Mother is crying. This upsets me, but it doesn’t make me any more likely to eat the brownish gray slab quivering on my plate in a puddle of congealed gravy. I try to mollify her; I take the smallest piece of the vile thing on my fork and attempt to chew it. I spit it out on the plate. I can’t make myself swallow. I’m utterly convinced this is NOT food. My four-year-old brain cannot comprehend why my darling mother; whom I love and adore, would pull such a mean joke on me, making me eat this…this thing, that is clearly not food. It might be shoe leather but it isn’t food. This is the sort of prank my older brother would try, but not Mom. Why would she do this? I just didn’t get it, but the joke played out each night at the dinner table.
Most nights, the cats assembled hopefully under my chair, eager to rescue me from this awful punchline. There was always a moment of distraction when I could dump the vile stuff onto the floor. Brothers are great at creating distractions, especially at dinner. Some nights, alas, my brother was well behaved, and Mom had a few seconds to notice that I wasn’t falling for her joke. Then the pleading would begin, followed by stern warnings and the ultimate: “If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any dessert,” which, I’ll admit, did work some of the time, depending on the chocolate content of the aforementioned dessert. But most nights I wasn’t having any of it, and no threat of missing dessert or the coveted 8 o’clock TV hour could move me. Then would come Mom’s tears.
We remained at loggerheads for so long that the advice of a professional was required. Off we went to the doctor’s office. More tears. “I just can’t get this child to eat any meat,” she wailed plaintively.
I felt this was an over-reaction on her part, or sublime commitment to a joke. My family does have a peculiar sense of humor.
The doctor frowned sternly, looked in my ears, listened to my lungs, tapped my knees with that little hammer, then turned to my mother and pronounced, “If the child won’t eat meat, just give her peanut butter.”
Aha, vindication! I knew I didn’t have to eat that stuff!
The doctor rambled on, placating my mother’s histrionics, but I stopped listening. It was the first time I’d scored a point on the established order, and it felt good.
The dinnertime wars were called off, and for the rest of the summer we all enjoyed peaceful meals in our West Philadelphia home—except perhaps for the cats, who inexplicably started losing weight.
JP Sebastian is a writer currently enjoying a sabbatical in the Pacific Northwest while writing her next novel, gardening, and downloading too many Kindle books. She can be found on Facebook.
Brussels Sprouts Pasta with Lemon and Ginger
(Not a recipe my mother would prefer, but I can’t get enough of it.)
4 T. olive oil
2 t. garlic powder or 1 clove fresh garlic, minced
2 - 3 t. ginger powder or 1 - 2 t. fresh ginger or ginger paste
2 - 4 c. Brussels sprouts, peeled and cut in quarters or halves
1 -2 t. lemon juice or half a fresh lemon
salt and black pepper to taste
8 oz. spiral or tube pasta
2 - 3 T. butter
1 c. grated Parmesan cheese
Heat olive oil uncovered in large non-stick skillet over medium heat.
Add garlic and ginger, and sauté until golden brown.
Add Brussels sprouts, toss to coat in oil and spices, and sauté 2 - 3 minutes over medium heat.
Add 2 T. water and lemon juice (start with 1 t. and add more if desired).
Cover and simmer for 3 - 5 min. over medium-high heat.
Add 2 T. water, reduce heat to medium, cover and simmer until Brussels sprouts are tender, adding more water or oil if they start to stick to the pan.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Meanwhile, cook pasta, drain, and toss with butter, Parmesan cheese, and additional lemon juice
Serve Brussels sprouts on top of pasta, sprinkling with additional cheese.
Makes 3 - 4 servings
(Rice or quinoa pasta can be substituted for a gluten-free option. Asparagus or green beans can be substituted for Brussels sprouts.)