Grow tomatoes, they said

Back when we first moved into our house, and I was trying to build a garden that wouldn’t be raided by wildlife, people told me: “Plant tomatoes. The animals won’t touch them.” I didn’t plant tomatoes. I don’t like tomatoes. I like lots of things made from tomatoes: pizza sauce, tomato soup, marinara, but an actual tomato has just the right texture to make me flinch when I bite into it. I’m a freak, I know, but there’s just something about the feel of a tomato that makes my tongue want to retreat down my throat.

Instead, I spent lots of time fortifying my garden. The effort paid off. I made my garden impervious to rabbits and groundhogs, etc., just in time to abandon gardening in order to take up the hobby of raising children. Through all the years my garden lay fallow, I took pride in knowing herbivores could not get at the various weeds filling the space.

This year, my wife took an interest in gardening. Men familiar with wives will understand this means she did a lot of pointing while I did an equal amount of digging around in dirt. The pointing was crucial; without it, I may not have understood which dirt I was to play in.

In our refurbished garden, we kept it simple, planting only cucumbers and peas. The cucumbers went wild, overrunning the peas as well as the garden fence. It’s a good thing we didn’t plant tomatoes in there; they wouldn’t have stood a chance against the invading cucumber hordes.

Cucumber plants going over the wall to carry their conquest into the back yard proper.

My wife likes tomatoes. She likes them a lot. So, we planted some tomatoes in a pot on our deck. They prospered well, until the fruit started to turn red. Then we began to find bites taken out of them. The Internet cast the blame at squirrels. The Internet casts blame for a lot of things at squirrels. I’m sure some of it is justified, but I bet some of it is thrown at them based solely upon reputation. Squirrels have a PR problem.

I wrapped chicken wire (or as the chickens prefer: flightless bird wire) around the pot. The depredations continued unabated. A friend suggested it must be birds attacking our tomatoes, but I’ve seen the mouths on the birds around our place and I doubt they’d leave teeth marks.

One day I noticed movement inside the wire. As I came closer, the movement noticed me. Up the wire scampered a dirty little red-faced chip monk. He leapt from the wire to the deck railing and was gone before I could do more than stomp my foot and yell at him to get a job.

What a nice chap. He left half of the only ripe one for us.

We slid the pot away from the railing and removed the accommodating wire. The thievery continues unabated.

To date, the tomato arithmetic has worked itself to a ratio of one tomato for us, one tomato for Chip. I guess that makes us Nature’s perfect socialists.

Drive-through chaos

When I was childless, I dreaded getting stuck behind a minivan in a fast food drive-through. It took fast right out of the equation. It still does. Now I am the slug driving the minivan. I still hate the combination of minivans and drive-throughs.

It’s better to be stuck behind the minivan than stuck in it. You stew quietly in your own impatience and breath oaths at the roadblock ahead of you. Inside the minivan, it’s nobody’s fault but yours and your fertile loins’ that you can’t make any progress. Thanks to your fertile loins, there is no quiet surrounding your impatience.

None of my boys can tolerate a fast-food burger the way it comes. It must be altered to suit their whims. Just ketchup; just ketchup and mustard; just ketchup, but add bacon. And those little, minced onions you don’t even notice? My kids notice them. Every kid notices every minute onion fiber.

Then, factor in chicken strips.

Kids like chicken strips almost as much as they like burgers, sometimes more – sometimes exactly equally as much. Chicken strips are a logistical nightmare. You can never get them in the quantity you need, especially when dividing them up among children who need a taste of chicken to wash down their burgers. Chicken strips are a wedge to intra-minivan cohesion whose only rival for spreading chaos is fries.

When they said French Fries could contribute to a heart attack, I thought they meant after you ate them.

I understand not liking a pickle on your burger, and I would be fine with all the special orders if those in the back would condescend to voicing their desires before we are stopped at the speaker. Nobody can focus on what they’d like to eat while the wheels are turning. Only when the little voice from behind the pin-holed metal asks for our order, does the chorus of answers spew forth. It’s an episode of Family Feud, except with more feud.

After the order is finally given, our strife-inspired pokiness continues. At the pickup window there is more gnashing of teeth. Enter the fries tumult:

Child 1: You didn’t get me any fries!

Dad: You didn’t order fries.

Child 1: Yeah! Because you didn’t ask me if I wanted fries!

