Reader essay


Toast. It's what's for dinner Along with the shrimp satay, that is By Kathy Broderick


Photo courtesy of Kathy Broderick Tim and Kathy Broderick count on seafood, satay and toast to nourish 8-year-olds Nora and Elena.

There are few things more satisfying in life than feeding one's children. My husband and I often reminisce about those 2 a.m. feedings. We have fond memories of our children mutilating their vegetables. And we cherish a special visit to the Field Museum, during which we forced our daughter to spit out a lump of chewed food that she'd been carrying around in her cheek for two hours. It's an image we haven't been able to shake, five years later.

It all boils down to one simple fact. We're food people, and they're not.

Our daughters' favorite breakfast is, and always has been, toast. But like many children, they don't eat crusts.

Crust control long has been a major problem at our house. The girls would take two little bites out of a whole piece of toast and leave the "crust" behind. Then they would pleasantly ask, "More toast, please?"

That was before my husband negotiated the Just Crust Treaty of 1999. In this deal, children must eat all the way to the crust. And leave no more than three pieces of the stuff. Even so, we bought a bread machine, and it pretty much runs continuously.

They have a favorite lunch, too. But I can hardly bear it anymore. When I look into my future, I see a line of empty lunch boxes extending to the horizon. Everyday it's the same thing: a peanut butter sandwich, an apple, potato chips. Ham and cheese? No thanks! Orange? No thanks! Pretzels? No thanks!

I know this monotony can't be good for their physical health. I calm myself by saying it's good for their emotional health.

Actually, since my children attend Chicago Public Schools, I'm one of the lucky moms who can send my children off in the morning with some coins to purchase a hot lunch. Theoretically. Unfortunately, there is only one menu item that my daughters like: beef teriyaki bites. Anybody out there know what those are? CPS serves them, just once, each month.

And then there is dinner. Protein is critical. But not in a stir-fry or casserole. And tofu doesn't count. I once seriously tried to concoct my own "beef teriyaki bites" for dinner. I came this close to

e-mailing CPS Food Services to get the recipe, but then my husband calmed me down with the promise of Thai takeout.

It's a good thing my husband and I never left this great big Midwestern city. As residents of Chicago, we embrace the city's many culinary advantages. But three top our list. Over the years, they have helped us survive the dinner hour.

• Satay. Did I mention Thai takeout? Since food on a stick is right up there with toast, my daughters flipped for satay. They even tried to convince their Brownie troop leader to include it on the menu for overnight camp. One of the great things about this cuisine is how the Thai people have cleverly morphed peanut butter into something that only appeals to adults. That means more for my husband and I.

• Rick Bayless. This famous chef's TV show is my daughters' current favorite. Have you ever seen a person have more fun eating? I used to behave like this when my daughters were toddlers. You know, to get them excited about creamed spinach? But now I'm too tired. And besides, he gets paid a lot of money to act like this in front of the camera. We just call in the children to watch, and the next thing you know, they're chowing down on mango with lime juice. Now my girls want to visit Mexico and eat a bunch of food. Gee, I guess we'll just have to do that. I told them he owns a couple of restaurants downtown. "Can we go there?" Why, yes. Let's do. (Mr. Bayless, if you're reading, can you consult with Chicago Public Schools, please?)

• Grandparents who winter in Florida. Down in Florida when our girls were 3, Poppa brought the girls a lobster lunch. It's uncanny, but they loved it. Now when I ask, "I'm off to the grocery store. Any special requests?" They shout in unison, "Lobster!" Grandma and Poppa got them hooked on shrimp as well. And, well, any kind of seafood. I get a lot of weird looks when other parents discover my children eat tuna. When one of my daughters attended an awards luncheon for her school, she rejected the children's menu choices and asked if she could eat my salmon instead. (What could I do? I ate the hot dog.)

So, I no longer worry about what my daughters eat for breakfast or lunch. They do their thing, we do ours. I'm just glad I don't have to fret about dinner anymore. I'm comforted by the fact that on any given day, I can produce the perfect dinner for our family: a double order of shrimp satay, mango with lime, and, of course, toast.

Kathy Broderick, a writer and mother of two, lives in Chicago. She considers herself a gourmet cook, as long as the meal involves toast or takeout.



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