Saturday, May 3, 2008

To Eat: Shoots and Leaves

Photo Flickr-john w

I’m not on a diet. Nor is anyone else here. But that doesn’t mean that strong personal food preferences, definitely idiosyncratic food preferences, do not reach my ears as chief cook and bottle-washer, oft expressed in the well-known phrase “I don’t like that” when the dinner menu is being discussed.

It's not really even (solely) about pickiness to my mind. It’s about taste and perhaps even about physiology. My daughter would like the world to be made of cheese, with a little bit of chicken on the side please. My son would vastly enjoy a universe built from Japanese food and Doritos. Me? I just want a salad. Preferably one someone else made, just for me.

The only “diet” I’ve ever heard of that caught my imagination was written by MFK Fisher. Her advice was to make a meal of one good thing and lots of it, as much as one might want - then to plan the meals to create a balance of food over the day . . . instead of the more usual way of planning the meals to each be completely balanced as independent entities. The only problem with that diet could be the tendency to make every meal an ice cream meal.

If I were on a diet, things supposedly would be simpler. Day would follow day, so nicely planned out and well-running. The Plan would Rule. No matter what the plan was. But is a diet really the answer? Most everyone I know is on a diet – and nobody is really too happy about it.

It gets even worse when to add insult to injury the diets one decides to bow to then obstinately do not live up to the promises they hold. Not being able to eat things one really likes (whether it be for reasons of health or even merely of being organized in a family of many tastes) can make life seem rather grim. Especially if the diet is for health and as so often happens, the pounds do not magically start rolling off.

My solution has been to try to find a happy middle ground, one without a sense of denial but rather a feeling of hopeful embrace. One solution to resolve my family’s “I don’t like that’s” is to say “To Eat: Shoots and Leaves”. It’s not a perfect solution, granted. But it’s better than eating (a diet), shooting (someone, anyone – maybe whoever invented the diet?), and leaving the scene grimly after meal upon meal of food not to one’s taste.

Embracing the eating of shoots and leaves can be shaped many ways. As a way to find a meal everyone likes, it often works for us. So if the perennial question of what to eat for dinner raises its head in your home, you might also want to respond to it with the answer - "To eat? Shoots and leaves!"

Here is an excellent recipe to try, full of the variety any usual family with fully-developed idiosyncratic tastes requires. It’s an oldie but goodie, quiet but still staunchly standing. You too can be cute as a panda eating shoots and leaves.

Sukiyaki Salad

Buy lots of these good things. Be sure they are fresh and colorful:

Mung Bean Sprouts
Red Bell Peppers

Choose a salad dressing or offer all sorts:
Sesame-Ginger or Tomato Vinaigrette, or whatever odd things the children may like

Prepare your choice of:
Grilled Beef, Chicken, Shrimp, Pork, Lamb or Tofu

Chop and toss, dress and devour. You can make it pretty or just chow down, glad that finally the bickering has ended.

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