An Elegant Spring Picnic


Springtime is my favorite time for outdoor meals and entertaining. The days are a bit longer, the evenings a bit warmer, and mealtime conversation tends to linger. With Mother’s Day just around the corner, I’ve been thinking on ways to celebrate this beautiful and empowering journey, not just with my family, but also with the friends––the women who surround and support me in motherhood.

I have a kindred relationship with my mother, one that has greatly shaped and encouraged me, and if she lived closer, I would celebrate her in this spot, too, along with my sisters and long-time friends. Motherhood was never intended to be a solo role, and I am forever grateful to have a local tribe of women who support me with wisdom, encouragement, laughter, and practical help. It is cliché to say they make me a better mother, but they do.

In the Long-Legged House, Wendell Berry writes, “A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared, and that the people who share the place define and limit the possibilities of each other’s lives. It is the knowledge that people have of each other, their concern for each other, their trust in each other, the freedom with which they come and go among themselves.” This community doesn’t require any us to be the same, or even occupy the same roles or routines. Many of us are in different stages of life, with or without children. It doesn’t matter. They are a part of my tribe. And enjoying an elegant tapas style picnic on the lawn is one way I want to celebrate their shared place in my life.

But Spring and early Summer are a wonderful time for celebrations of any sort. Here, I wanted to create an elegant tapas-style picnic, relaxed a bit with playful colors and mismatched plates, candles, wildflowers, and blankets on the lawn. A thoughtfully planned evening, with a playful and casual vibe. I shared more tips and details for pulling together a similar meal last week over on Anthropologie’s blog

A Simple Easter Brunch Menu

Easter morning is one of my favorite mornings of the year. As with many people around the world, the day holds deep, spiritual significance for our family, and it always seems fitting to welcome the morning outdoors with the sunrise, singing birds, rustling trees, and of course brunch. The Springtime here naturally reflects the resurrection song, and it is the perfect backdrop for a celebratory Easter Brunch.

I am not a very formal person, but I do love good food, presented in a beautiful and casual manner, enjoyed with people I love. Today, I’m partnering with Williams Sonoma to introduce a few pieces of their Spring Garden collection and also share a simple brunch menu for Easter, one that is easy enough for the children to help prepare, but with just enough sophistication for the adults to enjoy, too. I’ve mentioned this before, but simple doesn’t equate to easy. Simple is more a reference to the spirit and process of the meal. Every homemade meal requires preparation and work, but as with many things, many hands lightens the effort. Involve those children!

I tried to piece together a brunch menu that felt approachable, yet still special. As a mother, I’ve learned preparation is key to simplifying meals, especially larger, more intentional ones. Many of these dishes that can be prepped or baked in advance, leaving only the last baking or setting of the table for the morning of the brunch. They are also simple enough for children of all ages to participate in helping prepare. For those wondering, I added a little note in each section of ways to include children in the process. The recipes, for the most part, are intuitive, and the details follow the planning section below. I hope this helps make a beautiful brunch feel more approachable in your own home.


BRUNCH MENU

French Radishes

Fresh Berries

Almond Croissants

Rosemary Potatoes

Spring Vegetable Egg Casserole

Lemon Bunny Cakelettes + Petit Fours

Rose + Orange Blossom Mimosas

Blood Orange Italian Soda


PLANNING AHEAD

TWO WEEKS BEFORE

  • Size (friends and family, small or large)?
  • Style (casual, formal)?
  • Menu. Write a list of family favorites to begin. If friends are joining, consider a potluck style meal.
  • Location. Inside or outside? At a friend’s house or yours?
  • Send invites or make phone calls to invite the people on your list.
  • Order any special accoutrements for the meal (bakeware, place settings, or specialty foods)
  • CHILDREN: Paint or hand-write invites.

ONE WEEK BEFORE

  • Write out your grocery list.
  • Double-check you have all of your materials, table details, and tools.

TWO DAYS BEFORE

  • Double-check with guests who are bringing food.
  • Grocery shop and pick up a few special blooms for the table.
  • Arrange flowers.
  • CHILDREN: Help trim and arrange flowers. Write name tags (if using). Make sure all the linens are clean and accounted for.

ONE DAY BEFORE

  • Bake cakelettes and petits fours in the morning, and set aside to cool.
  • Prepare the Spring Vegetable Egg Casserole. Do not bake. Cover and set aside in the fridge overnight.
  • Set the croissants on the baking tray to rise overnight.
  • Slice and store radishes.
  • Wash, pat dry, and mix berries.
  • If you have a single oven, bake the potatoes now, refrigerate overnight, and quickly reheat before brunch.
  • If you are eating indoors, set the table the night before.
  • If you are eating outdoors, neatly stack the place settings in baskets or tidy piles to quickly set up in the morning.
  • Set aside a few small baskets with treats for the kids, like these, the night before.
  • CHILDREN: Help make the cakelettes and chop vegetables. Wash and pat dry potatoes and berries. Wipe down the table and chairs to prepare for the morning.

