Yesterday for dinner le Petit asked for magret, or duck breast. Magret cuit au four, specifically, or broiled duck breast, in le Petit-speak. And potatoes. With rice.
I ignored the rice request because I'd already made Italian black rice for lunch. It was deliciously fragrant and went quite well with the smoked salmon and steamed zucchini I'd served along with it, but I'd spent the rest of the afternoon picking errant grains up off the kitchen and living room floors, noticing that they looked disturbingly like tiny insects. Potatoes, however, I could do, and the sautéed potatoes from Richard Grausman's "At Home with the French Classics" that I serve systematically with magret are pretty much the only potatoes that le Petit will accept to eat. My husband was out of town for the night, and I felt a bit silly going out of my way to make a meal much more complicated than pasta for just me and the kids. But le Petit had asked, after all, and after a couple of recent evenings with kid duty solo, I was on sort of a supermom trip. So I fired up the broiler.
Recently, le Petit has been uncharacteristically open to new foods. He'll sometimes take a few bites of broccoli or carrot, or grab a raw piece of zucchini off of a cutting board if he's especially hungry. He'll state with seriousness, "Autrefois, je n'aimais pas ça, mais maintenant je l'aime:" I disliked that before, but now I like it. Conversely, he'll suddenly spurn some things he used to adore, saying "Autrefois, j'aimais ça, mais maintenant je ne l'aime plus." You win some, you lose some.
I estimate he's still getting only 0.9% of his daily serving of vegetables, but still, there's new variety.
He's not nearly as open to new foods as his sister is, of course. Now that Mademoiselle's six months old, we've launched into the solid food adventure, and she precipitates into her mouth anything that I place on her high chair tray. Yesterday at lunch she eagerly made disappear the same steamed zucchini her brother haughtily pushed off his plate. I found half on the floor and on the seat cushion, of course, but the rest was greedily devoured.
By the time the duck breast and the potatoes were ready last night and I'd managed to herd le Petit to the table, Mademoiselle was too fussy to stay in her play pen, so I popped her into her high chair beside us. I thought she might be happy just observing dinner, but she took one look at le Petit's plate and then looked at me, indignant.
I pulled apart a chunk of potato and dropped in on the tray in front of her. Her gaze dropped, her arms flew out in front of her, and with careful concentration, she started zeroing in on the target. She closed the potato chunk in her fist, brought it to her mouth and looked happily startled. Mmmm. As I dropped more chunks, I noted with satisfaction that I had two happy kids eating a home-cooked meal, both with such enthusiasm that neither one was using a fork. I must be a pretty good cook. Then I remembered that Mademoiselle will actually try to eat anything these days, including paper (!), plastic wrap (!!), and cloth napkins, provided it falls within her grasp. As a good friend remarked recently, she'd try to eat nuts and bolts if I put them on her plate.
I got up to get le Petit's dessert from the refrigerator, a bowl full of freshly cut strawberries with a dusting of sugar, his favorite. As I disappeared back into kitchen I heard him say to himself, his mouth full of strawberries, "This is a wonderful meal!"
What's that? My son, complementing my food? I went back to the table and asked him to repeat himself. Then, sure that I'd really understood, I planted a kiss on the top of his head and told him how happy I was to hear that the dinner I'd prepared was appreciated by the people I love.
"And, Mommy, what's your meal?" he asked oddly. Uhh... I'd been eating the duck and the potatoes with him. Was I even sure he knew what the word 'meal' meant?
Maybe he knows he has me figured out, because today, encouraged in part by the rave review I'd gotten the night before, I made le Petit's favorite risotto for lunch. (OK, Mock Risotto -- but I honestly can hardly tell the difference.) I steamed up some broccoli for myself and Mademoiselle, and le Petit even nibbled at it a bit after declaring "Autrefois, je n'aimais pas ça." Mademoiselle munched away as I handed her stalk after stalk, throwing all caution to the wind about what it might do to her poor unsuspecting digestive system. After all, this may be the last time she begs for broccoli, so I'd best take advantage of it.
I encouraged le Petit to use his plastic knife to push the risotto onto his plastic spoon, and I pretended not to notice when at the end he shoveled fistfuls into his mouth. "I like the wine in the risotto," he commented. Yes, my little food critic with the primitive table manners can tell when I have some white wine on hand to add to the chicken broth.
When lunch was over, the floor was littered with sticky rice kernels, tiny broccoli buds were spread all the way from the back of the high chair to the threshold of the kitchen, the sink and counter were covered with dirty pots and pans, and both kids were in desperate need of a good wipe down with a wet wash cloth. I wearily trekked off to start cleaning and came back to find le Petit trying to push one last broccoli stalk, salvaged from his own plate, into the mouth of one very surprised Mademoiselle.
"But Mommy, I'm trying to help her eat her broccoli!"
I intervened quickly and explained why we don't force feed vegetables.
And to think that in five hours, it'd be dinner time again.