One kid's adventures in gastronomy


Friday Night Fish Fry

After a cold, rainy day caring for a sick baby (I’ve been barking like a seal), Mama had a hankering for a good old fashioned fish fry, like the kind her Wisconsin hometown is known for. There, they dip fresh lake perch in beer batter and deep fry it to a golden brown and serve it on the town’s famous hard rolls with a schmear of tartar sauce. (I ate lots of GeeGee’s perch when we visited last summer.) Well, we didn’t have perch, but we did have cod. And Kaiser rolls. “Close enough,” Mama said with excitement.

First she made the beer batter because, she explained, it needs to rest. (Incidentally, she happened to have Wisconsin beer on hand. I don’t understand what all the fuss is.) Once the batter was underway, she moved on to the rest of the dinner. Emboldened by her recent vichyssoise victory, Mama felt confident that I would eat oven fries. She sliced a few organic red bliss potatoes and tossed them with olive oil and spices such as cumin and dill and of course lots of salt and pepper. Into the 350° oven they went, and she turned her attention to the tartar sauce. (At this time, she also poured a whole bottle of canola oil into a large frying pan and turned up the heat.)

Because I still can’t eat homemade mayonnaise, she used the kind from the store, added a bit of chopped relish and capers, a splash of Worcestershire sauce (holy cow, is that a word!), and salt and pepper (all to taste). And that was it. My oatmeal takes longer to make.

What came next I could only see from afar, in Papa’s arms. Mama stirred the potatoes on the baking sheet and closed the oven again. (“It’s hot!” she warned.) She sprinkled a few flecks of flour into the oil to see if it sizzled—that means it’s ready. Then, one by one, she dredged the pieces of cod in a bit of whole wheat flour and then dipped them in the rested beer batter before very carefully slipping them into the hot oil. Boy, did they sizzle! We all made the sizzle noise—pa-dop, pa-dop, pa-dop!

While the fish cooked, and because we “needed” a vegetable, Mama sliced half a red cabbage (they have more nutrients, in case you were wondering), shaved a carrot, and mixed up some slaw dressing—mayo, cider vinegar, celery salt, and salt and pepper (again, all to taste). By the time she was done, it was time to turn the fish over. It was golden and puffed, and even I could tell it was crispy. The kitchen smelled kind of funny, to be honest, but Mama was very pleased.

When the fish was done, Mama removed it from the oil with a strange looking spoon—it was wide and flat with all kinds of holes in it—and put the pieces on a paper towel to drain. The fries were done, and all that remained to be done was to set the table. Dinner in no time at all.

Mama and Papa ate that dinner so fast, I think they rivaled the dog. As for me, I wouldn’t take one bite. Not a one. Of anything. What can I say? I’m a baby.

Love, Jude

Fried cod with tartar sauce, slaw, and oven fries with vinegar

Though I didn't eat any of it, I could probably have pulled any of it off the table. I'm getting really tall, you know.

Beer Batter

2 Tbsp cornstarch
2/3 tsp baking powder (roughly)
salt and pepper
A few tablespoons flour + more
2 eggs
1 cup room temperature beer
Flour for dredging whatever you’re going to dip in the batter

Whisk together the cornstarch, baking powder, salt and pepper, and a few tablespoons of flour in a large bowl. Add the eggs, and whisk to blend it all together. Add the beer and blend again. Then add enough flour to reach your desired consistency. Some people like a thicker batter, others a thinner one. Whisk it really well to get out all the lumps, then just set it out on the counter until you’re ready to use it.

Note: Mama says this makes a lot of batter, so if you’re only making a small amount of fish, pour some of it into a smaller bowl. That way you can save the remaining batter for something else—such as onion rings and other veggies, shrimp, or chicken strips. She also says you can add dried herbs and spices to the batter.


A Week of Funky Foods

I’ve had a busy week. (Plus, Mama was sick, and I had an icky rash all over.) Mama has tried feeding me everything but the kitchen sink—and I love to play in the sink.

