Dinosaur Shaped Food and the French Way of Eating

IMG_2605

Americans have a strange relationship with food. We’re equal parts over-indulgent and judicious, choosing to stuff our faces with heaps of non-fat products. In my Southern California perspective there’s a new diet that catches on every week with people around you consuming more and less amounts of fat, sugar, carbs, etc… It’s a muddled mindset where one begins to develop guilt for eating anything at all, whilst being surrounded by pictures of the most unhealthy foods in the world. Eating is a constant experiment in abstinence until it’s not and you’re going back for your third bowl of ice cream because you were “good today”.

Contrast this with the French view of eating, which I recently learned about while reading Karen Le Billon’s French Kids Eat Everything, her memoir/recipe book about moving her family to France for a year and how this helped to shape her views on eating. It’s a pleasurable read, she approaches her successes and failures with self-deprecation and wit while laying out the rules of French eating.

Le Billon tells of the way the French emphasize the importance of food from an early age. It starts at the very beginning and is integrated into children’s education, as they experience four-course school lunches hand-cooked by their school’s personal chef. Each kid learns to savor their food, try new things, and wait until the appropriate meal time before eating. Food for them is neither a functional tool to get them through the day nor a tool meant to comfort them in their time of need. It’s not a crutch or a sin. Food is something that should be enjoyed. It is something you wait for, something you appreciate, something worth putting time and effort into. The French don’t go on diets, they just choose to avoid excess and choose to eat healthy meals. When eating is based in a joyous and delectable sensory experience, one that uses healthy ingredients at its core, there’s no need for indulgence.


Vox.com has been on a tear to take down Big Diet over the last couple of years, releasing several articles and an episode of its Explained Netflix series about what the research behind dieting says. The research they pull from concludes that no diet — Paleo, Keto, Atkins, Whole 30, etc… — really works better than another. There is no magical solution when it comes to losing weight, no scientific hack. What really matters when eating healthy, is giving yourself the best opportunity to make sustainable, healthy choices.

Most diets actually can be effective in that they force you to change your habits in ways that are healthier for you. The problem is being able to sustain those choices over a long period of time. If you stick to a diet it will work, but being able to stick to that diet, particularly for any length of time, is where people struggle. A lot of this is personal preference, we all enjoy certain vices here and there, but as the Vox writers point out, we are set up terribly for success, inundated with messages of juicy and fatty burgers on our screens, passing colorful sugar infested cakes as we walk the grocery aisles, told that cereals featuring marshmallows are a part of our balanced breakfast. We are set up to fail.


Much of French Kids Eat Everything is focused on raising kids in this new food-obsessed environment. Le Billon tells of her struggles of placing her kids, who refused to eat anything but the most comforting foods, into an environment where they are expected to be adventurous and avoid using food as a comfort tool. There is an instant tension, but the French have been trained for this very thing, introducing kids to a wide swath of foods while they’re still young, teaching them how to enjoy it. For foods they don’t like, the response for them is not “eat it, it’s good for you, but “that’s okay, you haven’t tried it enough times yet, maybe next time you’ll like it.” This is based in research that indicates that it can take 11-15 times introducing a new flavor/texture for someone to fully realize whether they like that food or not. That’s why we often come to enjoy foods as we grow older. Sometimes all it takes is that try, try again attitude.

In my own home, we’ve been adopting certain aspects of these lessons when introducing foods to our son, wanting to make sure he knows that food is something that is beautiful, complex, and worth savoring. We want him to be open to trying new things and come to experience culinary elegance because let’s face it, while American food culture is bad, American kid food culture is even worse.

Kids are bombarded with bright colored foods that tempt to overwhelm their pallet. And I’m not talking about the iridescence of Indian food or the splashy assortment of fruits and vegetables found at the farmer’s market, these are pre-packaged in cardboard, with colorful cartoon mascots calling out from the front cover.

