PASABI!

Wasabi's first fusion burn is unforgettable.

Wasabi’s first fusion burn is unforgettable.

We like exposing our toddler to a wide variety of foods. Having an open gastronomic mind creates so many opportunities to appreciate the world, but it doesn’t just happen on its own. Kids have a natural tendency to shirk away from foods that they perceive as unusual. I believe that this has something to do with our primitive survival strategies back when we were still learning to play with fire. Early exposure to a wide variety of nutritional experiences in a supportive environment help plant the seed for the future.

One of the staple celebratory foods in our household is sushi. From an early age, we let our boy have some of the rolls. We are careful not to give him any of the raw fish to avoid picking up parasites, but he is otherwise happy to munch away on the veggie rolls, wakame salad, and other assorted goodies that make up a great sushi dinner. He is extremely fond of the pickled ginger, and would be happy to drink a bucket of the soy sauce all on its own. Thankfully for his health, we are thoroughly grossed-out at the prospect and limit him to a few drops of the dark ichor.

We had assumed that he would be overwhelmed by wasabi, so we never bothered giving him any. I can barely survive the mighty punch a tiny dollop of the green stuff. When I muster up he courage to indulge in a bite, my sinuses instantly combust, and my eyes water almost as profusely as my nose do, sending me scrambling for the closest glass of milk to quench the burn. I am left with a feeling that someone swung a sledgehammer at my head, and my tongue dangles lifelessly from my mouth. I could scarcely imagine what a dose of the nuclear goo would do to a toddler.

A few days ago, he finally noticed the verdant dollop gracing the takeout platter. He stood up on his chair and pointed at it insistently.

“Quoi ça? (What’s that?)” he asked pointedly.

“It’s wasabi. It’s a got a lot of kick. It is spicy.”

“Wasabi!” He pointed at it again.

“It may be a bit much for you, dude.” I try to talk him down from what would probably be one of his biggest mistakes that week.

“WASABI!” He insisted.

“I’m not sure…”

“WA-SA-BIII!” he interrupted.

“Ok, you asked for it. Don’t say that I didn’t warn you.” I reached out and poked a tiny speck onto the end of my chopstick. My wife cocked one eyebrow up in the universal spousal signal for “is my boneheaded husband really going to do what I think he is?” She curled her lip, instantly freezing the chopstick’s progression towards my son’s mouth. I found myself in a bit of a dilemma.

“WAAAA-SAAAA-BIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII!” our child bellowed. That’s it. He’s in for it now. I popped the chopstick in as he was taking a big gulp of air to power another scream. His lips closed tightly around the stick. He held it in his mouth for a moment and then closed his eyes. It was almost as if the little fellow was savouring some flavour that I could not even begin to guess at. I slowly pulled the chopstick out of his mouth.

He beamed a huge smile. “Wasabi!”

I was now thoroughly confused. How on Earth was my son still standing there, not a care in the world? He should have been a babbling mess on the floor by now. Maybe it’s a delayed onset wasabi? Seconds ticked by. Nothing. My confusion began to grow exponentially.

“Papa! Wasabi!” He pointed once again to the platter. Meh. I guess this is an impotent batch. Whatever, knock yourself out. Here’s another scoop, kiddo. I hefted on a slightly larger glob onto my chopstick and nonchalantly placed it on his extended tongue.

I am not quite sure what happened next, but the larger quantity of wasabi must have crossed some sensory threshold, since he started hopping up and down energetically on his chair.

“PASABI” He exclaimed, almost in tears. He had just invented a new word, a mashup of “pas ça (not that!)” and “wasabi.” He had concisely articulated his displeasure in such a novel and memorable fashion that we shall never forget it.

Needless to say, he is much less fond of the green paste, and politely refuses it when we offer it to him. For some strange reason, though, he loves offering me some every time we get sushi. What a little bugger.

