The city of intrepid palates
Intensive training in anthropology and ethnographic methods has taught me the delicate art of participant observation, and, because it’s a shame to let these things atrophy, I feel compelled to exercise my skills every now and then, or constantly. I’m the one in the grocery check-out line who’s fervently studying the contents of your cart, the one quietly noting behavior on the bus. Most recently, using my best eavesdropping and staring skills, I’ve compiled an informal and quite accidental study, and the results are promising indeed. With a sample size of two and no further delay, I’m happy to announce, dear Seattle, that your children are of unrivaled sophistication. They’re very significant, statistically.
For example, I recently overheard the following conversation between a little girl and a man in the produce department of Whole Foods:
Man: “What kind of apples do you want?”
Girl: “Chocolate apples!”
Man: “I don’t think they have that kind….”
This is a child of unparalleled vision. And thank heavens, because this is just the sort of leader we need in these sorry times. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait a few years and hope, in the meantime, that she’s not quashed by bland and tiresome adults, such as the inferior specimen accompanying her.
On Sunday night, I had the pleasure of dining with another model of refinement, a towheaded fifteen-month-old named Eero, the son of my friends Jenny and Thomas. When he’s not having his diaper changed or toddling around with a book in his fists, Eero is putting away spoonfuls of plain yogurt and mounds of roasted broccoli, raw red peppers, mangoes, and persimmons. He loves to drink fizzy water from his mother’s (glass!) cup, and he even springs for raw fennel, so long as he can take it like a little bird—standing in the kitchen, flapping his arms, stamping his feet with impatience, and opening his mouth wide.
Sunday night was no exception. While Jenny and I bustled around their cozy kitchen, putting the finishing touches on a homemade galette des rois,* whisking béchamel and whipping egg whites for a pumpkin-and-goat-cheese soufflé, shaving fennel for a salad, and chatting, Eero played with a head of radicchio and the bowl of the food processor. One should never underestimate the importance of being comfortable in the kitchen from an early age.
While the soufflé did its mysterious work in the oven, we sat down for a quick sip of white wine around a gorgeous hors d’oeuvre platter Jenny had improvised before my arrival.
It was stunning: two peppery hunks of salmon, caught and smoked by one of Thomas’s brothers; a pile of thinly shaved apple; a smattering of pomegranate seeds and slices of scallion; and a small bowl containing an ingenious mixture of mayonnaise, walnut oil, minced scallion, and pomegranate molasses. Listening for the oven timer, we cut thick slices from a crusty loaf of bread and piled them high with salmon, fruit, scallions, and the nutty, punchy mayonnaise. At one corner of the table, chunks of salmon and bread disappeared at an alarming rate into Eero’s little body. And he wasn’t finished. In the half-hour that followed, he got himself around two and a half servings of pumpkin soufflé and some plain yogurt topped with apple butter. I stared shamelessly. After all, as a kid, I was no Eero.
I’ve not yet determined what one must do to produce this sort of “intrepid palate,” as Jenny calls it. Perhaps there’s something in the Seattle city water supply? Or a strategic coital position? Further studies and staring will be necessary. But when my time comes, I’m aiming high. I’m aiming for chocolate apples. I’m aiming for Eero.
*Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets strikes again!