EASTER MORNING

  • Turn on music or open the windows, if the weather permits.
  • Get dressed, make coffee, and watch the sunrise together.
  • Share a moment of gratitude.
  • Bake the croissants, potatoes, and egg casserole, timing the casserole to finish around the time you want to eat. It should take less than an hour with a double-oven. If you are baking all three with a single oven, allow up to 90 minutes.
  • Set the table.
  • Butter radishes.
  • Dust the cakelettes with powdered sugar.
  • Mix and pour drinks.
  • CHILDREN: Help set the table. Get dressed. Serve or pour non-alcoholic drinks. Set food on the table.


RECIPES

FRENCH RADISHES

Have you tried these before? So delicious. My sister first introduced me a few months ago, and they’re the quickest little appetizer. She takes it up a notch with fresh bread. Mmm. Wash and slice fresh radishes. Swipe a bit of softened unsalted butter on the top. Add sea salt.

 

ROSEMARY POTATOES

I have a family of potato-lovers, so they are always a welcome edition to any special meal. Wash 2 pounds of butter potatoes. Toss them in extra virgin olive oil. Generously sprinkle with sea salt and freshly chopped rosemary. Bake in the oven at 425F until done, approximately 35-40 minutes.

 

FRESH BERRIES

Rinse and pat dry your choice of berries. I used raspberries, blackberries, and sliced strawberries.

 

LEMON BUNNY CAKELETTES + PETITS FOURS

These mini-bunny cakelettes were my favorite part of the meal. Aren’t they cute? I used this mix to help save a bit of time and it was wonderful! Think: moist lemon pound cake. One box filled both the mini-bunny cakelet pan and the petits fours pan, and they carry the mix gluten free, too. Wink.

 

ALMOND CROISSANTS

Croissants are my pastry weakness, and these are my absolute favorite pre-made croissants––the next best thing to having a French baker in your kitchen. The chocolate are spectacular, too.  

 

SPRING VEGETABLE EGG CASSEROLE adapted from Gimme Some Oven

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 yellow onion, peeled and diced

8 oz. baby bella mushrooms, sliced

1 lb asparagus, cut in 1” pieces

1 large carrot, peeled and diced

1 bunch of broccolini florets

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved

4 oz goat cheese, crumbled

12 eggs, whisked

½ c. milk

Sea Salt

Black Pepper

Lightly rub butter over the surface of your casserole dish. Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté a few minutes until translucent. Add a bit more oil (if necessary), and stir in the garlic, carrots, asparagus, broccolini. Sauté for about 10 minutes, then add the tomatoes and mushrooms. Sauté for another few minutes. Pour half the veggie mixture into the casserole dish, layering half the goat cheese on top. Repeat. Whisk the eggs and milk together in a bowl, adding salt and pepper to taste. Pour the egg mixture over the top of the vegetables. Cover and put in the fridge overnight or bake straight away. Bake at 350F for 35-40 minutes. It is done when the knife (or toothpick) is clean. Serve immediately.


This post is sponsored by Williams Sonoma, a company our family has loved for years. All thoughts and images are my own. Thank you for supporting the businesses that help keep this space afloat. 

A Springtime Flower Party

It feels a tad weird to be writing about Springtime and flowers while currently traveling through winter weather, but Spring has already sprouted in our southern home: trees budding, wildflowers sprinkling the highways, songbirds chirping at sunrise. As Rilke wrote, “It is spring again. The earth is like a child that knows poems by heart.” And so we celebrated our youngest songbird’s eighth birthday with flowers and friends, two of her very favorite things.

To keep birthday experiences simple for our home, our children only have the option for a birthday party on certain years, a year when they can opt for a party experience with friends as their gift from me and Mark. So when they choose a party, I tend to make the details special, something they will enjoy and something to remember. Olive and I had several conversations about what type of party she wanted, which left me feeling she should consider event planning one day, as they were all such large-scale, fun ideas. In the end we opted to recreate a flower market experience and allow each friend space to make their own arrangement. Blythe thoughtfully painted a sign for Olive to hang in her shop.

Since our backyard is currently a mesh of backyard projects and renovations, I asked a dear friend if I could host the party on her beautiful property in the country. We don’t have a flower market at our farmer’s market, but they are one of my favorite things to enjoy when we travel.

When the girls arrived, they each had a spot at the table, marked with a paper doily, mason jar vase, drinking glass, and paper-lined basket for little nibbles. They each perused and gathered from the flower market (set up with a lemonade stand) and returned to their spots where they had access to scissors for trimming stems and various colors of string for decorating their vases (and for marking their personal arrangement). We talked about the importance of flowers and pollinators in the world, a repeat conversation from our homeschool group’s flower study the week before.

