Monday, March 17, 2014

A lifetime of steamed broccoli

Sometimes I think my palate has died a thousand deaths. Having kids can do that to you. You realize after 10 or 11 years that your well-intentioned plan of offering up only food that you, yourself, would eat has failed. You have six different kinds of chicken nuggets in your freezer and you rationalize that at least you buy them at Whole Foods and they are all white meat - really, they are. When that's a win for you, you know your soul has been siphoned out of you with a bendy straw.

I had high hopes for my daughter when her first solid food was wild mushroom risotto and brussels sprouts. She ate it. All of it. At that point I thought I had won. This child, unlike my first who only ate things with a crunchy brown coating, would embrace culinary adventure. Or at least sauces that extended beyond ketchup. Today, 10 years later, she won't even eat ketchup.

To be fair, they each have their own culinary thrill rides. They both eat octopus, even knowing what it is. My daughter especially likes the baby ones with all the tentacles. They like sushi. My son prefers pasta with green sauce to pasta with red. My daughter has just started eating red meat. Woo!

These are little victories for me, but still, I know I have caved. And it cuts even deeper when I find myself excited by food again, or a cookbook, like the Ottolenghi series by Yotam Ottolenghi. He's an Israeli Londoner who, along with his Palestinian partner, owns several high-priced food shops and who has electrified dishes of the middle east with a modern take. But I know if I make chickpeas with caraway seeds, chard and Greek yogurt, I will immediately be asked, "But what am I having for dinner?"

Remember when you would never ask that question? In the dark ages, one dinner was made, and you were expected to eat it. If you didn't like something, eat around it. Eat the bread. Scrape off the sauce. Figure it out. We were tougher then, with fewer choices if any, and there were no chicken nuggets in the freezer.

Last summer, when we were in London, we took our kids to Ottolenghi. It was exquisitely beautiful, but like a minefield for my kids, filled with the scary and the unknown. Beef filet (at like $25 a pound) worked, as did the bread and desserts. But the things that make Ottolenghi Ottolenghi - the abundant salads that sparkle with mint and cilantro, cumin, sumac, and oddly shaped vegetables (three of which are pictured above) - went untouched. Even the potato salads got the cold shoulder - too many weird bits. So I steamed some broccoli for them in our rented apartment kitchen. Because that's what I always do.

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