Wednesday, July 4, 2012

eating: a French education

The following article first appeared in the Daily News Record on July 3, 2012.


When I called my dear children to lunch, my younger son trotted into the kitchen, took one look at his plate with its minuscule mound of salad, and went off like a fire siren. “This is revolting! I hate—.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” I yelled. “Start over! You come to the table and sit down quietly! And no fussing!”

I had nearly finished my latest read, Bringing Up Bébé by American mother Pamela Druckerman, who compares French and American parenting styles. According to Druckerman, the French intentionally teach their children to relish all sorts of exotic foods. They accomplish this by serving meals in courses (there is no snacking between meals), with vegetables being the first course when the children are the hungriest; expecting children to try everything; and actively engaging the children in conversation about what they are eating.

Perhaps I had bought into the belief that kids have more sensitive palates than adults? Could it be that my children might actually enjoy more complex flavors if I merely raised my expectations and spent time educating them?

To test the French methods, I had divvied onto several small plates the lunch I had planned for myself—a salad of red beet greens, quinoa, and zucchini—all foods that my children claim to abhor.

Dropping my voice to normal levels (because yelling at the table is not exactly good French etiquette), I laid out the plan. “We will be having lunch in three courses. First, this salad.”

I listed all the components, detailing ingredients that I previously would have skipped over for fear of an uprising. I even mentioned the lemon and garlic vinaigrette as though I was announcing their favorite ice cream flavor.

“Do we have to eat it all?” my daughter asked, her voice tense.

“No. But you do have to try everything. Now, tell me what you think of the zucchini,” I said, ignoring their ew-grosses and spearing a coin with my fork. “Is it crunchy or soft? Grandmommy gave them to us, you know. They’re sweet, I think, and I can taste the butter and salt. But what do you think?”

My daughter nibbled a piece of zucchini and then boldly popped the whole thing into her mouth and grinned at me.

As I chattered on about the flavor differences between spinach and beet greens, the kids happily poked their salads, tasting a grain of quinoa (“It tastes like pasta!”), a chunk of feta, a bit of the greens. My son gagged on a beet root, but instead of the normal crying jag, he busted up laughing. When I gathered up the plates, the kids were still bubbling with observations and comments.

I had no idea that a simple, no-pressure conversation about food would result in such curious little tasters. No doubt about it, more French-style meals are in my family’s future. Bon appétit!

Zucchini Coins

Put a pat of butter and drizzle of olive oil in a skillet set on medium-high heat. Thinly slice several small zucchinis into coins. Arrange a single layer of the coins in the sizzling fat and sprinkle with salt. Let the zucchini cook, undisturbed, until the bottoms are nicely blistered. Flip and cook on the other side.  Repeat the process with the remaining zucchinis. For a fancier version: add oregano, sliced tomatoes, feta cheese, and black pepper.

Lemon Garlic Vinaigrette
(with thanks to my girlfriend MAC)

In a mortar and pestle, pound a couple thin slices of fresh garlic with some salt into a creamy paste. Add the juice of one lemon, a glug of olive oil, and some freshly ground black pepper. Mix well and taste to correct seasonings.

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