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Fit for the pickiest eater

I love my grandson dearly but I can’t bear to cook for him.

The way I see it, every meal could use a jolt of flavour from at least one of the following: anchovies, avocadoes, mushrooms, pesto, olives, onions, assertive cheese, fresh herbs (bring on the cilantro!), green veg (the more pungent, the better) and a generous quantity of garlic. Colsen, age 12, will eat nothing on my hit parade.

My grandson disdains all vegetables except baby spinach and those overpriced bags of so-called “baby” carrots (which every grownup knows are just big carrots, adorably cut). His salad dressing must be ranch, his chicken breast plain. And as you’ve no doubt guessed by now, his baby carrots go untouched if they bear the slightest taint of, say, olive paste.

In spite of myself, I have a grudging sympathy with Colsen’s gastronomic peccadilloes. The one thing kids can control is what they allow in their mouths. They can’t decide where they live, how late they get to stay up or whether their family should adopt a new puppy. Their best friend can move away, their parents can divorce, and all they can do is suck it up. But Brussels sprouts? Spaghetti puttanesca? Some indignities a kid doesn’t have to accept.

When I was small, I used to up my nose at “mixtures” (no lasagna, no corned beef hash, no stroganoffs or pot pies). I had a horror of mushrooms because a poisonous one had killed Babar‘s mother. And I was a softie compared to my sister Joyce, who had reduced the culinary universe to three acceptable foods: nuts, grapes and chicken wings.

“We’d love to come to lunch,” our mother would trill to assorted well-meaning relatives. “But I must warn you, Joyce has very particular tastes…Yes, that’s right, only the wings will do, although I’m sure your roast chicken is delicious….Well, at least they’re the least expensive part of the bird!…And you don’t have to dress them up for Joyce. She won’t eat sauce of any kind. Really, what could be simpler?”

No one remembered the part about the sauce. “But everyone loves my sweet and sour wings!” the hostess would insist. Meanwhile Joyce sat kicking the legs of her chair. Not even the nuts and grapes passed muster until fresh ones arrived on a pristine plate.

You can try to nudge a finicky eater. You can make make jet-plane sounds while waving a spoonful of broccoli like a crazed and talentless clown. You can threaten that unless you see progress with the stir-fry, a chocolate chunk cookie will remain on the highest shelf, to be saved for your personal pleasure. You can deliver a lecture on the benefits of fiber and anti-oxidants. In my experience, none of this works. So the last time Colsen came to dinner, I had a wild idea. I’d cook something all of us would enjoy.

I chose a pasta sauce with three ingredients–butter, water, crumbled sweet Italian sausage and grated parmesan cheese. Not cardiologically correct, but dead easy. And delicious in a robust, uncomplicated fashion. Colsen cleaned his plate. For the first time ever, he pronounced my cooking “really good.”

The other night as the temperature plunged, I got a craving for fusilli with sausage. Why wait for Colsen’s next visit? I basked in the heady aromas while the pasta boiled and the sausage steeped in its buttery juices (hey, I never said this dish was easy on the arteries). “Almost ready!” I called to my husband. “Better open a sturdy wine for this!” All I had to do was assemble my creation in my biggest Pyrex bowl, which I’d just heated in the microwave. In went the noodles, a golden tumble. Then the sauce that I’d tenderly simmered…CRACK! Shards of Pyrex all over the countertop, splattered with crumbs of sausage. My precious juices a greasy puddle.

That night we ordered pizza with onions, oyster mushrooms and goat cheese. And a splendid pizza it was. Colsen wouldn’t have touched it.

My recipe for pasta with sausage sauce comes from Mark Bittman’s reliably wise kitchen reference How to Cook Everything (the revised edition, published last year). If I had to make do with only one cookbook, I’d choose this one, no contest.


Posted by Rona

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