Food for thought on overconsumption

This profound clip from Samsara will captivate you and make you consider the titanic effort needed to feed the growing human population. It is a powerful statement from Ron Fricke who also made Baraka. The six minutes you invest here could help change your perspective on things.

You can find more potent videos at filmsforaction.org.

Midsummer’s Bounty

Wild berries

Not a bad haul! © 2013 – Max Shields

Spring took for ever to surrender its grasp on our neck of the woods this year. It stayed cold and wet well into when I would usually expect balmy weather. The temperatures have now plunged back down, aping the Fall. I’m not quite certain where all of this weather is going, but I suspect my Summer will fade away before it really happens, only to be replaced with an extra-long winter.

The slow arrival of warm weather, combined with significant cloud cover and stormy weather has mitigated the growth of crops in the region. This is why I was surprised to find a few beautiful raspberries ripe for picking in the thin strip of woods behind my house. I knew they were there since I saw the bushes sprouting everywhere last year, but nothing seemed to be turning red. In the past few days, we’ve had some nice weather, and bright splashes of red began playing out across the yard’s foliage. I was doubly surprised to stumble across some wild blueberry bushes tucked in amid a stand of pine trees.

My wife and my boy eagerly foraged through the greenery to pull up this midsummer’s bounty. My kid really loved the experience, and is now fixated on going looking for berries. I guess that takes care of explaining the food chain for a little while. We also took the opportunity to spread some of the overripe berries around the lot to help seed a greater harvest for next year. We’ll see how all of that turns out.

Most interestingly, the picking session appears to have dislodged my toddler from a particularly tenacious bout of fussiness that had taken a grip of him a couple months ago. In the span of a few hours, he went from not wanting to touch any of his food to voraciously packing it down. Having your children involved with the preparation of their meals certainly appears to go a long way towards obtaining their buy-in to consuming what is presented on their plates!

A Child’s Love

Thump!

I can usually hear it faintly from a block and a half away. I am walking back from the grocery, loaded down like a pack mule. It is a matter of pride that I make the effort to hand carry all of my supplies, never resorting to the car, regardless of my shopping list’s bulk. I tell myself it’s doing my little bit for the environment, and has an added bonus of giving me an opportunity for a little cardio and strength training. It’s not that the store is that far away. My home lies within the radius of the outer reaches of a large mall’s parking lot from the store. It’s just that I tend to walk back with a enough bags of milk and other heavy liquid supplies to buckle a donkey’s legs. Whatever it takes to keep my boy growing strong and healthy.

Thump! Thump!

The sound is more distinct now. A sharp note breaking the silence of my quiet neighborhood. There is no-one on the street. It’s about at this point every time that my hands start to go numb. I try to shift the weight around, but invariably my pinky finger feels like it’s about to get pulled off of my hand, so out it slips, leaving my load precariously anchored to three or even two fingers.

Thumpity, thumpity, thump! THUMP!

I can now see the corner of my house. The sound is really loud, but I can’t quite bring myself to pay all that much attention to the constant and frenetic drumming that resonates down the street. I heave on my bags, tossing a set over a shoulder. There. That does it. My screaming muscles groan in relief. The moment passes as I realize that I am mere seconds away from losing my grip on the bags I hold clutched in my other hand. Oh no! The eggs are in that bunch, doubtless nestled between something hard and something harder. Regardless, if I drop them over the asphalt road, I am toast.

THUMP! THUMP! THUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMP! Thump!

I look at the living room window. A small head with a huge grin is waiving madly. My boy is ludicrously happy to see me even though I have been away less than an hour. He has been bashing away at the window since I came into view minutes before. I can’t help but evoke a dog eagerly awaiting the return of his master by the door. Speaking of which, I have somehow managed to clear the last few steps to the stoop. I use my elbow to ease open the latch and shoulder my way into the entryway. My kid dashes around the couch screaming “papaaaaaa!” and collides into my leg, arms thrown wide open. The ensuing bear hug is surprisingly firm on my leg, despite his diminutive stature. Somehow, I have managed to retain my grasp on the bags so as to preserve him from a grisly demise, squashed under a metric ton of rice, apples, and a watermelon. What the heck was I thinking when I bought that?

