I saw a recipe for barbecued chicken legs on the internet. The tag line was "Dinner for five for $5? I'll take it!!!"
Hmm, I thought, so will I. I'm so sick of making pasta, hamburgers, tacos and roasted chicken. Different and cheap is good.
I bought chicken legs, and followed the recipe. I seasoned the legs, seared them in a pan, and lovingly brushed barbecue sauce over their little bones every fifteen minutes as they baked, hoping I was atoning for those miserable months they spent in those sadistic cages.
When they were done, those little legs looked beautiful. I mean, there was no aesthetic difference between my legs and the picture of the recipe. I arranged my sons' dinner plates with fresh veggies and kid friendly noodles, and finished them off with a sprig of parsley. I felt like June Cleaver, and wiped my hands on my pretend apron.
The boys had been going strong all day, so I knew they'd be hungry.
They came barreling down the stairs, screaming, "We smell something gooooooooood!" They came to a halt at their plates.
"Uhhhh, Mom, what's this?" I have very polite sons. They were very sure to arrange their facial features in a contorted mixture of horror and resignation. They looked as if they had found their pet rabbit boiling on the stove.
Chicken, I said.
"Where's the gravy and mashed potatoes?"
"These are barbecued chicken legs- we're trying something different tonight."
They looked unconvinced.
"But how do we...eat it?" They poked at the chicken legs, and I was sure I saw a glint of tears in my eight year old's eyes.
Pick it up and gnaw, I said.
The rest of dinner went as expected. The eight year old cried because he doesn't LIKE chicken like that, and the noodles had green things in them, and green beans on their own can't be dinner, can they? And why oh why was there grass on his plate? He didn't try to hide his broken heart.
The twins are smarter. They picked the skin off the chicken, ate a few bites to be polite, and tried to escape from the dinner table early. But I had a speech ready.
"I don't know why I bother," I said. "You boys don't know what's good. It took me two hours to shop, prepare and cook this food, and now I have an hour of clean-up in front of me, and for what? For you to make faces? And not eat a thing?"
"We ate Mom, look," they said. They pointed to the food they had moved around half-heartedly.
"Oh, I am looking. And all I see are three boys who think they live in a restaurant. They think they can order what they want off of some kind of menu. But in this house, you eat what's for dinner, or you don't eat. Period. Don't even THINK of going near your Halloween bags."
"Fine," they said. "Can we be excused?"
I try. I try to cook good things. And I'm a decent cook, but I work, so my culinary exploits are few and far between. I cook what the boys like and don't wander too far off the eaten path. But every so often, especially this time of year, I see a recipe that I want to try. Something that requires more than two ingredients.
I'll cook vegetable soup. Stew. Chicken parmigiana. Pork loin. Roast. And sometimes they'll eat, but mostly they reject the strange and unusual. Which surprises me, because the boys are all themselves strange and unusual. But what do you cook for people who think Fruit Roll Ups are dessert?
I'll even bake. Banana bread, spice cake, pies. But all they want are cupcakes with vanilla icing. I try to give them a spring mix salad, they want iceberg. I make grilled cheeses with Jarlsberg on panini bread, and they're looking for Kraft Singles on Wonder. What to do?
(Speaking of iceberg, it's really coming back into popularity. Remember when it was panned for lack of nutritional value? Now you can't go anywhere without seeing a Wedge Salad option on a menu, sometimes even paired with filet slices. Congratulations, Iceberg, you hung tough- you're like the John Travolta of the lettuce world.)
I'm going to keep cooking. I know there will come a day, maybe when they come home from college, where they'll be missing home cooking, and will eat whatever I put in front of them.
I'll try barbecued legs again.