Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Catalog Family

When we were spic-and-span clean and ready for church, our grandma Opal liked to remark, "Why, you look like you've just stepped out of a band box." I'd puff with pride, even though I didn't have the foggiest notion of what a band box was.

These days, when I see a well groomed, coordinated family, I like to remark to myself, "Why, they look like they've just stepped out of the same catalog," whether it's The Gap, JC Penney's or Neiman Marcus.

We are not that family. We are the poster family for mix-it-up diversity. We don't worship at the same churches, dress from the same catalogs or order from the same menus. And, most of the time, it works for us.

George is a blue-eyed, English-Irish Mayflower descendant. I'm a Hapa, with my mother contributing the kimono-wearing Japanese half and my dad the kilt-clad Scottish side. Cindy is a raven-haired beauty with family roots in Jalisco, Mexico. When it comes to religion, I like to call us the "ABC family" with an agnostic, a Baptist-Buddhist and a Catholic under the same roof. No problem.

As for catalogs, I gravitate towards the classics in J Crew or Banana Republic and throw in a touch of vintage for panache. George (and I hate to admit this) is partial to JC Penney's with no added panache. And it's impossible to confine Cindy's sense of style to a single catalog. Suffice it to say that she would not be caught dead in either Banana or JC Penney's. Again, not a problem.

But what's a family to do when the taste buds swing farther apart than the catalogs?

Let's start with a simple family pasta dinner. I like my pasta cooked al dente, but 18-year-old Cindy and George prefer their noodles wiggly. Cindy, who still has the taste preferences of a pre-schooler ordering from a kid's menu, loves penne pasta with butter and Parmesan cheese. At least she shuns the sawdust in the green can in favor of the freshly grated variety. Of course, sugar-laced Spaghetti O's are still a fave. (Although, now that I'm home from Hotel Hope, I've banned them from our pantry.)

George's favorite dinner is spaghetti with meat sauce, salad and bread. Sounds simple enough, but we're palate opposites in every category. He likes my doctored-up version of sauce in a jar with ground meat, fresh herbs, crushed red pepper and wine. I'm in heaven with fresh tomatoes from the garden with plenty of fresh-picked basil cooked up in lots of garlic and olive oil served over a bed of angel hair pasta. ("This pasta is too skinny," huffs George.)

For George, salad is based on the "polyester of lettuces," Iceberg. Throw in a few tomatoes (even when they're anemic and out-of-season) and a chopped carrot, top it with bottled Thousand Island dressing and he chows down. The bread should be soft on the outside and soft on the inside. (All of this, of course, is even more upsetting to me than shopping trips to JC Penney's.)

So what's a mom/head cook to do? Take the hard line, "If you want it YOUR way, then cook it your way" tack? Go for the least common denominator and serve up something acceptable to everyone? Bite the soggy bullet and settle for water-logged instead of al dente pasta? Keep trying to convert my family to the virtues of slightly chewy pasta, designer lettuces, home-made balsamic dressings and crusty breads? Sigh.

I'll bet the family in the JC Penney's catalog doesn't have these problems.

COMMENTS: When it comes to food, are you a catalog family? What challenges does your family face?

(This food essay also appears at


Nancy said...

Hey Susan, You are doing great. You are really getting up and about and looking GOOD. Stay warm and keep away from germs!!! Take Care, love Nancy Sakakura

Ann said...

Your description of George also suits Chris. Gelatinous pasta and pre-fab salads, hold the tomatoes please. I just do single servings of veg for myself and leave Chris to gorge on protein. We should start a support group for foodies living with palate challenged loved ones. What do you think? ;)

suzy keleher said...

We have numerous challenges as well! Number one being everyone is starved by the time Patick and I get home from work that we shamefully turn over our money to Mimi's or Olive Garden to go. We try to eat healthfully. I am constantly trying to lose weight. Kira is trying to be vegetarian except for fish. Joe needs proein because he lifts weights and we all hate fast food. At least that much we share. But because of time constraints, we even sucumb to that to occasionally. Now my favorite menus are a mix of tradtional, passed on recipis from Mom, grandma and great- grandma. The next favorite is "Taste of Home" for everyday family dinners. So on the weeekend, I like to really see what I can do- or sometimes what Patrick or the teens can do- if I'm lucky...and make a gourmet type meal from something deliciuos sounding I have found on the Internet or other recipes i have collected over the years like: Beef Roulades or Lemon and Parsley rolled lamb. I love to bake as well but the real bakers in the house are my two girls. Krista makes the most awesome chocolate soufle. Kira makes the best oatmeal cookies. We have our conflicts like what to feed daddy when we are all enjoying califronia rolls or spicy tuna rolls...he won't touch them except for the ginger. No shrimp for him either...he would rather eat beans. Ok so let him eat beans! By the way, I like my pasta al dente too. That was such a fun writing, Susan...I laughed a lot!

Susan Carrier said...

Ann, what is it about Hapa girls and white-bread boys? I love your idea of a support group for "foodies living with palate challenged loved ones." Sign me up!

Suzy, yes, with a vegetarian and a protein love under the same roof, you certainly have your work cut out for you! It's so great that the "kids" are having fun in the kitchen.

Three cheers to the anti-catalog family! We are so not boring.

Susan Carrier said...

PS I received an email from another anti-catalog family mom. She shares the same clash of the noodle dilemma and suggests, "scoop yours out and let theirs stay to cook (and get ruined) for a little longer."

Now why didn't I think of that?

Mathews Family said...

This post actually reminds me of three things:
1. Jesse- I have to hide vegetables in his food whenever possible. Much like your description of Cindy, it's like feeding a pre-schooler! And if I can get him to eat salad it's usually lettuce (of course I sneak in spinach!), cheese, and carrots with ranch dressing. blech.
2. Last night's episode of 30 Rock- Did you happen to catch it? If you didn't see it... basically it's about the uncovering of a picture perfect family. Pretty funny.
3. Our visit to Santa- There was a family behind us dressed as if they walked right out of a Hanna Anderson Christmas catalog. They stood in line snapping photos until they got "the perfect Christmas photo." In order to get their children to cooperate and even smile, the couple constantly reminded the children, "Santa is watching!" Perfect?

Mathews Family said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mathews Family said...

Ps. A simple example of our always opposite palates: Just tonight we were in Trader Joe's and Jesse asked if he should get some Jasmine rice. I was impressed for a minute, until he tossed a bag of white rice in the cart. I said, "Oh, we eat brown rice." He said, "But I like the white rice better."

If Jesse had it his way we'd have Eggo's for breakfast, Pizza Pockets for lunch, Twinkies for snack, and Old El Paso tacos for dinner!

I feel your pain.

Susan Carrier said...

Hey, we have another member for the "support group." And, I'm beginning to see a pattern here. Em's a "halfa Hapa" married to another white-bread guy!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.