Nonfiction November and Weekend Cooking: French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon



So the French seem to be the best at feeding their kids, according to all these books that talk about raising children in France, like Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman.
(Perhaps someone ought to write something about Asian kids eating everything though, cos plenty of us grew up being made to eat all kinds of things! Here’s one example from another nonfiction book I’m reading, L.A. Son: My Life, My City, My Food by Roy Choi, who notes that there was no such thing as baby food when growing up in Korea:

“They’d feed us straight from the pan, straight off the griddle, always straight out of their fingers: try this, taste this, eat that. Chap chae, vermicelli noodles layered with julienned vegetables, egg, and marinated beef as complex and fly high as a J Dilla track. Daikon soup, abalone porridge, blended mung bean, soybean, and tofu soup mixed with rice, spinach, anchovy broth, and noodles. I slurped raw kimchi from stained Rubbermaid gloves. I was hand-fed bits of savory pancakes filled with pureed mung beans and scallions, sometimes studded with oysters. Flavor after flavor.”


But yes, the French, the author of this living in France book, French Kids Eat Everything is Canadian, married to a Frenchman. They decide to move to her husband’s hometown in Brittany for a year. They’ve got two young daughters who go to school and daycare.  And they learn to adjust to life in France, especially the eating.

For instance, French kids do not snack. They eat a teatime snack, usually a simple one of bread, at 430 or so, probably because dinnertime tends to be late-ish, about 730 or 8. In contrast, her kids snack several times a day. They even have a “bedtime snack”! Le Billon seems to stress out about eating and food quite a bit, coming up with excuses to not cut out snacking.


“Not snacking will mean that Sophie won’t do as well in school. Snacking stabilizes blood sugar levels. She needs to snack, or else she won’t be able to concentrate.” I finished, ominously, with “You know what I’m like when I get low blood sugar. Cutting out snacks will just mean more family fights and more bad behavior.” “She’s doing fine so far this year,” Philippe retorted, “and she hasn’t been allowed to snack at school at all.” This was true. I was actually not so secretly proud of how well Sophie had learned French, adapted to the classroom, and risen to the challenge of an eight-hour school day at such a young age. But I had one more argument up my sleeve. “Moving to France has been really stressful for the girls. Snacks are reassuring for them. The girls need their bedtime snacks—it’s a routine that has stayed the same while so much around them has changed. And they like their morning snacks on the weekends; it’s something they look forward to. Let’s just go easy on them,” I pleaded.

These kids of hers, well, I’m not North American although I do live in the US, but I’m wondering how typical her kids’ (and her own) diets are to North American kids. One of her daughters eats only pasta with Parmesan. And as Parmesan isn’t all that common in France, Le Billon has to carry a wedge around when they eat out.

But as I thought about it, I remembered a friend who was originally from Malaysia, but whose son, I think he might be seven now, was born and brought up in the US (they now live back in Malaysia), and he was the kind of kid who only ate white foods, like mac and cheese, and bread, and chicken. So maybe it’s not just an “American” thing? My kids too aren’t the best of eaters. We had so many struggles with Wee Reader when he was at that terrible twos age (which really starts at 18 months). He’s pretty good at eating most foods now though. And now that Wee-er Reader is 18 months old, he’s starting to have his own issues with eating. Just today, he refused to eat more than a few bites of the pasta for lunch, had two spoonfuls of the carrot soup, then decided he had enough. And because I was sure he hadn’t had enough, I offered him a sesame cracker. He ate that up. Then I resorted to corn and peas. Which he ate up too. And then had milk. This was how I dealt with it! And I think the French would not have approved. From what Le Billon writes, it seems that they don’t offer alternatives, it is eat it or wait for the next meal.

It was fun to read about what kids in France eat at school and daycare. And not just what they eat but how they eat it. Each kid in the daycare sits down one on one with a staff member to eat, taking turns to do so. And they happily eat things like beet, which even I don’t really know what to do with.

And how food is determined by the French Ministry of Education:

“Vegetables had to be served at every meal: raw one day, cooked the next. Fried food could be served no more than once per week. Real fish had to be served at least once per week. Fruit was served for dessert every second meal, at a minimum; sugary desserts were allowed- but only once per week.”

And when snack food ads run on TV, a large banner runs across the screen carrying a health warning like “For your health, avoid snacking in between meals”!!!

