Saturday, September 1, 2007

diary of a short order cook

This is your brain.

This is your brain in my kitchen.

Any questions?

Let's move on then.

Or not.

I'm pretty sure that you're all more than ready for me to move on topic-wise, but I'm going to have to stay on this one for one more day. The care of my family is not an issue at the moment but the feeding of my family is huge. And as much as I would like to say that it's on the right side of the course - it isn't. Far from it. Every day I slide a little further down the hill into a big puddle of...well, it isn't brown gravy. Not even close. I spend more of my waking days than I care to admit mulling over this whole food thing, so today I'll mull for the masses. Allow me to apologize in advance. I know that none of you signed up for this. The exit is to your right. And I do promise this will be the end of the food saga. For now anyway.

To set the record straight I'm having a hell of a time coming up with meals lately, but it really isn't because people are picky. Well, not unduly picky. All of my children will eat any vegetable you put in front of them with the exception of brussel sprouts and mushrooms, which I'm okay with because it's just more for me. They are adventurous in their eating and will eat Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Middle Eastern and any form of Italian you can conjure up. They all like spicy, highly seasoned foods, which they get from both of their parents. I firmly hold that pain is a flavor and have been known to put enough red pepper flakes on pizza to kill the delivery man. And me about twelve hours later.

It isn't what they will eat. It's what they won't eat. Or can't eat. This is where all my problems start. Here is a little chart to help explain...

The Film Geek - is a joy to cook for because he will eat virtually anything you put in front of him. His mama raised him right. He doesn't turn his nose up at leftovers and is perfectly comfortable rustling up meals all on his own. Granted he has a repertoire of about four dishes, but still. The problem with him is what he shouldn't eat. Thanks to a genetic cholesterol level that is literally through the roof, he's supposed to follow a low-carb, low-fat, low glycemic index diet. Minimal pasta, minimal rice, mostly protein and veggies. Do I need to tell you that this is not how he wants to eat? He'll freely admit that he doesn't really want to figure it out so he just leaves it all to me. You could even say dumps it on me. Thanks...

Sasquatch - channels my father in his die-hard carnivorous ways. Every day after school when he asks what we're having for dinner his next question is always "Is there meat in it?"And is a bottomless pit of a teenager to boot. If he had his way he would eat triple Whoppers with cheese and extra mayo, king sized fries and a large coke every day of the week. The fact that I don't buy into the whole fast food thing ruins his life, to hear him tell it. He's slimmed down a lot as he's cracked six feet something, but he's not a twig. I was sure, based on his build, that he was going to lose the genetic cholesterol crapshoot, but he didn't. Thankfully. Because he feels so deprived in the meat stakes, whenever there is some he feels he has to inhale as much of it as possible to make up for his earlier deficit. Imagine starved lions tearing into a gazelle. It's an ugly sight, people. Don't try and picture it for too long.

Gumby - decided about a year ago to stop eating meat. He will eat fish, so when we say he's a vegetarian we're being kind of loosey goosey with it. The kid is almost as tall as me and he's eleven. (I'm five ten). His ten year old brother, who is shorter, outweighs him by I don't even want to know how much. (And he's not heavy). Gumby's what we used to call a string bean. The kid is evidently as healthy as a very skinny horse, so I'm not complaining. I was built very much the same way as a kid and I clearly outgrew it. I'm betting he will too. If not, I'll just keep repeating the words "basketball scholarship" over and over again. Except he's a klutz. Anyhow...he's not a big eater at any one time, but he grazes all day. Other than meat he'll eat almost anything, but could live on cheese. Any kind of cheese. And beans. Any kind of beans. He's the pickiest of the three in terms of vegetables, but happily takes a salad to school every day in his lunch box. It's his lunch of choice.

Surfer Dude - my little foodie. He'll eat a good assortment of food, but for him it's all about the preparation and presentation. He once told me his dinner tasted fine but my plating needed work. Imagine a cross between Anthony Bourdain and Dennis the Menace. Without the cowlick or the heroin habit. No food is safe in my house, as he will empty the the contents of the fridge onto the island to "work on knife skills" for awhile. When I get all over him for wasting food, he mixes up these concoctions that are designed to use up whatever it is he's just diced or minced or chiffonaded but are not, often, designed to be edible. Then he plates it beautifully and sometimes even garnishes it. This is all very sweet until he presents it to me with the words I have come to dread. "Try some and tell me what you think." For some inexplicable reason he's decided to give up pork. Only pork. We're not observant Jews. We're not Jewish at all. We never ate much pork to start with due a pork trauma from my past. This has made my easiest last minute dinner - Bacon Lettuce and Tomato Sandwiches - way more problematic.

Let me walk you through why making any meal is such a pain in my house. BLT's are a perfect example. The easiest bacon is the already made in a box stuff that you just nuke, but Sasquatch doesn't like that kind and wants the kind you actually have to cook. Surfer Dude won't eat regular bacon because "it's pork, mom" so he has to have turkey bacon. Gumby gets a soy bacon that is actually quite good unless you overcook it by a second or two and then it resembles roofing tiles in the Sahara. The Film Geek shouldn't be having any part of this except for the lettuce and the tomato, but that's not really a balanced meal in my book. And I'm so disgusted by this point that I'm opening a bottle of Chardonnay.

