It's hard, when you love good food, not to succumb to what I like to call "Dinner: Ennui and Anxiety, With Unceasing Regularity." Real life is so demanding, and if you add children, even a Wolf range and fistful of fresh green garlic from the farmer's market can't prevent your passion for food from seeping away occasionally.
We refuse to surrender, however. Despite a lack of time, lack of concentration, and demanding, exceptionally short diners who might, on a whim, reject the entire meal, dedicated food lovers persist against all odds. I've written about food for a while now, and still, despite my 100-plus cookbooks, I must constantly navigate the narrow path between personal desire and the practicalities of getting dinner on the table.
I'm constrained by one child who eats nearly nothing and one who eats nearly everything. Of course, their varying tastes don't always overlap. Plain, buttered pasta, for instance, is eaten by one but not the other. If that last sentence is mind-boggling to you (no pasta — seriously?), think about what that does to my culinary imagination.
Even professional chefs suffer from the same problem. Christine Wansleben of the Shockoe Slip cooking school Mise En Place has 2-year-old twins, Laith and Dia Mohammad (pictured below).
"My daughter will eat anything, but my son will take a bite and, depending on the position of the moon or the stars, he may or may not chew it and will [then] spit it over his high chair and wait for a reaction from his sister," she says.
Dale Reitzer of Acacia Mid-town confesses to feeding his two children, ages 5 and 7, a lot of cheese tortellini. Unlike the rest of us, however, Reitzer has a fully stocked restaurant kitchen to choose from when he thinks about dinner.
"We'll stop by the restaurant and get pieces of fish to cook, broccolini, carrots, other vegetables. It's easy to change the menu and have grouper one night, bistro steak, pasta, or crab cakes another," he says.
Both chefs agree: Children have to eat what their parents do. And fast food is not an option. "I let them know I'm not a short-order cook," says Wansleben. "You just try and give them the healthiest food possible."
I try to do that, too. Each night, with my back against the wall and a big wooden spoon to keep the children at bay, I rummage and read and maybe drink a small glass of wine while I try to figure it all out. At my house, people will starve if they don't eat what I make, but like a performer who loves an applause sign, I crave the adulation that comes with feeding people well. So, sometimes a concession or two is made, leftovers are re-imagined, and I try, at least hypothetically, to please everybody. Surrender, you see, for the hard-core food lover, is never an option.
Dale Reitzer's Crab Cakes for Kids (and Everyone Else)
1 pound of jumbo lump crabmeat
(fresh, not pasteurized)
1/2 cup of Duke's mayonnaise
1 ounce of grainy mustard
1 teaspoon of Old Bay seasoning
1 whole egg
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Mix together mayonnaise, mustard, seasoning and egg until well combined. Gently fold in crabmeat and add breadcrumbs until you get a desired texture. Coat an ovenproof pan with olive oil (just enough to cover the bottom of the pan). Place crabmeat in 4-inch round piles. Bake until golden brown. Remove and allow to rest for 3 to 5 minutes.