Sunday, 30 May 2010
The joys of a cooking binge
Saturday was spent cooking and preparing for friends coming for dinner. There is something special about cooking for friends - so different from the routine question of what to cook for dinner each day, out of the fairly limited range of dishes that Dr P will eat. He eats ham, eggs, cheese, pureed soups, bread, fruits, frankfurts and sausages, and likes sweet things. He cannot cope with anything chewy. He is actually a sore trial to a dedicated cook, although to some extent he has been introduced to a more extensive range of recipes.
I often wonder how people get to be so fussy, and why so many of them do not grow out of it. There must be many books on the subject, mostly aimed at mothers who are doing their best to educate their reluctant offspring into accepting a variety of foods, but who probably almost go mad with boredom because of their children's refusal to even taste anything different. Unless, of course, that something is sweet.
My own children were not too bad, and naturally I take some credit for that - fair enough when you consider how much a mother is blamed for any of her children's shortcomings. My mother used to cook and puree vegetables for the baby of the day, and I used to think how revolting this seemed, and assumed that no self-respecting baby would accept it. But they did, and lived to tell the tale.
My first child was breastfed for nine months, and was started on solids when she was about four months old. The baby health sister was a very sensible woman, who advocated a very gradual introduction of solids, starting with rice cereal, and new foods and tastes were introduced one at a time - apple, pear, prunes, apricots. Egg yolks were introduced slowly, once a week, and then a couple of times a week, and egg whites were not introduced until much later. Food with lumps was accepted rather slowly. Nuts were not given before the age of two, to avoid allergies, or choking. However she knew she'd like icecream. We took her out one day when she was about six months old, and she saw a child with an icecream, and reached for it!
Much the same system was used for the second baby, who was somewhat fussier. Unfortunately I could not breastfeed her for very long, and she hated the bottle. Nor would she accept the bottle from anyone but me. She did not like egg, and by the time she was about 18 months old ate only a fairly limited range of food. The baby health sister - a different one - was horrified to learn she was still having a bottle, and recommended she be taken off it. So this was done, and at the same time her older sister's bottle was also removed. (There seemed no point in revealing this evidently shameful detail.) The fussiness did decrease gradually. Neither daughter was very keen on vegetables, but I myself was not convinced that vegetables were very nice. Seeing other young children eating salami, avocado, or other raw vegetables, in time I became more adventurous in my offerings.
It does seem that real hunger is a great incentive to try new foods, and I am always amazed when I see the frequent offering of food to children at all hours of the day, in the street, on the buses, the supermarkets, etcetera, apparently believing no child of theirs could possibly manage without food for a whole hour, and I wonder whether they ever get really hungry. However, it is a long time since I was a practising mother of small children, and what would I know now anyway, being now a mere grandmother! My son, who was the fussiest eater of the three, and who avoided vegetables with unconcealed dread and loathing, was transformed in his late teens, owing to relative poverty, and the maturing of his palate, into a non-fussy eater. Such maturing seems to happen in the late teens. Suddenly previously recalcitrant and stubbornly fussy eaters become willing to try Asian foods, strange vegetables, and before you know it, they are urging you to eat sushi with lashings of wasabi. Yes, it is true, this really happened.
My second grandson is a wonderful eater. If anyone was eating something different in front of him, he'd assume that he would like it, and would think it only fair that he should have his share. He'd try anything. His sister is not quite as good, but is still quite impressive. You have to catch her at the right moment though - if you miss that moment she goes off the boil, and requires the full range of sneaky and subtle grandmotherly techniques. (Yes, despite my lesser status, I still have a few tricks up my sleeve.) But what is it with children, this horror of eating the crusts on bread? Do they really think that crusts are pure poison?
On Saturday night I cooked spinach soup, osso buco, saffron risotto, and pavlova with berries. All those present ate everything enthusiastically. No one turned up their noses, or said they hated spinach, or whatever. They even intimated they they would be happy to come again, and eat whatever was offered. It seems that fussiness is essentially a condition that afflicts little children. With rare exceptions.
Alas, my daily task is to cook for one such exception. But tonight he ate, without complaint and with evident appreciation, chicken with coriander leaves and Asian ingredients. There are more ways than one of killing a cat, and although you can't lead a horse to water and make it drink, you can play wily beguily with an adult.