Tuesday, August 4, 2009

You Only Have to Be Taught Once

Everyone watched as my friends’ daughter Madeline placed her sandal clad foot directly on the kitchen table.
“Mommy mommy mommy,” she chanted. She’s not yet two years old, and her vocabulary is limited.
“Oh,” her mother Amy said from the chair where she sat nursing her younger daughter. “There she goes putting her foot on the table. I don’t know where she learns this behavior.” We all turned to observe Amy sitting sideways in her chair, one leg thrown over the stuffed armrest.
“Mommy!” her daughter announced.

We learn a lot from our parents, and not only how to sit at the kitchen table but also how to eat at it. My parents taught me about the joys of an English breakfast, a Thai Tom Yum soup, a kefta kebab. They taught me not only how to cut with a knife and fork so I could eat steaks, but also how to eat rice with my right hand (because we wipe ourselves with our left hand). They taught me that our family knows how to cook meat and fish and how to eat it – bones and all. They taught me how to suck the marrow out. They taught me to appreciate food.

Imagine that you’re five years old. Imagine that you have stomachaches all the time, and food is far less interesting than books and friends and weddings between your stuffed animals. Imagine you like hot dogs and corn pops and salty biscuits, but are picky about everything else. And then one day, you start eating goat curry. It’s meaty and spicy and suddenly the hot dog turns into the last kid picked for kickball. But you have to be taught to eat it correctly, to dip your chapatti in the curry and pick up a soft piece of meat, to chew every bit off the bone, and to seek out and call dibs on those fat bones filled with soft, buttery marrow. You are taught to suck the marrow out until it melts in your mouth. You only have to be taught once.

I can’t share the recipe for goat curry – for one thing, I don’t have it in writing. But I can tell you to go out and buy a lamb shank and make something like this Braised Lamb Shank with White Beans. It's a good, homey sort of meal, with the fat of the lamb cut by the hearty white beans. Season the meat and brown it in canola oil in a Dutch oven, then remove it. Saute some chopped onions, carrots, and celery in the oil, add some broth, and return the lamb to the pot. Braise on low heat for 2-2 1/2 hours. Then stir in some white beans mashed with lemon juice and cook another ten minutes, adding salt and pepper to taste. Serve yourself a lamb shank, and on it there should be a bone, like the one on the left side of my plate, that will be full of marrow. Suck it out, making a really loud slurping noise. That's how I do it. I show my appreciation for the food, and to my parents for a lesson well taught.

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