Our kids are consistently told there’s a distinction between kid foods and adult foods. They are told to accept the most simple, bland, sugar and sodium soaked foods out there. And once they do they become insistent that they shouldn’t break those molds. Dino-shaped chicken nuggets, bites of hot dogs soaked in corn syrup (aka ketchup), and bright orange cheddar themed goldfish become the typical meals. They are taught foods should retain the shape of their favorite television and movie characters, as our largest companies work their brand loyalty from an early age. Even our healthy alternative puffs and cereal bars are really just marketing exercises in how far companies can push false claims without getting sued. It’s honestly an ethical tragedy that the children’s food industry exists and that it creates such garbage; limiting palates and ruining the dinner experience.

The French don’t have this divide. They adapt their practices for children, but they serve them the same foods that adults eat and expect them to partake. It’s important for their children to try new things and to participate at mealtime. And the kids do it. One of their main strategies is to never battle with their children. The minute it becomes a battle, they’ve already lost. Food, for them, is supposed to be something worth celebrating, not arguing over. It is a joy–a pleasure–to put a meal together and they let tastes linger as they, and their children, come together at meal times.

This approach to food is what leads them to healthier outcomes. Sure, the French may indulge in a chocolate mousse after dinner or have slices of baguette and cheese for breakfast, but as a whole, they tend to be healthier as a country. There are many reasons for this (less fast food and more walking integrated into their daily lives being among them), but part of the reason comes down to the mindset of eating, where food is meant to be enjoyed rather than indulged in. They don’t spend their young lives being taught that trashy foods are the foods they should like, then grow up suddenly making fruits or vegetables or low fat/low sugar/low whatever the staples of their diet. They don’t experience the culinary whiplash of alternating between abstinence and indulgence or pleasure and guilt as we so often do. They are not bombarded simultaneously by the messaging of the fast food and diet industries.

As stated previously, the research on diets indicates that simply making a change in your life is generally what leads to success when it comes to achieving health goals. You just have to find what works for you. But the way we’ve been taught to approach food from an early age is detrimental to how we come to eat. The French approach to food minimizes the need for diets. There’s little need to count calories or throw butter in their coffee to put their body into ketosis, they eat bread and drink their coffee butter free (!) because it’s good, not because they’re looking to absolve their sins.

This is the relationship to food I’ve been trying to have and that we’re trying to impart to our son. I want food to be something that’s worth putting an effort into. I want to fully enjoy it to a place of satisfaction. This means figuring out my body, listening to when it’s full and letting it wait a little when it desires food before a mealtime (le Billon emphasizes that the French view snacks as a near-immoral practice). This means going to the farmer’s market once a week to get the freshest, most delicious ingredients (there are a plethora of other reasons to go there as well). This means taking that extra time to peel, steam, and puree foods for my son so that food becomes something that is beautiful and ever-interesting to him.

These sorts of life changes don’t come easy and I haven’t broken many of my bad habits. My son hasn’t enjoyed everything we’ve given him, so there’s a lot of regrouping and trying again. But it’s been a rewarding time. He’s eaten eggplant and broccoli and quinoa and curry and it’s a joy to see his reactions and the enthusiasm he has even if his favorites are still bananas and baby cereal. I hope we can teach him to try new things and in that he comes to truly enjoy all things culinary, never having to fight through the parts of his brain that think all foods should be in the shape of dinosaurs.

Dad blogging, culture, and tacos: El Camino Real

Is it possible to be a parent and be self-deprecating?

I think as a human I’ve developed self-deprecation as a form of protection. People can’t hurt you by pointing out your faults if you point them out first. If you point out your own failures, there’s no need for anyone else to.

I’ve tried to build self-awareness, knowing what others sense and get from me and when all else fails, I’ve relied upon self-deprecation so if I did miss something it wouldn’t matter anyway.

I get really excited about things and can easily be disappointed by those expectations, so I’ve learned to temper them, not wanting to expect more than can be given to me. You can’t be hurt if you never expected anything great to begin with. My cynicism comes out of a grand optimism.

It’s also natural to think your children are the best thing to ever exist.

Before I was a parent, I would have called myself an above average person on a whole. That’s my level of braggadocio. Having a son has caused this to change.

