Tag Archives: cheese

My Kids May Be Turning Into Food Snobs

My four-year-old daughter Brontë’s favorite meal is pesto pasta, which she calls “green pasta.” She’s usually thrilled whenever she finds out we’re having it, but the last couple of times haven’t been up to par.

My husband John makes a great pesto sauce using fresh basil leaves, aged parmesan, and toasted pine nuts, but he tried to save time one night by using pre-grated cheese.

Brontë noticed, and it dimmed her enthusiasm quite a bit. “How do you like your pasta?” we asked her.

“Umm, it’s… good,” she said, looking sideways.

At least she ate it. Last night, John tried to save even more time by using a pre-made pesto sauce from Nugget. Brontë took one bite, quietly set her fork down, and asked to be excused.

We only have ourselves to blame, creating this monster by giving her fantastic cheeses since before she had teeth. My kids were raised on Manchego and aged Dubliner Cheddar. Whenever I can’t find the good block of Parmesan, I start hunting through my kids’ hiding places until I find it, chewed down to the rind.

They poach fine cheeses from the fridge all the time, and while I’m proud they can handle the strong flavors, I’m also getting frustrated by how high-maintenance they’ve become.

They won’t eat string cheese, for example. One time, I handed Bridget a stick, after she’d been begging for cheese, and she took one bite before throwing it on the floor and having a complete meltdown.

I guess she had a “cheese fit,” if there is such a thing.

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Bridget’s Epic Cheese Fit

But something about pesto indignation really put things into perspective, maybe because it reminded me how excited I was, years ago, when Trader Joe’s finally started offering decent pesto sauce.

I have to warn you that what I’m about to say is going to sound really old fart, but back when I was a kid, you couldn’t get your hands on good pesto for love or money.

Kids today don’t know how good they have it, with their easily-obtainable Arabica coffee beans and quality pesto. Say what you will about the market saturation of Starbucks, but at least they brought good coffee to the masses. When I was little, if you wanted anything better than the kind of swill that tastes like it’s been sitting in some gas station’s drip coffee machine all day, you had to special order it.

I travelled through Europe some while growing up, which was great, except it turned me onto a bunch of good food I couldn’t find anywhere in the US.

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A veritable Nutella nivana

Like decent coffee or Nutella. Nutella absolutely rocked my kid world (spreadable CHOCOLATE? Were they serious!?), but we didn’t carry it over here. I just had to choke down my strawberry Pop-tart, shut up, and try to be grateful for access to peanut butter.

And then there was pesto.

After experiencing the wonders of pesto pasta in southern Italy, I became obsessed with finding more after returning home. But that was tough, because any pesto you could actually find tasted like crap. Weirdly bitter and garlicky. They always replaced the olive oil and pine nuts with canola and walnuts.

Trader Joes’ pre-made pesto seemed like the first halfway-edible stuff I came across until the great pesto revolution of the mid-nineties, when Americans everywhere suddenly decided pesto was a great idea.

It’s not just pesto… you can get diverse and complicated foodstuffs from across the world in every run-of-the-mill grocery store these days, even Marmite (if you like that sort of thing). I remember when this stuff was regional, being horrified when my first husband (who was from Virginia) brought home a jar of Pace picante sauce one night.

“NOOOOOOO!” I told him. “You get salsa from the clear tubs at the deli!” He looked at me, completely baffled (“The what?”). Poor guy was from Virginia, after all. He found it hysterical when I mixed brown sugar into grits.

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Grits, or Cream of Wheat?

Whatever… it looked like Cream of Wheat.

Say what you will about the threats of globalization, but at least we’re now getting our hands on lots of good food. The jarred salsa incident pales in comparison, for example, to the great tortilla fiasco my parents experienced in the 1970’s.

Before I was born, my father was stationed for a while at a naval base in Gulfport, Mississippi. The food was excellent, if you like cornbread and crawdads, but being Californians, my folks had a hankering for Mexican food that simply would not be denied.

