Friday, August 22, 2008
Everybody Eats Lunch review
I remember watching an episode of Jamie Oliver's Great Italian Escape a few months back and being struck by a scene that highlighted how well the Italians educate their children about the wonderful world of food. In the segment, Jamie decides to test the limits of the pint-sized gastronomes food knowledge by pulling out a variety of fresh ingredients from a box to see if they can identify the food. He pulls out item after item -- eggplant, fennel, arugula -- and the kids, without pause, bark back the name of each food. Jamie was impressed and I was too. These kids not only recognized these ingredients, they also enjoyed eating them too. These items were not "exotic" or "strange" but part of everyday life. After this classroom experience, Jamie speculated that the reason why food is so highly revered in Italy is because the children, from a very young age, learn about food as an integral part of their education and well-being.
As a food-lover and a parent, I've attempted to educate my kids' palettes as best I can. While I doubt that I'm succeeding to the extent of the Italians, there's certainly a lot of simple things we parents can do. Regular trips to restaurants, farmer's markets and the grocery are great ways to teach children about the selection, consumption and enjoyment of food. At home, I try to cook a wide variety of dishes using seasonal ingredients drawing from a variety of cuisines. Family dinners with the whole brood seated at the table teach your kids that meals are a great time for conversation and enjoying the company of others (and that the TV isn't a welcome dinner guest). And preparing simple recipes with a child can go a long way towards helping them appreciate food and show them that homemade food isn't that difficult and can taste better than their store-bought or processed counterparts.
So it was with much pleasure that I recently received a copy of Cricket Azima's "Everybody Eats Lunch" (published by Glitterati Inc., 2007). The book is a welcome addition to the small, but growing, catalog of children's books about food and food culture. "Everybody Eats Lunch" features thick, rigid pages perfect for small children and sports a whimsical lunch box shape with handles on top. Content-wise, there's no real narrative (not unusual for children's books). Instead, each page of the book presents a country - Mexico, Japan, Brazil, South Africa and Jamaica - along with a lunch representative of the culture and several easy-to-follow recipes. Young children, in particular, will enjoy the recipe pages which feature colorful puzzle pieces with drawings of the dishes. These puzzle pieces can be pulled from the page (and later returned) to reveal the written recipes beneath. As a side note, I would've liked it if they could have printed the recipe on the back side of the puzzle piece since the puzzle piece was much more compact and almost functions like an index card.
In order to test out the recipes, my daughter and I selected the Japanese lunch which features Onigiri Rice Balls (with Salmon) and Boiled Pumpkin. The recipes were clear and concise and mostly simple enough for a child to make on their own (with some parental assistance and supervision). The boiled pumpkin, for instance, calls for a kabocha squash to be peeled, seeded and cubed. Now I love kabocha squash, but this is one of the more difficult vegetables to skin and cut. Clearly a child would require some parental intervention to safely get past this task. The resulting dish, however, was very delicious and required only a simple braising liquid and about 15 minutes of braising. The rice ball recipe could have also been refined as we found that the version detailed in the book to fell apart too easily. We quickly remedied this by wrapping the entire rice ball in a piece of nori (dried seaweed). We also added a small amount of nori furikake (seasoned seaweed sprinkles) to the fish filling as well. Regardless of these minor nits, the overall experience was enjoyable. My daughter had a blast preparing the food and her little brother was even happier when he was wolfing down one of his big sister's rice balls.
My only real gripe with "Everybody Eats Lunch" is that it begs for more countries and more recipes. With only five countries covered and about one dozen recipes, it leaves the parent wanting a little more. Here's hoping that Azima will followup "Everybody Eats Lunch" with a sequel -- there's certainly sufficient material to warrant several companion volumes.
For more information go to http://www.cookingforengineers.com/article/248/Everybody-Eats-Lunch-by-Cricket-Azima