Things I’ve called my son since he’s been born: the cutest thing to ever exist, the smartest child of all time, the biggest/strongest/most advanced child in America and probably the world, etc…

As soon as your child comes you begin to think of them as being special, unique, and advanced. You look at apps that tell you standard milestones for your child’s age and glee with pride at the one or two areas where your child is ahead. You want to believe that your child is particularly adept at being human and look for any sign proving this to be true.

But at some level this isn’t true. I mean, you should have all the hopes and confidence possible in your children, but this is an unrealistic way to look at the world, and an unrealistic standard for your children to live up to. There’s always someone who is better.

How do we deal with the tension at the heart of this?

Our children deserve our confidence and our pride. They don’t deserve the pressure of being the best child of all time. Which way should we lean? Should I follow the part of my heart that thinks my child is 12 times as smart as everyone else or should I laugh at and undermine these expectations? Is it even possible to be a deprecating dad?

Anyways, my child just learned how to roll, has your child learned to do that yet? Didn’t think so.


Today’s tacos: El Camino Real

What we listened to on the way: US Girls “In a Poem Unlimited”

What we ate: Carnitas, Carne asada, Al pastor

IMG_1772

El Camino Real has quite the large space, extending further than you expect the building to go, something I was delighted by after the last fiasco. When I went it wasn’t particularly busy, but there are numerous signs saying that they make their food fresh so please be patient–apparently timeliness isn’t a part of their reputation.

The layout is somewhere in between a typical taqueria with the feel of a meat shop, a large counter and menu giving you that feel. Their taco options are called “Big Tacos”, stuffed with more meat than your typical taco shop. Each taco comes with cilantro and onion, atop of two corn tortillas. The corn tortillas each felt fresh, not succumbing to dryness, something I’ve been grateful for at each taco shop I’ve been to. Each taco did come without salsa or a sauce of any kind, so be sure to hit up the salsa bar.

IMG_1770

The carne asada was the most moist and flavorful of every place I’ve been to thus far and was the standout. The carnitas were decent, not as juicy as I would have wanted them to be, but tender enough to do the job. The al pastor did not come dripping juices and flavor like can be pretty typical for it, instead it had a dry almost nutty flavor. I’m not sure how they cooked it, but it certainly wasn’t what I was looking for in that style.

IMG_1769

My son’s thoughts: He had a busy day leading up to this and fell asleep on the way there. I brought in the car seat only and he slept in it on top of the table where I was sitting.

Dad blogging, culture, and tacos: Baja California Fish Tacos

There are not many guides out there about trying to keep up with movies when you have a young child.

I know this, because I’ve looked.

I figure professional critics use their normal work hours to go and see movies, while those of us who are in it as hobbyists must decide a few things. Is this a serious hobby? Something that can be sacrificed or pushed back? Obviously parenting is all about sacrifices–it’s sort of the driving force of raising a child, yet I do think I want to make a commitment to keeping up with my interests, down the road my children should appreciate that.

Yesterday, my son had a terrible night sleeping and only ended up getting a half hour between 5:30 AM and 10:30 AM, much less than typical. Now usually when he is sleeping I use the time to get the necessities done: showering, eating, getting dressed, etc… I knew that he would still battle rest if I laid him down even as he was getting tired, so I rocked him to sleep in my arms, kept him there, and opened up Netflix on my laptop. I was able to watch all of Nocturama, a French thriller I had been hoping to see (read my thoughts here). I hadn’t planned on being able to watch the whole thing, but in a rare Rumpelstilskin move, my son slept for 2.5 hours.

For those of us who are big time movie geeks, watching a movie in separate showings is pretty antithetical. It interrupts the flow, the story, and disrupts the magic of it all. But I suppose the cinephile parent must accommodate for this, expecting consistent interruptions when trying to get through 2+ hours of the artistic format we fell in love with. Having a son is more beautiful than I can describe and interrupted movies are a small burden to bear.

For you cinephile parents out there, were you able to keep up? Do you have strategies? Feel free to comment below.


Today’s tacos: Baja California Fish Tacos

Today’s taco run was also interrupted. Not by my son’s schedule, but by accidentally leaving the car lights on overnight and not having a vehicle to get anywhere.

