My Momma is a damn good cook. She fed us so well all my life. And even though I began my life as a somewhat picky eater – and even though I continue to have a few of those early food quirks held over – her ability to make things delicious inspired my life in ways I can’t fully express.
When I began cooking outside of my own home, not next to Mom, I used to basically only copy family recipes. When I had my first serious boyfriend and spent time at his apartment cooking for him, I wanted to bring the love I’d experienced at the table to his table. (Well, his futon – there was no table because the dining room housed his roommate’s rather ostentatious computer gaming setup.)
When I lived in the midtown upstairs apartment with Andrew and Margarita, I honestly don’t remember what I ate. I moved out without really understanding money or responsibility or being a good roommate, or feeding myself. I left Mom’s out of the desperate need to find my own way about a year after my dad passed away. That was a darker period in my life – one that holds a lot of my embarrassment and, coincidentally, a lot of my growth. I left several bad habits in my little room off the kitchen.
When I lived with Joe and DJ (my ride or dies) we basically ate to survive. A lot of take out – an unfortunate amount of Little Cesar’s pizza. I was working at Applebee’s at the time so a lot of Applebee’s. We all experimented to the extreme with food. It was like “Oh yeah, food? Well, how about THIS.” A lot. And then, the occasional insanely elaborate meal we’d all cook together while listening to Sinatra at the Sands (Still a go-to playlist for cooking in my book).
During my second serious relationship (and first live-together relationship), I turned back to the things mom fed me. Then I turned to Weight Watchers. Mom and I signed up together and I basically made food from the cookbooks I bought from Weight Watchers every night – with some of the classics mixed in. I also rediscovered a love for vegetables (sad, I know) and whole wheat (equally sad). This was an easy time for cooking and food. It was when I had the least amount of responsibility and the most superfluous income.
Then, when that relationship ended, I moved back in with Mom. She did a lot of cooking for me again. I ate out a lot again, spending a lot of my time away from home or with my friends. A little while later, I turned to veganism with my next relationship (Read: this post to catch up on that saga). Because I didn’t do it right but was told if I “ate vegan I’d maintain my weight”, I gained back most of what I’d lost. And I was always starving and cheating and feeling miserable. I lost my love-connection to food for the most part. But I did find some of my innovation and used ingredients I’d never touched to try and find flavor and, “dear god, what I wouldn’t give for an egg right now – black salt, you say?”
On my own, on the other side of trauma, surrounded by support and openness, I thought about my relationship to food and how I could fix it. I thought about what I was missing, what I had in abundance, how I wanted food to make me feel. My journey with weight aside (perhaps we’ll discuss that another time) I wanted food to make me feel good again. And I realized I needed to control it and not the other way around. I felt a sense of freedom, a sense of exploration.
There was only one problem.
I came to this full realization right before I met (and started cooking for) Brau, my now step-son. And Brau, you guys. Sweet little raspy-voiced, Pokemon-obsessed, six-year-old Brau.
This kid did not like ANYTHING. And we had a hard time for a while figuring out dinner. He also would get weirdly obsessed with the experiences in his life he didn’t like. I heard about the failed Pinterest experiment of an oatmeal breakfast microwave mug cake for, I am not kidding, at least a full year. “Everything you make is yummy – well, except that one time…” Sigh.
Flash-forward six years, to present, insane, I’m-not-even-picking-out-my-own-groceries, pandemic times, and I’ve got a kid eating brussels sprouts like nobody’s business and excited to try new things and saying “I don’t know why I didn’t eat mashed potatoes for so long” and “Smells good, Maddie” every time he’s near the kitchen. (I could be melting butter and he’d say that.)
This dinner was one of the first dinners I made that he went nuts for. In fact, when he took a bite of the creamed corn he dropped his fork, turned into a robot, and said “Mind. Blown.” and then did explosion hands. Then he repeated this with each bite. You gotta love six-year-olds.
So we named it Brau’s Brau’s Chicken and Mind-Blowing Creamed Corn.
Becoming a mom and a mom who loves cooking, made me examine the chapters of my life and how food wove in and out of the story. When control over food wasn’t mine, I pushed to innovate and replicate. When food was the way I communicated love, I brought my history to the table. When food was the way I bettered myself, I looked for nutrition over taste. And now, when I feed my children, I bring all of those experiences to the forefront to give them a history to carry into their future.
How strange would food seem now to the generations that came before? Would six-year-old Maddie be amazed at the things I now love to eat? How much do we grow through flavors? I’ll never like peas. Brendan will never like yellow mustard. Some things remain. No matter what.
And Brau? He might just end up a better eater than either one of us – engaged, excited, and already expressing his experiences with taste in semi-Frasier-like ways that make his Maddie uber proud.
Brau said he’s ready for the world to have His Chicken. So, let us know what you think.
