Wednesday, July 30, 2008

"Elephant Rules"

by Bruce Tyson

While raising Juliana, my 23-year-old, our kitchen culture made up an important part of family life. Sure, all that good food didn╩╝t hurt, but the interactions of planning, cooking, and eating (or not eating, in some cases) made for lively conversation, too.

Lately, baby Isabella's nine-year-old sister Sophia has been wearing the sous-chef hat in my kitchen. Whether it’s the delicate task of stuffing goat cheese into squash blossoms, or the muscular work of squishing avocados for guacamole, she's game.

That's why – when making a caesar salad together – Sophia surprised me by her reaction to the idea of eating anchovies. She had been working on the olive-bread parmesan croutons while I made the dressing. Sophia watched as I opened a tin of anchovies and cut them into tiny pieces to mix with the lemon juice, garlic, and other ingredients.

"Dinggg!" The toaster-oven signaled the croutons were crisp enough for the first ritual of caesar salad: dipping the sharp, salty, crunchy croutons into the rich, tangy dressing – before everything gets diluted with lettuce.

Sophia, though, didn't want to dip. Why not? "I might get an anchovy on it."

And then, with complete obliviousness, I said, "But the flavors are all mixed together. You won't even be able to tell."

"Yes, I will."

"Just try dipping, and if a piece of anchovy gets on the crouton, your mom will eat it, and you can try again."

"Okay." Sophia dipped the crouton gingerly. "Mmmm," and she nodded her head. She was being polite.

With another feeble attempt at persuasion-through-pseudo-science, I explained the chemistry of caesar salad dressing, tossing in the concept of "anchovy-as-catalyst." I paused for a moment. "You haven't really learned about catalysts yet in 4th grade, have you, Sophia? No? I see."

Shortly afterward, as we all sat down for dinner, Sophia did more picking than eating her salad.

Driving to work the next morning, I replayed the prior evening's events. I recalled pulling the anchovies out of the tin and saying, “Sophia, see at all the little bones on the anchovy? It’s like little hairs on the fish.” And as I looked around the kitchen I finally saw the elephant that had been standing there the entire time. I got it at last: Anchovies are gross. Every kid knows that. But sometimes adults forget – or bury – what they knew as kids. And how could Sophia trust my instincts if I couldn't acknowledge the most obvious thing in the world, that anchovies – hairy and dripping with oil as they are pulled from their tin – are just plain disgusting.

When I saw her that evening, I shared my realization of the true nature of anchovies. She liked that and gave me a wide smile.

We haven’t yet tried the caesar salad again, but we have had another science conversation. The other night, we were all watching "Planet of the Apes", and one of the plot points is that the astronauts’ ship travels at near the speed of light, which causes the astronauts to age only a few years, while leaving Earth 2,000 years in the past. Sophia asked, "How does that happen?"

I went to the kitchen and pulled out my barbeque tongs to illustrate time dilation...

© 2008