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Food stories: Conflicts Sur la Table from when you were Very Very Young


Franci
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This is amazing to me.  So many of us, myself included, had pretty miserable times at the family dinner table.  
And yet, we have become real lovers of food and the processes involved to produce it.  I  dreaded meal time as

a kid. It took years to distance myself from the crappy meals I grew up on and realize that I could do so much better.

The journey has been fun and ongoing.

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When I was growing up my parents would spend their lunch siesta cooking a large meal. They worked in a major sea town, drove 20-30 minutes and prepared a large meal for lunch, every day. I especially remember the seafood: clams and mussels, the small fry fishes, the fresh sardines and anchovies my father loves so much. Also so much lamb and lamb offals. Or wild vegetables with dry favas and focacce to die for. I was not picky at all. I don't remember to be forced eating anything, I was a very willful child, pushing something would just get the opposite effect. In fact, I tried prosciutto crudo at 18 years old because of that. At the time, I couldn't understand how my parents could devote so much of their free time to food. I wished my mom could rest more. Ironically, now that they are old and have all the time they want, they have lost interest into food.

My husband is born in communist China, he couldn't be picky. Now he is much more particular on how he likes his food than me.

My two children are very different on the food aspect. My son at 6 months didn't even want me to get closer to him with a spoon, he decided to feed himself and what. At 11 months he could eat risotto with a fork alone and would spend hours at the sink washing vegetables with me.

Both my children love vegetables but my son is very picky on textures. He wants his vegetables cooked in a certain way. We like fatty meats and gelatinous cuts. He likes very lean meat. What, force on him bone marrow?

Now at age 7 he decided he needs to try food before saying he doesn't like it. My daughter at 3.5 already does it. So, as adults we are really into food because we must have had either terrible or great experiences as children in relation to food, that is my idea. I want my children to grow up with a positive image of food.

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This is amazing to me.  So many of us, myself included, had pretty miserable times at the family dinner table.  

And yet, we have become real lovers of food and the processes involved to produce it.  I  dreaded meal time as

a kid. It took years to distance myself from the crappy meals I grew up on and realize that I could do so much better.

The journey has been fun and ongoing.

 

What I find interesting, actually, is that so many of you HAD miserable times at the family dinner table.  I wonder if it had anything to do with it being NA food in a certain time in a certain milieu. :-)  

 

It would have been hard to have had a bad meal, whether at home or outside, in SE Asia where I grew up.  Cost was also not a great factor - one could have any number of delicious foods for pennies (or at least cheaply) from any number of hawkers on the streets ("Street Food") from a great array of different cuisines; and cooking at home (at least in my experience) involved dishes and cuisines that always used fresh ingredients and tasty preparations.  In fact, canned foodstuffs (from the West/Europe/rarely the Americas) were regarded as a "treat" - Corned Beef in a can, for instance, was a rare, rare thing to be opened only as a special treat (besides being pretty expensive). "Danish Ham" was an extravagant item, hoarded in the cupboard for that one special day.   Chickens bought from the markets squawking and freshly killed were the norm.  Fresh vegetables were the norm. Otherwise, dried vegetables and foodstuffs (like the sort I have described on the dinner and lunch threads and elsewhere, which are regarded as separate ingredients in their own right) were also the norm.  Canned vegetables - as a "canned form of the fresh" - were a curiosity and were an "alien" foodstuff.  Etc etc and so on and so forth.

 

I had fresh rambutans, custard apples, sugar cane, bananas, nangka, chempedak, etc right from the garden of my family home when I was growing up.  Various sorts of SE Asian beans, sour fruits (for cooking), etc etc also were there for the plucking.  It seemed "normal" to me to eat all this stuff, without being "forced" to do so - largely because they were, for the most part, delicious - without my having to "develop" a palate for said things.  The few times I mentioned being forced to sit at table involved things that were slightly "alien" or off-putting to me as a young child (like the liver and mushrooms I have mentioned) - and I may be remembering this wrongly (quite possible) but one of those occasions may have involved peas.  Y'know, the type that appears on European/British/NAmerican plates unexceptionally.  As I grew into teenagerhood I putt-putted around on a small motorbike and even brought back home to my mother (after school) stuff from shops I'd drop by - such as the char-siu or kai-see kon-lo mein I frequently favored.