It ended up being all right because there’s a nice taco place over by our apartment that’s within walking distance. We went there at noon to try their fish tacos.

What we listened to on the way: Nothing, because we walked.

What we ate: Shrimp, fish tacos

IMG_1724

Baja California Fish Tacos replaced a sushi spot right next to the gas station that we use, a super convenient way to get fish tacos, giant burritos, and ceviche at all times. This is their third location, with two other spots in Los Angeles. Confusingly there’s another local chain of Baja themed Mexican food serving across Orange County called Baja California Tacos, there’s no relation, though there may be a rivalry, as that chain is also highly acclaimed (I might get out there one day for a comparison).

I had wondered how it would do, as the sushi place had went out of business. It certainly wasn’t having any problems when I went there, with a line going out the door as it served customers on a Monday afternoon.

This is where there was some slight difficulty. I had a giant stroller and it made it very difficult to navigate an already claustrophobic restaurant that was packed tight with people.

IMG_1722

I went for a shrimp and a fish taco getting both with a fried batter upon the cashier’s recommendation. Each was good, stuffed to the brim with toppings: a slaw-like cabbage, creamy sauce, and pico de gallo. The problem with getting a fry batter is it can easily get soggy, particularly when topped with an amalgam of fresh garnishes.

IMG_1723

The shrimp did not really suffer this problem, though the batter easily separated from the shrimp throughout each bite, the shrimp easily maintained its chewy consistency beneath. The fish was not able to withstand the moisture, sogging up like a paper towel, too fragile to everything going on. The combination of all the toppings still made for a delicious bite, but wasn’t able to deliver on what you’re looking for–that crispy and fatty bite that comes with fried batter. The shrimp was the better of the two and is definitely recommended; going grilled might be the way to go when ordering tacos de pescado.

My son’s thoughts: He stared at me, perhaps a bit concerned by the crowd noises around him. When we went to leave I got a little nervous as to how we would be able to make our way through the crowd with the stroller. Luckily there was a side exit with no fire alarm where we snuck out without drawing attention.

On Children’s Books

last stop on market

When preparing for my son’s arrival, I started diving into the world of kid’s books. Books are obviously an entry point into culture, probably the most important one as kids start to identify meaning in pictures, words–both spoken and read, and prepare for their entire educational life. Mastering the skills and disciplines of reading seem even more important today, where we are more and more easily distracted and technology is literally reshaping our brains.

