If you saw a woman touring a homeless tent city wearing a newborn wrapped snuggly to her chest and being followed by her four other children as she jots down notes in a notebook, most people don't automatically think 'journalist.'
At least that's been my experience.
I was interviewing the...
The chef delicately fanned out the plump, slightly spindly legs in preparation of butchery. He held up what was to be our main course in his left hand and, with his right, commenced torching the body with a lighter... to remove the course hair.
With a sharp knife, the chef sliced the abdomen from the main frame -- leaving behind a trail of oozing butt and dispatched spinnerets.
"How many legs do we have?" our guest chef, David George Gordon, quizzed just before dipping the legs into a tempura batter.
"Eight!" my kids screamed in unison. The air was thick with trepidation, curiosity and the slightly feint smell of burned spider hair as we huddled around our kitchen counter near a baseball sized Tarantula.
As a journalist I write about "Cookin' and Trippin'" across the Pacific Northwest with my five kids. There is nothing I love more than meeting interesting locals and exploring food with my rowdy, hungry brood.
Did I mention this particular chef, David George Gordon, is called the Bug Chef? And that day's adventure was eating bugs?
My kids were thrilled. Out of all the sumptuous cooking adventures we've been on, they were most excited to savor Deep-Fried Tarantula Spider, the coup de grace recipe (and creep factor) of the Bug Chef's second edition cook book called, The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook.
Like most Americans I can only imagine eating bugs in one of two ways:
A worst case scenario, say, starvation.
Or, from the comfort of my cushy divan next to a plate of peanut butter cookies while watching far away contestants from Naked and Afraid chowing down on wriggling grubs or spiders.
But I wanted to interview the Bug Chef because I was curious to try. I had read that certain bugs were rich in protein, vitamins and minerals. And there are many environmental reasons to consider bugs as a food resource: carbon footprint is miniscule compared to raising cows and chickens, and cheap price for high protein -- all of which is wonderfully detailed out with humor and wit in the Bug Chef's fascinating, The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook.
It seems very plausible that our future will include popping a few crickets in the Vitamix everyday. At this point, that seemed more palatable than haute cuisine a la bug.
As the Bug Chef prepared our meal we discovered in addition to being a chef he plays harmonica, sings in a band called Zizzy Zi Zixxy (it's a modified spelling of the last listing in the 1965 Chicago phone book) and has been an advocate for the natural world his whole life.
"Most of the world's cultures eat bugs. We're the weirdoes because we're NOT eating bugs."
I will admit to being charmed by Gordon's dry wit and wacky waxed mustache that swirled at the edges. He reminded me of a nerdy circus ringleader.
"A friend of mine told me a story about his visit with an Ainu (Japanese First People) elder. She told him that people were put on this planet to sing the praises of Nature -- the only thing that Nature couldn't do by itself. When I heard that, it all became clear: that's what I'd been doing all of my life, even as a child, sharing my enthusiasm about the natural world with others. As an adult, I've done that by writing and speaking, often about topics, such as slugs and snails, that we wouldn't ordinarily study or take the time to marvel."
I love the Bug Chef's kid-friendly approach to "gourmetifying" eating bugs. It's genius because it appeals to kids in a whimsical and fun way as opposed to scaring them with future predictions of environmental doom and gloom that will force us humans into eating bugs and/or laboratory grown meat.
Who knows what the future will hold, but as a parent, I always think it's better to first engage kids' minds and stomach's with interesting ideas that challenge their senses and give them good memories.
If our future is to eat bugs it's best to start 'em young.
After all, our childhoods are fertile ground for comfort food memories that stay with us. Elvis loved his mother's deep-fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Could I entice my kiddos with happy memories of steaming chocolate-covered Chapulines (Mexican grasshoppers) roasted and seasoned with chiles and lime?
"You want to make sure each leg gets nice and coated with batter," the Bug Chef said, holding the spider carcass delicately as if it were as expensive as say, a lobster tail.
And, tarantula at roughly 24 dollars a pop is pricey.
"Right now, tarantulas are expensive because they're only bred on a small scale, primarily for the pet trade. If we approached tarantula-rearing the way we do poultry farming, you bet your bippy the price per spider would come way down." The Bug Chef explained, confidently.
We stood around our kitchen nervously chatting away the three-minute cook time.
I'm here to tell you that all the data in the world about the glories of eating and cooking bugs doesn't mean squat when you're standing next to the Bug Chef as he offers you a deep fried spider leg.
"Thank you," I say, with a gulp, realizing that the time has come for me to "mom up."
My mouth feels dry and I just hope I have enough saliva to get it down.
"Kids are definitely more adventurous and willing to take risks," the Bug Chef said as he began doling out spider legs to my kids.
"I like to do a cheer before we eat," the Bug Chef rallied, "One, two, three, eat it, eat it, eat it!"
As I chewed, I thought, this wasn't bad. I did begin to wonder why a stringy tendon-like stick in my mouth wasn't dissipating as I ground down my molars.
"It's perfectly fine to eat the exoskeleton," the Bug Chef advised thoughtfully. "Or spit it out."
Seeing as we were on camera and in deference to the Bug Chef, I chose to swallow.
"It tastes like octopus," my thirteen-year-old daughter added, thoughtfully.
"Yuck!" my six-year-old son, Patrick coughed, before spitting out roughly three buck's worth.
I glanced at the Bug Chef. "Sorry!" I said.
He waved my worries away, leaving the impression that when you're the Bug Chef, adventurous eaters spitting out exoskeletons is par for the course.
So much for my food experiment... Proof that even being a mother of five doesn't mean I have all the answers about parenting or food.
