What Chefs Feed Their Kids

One of my favorite things about blogging is the free books. I’m not much of a book-buyer–being that my library system is well-stocked, efficient, and user-friendly–but sometimes it is nice to have one’s Very Own Copy of a book. And last week I received two lovely books for my perusal (and possible review) in the mail, one of which was this:

Fanae Aaron is an art director, not a chef, but when it came time to feed her son, she wanted more for him than rice cereal, that staple North American “first food” for babies–the “blandest and least exciting food ever created.”

She writes:

“I wondered if there was a way to feed kids that both nourishes and stimulates them. Our brains are wired to burst to life with new sensations. They light up and chemicals are released in our brains as we experience the pleasure and delight of something new and interesting.”

I love how her artistic sensibilities shaped her motivation for this project: she wanted food to be what it truly is–a creative sensory experience and an experience of love, care, and nourishment–not merely ‘healthy fuel.’ And so Fanae interviewed twenty or so very different chefs–from Ana Sortun to Zack Gross–to illustrate their strategies and attitudes in feeding their children.

Though it’s got gorgeous illustrations and fabulous recipes, this is more than another cookbook–there’s a lot of child development in there–examining why adventurous eaters suddenly become picky, for example, and explaining why certain foods and combinations simply don’t appeal to kids. Plus, the recipes are recipes that can be made for the whole family–not simply for the baby–with simple modifications for the young ones.

Son #1, with sweet potato

And there’s plenty of advice on how to get kids interested in trying new things–from cooking with them (with the aid of things like the learning tower) to reading books involving food and cooking.

(Our favorite children’s book involving cooking is Eddie’s Kitchen by Sarah Garland.)

Whether you’re a seasoned foodie with kids or a newbie foodie with kids or simply a parent who wants to start your kid on something tastier than rice cereal (we started with avocado!), I think this book will appeal to all your senses. It’s lovely.

Son #2, with avocado

“It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the other.”

~M.F.K. Fisher

Amen.

Many thanks to Jessica at Globe Pequot for the review copy of this book! You can buy yours here or here.

“It wasn’t a very spiritual thought–we’re all FAT.”

That’s what went through Pastor Rick Warren’s mind when he was nearing the end of an 800+ person baptismal service last year.

Recently, one of the New York Times‘ blogs had an interesting piece on the ‘Daniel Plan,’ the small-group based health program at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in California.

The Daniel Plan–named, of course, for the Biblical Daniel who rejected the king’s rich food and drink for a diet of vegetables and water–involves three medical celebrities: brain expert and Saddleback member Dr. Daniel Amen, Dr. Mark Hyman, and Dr. Mehmet Oz, the heart surgeon, author and TV doctor, who attended Daniel Plan rallies and made videos.

I don’t know a whole lot about the Daniel Plan, but it looks to be mostly in the tradition of “healthy eating is a spiritual discipline” and emphasizes a mostly vegan, whole-foods diet and moderate exercise. The distinctive feature of the Daniel Plan is the fact that participation in small groups–whether online or in person–is the first step of the program.

While I must admit that a program that speaks the discourse of “health” in a narrow way never appeals to me, I’m not surprised at all by the successes of the Daniel Plan thus far. As I’ve suggested elsewhere on this blog–eating together is powerful stuff, and it seems to be just as powerful for those struggling with obesity as those struggling with anorexia and everything in between. I just wonder if The Daniel Plan is really capable of creating a new but lasting food culture. As with all plans that are so health-focused in their understanding of eating–food is to bring health, full stop–I’m doubtful it is. And its ‘Biblical’ basis is flimsy indeed.

But I wish them well.

 

How to Use Food to Comfort Others

Americans receive a lot of criticism for our eating habits and food culture, but to give credit where credit is due, there are aspects of our food culture that–while not wholly unique, are particularly American, and, in my view, lovely and worth encouraging and emphasizing.

So without further ado, here are 6 ways to connect with and comfort others through food and drink in the Spirit of the Living Bread:

6. Participate in Potluck Meals

Many of us may not have the time or the energy to host multi-course dinner parties, especially for large groups of people. Potlucks are a time-honored tradition, and a particularly good opportunity to make diverse people feel welcome as members of a group. As an alternative to the more hierarchically structured “soup kitchen,” invitations to potlucks can be extended beyond the church family to include those in the community who may not get enough to eat in a way that embodies the inclusive table fellowship of Jesus.5. Visit Old People with Coffee and Treats

Let’s face it. Visiting ‘Old People’ (however you define that) can be awkward for some of us. Some of us have a real aversion to institutional care homes. But through cooking for Mr. and Mrs. S, I’ve discovered something: it’s easier with food. Maybe that’s because it takes a little of the conversational pressure off. Maybe it’s because the care you can sometimes can’t put in words goes into the food? I don’t know what it is, exactly. It doesn’t have to be a multi-course meal. Last week I dropped by the nursing home with coffees and donuts for Mr. and Mrs. S, and they were received with such thanks that I wondered if I should just bring donuts and coffee every time, instead of a meal (this week it was organic hot dogs on homemade rolls, brownies, and coleslaw made with cabbage from the end of the garden.)


4. Bring Dinner to Someone Else’s House

This is a good one for busy folks (um, most of us!) because it means that only 1 person or family has to clean while the other does most of the cooking. It also works well when, for example, friends who have kids who go to bed early have friends without kids. Friends without kids bring dinner and the grownups can have a grownup dinner party sans enfants.