Once the girls finished making flowers, they sipped Italian soda and filled their baskets with berries and popcorn. We sang happy birthday to Olive with mini lemon-filled cupcakes, and she opened gifts and read thoughtful notes from friends, many of which included bubble gum. The girls each filled and stamped small envelopes with wildflower seeds to take home and grow their own cutting gardens.

Although the party created quite the mess, it was a simply, beautiful way to celebrate the season. For those of you interested in hosting your own (even for adults!), here are a list of materials I used. for younger girls, it’s best to have a few extra set of adult hands available for helping tie knots and cut difficult stems. For older girls and adults, create a bit more time for the art of arrangement with helpful tips, such as how to choose colors or arrange by height and spill. Consider the audience ages and their attention span/interest levels. Most of this group preferred to simply jump right in! Either way can be fun. Enjoy!

MATERIALS TO CREATE YOUR OWN SPRINGTIME FLOWER PARTY

Garden Kale | 25 Ideas + Recipes for the Harvest

The days have been warm here, feeling more like spring than late winter. I don’t mind. I spent the day on a blanket last weekend, reading Luci Shaw’s Water My Soul, and soaking up the warm light. It’s possibly the most restorative way for me to spend alone time, tending the soil of my own soul and spirit, taking in the outdoors. In spite of a few hard freezes here, our garden kale and brussel sprouts have continued to grow, and the heirloom lettuces I let go to seed last year have blossomed again without effort! It feels miraculous. In our southern heat, these leafy greens only last as long as the weather remains cool in the evening, so I’m harvesting what I can each day, adding a bit of kale to at least one meal or juice a day. As I’ve looked for more creative ways to eat kale, here are a few recipes I’ve found. Kale Cake? Kale Pesto Slaw? Mmm. Enjoy!

  1. Simply Sauté | Toss with olive oil, sea salt, and minced garlic over the stove until a bright green color. Add to any dish.
  2. Green Juice  or this one: 5-6 de-stemmed kale leaves, 1/2 cucumber, 1/2 lemon without the rind, 1 apple, 2 sprigs of mint, 1″ piece of ginger
  3. Wilted Winter Greens Soup
  4. BBQ Kale Chips
  5. Kale and Black Bean Tacos with Roasted Red Pepper Salsa
  6. Butternut Squash + Kale Quesadillas
  7. Blueberry, Kale, and Fig Smoothie
  8. Kale and Apple Cake with Apple Icing
  9. Kale Pasta with Walnuts
  10. Pork Tenderloin with Kale and Kimchi
  11. Kale Veggie Wrap
  12. Kale with Garlic and Bacon
  13. Savory Oatmeal with Garlicky Kale
  14. Winter Farro and Kale Salad
  15. Cheesy Turmeric + Garlic Kale Chips
  16. Chocolate Cocoa Kale Chips
  17. Chive, Kale, + Parmesan Pancakes with Poached Eggs
  18. Kale + Feta Savory Torte
  19. Kale, Cherry, Sunflower Seed Salad with Savory Granola
  20. Roasted Beet, Kale, and Brie Baby Quiche
  21. Savory Corned Beef Brisket + Irish Cheddar French Toast with Kale Pesto Slaw
  22. Hide Your Kale Smoothie
  23. Warm Kale + Artichoke Dip
  24. Detox Salad with Cauliflower, Kale, and Pomegranate
  25. Kale + Popcorn

Any favorite kale recipes to share?

Chicken Soup + Bone Broth for Winter Wellness

Chicken Soup for Winter WellnessChicken Soup for Winter Wellness

Our home has felt under the weather this last week with fevers and coughs and stuffy noses. With so many friends and extended family members also at home with the flu right now, I’ve again turned to nurture our wellness here. Although there are hundreds of homeopathic remedies to sip or rub or diffuse, this hearty Chicken Soup with Kale and Carrots is my favorite to return to during theses dreary, cold months.

While two of my children were sprawled across the sofa or in their beds feeling awful, my youngest has been bouncing on furniture and hanging from doorways, telling me how much she misses having playmates. “I am 100% extrovert! I need to be with people,” she shouted this week. I just laughed. For my little who loves people, this week has been a great lesson in how healthy busy hands can help nurture and take care of those who don’t feel well. So she’s made tea for her siblings and given her sister a foot rub. She’s written little notes and helped a ton in the kitchen, one of her favorite places.

This weekend, we decided to make our favorite chicken soup together. It is the perfect recipe for little helpers as there’s much washing, peeling, and rough chopping needed. On a side note since many have asked, Olive began chopping in the kitchen with me at age four, more because of her own interest. Now, she always uses her child’s chef knife and peeler set we gifted her a couple of Christmases ago. (The same company also sells the chef knife and finger guard on its own.) I love that it encourages proper finger placement and protection with the finger guard, but the blade is still sturdy enough to chop carrots. At nearly eight, she does all of her own chopping, although always with my supervision. Wink.

