by Caroline

olive pits and rice: the remains of dinner

A friend of mine is currently waiting patiently for the birth of her second son, “due” two days ago but taking his own sweet time to arrive into this world. And her waiting has me thinking about all the ways in which our children never quite do what we expect them to do, when we expect them to do so.

My older son, Ben, is 9 and a half. For the first couple years of his food-eating life, he ate whatever we put in front of him: eggplant caviar. Goat cheese. Pickled daikon. Chard lasagne. And then bit by bit, he started dropping foods from his diet. It didn’t happen when he started school, as many predicted, but it happened obviously enough that I began to think of him as a picky eater. An unusual picky eater, to be sure; he ate chard and pickled things and bitter marmalade, but no melted cheese (hardly any cheese at all), no milk except a bit to wet his cereal, no tomatoes. Birthday parties, with their ubiquitous cheese pizzas, became difficult. Eating out wasn’t so easy, either. And at home, despite our best intentions to keep cooking the foods we like and waiting for the kids to come around, we found ourselves subtly adapting our cooking to our kid’s appetite, or making modular meals of something new (a different kind of green, squash cooked a new way) topping something familiar (rice or pasta). We have fallen into ruts, and then needed to climb out of them. We get excited about new foods and then exhausted by the problem of needing to make dinner every single night.

But this week we’re on vacation. Even though you never get a real vacation from parenting, we’re all feeling relaxed, spending longer over meals, being a little more casual about breakfast for dinner or eating out. Plus, we’re getting excited about planning our summer adventure with friends: ten days in Turkey! Eli is poring over the brochure for the rental house; Ben wonders aloud what might be growing in the garden in August. Tony has wisely researched Turkish restaurants in San Francisco and last night we went to one. After studying the menu a while, Ben asked for an order of olives (marinated in herbs and citrus); we rounded out his dinner by ordering up a buffet of mezze: hummus, muhammara, haydari, falafel and zucchini cakes. We ordered extra pita and a rice pilaf, just in case.

The olives and pita were a hit. Ben picked delicately at the falafel and took a proper bite of zucchini cake. He scowled, but then said he liked the after taste. Not enough to eat more right then, but enough to try it again. We’ve all agreed to eat Turkish food once a month until we go on our big trip, and to try something new each time we do. They may still subsist on pita when we travel, but we’ll try to familiarize them a bit with the (fabulous, delicious) range of options. We had a great conversation over the meal, so even though I think my children really only ate olives, pita, and a bit of rice for dinner, the memory of the meal is a happy one, and — I hope — bodes well for our summer travels.

So, I think, does this: Midway through the meal, Ben pulled the bay leaf out of his olives and ate it. I didn’t notice until afterwards, when he said, “That leaf on the olives is really bitter!”

“That’s a bay leaf, Ben,” I answered, “It flavors the food, but you’re not really meant to eat it.”

“Oh, well, maybe it’ll flavor my water.” And with that, he stuck the bay leaf in his water and drank it down.