 

Throughout the years of my growing up we also dined out frequently.  It could be done inexpensively or extravagantly, depending on the cuisine and the locale.  Most of the time we did so in restaurants/eating places that were not too hard of a drain on my father's wallet.  They ranged across the spectrum from Chinese (mostly Southern Chinese regionalities, true) to Malaysian-Chinese to Malay to Nyonya (Southern Nyonya/Northern Nyonya) to Thai & other SE Asian to Indian (Tamilian or Keralan or Mamak for the most part) to British Colonial (ever tried "Hainanese Pork Chops", folks?) to European of various stripes (Italian, English, French, etc; German was rare).  We had dim-sum or lavish Chinese spreads in fabulous high-end restaurants (starting from when I was a little kid - I do remember) to down-to-earth grimy places where the dim-sum was no less fabulous in taste.  And so on.  "USAmerican" was a nebulous and not-much-thought-of food (if it was even a "thing") at the time.  I can't say I ever had a meal that I positively hated.  Maybe disliked (but can't remember which, if any), but my memories of these meals tend to fall into the "pleasant memories" category.

 

Oh, it also turned out that I loved double-boiled (steamed) pig's brain soups from an early age... :-)

Edited by huiray (log)
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Enjoyed reading your post, huiray. 

Thinking about it:  how many of us had grandmothers who were great cooks.  I never ate at my forbidding Father's Step-Mother's.  My Mother's Mother, my Bubbi, was a wonderful woman who loved to cook and her food was delicious.  Remember great foods.  Oh, for some real pumpernickel in a bowl with cottage cheese and real sour cream sitting on my Poppa's lap eating it. :wub:

My Mother hated to cook and until about 8 years ago I hated to cook also although I did my best by my kids, unlike my Mother, who simply didn't (IMO).  And my DH did more than his share of the cooking for years.  DH's Mother was French Canadian and she loved to cook and was a terrific cook, although used sugar with too free a hand I thought...coming from a house of no sugar and less yummy anyway.  Ed does not remember any unpleasantness at his table.

We both lived in Ottawa during our childhoods (later childhood for me) and adolescence and no one ate out much.  There must have been about 5 restaurants in the entire city with a few diners.  And no street foods of any kind.  This reflects greatly on our age group - 70s.  The social scene in Ottawa changed greatly in the 60s and thereafter. 

 

Just musing...

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Darienne

 

learn, learn, learn...

 

Life in the Meadows and Rivers

Cheers & Chocolates

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Huiray - I loved your post too. Interesting that while most western kids were growing up years ago on a diet of the 'new fangled' canned and packaged foods, you were inundated with fresh foods of all kinds. I am jealous - of everything except perhaps the pig's brains. I have no idea why I love good and different foods now since I am the product of the canned era and a not terrific cook for a mother. She tried to be honest but though I do remember things I liked from my childhood, they were few and far between.

I am not sure I would have known that restaurants existed during my early childhood in Toronto - except for the one day each year (after the Eisteffod - a mini Welsh 'festival' where each of us would participate in some contest and often won a dollar or two - Mom made breads or cookies, Dad wrote bad poetry, and we kids sang or painted). On that day, my parents would take us to a steak house (El something or other), supposedly to celebrate our prowess.

Liver - I hated it. My mother made us eat it once a week. Dr. Spock (or whoever told her that we needed the iron), I don't like you very much. Very overcooked. Dislike it to this day - although I know now it can be cooked much better. Because of my experience though, I don't think any of my kids ever even had a taste of it.

My father hated peanut butter. Said it causes cancer - and apparently it can actually if you get some made with bad peanut toxins - but also because he didn't grow up with peanut butter in the UK. He also didn't understand Kraft Dinner. I only got to eat those two items when Dad was away (which was rarely) or if I went to supper at a friend's house.

I love fish and seafood. I fed it to my kids often. My boys would order (adult portions of) lobster and shrimp whenever we went out. Expensive kids. I guess I should be thrilled then that my daughter's first grade teacher apparently told her charges that fish scream when they die - because from that point on till today (and she is 31 now) she has refused to eat any and all seafood or fish. So yes, on days when I wanted to serve that for my husband and myself, I resorted to the 'cook two meals' strategy. Wasn't worth fighting about after a long day at work, etc.

One last anecdote - My father was very adamant that we did not eat Christmas dinner (or open gifts which we could not do till after dinner) till we had gone to church late on Christmas morning. That wasn't too bad but it meant that we usually ate mid-afternoon and the gifts got opened around dinner time which is a hardship for a child. However, one Christmas, after church, my father decided we would visit a Polish family we knew nearby before going home. We kids had to watch theirs play with their toys, and their mother make perogies - for hours and hours. They had already eaten when we arrived so all we had to eat was a few Christmas cookies and a candycane or two. Finally, we fell asleep on the floor and my parents trundled us home and put us in bed. Christmas dinner happened on Boxing Day afternoon that year, as did unwrapping the gifts. I remember hating it all at the time .. but it does make for a story now so all is not lost. I refused to put my kids through that though, even if my father was there for the day and insisted on having his sherry and stollen for hours - they at least got to open their gifts early in the day and I got up at 3 a.m. if need be to put the turkey in the oven so we could eat at midday. (p.s. At this point in my life, I now prefer Xmas dinner later in the day myself.)

