unfamiliar food

Learning to Eat: Fish

by Caroline

If you’re spending a sunny day on a small boat in the Mediterranean and your captain leaves briefly, in an even smaller boat, to do some fishing, then you’ll have a conversation with your vegetarian children about fresh food, trying new things, being polite to one’s hosts, and eating the best of what a place has to offer.

It’s a conversation you have often, though you have never done it in a bathing suit, rocking gently on the waves.

When the captain returns with his catch, you remind the kids about their great uncle and a lake in the Adirondack Mountains and some small bites of fish, many summers ago. They don’t quite remember, but they believe you. One boy looks away while the captain prepares the fish but the other watches closely:

The first boy is not too happy that the gangplank/diving board has become part of the kitchen:

But he is mollified when he sees how much else is available to eat:

And his younger brother eats with gusto, having learned to eat fish:

Four Things We Learned About Food in Istanbul

by Caroline

  • Turkish chocolate-hazelnut spread is every bit as tasty as Nutella:
  • Yogurt drink — ayran — is not milk! But it actually tastes delicious on muesli:
  • You can’t have too many ways to make coffee:
  • And street food, as in many cities, can be varied, healthy and delicious. But some of these were new to us:
  • roast corn

    rice and chickpea pilaf

    roasted mussels with lemon

    popcorn popped over a brazier

    more roasted corn on the cob, chestnuts

    little nut cakes

    Pasta Romanesco

    by Caroline

    Of all the new vegetables we’ve met via our CSA — the cardoons, the agretti — I think my favorite might be romanesco broccoli, the fractal vegetable. It’s firmer than standard broccoli but sweeter than cauliflower, and it tasted great the other night in an easy pasta with lemon zest, sliced almonds, and asiago cheese. Here’s the recipe:

    12 ounces campanelle or penne pasta
    7 tablespoons olive oil, divided
    2 heads roughly chopped Romanesco broccoli (about 1 1/4 lbs. total)
    3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
    3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
    1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes
    Zest of 1 lemon
    1/2 cup toasted sliced almonds
    1/4 cup shredded asiago cheese

    Cook pasta according to package directions.

    Meanwhile, heat 3 tbsp. oil over medium heat in a large frying pan. Add Romanesco and 1/2 tsp. salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender-crisp, about 5 minutes. Add 1 tbsp. more oil to pan along with garlic and chile flakes. Cook until garlic is fragrant and light golden and Romanesco is tender, about 5 minutes more.

    Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup pasta water, and return to pot. Stir in Romanesco mixture, lemon zest, almonds, cheese, remaining 3 tbsp. oil and 1/4 tsp. salt, and enough pasta water to moisten (about 3/4 cup).

    Saying Goodbye to the Kid’s Menu

    by Caroline

    When Lisa told me about her family’s road trip plans, I was envious (the sun! the stars! the Missions! the meals!) and then, instantly, dubious on the one point she was nervous about herself: the meals. Two weeks of restaurant meals. Forty-two restaurant meals. With two kids. At (among other places) several theme parks.

    I wished her well and waited to hear the report.

    Happily, the family survived well and Lisa’s writing about how to handle two solid weeks of restaurant meals with kids, covering everything from breakfast to theme park meals to the kids’ take on all of it. All of which has made me realize an exciting recent restaurant development in our family: we are saying goodbye to the kid’s menu.

    Let me back up. We eat out a fair amount. Tony and I ate out regularly before we married (we both did growing up, too), and it was important to us to cultivate good restaurant habits in our kids. So we were strategic about it. Ben’s first restaurant meal, I have to admit, was at Chevy’s; he was about 7 weeks old and gazed at the balloons while I drank a margarita. Success! His first fancy restaurant meal, months later, was at Lulu, a place we chose partly for its delicious menu but also for its volume: we figured a crying baby wouldn’t be heard over the din. We needn’t have worried; he was old enough to sit in a high chair and gnaw happily on baguette, while we enjoyed several courses.

    We continue to be thoughtful about eating out and follow the same practices as Lisa’s family. We eat out at fancy places to celebrate, sometimes, (both kids have eaten at plenty of places that don’t offer high chairs or kid’s menus) but more often we walk to one of the many local spots in the neighborhood where we can afford (both in terms of environment and price) to experiment. So if, as happened once when Ben was a toddler, there’s a meltdown between ordering and the food arriving, it’s no big deal to flag down the waiter and get dinner to go. Luckily, it’s been a long time since such an evening has gone awry; more often, we eat and chat and it feels quite a bit like home, just a little more special. But the kids’ preference, always, is to eat at home: it’s more relaxed, they don’t have to wait for their food, they like our cooking.

