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.

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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.