I started reading to my son while he was in the womb, they say it’s good for them to hear your voice, so he listened as I read the latest issues of The Atlantic I received, Nathan Hill’s The Nix, and Rob Bell’s What is the Bible? all of which I was reading throughout pregnancy.
When he was born, I continued to read to him and am trying to make it into a daily habit, so he recognizes that this is something we do and something we do together (at this point he mostly wants to put them in his mouth and cries until I let him do it).
There is an overabundance of kid’s books and materials out there, ones that are meant to cover every cognitive possibility, teaching our kids a plethora of necessary skills. But I wanted to make sure I emphasized a diverse set of voices and materials in the books I gave to my son. It’s easy, particularly as a white person, to participate in a culture where white males are considered the norm and when other people are shown, they are represented to be something different or meant solely for people of that background. I think it’s important to rub against that, featuring mostly people who do not look like my son as he develops his media diet. Books are the first step.
Now, having tried it, let me tell you how hard that is, part of the reason why it needs to be intentionally resisted against. It’s hard because to start you probably have a few booksyou were nostalgic for. For me that was The Giving Tree, Where the Wild Things Are, etc… You still want to make sure your kid reads the ones you think are classics. You’ll also receive plenty of books as gifts; most of the time these people will get whatever they think is cute or what they were influenced by, etc… Even if you make a list of books you want people to buy, they’re still going to buy whatever they want to buy. This is hard because you don’t want to be that freaked out parent who has such specific standards for his kid that everyone rolls their eyes when you turn your back, but at the same time you do want to set this standard.
So let me tell you, even though I intended for my son’s books to represent perspectives different than his, half of them probably do not. Imagine if I hadn’t been trying? How many of them would reflect a different perspective? This is why we have to be intentional about this, because it won’t happen on its own.
The books we show our kids help to develop a worldview. At an early age they begin to develop a sense of objects and ideas, as they grow older they experience emotions and grapple with the world through the power of stories. Placing them in different people’s stories helps them to relate and understand the vast world and hopefully helps to develop empathy. When we understand that our life and experiences are just one of a very small set we begin to move forward, respecting experiences of others and not making bad assumptions that lead us to making hurtful decisions. It gives us a bigger pool of understanding to draw from as we try to make it through life. It’s essential to hear the stories of others.
That being said, let’s look at the statistics of the books we have for our son, to see how we did when we intentionally tried to diversify his books. I will not be including any books we have in the Swedish language because we also want to make sure our children speak Swedish and that took precedent over any featured characters in the books.
The Stats
38% feature non-human/animal characters
8% feature a non specified ethnicity
So 46% of the books don’t feature any sort of human with a background that can be identified. This isn’t terrible, but there are studies that suggest when characters are non-human, children don’t really take in the lessons of the book. Read it here if you’re interested.
So of the books that do feature a human with a recognizable ethnic background, this is what I found:
81% feature a male lead, 29% feature a female lead.
63% feature a white lead, 42% feature a person of color (some books were counted twice because they feature two characters that could be considered leads).
Looking at the authors (all books included here)
68% of authors were male, 32% of authors were female
88% of authors were white, 8% were a person of color (some authors could not be identified).
Here is a link to the spreadsheet I created if you wanna see the full stats.
Looking at these stats, you can see we didn’t really come close to meeting any sort of 50/50 ratio with either the featured characters or the authors. It’s not great and we’ve got some work to do.
If you want to buy us some books with female leads or diverse characters you are certainly more than welcome to (*wink wink*).
Feel free to comment with any of your efforts to include diversity in your children’s lives or your favorite books that we should check out.
Also keep comments civil.

Dad blogging, culture, and tacos: Taqueria de Anda

This morning my son was sleeping, so I made a mad rush to complete all the tasks I had set for myself, a combination of daily duties like showering and eating and all the culturally nerdy things I had wanted to accomplish: finish The Killing of a Sacred Deer which I had rented for free on Redbox and needed to return this morning (oh boy this movie might Yorgos Lanthimos most disturbing movie despite his other works including an incestual cult and dystopian world where love is violently enforced upon singles. It’s tonally and cinematically excellent though I don’t think it accomplishes anything thematically.), read Matthew Yglesias’ piece on Russia and Trump, and prepare for the latest episode of Good Taste.

These things pile up and I often set myself for failure by wanting to consume too much. I’m a pop culture glutton and I wonder how this will be passed along to my children. I catch myself fantasizing about my child knowing all the cinematic classics, ripping through the children’s literary canon, being able to namedrop Miles Davis, A Tribe Called Quest, and Courtney Barnett, having a favorite Sondheim show and lyric, puling off comedic bits and wordplay, being a slight history buff who’s politically literate, playing baseball while being able to site his favorite player’s year by year WAR, and advocating for social justice issues while preparing chilaquiles that inspired him when we went to the taqueria the night before. Oh and he should also have his own unique interests and personality.

Right now all he wants to do is put stuff in his mouth–which is great.

This is where you take deep breaths, say a prayer repenting of selfishness, and remind yourself of what you really want: compassion and curiosity. Go from there.


Today’s tacos: Taqueria de Anda in Placentia

What we listened to on the way there: The Black Panther Soundtrack, a Kendrick Lamar catered soundtrack? How could you not? Listen to my thoughts on it here. 

What we ate: Tacos de asada, cabeza, al pastor, carnitas

IMG_1698

Taqueria de Anda is building its empire off of simplicity, expanding across north Orange County with its traditional burrito and taco based menu (there’s apparently two different Taqueria de Anda’s that are both expanding and I can’t figure out the difference). Food is ordered via an assembly line of varying meats that tasted fresh despite sitting in serving trays.

