Melissa Clark’s new book In the Kitchen With a Good Appetite looks at life through the lens of food. Yesterday, the New York Times columnist talked to Fork in the Road about her eclectic upbringing, and how she unwittingly ate horse meat as a kid. Today, Clark chats with us about her eccentricities when it comes to feeding her own family.
You have a two-year-old daughter.
I try really hard not to give her my baggage, though, but it’s hard. My big thing: I want her to try everything, but she’s really good at saying, “No thank you, Mommy,” and I’ll take it away. I really try to respect her. I’m not going to lie to her. If I were going to serve her horse meat — which I never would, because it’s gross — I would tell her, “It’s horse meat! It’s delicious!” rather than lying about it. I think I gave her some rabbit rillette once. I feel like, if you just start kids off and give them everything to taste, I hope that’s the right thing to do. I don’t even know. Not that I don’t lie to my children, just in a different way than my parents, about other things. “Elmo loves salmon roe.” That will work about 50 percent of the time.
How have your tastes changed over the years?
I definitely want simpler food, and my cooking style has changed a lot. I used to want to entertain. When I was young, it was really fun spending three days making handmade ravioli, because I had the time. It was a craft. It was an art. Now, my preferences are much more flavor- and ingredient-driven. They’re much more seasonal. I don’t run around town — I go to the farmers’ market. I think it’s more about having a family than just wanting to eat differently. I’ve always loved fresh food, but especially now, having a child, I try not to have processed food in the house. I grew up on boxed mac and cheese, but I’m trying not to give my daughter any. I’m only doing it in ways that are easy. My husband’s not giving up his Clif Bars any time soon.
You said your husband can’t eat milk products — how does that work out in your household?
For some reason, he can eat butter, but he can’t eat cheese or cream. Basically, on our first date, I discovered that he doesn’t eat dairy. I really liked him, but I said to myself, “I don’t know if I can do this! How could I be with a man with whom I will have to take responsibility for the entire pint of Ben and Jerry’s? I could never share a cheese plate with this man! How could we ever be together?” I was going to fake a headache, but I stayed on the date. I decided: Well, I was married two times before, and they both ate cheese, and I wasn’t happy. Also, he can have butter, so that’s a saving grace.
What do your foodie parents think about your work?
They couldn’t be happier unless, maybe, I was a doctor. They’re very proud of me. They’ve stopped chiding me. But it’s that they’re Jewish doctors themselves.
Growing up, how big was ethnic Jewish cuisine?
We didn’t eat it every day, but we were absolute traditionalists on the holidays.
When you don’t nosh on fancy fare, do you have a junk food of choice?
Oh God, I’ve got so many. I ate so many candy corns this past Halloween, my teeth still ache. I love cookie dough. If there’s any dough, I’ll eat it. I have to put it in the freezer, or I’ll eat it. Also, pie crust. I never realized how much extra, in fact, there is when you make a batch. Oh God, puff pastry …