Okay, let's try pasta. Everyone in my house loves pasta. Sasquatch wants meat in the sauce, but this of course means that Gumby won't eat it. I make meatballs and bake them separately so whoever wants them can have them, but I despise making meatballs and always have. Once again, my husband shouldn't be anywhere near this meal. Even though I do whole wheat pasta (which my kids will all eat) he still shouldn't eat it.

We do a lot of "bar" things for dinner. Taco bars are very popular, as are salad bars and stir fry bars. Everyone gets what they want and doesn't have to have whatever bothers them. I've turned into the stir fry queen, but even with people helping me chop stuff up it's still time consuming to make five separate stir fries. But virtually every other meal has some element that someone can't or shouldn't eat. It's not often "won't", interestingly enough. Except for Sasquatch with the whole meat issue, no one is trying to deliberately throw their weight around.

And where do I fit in this sick little equation? I'll eat almost anything, but I'm with Gumby on the meat front. It's not for any moral, health or humanitarian reasons, I just read something a few years ago that made me physically unable to put meat in my mouth. Gagging isn't an appetite enhancement device. I've never been a big meat eater anyway, due to the aforementioned pork trauma. I'm sure I passed this on to Gumby, although god knows I never intended anyone else to follow along. We do eat fish and we all love it, but how much fish can you eat?

I do a lot of meals where I'll bake chicken and make a couple of nice sides and people can eat what they want. My whole family loves soups and chilis, but the meat eaters start raising their hackles at some point if they're all veggie. Gumby and I have been talking because I'm about at the point of starting to eat chicken again just for the sake of the greater good. I'm pretty sure I could do that now. If we were all on the same page with just that one thing it would help enormously. He allows as to how he has thought the same thing. I guess we'll see. I certainly won't make him do anything he doesn't want to do.

My first comment on yesterday's post was from laurie, who said that in her family growing up you ate what you were served or didn't leave the table until you did. laurie (and others) wondered what happened to this approach and why it seems like so many kids are calling the shots these days. I don't have an answer for this, although I wish I did. I think a lot of children are still being raised with a firmer hand, just as I'm sure there are kids who run their parents ragged with demands. I myself never had to finish eating at the table when I was growing up, but the FG did and has the stories to prove it. His mother noticed a particularly foul stench in the dining room one day only to find last week's brussel sprouts ground into a mush and hidden under the throw rug. No one in the house would accept responsibility for this, but the kids all knew who did it, and much blackmailing ensued. (God, the things I've missed basically being an only child). But as an adult, my husband is way pickier than me and I'm way more adventurous than him, so what does this mean?

What do you think?


my two cents said...

Well, we don't have any dietary restrictions here, but I am basically burned out on cooking because THESE ARE THE DOG DAYS OF SUMMER. We have been barbequeing for months (we litteraly bbq year-round here), it is too early and too un-godly hot for soups or stews, or much cooking indoors of any type. Other than iced-tea, the sight of a lot of food makes me gag at this point in the year. I need to tackle the recipe box and come up with some new and re-newed ideas. I need the temperature to drop about 30 degrees. I am tired and some days I just need someone else to come up with menu ideas.

Kaycie said...

I don't think I'd be much help here. We are a meat and potatoes family blessed with the genetic luck of no cholesterol problems. I am a person who likes to cook and loves to eat. Since I quit working, I spend more time in the kitchen. I have always been a "from scratch" kind of girl and recently I've been making all things French. (We went to Paris in March.) I think your husband's cholesterol count would go up 20 points just opening my fridge.

My daughter decided to become a vegetarian on principle a while back. The trouble is, my dad is a rancher and I always have the most delicious beef and pork in my freezer. She lasted about a day and a half. And she only made it that long because I didn't make a big dinner the first night. ;)

I am of the opinion that you make what you make and the kids eat what is put on the table. The good Lord knows that my children have not suffered at all for it. Not one of them is starving.

ciara said...

i just don't know how ANYONE can be so into food in ANY capacity. i only eat food because i HAVE to. otherwise, i would forego food. and there are some days where i'll eat only one meal cuz i can stay full from it for DAYS. i kid you not.

today i had some pad thai noodles for lunch. it made my stomach hurt. so i whined to steve. he said that ALL food makes your stomach hurt. doesn't matter what kind. lol

i'm with will NOT starve (as i keep reminding the kids AND steve) if they don't have oodles of food. if you cater to their food whims what else do they expect you to cater to?

when my son was a veggie it was not cuz he cared bout the was all cuz he wanted his body to look good. lmao and is turkey bacon high in cholesterol? i think veggie meat is a good alternative just don't tell the carnivores that it isn't REAL meat. lol

Sweet Irene said...

