Jessica Conant-Park lives in Manchester, NH with her chef/husband, Bill, and their son, Nicholas. Jessica writes the Gourmet Girl mysteries with her mother, Susan Conant. Their cozy, culinary, chick lit series is set in the Boston restaurant scene...recipes included!
I come from a food-oriented family, no question. My parents have been cooking up gastronomic treats for as long as I can remember, learning from Julia Child’s television show in the ‘70s and experimenting in the kitchen with their own recipes. I grew up on meals from across the globe and eagerly visited local ethnic shops with my parents, browsing through the Greek market for spanikopita and tabouhli. I was bitterly disappointed with the disgusting cafeteria fare offered by my college and spent vacations home devouring all the good food I could get my hands on. I even stayed true to my love of food by marrying a very talented chef, my husband Bill. He wooed me with culinary delights and I fell madly in love with him and his cooking. I even started writing the Gourmet Girl mystery series in honor of my food obsession.
When I found out I was pregnant, my husband and I immediately started planning how we would make our own baby food and raise a child who ate more than macaroni and cheese and hot dogs. I must say, we were full of smug superiority knowing that our child would be born with a genetically enhanced palate. We would take him to restaurants and order him honey-glazed chicken with olive risotto, Vietnamese noodle dishes covered in vegetables, or shrimp gumbo!
The first time I fed him that icky baby cereal was a monumental event for me and I distinctly remember feeling that, despite the blandness of the food item, this was the start of a lifetime of gourmet eating! When it was time for more advanced foods, I followed the pediatrician’s advice about starting him on vegetable purees before fruits so he wouldn’t get too interested in the sweet fruit and reject the vegetables. All went well and Nick loved the spinach, squash, and even the lentils! I just knew it! How many babies love lentils? I thought.
Ha! This is what you get for being so full of yourself: our son, Nicholas, couldn’t have cared less about our pre-natal predictions for his culinary enthusiasm. The post jarred-food days are when things started to go downhill. Aside from his love of Chinese dumplings, Nick refused to touch anything out of the ordinary. My pasta salads that were loaded with beans and finely diced veggies were hurled at the wall. The organic fruits were tossed at the dog and the scrambled eggs full of turkey and cheddar were simply mashed up on his highchair.
To make matters worse, he developed a milk allergy and I had to remove all dairy from his diet for a few years. I can’t say I was a big fan of many of the soy products, but despite my creativity in offering up interesting meals, my kid wanted nothing to do with my cooking. Even when the milk allergy resolved itself, Nick simply refused to eat what Bill and I ate; one taste of that orange mac and cheese and all hope was gone! (I’ll never forgive Bill for making that…)
Nick is seven-years-old now and continues to eat the tiniest variety of foods! I could probably list on one hand what he’ll eat and none of those things include anything vaguely resembling a vegetable; in fact, God forbid a fleck of parsley show up on his plate. “What’s that green thing????” he’ll scream in horror.
My husband even came up with a game he calls Food Fear Factor; he closes his eyes and lets Nick feed him mystery items and then they switch roles. Poor Bill has suffered through mouthfuls of black pepper followed by pickled beets. (Um, why we have pickled beets in the fridge, I have no idea…) When it’s Bill’s turn to feed Nick, he usually picks something mundane like plain, unseasoned chicken breast. No matter what boring item Nick gets in his mouth, his turn in the game is invariably marked by wails of disgust and a variety of gagging noises. So much for Food Fear Factor.
The pediatrician reassures me that he will, in fact, grow out of this. Apparently my chef husband was actually the same way as a child and was extremely picky about what he ate, so I do have hope for Nick. He is growing like a weed and his doctor estimates he’ll be about 6’ 2” so he is obviously getting what he needs from his limited diet. I refuse to get into food struggles with him and so continue to offer different things with the belief that one day a light will go off and he’ll discover the joys of fancy Italian pasta dishes, fresh seafood baked in foil packets with herbs and vegetables, and upscale delicacies like foie gras and lobster. How humiliating that the son of a culinary mystery writer and a chef has zero interest in consuming anything beyond peanut butter sandwiches and grilled cheese! For now, I have accepted that this Gourmet Girl has a son whose greatest culinary interest is suggesting new titles for my series. So far, his top choices are Eat That Chicken and Kill That Turkey. I think both of those come from seeing a copy of Nancy Fairbanks’ Turkey Flambe lying next to my bed….but, hey, it’s a start!