Sunday, May 23, 2010

It's Not "Nothing"!

"What is that?"

I swear to you, if I had a quarter... wait, make that a nickel, for every time I've heard that question over the past few years regarding food, I would be a very wealthy girl. Most often I'm quite happy to indulge the asker's curiosity in whatever it is I happened to put together, as I figure knowledge is meant to be shared and shared alike. The only reason I discovered the ingredients, methods and histories of three quarters of the things I've tried is because something looked interesting at the grocery store, on a restaurant's plate or on a fellow foodie's blog and began to ask questions. As a result, in the past 5 years (since I first discovered what the heck blogs, and food blogging, were all about) I've tried and fallen in love with so many new things. Some things (like sunchokes) I had never heard of before reading the adventures of other cooks, and foods I never thought I'd go near with a 10-foot pole (eggplant or tofu, anyone?) are now some of my favourites. The learning process is a continuous one, since I'm a product of a fairly Western-traditional upbringing where my family still subscibes to the "meat, starch, salad" method of eating. Only since adopting a mostly vegan lifestyle have I been able to change the deep-seated beliefs and fears I had growing up and begin educating those that raised me.

It's not their fault of course - my parents actually are very adventurous eaters themselves. I count my grandfather and great uncle among two of the bravest culinary souls I know - neither of them so much as bats an eye when we go out to a hot-sauce store and try the array of habanero pain-inducing concoctions they have for sale. Heck, the two of them make not one, but three famous curries based on their various experiences living around the world - a 3 alarm, a 5 alarm and (their favourite) a 7 alarm. Yet I was on my own in Ottawa before really beginning to try new things and really expand my taste repertoire. My sister still has an unbelievably limited palate, which is a shame because she most definitely fits into the "supertaster" category of people and would make an amazing sommolier if she liked wine. Occasionally - though it rare it does happen - she expresses interest in a new food on the table, and I'm disheartened to usually hear my mother telling her "you won't like it" but "give it a try". Sure enough, a taste test will almost always result in her declaring "I don't like that" or "it's gross".

But is that story, like so many other tales out there, the result of just tastebud reception? Or is there a mental game at play too? I wonder sometimes just what the scope of the average kid's palate would be if they got to explore the farm and grocery markets of their neighbourhood with their parents. Instead of being served "what kids like to eat" at every turn by both their parents and family restaurants, is it too lofty to think that maybe the ideas of the "kids menu" and traditional "kids table" might just be retired?

It's been my experience as a child caregiver and older sister that there are some steps that make a difference in getting not only "new" and "unique" foods into kids but also commonplace fruit and vegetables too. None of these tricks, if you call them that, are rocket science, and I'm sure that if you're a parent you've heard them before. First, making kids as involved in the shopping and preparation of fresh foods as possible. Let them pick a new fruit or vegetable to try every week when you're at the grocery store, and have them help you make somethng with it. Take them to a farmers market a few times a summer, go strawberry or apple picking, plant a garden. Even if all you have is a balcony - you can have a tomato plant in a pot that is theirs, and they can see what goes into getting food to their plate. While it's not an instant "eureka" moment that registers hey, these are good for me, the fact remains that if they have at least a little say in what goes onto their plate they will at least try it.

Second, be a role model for your kids when it comes to eating. You're out at the market and James chose kohlrabi as his vegetable for the week (kids love this one because of it's Sputnik-like appearance), but you've been closer to kissing Bigfoot than making anything with it? The powers of Google and the Food Blog Search tool can be your greatest aids. And maybe the puree you made with it looks "odd" to you... well you know what? Give it a taste, let your kids see you trying it, and they just might follow suit. At the very least, try implementing a "one-bite rule" - everyone at the table must try at least one good forkful of everything. If, after that, they're not into it, a suitable once-in-a-while substitute for a meal is an 8-oz glass of milk (full-fat for those under two, 1%-2% for those older). A whole food in itself, milk will give them quality amounts of elements like calcium, phosphorus, riboflavin, protein and vitamins A & D, and if you add fruit, plain yogurt and a touch of honey, a wholesome smoothie can be at your fingertips. A snack of something like cheese and crackers or hummus and veggie sticks before bed will help keep the rumbling tummies quiet. For other ideas, sites like Mamapedia are a great resource.

Here is where sitting down as a family at the dinner table and eating together as much as you can makes a huge difference - you can talk about the new food you're trying, and come up with something else to look for the next week at the supermarket. This, too, is a great opportunity to reinforce the importance of local and seasonal foods to your children. Sure, the dragonfruit and gigantic strawberries in the middle of winter may look cool, but reminding your kids that the produce that hasn't traveled a thousand miles tastes a lot better will go further to getting it into them. I've used this analogy: "you know how tired and stiff [the child] feels after they've driven up to (the cottage, the boat, Grandmas...)? Well, fruits and veggies feel the same way".

I guess what it comes down to is being able to recapture and share in the wonders of the world children see. To them, everything is shiny and new - the worldly realities of things like bills and traffic haven't taken their toll yet. Find something that's just as new and different to you, or look at something "ordinary" through the rainbow lenses of youth. To them, nothing is "nothing".

Here's my latest foray into the varied world of cooking - a gluten free, vegan banana bread that makes use of a ton of the flours I've stashed away in the pantry and no gums or stabilizers. The original came courtesy of blogger Linsey from Cake and Commerce, a gluten-free, whole-food-approach blog with tons of awesome ideas.

GF Vegan Chocolate Chip Banana Bread
24 Slices, 2 Loaves
1/2 cup teff flour
1/2 cup sorghum flour
1 cup buckwheat flour
1/4 cup tapioca flour
1/4 cup sweet rice flour
2 tbsp cornstarch
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 tbsp baking powder
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 tbsp Chinese 5-spice
1/2 cup shortening
1/4 cup canola oil
6 bananas, mashed
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp dark agave nectar (or honey)
1/4 cup orange juice
1/3 cup low-fat soy milk mixed with 1 tbsp lemon juice (or rice milk or dairy buttermilk)
5 oz silken tofu, pureed (or 2 eggs, or other replacer equivalent)
1 tbsp vanilla
1 cup miniature chocolate chips (make sure they're GF)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F, grease 2 loaf pans or line with parchment
  2. Combine flours, cornstarch, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and 5-spice in a bowl.
  3. Cut in the shortening until the mixture has the consistency of coarse meal (like with pie dough).
  4. In another bowl, beat together oil, bananas, brown sugar, agave, orange juice, soy milk, tofu puree and vanilla.
  5. Add to the crumbly mixture and combine well (you don't have to worry about overmixing here, get out the lumps).
  6. Fold in the chocolate chips.
  7. Bake 50 minutes - 1 hour, until a toothpick inserted in the loaf comes out clean.
  8. Cool 10 minutes in the pan before turning out onto a rack and cooling completely.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 220.9
Total Fat: 9.2 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 6.4 mg
Total Carbs: 36.4 g
Dietary Fiber: 2.6 g
Protein: 2.4 g