Tracey Ceurvels, is a busy writer-mom-food lover, who in between playgrounds and play dates with her daughter, ventures around NYC, dining out and shopping for ingredients in spice shops, Greenmarkets and specialty stores to cook meals for her family and to develop recipes for her busy clients. Her articles have appeared in The Boston Globe, The New York Daily News, Citysearch, The Gourmet Food Blog at Dean & Deluca, Hauteliving.com among other publications. For more information on her fresh, seasonal dinner plans, visit The Busy Hedonist.
The following is the first in a series of interviews I’ll be conducting both in print and via no-cost, monthly teleclasses beginning in September. Who am I interviewing? Men and women who are, in some way, leaving a luscious legacy.
We all have a story. Can you tell us a little bit about your food history? Where did your love of food begin?
I can’t trace the exact moment that my love of food began because it began gradually with a few distinct memories. One was my best friend’s kitchen. Her mom was Middle Eastern/Indian and the foods and scents coming out of her kitchen were mesmerizing to me and led me to seek out food that was new to me. I was also a Francophile at a young age and studied French in school. Reading about France, visiting Paris and eating the food ignited a spark in me, and I would try to recreate French dishes at home in my mother’s kitchen, and then of course I fell in love with the food on visits to France—especially in Paris and Provence. My mom loved to bake, so there was always a homemade cake in the oven or a bowl of frosting—sweet scents that pulled me into the kitchen to bake. And I grew up in New England so I have a real love for clams, crabs, lobsters—all that beach food I enjoyed as a kid. I recently moved to a family-friendly area of Brooklyn, but for many years I lived in NYC’s Chinatown, and the food stores, exotic vegetables and array of Asian restaurants had an impact on the way I cook. All of these elements of my life have led me to love and appreciate food the way I do.
What was your “food life” like before and then after the birth of your daughter?
I definitely used to go out to eat more often. In NYC there’s always a new place to check out or a favorite restaurant to visit with friends. Eating out is part of the culture here, especially for those of us obsessed with food. That being said, I do take my daughter along with me on my food adventures and have since she was a baby. But now I definitely cook more at home and I’ve become organized about it because for me, without a shopping list, food shopping becomes a free for all and I end up coming up with a lot of disparate items. So if I plan a few meals ahead of time and have all the ingredients on hand, making dinner is super easy. Having that one component of my day organized makes the day a bit easier. At the same time, I’m not hyper-vigilant about it. If we decide to run out for a bite to eat, then I just make the dish the next day, even for lunch. I work at home so it all works out.
What is/was your biggest struggle once you became a mom?
Time is so different when you have a child. It’s magical and yet I’ve had to be more practical about what I do with any free time I may have. Now most free time I have is all about working on my web site, my food and travel articles and my recipes. But I never do any work on the weekends; weekends are all about spending time with my daughter and taking her on adventures around the city, including puppet shows, playgrounds, museums—and yes, to food events, too. She’s attended The Chocolate Show, restaurant openings and she treks to all the food stores I’ve been visiting for my upcoming App, iFoodShop: a food lover’s guide to shopping in NYC.
I work with a lot of women who want very much to nourish their families but they confess that they are actually feeling pretty lonely in the kitchen. Does that happen to you and how do you cope with that?
I never feel lonely in the kitchen. My husband loves to cook and on nights when I am busy, busy working on a project he’ll make dinner. In our household, dinner isn’t just up to me; it’s a partnership in which we both participate, even if on some nights we’re in the mood for different types of food. What I suggest: get the family involved, including the kids. My daughter loves to help and I’ll give her small tasks suitable for her age. She loves when I bake and she’ll add sugar and eggs that I’ve cracked to the mixer for me.
Does your husband participate in the shopping or food prep?
That’s a funny question, because everyone who knows him knows how much he loves to food shop. He’ll run out to the supermarket at any time of night if we need something. I’m more of a Greenmarket, spice store, specialty market kind of shopper—and I make a morning or afternoon out of it, but it’s not practical if all we need are staples. It’s his kitchen, too, of course, and we help each other whenever possible.
What are some of your favorite go-to meals and how do you organize your meal planning?
