The Dinner Party

§   Jack finally tapped into the whole Evil Plot about half-way through the meal.   §

I have plans to nominate a woman for sainthood after hearing her description of the way in which she handled The Evil Plot perpetrated by her new in-laws.

My acquaintance—let’s call her Jill—met and married Jack not long after the break-up of his first marriage. Jack’s family made it clear that they viewed Jill as an interloper. Rightly or wrongly, his family blamed Jack for his divorce, and continued to keep in touch with his ex. It was an uncomfortable situation for Jill.

However, after a few months, it seemed that Jack’s brother and his wife had begun to mellow toward Jill. Jack and Jill extended an invitation for an evening out; it was accepted, and everyone made a genuine effort to be pleasant. Even more encouraging was a return invitation to dinner at the brother’s home.

Looking back, Jill says, she should have known better. That hindsight 20/20 thing, she says.

They arrived at Jack’s brother’s home to and sat down to a home-cooked meal. That’s when it became clear that her new sister-in-law had prepared a very special meal indeed — one consisting of every single food Jill didn’t like. Including a few she absolutely loathed.

Recalling that previous get-together, Jill belatedly realized that conversation had “drifted” around to the food likes and dislikes of everyone present. Too late, Jill now realized that conversation had been carefully orchestrated.

Jill is a semi-vegetarian, eating only fish or poultry; the main dish served was not only red meat, but a highly-spiced dish which she would normally shun. Jill shares my aversion to Brussels sprouts; those, and another veggie she thoroughly dislikes, were served.

Displaying wonderful restraint, Jill decided to eat small mouthfuls of everything, fill up on bread, and make the best of a very bad deal. Meanwhile, Jack (not normally slow on the uptake), finally tapped into the whole Evil Plot about half-way through the meal as he watched his beloved smilingly take a mouthful of despised sprouts. “I thought you didn’t like Brussels sprouts,” he said wonderingly and then recoiled from her death-ray glare as she replied sweetly, “Well, it’s not my favorite veggie, but I’d be a terrible guest not to try a food when my hostess has obviously gone to so much trouble.”

The crowning blow came, though, when dessert was served: a homemade fruit compote spooned over vanilla ice cream. As Jill picked up her spoon, Jack, who had just taken a mouthful, suddenly shrieked, “No, don’t eat that!” Jill dropped her utensil and stared, slack-jawed, as her husband proceeded to yank the bowl right out from its place in front of her.

The fruit salad contained mango, to which she is allergic. Jill vividly recalled mentioning her mango allergy during that conversational night out.

Her new sister-in-law was all apologies, and returned to the kitchen to serve her a fresh bowl of plain ice cream. Dinner was concluded amiably, but the couple did not stay long after that. Upon leaving, Jill thanked her hostess for dinner, saying, “It’s obvious that you went to a lot of trouble on my behalf.”

The two couples haven’t spoken since, and no further invitations have been extended.

So, as I say, I am definitely nominating Jill for sainthood! And I’m so glad that she doesn’t carry a firearm.

I Really Hate Brussels Sprouts

I confess it: I do not like watermelon. I realize there is something almost un-American about this prejudice.  Tell this to my fellow citizens around the 4th of July, and I’ll probably be looking at a visit from Homeland Security.  But, there you have it: I simply can’t stand watermelon.  It isn’t just the flavor but the texture which repels me, for I don’t actually enjoy any type of melon: musk melon, honeydew, cantaloupe…you name it, I can’t bring myself to eat it, despite having tried each of them many times.  Just the smell of cantaloupe makes me want to yak.  I can’t even imagine eating one.

This continuing distaste flies in the face of my enduring belief that our tastes alter over a lifetime and that we should keep trying foods that we find unpalatable, since we may one day surprise ourselves by actually enjoying them. As a child, I wouldn’t have eaten a lima bean to save my soul, but as an adult, reintroduced to them in my Grandmother’s incredible vegetable soup, I found that I not only enjoyed them, but preferred them to most beans (which I also usually dislike solely due to texture.)  Nevertheless, decades after I first began doing so, I still pick the red beans out of my bowl of chili.  They disgust me.  They smush in my mouth.

And then there’s my arch nemesis: Brussels sprouts. My parents loved Brussels sprouts and they were constantly on our table as I grew up.  I vividly remember the absolute torture of trying to ingest just one single Brussels sprout so that I could be excused from the table.  “Think of the starving children in the world,” I was told anytime I disliked a food that I’d been served, and, trust me: I would gladly, joyously, generously have found a starving kid anywhere and handed over my whole plateful of food if it had meant that I didn’t have to eat that damned Brussels sprout.

As an adult, though, I found that (although I was never going to go out of my way to ingest one) I could endure the dreaded sprouts if I prepared them by halving them, basting the halves with olive oil, generously spreading them with garlic and pepper before finally broiling them until crispy. I still knew, overall, that this was a Brussels sprout, but I could eat them, if not enjoy them.  Some of their essential Brussels-sproutiness still crept through, nonetheless.

When cranberries became the latest entry in the healthful foods array, I was horrified. My only acquaintance with cranberries was that awful jell in a can, which was served by opening both ends of the tin and pushing the jell out, whole, to lie on a bed of lettuce and be sliced.  That was how it had been served at holidays throughout my childhood, and I don’t think I quite realized that cranberries were actually berries.  Reintroduced to them, dried or in muffins and as a side dish blended with other ingredients, I found them tangy and interesting.  If hardly my favorite berry (give me blackberry any day), cranberries made me realize that how a food was prepared made a great difference in whether I enjoyed it.  Don’t like it cooked?  Try it raw.  Don’t like it boiled?  Broil it instead.

I put my “your tastes change” philosophy fully into action when raising my own daughter. We followed the Three Bites rule.  If I served a food she did not like, she had to eat only three bites of it.  Of course, as she so often did, the kid outsmarted me at my own game.  Told to eat her green peas, and barred from sneaking them down to our cat, Rerun, who (god knows why) adored them, she would carefully place one pea on her tongue at a time and swig it down with her glass of milk, like a pill. She did the same thing with lima beans. I suspect that even now, as an adult, green peas and lima beans are never seen on the table in her household.

Nevertheless, she who once shared my own dislike of the red beans in chili now delights in them.

Case proven: Just keep on trying to eat the foods that you simply can’t stand. Our tastes do change.