It grew and grew until they finally set out on an epic taco quest. Problem was, they couldn’t find any tortillas.

They looked and looked, and finally, found some one day.

They were canned.

Canned, you may be thinking… What on earth do canned tortillas even taste like? 

Well, according to my dad, they’re horrible. Or in his words, “You’re probably better off  nailing them to the soles of your shoes than eating them.”

Unable to get a decent taco before returning to California, I’m sure my folks think my generation is packed with insufferable foodies, with our caramelized onion cheeses and almond milk. We grew up with cafe latte’s on every corner, after all, wondering whether or not our oils were cold-pressed. They probably shake their heads at us the same way I do when my toddlers stare at mac & cheese like it’s going to crawl over and bite them.

And my parents’ generation probably seemed just as snotty to their predecessors. I’ll never forget the time my great grandmother, who grew up during the Depression, pulled a huge tub of expired cottage cheese out of her refrigerator.

Staring down the cheese tub raw determination, she popped off the tub and gave it a good sniff.

Then she scooped out a big mound with a giant silver spoon and bit it with true ferocity. She blinked a couple of times before attacking it again.

She kept at it until she had finally finished the entire tub and shivered. “I’m glad that’s over,” she told us. “It tingled a bit going down.”

 

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Diet Cheese Drama

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The Agony of Tasting Lite Cheese

 

 

We accidentally bought the “lite” Babybel cheese and I guess Bridget noticed.

We didn’t mean to. Ours is not a house of low-fat cheese. Or low-fat anything, for that matter.

I didn’t notice it until Brontë dug it out of the fridge and handed it to me. “Open for me, mommy?” she asked. “One for me and one for sister.”

“Okay,” I replied, while snipping into the blue mesh bag. I figured I’d grab a couple of mini cheese circles and start the red wax strip for them. That’s when I noticed it was “lite.”

Ah well, I figured I’d try to slip it past them…

The kids pulled off the rest of the wax and each took a bite.

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There is no oppression like toddler oppression

Brontë gave a thousand-yard stare for a moment before politely setting down her cheese circle and leaving the table.

Bridget, on the other hand, got a crazed look in her eye before EATING the red wax in protest then slamming her filthy lying chunk of diet cheese to the ground. She jumped off her chair and started doing what I could only assume was an interpretive dance about the horrors of cheese oppression.

My kids LOVE good cheese and pilfer it all the time. They go on cheese bingers and hide the evidence all over the house. They know EXACTLY what good cheese is supposed to taste like and this clearly wasn’t it.

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I TRUSTED you!

 

 

The Most Shoplifted Item In the World

What do you think is the most stolen item in the world?

Jewelry? It’s valuable and seems easy to conceal…

Booze? It’s available all over and some folks are desperate for it…

Gold bars? Okay, maybe I watch too many pirate and bank heist movies.

Well, if you thought it was any of these things, you were wrong. The most shoplifted item in the entire world is:

cheeses.jpgCHEESE

While it seems to me that you could get your hands on more cheese with a gold bar in your pocket (stop it with the pirates already), it otherwise makes a lot of sense. My love of cheese is well-documented, and apparently, I’m not alone.

People are so desperate for the tangy goodness of cheese, they are willing to lie, cheat, and steal for it. Plus, it’s probably easier to conceal than roasted chicken.

I guess the great anti-dairy movement hasn’t been as successful as its advocates would like. Maybe it’s the “got milk” ads, but frankly, I’m surprised cheese needs any marketing. It’s incredibly delicious.

Now kale promotion, I get. Kale tastes horrible.

I keep reading about how fantastic kale is for you, how it will turn back the clock and do your laundry for you. People say it’s delicious, but I keep buying these so-called delicious kale chips then staring at them like they’re fried cockroaches.

