Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Tastes Like Chicken

I make every attempt to get my family to eat healthy. This is not an easy task because I have a son who likes virtually nothing, except for (inexplicably) pepperoni. He claims not to eat meat, but will partake of a steak dinner if it is offered (and/or if I threaten him with a six-thirty p.m. bedtime). My daughter is a bit better because she significantly older than he is, but vegetables and fruits are not high on her list. One night, in a fit of pique, I told the two of them that they were going to get scurvy, just like the pirates of the seventeenth (?) century, because they don’t eat any citrus products. They just looked at me, bored, and returned to finishing off a bag of pretzel rods and a box of Teddy Grahams.

I’ve bought organic and local; shopped the farmers’ market when it is in season; picked my own eggplant from an orchard in the vicinity; and tried to bring more wheats, grains, and fiber into the nightly dinner offerings. But I’m exhausted, because every night is a whine-fest, a litany of each child’s likes and dislikes, how I’m failing them in the culinary sense. I know I can’t be the only one out there who has this problem, and while my children are delightful in every other sense, when it comes to food, they’re difficult.

I give up. Even though I make one meal, and one meal only every night, the disappointment and despair written on their faces is enough to make me commit hara-kiri with my not-so-sharp kitchen knives.

I ate everything as a child. I remember my Irish grandmother—the one with a taste for ethnic Jewish food, easily purchased because we lived so close to Flatbush Avenue—bringing home an entire smoked whitefish for us to pick on as I did my homework. And there were garlic pickles, corned beef, rye bread, kosher hot dogs and a host of other culinary wonders that my children would most definitely turn their noses up at. So I don’t understand how a basic dish of rice pilaf, roasted chicken, and glazed carrots could make them run for the hills. When you’ve attempted to do your times tables with a dead whitefish staring up at you, a roasted chicken would be a welcome distraction, no?

So, I’ve started to lie. As a friend of mine would say, “Is that bad?” I have discovered that they like fried chicken cutlets and would eat them every night if I let them. So, I went to the local gourmet store, where tilapia was on sale, and bought several filets. Before the kids entered the kitchen to do their nightly reconnaissance, I floured, egged, and breaded them (the filets, not the kids), throwing them into an oil-coated frying pan as I heard their footsteps approaching. “What are we having for dinner?” they asked, warily eyeing the oil popping in the frying pan. “Chicken cutlets,” I said, not turning around. (I am a terrible liar.)

There was much rejoicing. We sat down at the table, and with “chicken cutlets” piled high on everyone’s plates, we set about to eating. Conversation was lively, fun, and not fraught with complaints about who didn’t like what or questions about why something was prepared a certain way. My eight-year-old was close to clearing his plate—a rare occurrence—when he looked over at me and said, “Are these different from the cutlets you usually make?”

I looked down. “No. I tried a new recipe.” (Did I mention that I’m a terrible liar?)

My daughter, who was in the kitchen refilling her water glass, shrieked, slumping against the counter in a swoon, almost brought to her knees by what she had just discovered. “That’s because it isn’t chicken cutlet!” she said, waving the empty tilapia package above her head. “It’s something else…it’s…” she said, holding the package close to her nose. “It’s fish,” she said, almost in a whisper.

My son turned to me, wide-eyed. “You made us fish?” he asked incredulously. I waited for the accusations and recriminations. I waited for the proclamation that I was the worst mother in the world and clearly, the worst cook. I waited for the tears when the realization that he had just ingested fish—FISH!—set in. But he stared at me a few more minutes, wide blue saucer eyes framed by inky black eyelashes. I held his gaze. Finally, he smiled, and offered a little shrug. “Tastes just like chicken.”

Maggie Barbieri


  1. Thanks for the laugh! I can just picture the dinner scene you described. Your only mistake was in not hiding the evidence!


  2. You'd think I know better by now...I am purportedly a "mystery writer," right?