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A Cookbook Author Has a Kid, and the Fates Laugh

Food expert Tamar Adler found out quickly that toddler palates aren’t always up for a culinary adventure.

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Publishing a cookbook—as I recently did—puts a parent in the humbling position of considering whether her children would eat any of the food she spent her last several years writing about.

A few qualifiers apply in my case: My recent book is not exactly a cookbook in the contemporary sense. It’s sort of a culinary history with revisions of classic recipes. There is poached chicken with mayonnaise to replace jellied chicken, and steak Diane, with lots of pepper and crème fraiche. They’re delicious and simple but not as trendy as roast broccoli with tahini and za’atar and its ilk. Plus, there are watercolor and ink illustrations but no photographs. It is a different book.

The final qualifier is the joke the Fates played in the match of my son to me: I used to be a chef and now write about food for a living. There is no food I don’t eat, and I have a special affection for sea urchin and pigs feet, blood sausages and bitter greens. Our chest freezer holds chicken livers and a whole pork belly. I make batches of rabbit confit. We grow our own lovage—it would be a parody if it weren’t my job. The joke of the Fates is that, at least as of right now, my dear son is more of the pretzel than the paté persuasion.

The joke of the Fates is that, at least as of right now, my dear son is more of the pretzel than the paté persuasion.

In fact, it’s a good deal worse than that. Here is a short list of categories to which he currently objects: cold things, smooth things, soft things, raw things, crispy things, things that are crispy and soft, leafy things, saucy things, things-that-are-too-big-or-too-small.

Of course, some of this is age. He’s almost two, which I know is peak taste aversion. And my husband and I do our best not to let on that we notice the patterns, continuing to offer him toast with paté and broccoli raab.

And I hang all my hopes on the Fates having offered me one merciful reprieve. Whether because, against good council, I ate them raw and in the wild while pregnant, or because recipe testing included them regularly, or because he can’t ignore the animal excitement on his parents’ faces when we order them, or because when he was five months old, he would suck on their empty shells, our currently … discriminating son makes an exception for roast oysters and clams. (We’re not so thrill-seeking as to let him try the raw versions yet.)

For any of the reasons above, or for no special reason at all, the same child who will turn down mashed potatoes, popsicles, grilled cheese, and fried chicken will begin jumping in his seat when we scrub oysters, then place them on the grill till they pop open—or do the same with clams. They are both called “Clams,” and he will holler “Clam” repeatedly until he has eaten his fill of them, blowing at the shells with the ferocity of a nor’easter until they’re cool enough to consume.

This strange preference might be cold comfort for another parent, who would prefer her child eat broccoli. I would, too. But it is not cold comfort to me. The roast oysters and clams in my book are, for now, the only recipes on which my son has placed his imprimatur. And they offer the added benefit of leaving us shells to toss in the yard.

Tamar Adler is the author of  Something Old, Something New and An Everlasting Meal and a contributor to Vogue. Her writing can also be found in the New York Times Magazine, the New York Times Book Review, the New Yorker.com, and other publications. She lives with her husband and son in Hudson, NY.

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