Chicken Soup for Winter Wellness Chicken Soup for Winter Wellness

Below is the recipe for one large batch of soup (serving 6-8ish). I often chop extra veggies (marked with *) to make a second bone broth after I’ve stripped the meat from the chicken. It’s a way to stretch the chicken and stock the freezer for another meal. You’ll find both listed below in the instructions. Enjoy!

CHICKEN SOUP WITH KALE+ CARROTS adapted from It’s All Good

1 whole chicken, 4-5 lbs

1 large yellow onion, quartered*

1 celery stalk, washed and roughly chopped*

1 large leek, washed really well, trimmed and chopped*

2-3 medium carrots, washed, peeled, and roughly chopped for the broth*

2-3 medium carrots, washed, peeled, and roughly chopped, reserved for the soup

a few sprigs of thyme

1 bay leaf

2-3 teaspoons of sea salt

1 teaspoon of coarsely ground black pepper

1 large bunch of kale, washed and torn into bite-size pieces

2 large soup pots

(optional) extra carrot, celery, onion, and leek chopping to set aside for a second bone broth


TO MAKE THE CHICKEN SOUP

Toss the coarsely chopped veggies [onion, celery, leek, carrots] and chicken in a pot. Cover with sea salt, black pepper, thyme, and the bay leaf. Fill the pot with cold water, covering the veggies and chicken, and bring the water to a boil over high heat. When it boils, lower the heat and simmer for 2 hours.

Pour and strain the stock into a clean pot, removing and discarding the cooked vegetables. Pull the meat off the chicken––it should fall right off the bone––adding the shredded chicken to the broth. If the chicken is too hot for your fingers, use a knife and tongs. Leave the bones in the first pot for now. Add the torn kale and fresh batch of carrots to the soup. Let the soup simmer for an additional 20 minutes. Serve and enjoy. This soup pairs really well with an easy, handmade crusty bread, too. Wink.

TO STOCK UP ADDITIONAL BONE BROTH

While the soup is simmering, add any veggie scraps or extra veggies you have chopped back into the first pot with the chicken bones. Add a bit of parsley or thyme and sea salt. Fill the pot again with cold water. Bring the pot to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer for 6 to 12 hours. I often leave it simmering overnight. Let the broth cool. Strain it into a a pot or bowl. Measure and store in the freezer for a future soup, or to sip on when your home needs nurturing wellness.

Ginger Cookies | A Story of Letting Go

Cloistered Away | Ginger CookiesCloistered Away | Ginger Cookies

I look forward to this season every year, when the home twinkles and the hearth glows, when the kitchen smells of spices and baked goods or a simmering pot on the stove, when the children and I begin afternoon tea with Advent read-aloud and crafts, when we thoughtfully plan out our gifts to make or purchase for dear and near ones. And yet this particular holiday season has been different. I have been away from my home far more than I have been in it. I actually counted the days yesterday and discovered six precious days at home in December. My heart sunk a bit. I don’t regret my days away, as they were meaningful and necessary in their own manner, even when they were unexpected. But without recognizing it, I have found myself chasing home, chasing Christmas this year. I have found myself rushed to do, do, do, to somehow catch up with time, compressing 20 days at home into six. But that pace begins to suffocate me after a while, it squelches the soul, the connection. Instead I am letting go of my own plans this year, releasing it even as I type this out. I’m releasing the unfinished baking and making, the imperfect gifts and lagging Advent readings, the crafts that were never begun, and all of those quiet afternoon cups of tea and read aloud. I’m releasing it all to embrace what we chose instead this year: to serve others in need, to offer my children a small opportunity with theater, to light candles and sing Christmas hymns and carols by candlelight most evenings, to enjoy many afternoons building forts in the woods with friends, to spend time with cousins and grandparents, even a great-grandparent during Christmas, to make wreaths and garlands for other homes instead of my own. Christmas doesn’t have to be perfect to be good. Sometimes the imperfect, the unexpected events and happenings are what make it good (and also sometimes uncomfortable for me).
Cloistered Away | Ginger CookiesCloistered Away | Ginger Cookies

Earlier this week, Olive and I spent the day at my sister’s house, baking gingerbread cookies, writing Christmas cards, and crafting with them. As it happens, we also enjoyed tea––a new loose leaf blend gifted by a dear friend, in a new Japanese tea kettle and hand thrown cup gifted by TOAST. I plan to use both often this winter, ideally with these cookies and heaps of gratitude. Kristen’s ginger cookies are my favorite cookies. Period. I prefer them extra gingery, rolled in raw sugar, soft and chewy, slightly cooled from the oven. The fresh ginger is absolutely wonderful. Rolled out and left in the oven a tad longer, this recipe also creates a perfect dough for cookie cutting, too, and as we have it, perfectly imperfect cookie decorating also. In the event you’re looking for a small afternoon craft or something delicious to share with loved ones, here’s Kristen’s simple recipe for you, a salute to letting go and receiving the day or season at hand, perfectly imperfect. They are tasty and heart-warming in every season or month of the year.