One day, she made me hummus. She claims I used to eat it when I was a younger baby, but I’m not so sure. It’s way garlicky. And because she cooked the chickpeas herself, instead of opening a can, she decided to roast a few before pureeing the rest into hummus. They became crispy but were still kind of soft. I thought they were terrible, but Mama gobbled them up. Meanwhile, she put the garbanzos (isn’t that a funny word?) in the food processor, squeezed in a lemon (and let me suck on the rind), plopped in tahini (which she said is like peanut butter, except made with sesame seeds, but I didn’t think it tasted like peanut butter at all!), and added garlic, fresh parsley, and a couple other seasonings. Truth: I had a few bites, but I preferred the pita…with actual peanut butter.

Then Mama had the notion to make a wheat berry salad. Wheat berries. For dinner. Now I can’t say that it was all bad. She did make a walnut oil vinaigrette and added spinach, red pepper, peaches from the freezer that I helped pick last summer, and raisins. I just couldn’t get over the chewy texture of the wheat berries. Mama says they’re supposed to be that way, but I didn’t get very far beyond the “no-thank-you” bite. Wheat berries for dinner? No thank you!

Papa took a turn with a shrimp scampi he baked in the oven. He showed me how he “butterflies” shrimp. I once went to a butterfly hatchery, but I didn’t know there were shrimp butterflies! Then Papa chopped lots of shallots and herbs and smooshed them with a lot of butter. I like butter. Mama made rice, and I have to admit this was one tasty dish. Mama said it was too bad I decided to like this one because she would have liked some more. You and me both, Mama.

Papa did a pretty good job and used all that butter on the rice. How bad could that be?

I think my folks were tired of the kitchen scene by the end of the week because they took me out for Indian food on Sunday. There were gold elephants! On the walls! And sparkly pictures with even more elephants! And music I’ve never heard before! Mama’s not so bad at Indian food herself (maybe she’ll make naan again soon, so I can tell you all about it), but she doesn’t make all the different things the way this place does. She and Papa thought I’d gobble up everything, but they were wrong. Mama, though—that smart cookie—ordered me a mango lassi. She said it was like a smoothie, but it didn’t matter. It was delicious, and I got to drink it with a big-boy straw. Mama traded me a sip of the lassi for every bite of mutter paneer, aalo gobi, and channa saag I ate. It was worth it. Then I finished the meal with rus malai and kheer (“Who doesn’t like kheer?” Mama and Papa asked). All in all, I’d say it was a good meal…and not too much ended up on the restaurant floor. Did I mention the elephants?

Maybe this week will be different. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

Love, Jude


Call me Cool Hand Jude

Ever since I was about 9 months old, I’ve eaten a farm-fresh egg for breakfast. It started out as a soft-boiled egg yolk, and now it’s a nice scrambled egg that I can feed myself. Sometimes Mama puts cheese on it, sometimes even salsa (¿huevos rancheros, anyone?). Mama’s eggs are my favorite because she makes them soft and fluffy. She says the secret is taking them out of the pan before they’re fully cooked.

This morning I didn’t feel like eating my egg (though the dog sure appreciated it), so Mama decided on eggs for lunch. And this time, she did something I’ve never seen before. She put them in a pot of water and put them on the stove. Once the water started boiling, she turned off the heat, covered the pot, and let them sit about 10 minutes. Then she ran the eggs under cold water in the sink.

Then Mama showed me how to crack ’em: She knocked one on the counter, rolled it under her palm, then peeled the shell right off! Needless to say, I was hooked on this whole cracking business. We peeled four eggs, and then Mama mashed them with a fork. She added some mayonnaise (she told me I was too young for the homemade kind) and Dijon mustard, a splash of vinegar, salt, pepper, and capers. She had her “egg salad” on toast, but I liked it right off the spoon. Good show, Mama.

Love, Jude

I love eggs so much I couldn’t wait for them to be mashed.

