Monday, August 08, 2005

Our Daily Bread

I figure that in 13 years of marriage I have fixed 14,235 meals and if the trend continues I will have fixed 43,800 more over the next 40 years--not including leap years. I'm hoping that my quest to fix tasty, exciting, economical yet healthy meals will get easier because I can't take too many more scenes like the one we had this week.

Picture our All-American family gathered around the table as I set before them my latest culinary treat: sweet red peppers stuffed with scallops, topped with pesto and parmesan all on a bed of mesculun with a paprika and mustard vinaigrette accompanied by rosemary foccacia. Mmmm mmm good. The children, however, looked as if they were being read their last rites, panic and pain on every face. We bowed our heads for the prayer over the meal and I noticed Grace lingering over the words, not in some burst of piety but as a request for Divine strength to get through the meal.

Can I say it was fabulous? I loved every bite but found it difficult to enjoy a meal where I had to stare at my youngest daughter across from me who cried silently, tears running in streams onto her plate, as she contemplated her meal. Compare that to the scene on my right where her sister sat, carving her stuffed pepper into pieces so tiny they fell through the tines of her fork yet somehow were large enough to require eight ounces of milk chaser after every one of her pathetic bites. On my far right sat the grand finale, Spencer, who took the "Pretend It's Not There and Maybe It'll Go Away" approach so popular with my vegetable-phobic crowd. Twenty minutes later, when confronted with the lingering reality of his food and threats of bodily harm he . . . took . . . a . . . bite . . . and . . .

First he winced. Then he coughed. Then he began to chew vigorously at 220 cpm (chews per minute), stopped once to gag, continued chewing, then turned red (eyes watering). He finished off with a flamboyant and rather effective wretch and heave combo which covered his plate and added that perfect touch to my magical meal.

The whole experience reminded me of a scene earlier this year when Andrew and I were heading out for an evening at the opera. The night before I had fixed a Mexican black bean salad with a cilantro vinaigrette that was quite good and had gone over well with my little test subjects—no tears, no gagging, and everyone finished their meal. However, the recipe ended up making more than I had anticipated, leaving me with somewhere in the neighborhood of three or four 55-gallon drums of leftover Mexican salad.

I can get away with salad for dinner and there won’t be too much whining, but to serve it two nights in a row, when the veggies have passed the point of optimal freshness, pushes the boundaries of fair play as far as my kids are concerned.

Andrew came home Friday night before the opera and there on the table was the Mexican salad, ready to go a second night. We sat down (some with pretty glum faces) and after the blessing it was pretty silent around the table. I picked up my fork, looked at my plate and just couldn’t do it. Normally I’m a salad fiend but for some reason it just didn’t look or smell appealing. I took a couple bites and realized I’d rather have pretty much anything else besides what was on my plate and I started thinking about what I’d rather eat—everything from cold cereal to graham crackers—and settled on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

I got up from my seat and said decisively, “I don’t feel like eating this. I’m going to fix myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Anybody else want one?” Five mouths dropped open (good thing they were empty or it wouldn’t have been a pretty picture) and my family stared at me in disbelief. Andrew said, “You’re kidding, right?” But after the initial moment of frozen time passed, when I started getting out the bread and peanut butter and they could see I was in earnest, five other hands shot up in the air and squeals of “ME TOO!” echoed through the kitchen.

Sad to say a lot of salad got thrown out. Each of the them had the look of a prisoner who had faced the firing squad and had been pardoned at the last minute, but after I'd dished up a plate of gooey sandwiches Andrew took a chance and timidly spoke--with a hint of injury in his voice. He said, “You know—Dear—if I’d said something like that, I’d be dead by now. How come you can get away with that and I can’t?” To which the kids energetically nodded their heads in unison at the injustice of it. I really had no answer for the man other than I have very few powers in this world beyond my cherished executive veto and occasionally I choose to exercise that privilege. It may not be fair, but what are you gonna do about it? Anyone wanna hand in their sandwiches?

Anyway, the mood at the table lightened considerably once everyone was cleansing their palates with peanut butter. Andrew started getting a little wild in his new-found liberation and announced to the kids, “Since Mom says you don’t have to eat your dinner, tonight you can stay up as late as you want.”

The kids looked pretty shocked, waiting to see if he was for real, I wasn’t fooled and looked sideways at him with a raised eyebrow. But that didn’t stop him, he was enjoying the attention he was getting and continued, “Yea, and you know what else? You can ever swear!”

I almost choked on my PB&J but I didn’t have to worry too much, you should have seen the shock in their faces. Lillian didn’t understand, David was confused, Spencer was dismayed but Grace said, “That’s bleepin’ great!”--and she was smart enough to know not to throw in the real word.

But from there it was chaos. We usually have great dinner-time conversations but the informality of the peanut butter must have loosened everyone up. The talk led from one topic to another until Grace, was speaking on the subject of deep sea exploration (don’t ask how we got on that topic) and was discussing the subs that dive to the deepest parts of the ocean. She ended with “I think it would be so cool to explore the ocean’s bottom!”

My uber-classy husband responded by saying, “EEEEEEWWWWW! Hear that, Spencer? Grace wants to explore the ocean’s bottom!

This set off giggles and snorts around the table (I think there was peanut butter extruding from nostrils by the time I put my foot down and called the meal back to order with a “I can’t believe you said that” look at Andrew that would have stopped a train. I should have let ‘em stick with the salads. Heathen dogs, all of them. Honestly!

I suppose the sad moral to my story is: you can go to the opera all you want but that won’t hide the fact that you’re still a peanut-butter and jelly lovin’ family.