IMG_1696

The tacos were served classically, two corn tortillas topped with each respective meat, onions, cilantro, and salsa; limes on the side. I opted to split between their two salsa options, both green and red. The carne asada and carnitas were both a little dry, though each had great flavor. The cabeza almost had the opposite problem, extremely moist and fatty, there was an almost nutty flavor to it. If you don’t like fatty textures, it likely wouldn’t be worth ordering, but that flavor is real good.

The star here again was the al pastor. Texturally perfect and featuring an exquisite blend of spices, al pastor is the #QUEEN of taco fillings and at Taqueria de Anda that’s no exception.

My son’s thoughts: He stared at me quite seriously throughout the whole meal. I took him home and he fell asleep on my chest for the next 2.5 hours.

 

Dad blogging, culture, and tacos: Taco Mesa

It’s my first day doing paternity leave, four weeks at home with just me and the son, which sounds fantastic, but it’s also like wait I know how to take care of him right? I mean I do. BUT, do I?

I could take it easy, chill at home, go for walks, make sure he is consistently comfortable, even turn on the TV to let indiscernibly bright lights confuse and occupy his brain for a while, but instead I’m choosing to go out and get tacos.

You see, I really like tacos and I was reading in OC Weekly the other day about all the best tacos in the county and thought why not spend these four weeks going out and eating a bunch of tacos?

I think this is a pretty reasonable idea.

So this here is my fatherly review of getting tacos with my boy, something I hope to keep up as I eat more and more tacos.

Today’s tacos are from: Taco Mesa in Orange.

But first:

Let’s talk about stomachs. My son has had stomach issues, trouble pooping and passing gas, since he was born. This made me curious (if we don’t have curiosity, then what do we have?). How does the system work? What’s happening when there’s gas in there? How fast do we digest foods? I did some research and here are some fun facts.

-From your throat to your anus is actually just one long tube. Down the esophagus, into the stomach, into the lower intestines, and then the waste goes out.

-When we’re burping, we’re just releasing excess air. This happens when we somehow swallow air–either through normal eating, foods that release carbon dioxide such as sodas, or some people will even just swallow air as a nervous habit.

-Gas builds up when certain foods pass through into the intestine or colon undigested or partially digested. Certain bacterias produce gas which is then released through flatulence. Some foods have bacterias that produce more gas than others and some people have trouble digesting certain foods, thus they see an increase in gas when some foods are eaten.

Now you know.

Now, tacos.

What we listened to on the way: Off Book: The Improvised Musical Podcast “Picket Line Pals w/ The Doughboys”. I saw this episode was released and just had to listen to it, it has one of my favorite podcasts, featuring one of my other favorites and it met all my expectations.

What we ordered: Blackened calamari tacos, pescado frito taco, pastor taco

IMG_1679

Taco Mesa prides themselves on being a healthy Mexican restaurant. It’s not quite what it sounds like, the tacos were not lined with bean sprouts and quinoa, instead they go toward the organic/natural/wild-caught/free range side of things. It’s fully authentic, yet thoughtful, somewhere in between your high end hipster taco bar and a taqueria on the corner.

I had heard that the “Best of the West” blackened menu was worth checking out, so I ordered the blackened calamari, alongside fried fish and pastor. Each came on Mesa’s signature tortillas, forest green in color, made on site, perfectly soft and textured while maintaining typical corn tortilla form.

IMG_1676

The blackened calamari was an excellent take on a fish taco, creamy and fishy with an overload of dripping juices, as every fish taco is wont to have.

IMG_1677

The fried fish felt a little dry and lacked the saltiness I wanted along with the fry batter. When all flavors were combined, it was a decent bite, but definitely fell short of the other two.

IMG_1675

The al pastor ended up being my favorite, though some of that can be attributed to personal preference. Al pastor is typically my go-to taco, all in an effort to recapture what is probably my favorite taco of all time, a street vendor who used a rotisserie cooker similar to doner kebab, with the pork wrapped around a pineapple, absorbing all its juices. This was actually quite similar, served with grilled pineapple and watermelon radish, the pork was perfection. Only downfall for me was an overabundance of onions which could have been replaced by some sort of cabbage or salsa to accompany the meat. It was still delicious.

My son’s thoughts on the meal: He slept the whole time.