Egg Salad*

4 hard-boiled eggs, mashed
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Splash of vinegar
Salt & pepper, to taste
Capers (optional)
Dill (optional)

Mix the eggs, mayo, mustard, vinegar, and salt and pepper in a bowl and mash until well combined. Stir in the capers and/or dill, if using. Serve on bread or toast.

*Note: These amounts are approximate. Start small and taste as you go! The result should be creamy and hold together.


Papa made waffles!

Sundays are Mama’s pancake-making day. She makes lots and lots, not because there are three of us, but because she likes to snack on them throughout the day. Just about every week is a different kind—cornmeal, multigrain, coconut, ricotta, banana… and sometimes she makes a yummy syrup or fruit spread (which I tend to like more than the pancakes). Imagine our surprise when we came downstairs this morning to find papa had taken over the kitchen.

He had out bowls and spoons, eggs and flour, the mixer and the waffle iron. He asked Mama whether we had any pastry flour (of course we do!), and whether it was okay that he didn’t use it. Mama said it would be just fine and explained that pastry flour is made from summer wheat that is lighter and better for cakes. Winter wheat is hardier and used to make bread. “All-purpose” flour is a combination of the two. (Who knew?)

I was very eager to see what Papa was up to, so Mama left me with him. He showed me how to separate eggs by using the egg shells. We have eggs from my friends’ chickens, so the egg shells are very pretty and the yolks are golden orange, like the sunrise (which I see most days). Then Papa showed me how to beat the egg whites until “stiff.” They still looked light and fluffy to me, but he assured me they were just right. He added the yolks and melted butter to the flour and other dry ingredients, then carefully folded in the egg whites to make the batter nice and light. This, he explained, should make the waffles very airy.

Then the most amazing thing happened. He poured some batter into the waffle iron (which was hot!), closed the top, and after a little while, there were two perfectly formed waffles. These he gave to Mama and me, served with some organic strawberry-rhubarb freezer jam that we made last summer. (I even helped pick the strawberries.) I sure liked them, but Mama must have really liked them, too, because she also ate them for a late lunch. Bravo, Papa!

Love, Jude


That’s amore!

To say that Mama ate a lot of pizza when she was pregnant with me would be an understatement. She tells me that one week, she ate it four times. That was when Papa told her, “I’ll be glad to get you a pizza tonight, but I just can’t eat it again.” Even without the pregnancy excuse, Mama continues to eat pizza at least once a week.

So shame on her for keeping it from me for as long as she did! While some people choose to believe pizza’s actually sort of good for you (wheat in the crust, tomatoes in the sauce, dairy in the cheese, and all those other veggies you choose to put on top), Mama’s more on the fence about it. At least as far as it concerns me, pizza is a junk food. But as I grew up, I began to notice this interesting food she and Papa were putting into their mouths. It smells delicious, it’s shaped like a triangle (that’s a shape I know!), and it’s covered in cheese. Little by little, Mama relented. She started by giving me the tiniest pieces cut from a slice…

Little did she know what kind of floodgates she was opening. I can now eat a (small) slice all by myself. Her favorite (and I suppose mine, too) has tomatoes and pineapple on it. Sometimes olives or mushrooms, too, but I’m not always keen on them. I never get to eat Papa’s slices, though. Mama says pepperoni is definitely not good for babies.

So Mama finally showed me how to make a pizza so that I didn’t think they all come in a box (no matter how fun those boxes are to play with). She said dough seems scarier than it is because of the yeast. (It must be worse than the furnace kicking on to be that scary.) I thought it would be more fun, but after it was mixed, the dough just sat in the mixing bowl, hiding under a towel all afternoon. That thing slept longer than I do! Mama turned on the oven and put her big heavy pizza stone on the bottom to get it good and hot (this is a word I’m learning).