KRISTEN’S GINGER COOKIES

  • 2 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup blackstrap unsulphered molasses
  • 1 egg
  • raw sugar for topping

In a bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl (or mixing stand), mix together the fresh ginger, butter, and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the molasses and egg. Add in the dry ingredients. Taste and check the ginger flavor of the batter. Add more if necessary (sometimes I add up to 1/2 cup of fresh ginger). Chill for at least one hour.

To bake, preheat the oven to 350 ºF.

For softer, chewier cookies, roll a spoonful of dough between your hands into a ball. Roll the ball in the raw sugar and place on a baking tray 2″ apart. Bake for 10-12 minutes.

For cookie cutting, lightly flour a surface and rolling pin. Roll out the dough evenly, about 1/4″ – 1/8.” Bake for approximately 15 minutes for a crispier cookie, checking not to burn. Cool entirely before icing.

ICING

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1-2 Tbsp milk

Wisk together. It will have a thick, glue-like consistency. Pour into a piping bag to decorate.

 

 

In the Kitchen with Sarah Hart

In the Kitchen with Sarah Hart

“In the Kitchen” is a series celebrating the family table––the food we eat, the spaces we inhabit, and the people with whom we share it all. Each edition welcomes a new voice to this conversation on kitchen life and food, and today, I welcome Sarah Hart, the talented every-woman behind the Home is Where the Hart Is  Instagram and blog. Sarah is the mother of four boys in the suburbs of New York City, who appreciates the kitchen for the solitude it offers as much as the family togetherness. Her kitchen is a touchpoint to the past and also a place to enjoy holiday crafts, which she’s sharing with us today. Welcome, Sarah!


Spending time in the kitchen during the holidays is one of my most favorite things, especially when the kids are involved. The smells, the twinkly lights, the greens and holiday tunes playing in the background make for a cozy spot to create wonderful holiday memories and traditions.  Because I love the holidays so much, I don’t stop at the Christmas tree when decorating our home.  Instead, I like to add little touches throughout our entire home, especially in the kitchen since it’s where I spend the majority of my time.  Little touches like old Santa mugs that belonged to my grandmother and our elf Chippy really add some cheer to the space.

One of my favorite simple ways to decorate is by drying orange slices in the oven and using them for garland or ornaments.  I usually hang the oranges somewhere in the kitchen, but this year I decided to add them to the garland that surrounds our front door and used the leftovers for ornaments on the tree.  The great thing about these dried oranges is that they will usually last you more than one year if you store them in an air-tight container.

In the Kitchen with Sarah HartIn the Kitchen with Sarah Hart

I have a confession to make before I share this “recipe” with you: as much as I enjoying spending time in the kitchen with my boys, sometimes that time isn’t always the most relaxing. There’s often bickering about who gets to crack the egg or who’s turn it is to stir.  There’s also often a lot of mess, which is totally fine, don’t get me wrong, but it’s nice to have a kitchen activity we can ALL participate in without fighting or tears, and that won’t end with me cleaning flour off the ceiling.  Just make some hot chocolate for back up in case anyone is feeling a little Scrooge-y.

In the Kitchen with Sarah HartIn the Kitchen with Sarah Hart

OVEN-DRIED ORANGE SLICES

I found this recipe from Martha Stewart (who else) years ago that I use as a guideline:

1 navel orange

1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 200 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with a nonstick baking mat.  Top with orange slices in a single layer, and generously dust with sugar.  Bake until the peels are dry and the flesh is translucent, about 2 1/2 hours.

Just a few notes here:  I use whatever oranges I have sitting on my counter leftover from my Thanksgiving turkey prep.  Sometimes I line my baking sheets, sometimes I don’t.  I have never dusted them with sugar, but they still look beautiful to me when they come out of the oven.  Also, I find I need to bake them for closer to 4 hours to get them the way I really like them.  But like I said, you can use this recipe as a guideline.  A helpful tip though: let the oranges sit out on the counter for a day or two after they come out of the oven so they can harden up a bit, then you can simply string them up with some twine or ribbon, or insert ornament hooks directly through the flesh for hanging.

