From My Wok to Yours - Taking the Mystery Out of Everyday Dining and Meals!!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Ode to Food & Fathers

Father’s Day is quickly approaching, and I know that my family is prepping quite the extravagant affair for Uncle David and Me. I really wish my Dad could be here with us, or that we could be there with him… (holy crap… as I type this I remember that I have to sign the card and get it in the mail slot before I miss the cut off for pick-up…bad son, bad son…)

When it comes to eating, I have one good child and one bad child. Oh gosh; that sounds like labeling, doesn't it? "BAD," I hasten to clarify, actually stands for "Battling Appetite Deficiency" (ceding that phony acronym was the only way daughter E would permit me to quote her for this story. And no, she's not anorexic; that's nothing I would joke about).

The good eater, E, was birthed, and as soon as she got over that first good cry, fell to sharing her mother's meal tray -- oven-fried chicken and Jell-O cubes. Well, perhaps memory exaggerates that instance, but I know that she was downing smoked oysters at the age of 3. (Bad parenting, nah, call it an eagerness to expose her to new foods, but she survived.) She did, however, reject the first offering of carrots, well processed, when first offered.

M, offered her first rice cereal at the age of 6 months, responded with her first word, if "ptooey" is a word. I am now sure that she intended this as no less than fair warning.

These memories are prompted in part by the approach of Father's Day. My first Father's Day I recall in a warm haze, mostly of sleep deprivation. But it also bears the glow of self-congratulation, as though I had actually produced the breast milk with which I bottle-fed E. And the blessedness of giving nourishment to an eager child. How E can be so skinny now brings with it memories of her youth. We (yes, as bad parents) forever thought that when, as an infant, she cried, she simply wanted another bottle, or something more to eat. The resulting photos of her pay testament to her willingness to eat, anything and at any time. She has since slimmed down quite a bit, but boy-howdy, those memories still haunt me.

This dad's day, the much wised-up parent of two precocious pre-teens, I look back to the bottle feedings and the 3,000 peanut butter sandwiches that followed. And ahead to -- well, I'm not sure; for some time now, the girls have remained a step or two ahead of me in their likes and dislikes. E, who once thrived on chicken nuggets, is now a functional vegetarian who only likes about three vegetables. Onions, broccoli and … one more that I cannot remember. (She voluntarily consumes a number of other vegetables but says, "It feels like such a waste of time.") M at one time loved both shrimp and mushrooms and now dislikes one or the other, or both, I can't remember. (Yes, more bad parenting.)

But even stumbling along far behind my progeny, this parent has learned a few things.

Maintain perspective. Ignore the food scolds. Pizza, for instance, is decent food -- bread, cheese, tomatoes. Throw some mushrooms on it and it sounds practically, well, Mediterranean. A serving of potato chips and a baked potato with a tablespoon of butter have just about the same amount of fat. Creme brulee is made with eggs.

If a good food clicks, use it and never complain, even if they want it meal after meal. Variety is an adult value. "Don't you want something besides broccoli?" -- Jeez, I never really said that, did I?

Peer pressure and pop culture have the force of catechism. If Miley Cyrus’ next single is "I Get All Hot for Liver, Bacon, and Onions," the dish will sweep Teenage Nation. Unlikely. But the good thing is that no female star admits to eating anything but healthy food these days; their publicists make them. Jessica Alba has oatmeal and fruit for breakfast. Jessica Alba. Oatmeal. Fruit. Use this. Megan Fox is famous for preferring to starve than cook, but for her lack of cooking skill, knows to include with her meals collard greens, candied baby carrots, biscuits and white gravy and then, dessert of blackberry cobbler. But she makes it clear that there is no cobbler if the first 3 elements were not eaten. (Okay, so not the healthiest, but definitely a good example of… umm… eating?)

Texture trumps taste. Mouth feel is 90 percent of the sale, as all those diabolical food chemists know. So no pulp in the OJ, no blood in the meat ("Omigod, eew, Dad, eew!), no stewed tomatoes in the soup, no chickpeas in the salad, no discernible fat. Crisp is good, creamy is good, in-between mushy is bad. Polenta's a loser.

So is fish, usually. But again, look for the angles: Give a 5-year-old girl a super-crunchy nibble of grilled fresh sardine, hot and crispy from the fire, and she will soon be downing the crackling beasties head and all.

Please, no cooking "from the heart." Don't ever think that if you really put love and care into a meal, you're gonna hear: "Gosh, Dad, that was good -- and good for me, too." Suck it up, guys, we're here to do a job. The real-life testimony I most cherish is E's "Even on vacation, you make us eat salad." The golden moments are few, and tend to come mostly eating out. Not long ago, basking in the glamour of Houlihan’s, M gratified me by dining with ladylike gusto not just on the frites and crème brulee, but also the potage of green cabbage and the roast chicken. And E? I happily rewarded her completion of everything on the plate with a snicker’s ice cream thing, only to watch her lick the plate clean. Seriously.

I know what I'll be having for Father's Day lunch: shoulder roast, made by the girls. Though I like shoulder roast, I wouldn't mind something less sweet and decorous -- say, Maine Lobster with potatoes au gratinor blood-rare lamb chops I could gnaw to the bone. I know: "Eew, Dad, eew." But it's Father's Day, girls, and -- warning: more bad parenting -- you owe me.

In closing, I want all fathers out there to remember just how important you truly are. Even in absentia, overseas, deceased, or fighting the good fight for us, no matter how tall we as your children actually grow, you will always be someone whom we look up to. My Dad is the smartest person I know. His intelligence, keen wit, and wry sense of humor make me want to be smarter, wittier and funnier. But that is what Dad’s are supposed to do. This makes MY Dad the best one out there.

My mission? I must continue to be “a cool Dad” to my pre-teen daughters.

Until Then, Good Eating, Friends…

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