I can only eat kale in morning smoothies because you can’t tell it’s there. I’m suspicious of the idea that Mother Nature intended us to eat kale anyway. Why would it taste so awful to us, if she did?

Cheese, on the other hand, tastes like the feet of angels.

And I’m not sure why everyone is claiming lactose intolerance all of a sudden. Yes, I get that some people are legitimately lactose intolerant… their bellies make it obvious. It especially makes sense in Asian populations because dairy hasn’t historically been part of the Asian diet, so lactose-intolerance wouldn’t have been weeded out of the gene pool.

But Europeans? We’ve been eating the stuff for thousands of years. It may even have cancer-fighting properties.

Still, we’ve been hit with much anti-dairy propaganda of late. A lot of cheese opponents, for example, like to point out that we’re the only animals that drink milk past infancy and harvest the milk of another species.

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True enough, but we’re also the only animal that drives, uses air-conditioning and practices modern dentistry.

I bet plenty of other animals would eat cheese too if they could just figure out how to milk cows. It would probably be a high priority item, right after toilet paper.

And it’s tasty enough that people want to steal it more often than anything else.

Maybe organized crime should be expanding into dairy ventures. We could have cheese pirates, or a cheese mafia. They could specialize in aged vs soft cheeses to avoid a full-blown turf war.

I think I may have a business proposal.

 

 

 

My Cheese-Loving Kids Learn to Work the Fridge, With Disastrous Results

LOOK WHAT I CAN DO!
This is my happy place

Uh oh… Came back to the kitchen and Bridget was rifling through the fridge. Again.

She had already eaten a bunch of honeydew melon, squeeze fruit pockets, a bottle of milk, and two bags of parsnip chips. But apparently, that was just her “warm-up.”

Hungriest baby ever. Wow, does that kid love to eat.

Normally, Bridget is all smiles and cuddles, but give her a couple of hours without food and she starts scratching, kicking and grabbing matches, saying: “Gimme some milk or I swear I will BURN THIS ENTIRE MOTHER TO THE GROUND. TO THE GROUND!!!”

Okay… I may have made that last part up, but it’s tough to adequately capture this one-year-old’s ferocity whenever she’s hungry. The look in her eyes alone tells me she would definitely be threatening to burn the house down if she had enough mastery of the English language to do so.

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Every time I turn my back, Bridget the Power-Eater beelines straight to the fridge, busts right past the child-lock without breaking step, and starts rifling through the drawers. I have to drag her away, screaming, as shredded cheese falls out of her mouth  and her little hands flail around, trying to grab a cup of yogurt on her way out.

I know what you’re thinking: if that kid is so hungry, she must not be getting enough to eat.

But folks, you have no idea what an angry, bottomless pit this child’s appetite truly is.

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Greetings from Pasta Town

I literally clean out our cabinets by piling food on Bridget’s tray, trying to find out how much it would take to finally leave her FULL.

She easily eats three times as much as her big sister, who is no slouch herself. Brontë can pop that fridge lock right open and empty the cheese drawer in about 30 seconds, easy. She was probably the one who showed Bridget how to do it.

I find cheese all over the house, all the time. My daughters are obsessed with the stuff.

They are not only obsessed, but are turning into little cheese snobs. While I was upstairs, last week, Brontë dug into the fridge and ate half a block of aged Parmesan. We keep buying string cheese sticks for the girls to snack on, but they usually turn them down in favor  of aged gouda, mizithra, and feta. They’ll only eat mild, inoffensive mozzarella in a pinch.

I find myself torn between being proud of their good taste and getting tired of all the good cheese disappearing. I may have to start hiding it.

I found grated cheese in my bed when I went to sleep last night and today I found a half-eaten block of smoked mozzarella, some gnawed-on Gouda, and an empty bag of grated sharp cheddar. Apparently, Brontë has been on a cheese binger and was attempting to hide the evidence.

