Slow food: the conversational, recreational artichoke for kids of all ages
My almost-19-year-old came home for a visit last weekend. Fresh out of high school and now on his own working a few hours from home, he had been away for three weeks. My husband and I knew that we had competition for his time. So I did my best in my meal planning to conspire to keep him around as much as possible during his too-short stay.
First, I served food I knew he’d love all weekend. He’s mostly vegetarian, and I knew he’d eaten a lot of eggs since leaving home. So I fixed a beautiful roast of grass-fed local beef that I’d been saving and some of the same cow’s liver (which meet his standards). He eats fish, but I knew he hadn’t bought any since he left home. So I made the most delicious tuna steaks. Before he left the house to see other people during the weekend visit, he would ask what time we were eating next.
I also served with the tuna something I knew would set a nice, slow pace to the meal and give us plenty of enjoyable time, both eating and chatting.
I made artichokes: you just can’t rush an artichoke.
We hadn’t eaten artichokes in years. I realized recently that the standard I’d set to buy them only when the price went down to a dollar meant that I never bought any. I sprang for the $1.99 a piece this time. They were worth every penny.
We used to eat them pretty regularly when the children were little. They’ve always liked eating them. As they got older they needed our help less scraping the hairy covering over the heart.
This time, as is the way, we nibbled through our artichokes, unhurriedly, deliberately, chatting between bites. Your mouth never gets full enough to have to stop talking. He was all ours again for awhile, leisurely, relaxed. We caught up with all he’d been doing, got him talking about his passions.
Maybe it’s like cigarettes: somehow having something to do with the hands makes one more at ease and promotes conversation.
We all agreed how much we’d enjoyed eating an artichoke again after such a long time.
Eating an artichoke is a bit of ritual. You get only a snippet at time, but slowly, steadily and persistently, it pays off in the reward of those final few, decent-size bites you’ve been building up to for quite a while. It’s a surprisingly satisfying way of eating. An artichoke forces you to slow down, have a chance to enjoy it and your company, and feel full. Though it seems like you’ve barely been getting anything, you find it’s filled you.
“Recreational foods” is what we called such dishes when I was growing up, though I never ate an artichoke till I was an adult. Examples that come to mind are shrimp in the shell, pomegranates, edamame beans in the shell, taco salad. One of our favorites is a simple Thai soup served with five little dishes of different condiments. Crab legs and raw veggies with a really good dip is another.
These foods lend themselves to active participation, to approved eating with your hands, to active commitment beyond just spooning it in. There may be steps to follow, a construction process, or assembly or extraction required. Some choice of what and how much is nice.
I think almost everybody (especially kids of any age) likes this kind of meal.
Let them put on their own salad dressing. Let them add a little cream to their soup. Letting kids do it themselves at the table is a great way to spark their interest and enjoyment. It’s also a good way to just hold on to time.
How to eat an artichoke
I usually serve one per person. Steam the artichokes in a steamer basket until the leaves pull out fairly easily and have a little bit of flesh that’s soft, not tough, on the end. It takes about 40 minutes. Don’t let the steamer run dry and burn! Serve with real French vinaigrette (homemade, additive free, unsweetened, cheap) or good mayonnaise (homemade with real pastured eggs is the best).
Artichokes are eaten with the hands. Grab a leaf around the bottom and pull it out. Dip in the vinaigrette the end that came from the heart of the artichoke. Bite down about one-third of the way up on the thick end of the leaf, closing your teeth on the leaf. Pull the leaf out between your teeth, scraping the flesh off. Repeat until all leaves are removed and eaten from.
The inner leaves are small and fine. I usually pull them out in little bunches and nibble at the flesh on their inner tips. The smallest ones are not worth trying to nibble at. Keep peeling the layers until just the artichoke heart is left with the hairy, straw-like center.
This hairy part must be very carefully scraped off little by little from the heart of the artichoke with a knife or spoon, taking care to not scrape into the fresh of the heart. Finally, you will have a pure, precious artichoke heart to cut into little bites to eat with the dressing.
© Sacred Appetite / Anna Migeon / 9 July 2009 / All rights reserved