quickly (before they sold out), plus two beautiful sprays of orchids that lasted all week.
But, what I most wanted was a banana bloom to chop and stir fry, or chop and toss in our greens. I had wanted this all week, and I searched everywhere, and while there were several wild ones hanging from the trees, and more strewn on the ground outside the market, there were none to be bought.
Still, the trip was not without adventure for any of us.
We found this:
A soursop fruit, which was creamy and sweet and a little tart. I liked it, but my family wouldn’t touch it. It stayed at the market.
Ella had great fun with our camera, snapping off two dozen pictures of the farmers and their goods. My favorite is this study in yellow and green:
And we enjoyed more coconut, especially when the man with the machete hacked ours open so we could eat the meat after the water was gone.
The machete was much larger than it looks, and shells did fly.
Then, we struck gold.
Across the path, Finn & my husband spied the sugar cane:
They bought and contemplated the sugar cane:
And Finn quickly appropriated said sugar cane. Because really, what is better in life than sugar in the form of a bat?
In Paris, we rented an apartment, went to the market and fixed nearly all our own meals. But we wanted to take the kids out for a meal, just once, pretty much just to say we did.
We carried several guidebooks that included sections on kid-friendly restaurants, but too often kid-friendly meant a chain like Le Hippo, which has a kid’s menu offering (for about eight euros) a choice between steak, burger, ribs, chicken nuggets or fish filet, plus drink and dessert. Not bad, but not so great for vegetarian kids. (The one exception to the kid friendly = fast food thinking was in Karen Uhlmann’s wonderful Paris for Kids, where the Restaurant section begins: “I use my museum method for taking children to dinner in Paris (one museum, then one park). One pasta night for you; one bistro night for me.” I like the way this woman thinks! Maybe when the kids are older we’ll manage this, too.)
Although our kids actually handle restaurants pretty well, we were a little worried about the pace of the typical Parisian bistro meal, the need to order courses, the inability to make substitutions. So we went for Italian. In fact, we found pretty much the Parisian equivalent of our local Pasta Pomodoro. The boys ordered fusili with pesto, Tony had a pizza, I ate a terrific salade nicoise, and we all shared a couple bowls of excellent chocolate ice cream for dessert. It was quick, it was tasty. Everybody left happily.
The next night we gave ourselves a break from teaching anybody how to eat, and left the boys with my good friend Susannah so that Tony and I could go out on our own. We went for Italian, again, but this time a small and cozy place with tables far too small for our standard restaurant accessories of view master and coloring books. We walked past the beautiful seafood and antipasto bar on the way in:
And started with an antipasto plate and a rocket salad:
(The zucchini on the antipasto plate was a revelation: thin discs which seemed to have been dried slightly before marinating, to give it a fabulous chewy texture.) Then we moved on to a black truffle risotto and pasta with scallops. We had cocktails to start, wine with dinner, and lingered; we didn’t need to remind anyone to sit up, or not stick a fork in your hair, or to try three more bites because you’re three… It was peaceful and quiet, and the food was delicious, too.
Our next big restaurant meal was in the south of France, where after almost a week of meals cooked for us personally by Charlie the Chef (much more on this to come), we — the 4 of us, my parents, my siblings and their partners, my niece and nephew — all went out to a local auberge to eat.
We prepared for this meal as we’d prepared for our Eiffel Tower trip, making sure the boys were well-rested and fed before we headed out, for although by now our boys were thoroughly on French meal time (ie, dinner at 8), we still hadn’t asked them to sit through several courses. And in fact, we didn’t even arrive at the restaurant until 8, ordered half an hour later (yes, I was checking my watch), and the food didn’t come for thirty minutes after that. So the boys colored, and looked at view master discs, and Tony and I took turns taking them out for walks, which — given the scenery–was actually quite pleasant:
When our meals arrived, we were delighted: scallops and vegetables for me:
a beautiful vegetable plate for Tony:
And pasta for the boys. It had only been a week since they’d seen the stuff, but they fell on it like… well, like picky eaters who’ve been denied plain food for a week. I didn’t take a picture of their plates, but scribbled on the side of my menu Ben’s response: “I am going to delect this pasta!” Eli scooped it up into his mouth by the handful. I wasn’t about to spoil his happy reunion with comfort food by insisting on a fork.