At least Brontë’s binging is mainly cheese-centric. Bridget’s intake, on the other hand, is so astonishing that I finally asked the pediatrician if she was alright. He reassured me that she looks perfectly healthy, just unusually strong and hungry. She’s also quite tall for her age.

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Was that it? I thought this was just a warm-up

So… the quest to feed Bridget enough has been an ongoing saga at our house. Last night, we gave her an adult-sized Mizithra Cheese and Browned Butter spaghetti meal from The Old Spaghetti factory. She polished off the entire thing, no problem, and couldn’t have been happier…

Until she realized all the food was gone.  We’d been spooning more and more onto her plate as she polished it off, thinking “surely she won’t eat an entire adult portion,” until I finally had to start dipping into mine.

Once Bridget realized no more food was forthcoming, she started to wail and scream. We wiped her off and set her down, where she began rolling and kicking and flailing in a mad baby rage.

Infuriated that her protests didn’t result in more pasta, she stood up and stomped across the room. Grabbing a heavy end table with a marble top, she flipped it over like it was nothing and started laughing, apparently having worked off her Cheese Anger.

I had a future flash of her with a couple of blonde braids and furry boots, swinging a two-handed ax as she screams.

I’m a little scared, I’ll admit. That table was HEAVY.

 

 

My Daughter Conducts Grilled Cheese Mining Operations

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My sandwich is empty.

My daughter Brontë demands a fork with her grilled cheese sandwiches. She uses it to eat the inside oval only before shouting “done!” and leaving the table.

She also likes to eat the insides out of quesadillas, tossing their wilted tortilla shells aside, and peels cheese off pizza slices, discarding everything else into a jumbled pizza puzzle pile. She may believe meals are mostly composed of cheese, along with a colorful assortment of throwaway garnishes.

Her daily food habits suggest as much. She starts of with ample helpings of yogurt and milk, working into a cheese-related lunch and dinner, punctuated with ample cheese stick snacks in between. We had to cut her off milk after breakfast because of of her tendency to fill up on it and eat nothing else.

Opening my fridge, I realize where she gets it: I see cow’s milk, goat’s milk, cottage cheese, yogurt, sour cream, creme fraiche, butter, and no less than seven different types of cheese. Ours is a house of extreme dairy tolerance. No major variety of milk product is missing.

My daughter’s nonstop dairy binge doesn’t seem to cause her any suffering, however, despite the bad rap that milk has been getting lately. I’m guessing this is because while most of the world’s population is lactose intolerant, it varies a lot across ethnic backgrounds. For example, over 90 % of Asians are lactose intolerant, whereas about 82 % of Northern Europeans have a genetic mutation called “lactase persistence,” meaning they retain the ability to digest lactase into adulthood. 

Fun fact: the Irish are the most lactose tolerant population of all. Bring on the Irish Cheddar.

Why such a vast range of dairy reactions? I’m guessing it’s a case of evolutionary pruning… Asians haven’t traditionally relied on dairy products to meet their calcium needs, so being unable to digest them wasn’t a problem.

Europeans, on the other hand, have been cheesemongers for 7500 years. Ancient Egyptians, and even Sumerians, experimented with cheesemaking, but the milder European climate made preservation easier. Cheese provides Vitamin D (helpful in less sunny climates) as well as being a high-calorie food that doesn’t rot quickly (helpful during periods of food scarcity). So an exploding, lactose intolerant, belly would be a serious disadvantage throughout many centuries of glorious European cheese binging.

Which brings us to today’s dairy-loaded lifestyle. Cheese probably provides far fewer advantages than it used to. We no longer live in a scarce sun environment (despite my aggressive use of sunscreen), we have plenty of other calories around, and our country’s insistence on pasteurizing dairy turns our probiotic-rich cheese supply into nothing more than calcium-laced fat.

Still, it’s nice to have the option. When Brontë mines her food for its cheesy delights, she is honoring millennia of her ancestors’ culinary tastes. And also wasting a lot of damn food.

