I have been in Southern California for about a week. I am here for some work obligations, and also to "babysit" two boys. The boys are 11 and 14, and they are like little brothers to me. I've known them since they were born, and we all truly enjoy hanging out together. I convinced Jack, the oldest, that my name was "Cool Jen" when I was a baby, and the name has stuck. Even as young men, they still introduce me to their friends as Cool Jen.
Of course, someone local could have watched them while their parents were gone for a couple weeks, but I cherish spending big chunks of time with the boys by themselves. It gives me an opportunity to check in with them, and to do random things with them that their parents don't have time to do. When they are on a normal schedule, it involves two incredibly busy working parents and a lot of sports. But when I'm with them, I usually have time to drive them around Southern California following a spotlight to the end (which was, disappointingly, the grand opening of a lame Chinese take-out), and take them bowling, and do all manner of activities.
What does this all have to do with food?
I think that Jack and Mark's parents will readily admit that I am more adventurous than them when it comes to food. They feed the kids well, but it's often the same sorts of food all the time. I think that their eating habits are much in line with most Americans. The boys have no complaints and it works well for the parents. But opening their eyes to my way of eating is one of the ways that I really can influence them.
I remembered this week, though, that it's tiny little things that make a huge difference to them and that I don't have to take them to an authentic Chinese banquet, or to my favorite izakaya, or do much more than make a roast chicken in order for them to them stop and think about their food, and what they like and what they don't. They notice the way that I live my food life and are curious about it.
"What kind of coffee are you drinking, Cool Jen? I know you don't drink Starbucks so where do you buy it?"
Jack asked me this very astute question a couple days ago and we talked about local coffee makers and what I choose when I'm in Long Beach. I had brought home a latte from The Daily Grind, which is a cute little coffee chain in the area.
"Where would the chicken's head be?"
I was quickly making a roast chicken the other night when Mark sidled up to me to see what I was doing. I was manhandling the raw chicken and plopping it into a pan after rinsing it. We had a quick chicken anatomy lesson, and he walked off to watch The George Lopez Show.
"Remember that purple cauliflower?"
I was running to the Sunday Long Beach farmers market, and neither of the boys wanted to go with me. I didn't push it, and they both went off to ride their bikes with friends. As I was leaving, though, Jack reminded me about a purple cauliflower we had seen at the market together about two years ago. I remember Jack sulking around the farmers market because I made him go with me. He remembered the cool purple cauliflower.
There have been some failures this week, too. I took the boys to Phillipe's on Sunday for French Dip sandwiches -- they were annoyed, and I was cranky. I snapped at Mark when he declared my bright purple pickled egg "weird." They wanted their sandwiches completely dry, and we may as well have been at any sandwich shop in America. But maybe they'll remember it differently.
This post is a reminder to myself, really, that kids do best learning from example and that it can be the smallest things that make a huge difference to the way that they perceive food.