There was dessert, and there was wine, and maybe there was coffee, too, but I really don’t remember, I was so distracted by my growing sense that yes, they would make it, we would make it, and two and a half hours after we sat down, we were heading home again, tired, contented, and well-fed after our family dinner out.
We love Plantation Gardens, where we stayed last year for a week. The condo was extremely pleasant, but the real revelation were the grounds and the restaurant, which is one of the best places we’ve found to eat out on the south shore of Kauai.
The Moir gardens, which border the restaurant are spectacular–hundreds of orchids in bloom…
and long paths to walk before and after dinner. Here, it’s not just about the food, but about where you get to eat the food: on a spacious lanai, in the middle of lots of cultivated, lush beauty. It’s clean and modern, but has clear ties the long history of the plantation and surrounding gardens and old Kauai.
This was one of the very few times we eat out during our vacation, so there was some ceremony to it. We dressed up. We made sure we were all hungry. We booked an early seating so that the kids would be in good spirits and we would get a seat on the lanai.
Ella and Finn , newly introduced to pu-pus and the glories of Shirley Temples, were festive when we arrived. They were excited and eager to sit down and eat. They understood what was expected of them regarding manners and appropriate behavior. Kory and I had looked forward all year to the sweet li hing mui margarita,
with li hing mui powder on the rim, mixed with salt. For my money, it’s the perfect island drink. Maybe the perfect drink period.
We ordered our drinks, a lilikoi lemonade for Finn and a Shirley Temple for Ella, and we waited for our appetizers.
The kids drinks went down fast.
Which is I guess what happens when you’re soda-deprived 310 days a year.
Thankfully, the appetizers came right out and were were excellent. Ella had choosen pot stickers, which are a staple for her at any restaurant with even a whiff of Asian influence.
Finn was adamant about imperial roles, which he had discovered a few days earlier.
And Kory and I ordered the kalua pig lettuce wraps because they just looked too good to pass up. And they were. Normally, we’ll share one, or two very small first plates.
They finished their plates.
And even though, on this one particular night, they had great manners, mostly used appropriate implements instead of fingers, made good conversation, ate with gusto and great appreciation, and generally functioned like little humans and not the beasts-at-the-table that they can sometimes be, still we had a problem. Because of course, they were no longer especially hungry, and we still had dinner coming.
Plantation Gardens’ has an excellent practice of NOT offering a printed children’s menu. So Ella and Finn had no idea they were missing out on the chicken nugget-thing when they were brought their small plates of rice, grilled opa, and a sweet, coconut milk fortified sauce on the side. They didn’t touch the sauce, but they did muscle and squirm their way through some of the fish and a bit of the rice. It was a struggle though, and not so much fun, even though the fish was quite good. And this was entirely our fault. Too many pu-pus.
I had the same fish as the kids, and it was sweet and rich and filling, even for me. Kory chose more wisely, the much lighter ahi, and it was superb.
Of course, the three sugar fiends wanted dessert.
There was really nothing about the dinner that was done in moderation. Especially not the second margarita.
But after we walked in the garden until it was dark, looking at plants, searching for the nocturnal toads which squat like sentinels all over the grass and paths. The kids love them. We love that the kids love them.
We loved our dinner. And we’ll do it again. A little differently.
Sure, we love the museums, the sense of history, the people (yes, I really do). The boys love the trains. But we also just really love all the chocolate. It’s available at every meal, whether melted into milk for chocolat chaud, baked into pastry for pain au chocolat, or tossed by the handful into cereals. (Special K with chocolate probably deserves a post of its own, except I just couldn’t bring myself to buy the stuff). Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, there’s always some chocolate nearby, and only a real crank would complain about that.