Food and family — an interview for Wee Magazine

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Last month I received a beautiful magazine in the mail. It had tactile rag paper, colourful and quirky illustrations and was filled with stories about families and their food habits, children’s food drawings, what people feed their families around the world and tales of good and real food — all in Korean! I was honoured to be interviewed in a story about what goes on my family’s table and how we involve our daughter in learning good food habits.

I have been asked by friends if I had a version translated in English and luckily I did the original interview in English with Wee Magazine editor, Gina. I’m happy to be able to share it with you here, along with some photographs and a list of recipes that I think kids in particular would have a good time cooking — they are tried and true, we love to cook these at home together.

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Gina: We always eat. To sustain our lives, we always eat and have to eat. With its long history, however, eating doesn’t mean just only eating. It means the way we cook the food, we choose the ingredients, reflect the situation to menu and, most of all, the way we get together and sit around. Right, eating means getting together and sharing everything each other, nowadays. In modern times, some family has lost this kind of value because of being stuck in busy schedules. That’s why I found you and want to ask you about you and your family on this matter. What family members do you have in your family?

Emiko: It’s just me, my husband and our daughter, who is now 4 years old.

Gina: What time do you usually eat together in a day? And how often?

Emiko: My husband works in a Michelin-starred restaurant as a sommelier, so we have a really unusual family schedule. He begins work in the afternoon for the evening shift at the restaurant and because he gets home in the middle of the night, he sleeps in late, so our main meal together, every day, is lunch – it’s almost always at home and something simple. For breakfast and dinner it’s usually just me and my daughter, so I always make sure the two of us eat together for those meals too.

Gina: Are there any table manners that your kids should keep? What are they? And why do you think children should learn table manners?

Emiko: I don’t try to make her learn any table manners specifically, I’d just like for her learn naturally, by example. She has always spent a lot of time with adults — eating out at restaurants and cafes with me, or even just being at home, and seeing how we behave and she has already figured it out!

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Gina: What menu has been the most popular on your table, so far?

Emiko: My daughter is a fussy eater and loves very simply prepared dishes – the less done to it the better! Her favourite things at home are boiled or fried eggs or rice with dried seaweed. Miso soup. Raw vegetable sticks or crunchy apples (but they have to be whole). And pizza margherita, with just tomato sauce and mozzarella, is always a hit, sometimes we make it at home together.

Gina: Frankly speaking, many people are so busy that they can’t have enough time to eat with their family. It is a reality that we face. What do you think about this matter?

Emiko: In Italy, it’s still generally the case that families eat together. It’s one of the reasons why children have a much later bed time here, but it is also one of the things that I appreciate about living here. I think it’s really important to take time, not only to eat together, but to allow meal time to be relaxed, not rushed. Maybe put a tablecloth down, pour a glass of wine (for the adults anyway!) and serve different courses, and also involve the children so they’re not just jumping up and running away to play, but so that they are part of the experience too. The family table then is a comfortable, comforting place to talk to each other, to share and create memories.

Gina: What ingredients are your child’s favorites? And in an opposite case, what ingredients are the ones she hates?

Emiko: My daughter loves almost any kind of fruit, as well as milk, eggs and yogurt. Vegetables are more difficult to get her to eat but she loves crunchy raw vegetables like carrots and cucumber. And she could live off gelato (which is one of the reasons I have recently bought a gelato machine!). At the moment she doesn’t like chocolate or cakes, which is great actually, but I suspect once she actually tries them she might discover a love for them!

Gina: What usually do you cook for anniversary in your house?

Emiko: When there is a special occasion, we like to cook bistecca, which is a very large, thick Florentine T-bone steak. It’s grilled rare, and we usually have it with spinach sauteed with garlic and chilli and some simply cooked chickpeas or cannellini beans.

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Gina: I wonder if your husband does cook as much as you. How often does he do for your family? And what was the best menu that he did?

Emiko: My husband is a great cook and he loves cooking – for him, it’s a way to relax when he’s not at work. He will cook most days, usually lunch when he’s still at home and before he goes to work. He loves cooking meat or fish best and likes experimenting too. He cooks mackerel in a really wonderful way that I love, salting it first so that it becomes slightly firm and very flavourful, then cooking it in a pan over baking paper so that the skin doesn’t stick.

Gina: Many researchers are trying to reveal the truth about the food, such as ‘Milk is not good for health’ (just as an example). For these information, what kind of activities do you do? Or where do you usually get this information?

Emiko: To be honest, I try to stay away from these kind of things. I don’t think demonising one type of food group or ingredient is ever going to be the answer to “healthy food”. And everyone is different, some people can’t tolerate dairy or wheat, so have to adjust their diets. I like to try to keep meals balanced – a bit of everything and not too much of one thing, a bit of common sense, too. My husband has to limit wheat intake so as a family we don’t eat much bread or pasta, only occasionally. My daughter loves dairy foods and, as she is such a picky eater, it’s one of her main sources of protein and calcium.

Gina: Finally, could you share a recipe that you’d love to cook for your family?

Emiko: Rosticciana (or grilled pork ribs) is one of those dishes that you would order in a trattoria or have at a gathering at home when there are plenty of people to share it with. In a trattoria, ‘grigliata mista‘ (literally ‘mixed grill’) is a wonderful, large metal platter of rosticciana, Tuscan sausages, grilled chicken and perhaps some pork on skewers or rare grilled steak. They go well with traditional side dishes such as roast potatoes, stewed cannellini beans or something green, like a simple green salad. It’s a great dish to make on the barbeque too, now that it’s grilling season when you have a lot of people to feed!

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Get your children cooking in the kitchen with some of these:

Befanini, soft Tuscan cookies.
Focaccia Pugliese, a soft, easy dough studded with cherry tomatoes
Homemade pizza is always a hit in our family. This one is for pizza with tomato sauce, mascarpone and speck but you can top it however you like best.
Broad bean pesto. Little toddlers are very good at podding peas and beans with their little hands. Put them to work, they’ll love helping pod beans for this pesto.
Homemade ‘farfalle’ or bowtie pasta are really fun for kids to make.
Classic crostata or tart with apricot jam — if your kids like playing with playdough they might like pastry too where they can help roll out the dough and make the lattice top. Small versions made in a muffin tin are great too.
Easiest butterless, eggless chocolate cake — my daughter loves to mix batter for cakes and cupcakes and this is a really simple one to whip up, especially because it calls for only a few ingredients!
Tiramisu — I find that anything done in a repetitive production line (dip, layer, blob, dip, layer, blob…) is something that kids like to do too! Then of course you get to lick the bowl. To make it child friendly, use decaf coffee.

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Comments

3 Responses to “Food and family — an interview for Wee Magazine”
  1. Mary Frances says:

    Beautiful interview! I agree demonising one food isn’t helpful, and involving your children is so important. Thank you for sharing!

    • Emiko Davies says:

      Thank you Mary, here’s hoping that I’m doing the right things and that she grows up appreciating and loving food and having a healthy relationship with it her whole life!

  2. Mary says:

    Congratulations! A great interview. Setting up kids for health and a healthy relationship with food has never been at a more challenging time. But we have the tools to lead by example (the recipes you posted are fantastically kid friendly) and I’m hoping for the same – that all the dough mixing, farfalle pinching and gardening will instill something our son will maintain and treasure throughout his life. This is a great reminder, thank you!

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