Picky, Picky

Toppling out of a meeting at my kid’s school 8 o’clock at night, famished and damn sick of the black pumps squeezing my toes, I was happy to learn that Son No. 1 had remembered to take the chicken wings dinner I’d prepared in advance out of the oven.  Until I read his text: “Please never make them again.” Pissed, I scrolled to the next message, from my  husband: “Wings for me? They’re all skin.”

Yup. I’d worked all morning, schlepped down to a luncheon in said fashionable footwear, worked some more, dragged a whiny exhausted teenager through rabid traffic to get his passport photo taken, re-braved the congested road to deposit him at home, stuck chicken wings I’d lovingly marinated hours before into the G.E. Profile, set the timer, and raced to the middle school to make the mandatory meeting for band students’ parents. I felt like quite the accomplished working mom for getting dinner into a hungry family’s mouths when I wasn’t even home. So I was enraged.

So enraged, in fact, that I shoved the texts in the face of my friend Cathy, who was unlucky enough to be walking nearby. “I know exactly what you mean!” she said. What?! It turns out her husband, son and daughter are also pains in the tush when it comes to supper. Her trio had been so negative at meals lately, in fact, each one whining about something unpleasant on the plate, that she got fed up: “I threatened not to make them anything to eat for a week,” she shares.  “They’ve been really quiet since.” She also took action: Cathy cooked her own childhood favorite, an undeniably unhip entree called Swiss steak, along with green beans and mashed potatoes,  and calmly ate her share while the others were forced to follow suit without complaint. They did.

Her friend Rebecca got so fed up with her kvetching family that she sent the lot of them a group e-mail. It wasn’t about distressing dinner dynamics per se, but about the general subject of doing some tasks themselves. “I was 25 minutes away recently when my husband called to tell me he was hungry,” Rebecca recalls. “I wasn’t leaving yet and wouldn’t be home for more than an hour! There was nothing I could do about it!” So, in the online letter, she told her husband, son and daughter to step up and do whatever they're capable of (cooking, laundry, etc.), and she'll step in when it's essential. When it comes to dinner, her crew isn’t too picky, but there is the son who doesn’t like seafood … .

So I’m not the only one whose family doesn’t shut up and eat dinner, or even step up to the stove now and then? I feel better, truth be told. Still, there is not one single meal in the universe that all four of us enjoy. My husband has no interest in a simple dinner such roast chicken or grilled steak or chop, baked potato and steamed vegetable – a weekday staple in my repertoire. He wants a sauce, preferably robustly spiced, and indeed often doesn’t touch the spud. The greens? Eats ‘em, but like they’re a sour-tasting medicine.  Also on the “not my favorite” list: potted meat (bye-bye  stew), chopped meat (adios burgers and meatloaf), plus fish, veal and lamb. Let’s emphasize his lack of joy when it comes to vegetables. Then there’s the fat/cholesterol phobia. Just as he’s afraid the chicken skin on wings will clog his arteries and strike him dead as he swallows, he’ll protest any non-lean entrée. To be clear, that rules out beef, cheese, cream, butter and bacon in nearly any form, not to mention anything fried – although “sautéed in olive oil” is happily overlooked since it reaps foods he adores. Would you like to hear about the gobs of mayonnaise he puts on his turkey sandwich? The gallons of gravy in which he drowns his roast turkey? Apparently those don’t count.

Son No. 1 was born a picky eater and will always be one. He’s trying to change, at 18, and in fact boldly tasted tuna fish for the first time last week. You heard me right. Tuna. He also sampled his first brisket and gyro the same day. He has never, ever, had a sip of soup. “Wet food seems so gross,” he explains.

Son No. 2 shares my passion for flavors and will one day indulge the way I do. With his teenage attitude, though, I hear, “I don’t like cheese” and “I don’t like tomato sauce” as reasons for dismissing dinner dishes. This child eats some form of pizza every day. I assume you see the disconnect.

So dinner sounds like this. “Eww, what’s the sauce?” “This chicken really doesn’t have any flavor.” “Why do you always have to put a piece of potato on my plate? You know I’m not going to eat it.” “The steak is dry and it doesn’t have a lot of flavor like the one at Logan’s does.” “What’s this green stuff?”

Fooey, I say.

Which bring us to the wings.

I’ve been bored by the few dinners that any three out of four of us will eat – chicken parmigiana, low-fat cheese lasagna (I was allowed to add that to the repertoire about five years ago as long as I use the dry flavorless low-fat ricotta and mozzarella and a jar of Rao’s marinara and omit the parsley), some delicious braised chicken dish from which I dig out hunks of virgin unsauced white meat for the flavor-phobic kid who is technically a man -- so I figured I’d try wings last night. They’re from a wonderful cookbook series called Canal House Cooking and they involve sticking wings in a bowl with tarragon, olive oil, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper; letting them sit around for while; and then baking them until the skin sizzles and the flesh is tender.

Not a hit. Except with me. I like them so much that I think I’ll make them again next week, just for spite. I am learning from Cathy.

Don’t whine at my dinner table,