3. Take Your School Child Out to Lunch

I have no idea if this one is even practical anymore, but I urge you–find out if it is and DO it if you can! When I was in kindergarten and first grade, my mom worked part time nearby to my school, and from time to time she’d pick me up from school to take me to the pizza place for lunch, where I’d have a slice and then an Italian ice…but I was only allowed to get a lemon ice, which wouldn’t stain my dress for the rest of the day. I’m 30 years old now, and this is still a very, very sweet memory for me. While kids can actually go home for lunch some places, in many others, that’s not quite feasible. But if there’s a good place to eat near the school, you could take your child there to eat, or else bring some kind of picnic. You never know! It might mean the world.2. Bring Soup and Popsicles to Sick People

Is this a no-brainer? Maybe. I don’t know. But I do know that when my mother, father, and I all got influenza at the exact.same.time in 1994 someone brought some chicken soup and some popsicles to us and that kind of kept us alive. There are a few tricks to making a really great chicken soup, and I, for one, believe wholeheartedly in its curative powers! Learn to make a great one and bring it to sick people!

(I recommend you check out Ina Garten’s recipe. I think she’s actually Jewish, which probably matters for this recipe. It’s not called Jewish Penicillin for nothing.)

1. Plan meals for families with new babies and other crises

When I lived in beautiful St. Andrews, Scotland, it seemed like everyone in our little graduate-student community was always having babies. Because we were. Because it was “that time” for many of us and, yeah, because having a baby on the NHS is free. Imagine, no bills or “explanation of benefits” or co-pays or pre-approvals or referrals! But, you know, having a baby is still a big deal! It wipes you out big time. One of the coolest things our little community of expatriate student-families did to help one another was create “meal rotas” for each pregnant mom. We’d collect volunteers for 14 meals, to be given every other evening for a month, according to a schedule arranged with the family. I was at the receiving end of this incredible ministry when I had my son Graeme in 2008, and it’s truly amazing how knowing that dinner is coming frees you up from the many anxieties and stresses of those early baby days, letting you have a little babymoon while letting your friends love you in such a tangible way.

But this doesn’t need to be just for babies. Meal ‘rotas’–a schedule of turn-taking, basically–are great for people who’ve had major surgery, miscarriages, deaths in the family, or other disrupting and upsetting events. You meet a practical need while expressing your concern in a tangible, delicious way.

What other ideas do you have for using food to minister to others?

Are You Willing to Try This?

So this is kind of embarrassing to admit, but when I was very small I somehow thought that being a missionary meant that you had to go to another country and eat weird stuff so that people would really know that you really love them and so that they would really know that God loved them, too.

The “weird stuff” I was imagining:

Crispy bugs. Juicy grubs.Stew with recognizable animal part (i.e., face, included.)

And I had it in my mind that to be a missionary meant that you really had to be brave enough to eat weird stuff because if you didn’t, the people that you were trying to be friends with wouldn’t want to be friends with you. Or with God.

OK, so, yes, there are some strange and faulty ideologies implied in there that would have the Foucauldian theorists of my grad school days salivating with desire. Also it probably just doesn’t work that way, that if you don’t want to taste the monkey brain they don’t want to be your friend or to talk about God.

BUT! The problematic missiology of my 5 year old self was on to something.

A few weeks ago, some friends who have been actual missionaries in Japan for years & years visited. And John said something I think is very interesting:

“You can tell which interns are going to work well in Japan because they are the ones who are willing to try the food. The ones that are afraid to try generally don’t get on well in other ways, culturally.”

(this is a ‘loose’ quote; basically what he said.)

(John’s wife brought me some dried plum powder, the purple-ish stuff you see sprinkled on this vegetarian sushi I made. Sorry it’s blurry. I was really hungry and rushing to actually eat something!)

John was careful to point out that it wasn’t that the successful interns necessarily liked Japanese food.

The telling part was the willingness–or unwillingness–to try.

If food and eating are so deeply rooted in culture and religion and family life and (etc., etc., etc.) then it kind of makes sense that the people who are going to be able to befriend others best in a different culture are the ones who come ready to at least try.

Trying someone’s food is almost a way of saying “I’m willing to know you.”

I still hope I never have to eat bugs or grubs to prove my love for my neighbor, but maybe if I’ve come to love a friend who loves to eat grubs it would be like nothing to try them myself.

And I wonder:

What can we tell about ourselves–and our relationships–by the patterns and habits of food-sharing taking place within them?

When Jesus Was Our Guest

The other night we had a fellowship meal at church. The best part was that the boys got to run around and play for an hour beforehand, which helped pique their appetites considerably.

We got to catch up with friends with cute, long-distance grandchildren:

Turns out the HVAC guy + my dad make pretty good spaghetti sauce!

We broke bread together. We reflected on the early church’s practice of love feasts and on Jesus’s promise to be with us when we gather in his name.

And we cleaned up together.

And Christ was with us:

Come Lord Jesus, be our guest,
May this food by you be blest,
May our souls by you be fed,
Always on the living Bread.

Come Lord Jesus, be our guest; Come Lord Jesus, be our Guest

Amen.

(attr. Martin Luther)

here’s the tune you can sing it to: Redhead 76

Here you can watch it in sign language: