05 November 2009

The Joys of Cooking - And Eating Out Too

“SLACKUPS!!” my daughter shrieked as I poured scallops from the bag into a large, glass bowl. “SLACKUPS!!!!” I couldn’t help but laugh. As she gets the hang of this whole language thing, what comes out of her mouth is enough to make milk come out of my nose (possibly when I’m not even drinking milk), but it was just as entertaining to see an 18 month old get so incredibly excited about…scallops.

So it was that she pushed her step stool over to the counter and commenced to “helping” me make the marinade for the slack…er…scallops. My favorite is a simple sauce that consists of extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, stone ground mustard, loads of freshly chopped basil, half a shallot (chopped finely), the juice of half a lemon, and freshly minced garlic cloves. Oh, salt and pepper too, of course. I handed A the whisk and started to put all of the easy (as in, those that did not require mincing or chopping) ingredients into a small bowl. With each addition, she would stir the contents once or twice and then taste it.

Ewwww, I thought as she licked some EVOO and vinegar off her fingers. I added the mustard and chopped the basil and that’s when she began eating the burgeoning sauce in earnest. She also experimented with a piece of shallot from the cutting board and a whole clove of yet to be minced garlic.

I just laughed at our EVOO, basil covered child and thought of how much I reveled in her taste in food. It really began when she was about 9 months old and we were at La Dolce Vita with a close friend for dinner one night. Our friend ordered stuffed calamari; I had the veal with prosciutto and lobster and Portobello mushrooms in a demi glace. She had a minestrone soup. No. I shouldn’t say that. For her, we ordered minestrone soup. To her credit, she ate all of the mushy enough vegetables from the soup…

And all of my mushrooms (I had one bite, enough to know that I really wanted more, but so did she and frankly, I was so astonished that I gave them to her). Then she ate every bit of the veal, prosciutto and lobster I gave her, followed by all of the stuffed calamari our friend placed on her plate. And still she demanded more.

It was then I realized that I had created a burgeoning food snob. Or had I? I made a lot of her baby food myself, partly to ensure that I knew what she was (and wasn’t) getting, but also to save money on jarred food. She progressed quickly though and before we knew it, she didn’t want macaroni and cheese, but she did want 4-cheese ravioli in basil pesto. She loves seafood of all kinds and I can’t wait until I get the OK to start feeding her sushi – my favorite.

Watching her taste test each step of the marinade and thinking back to her progression from formula to baby food to table food, I contemplated this article on the changing fare found on some kid’s menus in restaurants around the city and realized that we had yet to actually order anything from a kid’s menu on those now rare occasions when we dine out. I’m not even sure that either her father or I ever thought about a kid’s menu, but most of the places we ate “regularly” didn’t offer one anyway. In fact, the only place I can remember being offered one at was the Starboard Galley in Newburyport, however; we were there for the lobster, she and I. We split a plate that evening and I couldn’t shell her crustacean fast enough to her liking, so she snatched mine and tried to bite through the shell instead. [sigh]

As she ate her scallops last night (along with the more mundane peas and carrots and julienne potatoes I served), I felt bad. I felt bad because I have gone from being a woman who learned to cook late but embraced it when I did and went from lock step recipes to creating my own concoctions or tweaking others in less than a year. I would get home from work and set out to preparing dinner straight away and I loved it. Now, I’m falling more and more into the trap of buying pre-made, boxed or canned items that I add my own touches to but that aren’t very exciting or even all that great from a nutritional value standpoint. This is mostly because I want to give her father a break when I get home and that means I don’t have the prep time I used to, in order to really cook how I’d like.

I don’t want her to grow up too fast, yet there is a part of me that is really looking forward to the day when she can really get in to helping me cook and maybe I can go back to creating dishes that look and taste wonderful, even if they do take a few hours to get together in the end.

But I still don’t see the need to order from the kid’s menu when we’re out, not when she has such an adventurous palate even now and portions are usually so big that we can easily split a plate and still come home with leftovers.

What about you? Are your kids picky eaters or adventurous? Do you stick to the kids menu, even at home, or do you branch out and encourage them to eat more “grown up” fare?


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