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My Baby's First Gourmet Meal

Photograph by Getty Images

Sitting here in my kitchen, with my cup of green peppermint tea, the kids have all left for school. All I can hear is the tick-tock of my cuckoo clock in the living room; back and forth, keeping a tempo in our house. It's always a lovely, simple surprise when the bird comes out to proclaim the hour (or half hour).

It's surprising how fast time goes by.

It was last week—I mean it really feels as if it was just last week—that my 15-year-old daughter (my oldest) was a babbling 9-month-old preparing to eat her first real meal. Being a chef, I had been thinking about, and planning, this meal since discovering I was pregnant. Her first taste of REAL food—I was so excited!

I knew that it would be risotto. Slightly more cooked than a grown-up would like (the rice grains lacking that pleasing al dente bite), but it would be creamy, warm and savory (!!), and did I mention it would be her FIRST taste of real food? This was very important. I would be setting down her palatable tracks for the rest of her life!

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Now, allow me to temper that. For daughters No. 2 through 4, I have no recollection what their first meal was. None. Table scraps? Stuff that accidentally fell off my plate onto their highchair? I don't know. Isn't that sad? I, myself, was the youngest of five children and spent my formative food years hiding beneath the family's kitchen table, fighting off a rescue terrier, as we both waited for food to drop to the floor. Occasionally, I would swipe a stick of butter off the table and eat it whole (that's actually true.)

Back to my firstborn, the special one, the inaugural babe who has grown into a beautiful, young woman. A funny, clever, young woman, with absolutely no housekeeping skills whatsoever. Her room is deluged with piles of clothes in different ranges of cleanliness, from fresh-from-the-dryer, to been-worn-three-times-and-smells-of-wet-dog. She is very polite to everyone outside the home, yet feels comfortable enough within our home to be a grunting, teenage curmudgeon. Isn't that comfort level fabulous?

Fifteen years ago, I settled on risotto with smoked salmon for her first meal. Taking extra care, I cooked the rice ever so slowly, over low heat, using homemade chicken stock (no salt—the smoked salmon and cheese would add enough of that.) At the last minute, I added slivers of smoked salmon, stirred in a handful of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and took the pot off the heat. I placed my towheaded little princess into her brand new, top of the line, high chair in the kitchen and waited for the risotto to cool.

My husband stood ready with our giant camcorder (and when I say giant, I am not kidding—it was the same size that television crews use today.) I took a deep breath, "Ready?" I asked all three of us, and picked up a tiny spoonful of smoked salmon risotto. I was delighted when my daughter, after an initial curious expression, gobbled the rest down—she LOVED it! "Oh my gosh!" I thought, "We've produced a foodie!"

She's developed her own taste, which is finicky and odd.

I was so proud ... and a bit smug. I told anyone who asked (or didn't) about my daughter's first dinner, adding, "I just know that this will always be her favorite meal! She'll be a foodie for life!"

Tick-tock, back and forth, life charges on. Fifteen years later now and my oldest daughter would no more eat that bowl of risotto than a leather belt. She's developed her own taste, which is finicky and odd: sashimi, all types of fruit, anything chocolate, everything seafood, mashed potatoes, anything Vietnamese and Twizzlers. Never, ever anything with cheese, cream, mayonnaise, sour cream or butter (she's not lactose-intolerant, just weird.)

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That little girl of mine has grown into her own person. No matter how much I tried to develop her appreciation for Lilly Pulitzer's pink and green dresses and a love of reading, she loyally shops at Forever 21 and insists on texting as a main means of communication. But she's funny and clever, and I like being around her most of the time—just not in her smelly bedroom.

Simple (Kid-Friendly) Smoked Salmon Risotto

Kid-friendly, because this recipe omits the traditional onion, garlic and white wine. In spite of this, it remains adult-worthy, too!

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 30 to 40 minutes

Ingredients

5 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup Arborio (risotto) rice

3 ounces smoked salmon, cut into slivers

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1) Bring broth to a simmer. In a separate pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Once the oil looks as if it is quivering, add in the rice and stir to coat every grain.

2) Add in 1 cup simmering broth and stir every 2 minutes until the broth is absorbed. Then add in 1 cup more broth, continuing (one cup broth at a time) until the last cup of broth is absorbed. Add in the salmon and cheese, and stir. Cover and set aside, off the heat to further "cook" for 10 minutes (this will soften the grains for the little ones).

Makes: 2 adult servings

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