Mama said it’s important to have all your ingredients ready before you get your dough out because things move quickly then. When she removed the towel from the mixing bowl, I was shocked to see that the dough had grown! She called it “proofed,” but it looked like a big puffy pillow to me. She pulled it out and started smacking it around. “This is the best part,” she said and she let me touch it too. It was kind of warm and oh-so-soft. She pulled the stone from the oven, set it on the stove, and then dusted it with cornmeal. (She noted semolina would also work fine, but we just happened to have cornmeal.)

Then she started flinging the dough between her hands! Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. The dough started stretching and sagging, and before I could say “Chicago style,” she flopped it onto the stone with a thwack. She patted it a few times to make a ridge around the edge, then she brushed the edge with olive oil and sprinkled it with garlic powder. She spooned lots of sauce around the middle, put our favorite toppings on it, then smothered it with mozzarella and parmesan. I couldn’t even see the pineapple there was so much cheese.

It only took about 10 minutes to bake, but we had to wait a long time before it was cool enough to eat. Something about a burning palate. All I know is I’ll take pizza any way I can get it.

Love, Jude

Once we cut into the pizza, there was no time to stop and take a picture. Be glad Mama paused to take this one.

Pizza Dough

2½–2¾ cups bread flour (mix in some whole wheat flour, if desired, but use 2¾ cups total)
1½ teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
Scant tablespoon baking (active dry) yeast
1 cup warm water (ideally 105°–110°, but Mama says it just needs to be hot enough that it feels hot but that you don’t scald your finger)
Semolina or cornmeal
Pizza sauce, cheese, & toppings

Put the flour, salt, and olive oil in the bowl of an electric stand mixer. Separately, mix the yeast and water with a whisk until foamy. (Be sure you dissolve all the yeast.) Add to the mixer, and mix on low speed with the dough hook about 4 minutes, then on the next speed up for another 4 minutes. The dough will be slightly sticky. Remove the hook and cover the bowl with a towel. Let it sit for 3–4 hours, or until the dough is doubled in size (if you put it on your stove, the pilot light will make this process go a little faster). Pull it out of the bowl and give it a few kneads before shaping it.

Preheat oven to 500°. If you don’t have a pizza stone, liberally grease a cookie sheet before putting down the dough (otherwise, dust the stone). Spread out the dough, brush the edges with olive oil (optional), and top with desired sauce, cheese, and toppings. Mama says you can jazz up any store-bought sauce by sautéing some chopped onions and garlic and adding in a few fresh herbs. Bake for 10 minutes and enjoy. But watch you don’t burn your palate.


Want some more pâté?

I’m sure Papa never thought he’d be saying those words to his baby boy. But there was the question, and the answer was most definitely yes!

Mama makes pâté for me at least once a week. She says it’s very good for me, but all I know is it’s delicious. Sometimes it’s veal, but tonight’s was chicken. It was my back-up meal. Lest anyone think I devour everything my mama makes…. She said she didn’t feel like making dinner, so she “threw together” a veggie pot pie with a whole-wheat biscuit crust, and served mine and Papa’s over some shredded rotisserie chicken. I could tell it was leftover chicken the moment I tasted it (but my dog didn’t seem to mind when I threw it overboard). I picked out a few carrots—they’re orange, you know—but sent the rest of the sad, sad pot pie sailing. But not my pâté. That was all for me. (Mama and Papa are very generous when it comes to liver.)

Better luck tomorrow, Mama.

Love, Jude


On Cheese

Being from Wisconsin, Mama tends to keep a lot of cheese in the house. I happen to love the stuff. (People say I take after my Uncle Scotty in that way.) My first cheese was an organic, raw-milk farmer’s cheese from a certified raw dairy a few miles from where we live. (The cows there are really nice!) The cheese was piquant and creamy and lovely.

I’ve since had different varieties of raw cheeses, both fresh and aged, as well as your run-of-the-mill store-bought varieties: Parmesan (from the wedge, not the can, of course!), Gruyère, feta, fresh mozzarella, Muenster, Manchego, sharp cheddar, chèvre (that’s from a goat), even cottage, though that wasn’t really my favorite. I did draw the line at bleu and Esrom, a real stinker of a cheese from Denmark. But I was a much younger baby when Mama gave those to me, so I’d be willing to try them again.