Maddie’s List of Six Things to Do to Make Meal Time a Cry-Free Zone
- Involve Them in the Kitchen. Even if it’s just sitting them in their high chair where they can see you cooking. Or having them put the baby carrots in a bowl. I used to think keeping the details from him might help ‘trick’ him into liking something. But it was only when I opened the kitchen doors that we started to make real progress.
- Grow Stuff & Eat It. Even if it’s one herb, like basil or just one lil’ tomato plant. Find what you have the capacity for. Grow it with your kid and put it in their food.
- Assume They’ll Like It. I’d made The Prospect’s Pesto a few summers ago and Brau would barely touch it. Then, the following summer I just started hyping up the pesto and how delicious it was going to be and “mmm can you smell this basil?” And by the time I set it on the table he was ready to devour the entire thing. When I told him a little while later that he’d hated it the summer before he couldn’t believe it. And now it’s on his mind all the time. Just like his Maddie.
- Create Space for Honesty. If they don’t like it, they don’t like it. And I’d rather know they don’t like it and maybe ask a few questions about what they don’t like about it so we can figure out a flavor profile than force them to suffer through eating something they hate. That’s not fun for anybody. (I, of course, allow toddler exemption from this rule – with Devona we give her what we’re eating and don’t let her rule our dinner lives or eat all our peanut butter.)
- The ‘Try It’ Rule. Just try it. This means you, too. Retry things you don’t like and create a habit of trying new things together. It makes trying something less scary. And sometimes have them try stuff you know they’ll go crazy over. So trying isn’t always a chore.
- Behave Like They Already Like It. Try to eliminate the option for side-eyeing or mistrust of new items. “You have had and like everything in this,” is a phrase I used often. Or, “take a bite and tell me what you think is in it,” was another standby. Remove the worry from your face and sometimes you’ll luck out and they’ll scarf it without a beat.
Brau Brau’s Chicken
- 1 lb. chicken breasts, cut into 4 cutlets
- 3 large garlic cloves, minced (Sprinkle a teeny bit of coarse salt on your chopped garlic to mince it easier – and thank Gordon Ramsay when you do it.)
- 4 T brown sugar
- Olive oil (you like the taste of)
- Salt & Pepper
- Small bowl
- Various measuring cups & spoons
- Chef’s Knife
- Cutting Board
- Meat Mallet
- 9×13 baking dish
- Preheat the oven to 450 F/230 C/Gas Mark 8.
- In a small bowl, combine your minced garlic and brown sugar. Pour about 3 tsp olive oil in and mix. You’re looking for a paste consistency, without much excess oil – but the mixture does need to be spreadable. If you use too much oil, the brown sugar won’t cook the way it should and you’ll end up with a lot of extra liquid in your pan.
- Rinse and pat dry your chicken with paper towels. If you need to, cut the breasts into four equal parts. Pound your chicken cutlets to the same thickness. Sprinkle with salt and fresh cracked pepper.
- Lightly oil (LIGHTLY) your baking dish and place your chicken inside.
- Spread equal amount of the brown sugar mixture over the chicken cutlets. Try to spread it as best you can, but it’s alright if the entire chicken cutlet isn’t completely covered. Try to bring it down around the sides, too if you can.
- Bake for about 25 minutes, or until your chicken is cooked through and the brown sugar coating is bubbly and melty.
- Working quickly and safely, remove the pan from the oven, put the chicken cutlets on a plate and try to scrape up the brown sugar bits from the pan, and pour over the chicken cutlets. You’ll have some chicken liquid in there and that’s not what you’re trying to get. I usually use a slotted spoon for this. If you wait too long the brown sugar bits from the pan will solidify and be tricky to try and scrape off.
- Serve with Mind-Blowing Creamed Corn (below) and we like an arugula salad to cut the sweetness.
Mind-Blowing Creamed Corn
- 1 large bag frozen corn – I usually go for the yellow and white mix
- 6 oz. cream cheese
- 4 T butter
- 1 tsp honey
- Salt & Pepper
- Small crockpot
- Stirrin’ Spoon
- Turn your crockpot to high and put the cream cheese and butter in first. Add your frozen corn.
- Let it cook on high for at least 30 minutes. Open and stir – you should be able to generally get the corn coated at this point but it will probably still be pretty solid.
- Continue cooking another 30 minutes, checking every 10 minutes or so, and giving the mixture a stir.
- Once the cream looks melted and the corn is heated through, salt and pepper to taste and add 1 tsp honey. Mix, turn your crockpot to ‘warm’ (or the lowest possible setting), and keep over the heat until ready to eat. You’ll want to occasionally mix to avoid too much of the cream cheese mixture browning on the sides of the crockpot.
- This is one of those instances when I think pre-ground black pepper is better utilized than freshly cracked – but do your thing.