I set the bags down and he starts to rummage through them, keenly eying their contents as a raven would a shiny thing at a camp site. Out he pulls an item and proudly brings it to his mother. He appears to take great pride in contributing to the chore of organizing our kitchen supplies. A grocery bag rolls over. CRUNCH!

Guess I’ll need to get some more eggs.

At least I know I’ll have someone cheering me on all the way!

An awesome candied ginger and ginger ale recipe (http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2008/12/candied-ginger/)

Candied ginger. Oh yeah! — Image from http://www.davidlebovitz.com

Last weekend, my wife decided to try to make some candied ginger. She pulled up this recipe from http://www.davidlebovitz.com.

It took a lot of work, but it yielded a very fragrant and potent batch of sugary deliciousness. This is a treat that will slap your tastebuds hard and burn its way down to your belly, all while letting you know it’s there for quite some time. I couldn’t help but gobble more than is probably healthy when they first materialized on the counter top.

My name is Max, and I think I’m now a ginger addict.

Best of all, this is the recipe that keeps on giving. If you decide to keep the gooey solution that the ginger boiled in and mix it with some bubbly water (we used Nestle lemon and orange sparkling water), you have some home made ginger ale. It blows the big company stuff out of the water.

Give it a shot! I dare you to feel the burn.

New look, same great taste. Soon cereal boxes will be envelopes.

Ever since the enormous fiscal slapping we all received in 2008, I’ve noticed that food companies have been busily revamping their images in an effort to draw consumers and make ends meet. I may simply have become more sensitized to an existing practice, or efforts along these lines may have expanded greatly in the face of growing financial pressures on the market.

Cereal boxes have done the most to catch my eye, sporting a seemingly continuous stream of new boxes, or some other sign brightly plastered signaling that something has changed and that we must take notice as we wander through the aisles. Last week, I came across a box that will remain unnamed with the text “New look, same great taste” on a banner running across the top.

When I compare the new box to the old, there are a few cosmetic changes, but nothing that I could consider ground breaking or shouting for attention much more loudly than the previous box. Indeed, I am a habitual buyer of this brand, so I would have bought this cereal on that trip regardless of whether it had been packaged in a box with flashing lights being carried on the back of a panda driving a car, or if it had been in a plain, unmarked box. Cool. This ensures the company’s graphic designers have something to do from time to time, right? But there’s always a but.

But, upon closer inspection, the box was a little smaller, and contained a slightly diminished mass of cereal, without having a reduced price. Here’s the rub: in order to keep us feeling good about buying cereal despite the growing cost of delivering grain-based foods to the market, companies are reducing the quantity they sell in a box. We’re still happy to shell out our $5,99 for a box of cereal, but we are getting less and less every time we come out of the grocery store.

I get it. It’s a business. I grew up on a farm, so I appreciate the farmer’s stake in this. I’d like it if they could get a bigger cut than does the middle man, but that seems unlikely to change for a while. But you see, I like to be efficient with my time without being hypocritical about what I do. If the cereal costs more, I’m happy to pay more for the same volume, rather than have to come back to the store at an increasing rate wondering why my boxes of cereal are now lasting a few days rather than a couple weeks. Granted, food and I get along very well together, but I don’t need to get a false sense that I’m hoovering all of the grain from the Prairies to satiate my morning hunger.

For marketers to be doing this suggests that there is some pretty solid data to show that these mind games work.  I wish it weren’t the case. I fear that some day I’ll be walking out of the store with an arm full of $5,99 postage envelopes of cereal to get me through the week.