At least that's what I thought.
But later that day, after the Bug Chef had departed, Patrick (the spitting out child) approached me with a spoonful of Nutella topped with a dead spider no doubt foraged from some dark alcove in our house.
"Here you go, Mommy! Bug appetite!" He said, wearing a mischievous grin. Followed by, "When's the Bug Chef coming back, I want to try eating that spider...
I peel apples. Today it's juicy, sweet, Pink Ladies. I also enjoy Braeburn, Honey crisp, Granny Smith. Of course, Gravenstein's are the best, but have the shortest growing season. As I peel, my seven-month-old sits gurgling in his highchair.
People say having kids changes you. I have five, so...
The blade came into view like a version of Excalibur -- forged by an Avalonian elf and blessed with dragon's breath -- as the Chef's knife easily sliced through the flesh of the slippery rainbow trout skin.
The Palace Kitchen was our Camelot.
And Chef Tom Douglas was our culinary king.
Apologies up front for all the fantastical allusions... I'm waist deep in George R.R Martin's Game of Thrones HBO series while simultaneously reading the first book in the series.
It was an early Tuesday morning and the popular Palace Kitchen restaurant in downtown Seattle was empty. Inside chairs were still upside down on their tables and the place was filled with the kind of quiet that greets you when visiting a school that's out of session.
But inside the kitchen was alive.
The massive stainless steel grill emanated heat. And standing in front of those was Chef Tom wearing a smile and his signature fluffy hair pleasantly fluffed.
My eight-year-old daughter Amelia lugged over the rainbow trout. Still packed on ice since the night before when she and Sophie her eleven-year-old sister had caught the behemoth at our local trout farm for this kid-friendly feast.
"Do you know how much this fish weighs?" Chef Tom asked the girls hoisting our catch to the cutting board.
"Seven and a half pounds!" Sophie trumpeted as if we were the only kings in the castle (and in fact we were, aside from Chef Tom, his lovely assistant Jessica and a couple of camera men who were filming the segment for a cooking-with-kids web series.
Chef Tom demonstrated how to pluck "pin bones" from the trout.
"Your turn." Chef Tom says offering Sophie Excalibur.
At times Sophie can be shy, but when it comes to the kitchen there is no fear--and she takes hold of the knife as easily as young King Arthur pulls the sword from the stone--it is her destiny.
Every month Chef Tom Douglas is named "Top" something or other. Top Chef, Top Restaurateur. And this month he was named number one most influential Seattle people by a popular Seattle magazine... Howard Schulz CEO of Starbucks was listed as number two.
Watching Chef Tom teach the girls how to cook it's easy to understand his popularity: Gregarious, easy going...he's like a fun uncle who just happens to be famous and believes in the importance of cooking with kids as a fun way to get them engaged in a life long relationship with healthy food as "comfort" food.
Everybody has heard the term "comfort food." Craving food that makes us feel comforted when we eat it.
Advertisers have long exploited sociological research that unconscious impulses established at a young age through learning and emotion are often what drive us. The stronger the emotion, the more clearly an experience is learned.
According to one of my favorite books, The Culture Code by Dr. Clotaire Rapaille about why "we humans do what we do."
"The combination of the experience and its accompanying emotion create something known widely (and coined as such by Konrad Lorenz) as an imprint. Once an imprint occurs, it strongly conditions our thought processes and shapes our future actions. Each imprint helps make us more of who we are. The combination of these imprints defines us."
Cooking with kids is important to me because many of my most memorable personal imprints came after my parents divorced. When I was with my mom (a former vegan) I had a lot of happy memories eating healthy food. When I was with my dad for summers (a Wonderbread-and-bologna kind-of-guy) I have happy memories eating Twinkies and processed food all while watching movies like Rocky.
I believe those experiences left a "food imprint" on me that has left me confused about healthy eating and "comfort" food my whole life.
I watch Sophie methodically slices the trout into fillets as Amelia wears a beaming smile filled with a shy pride as Chef Tom compliments her on the coring and slicing of two Pink Lady apples.
"The potatoes are from Prosser Farm," Chef Tom says referring to his garden as we cut the imperfectly perfect Yukon Gold potatoes.
Amelia opens up the oven hatch and carefully slides a few skinny apple wood logs onto the flame. Chef Tom scratches at the grill grates with a long brush.
Brushed with olive oil and daintily dusted with salt and pepper the Rainbow trout fillets, Romaine Hearts, slices of Yukon Gold potatoes and Pink Lady apples are lined up over the flame.
The restaurant is infused with the flavors of our meal. Sweetness from the apples as the natural sugars bubble to the surface, the savory grilled Rainbow trout tastes like something Huckleberry Finn might catch and cook next to an open flame beside the easy flowing Mississippi.
"That trout didn't stand a chance," Chef Tom teases as we all look down at our cleaned plates.
He's right...that trout didn't stand a chance.
As a journalist mom I enjoy interviewing interesting entrepreneurs and companies that are passionate about kids and community. King Arthur Flour is one such company.
Over the past six months I've been on an extended interview with King Arthur Flour -- our email strings could circumnavigate the earth.
Through my open car window, my girls and I were taking in the sights and sounds of the Capitol Hill neighborhood of downtown Seattle.
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Patrick scoots down on his knees transfixed. I watch my 4-year-old boy squirm his body toward the steel barrier trying to get his neck between...
Growing up I got the sense that the kitchen was the last place my mom wanted to be, or imagined her daughters to end up.
We were called "latch-key" kids in the eighties when "women who worked were having children and didn't want to be stay-at-home mothers." Or at...