When she’s not scouting out the city’s best falafel or macarons, the foodie tot is a ballet dancer. She’s been, at her own request, in ballet classes since age two. Her program focuses their learning units around a story time to draw the kids in and keep them engaged. One day, she came out of class and struck a pose, announcing, “I’m Marie!” It turns out they had read a story about Degas’ famed sculpture, Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. She wanted to know if we could go to the National Gallery to see the sculpture. As luck would have it (or perhaps it was intentional on the part of our ballet school), a musical production of the fictionalized story was about to premiere at the Kennedy Center, and I had been debating whether the tot, at age four, was old enough to attend her first grown-up production. I went ahead and got tickets for a weekday matinee, and we were off to the National Gallery to whet our appetite by exploring Degas’ sculpture and ballerina paintings.
Of course, as a family food writer I’m always looking for a way to inject food into our experiences, and we had two chances in our Degas adventure. First, no visit to the National Gallery is complete without a stop for gelato in the below-ground cafeteria. We happened to run into a preschool classmate there and the two girls danced around the cafe in between bites of gelato.
During the show — which was more magical than I can describe — I noted that Degas’ housekeeper once mentioned preparing a lunch for him of “a baguette and paté.” So naturally I seized upon the opportunity to introduce the tot to paté at home. I didn’t grow up eating chicken liver or the like, but have acquired the taste for it as an adult. Liver is so rich in nutrition that I’ve been meaning to find ways to include it more in our home cooking. The foodie boy actually encountered it several years ago when we arrived at my brother’s for a holiday. My sister-in-law had made some paté and set it out for hors d’oeuvres. From the table, mouth half full, he called out to his cousin, “Come try this chocolate dip!” We all looked at him wondering what on earth he was talking about — only to notice he was scooping the pate onto crackers and scarfing it down. The foodie tot had a good laugh over this story as I tried to fend off her little fingers long enough to snap pictures for this post.
I’m not going to lie, the cornichons likely made all the difference in enticing the foodie tot to try our paté. I also set the table with our china tea cups (purchased at a thrift shop) and when she came into the room and saw the table she gasped, “Oh, are we having a tea party?!” Another reminder that sometimes it’s simply how you present a new food that will encourage little ones to give it a try.
Recipe: Simple Chicken Liver Paté
Makes 16 servings, as an appetizer
- 1 pound chicken livers, preferably from free-range chickens
- 1/2 cup plus four tablespoons butter, at room temperature, divided
- 1 shallot, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup sherry
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- black pepper
- 4-6 fresh sage leaves
1. Melt two tablespoons butter in skillet over medium heat. Add shallot and cook for a minute, then add livers and saute, stirring occasionally, until outsides are browned, about five minutes. (Insides should still be pink.) And sherry and cook for an additional minute, until steam subsides.
2. Remove from heat and let cool a little before transferring livers and cooking liquid into a food processor. And 1/2 cup butter, two sage leaves, salt and pepper. Process until smooth.
3. Spoon paté into individual ramekins or small jars. Place a sage leaf on top of each. Melt remaining two tablespoons butter and gently spoon over tops. Cover and chill in the refrigerator overnight. Bring to room temperature before serving, and be sure to serve with toasted sliced bread or baguette and cornichons.
Cooking with Kids notes: Little ones can carefully chop the shallot (it doesn’t need to be perfect since the mixture will be puréed) and press the buttons on the food processor.
Sadly Little Dancer has already ended its (too short) run at the Kennedy Center, but thanks to the magic of social media, we now follow the dancer who plays young Marie on Instagram — and you can only imagine how thrilled the foodie tot was when Tiler commented on one of her own ballet photos. You can still see the Little Dancer sculpture, and the famous Degas ballerina paintings, at the National Gallery of Art.