Monday, February 27, 2006

Cauliflower Crisis

No matter how many times I face an hostile crowd at the dinner table and walk away swearing I’ll never cook anything new ever again I eventually cave in to the desire for culinary adventure. Not that I can't enjoy the standard hamburgers-spaghetti-tacos-fried chicken fare, I can eat ground beef and live to tell the tale, but one look at recipes with exciting things like pesto, artichokes, arugula, capers and I'm sucked into the thrill of exploring new and uncharted dinner territory regardless of what past experience should have taught me.

This week I decided to shake things up a bit—I never quite give up on trying to civilize this pack of pagans no matter how many times I fail—by putting Chicken Sate Wraps and Cauliflower Gratin on the menu. I really didn’t think they complimented each other—Thai-Mex-French fusion cuisine?—but it didn’t matter, each sounded good and I was working with odd ingredients I had on hand.

But Saturday evening as I began preparations I realized I’d made a tactical error and had run out of treats. No cookies, brownies, pudding, anything for dessert that would give them a reason to live through the meal. So I went back to my stack of recipes and found something I knew I had all the ingredients for, one that would be fun and a little different. I made it quickly and stuck it in the oven to bake while I worked on the side dish and wraps.

Everything was going great, good smells were floating around when the kids at last came home tired and hungry, asking the inevitable question, “What’s for dinner?” At first I equivocated, dodging such an inflammatory word as “cauliflower” but that just aroused their suspicions and invoked Household Reality #6 which is: "If Mom’s not talking it must really be evil." Soon they were nervous enough that they wouldn’t leave me alone until I’d given them a straight answer, which they received as if I had offered them life without parole. Evidently they aren’t stupid and cauliflower is still cauliflower no matter how much cheese covers it.

But regardless of public opinion, on I pressed, rolling up sandwiches to a growing chorus of discontent and anxiety. Lillian was the only one who seemed happy and that was only because I gave her the honor of stabbing the wraps with toothpicks to secure them and she seemed to be having too much fun doing it to put her above suspicion.

Six o’clock arrived and the crew gathered around the dinner table, eyeing the platter of neatly stacked sandwiches with enough panic that my apathy gave way and I started to feel nervous myself—Chicken Sate Wraps? Who was I kidding? This bunch would never get past the cabbage (and believe me, they’d know it was there, some bionic sensory perception would begin beeping in their brains regardless of how miniscule the pieces were) and though peanut butter is a big favorite around here, there was no way Thai peanut sauce would fly in a tortilla. I'd have better luck flattening a piece of Wonder Bread with a rolling pin and using it to wrap the stuff up but the minute I tried a tortilla they’d freak out unless they saw Taco Bell staring back at them. And cauliflower? There hadn’t been one time when I’d been able to get cauliflower to go down peacefully. Who was I kidding? That meal was doomed from the start, that baby should have been scrapped the minute the feasibility study came back.

And doomed it was. No gripes, insults, or riots just a quiet dejection that settled on the table, growing with each crunchy bite. It was like watching prisoners in a concentration camp—no, that’ s not exactly right, those people would have been happier to get something to eat. No one at the table was foolish enough to have outright complaints (punishable by instant banishment and loss of dessert privileges) but each bore the hangdog look of a man eating his last meal—or rather wishing it was his last meal with a "have mercy and shoot me" countenance.

But suffer they did because they could smell dessert in the oven. Household Reality #7 says: "They’ll eat almost anything if they know dessert is coming," and regardless of what’s served for dinner, dessert is always welcome. Sugar is the only thing guaranteed to make a cauliflower-infested meal acceptable—the only thing that can placate the natives and keep them from utter anarchy.

And that night, the path of Thai-Mex fusion and cauliflower gratin was to be smoothed with a Lemon-Lime Souffle timed to come from the oven at 6:20 exactly. Why a soufflé? I had all the ingredients, it’s not a hard dessert to make but nonetheless rather impressive and I wanted something light. I knew that even if they turned up their noses at the main dish I could bribe and placate them with thoughts of sugar to come.

After plates were cleared, away to the oven I went followed by five sets of hungry eyes, who after making it through their own private Fear Factors, were full of hopeful expectation. I opened the oven door but instead of my beautiful soufflé I found a mess of mythic proportions.

The aluminum foil wrapper had slipped during baking and the whole thing had done a Mount Vesuvius in my oven, flinging pieces of soufflé everywhere—clumps clinging to the walls, bubbling on the element and the floor, dripping from the wire wracks, even falling through the cracks of the door down into the cupboard below and onto the kitchen floor when I opened the oven door. Chernobyl couldn’t have been that disastrous.

Such sadness and desperation that followed you've never seen. I had some of them voting to scrape pieces of soufflé from the sides of the oven into their bowls but it was beyond hope.

What’s the moral of the story? Never serve cauliflower unless dessert is right there ready for launch because if they suffer through a meal like that again and have nothing to show for it things could get ugly—and not just in the oven.


Mrs. W said...

Love your blog (found thru a link from! I, too, have difficulty serving cauliflower to my husband. We don't have kids, but he's almost one if you consider his ridiculously picky eating habits! But I love to just roast fresh cauli with olive oil, pepper and nutmeg. Divine! (Don't salt until after it's done roasting, otherwise it turns into a sludgy mess.) I also love to grate it up and make mock spanish rice--mmm!

Now I must continue to read your blog posts.