For me, food equals home.
When I was a kid, Mom, Dad and I sat down to dinner every night at 6:30pm. Dad was working then so Mom did most of the cooking. She wasn’t an enthusiastic cook, but dinner was always simple and good: mushroom chicken bubbling in a Pyrex baking dish; rice and frozen peas steamed on the old electric range.
It was usually my job to set the table. I pushed the newspapers and junk mail aside to make room for the trivets and Corelle dishes, and folded the bumpy paper napkins into little triangles which I tucked under each plate.
Every dinner started with a mixed green salad. Salad was the one dish Mom enjoyed preparing. She took pride in her crisp, colorful salads bedecked with radish slices and ribbons of purple cabbage and salty, crunchy “bacon” bits from a jar, everything tossed with ranch or Good Seasons dressing from a packet.
I loved my Mom’s salads, still do.
Because of this childhood ritual, I assumed everyone started dinner with salad, or more accurately, everyone ate salad. I didn’t realize how deeply I had internalized this “rule” till I was several years into making dinner for my own family.
Guess who wouldn’t eat salad? My kids.
They didn’t just not eat salad, they refused to eat raw vegetables of any kind.
No dip nor dressing, fancy presentation nor special “snack” plate, maternal bribe nor threat could force raw vegetables past their lips. I figured the unthreatening iceberg lettuce + Ranch combo would eventually tear down the wall, but years went by. No go.
I broke most rules when it came to feeding my kids. I constantly cajoled them to try just one bite and then you can have dessert. I made separate meals for them when I just couldn’t stomach another night of pasta. I wheedled, yelled, and fumed.
I couldn’t understand their pickiness. My parents never tolerated pickiness, but then I eagerly gobbled up everything they served. Was it their stern insistence or my adventurous appetite? We’ll never know. Did some rogue recessive gene cause this? I eyed my husband with suspicion.
All I knew was that I loved to cook and eat and there’s so much delicious food out there and I took pride in my cooking and worked hard to plan and prepare nutritious, tasty meals every single week and does anyone notice that? and food was nourishment and nourishment was love and I loved my kids and kids were supposed to love their mom’s cooking and I’m failing and they were lucky to have a hot meal most nights and if they didn’t love it well too bad, and I’m still a good mom and I just wanted my kids to eat my goddamn food.
My unfocused distress chose SALAD as its mascot, and getting my kids to eat salad became the mealtime hill I was apparently willing to die upon.
“What do you mean you still don’t like salad?!”
“But it’s so good for you!!”
“Just try a bite.” [reasonable tone]
“Just TRY it.” [disciplinarian tone]
“My parents never tolerated pickiness.” [disgusted tone]
“You have to learn to eat salad or your roommates will think you’re weird.”
[Disapproval expressed through passive-aggressive huffing at the dinner table.]
“What about coleslaw?”
Readers, my kids grew up, moved out, and still don’t eat salad.
Guess who does? My husband and me! Pretty much every night! And not just as a first course but sometimes for our whole entire dinner.
Sometimes we have a massive salad topped with hard boiled eggs, or kidney beans, or Beyond Burgers (we like those vegie burgers better than beef ones). I’ve been known to dump leftover Kung Pao takeout into a bowl of greens which I toss with sesame oil, rice vinegar, and a sprinkle of cilantro and green onions and chopped dry roasted peanuts. It’s seriously delicious.
I even eat salad for brunch, something I learned on a trip to Greece, where the hotel breakfast buffet included an array of delicious salads.
God, I still dream of that buffet.
I love that we can just love to eat salad again, without the tension it used to cause. Without the tension I used to cause.
These days, my son calls while he’s grocery shopping a thousand miles away. “What should I cook, Mom, what sounds good? I’m thinking chicken stir fry with broccoli and mushrooms.” “Get some green onions for garnish,” I say. “Oh, and Mae Ploy! Have you ever tried Mae Ploy? It makes everything taste better.”
My daughter is deep in the ramen-and-toast phase of apartment cooking. Between work and school her time is tight plus she’s still enjoying the freedom from dining hall, ah, cuisine. But she’s collecting recipes. “Can I get your toor dal recipe, Mom? Your dal is the best.”
For the record: she loves sliced cucumbers.
And my husband and me? Well, we eat whatever the hell we want.