Nancy writes on “Cooking for my Family”

NANCY

I’ll start with my daughter. I was still eating chicken when she was born, so she grew up on that classic American child diet of spaghetti and chicken fingers. Around the 10th grade, she decided to become vegan. That was about six years ago, and it was much more difficult to be vegan then: no veggie burgers, no great websites like gardein, no cashew cream, no vegenaise.

I struggled to find things for her to eat–mostly pasta with olive oil and whatever vegetable, such as broccoli or asparagus, I could cajole her into eating. I wondered how she would survive in college, but, lo and behold, she chose to go to a school that served up a vegan menu for visiting students’ day! I vividly remember her gleeful description of their vegan pesto pizza. Only one problem:  the school trotted out those vegan selections only on visiting days. They craftily ensnared her in their overly expensive system for four years:  four years of battling the food system there and spending an equal amount of dining hall dollars at the local Whole Foods. (At one point, I even tried in vain to get the school to let her be on the commuting students’ dining plan, since she rarely found anything she could eat in the dining hall–and, even when she did, she’d later discover that it had been labeled wrongly or that the cooking staff had no understanding of the difference between vegetarianism and veganism.)

Moosewood Cookbook

But she survived, and, as a result, has a strong interest in food issues and students’ rights. She spent the last year and a half working with Real Food Challenge, an organization working toward a just and sustainable food system by empowering students to enact change in their college dining halls. (I still remember one of her successes. The excitement came through in her text on the train ride home:  “THE DINING CAR HAS VEGAN VEGGIE BURGERS!”).

Finally, the world was coming around to her way of thinking, and life was becoming easier around our dinner table. Vegan cookbooks appeared, and all the little secret substitutions to turn a regular recipe into vegan became common knowledge. There were even frozen food options by the score when you didn’t feel like cooking from scratch. Yes, life was good, and it wasn’t that difficult to cook for my husband and feed my daughter at the same time.

Then my husband went on a diet.

This was a terrific idea, long in coming. By the time he started, I’d long given up on trying to get him to eat better and focused more on keeping our dogs from getting harmed by anything he might be consuming, such as chicken bones or grapes. The diet has now been going on since October,  and he’s dropped 30 pounds, and I’ve become the queen of salad–and not just your average, dump-the-bag-salad-on-the-plate-and-add-a-tomato variety. No, I’ve felt obligated to make things interesting, add almonds, raisins, artichokes, pears, feta, and those little orange segments whose name I can’t remember (yes, Jane, this is what the 60’s are like!). 

Whatever may come next must be predicated by the best damn salad you’ve ever had. But–because of the diet–along with all of this necessary forethought, I’ve lost the ability to fudge dinner. No more luscious grilled cheese sandwiches at the last minute. No more homemade pizza, no more spaghetti, sob. My husband is thinking of food all the time because he’s starving, and I’m thinking of it because I’m trying to figure out what he can eat. Oh, and did I mention that my daughter doesn’t like salads that much? Are you beginning to get the picture of the war going on in my head each night over dinnertime?

Veganaise

I can either cook for him or for her but not really so much for both of them at once. My husband loathes beans; tofu makes him squeamish; and when his sons come to visit, I hear them grumbling about the almond milk in the fridge. And that brings up a whole other nightmare:  two big, big, bigmeat eaters, who, when visiting with us, slip out in the night to purchase their ice cream or in the morning to get a Bojangles fix.

Worst of all:  with my husband’s new diet comes competition for the foods I like. Whereas I used to get a bag of dates and savor them for days, now they get carted off to his work or just disappear altogether. I can’t keep apples in stock, and why is it that he can’t eat the older ones first and not take the prime new ones as soon as they appear? I reach for my morning banana to add to my oatmeal, but they’ve all disappeared in the night. And just as soon as I join in the game and restock sufficiently, my husband’s tastes change, and I’m stuck eating three boxes of clementines that he’s no longer touching. The irony here is that I’m not dieting, but I’m sure I’m thinking about food as much as (if not more than) he is.

Lately, I’ve been feeling like I’ve been neglecting my daughter at mealtime, so tonight I made the lentil soup from the great classic Moosewood Cookbook and leek fritters from Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen Cookbook (find the recipe if you click here). (Thank you, Sadhvi, for a comment in a column long ago about smittenkitchen.com). My husband had the barest of tastes of each, but my daughter and I enjoyed both until we sat satiated and content. One more night down. Nothing to worry about until tomorrow!

Leek Fritters

 

 

10 thoughts on “Nancy writes on “Cooking for my Family”

  1. I got exhausted reading this – no wonder women get gray hair so early these days. If everyone in your family is an adult why not let them make their own food. When I was growing up and my parents put food on the table we ate it or went hungry. We were told never go to anyone’s home and say at the table that we don’t like this or that – this was rude. I think that today we women THINK we have to please everyone. Relax and assign a day for you to make a meal and one for hubby and one for your daughter etc. Eat what they prepare or go hungry……then you will live to be 80 something and happy.

  2. Here’s the recipe. The picture in the story was not the actual picture due to sizing problems, the real thing looks much more green.

    2 lbs leeks (about 3 very large ones)
    half teas. salt plus more for pot
    2 scallions, trimmed, thinly sliced
    qtr.cup all purpose flour
    1 teas. baking powder
    pinch cayenne
    1 large egg
    olive or veg.oil for frying

    Garlic Lemon Cream:

    half cup sour cream
    1 tbsp lemon juice
    few gratings lemon zest
    pinch salt
    small minced garlic clove

    Trim leeks leaving only white and pale green parts, halve and if dirty, plunge in cold water.
    Slice crosswise into 1/4 in. strips and cook in salted water 3-4 minutes until softened but not limp. Wring out in dish towel.
    Put in large bowl, add scallions.
    In small dish combine flour, salt, baking powder, black pepper and cayenne pepper.
    Stir into leeks.

    Preheat oven to 250 degree F.
    Cook fritters in large pan.
    Then transfer to oven to keep crisp, serve with garlic lemon cream.

  3. Agreed. What ever happened to the simple enjoyment of food? I eat healthy, but don’t go overboard. And I wouldn’t think of turning down a host serving food in another country who is kind enough to have me over for dinner. I love to travel and experience the food of other cultures. I haven’t broken out in rashes, had gut problems, or dropped dead yet from eating a spoonful of creme brûlée!

  4. Hee Hee! You not being on FB makes me happy. And could you send me the link to the fritter recipe so I can put that in? For some reason the link didn’t take or work or something.

  5. No Sadhvi, not on facebook. Maybe after I get all the books I want to read read and catch up on the DVR shows and the house cleaned I’ll try it, so in other words, probably never.

  6. I totally can relate to you, Nancy. And frankly, I am getting tired of everyone being so individual on their food choices. I am not talking about family members, but instead on when you invite people over for dinner. Or they are staying at your house for a visit. Hey, are you on FB?

  7. Nancy,
    I loved your post. Food has become so complicated. When my French friends came to visit a few years ago, they said they “hated” going out to dinner with Americans because they spoil the experience and reduce the joy of eating to a clinical tasteless experience. And, ever try to go out for pizza with a group of women? From “No cheese to soy cheese”, it’s a nightmare. As for me, I’m getting a puppy in March and she will be on a raw food diet – the breeder swears by it. We’re all crazy.

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