As a fairly small child, sitting in the vestibule outside temple biding time until lunch, I asked my mother about the caste system. To which she answered, “You know, it used to be that if you left India across the ocean, you were out of it all together.” There I was not even in middle school yet, and my mother was basically explaining that my soul was lost. We have a wacky dark streak in our family that stretches back generations.
As unreligious as I was, excommunication from faith was not what struck me. It was the vastness of the ocean. The fact that these people were walking onto boats and later onto TWA planes, hopes in their hearts and scraps of their material lives in their hands. And, for their trouble, they were given basically given a ‘see you later’.
I can only imagine it was eternally freeing—frightening and freeing. In that moment the verboten became delicious. We often joke that it must have been a moment verging on the spiritual awakening when my bad-Hindu father tasted his first bacon double cheeseburger.
My girls, Maybelle and Lily, are heirs to a rich heritage of those who quit faraway homes, picking and choosing what food tastes to keep and what to chuck. An accent-lilting Indian grandmother often makes them home food for dinner but then takes them out for grass-fed burgers. On their father’s side, they are descendents of the hard-scramble mountainous spine of Italy. Their great-grandfather’s whole town left Italia because they had apparently lost their taste for rock farming.
But, here is the where the math starts just muddy. If it were only some Lamarkian genetic food memory that exercised its powers on the taste-buds, my children would want Indian food ½ the time. Anyone who has fed children knows that they are capricious little beasts, who demand food that is at moments banally monotonous and at others perplexingly new. My first came out loving beans, and my second seems to think cauliflower is the bee’s knees. I like both, but the fist-pumping strength of their desires to eat these foods every night of the week seems amazing. Where did these loves come from?
In my short parenting history, I have learned just a smidge about feeding little ones:
*Fuel, engage in, and cultivate their healthy food desires (We grew eight kinds of beans from seed this year.)
*Introduce foods that you love—and then don’t be broken hearted when they don’t share your tastes.
*Let them help you cook. Have them help you cook. (These two are different.)
*If you blog, have them help with picking the menu, plates, etc. Talk about your pictures. Let them take pictures. (Even at three and a half, Belle helps with this.
*Make some foods over and over. Kids like routine.
*Play lots of dance music while you are cooking. (This is the equivalent of a Julia’s glass of wine while you cook with the toddler set.)
*And, the last bit of advice, mix it up. Don’t assume they won’t eat something because it is new.
One day a few months ago, my mother got it in her head that she would make shevai (sounds like if you say Chevy said with a cross between a southern twang and a French nasal). She served those noodles up without even worry if the girls wouldn’t like them.
Shevai are rice noodles from south India eaten by many ethnicities including my own Konkani people. The process is fairly simple. Soak rice until the grains are sopping and translucent (overnight), grind with water or coconut milk, steam into a gelatinous mass, and then extrude through a press.
The difficulty rating on this dish, for me, occurs because of the extruding. Think of it as the equivalent of pushing drying cement through a tea strainer. Making shevai always conjures images in my mind of my aunts and grandmother finishing making shevai, arms flexed in the air a la Rosie the Riveter. For your labor, you are not only the owner of gorgeous guns but also pillowy soft, toothy threads of noodle. These turned out to be a fan favorite at home, though the name was quickly changed by Belle to be called shimmy. As the cheeky mother than I am, I have also taught her the accompanying dance. Traditionally, they can be eaten with Indian pickle or with a sweet jaggery and coconut sauce.
But, traditional is a word I have always only understood ever so tenuously. We serve our shevai with an Italian inspired tomato sauce so delicious you will want to lick the pan. This sauce was inspired by one that my Belle makes with her dad from the Silver Spoon for Children. The secret is a little bit of brown sugar. And isn’t shevai just a gluten free Asian angel hair pasta? And what’s better than spaghetti and sauce for breakfast even if it took a wide detour through India? (Or maybe because of that detour.)
In the end, who we are, and by extension, what we love to eat, is the result of such perplexing alchemical processes, it’s probably not be worth doing the calculations. It does have something to do with the magic of being born into a family who nurtures you. So, if someday my girls venture off on their own across a wide ocean, if they leave me and my cooking behind, what of our kitchen will they take comfort in? Let’s not do the math.
My first entry for the Project Food Blog should exemplify my blog: good writing, global food, and family.
I am also sending this onto the Hearth and Soul Blog Hop hosted by A Moderate Life,
girlichef, Hunger and Thirst, and Frugality and Crunchiness with Christy
Balsamic Curry Leaf Tomato Sauces
Bell Pepper Quick Indian Pickle (Achaar)
Spicy Orange Achaar