Friday, November 27, 2009

Special Post Thanksgiving Edition..Cooking For The Difficult Eater

I've always loved Thanksgiving and the thing I love most about Thanksgiving is not so much the day itself but the day and evening before. I love the prep. I love the time alone in my kitchen for chopping, slicing, rolling dough, making mince meat, cranberry sauce and setting the table. The actual holiday on the other hand, that's a different story.
What I love about cooking are the challenges. I love learning new things and experimenting and doing anything from scratch, old school style. That's a real turn on. It's what I live for. It's why I love Indian cooking and hell, all cooking. However there are some challenges that come around just once or twice a year that even I quail at. Where I freeze up and food panic hits my brain and I don't know which way to turn. It usually involves cooking for my mother, where the challenge is not "can I cook it?" but "will she eat it?".
We're Italian and Thanksgiving, in fact all holiday dinners at our house can get rather tumultuous which is a polite word for loud and sometimes dramatic. If you've ever seen Fellinis' film Amarcord you know what I mean. It's not subtitled but I don't think it needs to be.

I'm not saying this happens at every holiday meal...but you get the idea. My family are also picky eaters, My mother has always hated to cook, and if she had her way she always says that she'd love a house without a kitchen. Weird, and as people say, no wonder I cook.
My mother has a whole list of stuff she won't eat which include nuts,(except almonds on one certain type of Italian cake she loves) fish, raisins, rice, (except certain types but not all types of risotto) pears, raspberries, cranberries (except the canned jellied sort), any kind of dried fruit, salt, honey, mincemeat, I could go on but won't. Needless to say cooking for her is not easy. Cooking Indian food for her is impossible.

Since Ms Picky was only one of several diners, I tried to get a menu that would please everybody and at least give her something she liked. So this year I dispensed with the mashed potatoes and the stuffing, got rid of the zucchini fritatta and decided to do a ginger and maple glazed turkey (did not mention the ginger or the maple as it's something else she doesn't like), did an oven baked polenta using a clay pot that Paula Wolfert gave me served with wild mushroom ragu, and baby onions caramelized in balsamic vinegar alongside green beans sauteed with imported pancetta.
I started off with a salad. After Paulas' book party last week, where she asked me to make my Rice Pudding recipe, she gave me a small bottle of oil nuovo to try. It was a delicious grassy peppery blend from the California Olive Ranch.
I decided to grill comice pears after brushing them with the oil, and serve them on a bed of arugula with a bit of ricotta salata, and of course a dressing made of more of the new oil. I was going to scatter a few chopped pistachios over the salad, but didn't as I knew she hated nuts. I was proud of myself. "Ha!" I thought, "Got her!" I proudly announced that the salad was on the table..she took one look at it. "Oh, I just hate pears!" she said. "Can you scrape them off?"

Who hates pears??!! I mean pears??? Please. They're pears. Nobody hates pears. She hates pears. I scraped the pears off. My father along with everyone else loved the salad. He told my mother she didn't know what she was missing. She said, that she knew exactly what she was missing and that she hated pears. Ok. So much for the pears.
It was time to serve the entree. The turkey was burnished golden and turned out beautifully. I'm not a huge fan of roast turkey but I have to admit this one was good, I hadn't had a turkey in a couple of Thanksgivings after one nightmare experience 2 years ago with a 28 lb bird that would not cook. There is an old Alfred Hitchcock movie I saw once on TV, Torn Curtain where Paul Newman is trying to kill some guy by shoving his head in an oven and he just won't die... well, that's the way it was with me and that turkey. It just wouldn't cook. At that point I'd done with Frankenbirds and decided to go with a smaller free range bird. In all the confusion, of Thanksgiving, I didn't get a good shot of anything that was served. The best I could do was a quick shot of a plate.

The dinner was successful though I had to buy a small can of cranberry sauce as she doesn't like cranberries except in jellied canned form. I tried to get her to take it home with her and demonstrated how it really didn't want to leave except with her. In fact, it wouldn't even come off the plate.

Don't think I'm wasting food as the stuff literally wouldn't come off the plate. She was forced to take it with her.
Dessert at our house is traditionally a cake only found in the San Francisco Bay Area in Italian bakeries called a Beehive Cake.

This is the way they make it at my local hang in Sonoma, the Basque Boulangerie. However, the one we usually get is from Cavaliere's a small Italian bakery in Santa Rosa and looks a bit different.
Despite all our family food wrangling we had a great Thanksgiving. My mother is always amazed that I get such pleasure out of cooking and trying new things. She has now started calling me Zita, after one of my Italian grandmothers. Zita was the one who always made everything from scratch and had a pot of chicken feet boiling on the stove every holiday. It's sort of a badge of honor. I really think she's pretty amused by my cooking and enjoys teasing me.
I was also wondering how many of you out there deal with strange and picky eaters and what is the weirdest food habit from the strangest member of your family? Not all of us come from families who love to cook and even though this post has nothing whatever to do with Indian food, I just wanted to show how a woman who'd be happier without a kitchen in her house, could have a daughter who couldn't live without a kitchen.


  1. Zita, dinner looks like it was great! Sorry we couldn't make it :--)

  2. Pleasing everyone in the family with one meal is impossible. This Thanksgiving, our younger son ate leftover pepperoni pizza and our older son ate scrambled eggs. So much for family tradition!

  3. @Vegetable Matter
    perhaps weird can be a new family tradition?

  4. @janis,
    yes, next year when they get that new transcontinental bullet train working.

  5. It has just occured to me. Persimmons look like baby pumpkins!

  6. I have many friends that are very picky but there is no pleasing everyone though.

  7. What DOES your mom eat? My father wouldn't eat onions, tomatoes, garlic, fish, or just about anything else with flavor, and my mom used to just put onions in things anyway and tell him there weren't any. He never knew the difference. Though really it is hard to hide a pear!

  8. @Tasty Trix,
    my mom eats polenta, mushrooms, pasta, bread, white chocolate only, mainly carbs never anything with salt and she's tiny so it doesn't seem to be an issue for her. She said that when they were on a vacation and stopped in morocco she survived on bread and tea. My father eats anything.

  9. Dear Kathy,
    I think that tinned cranvberry sauce would make a good adjunct for Spam at the holiday table. Have you ever tried this? Perhaps your picky relatives would like it. Try Enjoy !!

    Ryotaro Sukotto

  10. How lovely!..I just discovered your blog and enjoying it immensely!..will be back to read more..



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