I was thinking the other day about that Swedish couple who are bringing up their child “gender neutral” (so that the child will “grow up more freely and avoid being forced into a specific gender mould from the outset”). I wasn’t thinking this because it was crossing my mind – as it does several times a day – just how bonkers Swedes are*, or as I was wondering why any parent would heap more misery on an already largely thankless job. Nope - instead I was sitting in the kitchen, watching on, somewhat bemused, as the usual dinnertime chaos descend into carnage, when suddenly the Boy dropped his cacks and announced it was time for his willy to come out. He came home from nursery the other day with his pants on backwards, so I imagine that he’s going through a mooning phase at the moment. (Or else – much more likely – that he’s just inordinately proud of his bits.) And that, you see, is the problem with the bonkers Swedes’ social experiment (on their own child... Just... Why??) - you can remove social constraints all you want, but in my vast experience of this, children tend to slip into gender stereotypes all by themselves. (At least in my house they do).
So this afternoon, for want of anything better to do with
their my time, I dressed them both in gender-free clothes (do cast-off, mis-matched pyjamas count as gender-free? I think they do) and gave them gender-free toys (ie, Lego) to play with. Then I sat back and tried to imagine that I didn’t know what sex they were. The Boy – currently sporting shoulder-length hair, so he could almost be a she-he – sat with one hand down his pants, and used the other to "drive" a brick up and down my leg while making VROOOOM noises. The Girl – whose hair hasn’t grown really since she was born – grabbed a plastic door-frame thingy and slipped her hand through it. Then she paraded around showing it off to everyone (me, the Boy, and her reflection in the mirror), before settling down quietly to play with the Lego dog and elephant – wrapping them in the folds of her pyjama top and cooing to them. After a while she toddled off into the hall on her own and waddlled back in a few minutes later wearing the Boy’s shoes and dragging my handbag, looking inordinately proud of herself. Then she demanded my watch and necklace and put these on too. Once adorned, she looked like a live jewellery-tree.
By now the Boy was playing “bounce” – body-slamming down onto the sofa then rolling on the floor – over and over and over, dying of laughing with every clunk of his big fat Swedish head on the floor. “Fight Mummy, FIGHT!” he roared, panting, while the Girl watched in barely disguised horror. He finally picked himself up, announced he was thirsty, and marched into the kitchen where he opened the fridge, took out a carton of juice, and – I swear - drank straight from it. (In fairness however this is probably not so much gender-typical, as a revolting habit he’s picked up from someone who really ought to know better (ahem)). If only he’d then burped loudly, my own social experiment would have been complete.
For anyone who might still be confused as to their gender, and who missed Willy Is Out at dinner time again today, I’d suggest you ask the Boy to tell you a story. I did this evening, and this is an edited (for the sake of coherence only) version of the
Once in a time was there a boy called Riddie and he say “Captain Pirate Mummy, SHIP AHOY!” and swim and swim and swim. And crocodile catch him and EAT HIM UP and he BASH! and HIT! and BREAK HIM TEETH! And crocodile say [puts on whinging meowing voice]: “Pleeeeease Pirate, me hungry and tummy grumbling”. And then HAHAHAHAHA him get SWORD and CUT and fall into the water, plop! dead.
(I left out the bit about the EXPLOSIONS and FIRE and Eating Toast All Day Long, because it didn’t make sense then, and still doesn’t now).
The Girl obviously can’t tell stories – or indeed, much of anything – yet, but I suspect it would be less sea-faring reptilian death and more ponies and jewellery and joy and sunshine. (Although we certainly don’t encourage any of those things in this house – least of all joy or sunshine).
The one area where they are both gender neutral is in their eating habits; both, thankfully, have the appetites of ravenous beasts (the Girl in particular) – they’ll eat more or less anything. Except for crusts. Somehow, word got out that crusts could be removed, and now removed they must always be. With the result that – as we eat alot of bread in this house – there’s a small hillock of crusts on the kitchen counter by the end of every day. There’s only so much feeding that the ducks on the common can take, so imagine my delight when I stumbled across the following recipe last week; then imagine my despair when I realised it was written by Mrs Beeton about 800 years ago, and as such bears no resemblance to any recipe I’ve ever seen, let alone cooked from. So I got it a bit arse-ways – but it was still great, and I suspect if you manage to follow it as directed, it’d be even better.
You Need: (for 4 as a side, or two as a light supper. She says 5 or 6, but I guess people were smaller in those days.)
· 8 or 10 tomatoes
· Pepper and salt to taste
· 2oz of butter
· Bread crumbs (yes, but HOW MANY?? See? Stupid bloody woman)
Take off the stalks from the tomatoes; cut them into thick slices, and put them into a deep baking dish. (It doesn’t actually need to be that deep; Also it helps if you butter the dish first)
Add a plentiful seasoning of pepper and salt and butter in the above proportion. (I really have no idea what that means. Either way, I cocked it up by adding all the butter – chopped into teeny bits – on top of the breadcrumbs. I think this might have been a crucial step, so I’d suggest dotting the butter on the tomatoes before the breadcrumbs, as she instructs.)
Cover the whole with breadcrumbs (I bunged the day’s worth of crusts – at least 40 - into the blender and had enough for a thickish topping. I suppose you use your own judgement with this. I like a bit of crunch, so for me, more was more. I’d suggest about three or four slices of bread would yield adequate crumbs – about three or four large handfuls.)
Drop over these a little clarified butter (they didn’t have olive oil back then, and as we all know, Jamie Oliver introduced the word “drizzle”) and bake in a moderate oven (3 / 160 / 325) from 20 – 30 mins. (I gave them 35 mins which was about right for my (fan) oven.)
Serve very hot. (I disagree. It was actually nicer once it had sat for a bit and the juices soaked into the crumbs slightly.)
This vegetable (aren’t tomatoes a fruit?) dressed as above, is an exceedingly nice accompaniment to all kinds of roast meat. (Not in this house it’s not. It did however go down a storm with some thin slices of hard goat’s cheese, and served all on its own. I suspect it’d also be good with just some plain old bread and butter. Crusts off, it goes without saying.)
(*As the non-Swedish parent of half-Swedish children who are wholly bonkers, I am allowed to say this. Their Swedish father would, if I didn’t threaten him with a 5kg sack of potatoes and twenty-seven cups of tea, probably argue that their Irish gene is to blame for any madness, as well as their predilection towards self-certainty and pedantry. But I am right and I know it.)