Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Food, Glorious Food!

Lobster with tomato and onion salad
Grilled London broil with green beans and naan
Steamed shrimp and roasted asparagus
Sushi with seaweed salad
Shepherd's Pie and steamed broccoli
Spinach lasagna with romaine and parmesan
Mole chicken with roasted garlic broccoli

There you have it. A menu from Chez Dirt & Noise. That's what we've eaten for dinner for the last week. We, meaning Bird, Deal, Mac Daddy, and I. I love to cook and I love to eat even more. It's no secret that I can out eat Mac Daddy any day of the week. My boys are out eating me these days, so the bag boys at Harris Teeter and Whole Foods are probably thinking I have a crush on them. Our family makes more grocery runs than any family in America. I'm also willing to bet that we consume more pickles (Claussen only!), blueberries, romaine lettuce, and Stonyfield Farm yogurt than any household in America.

I cook dinner every single night. All five of my burners and both ovens get a workout. And boy were the All Clad pans worth it. We sit at the table and eat dinner as a family every single night. Having dinner ready, table set, and wine poured is as close to a 1950s housefrau that I'll ever be. I can't say I swab on lipstick, tie a silken ribbon in my hair, and spritz on Chanel #5 but I do have a proper dinner prepared. Only candle light would finish this Hallmark picture, but as you know, fire doesn't exactly spell S-A-F-E-T-Y when there are preschool boys poking each other at the table. Alas, we save the candles for birthday cakes.
Sidebar: Am I the only one a tad woozy at the thought of eating a slice of cake that a snot-nosed three-year old just blew and spittled on?!

I cook one meal for all of us. Always have. Always will. My mom spent much of my childhood dinner times in a frenzy, cursing my father under her breath (it turns out for more reasons than dinner duties) because she put on a short order cook's hat when she entered the kitchen. My brother ate nothing but American ballpark fare for years, while my dad insisted on traditional Indian dishes and rice. Back when I was about 10-years old I must have subconsciously made a pact with my future husband and family to create a happy family meal time tradition. First of all, I'm not going to prepare two separate meals. Secondly, food is one of life's pleasures that is far more than sustenance. It is a glimpse into other cultures and rituals. Eating is an act to be be enjoyed leisurely, abundantly, and joyfully. One of the greatest gifts I can give my boys is a sense of curiosity. Why should food be exempt from their expanding world of wonder?

Bird and Deal devour sushi, especially toro (fatty tuna), which is of course the most expensive item on the menu. They get a kick out of eating seawood salad and had a blast trying sauteed sea beans. Bird even ventures out to add a droplet of Tabasco on his sunnyside up eggs from time to time. They eat dal, chicken curry, and palak paneer as voraciously as they chow down on grilled squash and tilapia with brown butter sauce. So far the only thing Bird won't eat is potatoes, no matter how I cook them or how much cheese is slathered on top. Deal doesn't enjoy snap peas, but I think that pesky string is too much for his molarless gums to chew.

In fact, Bird and Deal eschew typical kid fare, which has proven embarrassing on more than one occasion. They poke around pizza and generally pick off the black olives, pepperoni, and green peppers. Dinosaur shaped chicken nuggets are left alone to rumble in someone else's tummy, regardless what condiment is available for dipping. French fries are an afterthought. They'd rather eat the roasted red pepper and habanero soup and goose that we have for Thanksgiving dinner (Thanks to our dear friend and family chef, Uncle Ty!) than munch on nitrite-laden turkey slabs and canned green beans that you might find at the typical kids' table every November.

Bird and Deal have already developed an impressive palate, asking for manchego cheese, capers, smoked salmon, lamb with mint jelly, and hot and sour soup by name. I know their school buddies will influence them, and they'll saunter home asking why they don't get Lunchables in their lunchbox or whining that the other guys will never come over to play if we have Tandoori chicken for dinner. They'll get over it. Eventually my brother did, and he loves him some Cajun food now.

Sure, we go to McDonald's too. Once we went twice in one weekend and thoroughly enjoyed it. But the boys get apples instead of fries and milk instead of soda. I am appalled at how many little tykes drink soda. What a horrid habit for the very young! We eat plenty of hot dogs, cole slaw, and meatballs at Chez Dirt & Noise too. My point is that we all eat whatever is on the menu. Everyone tries at least one bite of everything. So far there have been few dinner times the boys aren't inducted into the Clean Plate Club. I'm no foodie; I just love good, fresh food and view eating as an event to be shared and celebrated, not just necessary caloric intake to fuel the body and keep the small intestine cleansed.

My favorite part of everday is when we hold hands before dinner and say something we're thankful for from the day. Sometimes this is as simple as, "I'm thankful Daddy is home early to play before dinner." or "I'm thankful for a nice day." There are more poignant, touching lines like, "I'm thankful my family loves me." and "I'm thankful for a brother." It's no fun digging into brussels sprouts and pancetta all weepy eyed. I hope that Bird and Deal will carry this tradition on to their families one day. I'm pretty sure they'll lose it during their sodium rich Ramen Noodles and cold pizza fraternity days, but perhaps it will reemerge later in their adult years.

I'm betting that if Bird and Deal continue to don aprons and "help" me cook dinner, they'll be impressing the ladies when they whip up a mean roast leg of lamb and cauliflower gratin for a first date. That is, if the chick eats anything other than salad with a squeeze of lemon juice and laxatives. If there's anything I'm teaching Bird and Deal, it's that real women eat. And relish it.
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