My girls are not the type to grab the box of cereal and milk, and call it a proper breakfast, even on the school mornings. If my alarm miraculously fails to scream the most obnoxiously repeated sound in my ear at the proper time, I have to go for the emergency cereal box and offer it to them, feeling inadequate and very guilty. But usually I make them omeletes, sunny-side-up eggs accompanied with a half of a grapefruit and some cottage cheese, french toast with raspberry sauce, roasted red peppers sauteed with cream cheese, slow-cooked oatmeal with brown sugar, dried cranberries, and cinnamon, crepes filled with apricot jam or Nutella, sauteed chicken livers, and their favorites, Dutch Babies.
They were not born this way, of course. I managed to create a few monsters out of perfectly normal girls raised in the heartland of America. They could have been just like thousands of their peers who truly enjoy a visit to McDonald’s and always order from the children’s menu in a family restaurant. They would not have looked at me as if I were speaking Swahili when I mentioned Hamburger Helper or Rice-a-Roni. They would not have writen in their first grade class cookbook of favorite meals that they first unwrap the toy, then eat a few fries, and toss the burger away, as my oldest did (not the best literary piece, I know, but it made me smile with pride and stop feeling guilty for not taking her to fast food places more often).
They decided early on that they liked real food, because I fed them real food. I did not buy the jars of baby food. Instead, I mashed my own vegetables, strained soups, blended stews, and cut up everything really tiny, perfectly sized for an army of Liliputians, and they learned to eat everything we ate: spicy food, sauerkraut, prosciutto, moldy cheeses, and even offal.
When we were planning her sixth birthday, Zoe asked if she could have mussels instead of ubiquitous pizza. I dissed the idea as impractical as most of her schoolmates would not have touched the mollusks from a mile away. I compromised with make-your-own pizza party, which the girls loved. Anya’s favorite dish is bouillabaisse, and she dreams of a day she can enjoy it al fresco somewhere in Marseilles, as she describes every detail of that extraordinary culinary experience as if it were happening right now. Nina devoured every morsel of caviar they served on the Volga cruise Father took her to a few summers back, and now eagerly awaits her twenty-first birthday so that she can enjoy the caviar and champagne tasting they offer at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.
My ex-husband was flabbergasted when Nina asked for a platter of steamed crab legs instead of a grilled cheese sandwich and fries, counting the bills in his pocket and calculating the difference. She was only five at the time. None of them would eat the lunch provided by school if they had a choice in the matter. They like the crusty, Tuscan-style bread and ciabbata rolls instead of plain, white, soft bread wrapped in plastic that endures for months on the shelf without changing one bit. (We named it duck bread because we used to feed the ducks with it when we lived in the house on the lake in Ohio.)
They have developed very refined tastes and even though it is hard for me when they whine if I offer Kraft’s Mac&Cheese for lunch (the stash is definitely Husband’s, along with many other extraneous and suspicious looking food products residing in boxes), and only halfheartedly accept a quesadilla when I refuse to whip up a gourmet sandwich much more to their liking, I cannot help but be proud.
My three girls will be able to survive on any continent, in any environment, and they will never have to be hungry because they are afraid to try something new. Their eye might sometimes wonder to the bag of Pepperidge Farm Goldfish, but they know that they will enjoy more the tiny, crispy, flaky pastries or cheesy crackers I make for them occasionally.
To feed them this way costs much less and takes just a tiny bit more time out of my day, which is an investment I am not regretting. They have always been eager to help, and even though it drives me crazy when they take fifteen minutes to peel a potato or cut the onion, I invoke my inner mantra and meditate while they play with food, learning more and more every day.
I know that I am doing it the right way when I spend half an hour guiding my twenty-year-old through preparing Salmon En Papillote utilizing nothing but text messages on iPhone. She knows the elemental things of cooking and I supply the flourishes and details. Too much tomato, not enough lemon, and it really would have tasted better with cheese, she says. I smile, warmed by the sense of accomplishment. She knows what she likes, she is willing to experiment and change, she embraces creativity and refuses to conform. (I still would not add cheese to this dish, though).
I don’t know what I’ll come up with for tomorrow’s breakfast. But this morning they each ate a whole, big Dutch Baby, all golden and puffy, dusted with powdered sugar, soft and yielding, exquisite in its simplicity. They planted big, wet kisses on my cheek before they sauntered off to school, thanking me for the best breakfast ever. And that always gives me more energy and strength than an extra big serving of Turkish coffee that awaits me at the table.
I make one batch, divide it in two and bake one after the other, as I have only one cast iron skillet. If you have two (I envy you!) but you can bake them together.
- 1 cup of milk
- 4 eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- pinch of coarse salt
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 2 tsp butter
- powdered sugar for dusting
Preheat the oven to 500F. Place an 8-inch cast iron skillet in the oven.
Mix together milk, eggs, vanilla, sugar, and salt until combined. Slowly add flour and mix until incorporated and no more lumps show.
Add 1 tsp of butter to the hot pan, pour half of the batter into the hot skillet and bake for 10-15 minutes until puffed-up and golden. Remove the pancake to the plate using a big, flat spatula and dust with powdered sugar.
Repeat the process one more time.