It’s summertime. I know this because I looked at my calendar yesterday and saw “Mikey’s Hawaiian Luau Popluck Summer Kickoff” listed for today. This is the preschool potluck for which I have to make a main dish.
I could have made a side dish or, better yet, a beverage, which would have required no work at all. Just lower in the crate of juice boxes and you’re done. But on the sign-up sheet, no one had volunteered to make a main dish and someone had to do it.
Besides, I’m a new member of Mikey’s school’s PPG. That’s Parent Participation Group, which is kind of like the PTA. We meet once a month with the school administration to organize events and talk about policy. Since “Participation” is part of the name, I figure I need to jump on the main dish making.
Of course, a moment after signing on the dotted line, it occurred to me that I’ve never made a Hawaiian main dish before. Or eaten one. Or been to Hawaii. I knew from an Elvis movie that luaus involved giant pigs on spits and an optional grass skirt and coconut bra. I contacted the school director and was informed that the dish didn’t have to be Hawaiian, just kid-friendly.
I’m not sure what it means for food to be kid-friendly. I just know my kid is food-friendly.
A few nights ago, Mikey asked if he could have something with his dinner, but he couldn’t remember the word. He mimed peeling and said it involved scooping. Ian and I threw out our guesses at the game of charades: A spoon? A scooper? A shovel?
“No, I remember now,” Mikey said. “Can I have an … artichoke?”
Earlier, he had been making his own appetizer, a little sandwich composed of a sliver of nori seaweed folded over a smear of hummus. “You know what would also be good?” he mused. “Do we have some … goat cheese?”
Not that all of his tastes are so sophisticated. This morning before preschool, I asked him if he’d rather have juice or yogurt. This is an old parenting trick I picked up from my own parents. Give your kid lots of this-or-that choices so he feels like his opinion counts. It works well as long as he sticks to the two good options.
“I think … I want …” Mikey pondered and then grinned, “M&Ms!”
Candy is the most kid-friendly of all foods. Research has shown that our taste buds before adolescence are much different than in our adult years, suggesting that kids don’t just have immature palates, they have alien ones. What is insanely sweet to us — Pixy Stix or those cheap unmarked two-gallon plastic jugs of neon red, yellow, and green juice-flavored beverages you will never see in Whole Foods – just tastes about the way things should taste to them. One of the jobs of parents is to steer them clear of that stuff as much as possible until their habits and taste buds agree on something good and good for them. It ain’t easy.
Obviously, Mikey’s has had M&Ms. To be precise, he’s had them exactly once, two months ago. As I mentioned in a previous blog, we went to a particularly bad hotel in Santa Barbara for our anniversary, but Mikey remembers it fondly and brings it up from time to time.
“Remember the hotel we stayed that there was M&Ms? Let’s go back there, okay?”
In thinking about what kid-friendly main dish I could make, I considered a big bowl of candy. If the Hawaiian Potluck Luau Summer Kickoff were a popularity contest, I’d win, hands down. I want the kids to like what I made, but I want it to be actual food, so I did a little cookbook digging and came upon a recipe for fettucine with pancetta, asparagus, and peas. I’m sure there will be kids who don’t go for asparagus, but the rest of the meal sounded like a winner for a main dish.
The recipe serves 4, and there will be 35 kids. So, now I’m doing math, which is never a good thing when it comes to me and cooking. When I was first dating Ian, I decided to bake him a cake. Since the cake mold I got was half the size of the one in the recipe – because I was just baking it for the two of us – I halved all the ingredients, and then I wasn’t sure if I should half the baking time or temperature or both. When I pulled my masterpiece out of the oven, it collapsed like it was rejecting a kidney – did I mention it was a red velvet cake? So I popped it back in the oven at 110 degrees for eight hours while I slept. In the morning, it was perfectly shaped and impenetrable by anything short of a diamond drill. Ian loved it and used it as a door jam for a couple months.
So, today was the potluck, and, as expected, the dish got mixed reactions. The teachers and parents raved and came back for seconds. Most of the kids ate the pasta and peas. One five-year-old at our table volunteered his critique: “I don’t like it. I don’t like asparagus.”
“I don’t like asparagus either,” Mikey chimed in.
“We eat it anyhow,” I said. “Do you know why?”
“Because it makes us big and strong?” Mikey asked.
“No,” I whispered in his ear. “Because it makes our pee stinky.”
Mikey, wide-eyed, finished off his bowl. You gotta know what motivates a three-year-old.