One of my first words was “cheese” (after “moo” and “Mama,” in that order). When we go out for the day, and I see my insulated lunch sack coming with us, I know there’s an organic cheese stick inside. Now that I have nearly all my teeth, I get to eat it by myself. Mama has to help peel it, but she no longer has to break it into tiny bites (some of which usually ended up in her own mouth anyway). At home, I have to fight off the dog when I have cheese in my hands, as she goes bonkers for the stuff.

What I haven’t eaten, though, is macaroni and cheese from a box. Mama says it’s just as easy to make it from scratch, so I’ll let you be the judge. (She can have the sauce made before the pasta’s even cooked!) To be honest, I wasn’t crazy about it at first—but then again, I wasn’t in love with pasta. But the cheesy stuff’s grown on me, as Mama’s started sprinkling a teensy bit of sea salt on her mac and cheese. (You try eating plain cream and butter over plain pasta and see how you like it. Mama says sea salt is not as bad for your health as regular table salt.) It’s still not my favorite-favorite, but I’ll eat it.

While the water boils for the pasta, Mama shows me how to grate the cheese without getting my fingers involved. She’s using my raw cheddar today, but she tells me most any cheese will work. Then she melts some butter in a small saucepan, adds some flour, and stirs. She calls this a “roo.” (What’s Roo doing in my mac and cheese? And where’s Tigger?) Then she adds the cream. She’d also use milk, but because I’m a baby, I can use all the fat I can get. (It’s great being a baby!) Mama whisks the cream gently until it starts to thicken, but she doesn’t want it to be too thick now since the cheese will thicken it further. (Add a bit more cream if necessary.) Then she stirs in the grated cheese, and it’s all gooey and melty. She’s drained the pasta and has added it to the sauce. Mama explains that hot pasta absorbs more of the cheesy goodness, though I prefer it a bit on the saucy side—it makes more of a mess that way, of course.

Love, Jude

Homemade Macaroni and Cheese

(Mama makes this one by feel, so amounts are approximate)
½ cup uncooked pasta
1–2 Tbsp, each, butter and flour
1 cup milk, half-and-half, or cream
½ cup grated cheese of choice (or more, to taste)
Sea salt, to taste

Cook the pasta according to package directions in very salty water. (Mama uses veggie spirals or kamut shells or quinoa letters or really anything other than white pasta.) Meanwhile, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until combined, making a roux. Cook about 1 minute more. Add the milk in a steady stream, while whisking. Continue to steadily whisk the sauce until it begins to thicken, 3–5 minutes. Stir or whisk in the cheese, and mix until smooth. If it’s too thick, add some more cream. Mama says you can’t wreck it at this point. Taste it and see if it needs salt. Drain the pasta and add it right into the sauce, stirring to coat. This is a very cheesy dish. If you like it a little less cheesy (who are you?), make more pasta.

Yield: Enough to feed a baby and his mama lunch (or, about 2 cups)

Note: Mama sometimes tries sneaking veggies, such as baby spinach or chopped grape tomatoes, into this dish. As if I can’t tell they’re there! She tells me she’s going to try pouring some of the “mornay sauce,” as she calls it, on broccoli. We’ll see about that. She also notes that it’s very important to choose organic dairy products. They’re the best!


It’s risotto night!

Full disclosure: I love orange foods.

Sweet potatoes, oranges, squash, mangoes …. if it’s orange, you can likely bet I’ll eat it. There have been many times when orange foods saved the day as the only thing I’d eat. (People often ask Mama where I get my “tan” from; she just says it’s “all that beta-carotene.”) My favorite is when Mama bakes acorn or butternut squash and sweet potatoes or yams and serves it mashed with butter, coconut milk, or coconut oil and cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and/or nutmeg. This preparation was one of the first things I could feed myself.

