When my brother was a child, he was a somewhat fussy eater. Not picky, as in he absolutely wouldn’t eat certain things. He ate nearly any type of food. We were all like that; the only food I clearly remember refusing (and still don’t like to this day) was lima beans. “Little bags of sand,” my dad called them once. Accurate. My mom didn’t serve those often at all.
What my brother was picky about was how he ate his food. He would eat one food at a time, and he always ate his favorite part of the meal last. So, for example, if we were having chicken, peas, and mashed potatoes, Dr. Bro would eat his peas, then the chicken, then the mashed potatoes. Food was carefully arranged on his plate (by him) to not touch. He did not like food mixed up — well into his teens he was like this. To poke his buttons every now and again, I would mix my food on purpose, because I loved flavor combinations of certain foods. For example, I would put my peas on top of my mashed potatoes, and eat them together.
The look of disgust on his face was priceless.
My mom cooked almost every night. We ate dinner as a family much more often than not. Dinners were always simple — a meat protein, a starch, a vegetable, sometimes a salad. Food was usually prepared from fresh (or, in the case of vegetables, fresh frozen). Mom is Italian, so a dinner of roast, pasta with tomato sauce, and a green vegetable was not out of the ordinary.
Of course, by Friday or Saturday, Mom had had enough of cooking, and would make a casserole of leftovers. Meat, potatoes, and veggies, maybe throw some cheese in there; or pasta, meat, sauce, cheese.
Whenever Mom made a casserole, my brother would carefully separate it into separate piles: a pile of pasta, a pile of meat, a pile of veggies. And then he would eat each pile, one at a time. He was so opposed to mixing up his food, he literally would wait until each bite was done before digging into the next pile.
I don’t remember huge fights about this, or about food and eating in general. But this habit of food segregation used to noticeably bug my parents. Another Dad classic that I remember from my childhood is, “Why separate food? It’s all going the same place!”
And this is how it went for dinners throughout my childhood. My mom provided healthy and delicious meals; we ate; my brother had his weird picadillos. Mom and Dad would talk shop; they worked together for most of my childhood. They asked us about school and sports teams and I don’t know what all. Half the time I was probably trying to read a book.
Eventually, we children left the nest. I went to Duquesne University, where the cafeteria turned me into a vegetarian. I liked mixed up food, but I wanted to be able to identify the components. I survived on ice cream, french fries and grilled cheese, the salad bar, cereal, and coffee. Dr. Bro spent a year at Miami University in Miami before transferring to Johns Hopkins University. Sis traveled; she tried school at a University of Maryland campus; went home; went to Florida and other places; and she usually worked in food service (i.e. a server at restaurants). (She’s a doctor of chiropractic now.)
At one point, my mom was taking classes in Pittsburgh. I had graduated college at this time, but Dr. Bro was still at Johns Hopkins. I remember one week, my mom came down and attended class, then she and I decided to go visit my brother in Maryland for the weekend.
My brother was happy to have us visit. He gave us a quick tour of his dorm apartment: four small bedrooms, two shared baths, and a shared living area and kitchen. In the kitchen, he got super excited.
“Oh, I have to show you something!” he told us.
“Do you cook?” my mom asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “That’s what I want to show you.”
My brother opened a cupboard, and took down a box of…
“Have you ever heard of this?” he asked eagerly. “It’s great! You get a pound of hamburger, brown it, then add this stuff with water. I have it a couple times a week.”
The look of pure incredulity on Mom’s face is hard to describe. My mom wasn’t much of a yeller, but I’m pretty sure she thought about shouting, “Are you kidding me?”
Honestly, if she had whacked him over the head with a frying pan, a jury of her peers wouldn’t have convicted her.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. Thanks for all the meals, and so much more. I know my own choice to be a vegetarian was irritating for awhile, and I do want to thank you for adjusting to that. You taught me how to read a recipe, and the value of home-cooked meals and family dinners.
I hope you get a break from cooking today, and get to do something fun and/or relaxing. I love you.