Dad: You heard other people ordering fries. Why didn’t you say something then?

Child 1: Because you never asked me if I wanted fries.

Child 2: I didn’t get fries either!

Dad: You said you didn’t want fries.

Child 2: But now I do!

Mom: Order them fries before we drive away.

Dad: No! This isn’t the ordering window. Besides, they need to learn to order what they want.

Mom: [Getting that Carol Burnett twitch in her eye] Just order them fries so I don’t have to hear the whining all night!

“Order. Them. Fries.” (Image: CBS Television)

Dad: [Taking deep breaths and wondering how many families are wrecked by French Fries.] Excuse me. Could we get two more orders of fries?

Child 3: There’s a piece of onion on my burger. Can you get me a new one?

 

I’m sorry, young, single people waiting behind the minivan. Enjoy your quiet fuming while you can.

 

 

Conversations with my wife: Diversity

In the car, my wife tells me about something she read online that has her very excited.

WIFE: There’s this company that will pay you $6,000 to eat just junk food for a month.

ME: Why are they doing that?

WIFE: They want you to eat just junk food and take their herbal supplement and see how you feel after a month. I guess their supplement is supposed to give you all the nutrition you need. I wanna do it!

ME: Is it just chips and candy?

WIFE: I’m sure you can eat fried food and burgers and stuff. It sounds great. We should both do it. Then we’d get $12,000. Just think, $12,000 for eating chicken wings and mozzarella sticks. It’s perfect.

Fire up the deep fryer! It’s greasy time!

ME: I don’t know that I could eat that kind of stuff for a solid month. Besides, I bet they want more diversity in their subjects.

WIFE: What are you taking about? A young, black woman – an old, white man. What could be more diverse than that?

ME: I was thinking more about environmental diversity, but since you put it that way, I guess they’d have to take us.

I hope their supplement doesn’t interact with my senility meds.

 

Case studies in chicken dinner

Ten years and three kids later, I finally learned something useful. It’s probably too late for us. Maybe some other parents can make use of this lesson.

Why will some kids eat a variety of foods while others get lockjaw when you try to feed them anything not a nugget made from, or at least named after, chicken?

You’re probably thinking: “I know this one. It’s because some kids are nice and some are little devil bastards.”

While that may be true, I’ve discovered a correlation between how my kids sense food and their willingness to eat it.

Case Study #1: The Good Eater

I was cooking Italian sausage for our spaghetti. Big Man followed his nose into the kitchen. “Are you making my favorite chicken?” he asked.

“I’m making sausage”

He’s not tall enough to see the stovetop. “Pick me up so I can see it,” he said. I lifted him. His eyes confirmed what his nose had already told him. “Yup. That’s my favorite chicken! Can I have some?”

Big Man initially senses food with his nose. He cares less for its appearance, or for what odd name this particular variety of chicken is given. If it smells good, he wants some. When offered something new, his response is, “Let me smell it.”

This is how he discovered he liked sautéed asparagus. His brothers will suffer a week of nightmares if a single asparagus stalk touches their plates.

rice chicken

“Smells like my favorite chicken!”

 

Case Study #2: The Not Good Eater

On Buster’s short list of edible foods is teriyaki chicken from a particular restaurant. We could frequent this restaurant, on our way to the poor house, or we can make teriyaki chicken at home.

My teriyaki chicken isn’t five star restaurant quality, but it’s good. It’s good unless you are a six-year-old who first senses food visually. Buster took one look at my teriyaki chicken and it fused his lips together. It didn’t look exactly like the chicken he was used to; therefore it was not fit for consumption.

Case #3: The Recovering Not Good Eater

Big Brother was once like Buster, but he’s gotten old enough to not want to miss out on something good. He too was suspicious of my teriyaki chicken, but he was wise enough to note the similarities to the coveted restaurant version. It was worth a taste, and that’s all our chicken needed to win him.

Study Results

Based upon this anecdotal study with a sample size of three, I consider the science settled. Children who experience new foods with their noses become good eaters. Children who use their eyes don’t. Picky eaters will grow to be less infuriatingly selective once they realize they are missing out.

Caveat

I’m mostly happy to finally be raising a good eater. Mostly, except on the days when I come home to find the little delicacy I was saving for myself gone and an empty container on the counter. It must have smelled good.

“Who ate my sausage chicken?”