Winning a 12-year-old’s approval for what you cook is a bit like climbing Mount Everest (although I hear Nanga Parbat is a more accurate comparison)—you may strive, you may struggle but getting to the summit is a rare feat.
My adoring child, who always said “mmmm, I love it appa”, is more discerning than ever. I am now told it’s good but a bit spicy, it’s good but I am not so hungry, it’s good but I will eat it tomorrow. She still cares about my feelings but only just, I suspect. As the great chasm of preteen-hood opens before you, it is best not to understand why but to try and bridge it.
To that end, I strive.
It took me some time to realise that the things that once worked now may not. She’s still eager to eat my interpretation of my Ajji’s Goan fish curry but I notice she eats a tiny piece of fish and turns the rest into comfort food—white rice and curry. She still smiles and eats my roast pork but I notice she is more critical and will allege a banned ingredient has been added, such as clove or cardamom, which she abhors.
Sometimes, she will eat very little of what I have made and argue that today she only wants her ultimate comfort food: mosranna (curd rice) with pomegranate seeds. I have no truck with my daughter’s great favourite, pizza, so that is best left to Domino’s, which makes a dubious industrial-production-line version that she and her grandmother enjoy every Friday on date night—theirs and ours.
The challenge begins with eggs on school days. Where once mutte (egg) dosas and creamy scrambled eggs were sources of delight, eggs themselves are contentious. But eggs are a very important part of our lives, and even the wife, who is vegetarian, has started eating them for protein and energy. Eggs, as we well know, are nutritional powerhouses.
Since an egg, we tell her, is non-negotiable, it’s up to us to figure out how it can be made acceptable. Her mother gives her the occasional half-boiled eggs, which she makes much better than I, and her gooey omelette is much appreciated.
I have taken my cue from my wife and served up gooey omelettes as well—if you cannot beat them, copy them—adding in bits of ham, cheese and olive. These are delicious omelettes, even if I say so myself.
I may be ordinary at most things in life but the one thing I do well is to make high-class omelettes, done to your preference and stuffed with all kinds of interesting ingredients. The child appears to still like these omelettes but the question of an egg a day remains. On some days, there is eager acceptance of the egg, on some, resistance is strong.
Students of Karnataka government schools may recently and overwhelming have chosen eggs as part of their midday meals but privilege is a difficult thing to convey to a preteen attending a school where SUVs and German cars swarm the gates. She does grasp the concept of privilege though, aware that holidays abroad and five-star hotels are not her life and that there are some students in her class who are noticeably worse off.
As the tussle over eggs continued, I thought back to my childhood and how we could never could get enough of eggs, sometimes eating three at a time. We even had eggs for lunch and dinner, especially on vegetarian-only Thursdays, when they were slipped into a potato curry or a fried egg was made for dinner. I did remember though that we often had an old-fashioned casserole and loved it.
It had been decades but it was worth a shot. So, the last weekend, I made bold to present eggs for Sunday lunch as part of a casserole. My original idea was to bung in eggs with sausages, as we had as children, and leave it at that. But since one has become fancy and all that over the years, I added on a bottom layer of onions and tomatoes and incorporated fresh herbs.
When the child came by the lunch table, she was hungry and looked at the casserole quizzically. “Is there egg in this?” she asked, not without menace. She took a slice and carted it off to watch with a TV lunch. For reasons best known to her, she was watching—and enjoying—Peter Sellers’ The Party for the second time, a movie that, to me, hasn’t aged well.
Either Sellers’ brownface or the casserole improved her mood. “Really good,” she said of the casserole. She didn’t take a second helping though.
Sausage, rosemary and basil casserole
1 packet of five sausages. Cut each sausage into three pieces
4 eggs, beaten
Two tomatoes, sliced
One large onion, sliced
2 small sprigs, rosemary
2 tbsp, fresh basil
Half tsp black pepper powder
Half tsp paprika
Half tsp dried oregano
3-4 tbsp Edam and sharp cheddar cheese
Salt to taste
Fry the sausages in a non-stick pan and set aside. Grease a casserole and lay out a bed of sliced onion, place sliced tomatoes over this. Sprinkle with paprika, black pepper and a little salt. Grill in the oven at 200 degrees Celsius for 25 minutes, flipping over once. Scatter the sausages, half the basil leaves and rosemary over the tomato and onion. Pour in the eggs so that they cover everything. Sprinkle cheese and oregano. Bake at 200 degrees Celsius for 15 minutes or until the cheese browns. Remove, garnish with fresh basil and serve hot.
Our Daily Bread is a column on easy, inventive cooking. Samar Halarnkar is the author of The Married Man’s Guide To Creative Cooking—And Other Dubious Adventures. @samar11 on Twitter.