I have to plan ahead or I don’t end up making a great dinner. (Though sometimes I do love to concoct dishes based on what’s left in the refrigerator—that can be fun, too, and I’ve come up with some fun dishes that way.) At the beginning of the week we plan on how many nights we’ll be at home to eat dinner (because sometimes I’m out reviewing restaurants). Then I make a shopping list based on what recipes I’m going to prepare. The shopping list is so important for anyone with a busy life—and I do stray from it from time to time, or I improvise, but it’s great to have a map of sorts. Some of my go-to meals include anything I can make in my Le Creuset Dutch Oven, a kitchen item I can’t live without and that I highly recommend for home cooks. I make fish stews, vegetable stews, curries—dishes that are rustic and healthy and that are great with wine, salad and bread.
What do you do when your little one doesn’t like what you’ve prepared?
In general, my daughter is a picky eater and likes select items. I’ve grown used to her pickiness and don’t make a big issue of it, yet I always offer her whatever we’re eating—and sometimes she surprises me. She won’t eat simple kid food like mashed potatoes or mac n’ cheese, yet she’ll eat quinoa and spicy Indian dishes.
I love the way you’ve combined your love of food, your journalism skills, your organizational skills and your culinary expertise to support busy people, and especially moms, by putting together a program that takes away the time-consuming task of planning what to eat and what to purchase. How many times do we have the best of intentions around preparing a beautiful meal only to come home with the same old, same old for lack of time and planning?
Thank you. I believe anyone can combine all the facets of their lives and make a career out it. In regards to dinner, yes, it’s easy to get into that rut, and to turn to the old standby dishes because we’d rather just cook whatever we’re used to and get on with our lives. But today, we have such an abundance of fresh food, seasonal produce and unique ingredients and spices—there are endless dishes to make. I love experimenting with both bold and subtle flavors while also enjoying the purity of certain foods. I think a fruit or vegetable in its raw form can be amazing, like a juicy tomato in the summer is perfect on its own. But I also like adding spices and unique flavors to my food—one new flavor can enhance an otherwise bland dish. And what I love doing is helping my clients see that making dinner with all fresh ingredients can actually be fun and easy—they certainly don’t have to eat the same things every night.
And, of course, the reason I was drawn to you, Tracey, is that you have use fresh, whole foods in your cooking and you have even developed a flavor profile so that you can customize a meal plan to suit your client’s tastes.
Can you tell us a little bit about your product and services?
As a busy mom, I know how tiresome dinnertime can be, and I help others—moms, dads, people with busy careers—make dinner without a lot of effort. I offer recipes for Monday-Friday with an option for a shopping list and/or customized menus based on their tastes. For my customers who want customized menus, I send them a quick and easy flavor profile for them to fill out so I know what ingredients they like and dislike. The people who sign up run the gamut from carnivores to vegetarians, and I enjoy making menus for all of them. My recipes use whole, seasonal food that can, for the most part, be found anywhere, and they’re fairly simple to make. Since I’m the one obsessed with what’s fresh at the Greenmarket or what spices to use or what flavors work well together, I want my clients to leave dinner planning to me so they can enjoy their lives.
And If you’re interested in Tracey’s services, she’s offering my Conscious Bites Community a free apron if you invest in her customized menus. Tracey’s recipes definitely get the Conscious Bites Seal of Approval—nothing artificial and the service is so affordable! Imagine having your meal planning and shopping list done for you each week and knowing the meals are going to be scrumptious. You can even download a sample one-week meal plan for free.
Fennel, Red Onion, Orange Salad
by Tracey Ceurvels
Serves 2 as an entree, 4 as a side dish
This is one of my favorite warm weather salads. Thinly shaved fennel paired with red onion, and balanced with orange segments…it’s crunchy, sweet and savory at the same time. You can certainly slice the fennel and onion thinly with a very sharp knife, but here is a better idea: using a mandolin. you’ll get those paper thin slices a lot easier.
1 fennel bulb, sliced thinly on the mandolin
1 small red onion, sliced thinly on the mandolin
2 oranges, one to carve out the segments, one for juicing
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon fennel fronds
Salt and fres-ground pepper, to taste
Make the salad
Add fennel, onion and orange segments in a bowl. In a separate bowl, combine orange juice, olive oil, fennel fronds and salt and pepper, to taste. Add to the fennel mixture, and combine.