On toddlers and the development of memory and altruism

My toddler is one funny kid. Every time he sees pickled ginger, typically present in the occasional sushi dinner we order in, he starts clamouring for it. There’s no quieting him down once he gets his first glimpse of the pink palate cleanser. After we carefully pick a few small pieces out for him, he’ll shove some into his mouth, close his eyes tightly, shake with every part of his body, and then spit it out. He tends to smack his face lightly, as if trying to coax some manner of sense back into himself. He’ll then reach for the ejected morsel and start anew. Eventually, he will down the entire spicy offering of his own free will despite the extreme physical response to each bite.

A few weeks ago, his brave heart decided that he was up to sampling wasabi. The tough tyke muscled down a wad that was large enough to have us all watching with keen interest for the hilarious response to a first encounter. Surprisingly, he came through with some semblance of dignity. He luckily had a glass full of milk close at hand, which he eagerly downed to quench the burn.

We had sushi again tonight. As we closed in on the end of the dinner, he jabbed his chopstick into the small container of green goo and brought it in close to his face. “You sure you want to do that again, kiddo?” I asked.

But before the words were even out of his mouth, he thrust his stick out to me. I looked at it for a moment. I’ve never been a huge fan of the radioactive green paste, since I find it drowns out the flavour of everything I eat for the next few minutes. That, and I don’t like a river of snot and tears running down my face for dinner. It tends to put other diners off their meals. However, I did not want to miss an opportunity to coach my son in the importance of being open to a wide variety of foods, so I opened my mouth to let him plop in the chunk of green lava.

He yanked the chopstick away and giggled. Funny guy. That’s his new trick. After a laugh, he returned the stick and I accepted the proffered offering with a big smile. He snapped his stick away, dropped it and lunged for his drinking glass, which was filled with milk again for this meal. He held it quickly up in front of me “Milk?” he asked.

Well I’ll be. He actually remembered that wasabi burned like a bad case of road rash. He also remembered that the best countermeasure was a healthy slurp of milk. He even thought about the fact that the wasabi would burn me, and the right and proper thing to do would be for me to drink milk. Since I had water in my glass, he was willing to offer his up to make me feel better. Impressive reasoning for such a young one.

Of course, I shouldn’t forget that he schemed to offer me the painful tidbit in the first place. A real conniving git. Takes after his father, that one.

Feeding the Beast is harder than it appears

Feed at your own risk

Feed at your own risk

“Hey kiddo, what do you want for a snack?” I ask as the time to feed the beast inevitably lumbers around.

“Snack!” He replies, a wide smile beaming.

“I got it. That’s what we’re going to do, have a snack. But what do you want in it?” Clearly, he hasn’t figured out that I need explanation as to what individual components he desires that I put into the conceptual container that is a snack.

“Snack!” He repeats just as excitedly as the first time.

“No, no. What. Do. You. Want. To. Eat. As. A. Snack?” Maybe if I go slower he’ll understand.

“Snack!” His mouth drops open and his eyes sparkle.

I take a deep breath, and scramble to find another approach. “Do you want an apple?”

“Apple!”

Success. I’ve got a decision. I reach into the fridge and pull out the shiniest, reddest, and most delicious apple I can find. “Non. Pas ça!” Not that. Say what?

“But you just asked for an apple, why don’t you want it any more?”

“Pas ça!”

I can’t hope for much more clarification, so I rummage around the bin looking for something else to appease his hunger. The once chatty toddler is rapidly transitioning to something darker, brooding. His lips begin to pout, his brow furrows, and he tucks his chin down to his chest. Absolutely frightening. When he gets this way, it does not take much to push him over into a ranting tantrum monster. Must find a solution quickly, or risk unleashing a horror that I will be hard pressed to deal with all afternoon.

Aha! “Do you want a banana?” I offer hopefully.

“Banana!”

“Pas ça!” freezes my movement as I pull the banana from the bowl on the counter. Gah!

“How about an orange?”

“Orange!” His voice is strangely chipper has he calls out the last. I may have found what he is really looking for.

“Papa! Pas! ÇA!” He emphasizes each word with increasing vigor.

