Trauma at the Dinner Table

Yesterday was Father’s Day, and it got me thinking about my own father ~ the good, the bad, and the downright strange. This could be a wide-ranging blog, but I’m going to keep the scope narrow by containing my thoughts on food, meals, and their impact on me as a parent now.

My dad is a foodie. He was a foodie before the term was even coined. My parents cooked, entertained, and ate like royalty. They were samplers of some of the strangest things I could ever imagine as a kid. I was introduced to some amazingly different foods because of their penchant for cooking. I was also introduced to some of the most disgusting things I could ever imagine because of my parents’ desire to introduce us to a broader world of food.

Escargot. I got my first taste of escargot when I was 10. My parents had a party and escargot was on the menu. I came into the dining room as saw the shells nestled on a pretty platter. Disgusting, I thought! I can NOT believe they are eating snails! Somehow, I was conned into trying one, and I thought I had died and gone to heaven! The butter, garlic, and warmth of the bread, along with the texture of those tiny, tasty little morsels called, ever so elegantly, escargot, put me in a state of bliss. (I am sure chefs call them escargot because NO ONE would eat them if they were called snails!)

The escargot were a hit with me, but other things…not so much. My father has this peculiarity about his vegetables…he will only eat them if they are mushy/slimy. Makes for pretty disgusting eating, let me tell you! Zucchini is absolutely loathsome when it is braised to mush in chicken broth and topped with parmesan cheese. Okra can not be choked down when it is slimy…my gag reflex turned on every time I saw okra on the menu. Brussel sprouts sent me into a state of panic when they appeared at the dinner table. I had to sit at the table until my vegetables were gone…I perfected the dump and flush technique. I learned how to stealthily move the disgusting mounds of slime from my plate to my napkin and escape to the bathroom to flush the slimy putrescence down into the sewer where it belonged. My dad’s peculiarity about nasty veggies stayed with me and has colored how I treat mealtime.

I remember many “interesting” nights at the dinner table. There was the night my parents told me we were having veal parmesan. It was mushy, and the flavor was off…it didn’t taste quite right to me, so I started poking around and found SEEDS — seeds in veal parm! Hmmmmmm… My mom tried telling me it was how veal reproduced. But I knew better! I had just been through sex ed. My mom finally came clean and told me it was eggplant. To this day, I hate eggplant parmesan! The dinner that has traumatized me for years is when I walked into the kitchen believing we were having corned beef and cabbage. The distinct aroma of what I thought was corned beef filled the house. I came into the kitchen to check on dinner, lifted the lid to the pot, and saw — A GIANT tongue floating where the corned beef should have been! That was the day I discovered my father LOVES cow tongue. To me, there could be nothing more repulsive. Opening the lid to the pot, expecting to find corned beef but instead being assaulted with a giant tongue floating and boiling, was enough to render me disgusted for all eternity. I was forced to try this “delicacy.” I coated the “meat” in layers and layers of yellow mustard, put it in my mouth, took a giant gulp of lemonade, and swallowed…I didn’t bite down. I didn’t chew. I just gulped it down and left the table in sheer disgust at what I had just been forced to eat. The slimy vegetables of meals past had nothing on this newest dinner atrocity.

The many intriguing meals I was served as I grew up color how I approach dinner with my own kids. I don’t force veggies. To me, some fruit is a perfectly acceptable substitute for a vegetable. I work to provide plenty of variety, knowing Zach hates tomatoes, Lucas gags on mashed potatoes, and Claire can’t stand watermelon. To me, dinner (and food) should be about enjoying what is on your plate. I don’t force my kids to stay at the table and eat something they consider nasty, but I do require them to try something new when I serve it. Sometimes it’s a hit, and sometimes it’s a miss. (Quinoa salad, for example, Claire fell in love with it! Who would have thunk?) I promise I will never traumatize my kids by putting a giant cow tongue in a pot and leaving it to boil…letting them find it, thinking it is corned beef and cabbage. I will never force them to stay at the table with cold, slimy vegetables. But I will encourage them to enjoy expanding their horizons through food.

I appreciate the lessons I learned at the dinner table of my parents. I like to believe the lessons there made me seek out and find what I really enjoy, becoming something of a foodie myself. The lessons learned at the Combs’ dinner table helped me see something that looks repulsive can be enjoyable…think snails. And sometimes what looks repulsive REALLY is repulsive…think tongue! I think Stan and I have put many of these lessons to use with the kids. They are becoming little foodies in their own rights, as they learn to enjoy more and more culinary delights. My hope is that we have not traumatized them too much at the Combs-Pokrywka dinner table.

Oh, for the love of my children…

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