I'm a total believer that if you keep introducing new foods to your kids they will gradually, over a period of years, start to like those foods or at least become more courageous in trying things besides the standard kid fare of chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese. Having said that, I'm not delusional. I didn't expect my girls would be leaping for joy at the prospect of salmon for Sunday dinner, so I played my hand carefully.
I lit candles. I set the table with our "fancy" plates. I made baked potatoes as our side dish because although they weren't a great match with my salmon recipe, the girls love them. I even went so far as to open a bottle of sparkling apple juice left over from New Year's. Let's be fancy tonight, I told them as they watched me set the table. We can make a toast and finally write down the New Year's resolutions we've been kicking around all week. They eyed me suspiciously.
What's that gross smell? Kate finally demanded.
Once seated around the table I felt like I was trying to argue a court case. It smells fishy, but salmon doesn't taste that fishy. It really tastes like...soft chicken. Seriously. You'll love it. Lots of kids like salmon...
What's the green stuff smeared on top? Madeleine cut me off. And can I blow out the candles?
Oh, the green stuff. That's just a delicious puree of cilantro, lime juice and garlic. This recipe is called Green Goddess Salmon and you're going to love it. The flavors from the puree kind of seeped down into the fish while it was baking. And no, you may not blow out the candles. I lit them to make our dinner fancy.
Did you kill this fish? Elisabeth asked, all business. Did you go in the ocean and kill this fish?
It still has SCALES on the bottom, Kate added, as if piling proof onto my crime. And can I blow out the candles?
Stop with the candles already. And no Elisabeth, I didn't kill the salmon. The grocery store people do that. When I bought it yesterday it was already dead.
This is a DEAD fish? Kate shrieked.
All three girls started to whimper and Jeremy dropped his chin, stifling a laugh. When he'd composed himself he raised his head and said in a solemn voice, Girls, mom went to a lot of effort to make a nice, healthy dinner for us tonight so let's stop complaining and eat. I think you guys will like salmon, it's delicious, right honey?
He turned to me but I had to shake myself, trying to figure out how we could be discussing the fact that there are still scales on the fish and yet it hadn't registered with my genius children that the fish was dead. I wanted to lean across the table and say, Hello! Of course the stupid fish is dead. We're not eating a live fish, now are we? But instead I drew a deep breath and took the "Mommy is going to teach you a wonderful life lesson" route:
Girls, settle down! I said with strained sweetness. The fish is dead because all the protein we eat for dinner is dead. You know, you guys love chicken and chickens probably lived on a farm before they were slaughtered and sent to the grocery store.
Elisabeth's eyes bugged out. You kill chickens AND fish? I am NOT eating dead fish for dinner and she burst into tears.
Can I blow out the candles? Madeleine tried again. And why didn't you buy more sparkling cider? It's the only part of this dinner that I even like.
It smells disgusting, Kate added. And I want to be the one to blow out the candles.
That's when I pushed back my chair. May I please be excused? I said quietly and I walked out of the kitchen. I could hear Elisabeth (still crying) raise her voice a pitch as I went upstairs. Why does mom get to go upstairs? Is she taking a bubble bath? Because I need a bubble bath too? Why does mom ALWAYS get to take bubble baths?
From my bathtub I could hear the unwavering calm of Jeremy's voice coaxing the girls through dinner punctuated every few seconds by random little girl shrieks and cries of injustice. At some points it sounded like an execution was taking place below and young children were being forced to bargain for their lives, but eventually the racket died down and Jeremy came upstairs after me. He perched on the edge of the bathtub.
I'm sorry I left the table. I told him. I didn't mean to leave you with that mess. It's just that I tried really hard to make fish for dinner work. Sometimes it feels like there's no payoff, you know what I mean? We spent all afternoon cleaning the house yesterday and by nine o'clock this morning it looked like their closets exploded clothes and shoes all over the house. Everything I do...becomes undone. I try to make things fun and the girls always find a way to make it...not fun. But what did I expect, making fish for dinner?
Hey, it didn't end so badly, said Jeremy. Elisabeth finally stopped crying and tried the salmon. She loved it and ate her entire fillet. Madeleine stoically decided to go to bed hungry rather than even taste it, so that means more leftovers for us. And Kate took the bold approach of trying to eat her entire fillet in one bite, just to get it over with, and puked it up all over the kitchen table.
She did not! I sat up in the tub.
She did. But I cleaned up the kitchen and the girls are getting ready for bed. It's safe to come out.
Jer, I'm so sorry.
Hey, he said, I loved the salmon. I thought it was awesome. I think we should have fish for dinner again next week.
And that is why I love Jeremy.
Dead Fish with Scales and Green Stuff
(recipe credit goes to my friend Alison)
1 cup fresh cilantro
2 tsp parsley
2 T olive oil
2 T lime juice
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
4-6 dead salmon fillets
2 tomatoes, diced
Place cilantro, parsley, oil, lime juice, seasonings and 2 T water in food processor. Line baking pan with foil, spray with oil. Place salmon in pan, spoon a heaping tablespoon of sauce on each fillet. Sprinkle with tomatoes. Bake 18 minutes at 400. Serve with extra sauce.