I am at a loss. Why is he not happy with any of the items he appears to endorse a heartbeat before? I kneel down to look at him straight in the eye. “Hey, guy, what do you want for a snack?”

“Snack.” His voice is even, but there is a slight quiver at the end, foreshadowing an imminent explosion.

“Are you repeating everything I say?” I ask.

“Re-peet…say.”

Oh, boy. This is going to be a long day.

On being judgemental – why I could never sit at an Iron Chef’s table

I don’t really watch TV. I am too busy scouring the world for ideas and inspiration, and I find most of what is on television these days to be of little value.  That’s a personal belief and not a judgement on those of you who do enjoy watching the picture box. If it provides an uplifting moment to an otherwise dreary day, makes you laugh, or you find some measure of education in its offerings, more the power to you.

I do get collateral exposure to the telly’s contents when my wife does watch it. She’s a huge fan of all the home renovation, decorating, and cooking shows out there. One indelible impression that I have been left with is that I would be a terrible cooking competition judge. When I see the likes of Mr. Ben-Israel or Mr. Steingarten slam into people who have put their hearts out on their plates, I have to grant them some measure of respect, despite their frequent appearance as insufferable jerks as they render judgement upon the people that stand before them. Were I in a similar position, the moment one of those dishes would be laid out on the table in front of me, it would disappear in a puff of cake shrapnel or splashes of savoury sauce. “Omnomomonomonom!”

Artist’s rendition of Max Shields as a Food Channel judge.

Before the cameras would have had time to pan back fro the Chairman for the chef to explain his magnificent creation, only crumbs would remain on my plate. I like food, you see. I’d probably beg forgiveness the first time, and ask for seconds that I may properly judge. But after the third or fourth time, they’d probably be on to me, so I’d be reduced to picking food off of the other judges’ plates for a while. Even though I’m a nice guy and not really one to degrade the people that hand me food, I am a right proper savage when someone tries to take something away from me without my permission, particularly when food is at stake. Any attempts by the other judges to keep me from accessing their plates would be met with vicious snarling, drooling, and a flashing of fangs. Hungry wolves have got nothing on me.

You think he’s scary? Just you try and take food away from me!

This may somewhat affect the panel’s ability to provide a full review of the meals that have been laid out before them, but I think I can handle that with a “too right!” to one and an “attaboy!” to the other competitor, perhaps an invite out for a beer after the show, because if you’ve put food on my plate, you’re awesome in which way I look at it. We can all be winners, so long as you feed me.

Viewers would probably be more entertained as a wrestling match ensues behind the table, which would probably be good for the show, too. It’s all about the ratings, baby!

On cooking with toddlers – a learning opportunity

Homemade mango ice cream

Homemade mango ice cream

Our boy has taken to watching what we do when we cook. He is fascinated by the variety of cooking implements that lay on the kitchen counters, and enjoys pulling out as many wooden spoons, spatulas, and whisks as he can. He loves watching things get tossed into the mixer and throws a fit if he isn’t hefted high (and safely away) above the stove to watch pots and pans bubbling away under the bright cooking light.

My wife takes a few moments every time she makes muffins or smoothies to go over the ingredients with our toddler. He now merrily spouts out the correct names when he sees flour pots and sugar jars brought out. He even counts off eggs, though the numbering system gets a little murky after three, it’s still amazing to watch.

We had some leftover table cream to use up before it went bad, so my wife looked at our boy. “Do you want a mango smoothy?” she asked.

The wild babbling and bouncing that ensued could only be interpreted in the affirmative. He tugged on the freezer door with all of his might and reached inside to haul out a bag of frozen mango bits that had not seen the light of day in quite some time.

In went the table cream, the frozen mango bits, and a little sugar into the food processor. A quick spin turned the mix into a wonderfully unctuous mango ice cream, which surprised me since there was no need for a long churn. Bam! World class ice cream in a blink.

The result was a wonderful dessert that produced smiles all around and highlighted the amount of information children pick up from an early age.

A little positive reinforcement doesn’t hurt, either!