Thursday 7 April 2016

Can I Eat That?

We are really excited to be part of a blog tour to introduce an innovative and engaging new book from American journalist and food critic Joshua David Stein and illustrator of scrumptious design Julia Rothman. Can I Eat That? uses a series of whimsical questions and unusual foods to challenge children about tastes they know and foods they have never thought of and to introduce the idea that concepts of what we can eat are different in different countries. It has proved a perennial mealtime favourite in the last couple of weeks and has been requested continually.

It has also led to a little experimentation of our own. We decided to use the page about pickles as a prompt to try something new and also to learn about various types of taste.

With a simple activity we selected a food from each category, tried it, and learned the name for that particular sensation:

Sweet - sugar, honey, mango;

Salty - salt, crisps;

Bitter - olives, citrus peel;

Sour - Pickles, citrus fruits;

Umami (Savouriness) - Tomato, soy sauce, mushrooms.

We also had a great time yesterday at Hampton Court Palace smelling, selecting and mixing herbs used to season Tudor food, wrapping them up and taking them home to try cooking with. We ended up with a selection of mustard seeds, cloves, pepper corns, bay leaves, parsley, thyme and rosemary.

We took the opportunity of the blog tour to ask Joshua a few questions, and he's also written us his own guide to the top places for families to eat in his own stomping ground, the wonderful New York City.

We said that we were very interested to know about the process of working with an illustrator. We love the pictures in this book - how much creative input did you get as an author?

Well, one of the things I loved so much about working with Julia is she brought so much I had never thought of. I had mocked up some watercolors originally. I was almost good enough but not quite. But Julia took these ideas added dimensionality and a level of skill and imagination that was just beyond.  

As a food critic and writer, we asked Joshua his views of English food & favourite spots in London. We enjoyed talking about egg plant (US) vs. aubergine in his book and wondered whether there are things we eat here and names we have that Americans find odd?

Yeah, actually if you look at the US v. UK edition there are a couple of changes. Besides eggplant v. aubergine, there you call what we call chicken fingers, chicken sticks, and what we call fish sticks, fish fingers, so that spread was changed. In general, about English food and London spots, my thoughts are, yippee! A full English breakfast remains one of my favorite experiences as well as what you call, I believe, a ploughman's lunch. Generally, the English are strong on sausage and beans. And I too love sausage and beans. Finally, my all-time favorite meal in my life can only be found in London, at Borough Market, at the Kappacasein stand. There's something so intensely satisfying watching someone scrape melted cheese from a wheel. 

Have you eaten all the the things in the book? Did you like sea urchin and jellyfish? 

I have eaten all the edible things, yes. I personally love the richness of uni, which also happens to be quite a popular ingredient here. Jelly fish I'm okay with but rarely seek out.  

What made you write this particular book. The kids love it - it is so original. We are interested to hear a bit more about its genesis.

The book really came out of dinner conversations I had with my eldest son, Achilles. He's an extremely picky eater so dinner became a battleground. I wanted to find a way to talk about food without it becoming a fight. So making it playful and, I suppose you could say, neutral, was a wonderful way to bond with him about something that is a big part of my life too.


Restaurants, like space in general, in New York City is short. And as any parent knows, tiny restaurants and small children do not mix well. That’s doesn’t mean a family can’t eat well together. Simply that one must think strategically about where one goes.

Dinosaur BBQ -- This massive restaurant on the far west side of Harlem -- and there’s a Brooklyn location too -- has some of the best BBQ in the city and a laid-back environment where hootin’ and hollerin’ may not even be noticed.

Hudson Eats -- A food court like Hudson Eats happens to have tremendous stalls for adult palates and plenty of wide-open space for child restlessness. Another plus of this one in particular is that it abuts the Hudson River and has plenty of outdoor space to frolic.

Dimsum A Go Go -- This dim sum place in the heart of Chinatown isn’t too large but it’s been a long-time favourite in my house. Chaos, to some extent, is expected here and no one seems to mind the mess children inevitably create. Plus the dumplings are beyond excellent.

Roberta’s -- I wouldn’t recommend Roberta’s during dinner rush, when the waits stretch to bureaucratic levels but this famous pizzeria has a large outdoor space with picnic tables where one often finds families of Brooklyn hipsters on weekends, enjoying pizzas like the Cheesus Christ and Lil’ Stinker.

Picnic -- One of our favourite things to do, weather permitting, is to spread a blanket out in one of the city’s many sprawling parks for a picnic. Food + running around, what could be better? Besides the well-known parks like Central and Prospect Parks, Riverside Park, especially the Promenade, is among the most relaxing (and close to Dinosaur BBQ too!)

Disclaimer: We received a copy of Can I Eat That? for the purposes of review. All opinions are very much my own. Go and check out some of the other posts that are part of this blog tour too. In Magpie That we hear about what inspired Joshua to write this book, and from Read it Daddy, some tips for aspiring food critics.

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