Food, glorious food

This blog was going to be about our extensive efforts to keep Penny-the-amazing-rescue-dog in the face of the crushing onset of allergy symptoms she’s induced, but it occurs to me that I should let that story play out to the end. I mean, right now Penny’s the pistol in the first act of the play that has yet to be fired. We’ll have more on Penny-the-amazing-rescue-dog next week.

As I was shopping today for supplies for Penny-the-amazing-rescue-dog, plunking down $48 bucks for a 5 pound bag of dog food, a 6 ounce package of salmon flavor treats, a 3 ounce bottle of salmon oil and two denta-bones from Zamzow’s, it occurred to me that $48 bucks is what I plunked down last night for supplies for two full dinners for a family of four and my mom, and including a six-pack of good micro-brew.

Naptime.

Naptime.

It does give one cause to think about our diets. Of the human occupants of this household, there is one who eschews all seafood or anything that looks like the seafood for which I’m paying a premium to feed my dog. He and his brother fluctuate maddeningly through stages of refusing or barely tolerating other healthy food items I set lovingly in front of them every night.

But tonight he ate kale.  Kale sautéed and mixed with black beans and feta, to be precise.

Mind you, he didn’t scarf it down, nor finish his whole portion, but he passed on the quesadilla I had fixed for him and instead asked for what we were eating, and complimented me on the meal afterward. I am not kidding.

I guess all it takes to get a fourteen-year old to eat a deep green vegetable is to have him swim laps for ninety minutes, walk Penny-the-amazing-rescue-dog for forty, and play about seven hours of video games fueled only by a bowl of chocolate Chex and maybe a couple of stray Pez he may have found in the couch cushions.

In any case, this is progress. There was a time I cooked up and served two entirely different dinners every night each for the adults and children in the household. The adult meals were varied and often experimental. The children’s meals rotated between chicken nuggets and carrots or macaroni and cheese and apples, or carrots, or PB&J and carrots, or apples … you get the picture. Occasionally I tried to sneak in salad. It had to be only green leaf lettuce, nothing remotely bitter, no tomatoes or anything outrageous. Loads of ranch dressing, maybe some crumbled tortilla chips.

Then we hosted Saara for a few months. Saara was our first foreign exchange student and was allergic to just about everything: fish, wheat, oats, soy, milk, and a list of about twenty other things I’ve forgotten. The boys loved Saara. Jack developed a sudden interest in the food labels I’d tried to teach him to read years before so he could offer her a granola bar or snack after school that wouldn’t send her to the ER. He walked ahead of us in the grocery store so he could redirect us whenever someone was offering something fishy at a sample counter (which happened more than I would have thought), or if we came too close to the fish aisle. Seriously, the smell of seafood made her throat close up. Jack was sympathetic. He wished he had a similar excuse to avoid it.

After Saara returned to Finland, we discovered Jack had his own food allergy – to wheat. How we discovered it and adjusted is an entirely different blog topic, but our journey into a (mostly) wheat free diet came a great deal easier having worked through life with Saara’s food allergies only the year before.

In the meantime, we’ve become members of a CSA – a community supported agriculture farm – where we buy a share for a season and pick up a bag of vegetables every week, many of which nobody in our household ever looked for in the produce aisle at Albertsons: stuff like broccoli rabe or green garlic or bok choy, and if you say you ever did, you probably don’t have children in your home because those people only eat carrots or apples, or fruit flavored things that are actually a concoction of chemicals that have been freeze dried, mixed with sugar, and molded in the shape of a Pez.

We’ve had moments of inspiration in the last four years of this CSA arrangement, mostly when someone is hungry enough to eat a turnip or snatch a cherry tomato on the way home from our weekly pick up. Most of the time, it’s like getting the boys to eat anything that isn’t breaded and fried, dipped in chocolate, or both. They dish something up, pick at it, then I scrape it into the garbage can while they sneak a granola bar and heat up microwave popcorn.

I have to say I am highly motivated to serve fresh, organic veggies and to think of creative and appetizing ways to do so. I’ve been writing articles for the past eight years on kids’ health, fitness and development, much to the chagrin of my own personal objects of study. I know too much not to care about what goes into my kids’ bellies, although trying to figure out some new way to trick them into eating well is a form of daily torture.

It’s no picnic for them either, I can tell you.

I received a call on my cell phone at an early morning meeting. The screen said “HOME,” which can only mean that Mike met with some unfortunate accident while getting kids ready for school – either the house was engulfed in flames or someone was bleeding profusely. Or else someone couldn’t find his socks. I stopped everything and answered the call.

“Mom,” Colin whispered. His voice was trembly. “What did you do with the cereal?”

“What the … Colin, I’m in a meeting right now, does your Dad know you’re on the phone?”

“Mom, what did you do with the cereal?”

What I had done was just turn in an article on the rising incidence of type II diabetes, formerly known as “adult onset diabetes,” in children, directly related to poor nutrition and lack of exercise. I clicked “send” on the email, and then promptly did a cupboard purge of all our sugary crap: the crackers, the Girl Scout cookies, the marshmallow cereal, all of it went in the garbage.

This is how I get emergency calls from HOME during a 7 am meeting.

So on a nightly basis during the CSA season, I get all kinds of not so positive reactions, and a few, widely spaced positive ones to my efforts to make bok choy and other vegetables of the non-carrot variety palatable.

More than once I’ve pulled out the “dirt cookie” argument. I’m not above that. In my mom’s day it may have been starving kids in China – probably in her mom’s day as well. Today it’s dirt cookies: the gut-wrenching stories of poverty and desperation in Haiti, where moms are forced to pat dust and a little cooking oil into patties and sell them to other moms who are unable to afford anything else and are heartsick at the sight of their poor babies’ distended tummies and willing to try anything to stop the crying.

DIRT COOKIES is what I yell at the kitchen table when I’ve had enough of people screwing up their little faces when I put a plate down in front of them, when I should be yelling HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP! Or BUTYLATED freaking HYDROXYTOLUENE! at them; which would be considerably more accurate in our case than DIRT COOKIES, but harder to recall in the heat of the moment.

But tonight, TONIGHT, the big one, the complainey one, my child who at one time announced he never wanted to be served anything that wasn’t white or some shade not far removed – that one – ate a bowl of sautéed kale with black beans and feta, and sopped it up with a corn tortilla, and then said “Thanks mom. That was good.”

And it was.

And I just about fell out of my chair.

***

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