Monday, August 10, 2009

The Hidden Nutmeg

Several years ago my husband kept pushing me to write a cookbook or at least create a blog around food and creativity. I thought he was insane and chalked it up to a nice man looking to pump up his wife's ego for benefits of another kind. Well that - And it always motivates me to cook and bake more things. It's really a win-win for him.

None the less, one evening after finishing off a bowl of my broccoli soup he said, "This stuff is amazing! Seriously - I don't understand why you haven't published anything yet! What's in this anyway? I've always eaten broccoli soup, but none of it has ever tasted like this. What is it?"

Dismissively I replied, "It's probably the nutmeg."

My son and husband just sat there staring at me like I was crazy. My son, Noah, said, "Mom - I thought nutmeg was for baking."

I said, "Well yeah - it is, but it's a spice just like any other. You can put it where you want. Truthfully nutmeg is used frequently in Italian cooking so since that's how I grew up - sometimes I incorporate it into things that are more mainstream. There's not a ton of it in there. Nutmeg is pretty powerful when used in a large quantity so it's just a scant amount, but it seriously changes the whole flavor of the soup."

My husband just shook his head and laughed, "Nutmeg? Who'da thought?"

Fast forward three months to one evening when I made a spinach casserole type dish, but needing it to be portable because we were traveling and wanting to take something that was nutritionally dense, I increased the spinach, doubled the egg and reduced the milk. In the end we had spinach squares that could be easily held in the hand and okay - not to publicly pat myself on the back, but they were pretty darn tasty. Spinach, egg, cheese, sour cream and some seasoning and spices.

As I'm sectioning them out and putting them into a storage container my husband magically appears out of nowhere (How does he do that? I haven't decided if he's monitoring the kitchen with hidden surveillance or he has me on Low Jack), and snitches one. I said, "Those are supposed to be for later."

He laughs and replies, "Hey just sampling the fruits of your labor Baby!"

As he's walking out of the kitchen making his happy noises he says, "Good God woman - these are outstanding! What's in this?? Oh no no wait - let me guess: nutmeg."

He said it jokingly, but turned back around to face me when I said, "Actually, yes."

So began a guessing game between the two of them to figure out which spices and ingredients I have used for each creation. They're getting pretty good at it and finally Noah has begun to develop a palate that can identify the majority of the ingredients of a dish. He himself is very interested in cooking and one day would like to own his own restaurant or be a chef somewhere.

He'd been begging for cooking classes and unless you live in a major metropolis do you have any idea how difficult it is to find a culinary school that will take anyone under the age of 16? Or at least offers classes to kids that's not treating them like they're in pre-school.

I've never treated my son like a little kid who was not capable of handling anything. Like some adorable little moppet to be patted on the head and left with a few alphabet blocks in the corner. I'm sorry but that's condescending and truthfully you get what you put in. If you treat a child as though they're absent-minded, incapable, and unskilled - well that's exactly how they'll behave. Eventually they have to grow up into adults so I believe that confidence and responsibility should be instilled early and consistently. I'm not a tyrant (er well... I don't think I am, but you should probably ask him his take on that), I just have faith in him. When he wants to try or do something that brings out a new facet of his personality or interests I do my best to nurture it and find people who can wisely guide him.

None the less - I finally found a school in Tampa: Apron's Cooking School. They give summer and winter sessions. They have a Kid's Camp for children under 13 and then a Teen Camp as well. When my son was 10 he attended the kid's camp and then this past July during the month of his 13th birthday he attended the teen sessions. He loved it! He drinks in every word the chefs utter and applies it when he comes home. He's not stopped cooking and is beginning to learn how to alter recipes to accommodate those around him. He's also begun creating his own. His dishes are amazing. He made this breakfast casserole the other morning that was to die for!

My favorite part was when dissecting his ingredients I jokingly said, "And do I detect nutmeg?"

I was stunned when he said, "Actually Mom - yeah. I did use nutmeg. I was doing what you said and altering the recipe to fit our family. I know we like that little flavor so I put some in it."

Okay - I'll admit it. I was impressed.

Then he went one step further and told me something I did not know which surprised me, because I read about herbals and homeopathic ways constantly. It's something I find deeply fascinating. So when he divulged this little tidbit of information I was shocked. He said, "I mentioned to Chef John how you use nutmeg in stuff most people wouldn't and how it adds so much flavor even just a tiny little bit. He said that he does that too and then started talking about each spice and what it does. Did you know that nutmeg in large doses is actually a hallucinogenic?!"

I started laughing as the light dawned in my mind as to why even though so many things in our life as a family have been difficult around us, but we've always managed to laugh and joke our way through together:

Copious amounts of nutmeg accumulated over long periods of time, a cooking family and a dinner table.

Who knew?