I have a weakness for goldfish crackers. We served them at the bar at our wedding, just for fun, and as people grabbed them by the fistful, while local, vegetarian, totally delicious hors d’ouevres circulated behind them, I observed that I’m not the only one with a penchant for those crisp, salty, sort of cheesy fish.
Then I had a kid, and I started making high-minded decisions about what was junk food and what was not. But, gradually, as a treat—even though he is just as happy with a spelt breadstick or a sandwich on whole wheat bread—we started tossing a box of Annie’s whole wheat bunnies into our shopping cart from time to time. Then, we noticed that the orange, not whole wheat, bunnies, are quite delicious. I’m not sure I, personally, have ever bought them, but there’s a box in my pantry right now. And I eat a handful every so often just to make sure they’re still fresh.
One of the things about snacks and toddlers is that toddlers eat approximately ten million times a day. So sure, it might be yogurt and applesauce first, then cucumber slices and cheese, then perhaps some cheerios and raisins on the go, a half-sandwich later on, and green beans and hummus for an appetizer while dinner’s cooking. There are so many opportunities to offer your child something healthy. Or to bribe them into pleasantness with something a little extra fun to eat. And everything I thought that I thought about junk food versus healthy food, about "ruining your appetite before dinner," about "balanced meals" and, well, nutrition in general, is joyfully altered by the experience of living with a person who can savor roast chicken and a lollipop simultaneously. I love feeding a growing boy!
All this is to say that my dear friend and mentor, food writer Melissa Clark, who writes the New York Times column "A Good Appetite," just published a cookbook, In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite, full of the recipes of hers that I love. We make her lamb kibbeh regularly, and her so-simple but spot-on lentil soup; I get all kinds of praise every Hannukah simply for executing her latke recipe, and I’ve got plans to cook the spiced ground chicken fingers she makes for her daughter Dahlia tomorrow, and, and…when a friend puts out a cookbook that is so beautifully full of their stories and their own brand of practical, elegant recipes, it’s hard to decide what to cook first. The whole book is a much-needed inspiration and reminder for me: Grown-up food that is not hard to make, and that Leo will probably want to eat too? Where to start! Then I noticed Melissa’s recipe for Healthy Homemade Cheddar Crisps, with a variation: fishes.
I made them right away. And now I’m trying very hard not to eat them all before Leo’s playgroup arrives. I didn’t have enough cheddar, so used half-Gruyere (not Leo’s favorite on its own) and I used a sprinkle of parmesan on top of some of them, making these a tad more schmancy than Melissa, in her down-to-earth way, would have. But they’re buttery, crunchy, super-cheesy, real-food crackers that, as Melissa puts it, work on the buffet table and the playground. And Leo loves them. Here’s the recipe, which I should have doubled:
Zoe Singer is a freelance food writer and cookbook editor and co-author of The Flexitarian Table. Food Editor and blogger for The Faster Times, she tries not to eat for two now that her son is a toddler.