Mushrooms, though, are another story. I’ve had them, and I can’t say that I much care for them. Mama sautés them in olive oil and butter so they’re good and golden (she says the secret is in letting them alone and not seasoning them until they’re nearly done). Her “go to” mushroom is cremini, or “baby bella,” but I notice that she often uses shiitake and other funky fungi. She rarely uses white button mushrooms, and I can’t blame her as they just sound icky.

Tonight, Mama’s frying up some mushrooms and roasting butternut squash for her risotto. Some people think risotto’s complicated to make, but not Mama. She says it’s just a matter of timing and having everything ready to go. So the squash was already in the oven, and the mushrooms were sizzling on the stove, even before she chopped her onion. Mama also notes that a cook shouldn’t be a slave to the risotto, whatever that means. It must be a good thing because she has time to run around after me while it’s cooking. That said, she doesn’t let her risotto dry out. She keeps her stock hot, and adds it to the rice before it starts to stick to the pan. Risotto’s supposed to be creamy, without the addition of cream.

I’d be lying if I said I devoured it right off the bat. A baby gets to be finicky from time to time. But after a few bites of luscious, flavorful rice and sweet squash, Mama slipped a mushroom onto my spoon. And I ate it. The next one too. And the one after that. In fact, I had a small second helping of risotto. I had to dump it out of my bowl and onto the tray of my highchair in order to eat it, but sometimes that’s just the way it goes. You win another one, Mama.

Love, Jude

Butternut Squash and Wild Mushroom Risotto

(Mama makes her risotto “by feel,” so amounts are approximate)

½ medium butternut squash, peeled and chopped into ½”-1″ cubes

Olive oil, to coat

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 Tbsp (each) olive oil and butter

8-12 ounces assorted mushrooms, cleaned and sliced (or chopped)

1 quart (or so) chicken or vegetable stock

1 medium white or yellow onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 Tbsp (each) olive oil and butter

½-1 cup dry white wine (optional)

1 cup (or so) Arborio rice

Handful or 2 of baby spinach (optional)

Minced fresh sage (optional)

Parmesan cheese (wedge, not canned)

Preheat oven to 400°. Toss the squash in a shallow roasting pan or cookie sheet with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and roast until tender, 15-20 minutes. (Stir once during baking.)

Meanwhile, heat the Tbsp oil and butter in a small nonstick skillet over medium heat. Sauté the mushrooms until browned. Season with salt and pepper and remove from heat.

Bring the stock to a simmer.

Heat the 2 Tbsp oil and butter in a large frying pan (with sides) or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion, and cook until translucent, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook for about a minute. Add the rice and stir to combine. Let the rice cook a few minutes, stirring if necessary to prevent it from sticking or the onions from burning.

Add a ladleful of stock to the rice. (It will send up a cloud of steam!) Add the wine, if using. Now you just watch it, off and on, for about 20 minutes or so. Stir the rice and let it absorb the liquid—not all the way. You don’t want a dry pan. But dry enough. Add another ladleful of stock, stir, and keep an eye on it. Go make a salad or pour yourself a glass of the wine. If you really don’t want to be tied to the risotto, add 2 ladles of stock at a time.

Taste the rice. It should have an ever-so-slight bite to it. Then it’s done. (But if it’s completely soft, it’s not ruined.) Add your reserved mushrooms and squash, along with one more ladle of stock. (You might not use it all–or you might use more.) Throw in a couple handfuls of baby spinach and the sage, if desired. Grate the Parmesan over the pan (or use a Microplane), according to however much you like, and turn off the heat. Give it all a stir, give it a taste to adjust seasonings, and it’s done.

Note: Mama makes all kinds of risottos throughout the year. If you’re using vegetables (like sugar snap peas) or other foods (like shrimp) that cook very quickly, add them toward the end of the rice’s cooking time. You can also vary the kind of liquid you use, such as for a red wine risotto (which Mama has not given me, just so you know).