Whether hanging from your kitchen window or on your tree, strung up around your front door or displayed in a pretty jar, these oranges are just so festive and cheerful to me.  As pretty as they are though, it’s the tradition behind them and the process of making them with my family that really makes them so special.  Happy Holidays!
In the Kitchen with Sarah HartIn the Kitchen with Sarah Hart


All images and words by Sarah Hart for Cloistered Away. You can find more from Sarah on Instagram @homeiswherethehartis and her blog Home is Where the Hart Is. Thank you, Sarah!

In the Kitchen with Esther Meinel-Zottl

in_the-_kitchen_esther_meinel-zottl-8

“In the Kitchen” is a series celebrating the family table––the food we eat, the spaces we inhabit, and the people with whom we share it all. Each edition welcomes a new voice to this conversation on kitchen life and food, and today, I welcome Esther Meinel-Zottl, the warm-hearted voice and photographer behind Mama to the Little Ones and My Little Treasures of Life. Esther is the mother of twin preschool girls and lives in the Bavarian Alps, where her family has established a home culture that reflects nature, especially in the kitchen. Welcome, Esther!


A lot of my childhood memories are connected to the kitchen. I grew up in the former GDR, in communistic times. My parents had four kids and we always lived in really old and simple flats. No heating systems. Only some of the rooms had ovens to heat our home, and they were fueled with black coal. We had to carry up the coal from the dusty, dark basement. That was one of our chores. The kitchen with the oven was the first room to be heated in the morning. We all gathered there and I remember that my mum used to dress us there as well. She placed pots of water or milk on the oven to heat up for breakfast, and even though the kitchen was old and simple and sometimes dusty from heating with black coal, it was my favourite place to be. I connect the warm, tender, and gentle side of my mother and father with it. Sure, we had arguments and loud discussions there as well. But when we gathered at the wooden sitting area my father built, it was the most connected feeling of togetherness, the thought “we are family”. Until now, most of our long, precious, and deep conversations take place in my parent’s kitchen. It always has been the most delightful room for me, no matter the flat they or we lived in. Even now, when visiting Oma and Opa, the kitchen is where the grandchildren run first after they wake up, and most of the time, they find their grandparents in the kitchen. It’s funny that much later I realized that we also created a wooden sitting corner in our kitchen. My husband and I both grew up with wooden sitting corners, and now we have created the same, but somehow unconsciously. in_the_kitchen_esther_meinel-zottl-9in_the-kitchen_esther_meinel-zottl-6In the Kitchen with Esther -- on Cloistered Away

When we built and designed our house and when it came to make decisions about our kitchen, I must say that our ideas and perceptions were really high and clear. We wanted out kitchen to be the centre of our home and to be the place where we feel comfortable and at ease. We didn’t want to save money on that part of the house, where we both love to spend time cooking, baking, gathering and talking. And even though we built an ecological wooden house, we choose a kitchen with real, old wood. Oh yes, a lot of wood in our house. For us wood symbolizes warmth, our love and passion for nature and the natural things, and our value for the old. We wanted our kitchen to be spacious and connected with our living area. We wanted it to be a place where we all like to gather and spend time. 2 years later, I must say our kitchen really has become the centre of our house.

The girls have their own little wooden play kitchen in there and they spend more time playing in our big open kitchen than in their own room. Even though our kitchen might look and feel more like a living room, we of course also have the functional kitchen cupboards and corners. Some of them are easy to reach for the girls, so they can take out plates e.g. and help us prepare setting the table. When the girls were babies we bought the Stokke Tripp Trapp Highchairs, which are very often used by German families. Those wooden highchairs are so handy in many ways. Not only for the littles to sit on the table, but later on for them to push them around in the kitchen and to get up and stand up on them to reach our kitchen island or the sink, to be more independent and help out. For me, it always has been important to involve the girls as much as possible in my kitchen work. A lot of times that has meant I have way more work with three year olds around, more work cleaning up afterwards, more work because to instruct them and to let them try. But I know it that way now, and I want them to feel good and to enjoy the food we’re preparing, so I think it’s necessary. A year ago, it was more playing or ‘getting to know’ food ingredients with their textures, smells, colours and tastes e.g. when I let them be part of baking bread. Now they help wash/brush vegetables we have plucked from our vegetable field. They cut vegetables (the thick carrot slices are easily recognized) and fruits or squeeze our orange juice.

in_the_kitchen_esther_-meinel-zottl-7In the Kitchen with Esther - on Cloistered Away

This year’s spring, summer, and autumn have been really remarkable for me. It was the first time that we planted and grew our own vegetables at our neighbour’s field. He is an organic farmer and we’re over at his farm nearly every other day. His generous offer was truly the highlight of my year. I involved the girls with sowing and taking care of the vegetables by pulling up weeds. They loved to harvest all our vegetables and the wonder in their eyes by dragging out the carrots, by trying to get the huge zucchinis, by seeing how our peppers finally turned red or by searching and digging for the potatoes… my heart was full. They didn’t even clean the dirty carrots and they ate so much soil when they ate the carrots like little rabbits. Their pride and curiosity and their naturalness of eating our home-grown veggies in our dishes surprised me. I harvested so much mangold/chard over the summer that I tried in different dishes and I didn’t have a problem to convince them to try it. Of course potatoes and carrots are still their favourites. The gardening project this year really helped me to see that its worth investing time to involve our kids in the preparation of food and in gardening. They learnt so much and we had such wonderful and delicious meals all together.