Her little sister Bridget is also exhibiting some bizarre food quirks. She likes to bounce her apple a few times before eating it. I think she wants to be sure it’s dead. 

Brontë Continues Her Food Mining Operations; Carrots Threaten to Topple John’s Workplace Authority

Bunnies make terrible managers.
Bunnies make terrible managers.

Whenever I make Brontë a quesadilla for lunch, she expertly removes every trace of cheese, leaving a tortilla husk. Can’t quite bring myself to serve her a plate of melted cheese, though it would save us both some time. She views the tortilla as a wrapper for cheese, much as she views a croissant as a visually-appealing wrapper for melted chocolate.

In related news, my husband just said he is not going to buy another bag of baby carrots at the store tonight because it might give him a fart attack.

In his ongoing battle to shed his (food) baby weight, he is trying to bring healthier snacks to work. Cubicle life is rough for healthy eating. People constantly bring in doughnuts, brownies, and assorted homemade treats. Office buildings don’t tend to be well ventilated, so the appealing scents of sugar-laden foodstuffs tend to swarm the dreary scene like floaty cartoon demons beckoning you to savor naughty goods.

Even if you can resist the appeal, there is still a lot of social pressure to participate. Not eating with every one else can make you look like less of a team player. I think it’s tribal. For example, at my last state job (before I quit to stay home with the kiddos), we had a weekly meeting that always involved a giant box of doughnuts that would be passed around the circle until it was emptied. I got a lot of crap from my coworkers for only eating ONE doughnut.

I had taken the one doughnut partly so I wouldn’t look like the uptight girl on a diet that was  probably secretly judging everyone and possibly had an eating disorder and likely shouldn’t be entrusted with any valuable projects. When the box made the rounds a second time, I quietly passed it to my neighbor when the guy who had been talking about software updates (I was in IT) suddenly stopped and said, “That’s all you’re gonna eat?”

Everyone stopped an stared at me as I shuffled around, trying to come up with excuses for not eating more doughnuts. “Yeah,” I said, “I’m trying to eat a little healthier.”

A couple coworkers rolled their eyes as someone else piped up with “But you’re not fat!” I shuffled around uncomfortably, wondering why I had to make excuses for not eating multiple pastries and wanting to shout out, “But I WILL get fat if I eat a bunch of doughnuts all the time!” I couldn’t say that, though, because then it looks like I’m shaming everyone else for eating doughnuts and I could give a crap how many doughnuts anyone else eats. I just didn’t want to outgrow my clothes and would rather spend my forbidden food points on stuff like beer, cheese and pizza than a bunch of pastries.

It didn’t end there. Yet another coworker started in with, “She never eats the brownies or cookies.” See, you know how people tend to bring big platters of brownies or cookies to work and leave them out for everyone to share? People like to put those on my desk, and I don’t tend to eat them. I guess people noticed.

“Well,” I explained, “I don’t really have much of a sweet tooth. I’m more into fatty stuff like nachos and cheese.” My coworkers considered this for a moment, decided it was an acceptable response, and went back to discussing software updates. Whew!

When I walked to my cubicle the next morning, guess what was sitting on my desk? A giant platter of nachos and cheese, hand-delivered by the but-you’re-not-fat coworker. It was very sweet of him, but also a little bizarre. I’m not underweight, so why did my coworkers believe  it was so critical that I get more to eat? Sigh… I picked at the nachos all day to reassure my coworkers that I didn’t have an eating disorder and business as usual resumed.

Back to John’s office. He has no problem convincing his coworkers that he wants to partake in the culinary bounty and they find him rather amusing. He will swoop by, again and again, to shave off another sliver of cake or discuss the new servers while swiping yet another brownie from the platter. Someone regularly brings in something called “Señorita Bread,” that John finds absolutely irresistible. “I can’t stop eating it!” he will report, “It’s some ind of cornbread made with honey and butter and cinnamon and, I don’t know… it’s crazy good. I ate about half of it today. I need to get the recipe from them so you can try it!”

