Friday, November 16, 2012

Exploring Food

First chocolate ice cream cone.
This morning I woke up with a thought about what food meant to me as a child. I now have my own child, one who is just getting past the notion that he can refuse anything and everything and is just entering the stage where he feels empowered to explore food. That it's his choice. It had started a few weeks ago, this acceptance of eating dinner, easing my anxiety that he wasn't eating anything, after what seemed like fifty thousand peanut butter and jam sandwiches. I would watch with amazement: he's eating dinner! I had stifled myself for months, saying to myself that dinner wasn't really important and that he wasn't starving by any means, which were both true. But there's something about your child refusing food that  is innately disturbing, even if you don't like to cook.

I think that preschool added to the excitement that food might somehow be an exciting exploration. The other day they were blindfolded and given tomato and cucumber to taste. It was suddenly a mystery: what was it? Did you like it? What did it taste like? And yesterday they tasted cranberry sauce. Very sour, said my son with a funny, puckery face. So, I went with it. This morning I asked him if he would taste my new jam and let me know what he thought. (Not the toughest sale, I might add---he loves jam.) It was a rhubarb-cranberry-candied orange peel jam. We inspected the color, and the texture, and finally the taste. It was all approved of. We explored that jam and found we loved it.

We've also been cooking dinner together which has been a lot of fun. Last night we made breaded chicken tenders for the first time together. (What? you say, for the first time?? Yes, I was so scared of having a child that only ate chicken tenders (or fingers, or whatever they call them) that I have steered clear of them.) We dipped the tenders in beaten egg and buttermilk, and rolled them in breadcrumbs, and fried them up. Dinner was a success again (of course it helps that ketchup was involved). I am having so much fun watching him explore one of my favorite things, after a long period of time waiting for his indifference to subside.

All of these observations return me to my childhood. My parents both enjoyed my interest in food, and encouraged it. My mother in particular would always facilitate my newest interests. Once, when reading All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot (during an extended phase in which I wanted to be a veterinarian, and was obsessed with all the books, and the TV show), I remember clearly reading a section that described a meal that was prepared for Herriot that included pickled onions. I pointed this out to my mother, asking what they were and whether we could try them. The next shopping day we bought some, and they would be an occasional presence in the fridge from that day forward. I loved the little white onions bobbing in salty sweet brine. Their resistant crunch as my molars pushed down on one.

Or there was the time when I discovered pomegranates. Or Chinese apples, as my mother liked to add, always giving spellings, different names, and provenance, herself also endlessly curious about new foods. I loved opening the red leathery spheres to reveal glittering gems studding the creamy, bitter pith. That soon became a winter ritual we looked forward to, along with boxes of candy-sweet clementines. There are so many other discoveries I made as a child, and hasn't stopped. I'm constantly discovering and exploring new foods, and new ways to make food, as evidenced by this blog. And I'm looking forward to rediscovering food through my son.

Going to a restaurant!


  1. what a wonderful child! (yours. i presume) and fabulous observations about a child's food memory..., lovely!
    thank you, julia!
    it was my grandmother got a foot stool so i could oversee the stuff on the stove.

    1. Thank you, Michael! Yes, he's mine! It's the best way to learn how to love food and cooking, isn't it?