Seasonal and regional food plays a big role for us, especially now that we moved from Munich to the countryside. We get eggs from our farmer neighbour and buy their organic certified (demeter) meat. The girls and I get milk every second or third day from another farmer in our village. That has become a wonderful routine we love to combine with an afternoon walk before. We have a really good alpine dairy half an hour from where we live. We love to buy and supply ourselves with lots of good cheese and fresh butter (you get in a huge bar. I cut that bar in 5 pieces and freeze them) there once in a while. We hiked through lots of alpine meadows this summer, here in our region, where lots of the cows live during the summer and it did not only feel like in the movie of ‘Heidi’, but it was such a joy for me to see how freely the cows live and move up there, where we get our milk and sometimes our cheese and butter.

in_the_kitchen_esther-3In the Kitchen with Esther -- on Cloistered AwayAnd because our life on the countryside here in the Bavarian Alps influences our weekly routine and our kitchen life a lot, I chose a really typical alpine recipe for you. One we all love a lot.

Kaiserschmarrn is really simple and originally from Austria. There’s probably about 50 different recipes for it, but the recipe I’m going to share with you was handed to me by my sister. She uses it to make thin pancakes (almost as thin as Crèpes). So you can try it for both. We love Kaiserschmarrn and I can’t count how often we eat it. We don’t make it that often at home, but on weekends that demand a lot. We especially love to try it at different mountain huts. It has become our hiking motivation when hiking up to a mountain hut. They usually serve it. So even though we live in the Bavarian/German Alps I choose this Austrian recipe simply because it’s typical for the alpine region (no matter if in Bavaria or Austria). I have become really picky about the right consistence of the dough/batter. It shouldn’t be too eggy or too floury or too dry. Some like it with raisins, some not. Some like to eat a sort of plum compote with it, some like applesauce with it. Some like it caramelized, some flambé.
in_the-kitchen_esther_meinel-zottl-3in_the_kitchen_esther_meinel-zottl-4KAISERSCHMARRN

Because I’m not the person that can go with an exact recipe (I always vary) this recipe changes as well. If I use the recipe and dough/batter to make pancakes/thin Crèpes, than I use less milk and a bit more flour. If I use the recipe for its original purpose as Kaiserschmarrn, than I use it exact like that, but I beat the egg whites and gently fold them under by the end. So all you need is:

Ingredients (serves 2 pans):

200g flour (I use spelt flour but originally wheat flour is used)

4 eggs

1 pinch of salt

750 ml milk (I mostly only use 600ml)

  • Mix the milk with egg yolks and salt and slowly add the flour. After beating the egg whites, you can carefully fold it in with the rest of the batter.
  • Use a big heatproof coated frying pan for the dough/batter.
  • Then use quiet a lot of vegetable oil with a butter flavour or butter to gently roast it.
  • Then pour in half of the batter, but don’t wonder if it’s really liquid and thin.
  • I use medium heat to cook the underside until light brown, then turn over the dough using a spatula and bake/roast it again until its golden brown. (you could also bake it for 6–8 minutes in the pre-heated oven)
  • Then I tear the Kaiserschmarrn into small pieces, using two forks or the spatula.
  • You can now spread it out on the plates and top it with icing sugar.

I love to caramelize some nuts with maple syrup and butter that I spread over the Kaiserschmarrn before I top it with icing sugar. And as mentioned before, you are welcome to cook the Kaiserschmarrn with raisins. If you do so, just spread some over the batter after you poured it into the pan.

Enjoy your meal or as we in Bavaria/Germany would say: an Guadn, lasst’s eich schmeggn!


All images and words by Esther Meinel-Zottl for Cloistered Away. You can follow more  from Esther on her blog, My Little Treasures of Life, and on Instagram, @mama_2thelittleones. Thank you, Esther!

in the kitchen with cécile molinié

in_the_kitchen_cecile_molinie-2in_the_kitchen_cecile_moliniein_the_kitchen_cecile_molinie-4“In the Kitchen” is a series celebrating the family table––the food we eat, the spaces we inhabit, and the people with whom we share it all. Each edition welcomes a new voice to this conversation on kitchen life and food, and today, I welcome Cécile Molinié, the inspiring creative at Cécile Moli and contributing member of See My Paris. Cécile is the mother to four children and lives in Paris, France, where she cherishes her kitchen as both the center of their family life and the touchpoint to nature. Welcome, Cécile!


