You thought I'd say ours, didn't you? There's a bit of stress in combining a family from two previously small families, and quite a bit of humor. We each had two children, a manageable lot for a divorced, custodial parent. Then overnight, we were a bonus family of six. Sometimes we really have to emphasize the humor, as we work the kinks out. Somedays, frankly, one of the children is 'not mine'. It's not birth-order or birth-family discrimination. Its what led my mother to say to me, her spitting image, "you I must have found under a cabbage patch". Frustration and humor, now that's my favorite combination.
For example, have you ever tried to make a dinner menu for two weeks for a family comprised of two boys, 6 & 7, two girls, 3 & 4, a Polish-American New Yorker (read Pizza & wings), and a first-trimester pregnant Navy Brat raised with Pacific Rim influenced tastes?
Yeah, whatever you thought should be on the menu, the answer was: Nope, not that.
Andy, the 7 year old, is primarily vegetarian. Oh, he eats meat, just not 'that' meat. Pick one, oops you're wrong. He cheerfully devours beans, tofu, nuts, soy in any form, and is sometimes horribly lactose intolerant. He'll eat hot dogs, hamburgers sometimes, sausage without any discernible chew to it, and meat without any texture variations. Boneless skinless chicken breast will do, as long as there is no accidental texture change, anywhere. Ever. He would prefer to eat take-out from a Washington State Teriyaki joint, found on every corner in the greater metropolitan Seattle area. A nice serving of grilled boneless teriyaki, topped with a sweet teriyaki sauce, served with stir fried vegetables and a large portion of rice. No need to vary the menu.
Gerard, age 6, had significant food rules. The food must not touch each other. Nor have been rumored to have touched. There will be no legumes in his meal, nor shall it be acquainted with beans in this life or any other. Pizza may not contain pepperoni, for a child once told him that pepperoni was terrible and he is not taking any chances with that rumor. Please, do not try and pass off anything green as food, because he has seen grass and knows that it is not edible, therefore anything of that color is not edible either. Forget the sauce too. No dressing please, oh wait, can I have ranch to dip that in? And can I have a bite of what you're having?
Sarah, age 4, would eat anything that she can outrun, as long as she's in the mood, hungry, and not overtired. She runs, a lot. Therefore she will always either be tired, or hungry. Or both. Oy.
Merina, age 3, would not sit still long enough to eat, and cannot understand why we adjourn to a dinner table at regularly scheduled intervals because she is not hungry. But now, 15 minutes later, she's starving, and must eat immediately. If not sooner. She does feel much better if she is sitting on someone's lap and eating off of their plate, because the food is significantly better there. It's a good thing she is as cute as a button, our monkey girl.
FarmBoy is a sweet, gentle-natured man accustomed to his own cooking, which often came in a flat box marked Pizza Hut. It fit well with his car racing hobby, and the schedule that went with that. He liked potatoes and roast beef and roast chicken, and he had eaten canned corn before too. He remembers that his first wife made hamburger helper, and his mom made shake-n-bake pork chops. He liked his good old American classics, such as those. Poor FarmBoy. Nevertheless I had retained hope for his culinary derring-do. On our honeymoon cruise to the Bahamas Farmboy went to the sushi bar several days, at 4 p.m., to get a sushi snack to tide him over to our 8:30 dinner seating. I avoided the raw fish, but FarmBoy tried all kinds of sushi rolls. My hero!
I grew up overseas, spending some time in Europe, the Guam in the South Pacific, then Washington state, Southern California, back to Washington with its Pacific Rim influences. That's a lot of pasta or rice influences, where FarmBoy had a potato influenced childhood.
I tried asian influenced noodle and vegetable combinations for that family. Those tactics showed roadblocks from the "it has green vegetables" and the "can't eat that it feels like meat" contingent. FarmBoy looked a little uncomfortable but ate cheerfully. It was carefully whispered one day that with four little children watching his every move that this was his responsibility - I might add. Otherwise it was going to suddenly be his job to make meals for our crowd. Because I was pregnant and hormonal, of course. He was smart, and politely ate every meal I made.
I found success one day, and we developed a recipe that all the family could eat and enjoy. We've made many variations on this theme, and we hope that your family enjoys this and alters it to fit your family tastes too.
Farmboy reports that he still doesn't really like goat cheese, does like sushi, and won't eat clams unless they're frittered. He occasionally enjoys rice with eggs for breakfast, and Lo Mein, and butternut squash casserole and other things he had never heard of previously. I have cheerfully overheard him telling friends what a great cook I am. I like his enthusiasm, even if his accuracy is a little off.
While pregnant, I craved sushi. I was overjoyed when I found that my favorite cucumber or avocado rolls were being made fresh daily at Wegman's market, just a 13 minute jaunt from our former home on the family farm. Domestic bliss was restored once again.
I might add, that now, 4 years later, Andy eats lots of beans and still has his meat texture issue, Gerard eats lots of beans and forgot that his food couldn't touch, and pepperoni pizza became his occasional favorite. Sarah and Merina can often be found poking each other at dinner time, but Merina is not sitting on anyone's lap, and with patient redirection, she can eat a complete meal. Sarah eats quickly to get back to the book she is reading.
Here's the salad that unified our family at dinner time. I was overjoyed when I found one thing that everyone would eat quietly, and joyfully, at the same time. Yes, that's right, it was a miracle.
Cowboy Chopped Salad - influenced by Cheesecake Factory
12 cups packed moderately finely chopped romaine lettuce (use two 9-ounce bags cut-up romaine lettuce, chopped finer than in bag) or the equivalent approx. 3 heads of romaine lettuce
2 cups diced grilled chicken breast or grilled beef, or substitute diced ham,
or seasoned pressed tofu
4 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced fine - or garden tomatoes, seeded, chopped
8 baby carrots or 2 grown up ones, cut into small rounds
1 cup fresh raw from the garden OR frozen, thawed corn kernels
1/2 cup chopped crisp-cooked bacon or soy baco-bits or substitute smokehouse almonds
3/4 cup shredded or diced cheese of your choice - I prefer cheddar or colby
2 cups of black, kidney, pinto, black eyed peas or other cooked beans of your choice
Crunchy topping of your choice: BBQ corn nuts, corn chips, or tortilla strips
2 medium avocados, pitted and chopped - when in season
BBQ Ranch Dressing (recipe below)
Feel free to add cucumbers, boiled eggs, diced vegetables from your garden, or whatever you would like to add to this recipe.
Combine in a small bowl, 1 cup Ranch Salad Dressing or homemade buttermilk dressing.
1/4 cup BBQ sauce (or to taste) We like Sweet Baby Ray's or KC Masterpiece. Stir.
In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except avocado, and crunchy topper. Toss until mixed. Drizzle with salad dressing, mix again. Taste, and add more dressing if needed. Add avocado and crunchy topper of your choice to each portion and serve immediately.
Serves 2 adults and 4 children
This recipe made for quiet, cheerfully chomping children, whom I was eager to claim as all mine! It took a while to find 13 other dinner meals that everyone would eat, but now, 4 years later, we're successfully navigating dinner with fewer ripples. Who knows what effect Cowboy Salad will have on your family. Do try it and let me know.