Then when the family returns to Vancouver, to learn that elementary school kids there get just ten minutes to eat lunch. And that their daycare isn’t allowed to warm up food. What? Ok that is so wrong.

It made me grateful for my childhood in Singapore where school canteens are run like food courts, that is, there are several stalls selling different foods. In my primary school there was a drinks stall that also sold simple sandwiches and yes even ice lollies, a noodle stall, one that sold rice and dishes, then another that catered to those who wanted halal food. Think there might have been one more stall but I can’t remember what that was. Most days my mum packed me sandwiches but I did have that option of buying myself something instead.

I try to serve a variety of foods every day. For instance, this week i made a slow cooker pork ragu with pappardelle, then chicken rice with steamed chicken, roasted cauliflower and carrot soup. Another meal was Japanese rice with stirfried beef and broccoli, and roasted brussels sprouts. The kids mostly eat what we eat, except for Wee Reader’s preschool lunches where I usually pack finger foods, yes that includes things like chicken nuggets or begedel (a meat and potato cutlet) and a fruit or vegetable. Sometimes it’s leftovers like pasta or rice and meat and vegetables. But there are plenty of days where I shrug my shoulders and wish I didn’t have to cook, and serve up something like omelets or a hastily thrown together fried rice. Or serve once again the baked pasta. Or grab frozen dumplings and throw them in with some noodles. Then on weekends, I give up entirely and refuse to cook.

There were some ideas to take away from this book. Such as setting the table nicely, tablecloth and all, and making the meal feel special. And taking time during the meal, chatting about the food and each others’ day, and just relaxing and enjoying the company. I tend to try to hurry Wee Reader, who is a very slow eater, and get frustrated when he chews the same mouthful for the twentieth time. I will try my best to ease up on him and let him enjoy his food.

One thing that this book made me want to cook was soup. I had forgotten how easy it is to make soup and as it was getting to be soup weather, I made some carrot soup, inspired by this recipe from Smitten Kitchen.


Simply sauté a diced shallot or onion, about four cloves of garlic and minced (or grated) ginger. Then add carrots. I used about one pound of carrots, roughly chopped. Sauté for about 15 minutes. Then some chicken stock. It’s the only stock I have, but vegetable stock would work well here. Then after the carrots have softened, blitz it with an immersion blender. I had to add a bit more water to thin it and then decided to add some milk and a dab of butter. Just before serving, I added a few spoons of miso. Then tasted and decided on a bit of pepper and olive oil.

Wee-er Reader loved the soup so much he refused to eat his rice and chicken and I had to sneak that into his soup…

How do you get your kids to try a new food? 





Nonfiction November is an event hosted by Lost in BooksSophisticated DorkinessRegular Rumination, and Doing Dewey.



Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs


Library Looting some non-fiction!

badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library.

After lunch, we popped into the library for a quick pick-up of books and a wander around the puzzles area. Then it was home for nap time! I had some holds come in! Woohoo!

L.A. son : my life, my city, my food – Roy Choi with Tien Nguyen and Natasha Pha

Oh so apparently I put this on hold and forgot about it. Good thing then that it’s come in just in time for Nonfiction November!


Los Angeles: A patchwork megalopolis defined by its unlikely cultural collisions; the city that raised and shaped Roy Choi, the boundary-breaking chef who decided to leave behind fine dining to feed the city he loved—and, with the creation of the Korean taco, reinvented street food along the way.

Abounding with both the food and the stories that gave rise to Choi’s inspired cooking, L.A. Son takes us through the neighborhoods and streets most tourists never see, from the hidden casinos where gamblers slurp fragrant bowls of pho to Downtown’s Jewelry District, where a ten-year-old Choi wolfed down Jewish deli classics between diamond deliveries; from the kitchen of his parents’ Korean restaurant and his mother’s pungent kimchi to the boulevards of East L.A. and the best taquerias in the country, to, at last, the curbside view from one of his emblematic Kogi taco trucks, where people from all walks of life line up for a revolutionary meal.

Filled with over 85 inspired recipes that meld the overlapping traditions and flavors of L.A.—including Korean fried chicken, tempura potato pancakes, homemade chorizo, and Kimchi and Pork Belly Stuffed Pupusas—L.A. Son embodies the sense of invention, resourcefulness, and hybrid attitude of the city from which it takes its name, as it tells the transporting, unlikely story of how a Korean American kid went from lowriding in the streets of L.A. to becoming an acclaimed chef.

