Archived Story

With food, it’s all about the attitude

Published 1:28pm Saturday, April 16, 2011

Column: Pass the Hot Dish, by Alexandra Kloster

Who is zoomin’ who at the dinner table? Lately, I’ve seen a lot of media attention focused on a movement to masquerade vegetables in “kid-friendly” fare by hiding them inside foods that are more palatable to the short set. I don’t understand.

While this trend may get carrots into little Johnny this week, what’s going to happen when he’s an adult? Twenty years from now, who will perpetrate such plant food subterfuge? Will there be clandestine Brussels sprouts baked into TV dinners? Will restaurants like The Hidden Cabbage and The Secret Rutabaga pop up in tiny, hipster neighborhoods?

Alexandra Kloster

When I was little, the best reason to eat something was that my parents told me to, but food was also coupled with family time. We stuffed turkeys, snapped beans, canned peaches and cleaned fish. My dad would fillet them while I stuck my fingers in their heads and made them talk to each other. Well, what are you supposed to do when no one will buy you that puppet theater you asked for?

Occasionally my mother would lean into adventure with her cooking. When my dad said, “Ducky, eat with gusto! You’ll enjoy it more,” I knew he too was trying to figure out why the potato chip pork chops looked like they’d died the death of a thousand cuts. But he was right. Attitude toward food was important. Eating with joy and purpose made everything taste better.

My parents’ approach to food developed during the ’30s and ’40s. The theme of most kitchen dinners was, “Eating this got us through the Depression” or “Eating that got us through the war.”

If I balked at my dinner, they would look at me like I had seven heads, not one with any sense. On nights when a pile of potatoes, onions, boiled dough and sour cream appeared before me, my dad would say, “That’s peasant food, and it got a lot of Russians through a lot of winters.” Sometimes I wanted to tell them that I only needed to get through to breakfast, but I never did.

When I wasn’t being schooled in the art of “getting through” cuisine, there would be three-hour dinners at the dining room table starring a giant wedge of meat and shouts of, “Nostrovia!” Everyone connected through the food, stories and ritual. We were encouraged to try every dish. If we hesitated we’d hear, “Never mind. It’s too good for kids anyway,” and then we’d beg to try it.

I almost never heard my parents say they didn’t like a food. I followed this example and grew up liking everything from turnips to spinach and lentils to spring leeks that we dug out of the ground ourselves. Only once did I see my father put his fork down and refuse to eat something. It was during my sister’s summer romance with cilantro.

We were in Florida and Barb was putting cilantro on everything. Every meal was lousy with cilantro. I couldn’t stand it. Nightly I’d pray to acquire a taste for it because it didn’t seem like it was going anywhere.

Then one day as Barb threw a handful of it over a perfectly good pizza, I heard my dad announce, “We’re going to the Crab Trap for amberjack. No more cilantro. No more! Why, Ducky?”

Finally an ally, “Because it tastes like soap!”

Even the most understanding palates can be driven to rebellion.

In this case, Barb hiding the cilantro inside a mound of mac and cheese would have been a good thing, but I’m glad my parents never got sneaky like that. It’s because of them that I learned to marry food to tradition, and it’s because of them that I learned to appreciate all types of food and enjoy every eclectic bite.

On the other hand, I dug up my old Book About Me recently and turned to the page that asks, “What is your favorite food?”

Right there in capital, crayon flavored letters I’d written, SUGAR.

Kids.

How are you going to get them to the farmers market after they’ve seen the candy store? Maybe a little cauliflower baked into my brownies wouldn’t have been the worst thing in the world.

Woodbury resident Alexandra Kloster appears each Sunday. She may be reached at alikloster@yahoo.com, and her blog is Radishes at Dawn at alexandrakloster.com.