“What’s that?” I ask my son-in-law as he places a small tin of what looks like cement on Fitz’s high-chair tray. “Hummus,” Matt replies. “He loves it.” I watch my 17-month-old grandson pinch a cracker between his thumb and index finger and dip to scoop up a glob of paste. He sucks the goo from the cracker and dips again. The cracker doubles as a faux-spoon: Fitz’s focus is on getting hummus from tin to mouth as efficiently as possible. As fascinated as I am with his dexterity and single-minded effort, I’m even more intrigued by his adventurous palate.
Fitz with his Papa, Craig. He (Fitz) loves sucking on lemons. The other he (Craig) prefers them in his G&T.
This kid eats food that I’d never tasted – or knew existed – until I was well into my adult life. His culinary walk on the wild side includes sushi (see negitoro roll in feature photo), avocado and artichokes. Fitz eschews cheddar – the bunny slope of cheeses – for the off-piste of an oozy, triple cream Cambazola. At a recent Sunday dinner, Steve and I warily picked around the more piquant bits of a spicy Italian sausage lasagna, while Fitz devoured everything with zeal and demanded, “more, more!”
A shrinking world has thrown open the gates of access to a global smorgasbord. A melting pot of the world’s flavours tempts from every grocery store aisle and we are positively dizzy with the menu of dining out options. I suppose then it’s not so remarkable that as the cuisines of the world have made their way across the oceans – tickling and enticing New World taste buds more accustomed to chicken nuggets and KD – that our traditional notions of appropriate food for babies and toddlers would shift as well. In countries around the world, kids generally eat what their parents do.
In Australia, sprogs are introduced early to Vegemite, the tar-like yeast paste loved by all who live Down Under. For the rest of the world, it’s an acquired taste; for Aussies, it’s a fair dinkum staple. There’s even a Vegemite song that is apparently as well known to wee ones as our “Itsy bitsy spider went up the water spout.” It goes: “We’re happy little Vegemites, as bright as can be. We all enjoy our Vegemite for breakfast, lunch, and tea.” All together now.
Lounging and lunch. Life is good.
The Korean diet is bold and spicy so babies are introduced early to heat. They eat lots of kimchi, a pickled vegetable dish featuring generous pinches of chili powder. In India, baby food gets a boost with coriander and turmeric. The Alaskan Inuit feed their infants seal blubber and seaweed for the first nine months. In the Dominican Republic, black and kidney bean paste makes for tasty baby grub. Infant Tibetans enjoy ground barley mixed with yak butter tea.
Certainly different to what Mom fed my siblings and me. My cautious palate can be traced back to boring, bland and boiled British fare. Yes, I know, the UK has a much-improved culinary reputation and repertoire now (thank you, Jamie, Nigella and Gordon), but growing up in the ‘60s, it was a gastronomic joke.
A salad was iceberg lettuce garnished with a slice of luminous green tomato slathered with 1000 Island or Green Goddess dressing. Pasta was spaghetti and meat sauce. Crushed potato chip chicken was one of Mom’s weekly go-to dinners. Vegetables weren’t considered edible until they were stewed grey beyond recognition as a food group. “Homo” described the only type of milk on offer.
Crackers were saltines. A weekday dessert was a tin of glossy fruit cocktail: the lone maraschino cherry was the prize for the sibling who volunteered to open the tin and serve. We powered up for a day of school and playing outside with a breakfast of Alpha-Bits or toast. We’d never heard of yogurt. Bread choices were white or white, and an entire loaf could be easily squeezed into a gooey, dense tennis ball. It’s a small miracle we survived red dye #3 and high fructose corn syrup.
One notable exception who shunned serving bland, unadventurous fare to her children was a Montreal friend of my sister’s. Audrey-the-Foodie had embraced glorious epicurean delights long before the rest of us started gorging on Iron Chef, the Food Network and Instagramming every morsel we eat. She was a foodie before that term even entered the zeitgeist and became just another word to describe someone who thinks about food a lot and likes to eat (because that would be most of us). She was a culinary adventure seeker who existed at the intersection of food and emotion.
Artichoke and olive pizza? Bring. It. On.
Audrey was clearly ahead of the experimental food curve all those years ago; her children thrived on the likes of caramelized onions and Bernaise sauce. Friends speculated that her two children had never tasted a PB&J sandwich. Audrey sent them to school with a placemat for their gourmet lunches. Packed in mini Tupperware bento boxes, each section revealed a distinctive taste sensation: a lump of gooey brie, mini meatballs, bruschetta and more.
I haven’t worried too much about the carte du jour for our “Fridays with Fitz” babysitting gig. But lately, the mediocrity of mashed banana and yogurt on offer has been getting the toddler stink-eye. So, I guess it’s time to improve the tasting menu from its current one star to at least a two star experience.
Fitz, your grandmother is no Audrey, but I’ll see what I can do to whip up a soupçon of kohlrabi and gooseberries in a quiet pool of horseradish jus followed by starfruit and fig compote for your next visit.
(Grandma made a funny.)
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