Cooking with Juliet
For Adam Dolge, sharing his passion for cooking with his toddler has changed their relationship, one omelet at a time.
Of all the major milestones you celebrate as a parent—your baby's first real, non-gas--induced smiles, wobbly steps, the first time she sleeps through the night—the one that I cherish most has to do with a French omelet I made my 1-year-old daughter for breakfast.
The previous 12 months had been grueling, life-altering, as I struggled with parenthood. Juliet was a crier—in fact, it's still her favorite way of getting her point across now that she's just shy of 2 years old. She's fierce, strong and deeply independent and I adore her for that. But as an infant she didn't seem to like anything, including me. I tried my best. I played guitar for her, took her for walks, cuddled with her on the couch and read her bedtime stories. But nothing seemed to help.
What did I get myself into? That frequent thought was one I kept to myself, afraid to share with anyone, especially my wife. Juliet was our rainbow baby following two pregnancy losses—the first while I was in culinary school and my wife was in her second trimester, late enough for her to have to deliver our first daughter. Instead of coming home from the hospital with our beautiful baby, we were given a box filled with pictures and ultrasounds, pamphlets on grief and how to talk to family about miscarriage, and a teddy bear the identical size of our lost daughter. The second happened before the fetus had formed, so there were no mementos or means of comfort. That time, I was just a few weeks into a new job in Alabama, a thousand miles away from family and friends.
When Juliet arrived, I swore that I would never take her for granted, lose sight of her future or forget the pain and struggle my wife and I had shared. Still: What did I get myself into? Sleep-deprived and lost in an isolated world of ceaseless crying, dirty diapers, bottles and pacifiers, I found no love of being a father.
But I did have a passion for cooking. As a trained chef, I'm most confident and comfortable working with food. It's central to my life and, to me, there is no greater way to show love than feeding someone.
As Juliet started on solids—-not the gray, plaster-like cereals but actual food—I exposed her to everything. First, the smells and textures. She'd raise an eyebrow in interest after trying raw spinach, gag on slices of tomato and wiggle with delight biting into corn on the cob. Then the flavors: sautéed carrots with caraway and orange; pecan--smoked chicken with -Alabama white sauce (an homage to the state where she was born); and most notably that omelet, filled with finely chopped broccoli and spinach and a touch of gooey cheese. I set her in her highchair in the kitchen and cooked, talking her through the process like the host of a TV food show.
Try Adam's recipe: Broccoli & Cheese Omelet
"See how the egg yolks this morning are bright orange? The color has to do with what the chicken ate."
"Bock! Bock! Bock!" she replied, mimicking the chickens she'd befriended at the local farm.
"Here, taste this Jack cheese; it's a lot milder than Cheddar, isn't it?"
"Mmm … more. More!" she squealed.
"Let's put some chives on top. It looks pretty and the oniony flavor complements the rich eggs so well."
"No," said Juliet, spitting out the fistful of chopped herbs she'd shoved in her mouth.
"Sweetie, those are the same chives you pick and eat from our garden."
"Mmm … more!"
We'd finally found a way to connect.
Now that my little girl is an active toddler, her patience for watching me cook has all but vanished. She's too busy chasing our dog and talking to her stuffed animals. But when I'm standing over the stove, if I ever feel a little tug on the back of my pant leg, I'm happy to take a moment, pick up Juliet, and show her what I'm cooking. I hope this early work means she won't be a fussy eater, but my real wish is that she'll carry these memories with her and one day share my love for cooking. Until then, I'll continue to share as many textures and flavors as I can with her, and relish every chance I get to make Juliet an omelet.
Adam Dolge is lead recipe developer at EatingWell.
This article is part of Stirring, a series about the intersection between food and love—and why being in the kitchen just makes life better. Read the other articles in the series, including Summer Miller's family and the importance of dinner and Gabrielle Hamilton's relationship with her wife and their love for coffee. The series originally appeared in EatingWell Magazine, January/February 2020.
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