God bless my third child, because that girl will eat anything. Well, almost anything. When the time came to switch from breast milk to whole milk, she spit that crap right out. Only when we started putting skim milk in her cup did she agree to drink the stuff. A girl has to watch her figure.
Other than whole milk and ice cream, however, Lilah will eat whatever is put in front of her. Lentils, eggplant, spinach, chicken… you name it, she eats it. Unlike Benjamin, who gorges himself on giant fistfuls of victuals like a cross between a caveman and Henry VIII, Lilah is a lady with table manners. She deliberately picks up one morsel at a time, content to spend forty-five minutes on a twelve-course meal. To be completely honest, all her delicate manners do nothing to prevent her from getting soup in her ears and cheese on her head.
I have earned this baby. Feeding Zachary has the potential to become a full-time obsession, what with his constantly shifting sensitivities to textures and smells. One day he cannot handle skin on his fruit, the next day he eats only the skin. This week he likes grapes, next week he’ll declare them disgusting. Every food has to be vetted for offensive odors or sauces that might inadvertently slip onto the plate. After five years of this shit, I deserve a kid who doesn’t make me think too hard about what I feed her, damn it.
Lilah almost turned out to be the one.
Unfortunately, it turns out that everything she eats makes her break out into hives. It started with squashes, but quickly grew. Eggs. Lentils. Beans. Chicken. Tofu. Pizza. Pasta. At every meal, she would happily dip into the creamed spinach soup or paint herself black with beans. And by the end, her face was covered in hives.
We decided to test her for food allergies. Maybe it was tomatoes, beans, and dairy that gave her the eczema. Or perhaps she was sensitive to meat proteins. Maybe it was gluten, whatever the fuck that is. The doctor and I discussed some possibilities, and she ticked off the choices on her little referral form. It wasn’t until I got the thing home that I realized there was one common denominator in all the foods Lilah was eating. I called the doctor and had her add one more item to the list for the blood screening.
And that’s how we came to find that our daughter is allergic to garlic. Mildly allergic, mind you, but since she was getting it in everything, she was pretty much constantly exposed to an irritant. Hence the blotchy skin and scaly elbows.
I panicked. How the hell was I supposed to cook? I use garlic in pretty much everything. Short of chocolate chip cookies, there isn’t a dish out there that doesn’t get its best start in life from olive oil, onions, and garlic. Although I was already cooking most of our food from scratch, I liked to know I had the option of ordering in. I rarely would, but I need that escape hatch for weeks when everyone had didn’t have swine flu and the oven door fell off. I defy you to think of a single food one can order in that does not have garlic in it.
Just listen to that escape hatch swing shut.
What I quickly have come to realize, however, is that adding more onions allows me to remove the garlic without any catastrophic effects. The taste is milder usually, but equally good. Contrary to popular opinion, pasta sauce made without garlic does not cause your rigatoni to shrivel up into a ball and beg for mercy. It can be quite good.
So, here’s how I made Lilah’s Garlicless Red Sauce:
6 to 10 tomatoes, deseeded and diced
2 medium sized onions, diced
one bunch spinach, washed well and chopped
fresh basil, oregano and parsley (or dried)
salt and pepper
Heat the olive oil in a large pot. Let me spill a little secret about olive oil: it doesn’t really matter how much you put in. The onions will cook well no matter what amount you use. If you really need a measurement, let’s go with two tablespoons, but I won’t tell anyone if you just dump some in. Cook the onions for about ten minutes until translucent. Toss in the tomatoes and cook until well stewed, maybe five to ten minutes.
Oh, wait, I forgot to tell you to put in the bay leaf, too. Cook the bay leaf with the tomatoes.
Then throw in the spinach and the herbs. Fresh is always better, and you cannot possibly have too much fresh basil. However, dried also works fine, and in that case stick to a teaspoon or less of each herb. When the spinach has wilted into the sauce, add salt (sparingly) and lots of pepper.
I didn’t have any cooked white beans, but if I had, I would have tossed those in, too.
Puree it all (except the bay leaf. For the love of God, take that out). It’s a little dark for a red sauce, but that spinach packs a nice punch. I used it for a lasagna last night and the two children who actually eat loved it. The other one sat on the floor across the room from the offending food and muttered to himself. Every now and then I caught words like “disgusting” and “horrible.”
To make the lasagna, by the way, cook some noodles. Put just a little sauce on the bottom of 9x 13 pan. Put down a layer of noodles. Ricotta cheese in splotches (or, if your ricotta has gone bad, use cottage cheese). Lots of grated mozzarella. Sauce. Noodles. Sauce. Cottage cheese/ricotta. Mozzarella. Noodles. Sauce. Cottage cheese/ricotta. Mozzarella. Noodles. Sauce. Mozzarella. Parmesan cheese.
Serve hot, then after the meal cut up a pear so that the picky one eats something before bed.
The key is to go very, very easy on the sauce each layer. It is easy to go overboard and then you get a mushy lasagna. But remember, there is no such thing as too much mozzarella.
Of course, I used to think that about garlic, too.