Sunday, October 14, 2007

A good relationship with vegetables

For my family, Thanksgiving has always been the day to get the foods you love best. Mom's amazing potato recipe, asparagus with lemon butter, acorn squash, pumpkin pie, and the family recipe pasta salad (filled with broccoli, carrots, garbanzo beans, tomatoes, and other stuff), and home-made honey wheat dinner rolls. The menu fluctuated according to our changing tastes and adventurous palates, but there were always good vegetable dishes. Our daily life, too, saw excellently seasoned vegetables of all kinds, from buttery brussels sprouts that were green and slightly crunchy, not gray and mushy, to lemony, peppered broccoli that was always just the right amount of soft and crunchy. There were very few vegetables that I didn't like, and they were the ones that tend to be all or nothing anyway, like beets and sweet potatoes. My parents both have a knack for seasoning and perfect timing, so the vegetables I ate during my younger years were usually delicious.

Fast forward to my first marriage, and family gatherings with the in-laws: Thanksgiving dinners seemed more focused on quantity rather than quality; enormous bowls of cooked, unseasoned frozen corn, green beans, and peas were passed around. Mashed potatoes were, sadly, similarly uninspired. While I was urged not to bring anything to the meals by well-meaning aunts, I soon learned that if I wanted something that tasted good, I would have to ignore their instructions and prepare at least one or two items--and I brought home empty bowls every single time. I wondered, if these dishes were their "special" meal, what were they serving on regular days? And how many of their kids thought that vegetables were gross, boring, or practically inedible? My unfailingly disappearing offerings were proof that these people were not actually allergic to flavor; they just didn't have any clue about seasoning. If my parents had fixed me those items daily and hounded me to eat them, I'd have grown up hating vegetables, regarding them as a particularly weird form of torture--and, in fact, that is how my former spouse seemed to feel about them. He wasn't really even willing to try the vegetables I made, except for potatoes.

Moving into the present, I now have in-laws that can actually cook. Brian's mother tries out new recipes all the time, and we've had some pretty tasty and unusual dishes during holidays at his family's place. Consequently, Brian loves to eat vegetables. I have tried almost every vegetable on him, including the much-hated brussels sprouts, and he has not rejected any of them. I also have a feeling that his parents didn't hound him to eat everything on his plate--doing so can cause a number of food issues in the future, and I've really found that, if you don't actually make a big deal out of the food being served, kids are less likely to reject it. It also helps if you make food that tastes good. I don't blame most of these kids for rejecting their parents' unimaginative cuisine.

The sad part is, it actually isn't that hard to make food taste good. I believe that a steamer is an important tool for preparing delicious vegetables. Broccoli, for example, gently steamed, then seasoned with lemon pepper and a hint of butter, is delicious. Green beans are fantastic with a simple sauce of orange juice, soy sauce, ginger, thyme, and garlic--steam, then stir fry them instead of boiling them, and add some sliced almonds to the pot if you have them. Mashed potatoes are a great deal better with any number of mix-ins, including rosemary, garlic, bay leaf, and lavender (try steaming the potatoes instead of boiling them, and add the herbs to the steame in a cloth teabag or metal tea ball). The payoff of a good relationship with vegetables is more than worth the marginal time and expense it takes to make them taste good.

Note: I use this steamer, which is very simple to use, and it has a scenter basket that allows you to put herbs on a screen to flavor the vegetables. This is especially useful for herbes de provence, rosemary, lavender, and bay leaf. I absolutely love this item; it was a gift from my grandmother nine years ago, and it's still going strong.

1 comment:

Vive42 said...

i only started liking veggies very late in life, after my first big weight loss. i usually say i was so hungry by the end of it that anything at all tasted good!

even so- my parents did make a lot of mistakes with me and veggies back in the day, pressuring me and making dinner time hell, but i have to say i think there's a lot more to it than that. my mom didn't cook things badly, and nowadays i can have plain steamed broccoli with no seasoning at all and find it delicious.

so, i think that kids taste buds are more sensitive- and some kids (like me) are way more sensitive to bitterness in veggies than normal kids. there seems no other explanation for my clear memory of vegetables tasting horrible and making me feel sick back then, with the same veggies being tolerable or downright delicious today.