Can’t we talk about something more pleasant? – Roz Chast

I keep seeing this memoir on book blogs! I’m looking forward to reading it!

In her first memoir, Roz Chast brings her signature wit to the topic of aging parents. Spanning the last several years of their lives and told through four-color cartoons, family photos, and documents, and a narrative as rife with laughs as it is with tears, Chast’s memoir is both comfort and comic relief for anyone experiencing the life-altering loss of elderly parents.

When it came to her elderly mother and father, Roz held to the practices of denial, avoidance, and distraction. But when Elizabeth Chast climbed a ladder to locate an old souvenir from the “crazy closet”—with predictable results—the tools that had served Roz well through her parents’ seventies, eighties, and into their early nineties could no longer be deployed.

While the particulars are Chast-ian in their idiosyncrasies—an anxious father who had relied heavily on his wife for stability as he slipped into dementia and a former assistant principal mother whose overbearing personality had sidelined Roz for decades—the themes are universal: adult children accepting a parental role; aging and unstable parents leaving a family home for an institution; dealing with uncomfortable physical intimacies; managing logistics; and hiring strangers to provide the most personal care.

An amazing portrait of two lives at their end and an only child coping as best she can, Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant will show the full range of Roz Chast’s talent as cartoonist and storyteller.


Seconds – Bryan Lee O’Malley

I think I first heard of Seconds from Beth Fish Reads’s post


Katie’s got it pretty good. She’s a talented young chef, she runs a successful restaurant, and she has big plans to open an even better one. Then, all at once, progress on the new location bogs down, her charming ex-boyfriend pops up, her fling with another chef goes sour, and her best waitress gets badly hurt. And just like that, Katie’s life goes from pretty good to not so much. What she needs is a second chance. Everybody deserves one, after all—but they don’t come easy. Luckily for Katie, a mysterious girl appears in the middle of the night with simple instructions for a do-it-yourself do-over:

1. Write your mistake
2. Ingest one mushroom
3. Go to sleep
4. Wake anew

And just like that, all the bad stuff never happened, and Katie is given another chance to get things right. She’s also got a dresser drawer full of magical mushrooms—and an irresistible urge to make her life not just good, but perfect. Too bad it’s against the rules. But Katie doesn’t care about the rules—and she’s about to discover the unintended consequences of the best intentions.

From the mind and pen behind the acclaimed Scott Pilgrim series comes a madcap new tale of existential angst, everyday obstacles, young love, and ancient spirits that’s sharp-witted and tenderhearted, whimsical and wise.



Cleopatra: A Life – Stacy Schiff

This is one of two readalongs for Nonfiction November. I’m not sure if I can finish this book in time but I’ve been curious about this book for a while, so this is probably a good time to try it!


Her palace shimmered with onyx, garnets, and gold, but was richer still in political and sexual intrigue. Above all else, Cleopatra was a shrewd strategist and an ingenious negotiator.

Though her life spanned fewer than forty years, it reshaped the contours of the ancient world. She was married twice, each time to a brother. She waged a brutal civil war against the first when both were teenagers. She poisoned the second. Ultimately she dispensed with an ambitious sister as well; incest and assassination were family specialties. Cleopatra appears to have had sex with only two men. They happen, however, to have been Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, among the most prominent Romans of the day. Both were married to other women. Cleopatra had a child with Caesar and–after his murder–three more with his protégé. Already she was the wealthiest ruler in the Mediterranean; the relationship with Antony confirmed her status as the most influential woman of the age. The two would together attempt to forge a new empire, in an alliance that spelled their ends. Cleopatra has lodged herself in our imaginations ever since.

Famous long before she was notorious, Cleopatra has gone down in history for all the wrong reasons. Shakespeare and Shaw put words in her mouth. Michelangelo, Tiepolo, and Elizabeth Taylor put a face to her name. Along the way, Cleopatra’s supple personality and the drama of her circumstances have been lost. In a masterly return to the classical sources, Stacy Schiff here boldly separates fact from fiction to rescue the magnetic queen whose death ushered in a new world order. Rich in detail, epic in scope, Schiff ‘s is a luminous, deeply original reconstruction of a dazzling life.



Some e-book holds came in too! As they say, when it rains….

Old Man’s War – John Scalzi

Aha! I am excited to read my first Scalzi! I’m not sure if I picked the right one to start with. Anyone have any idea?