Why would I want that recipe!? Lost the baby weight so I can… leave butter-soaked honey bread around the house? “Nah, I’m good,” I tell him as he rolls his eyes at me.

Sheesh. So, John has recently hit his threshold/rock bottom lately, which for him is the point where he has to either cut back or buy the next belt size up. In order to better combat workplace food peril, he tries to bring healthier snacks to keep himself full. He likes baby carrots. He will buy bags of them and munch on them all day at work. I keep advising him to pair his carrots with some hummus or other dipping sauce that includes some fat and protein (to keep him better satiated), but he’s tired of my nagging and stomps out the door each morning with his bare carrots as if to tell me I can keep my damn hummus because a real man eats his carrots naked.

He loves his carrots, but there’s one problem: they give him a ridiculous amount of gas. He has come home from a carrot binge and repeatedly been angrily sent to the other end of the house until his insides calm down.

This has led to a couple embarrassing incidents at work. One time, he was listening to his iPod when another coworker started a conversation with him. John felt a fart about to escape but figured it was going to be quiet, so he slowly let it go… He fumbled to turn off his music as he was talking and suddenly heard the thunderous sounds of his bowels vibrating through conversation. His coworker waited till it was over, then resumed conversation as though nothing had happened.

Another time, John got to work early and saw that his cubicle patch was empty. Good time to let one rip, he thought, and released a long, slow fart. Just then, a coworker popped her head up from her desk (apparently, she had been digging into a bottom drawer) and said, “good morning!” Not the best way to start your workday.

I’m impressed that everyone at John’s work can keep such straight faces and play off farts so expertly. I’m positive that if a coworker of mine accidentally ripped one, I would be in absolute hysterics. I would be wiping tears off my face and trying not to point.

At any rate, the carrot fart situation does not appear to be improving and John is at a loss about what to do. I think his body will eventually calm down as it adjusts to a higher amount of fiber, but he (reasonably) is not sure he can withstand the adjustment period. It’s hard to maintain your authority at work when your butt says more than you do.

In the meantime, Brontë is feasting on melted cheese, Bridget is eating everything that isn’t nailed down, and John is trying his best not to blow the house up.

Babies and Croissants; Extracting Chocolate and Cheese

Not eaten so much as mined.
Not eaten so much as mined.

This is a photo of my daughter’s breakfast remains. I gave her a chocolate croissant for a special treat, and she immediately dug a hole into its side and slurped the chocolate out, leaving behind its bready shell. After that, she put a fingertip dot of chocolate on each cheek, in what I can only imagine represents an attempt at toddler cosmetics, then cheerfully announced, “Done!”

It’s strange, because you wouldn’t think children would find bready croissant bits gastronomically unacceptable. Yet this is completely in line with many of her food habits. Confronted with pizza, she will quickly strip the melted cheese off every piece and assume the crusts are garnish. She will suck the chocolate off chocolate-covered raisins and spit the raisin pits on the floor. She is very talented at removing all traces of Shake-n-Bake from pork chops without ingesting any actual protein.

Maybe this is how we would all eat if we just didn’t give a crap. Toddlers, after all, know absolutely nothing about nutrition and don’t concern themselves with maintaining nice figures. They aren’t worried about wasting food, since they don’t pay for it and it always magically reappears. They don’t yet have enough foresight to worry if they will be hungry in a couple hours. So really, they are just following their natural appetites with consequence-free abandon in the random smorgasbord of life.

I guess I don’t entirely blame her. Truth be known, a sheer sense of obligation makes me eat the vegetables in honey-walnut prawn take-out dishes. All I really want is fried shrimp and candied walnuts.

Still, it’s hard for me to believe that the same kid who used to eat handfuls of toilet paper and sneak swigs of toothpaste is now rejecting pastries and pizza crust.