Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Thought for food… and crudités


I’ve been giving a lot of thought to food as an end, and food as a means… Of course, we are looking for strategies to get our kids to eat and to eat well, have a diversified diet and an open-mind about new foods. That’s one side of the coin. But because Pablo enjoys food so much - because we get excited about it as a family, because he loves to touch and squoosh and smell and get all sensorial about it, because we involve him in gardening, and going to the market, or quite simply because it’s so good! – I realized that we can use food as a means as well, an amazing teaching tool in fact. For example, teaching a sense of aesthetics & beauty.




Food can also be the perfect vehicle to learn, teach and practice the art of anticipation (otherwise known as “knowing how to wait”.) We can learn patience as a necessary evil, one of those inevitable burdens, like gravity. Or… we can learn the trampoline! We can learn to enjoy the wait, to have it enhance our experience, to embrace the anticipation. This seems like a really complex lesson which I’m still teaching myself on those chomping-at-the-bit days… But somehow, by watching me buy or grow the food, photograph it at every angle, look for what’s beautiful about it, then cook it and finally eat it, Pablo senses that whole process is a big part of the pleasure of eating. We're in the early days of toddlerhood, so he’s got a long way to go patience-wise, and is still just dying to pull on that green tomato because it just takes too long to get red. But I have seen him enjoy the wait and anticipation a few times, when waiting for the punchline of a song for example, as moments of excitement and complicity. And I want to find every possible way to nurture that. I suppose it’s just another way of saying that what counts is the journey, not the destination. I never expected food to help me teach him that, in a way that’s not superficial, but ingrained, a gut kind of learning.



Now this art of anticipation business brings me to the French four-course meal. (I know, it’s a big jump. As the French would say with their love of food-related expressions, I’m going “from pear to cheese”. But bear with me…)

I have recently read Bringing up bébé by Pamela Druckerman, after hearing about the “French method” on the radio and at the playground. Other parents would hear me speak French to Pablo and ask me about this “method” of ours. I had no clue what the “French method” was… So I read the book, and found it very interesting. The author knows us French better than we know ourselves! I identified with and recognized a lot of what she describes. She points out one thing in particular, which I had never realized explicitly: the nutritional benefits of eating in courses the way the French do.

In France, the four-course meal isn’t just for fancy restaurants, it is common-place in most households and schools. It usually goes something like this: you start the meal with “crudités” (raw or cold vegetables, tomatoes, cucumber, radishes, grated carrots, green beans, asparagus etc, with vinaigrette); then you proceed with a protein (meat, fish…) served with a starch, and maybe another hot veggie, pureed or sautéed; then cheese, with maybe some plain lettuce with vinaigrette (for digestion); and dessert  in the form of a yogurt or a piece of fruit. As she remarks in the book, most of the veggies are served at the start of the meal, when we are most hungry! Somewhat satiated, we can go on and be satisfied with smaller portions of the richer foods that follow.

Four-course meal, nutritional benefits: check. Now for the life-lesson benefits: when eating in courses in this manner, you can take your time, and anticipate the next course. Enjoy the meal as a journey, versus something to get over with as soon as possible. So even though I was raised eating this way all my childhood and youth, Ms. Druckerman helped me understand this implicit fundamental French approach to food, and to life.





This brings me to the recipe: the crème of crudités (This was a four-course blog post! I figure I’d serve the recipe as dessert, and my thoughts and ramblings as the first and main courses… J Do forgive me, force of habit.)

Raw crudités tend to be crunchy, and with 13 months and 8 teeth to his name, crunchy is somewhat out of Pablo’s league for now. So I puree them into a “crème of crudités”. You can mix whatever raw vegetables you want, as long as you’re mixing in veggies that have a lot of water (tomato, cucumber). This is also a great opportunity to have baby taste some fresh herbs. I list possible ingredients you can include below. Last week, thrilled to have found wonderful watermelon radishes at the market, which I only discovered a few weeks ago by chance, and whose beauty is so amazingly captured on this recent post on Cannelle et Vanille, I decided to take advantage of that gorgeous shade of pink to experiment with the color of my crème. It came out less pink than I had hoped, but was still pretty tasty!





And when Pablo has some molars, I can’t wait to share a slice of radish French-style, the way I grew up eating it: with butter, salt and pepper.  Patience… All in good time.




Crème of Crudités



Age: I started this around the 10-12 months mark, because the veggies are raw and harder to digest at a younger age.


Watermelon radish
Green tomatoes
Fresh cilantro
Cucumber
Endive
Drizzle of lemon
Some plain sheep’s milk yogurt, to desired consistency and creaminess
Olive oil (optional) 

Other possible ingredients:

All tomatoes
Raw carrots
Beets
Traditional radishes (red with white tips are milder)
All lettuces: Mâche (lamb’s lettuce), watercress, butter lettuce, baby spinach, arugula, microgreens, etc.
All fresh herbs: Chives, Italian parsley, mint, oregano, basil, sorrel, tarragon


Wash, peel, cut up and throw in the food processor. Taste to adjust lemon, oil and yogurt seasoning.


Variation for baby and the grown-ups: Cauliflower with crème of crudités dressing

The mixture can also be used as a dressing for cold vegetables in general, but I thought it went particularly well with cold steamed cauliflower.
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