John Perry did two things on his 75th birthday. First he visited his wife’s grave. Then he joined the army.

The good news is that humanity finally made it into interstellar space. The bad news is that planets fit to live on are scarce– and alien races willing to fight us for them are common. So: we fight. To defend Earth, and to stake our own claim to planetary real estate. Far from Earth, the war has been going on for decades: brutal, bloody, unyielding.

Earth itself is a backwater. The bulk of humanity’s resources are in the hands of the Colonial Defense Force. Everybody knows that when you reach retirement age, you can join the CDF. They don’t want young people; they want people who carry the knowledge and skills of decades of living. You’ll be taken off Earth and never allowed to return. You’ll serve two years at the front. And if you survive, you’ll be given a generous homestead stake of your own, on one of our hard-won colony planets.

John Perry is taking that deal. He has only the vaguest idea what to expect. Because the actual fight, light-years from home, is far, far harder than he can imagine–and what he will become is far stranger.

War Horse – Michael Morpurgo


A powerful tale of war, redemption, and a hero’s journey.

In 1914, Joey, a beautiful bay-red foal with a distinctive cross on his nose, is sold to the army and thrust into the midst of the war on the Western Front. With his officer, he charges toward the enemy, witnessing the horror of the battles in France. But even in the desolation of the trenches, Joey’s courage touches the soldiers around him and he is able to find warmth and hope. But his heart aches for Albert, the farmer’s son he left behind. Will he ever see his true master again?


Just a few books for the kids today, as they still had plenty (PLENTY!) books left from last week’s loot:

Have you read any of these books? What did you get from the library this week?

Nonfiction November Week One


It’s Nonfiction November! This is an event hosted by Lost in BooksSophisticated DorkinessRegular Rumination, and Doing Dewey.

It was a bit of a last-minute decision to join in on my part. But here’s my answers to the first week’s questions!


Your Year in Nonfiction: Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year?


As I was going through my list of books read so far, I discovered that I’ve read far more nonfiction than I thought. Mostly because a lot of these were graphic novel/memoirs or whatever the right term is for those.

Here’s what I’ve read so far (and links to those I reviewed):

A time to keep silence – Patrick Leigh Fermor
Bury my heart at Wounded Knee: an Indian history of the America West- Dee Brown
How to be a woman – Caitlin Moran
Heads in beds: a reckless memoir of hotels, hustles, and so-called hospitality – Jacob Tomsky
Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity – Katherine Boo
The Tea Reader: Living life one cup at a time Katrina Avila Munichiello (ed)
Oaxaca Journal – Oliver Sacks
China Witness – Xinran
Stealing Buddha’s Dinner  – Bich Minh Nguyen
Sous chef – Michael Gibney

Graphic novel/memoirs
Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City – Guy Delisle
March Book One – John Robert Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell
A game for swallows: to die, to leave, to return – Zeina Abirached
Nylon Road: a graphic memoir of coming of age in Iran – Parsua Bashi
Epileptic – David B
Woman rebel: the Margaret Sanger story – Peter Bagge
The initiates: a comic artist and a wine artisan exchange jobs – Etienne Davodeau
The photographer – Emmanuel Guibert, Didier Lefèvre, Fréderic Lemercier
Heartbreak Diet – Thorina Rose


Picking just one is hard! So I’ll have to say it’s between Etienne Davodeau’s The initiates: a comic artist and a wine artisan exchange jobs and The photographer by Emmanuel Guibert, Didier Lefèvre, Fréderic Lemercier.

Yes, I realize they are both graphic novel/memoirs and by Frenchmen. But they were such different – and interesting – reads. Here’s my review of The Initiates. The Photographer was a very moving combination of graphic art and photographs, tracing one reporter’s journey through Afghanistan with Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders).


What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?

Actually I don’t think I recommend much, if any, nonfiction….


What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet?

Probably more history! So I ought to get my hands on Cleopatra: A Life which is one of two readalongs happening this month!

What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?


To add more books to my non-fiction reading list! And to attempt to make a dent in it, although I suspect that is highly unlikely, since it’ll just be getting longer. It doesn’t help that I’m currently reading Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward, which is not on my list. Oh and French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Lee Billon

I am however, hoping to read:


A crack in the edge of the world: America and the great California earthquake of 1906 – Simon Winchester


A vist to Don Otavio – Sybille Bedford

I’m quite sure I won’t be able to read them all but maybe one!