    This summer, we’ve traveled a bit but managed — by booking hotel rooms with kitchenettes or staying with family — to keep the restaurant meals to a minimum (on our visit to Seattle this June, just the second restaurant night made Eli mournful). Tony researched spots that looked good — Italian and Asian restaurants tend to offer a good variety for our choosy, vegetarian kids — and we’ve been eating well. I’ve been remembering the mom I used to be, who would sweep the fragile glassware into the middle of the table, far from a toddler’s grasping reach, or who would set the high chair far from the tempting tablecloth. I’m grateful for older kids who (mostly) sit politely and use the kid’s menu now (mostly) just for drawing.

    Kid’s menus certainly offer a welcome landing spot, a sign — as surely as highchairs and lidded cups — that the restaurant welcomes kids, and we’ve been grateful for them. But honestly, the kid’s menu has never offered a great selection for my kids; of the standard burger-fish sticks-chicken fingers-pizza-pasta quintet, most are either too meaty or too cheesy for my kids. So we have always looked beyond it, and are now really moving away from it. Eli will just eat a big salad (particularly Caesar, the gateway salad) if there’s nothing else on the menu he likes, though still often augments with pasta or grilled cheese. Ben, however, is making some new choices. Recently at our favorite local place, he passed up his beloved pasta “shoulders” (a toddler malapropism of his we have all adopted) in favor of a new dish: soba with grilled tofu and greens. It’s the kind of dish he eats all the time at home but would never order out. He’s also not shy about ordering exactly what he wants. He’ll scan the menu and assemble himself a meal from side dishes, he’ll order a salad without that cheese or with that other salad’s dressing (I know special orders can be a nightmare for a kitchen staff, and we always check that they don’t mind). At our most recent meal out, I noted how the water goblets stood a little unsteadily on thick placemats atop the marble table, turned down the waiter’s offer of plastic, lidded kid’s cups, relaxed and ordered a glass of wine. They are growing up and I am enjoying it.

    Learning to Eat: Kohlrabi

    by Caroline

    Every summer, we visit my parents so we can glory in East Coast summer weather, grandparental (and parental) affection, and the abundance of my father’s garden. Depending on when we arrive, we might be gorging on berries or potatoes, and this year my dad promised both, but he also offered kohlrabi, a crop he had tried for the first time. “I hope you will pack your favorite kohlrabi recipes,” he emailed me before we arrived.

    Well. Favorite cookie recipes, favorite muffin recipes, sure, but I had to Google kohlrabi to even know what it looks like. I’ll save you that step:

    kohlrabi growing

    kohlrabi on the way to the kitchen

    So, as it turns out, kohlrabi is something like a turnip and something like a radish: crunchy and refreshing, with a slightly sharp tang. It’s delicious, and pretty versatile: you can eat it raw, grated into salad (recipe below), you can cook and eat the leaves (which we did, flavored with a little soy sauce and sesame oil), you can cut it into sticks and roast them (we did that, too) or make it into a gratin (which we might do when it’s cooler). Because yes, our CSA is now bringing us kohlrabi every week, so it’s a good thing we’ve learned how to cook it, because now we’ve really learned to like it!

    Raw Kohlrabi Salad

    First, make your vinaigrette; I like Deborah Madison’s mustard vinaigrette, from the indispensable Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone:

    2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, or fresh lemon juice
    2 tablespoons sour cream or yogurt
    2 shallots, finely diced
    1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
    1 garlic clove, minced
    2 tablespoons snipped chives
    Salt and freshly milled pepper
    1 tablespoon chopped parsley
    1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
    3 tablespoons capers, rinsed

    Combine the vinegar, shallots, garlic and 1/4 t salt in a small bowl. Let stand for 15 minutes, then whisk in the mustard, sour cream or yogurt, and oil until thick and smooth. Grind in a little pepper, then stir in the herbs and capers. Taste and adjust the seasonings if needed.

    Then, peel and grate a pound or two of fresh raw kohlrabi, or use a mix of kohlrabi, parsley root, carrots, and beets — whatever vegetables you happen to have on hand. Dress with the vinaigrette and serve.