I grew up in the French countryside and at a very young age became used to helping my mother grow the vegetable garden, pick the berries, plums or apples. I learned how to preserve some of them for winter and also about the real connection between man and nature. We had a very big kitchen with a view on the garden, and as I loved cooking and found it creative and relaxing after long days at school or in college, I tried a lot of recipes, from the daily ones to the very elaborate ones. I loved it!in_the_kitchen_cecile_molinie-13in_the_kitchen_cecile_molinie-7 in_the_kitchen_cecile_molinie-9 in_the_kitchen_cecile_molinie-8When I first moved to Paris to study law more than 20 years ago, space was scarce and the kitchen was very tiny. But there is a story about Parisian kitchens, even in very chic an large classic Parisian apartments. The first time I entered such a beautiful place, I was amazed that the kitchen was isolated from the rest of the apartment, put at the end of a long, dark corridor, close to the back stairway (in French, escalier de service: the staircase used by the maids and cooks to enter the apartments by a back door in the 19th century). Most Parisian apartments are made like this. The kitchen was the place no one should see. The living room, dining room and library were very large and opulent and the kitchen very small. It was the case in the three first places we lived in with my husband and growing family until we finally bought our current apartment six years ago.

It was a big space in a modern building which had been occupied by offices for 40 years and needed a full renovation. The architect and I decided to put the kitchen at the heart of the house, close to the bedrooms, the living room, dining room, with lots of light from the terrace and a place to eat or work at a big table, a place specifically dedicated to cooking. in_the_kitchen_cecile_molinie-3in_the_kitchen_cecile_molinie-11 in_the_kitchen_cecile_molinie-5in_the_kitchen_cecile_molinie-12So this is our Parisian kitchen, one that doesn’t look so Parisian in a way! This place is where we all gather for meals or after school for homework or tea time with friends. It is always warm and welcoming. I often take my computer there to work with the kids around me. The kids like to help me cooking when they have time. Little Miss always sets the table with the silver, while the others help me with the vegetables, or the sauce, and of course with the dessert!

I decided to share a typical French dish, La Blanquette de Veau. Even the name is evocative for an English speaking person; blanquette pronounces exactly like blanket.  It is the perfect comfort dish for the cold Autumn and Winter days that all my children love and ask for––the very same one my grandmother cooked when I visited her. The recipe was inspired by the children’s cookbook pictured, one that was mine when I was a child. It is really easy to make. It just takes time to prepare and must be watched. Afterward, I always keep the remaining broth and use it to make a soup for the evening with angel hair pasta or these small letters pasta, very popular in France with the children.in_the_kitchen_cecile_molinie-6in_the_kitchen_cecile_molinie-10LA BLANQUETTE DE VEAU (Veal Stew in a White Sauce) 

Serves 6

You need :

  • 1,2 kg (2 ½ pounds) of veal shoulder cut into little cubes
  • 1 shallot, peeled and cut into slices
  • 1 big onion, peeled with the cloves stick
  • 5 cloves
  • 4 carrots, peeled and cut lenghtwise
  • 2 leeks mostly the white part (keep one green leaf for the bouquet garni below)
  • 1 bouquet garni (ie : 1 little branch of bay leaves, one of thyme, one green leaf of leek, a few springs of parsley) or at least only the bay leaves ; Tie all the herbs together into the leek leaf.
  • 1 table spoon sea salt
  • ground pepper
  • parsley or chives (optional)
  • 2 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoon flour
  • ½ cup 100 ml crème fraiche (optional)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 500g white rice

Method :

  • Put the veal pieces in a large pot (cocotte in french) add 2 liters of cold water and bring to a boil.
  • Skim and add all the vegetables, bouquet garni and salt.
  • Add some water to cover everything if necessary
  • Cover, lower the heat and let cook for one hour.
  • When the veal and vegetables are tender, remove the bouquet garni.
  • Let it cool a little bit and leave the meat in the pot and put the broth in a large bowl.
  • Cook the rice
  • Make the roux : melt the butter in a large saucepan, add  the flour, it must get a little beige (not brown), add one or two pinches of salt. Then add, one at a time, 7 to 8 laddles (3 ½ to 4 cups) of broth into the saucepan, stirring constantly between each addition. The broth turns thicker and makes a creamy white sauce.
  • Mix the creme fraiche and egg yolk.
  • Add the creme fraiche and egg yolk mixture to the sauce and stop the heat.
  • Pour this sauce into the cocotte with the meat and vegetables.
  • Sprinkle with parsley or chives if your children like little green things on their food (mine don’t )

Serve immediately with the rice. Bon appétit !


All images and words by Cécile Molinié for Cloistered Away. You can find more of Cécile’s work on Instagram @cecilemoli and @seemyparis.