Friday, December 5, 2008
(Or: My Kids Ate a Fucking Oyster!)
My kids are picky. Shellfish has never even been a serious goal, more of a dreamy aside, along the same lines as, "Maybe you'll be President one day!" How did this happen? I've retraced my steps.
1. A few years ago, we went to France. My father was living in Geneva and working for the Red Cross at the time, so we were sort of visiting him and sort of just hanging out. On our last day we went to the Saturday morning market and -- lo and behold -- the oysters were out. In France. they give you wine and oysters at 10 in the morning. This was maybe the thing my father liked best about his years living in Geneva. It runs in the family, this oyster and wine love. So he and I buckled up to the counter and ordered a dozen cold ones and a couple plastic cups of white wine. At 10 in the morning. Hoo boy, do they know how to do it over there. But one of the most memorable parts about it, aside from oysters and wine at 10 in the morning, was that my daughter, then 3, agreed to take a sip of the oyster liquor. She said she liked it but didn't want any more, but I didn't care. I thought it was a great moment. (My son, then 7, wouldn't even stand near us while we partook in such vile activities.)
2. Last year, my kids started showing interest in clams when I served clam pasta. I love linquine with clams and white wine and parsley and lemon zest. I serve it mothership-style, where my kids think they are just getting plain pasta, but really it is infused with the delicious briny taste of clams and olive oil and all that. So last year, instead of politely ignoring my husband and me as we heaped our "plain" pasta with clams, they started asking for tiny bites of the clams. I would cut off a tiny meaty edge, and they would eat it.
3. Last summer, out to dinner at My Italian Farmhouse, this cheezy but sort of homey and sweet Italian restaurant in NH near my mother's house, where we go at the end of every summer, my kids both tried steamed mussels. And liked them.
4. Over Thanksgiving we had a fried seafood night. When my brother was taking orders and asked if there was anyone who felt fried clams were necessary, and if so did they need the strips or the full belly clams, my mother and I raised her hands and my mother cupped her hands and bellowed out, "Bellies!" When the order arrived, to my utter shock, my 9-year old son -- who doesn't like beans, rice, spaghetti, fish, greens, tomatoes, or really very much of anything -- wanted to try the belly clams. To my further shock, he liked them and wanted more. We ended up fighting over the last few. I was so proud.
Do you see where this is going?
5. Last night my father came to visit. I asked him to pick up some fish at Grand Central Station. (I was going to broil it with bacon wrapped around, so I knew even my non-fish-eating kid wouldn't starve.) My dad arrived with a couple pounds of tilapia, a pot of soft French cheese, and a half-dozen oysters. He knows my husband and I are always ready to down a few oysters.
So I set out a plate of ice, and handed my husband the oyster knife and the bowl of oysters.
This is where things got weird.
"Can I try it? Can I try it? Can I try it?" That's my daughter, 5, the one who won't eat toast or cereal or pb&j or nuts or lentils.
"I want to try it too. I love clams, Mom. Remember? Mom? I ate the clams on Nantucket and the mussels in New Hampshire, right, Mom? I want to try oysters." That's my son, 9, the one who refused cake, pizza and juice when he was two, and survived on PB&J for about 3 straight years.
This breakthrough moment would have been great if this had been one of those holiday meals where my father tends to get a few dozen oysters. But, uh, we each only had two.
"You can try the liquor first," I said. I wasn't taking any chances. My husband and I tipped our shells and let each kid try a sip.
"That tastes just like the ocean," my son enthused. He really said that. "I want more."
By now there was one oyster left. This is where it gets gross. Avert your eyes for a couple sentences if you're squeamish about oysters.
I cut the remaining oyster in half. (I know: euw, but there was only one left.) I gave each kid half, which they slurped out of the shell. They ate them. They each ate a half a fucking oyster. I thought they'd be in college before this happened.
They loved them. They can't wait for New Year's in Boston, when my father has assured them there will be more.
It's working, this whole food acculturation thing. It's really working.