4. Try It, You Won’t Like It

4. Try It, You Won’t Like It

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Matters

Try It, You Won’t Like It

It isn’t so much what’s on the table that matters, as what’s on the chairs.

~W.S. Gilbert

My kids act like I’m trying to poison them if they see anything in the kitchen that contains high fructose corn syrup. So I read labels, and buy only organic products when I know they are coming to visit. My sister’s nutritionist has an ever-changing list of food prohibitions for her—right now it is bread, dairy, and chicken. Chicken? My stepdaughter doesn’t like meat… except bacon. Her boyfriend doesn’t eat animals… except ones that swim. My stepson doesn’t eat strawberries, his dog must have organic pumpkin once a day, and his girlfriend can’t eat dairy or gluten. One of my kids hates raisins. They both loved raisins until I hired a really weird nanny when they were little. She didn’t like raisins and she convinced the kids they didn’t like them either. A dislike of raisins eliminates a lot of things that are usually served to small children—very inconvenient. Now one of them eats raisins again, too late for me.

My father-in-law must have white bread and plain lettuce at every dinner. So I have to make sure we have a head of iceberg lettuce and some plain white rolls when he comes. My sister-in-law and niece don’t eat dairy or gluten. After trying many stores, they have found the best salmon at one particular seafood shop in our town, but I never remember which one, so I always worry I am serving salmon from the wrong place. And what if my salmon was in the same truck as the salmon that ended up at the wrong store? Do they separate families?

Sometimes, I would like to separate from my family, especially when I am hosting a large family event and have to juggle the conflicting and ever-changing needs of so many people. I frankly think this is all ridiculous. There are lots of foods I hate—olives, cherries, avocados, sushi—but I just keep my mouth shut. That’s right—I don’t eat the offending items and I don’t say anything. Once I had a hard time keeping my cool during a business lunch as I sat in a very authentic Japanese sushi restaurant in midtown Manhattan watching Japanese businessmen scarf down slithery slimy sushi. I kept drinking Cokes to soothe my stomach, as I was nauseated just from looking at the sushi. And this is the Iron Stomach that did not get sick in India, Turkey, Bolivia, or the Amazon.

But my entire family’s list of dislikes added together is nothing compared to those of my father. He has never tried any kind of soda or any alcoholic beverage, but he knows he doesn’t like them. Can you imagine he has never had even a sip of wine? And he didn’t drink beer in college or in the Air Force? He has never tried a bit of Indian food, Chinese food, Japanese food, Thai food, Mediterranean food, or any ethnic food whatsoever. He is eighty-one years old, but he has never in his life tried pizza or pasta or rice. He knows he doesn’t like them. His face goes pale at the sight of salad dressing, even oil and vinegar. He orders plain steak at restaurants and if they bring it to the table with a little butter sauce on top, he looks stricken and sends it back. The amazing thing is that his sister has the exact same taste in foods. She has never tried any of the foods that he has never tried. They were raised back in the 1930s, when many Upper East Side New York families had cooks, but they have never tried ninety percent of the foods that the rest of us eat. What did the cook actually cook?

When Dad traveled to China for a week, despite the fact that his group was being feted all over the country as visiting dignitaries, practically with state dinners, he brought an entire suitcase filled with Sara Lee coffeecakes to subsist on. Basically, he doesn’t like any dish in which different types of food are touching each other. I have joked that I should serve him his dinner on one of those compartment plates, like we use for little kids, so that each food is walled in, safely protected from the other foods.

The most stressful family event for me is Christmas Eve. We have been hosting Christmas Eve at our house for the last ten years or so, and we usually have more than twenty people, seated at three tables in three different rooms. It is chaotic, but lots of fun. Promptness is not my family’s forte, and multi-tasking in the kitchen is not fun on a holiday, so I plan a menu that does not require precise timing. That usually means stews, beef and peppers, or pasta sauce, since I can cook them for four, five, or even six hours without worrying.

Every Christmas Eve I have to go through the list of food issues and prepare accordingly. I need iceberg lettuce for my father-in-law, a steak ready to broil for my father, something gluten free for my sister-in-law, niece, and stepson’s girlfriend. Bread without raisins for one of my children, I forget which one. No strawberries in the dessert. Something besides chicken for my sister. Something that swims for my stepdaughter’s boyfriend. The list goes on….

But despite the extra planning for the finicky tastes of my family, we have a great time and the “afterglow” from Christmas Eve lasts throughout the season. With my parents getting older, I am just thankful to see them around the table. And last Christmas Eve, in an act of great paternal love and sacrifice, Dad announced that he would not require a separate steak, but would eat my beef stew, even though the beef and the carrots and the onions and the potatoes were touching each other and he had never tried beef stew before in his life. I think my mother convinced him that since he liked the four items that were in the stew, he should give me a break from broiling the steak-for-one while trying to feed twenty other people. I watched him that night and saw that he did manage to get some of it down, which I really appreciated. I didn’t tell him that I had poured a little red wine in the pot!

~Emma Dyson

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