Yesterday was quite a food day in our house, but as often happens, the most interesting/enjoyable food experiences sprang from the simplest of ingredients and ideas. To quickly update for those who read yesterday’s post and are wondering how my Leftover Lunacy was received by the two miniature Jeffrey Steingartens I’m apparently raising: P., shockingly, DEVOURED the ham and broccoli pocket, and ate more than half the rice pudding — clearly, the flavor of banana won out over the texture of the rice, for him. L., on the other hand, shocked me by NOT devouring either. He ate somewhere over a third of the pocket (craftily nibbling around the edges, squirrel-like, and thus avoiding the most broccoli-heavy area of the thing), but flatly refused to touch the pudding. However, it should be noted that a) he didn’t appear to be in much of an eating mood overall yesterday, so he may not have been all that hungry to begin with; and b) when offered the choice of trying the pocket again for his lunch today, or having a waffle sandwich made with sunflower butter (a favorite lunch treat of both kids), he asked for the pocket. So I guess that means both experiments were qualified successes, and L. is probably just being, well, extra-4 right now.
Moving on from the lunchboxes to dinnertime, those who have been astutely keeping track of where we are in the monthly meal plan (ahem, Mom and Dad) will have noticed that last night was sandwich night. The exact plan called for blts and baked sweet potato fries, but we changed course a bit, because I had a big bag of gorgeous zucchini flowers in the fridge that I’d greedily snatched from the Pak Express stall last Saturday, and which were going to go south pretty soon if I didn’t use them. So the sweet potato fries got 86’ed in favor of tempura-fried zucchini flowers. The fruit, by the way, ended up being something I’ve never in my life heard of, seen, or tasted before: Zephyr Farms’ Snow Leopard Melon. This thing is pure, pearly white on the inside, firm like a honeydew, with a crisp texture and a flavor that can only be described as melted honey poured over lavender flowers. In other words, it was amazingly delicious, and everyone out there who has never eaten one of these suckers needs to get to the Pawtuxet Market this weekend and storm the Zephyr Farms stall for one. Or actually — don’t, because I don’t want you to get there before me and take the last one.
Back to the zucchini blossoms, I must say that a menu line-up including both bacon and fried veg. gave me some angst. We do try to be at least somewhat healthy with our cooking, though probably in the strictest sense, that old Jamie Oliver term “wholesome” wins out over dietitian-defined “healthy” most of the time. In other words, I’m more likely to think about the way my great-grandmothers would have fed their growing boys than I am to scrupulously count calories and fat grams, and I’m more concerned about avoiding lots of additives and modern newfangled food production conventions than I am strictly avoiding “bad fats” and “sugars” and whatever other nasty monsters are purported to lurk in, well, food. But still, bacon is not an everyday splurge for us — or even a once-a-week luxury — so the idea of serving it up to the family alongside a heaping pile of fried goodness made me feel like I should have been cooking the whole thing up in a Fry Daddy and eating it outside in a yard strewn with old cars.
Which leads my to my original, titled question: To fry or not to fry?
I know parents who simply won’t feed fried food to their families. They go to great lengths to avoid it, and everything that would ordinarily be fried ends up baked, toasted, broiled, or crisped over an open flame (well, maybe not that, but you see where I’m going). There are, on the other end of the spectrum, people who regularly pull out the fry-o-lator, cast iron skillet, or other mechanism of deep frying and toss the majority of the family dinner into its depths. I fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, I think — I don’t fry LOTS of things, and I almost never really “deep-fry” anything. But there are times when certain foods are just tastier — and admittedly, possibly more appealing to the children — when they have that special golden brown crunchiness that only frying can provide.
I’ve read that flash-frying and tempura frying, both of which are relatively quick and done at a high heat, are actually not horrible from a nutritional standpoint. Apparently, if done properly, the controlled heat sears the outside of the food right away and creates a barrier, which means that large amounts of oil can’t permeate the crust and seep into the food. After draining on paper towels, the amount of fat and so forth that the food actually retains is supposedly relatively small. I don’t know if it’s true or not, though I suspect there’s at least a kernel of truth to it — when I cook things like the zucchini blossoms (which by the way, in my opinion, can ONLY be enjoyed properly when fried), they turn out light, crispy, airy, and not at all greasy. Which means that J. and I can pardon ourselves for the rampage of blossom munching that occurred at the table last night.
But seriously, research or no research, it’s a quandary. Sure, I more often resort to the healthier alternatives, baking and oven-drying things like vegetable chips and breaded eggplant sticks and the like, so I get my healthy Mommy gold star for those things. But should I feel the pang of guilt I endure when I do pull out my wide skillet, dollop a half-inch or more of oil into the bottom, and enjoy the ensuing golden-brown crackliness of glorious fried beauty that results from it? Should I be so concerned that the occasional dinner of bacon sandwiches and zucchini flowers is poisoning my children’s bodies and hardening their tiny arteries? Or is it OK, every so often, to fall prey to the reasoning that the crunchy batter made them EAT the vegetable (if zucchini flowers are a “vegetable” — still deciding on that one) rather than attempt to cajole me into allowing a food fight, with the veg. being the main ammunition?
Oh, it’s a slippery slope, I fear, this frying temptation. I have no answer to the dilemma. I will say only this: if the BLT is more heirloom tomato and butter lettuce than bacon, it’s practically a salad. Right? So…we ate salad and zucchini flowers and melon for dinner. Which is positively virtuous, as far as I can tell.