Edited by Deryn (log)
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I went through a stage when I was sure my mother was disguising liver as steak, so for a year or so I turned up my nose to both liver AND steak. And fish was never a welcome sight on the dinner table for me. Since we lived in St. Louis and weren't Catholic--thus subject to fast days--fish did not present a great obstacle.

My mother was busy--she taught school and was active in the community, plus took care of our home. She did not have time for special order cooking. My father didn't cook--what man did cook in the '50s or '60s?--so all the meals were Mom's responsibilities.

That said, we always had a good meal on the table. The ingredients did not come out of a can or box. Mom believed in local food before it was popular and we often grew our vegetables or picked them from farmers' fields. Hot Missouri summers meant the season for preserving foods for winter. Great pots of tomatoes, beans, peaches, and jams bubbled on the stovetop, making a hot kitchen even more unbearable.

At mealtime, if either my Dad or I didn't like something, Mom would always say, "That's OK, honey. You can make yourself an omlette or have peanut butter and jelly." That was a great way to handle me because I hated PB&J--and still do to this day--and omlettes weren't my favorite back then either.

The only time I was given a different main course would be at my grandparents'. If my grandmother made brains, kidneys, tongue, etc., she would give me something else. I am not sure this was a good approach because I loved anything associated with Grandma. I think that had I been served the awful offal with no choice--thus giving me the idea that there was something wrong with the food--I would have associated it with happy times and learned to eat it.

Looking back, I am glad that Mom did not cater to a "child's taste." I learned to eat different foods and I was exposed to foods from many different culinary traditions. Most of all, I learned to appreciate the effort that went into making a meal and to respect the work that Mom put into creating good meals for our family.

Edited by Maedl (log)
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Huiray - I loved your post too. Interesting that while most western kids were growing up years ago on a diet of the 'new fangled' canned and packaged foods, you were inundated with fresh foods of all kinds. I am jealous - of everything except perhaps the pig's brains. I have no idea why I love good and different foods now since I am the product of the canned era and a not terrific cook for a mother. She tried to be honest but though I do remember things I liked from my childhood, they were few and far between.

 

 

Thanks.  Well, those were my circumstances when I was growing up, that's all.  As for canned foodstuff - I wouldn't say that they are necessarily bad - in fact I don't think that at all, at least not nowadays.  Perhaps back in the 50's and 60's they were not done well but nowadays the technology has improved and the choices so great, especially of stuff hard to find or highly perishable that I myself use canned stuff of all sorts now.  I also don't think of a lot of it (not all) as "poor substitutes" - but treat them as new ingredients.

 

 

 

 My father didn't cook--what man did cook in the '50s or '60s?

 

My father cooked on a few occasions.  Yes, this was during the 50's and 60's. 

 

And when we ate out, as far as I know the great majority of the food we ate was cooked by men.  In many cases - such as in non-hotel or non-fancy places the chefs would be in full view of the clientele. :-)

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In regards to at least one aspect of the discussion - the hatred of vegetables seems, to me, to be an especially Western phenomenon. I have always found it odd.  I grew up in a situation where (as many others like me, and countless others through millennia in E/SE Asia) vegetables were part of the daily table and were absorbed into one's experience and expectations.  Perhaps it is the case that this is not the case in Western cuisines (which the popular narrative would have us believe) but this would be one aspect of learning to like various stuff that is NOT predicated on what one experiences as a child in the Western World.

 

 

When all you're ever offered is broccoli, cabbage and carrots that're boiled to the point that they're falling apart, and gooey mashed potato with big chunks in then you tend to grow up thinking that's what vegetables are and they're nasty.

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My parents, who were very reasonable people, were strict about meals.  You ate what was put on your plate.

So my brother and I are pretty much everything.  The exceptions were liver and hominy.  Those were just plain awful (and still are!)

After a couple of attempts where we were kept at the table until we finished, Mom finally would prepare something separate, such as a hamburger patty or similar.  That let peace reign.

BTW, another story; My mom one time cleaned out behind the refrigerator and behold! found a pile of liver pieces I'd thrown back thee.

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