We all had a lot of adjusting to do. Some of it was easy. The Veterinarian covered fixing breakfast for her every morning at the ungodly hour of 6 am, an hour when I’m not sure who I am, much less where the kitchen is located. Our long-awaited princess would wake up to his special omelets or French toast or garnished oatmeal. None of that oatmeal out of an envelope. This stuff was cooked and sweetened and spiced and bathed in warm milk. I don’t think he ever prepared himself for one of our “date nights” as well as he prepared breakfast for her. My responsibilities included lunch, dinner, laundry, and chauffeur, the same things I’d been doing for him for 27 years.
In the beginning, the kid never grumbled about the food she was served, once we weaned her from chicken nuggets, which we did immediately. She loved to try new foods. A week after her arrival, we traveled with her to New Orleans on a business trip, where she told the waiter at Commander’s Palace that the Parmesan cheese being grated, tableside, onto her salad smelled like “throw up.” Being N’Awlins, the waiter laughed and said, “It sure does, honey.” She scarfed it down. A month later, we knew we were in BIG trouble when we took her to the Cheesecake Factory, and she told the waiter, “I’ll have the grilled chicken Caesar with freshly grated Parmesan, please.”
We persevered in introducing her to new foods.
“Do you eat fish?”
“Uh-huh,” she shook her blond head up and down, blue eyes peering out of her little wire-rimmed glasses. She bore an uncanny resemblance to Felicity, the American Girl doll, with her dimpled arms and cheeks.
“Do you like fresh salmon? It’s not like that stuff in a can. I’m going to coat it with sugar and sauté it in a hot skillet. You’ll like it.”
Her head bobbed.
She was more than willing to eat caramelized salmon, asparagus in nutmeg butter, and herbed rice with toasted pine nuts. I thought I was a genius. Surely, there were few households with an 8-year old eating gourmet cuisine.
At Christmas that year, our family was invited to a “casual-chic” Christmas party at the swanky home of some benevolent friends. She was introduced to the host’s little nephew, and the two trotted off into the big house, while we headed to greet the roast pig that was lounging on the dining room table. About 20 minutes later, one of the guests came up to us.
“Are you with the little blond girl with the glasses?”
“Uh, yes,” The Veterinarian and I looked at each other in panic.
“I’ve never seen a child that young eat so many raw oysters. How’d you get her to eat them?”
“She’s eating raw oysters?”
“She and a little boy are on the deck slurping them down as fast as they’re shucked. It’s pretty funny, actually.”
We hurried outside to find her surrounded by a crowd of amused adults, poking at shellfish on a gas grill. In 20 minutes without us, our host had taught her to eat raw oysters and steam mussels on the grill.
“These are really good,” she giggled.
“How many have you eaten?” Pictures of partially digested shellfish reappearing on the backseat of our car swam before my eyes. She shrugged. “Ok, kiddo, let’s go have some potatoes or bread. How about some bread? Lots and lots of bread.”
As the months passed, she started to exhibit food preferences. Food she was willing to eat when she came to live with us was suddenly unacceptable. In the spring of her first year with us, her school’s PTA solicited favorite family recipes. Thinking I was the Best Mother Ever, I dutifully contributed our family’s favorite meal, caramelized salmon, asparagus with nutmeg butter, and herbed rice with toasted pine nuts.
“Ha! No pasta salad recipe from this family,” I smugly typed up my contributions. No boring cereal-based snack mix. No crescent roll-wrapped wienie chunks. No sirree. We might be older than any of the other parents, but with age comes knowledge and sophistication, the kind of sophistication that can be useful to a child. I’ll show you how to parent, you snarky people. You won’t make room for my kid in your scout troop? (“Your daughter should have started in first grade,” I was told, “because our troops don’t have any room for newcomers. Maybe you should start your own troop.”) Ha! We don’t need your stupid scouts and your stupid cookies and dorky crafts. Our kid plays the cello and eats fish that isn’t chopped up into “stix.”
In September, the family cookbooks were distributed and came home in The Daughter’s backpack.
“Oh, look,” I squealed like a — like a — well, like a little pig, “here’s our recipe!” The Daughter looked over my shoulder and screwed up her face.
“Caramelized salmon?” she asked.
“I hate that stuff,” she shuddered.
“What do you mean you hate that stuff? It’s our family’s favorite meal,” I protested.
“No, it isn’t. Steak is my favorite meal. Steak with Béarnaise and garlic mashed potatoes and broccoli. Or spinach soufflé.”
“You don’t like asparagus with nutmeg butter?”
“Blech,” she spit out her tongue.
“What about the rice?” I asked timidly.
“I hate those nut things.”
“You mean the toasted pine nuts?”
“Whatever. They’re like bugs.”
“You eat smoked salmon.”
“That’s different. I love smoked salmon.”
“But — but — you always clean your plate.”
“Yeah, well, I know it means a lot to you, so I ate it, but I’m never eating it again.”
The honeymoon was over. I had been hoodwinked by an 8-year old, but I took heart; one of her favorite foods was broccoli, and she knew the word Béarnaise. I flipped through the cookbook. Actually, I didn’t know if I could explain to the other mothers that my kid ate raw oysters and escargots and real sushi (not California roll) and all kinds of mushrooms, when I wasn’t sure it was acceptable in our community to have mothered an under-age foodie.
Now that The Daughter lives on her own, she has rediscovered cooked salmon (she’ll eat it pan-roasted with an aged balsamic garnish, but still not caramelized) and asparagus and rice (without nuts), so, who am I to complain? Life is good (mostly). Soli Deo Gloria!
CARAMELIZED SALMONThis may seem a little tricky, but it’s deceptively easy to make. The sugar doesn’t really sweeten the fish but adds a glossy coating. If you aren’t familiar with cooking sugar at high temperatures, here are some very simple points to remember.
When heated, sugar changes property significantly. It melts, browns, and, as it cools, will harden on your utensils and in the pan and affix to anything it touches, like hot glue, and about as dangerous. Excess sugar will burn in the pan, so turn on your exhaust fan before starting. Because the caramel hardens to anything it touches, you will need to put each fillet on its individual serving plate. Not to worry! Because it’s completely soluble in water, clean up is a breeze.
Two cups of white, granulated sugar, measured into a pie plate
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 four-ounce skinless salmon fillets, about ½ – ¾ “ thick (Note: fillet means boneless)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
Season salmon with salt and pepper to taste, and press one side into the sugar until it is lightly coated. Carefully turn over and press into sugar. Leave the fish in the sugar while you prepare the pan.
Heat the oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat for 30 seconds. You don’t want the heat to be so high that the sugar caramelizes before the fish cooks.Carefully place each salmon fillet into the oil. Cook 1½ minutes without moving, jiggling, swishing, etc. Then lift one corner of the fillet to peek at the color of the coating. It should have started to brown but not burn. (If the fillet browns too quickly, remove the pan from the heat and reduce temperature to medium-low.) Cook another minute, then carefully lift the fillet. The sugar coating should have all caramelized; if not, cook another 30 seconds. Again, you don’t want the sugar to blacken, but a little blackened edge is ok, if you need to get the fish cooked.
When lightly caramelized, turn the fillet over to the other side and cook another 1½ to 2 minutes. Remove to each individual serving plate.