Sometimes I think about this phrase, “learning to eat” quite literally: who first learned how to break through all the artichoke plant’s thorny defenses and found the fleshy ends of the leaves, and the sweet, tender heart? How many people became ill from eating rhubarb leaves before someone learned that the stems are the edible part of that plant?
Then I think of the various food combinations that delight me, and I wonder about their origins. Did someone sprinkle salt, instead of sugar, on their caramel by accident one day? Who first thought to pair figs with cheese, and then hit on the particularly transcendent match of fig jam and manchego? Did two people, one nibbling a chocolate bar, one with a jar of peanut butter, really collide, as the old commercial would have it, to discover the happy marriage of chocolate and peanut butter?
Marketing and eating with kids has me think about these questions all the time. Although at dinner we make one meal and sit down together to eat it, at breakfast and lunch I tend just to list a few of the available options and let the kids decide what combination of foods will make the meal. Their palates are different from mine, and also changing much more rapidly, so they need to learn what they like. For awhile this meant Ben’s breakfast was a bowl of yogurt with some graham crackers and sun dried tomatoes on the side. Eli’s lunch today was edamame and yogurt. A little weird, but perfectly nutritious. We don’t really aim for balanced meals around here (except at dinner); we aim for a balanced day.
Today at the market, Ben spied kumquat marmalade; he’s been on a bit of a kumquat kick lately, and loved the marmalade taste he was offered. On the drive home from the market, we talked about ways to incorporate the new jar of marmalade into his lunch, since I wasn’t going to let him just spread jam on bread and call it a meal (a mom I do lunch duty with at Ben’s school goes so far as to call jam on bread “cake.” I’m not that tough, I just suggest my kids eat some carrots on the side). “Peanut butter,” I suggested, “some slices of cheese, veggie bacon…” I was tired, and sort of forgetting the main player in the sandwich. “Veggie bacon!” called Ben from the back seat; “Kumquat marmalade and veggie bacon sandwich!” Well, I thought, maybe this would be the new fig jam and manchego.
The combination of salty and sweet, crunchy and sticky, has some definite appeal. I’m not sure we’re setting a new food trend here, but you won’t know until you try it.