Feeding Your Inner Kid

By Sharon Kebschull Barrett
It all started with a lollipop.
Driving through UNC’s campus each day to take my son to preschool, I got an eyeful of the latest in 20-something fashion. What struck me as especially weird one morning, though, wasn’t the low-rise jeans or high-cut boots. It was the fashion for baby food..

Well, maybe toddler food is more like it. I’m amazed by the number of students crossing campus with lollipops in one hand and juice boxes in the other.
It reminds me of a Miss Manners column in which she decried adults who refuse to grow up and children who can’t grow up fast enough, often aided by parents who seem to think acting and dressing like a trampy teen epitomizes the best of life.
As a somewhat fuddy 30-something, I couldn’t agree with her more. I’m perfectly happy to act my age, and wandering around slurping on suckers doesn’t quite fit with that. And since juice boxes weren’t around when I was a kid, I can’t say I’ve ever had the urge to suck one of those down, either.
Mostly, I like grown-up food: eggplant, fish, greens, lamb (except for leftover lamb — cold or reheated, what a wrenching smell). I celebrate the “r” months for giving me oysters.
But that’s not to say a few truly kid foods don’t still appeal to me. Although restaurants have tried since the onslaught of “comfort food” to gussy up mac and cheese, mixing four cheeses, or muddying it with curry, mushrooms, proscuitto — even lobster! —  getting a straight version done right more than comforts me. And I think few combinations are more perfect than a Hershey bar, graham cracker and roasted marshmallow.
There are, though, ways to improve those kid favorites a bit, without getting too fancy. S’mores with homemade marshmallows come high on that list (there are approximately 2 million good reasons to buy a stand mixer, but these are so good they may be the only excuse your wallet needs). Good old graham crackers can’t match the flavor of an English digestive “biscuit” (especially after you’ve watched an old “Mr. Rogers” episode that shows how graham crackers are made — fascinating, but not exactly a turn-on for your tummy). Chocolate-dipped pretzels combine everything good in one bite — salt, chocolate and crunch. Or how about homemade Twinkies, or “hot dogs” made of kielbasa in sage brioche or puff pastry, with Gruyere and honey mustard? Better yet, a mocha fudgesicle for the hot days ahead.
And yes, I do make lollipops. They’re generally a once-a-year thing, since I own bunny and Easter egg molds, and they’re wrapped up for the kids’ baskets. But the flavor of a homemade lollipop is so superior, they’re hard for adults to resist, too. The trick is to let a single, strong flavor shine through. I usually make orange and lemon ones, but a coffee caramel lollipop goes over well with adults looking for a sugar high. Better still, you don’t even need a candy thermometer to make them.
(One book worth reading, if you’re looking for adultified kid treats, is Gale Gand’s “Just a Bite” — but use it for inspiration more often than the actual recipes, unless you’re an experienced baker good at spotting a recipe dud or able to fix a recipe before you’ve ever made it.)
So go on, feed your inner child. But think about doing so in the privacy of your own home. And hey — Miss Manners says to pull up those hip-huggers, you hear?
First published in the Independent Weekly, June 22, 2005

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