I am a vegetarian myself, but I will eat fish, mostly salmon. I mostly snack throughout the day, because I have a gastric band preventing me from sitting down having a regular meal. My husband makes his own meals. Lots of sauces with all sorts of vegetables with lots of garlic and spices in them that he serves over pasta or rice and eats big helpings of without gaining an ounce. We don't have growing children, so that simplifies everything quite a bit. When my daughter was a teenager, she pretty much liked everything I fixed. She was always an easy eater and still has a wide taste in foods, although she is also a vegetarian who eats fish. People don't actually have to eat so much protein every day. Carbohydrates and lots of vegetables and dairy products are fine too as a basis for a meal. Just make sure everybody gets their vitamins every day, especially vitamin B complex Forte. It gives you strong hair and strong nails.

Anonymous said...

I think you're a saint! There's only three in this house and it's very rare we have the same meal. Except on a Sunday. None of us are vegetarian, all of us are picky or finnicky as we call it. My husband won't eat anything spicy especially curry. I love curry. Amy enjoys the usual kids stuff and so I tend to give in and make that. My sister became a sort of vegetarian when she was about 15, that's 17 years ago. I really couldn't manage without meat, I love it.

Crystal xx

laurie said...

you've hit a chord here, RC. we all love food, except, possibly, ciara.

dinner time is about more than just stoking the furnace. it's a time for you all to come together and sit down and share a meal and have a conversation.

if you're acting like a shortorder cook, rustling up three or four different meals, it's no longer the communal experience that it ought to be. it becomes food on demand. it loses something.

but maybe you just find four or five meals that everyone can eat, and stick to those. sacrifice variety for the sake of community.

maybe sasquatch could have a private stash of frozen burgers, or something, he could nuke if he's still hungry and craving meat.

i'm sounding simplistic here, and i realize it's not. food is so personal. some of my siblings, despite the Three Bites theory, are extremely conservative about food. i put on a birthday dinner once for my twin brothers, and one of them looked into his bowl and said, in tones dripping contempt, "why does this chili have.." [dramatic pause here] "chicken in it?"

"because it's chicken chili," i said briskly, and then dumped the pot over his head. (ok, i didn't.)

my point (and i do have one) is this: your job is not to cater to everyon'es specific taste and whim. you do not run a restaurant. in a restaurant, the diners get to choose. at home, no. you eat what mom prepares.

you're preparing a family meal, for your family, and your family should sit down together and eat it.

if they don't like it, it sounds like they're all big enough and capable enough to go fix themselves a peanut butter and jelly sandwich later if they're still hungry.

laurie said...

(sorry to be so long-winded.)

laurie said...

other ps: i love BLTs, too, but i'm with Sasquatch: it has to be real bacon.

Jo Beaufoix said...

Blimey RC you are a saint. And like you said, it's not that anyone is trying to be difficult.

Do you use quorn?

Mr B enjoys his meat but he seems to like quorn chilli and curry etc.

As for why you are more adventurous and FG more picky, I suppose if he's been brought up in an environment where he felt pressured to eat in some way, then he may be more wary of food and so only go for the safe options, while if you were allowed to choose and leave when you'd had enough, then you perhaps have a more relaxed outlook on food and eating.

Great topic.

Codeword: nxpxr - I have no idea.

Mya said...

You must have steam coming out of your ears come supper time! Poor you. I'm going to invent a very clever computer that digests (apologies for choice of word) people's food preferences, then spews out (apologies, see above) a simple but delicious menu that will have each member of your family glowing with satisfaction and BEGGING to clean up the kitchen afterwards. Now, where's my boffins white overcoat..?

Mya x

auntie barbie said...

I worked full time from the time my kids were little and I cooked a meal about 6 times a week. When my girls reached the picky stage about 11 or 12 I became like you and just couldn't keep up with the different demands or needs. (my husband is genetically challenged like yours) My solution was to teach my girls to cook. Each week they added things to the grocery list that they wanted and one of them was responsible for going to the store with me each week.
A typical grocery trip would be that my oldest daughter would buy 2 precooked chickens or a large salmon steak and eat these on salads all week. My youngest would buy frozen mac & cheese or a pound of meat and a jar of plain spaghetti sauce. She would make a batch of "her" spaghetti and freeze it into individual portions.
I still prepared my meals as usual, but they always had a choice, and I didn't have to fret over anything.
As the kids got better in the kitchen they got more creative, and sometimes even made family dinners. Some that really did suck, but they tried.
Both are really good cooks now and I laugh at them when they make things that contain items they would never touch like onions, mushrooms and spinach and rare beef.

Diana said...

Oh, my head is spinning. We are blessed to be without any dietary restrictions, just pickiness (inherited on both sides, but thankfully both Charles and I have outgrown it and eat basically anything). Sloooooooowly, the kids are getting less picky. We are now a "you eat what is in front of you and if you complain, well, there's a corner of your room that's even less appealing than sitting at the table". Picky is different, however, than what you are facing.

Very good luck with all that. Our fall-back is scrambled eggs. You could do omlettes (FG has egg-beater-type ones)?

Gumby completely cracks me up!

The Rotten Correspondent said...

hey all - I've just crawled in the door from work and have been very cheered at all your comments. Thanks for chiming in on this subject yet again. I promise I'm stopping now!

Forgive me if I don't respond personally tonight, but I'm back at work tomorrow for more of the same and my pillow is calling my name...

Can you hear it?