Every night we read a chapter or two of a book to EldestGirl. Her taste in fiction moved really swiftly from picture books to really quite complicated chapter books. She did baulk at The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe being read to her. I think it was just a bit too involved in terms of so many different things going on – set a long time ago, fantasy, evacuees – just too many unfamiliar concepts. We gave up after a few chapters, and thank God because I for one do not want to have to cook fricking Turkish Delight. Or explain the resurrection myth via lion imagery to a six year-old.
I thought she might be the same for Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. These were published when I was already an adult, so I have no childhood memories of reading them, and am in fact unsure if I ever read more than the first couple of books. I used to buy them for my Grandma for Christmas presents and I know she enjoyed them.
I was unsure if EldestGirl would savour them. I knew she would like the Baudelaire siblings – particularly little Sunny who communicates primarily through the medium of biting, and the plucky and clever Violet, with whom I rightly thought she might identify. But I wondered if the narrative style, full of tongue-in-cheek, slightly patronising definitions of tricky words, might put her off.
…occasionally their parents gave them permission to take a rickety trolley – the word “rickety”, you probably know, here means “unsteady” or “likely to collapse”…
She took this in her stride though – and with far more grace than when I try to define words for her! She absolutely loved the book, and gasped out loud at the different twists and turns, and laughed raucously when Sunny bit the baddies.
Of course the stand-out dish in A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning is the puttanesca sauce the orphans make for their evil guardian Count Olaf. No recipe is provided, but we do learn that the children go to the market and purchased
garlic, which is a sharp-tasting bulbous plant; anchovies, which are small salty fish; capers, which are flower buds of a small shrub and taste marvelous; and tomatoes, which are actually fruits and not vegetables as most people believe.
Excellent. We took a trip to Tesco, and found the ingredients. I always find Felicity Cloake reliable for an excellent recipe, so we chose hers.
I should mention at this point, that EldestGirl is somewhat fussy with food. Actually, that doesn’t begin to cover it. She was breast-fed, baby-led weaned, and at two years old, ate everything you could possibly put in front of her. At six years old, her list of approved foods is vanishingly small, and also excludes anything that has ever been near a tomato (including pizza, lasagne and spaghetti bolognese – you know, the sort of food that EVERYONE ELSE’S CHILD EATS).
I was under no illusion that she would be happily munching on olives, but I did hope that she might try the sauce and enjoy it. She did not.
In fact, I wish I had a photo of her trying the sauce, as it would have been an absolutely excellent illustration of why you should never bother trying to do anything nice with your children. (Side note, I made chocolate cupcakes with YoungestGirl later in the day and nobody had any fucking problem with those.)
She did however, surprise me a bit, by eating a whole anchovy straight out of the jar, the tiny freak.
YoungestGirl was starving by the time the puttanesca sauce was ready. She would eat anything. Anything at all. She was starving. She would eat anything except, apparently, the puttanesca sauce that literally made her cry. Still more prostitute pasta for the rest of us.
If you wish to make some of your own puttanesca sauce, it’s actually really easy. Your children won’t eat it, but it’s one of my favourites.
- Chop some garlic and fry it in some olive oil
- Add about three chopped anchovies and fry them until they start sort of dissolving
- Pop in half a teaspoon of chilli flakes. Reduce this if you don’t want your toddler to cry and say her mouth hurts
- Bung in about a tablespoon of capers (rinsed) and some chopped black olives. Your children will spit these out. Your husband wants to as well, but won’t, out of politeness.
- Stir it all round a bit, then add about 100ml of passata. I was supposed to add puree too but someone had used the last of it and not added it to the shopping list, and I’m not saying who, so technically this isn’t passive-aggressive. I used ketchup instead. Don’t tell anyone.
- Cook some spaghetti, then bung it in the sauce and whiz it around a bit with a spatula.
- Serve. It’s pescatarian until this point where you add shitloads of parmesan, and then the pescatarians can’t have it. Mwah ha ha. Your toddler will cry and your six year-old will pull a face like you’re torturing her. You’re welcome.