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How Vegetables Are Ruining Family Dinner

And how more liver and onions is the only way to save it. Or something. Betsy and Sal knock healthy food for not smelling as enticing as a bone-in rib roast.

Years ago, as we took our kids to visit their respective grandparents, we noted something both unusual and comforting.

At one house, the smells of simmering butter, roasting goose, and baking gingerbread filled the air. At the other, wafting through the halls were smells of brisket simmering, latkes frying and cookies cooling. At both houses, everyone’s stomach growled with anticipation as the dinner hour neared. 

Oh, how times have changed. As the Surgeon General’s warnings of fried food, red meat and refined sugar have become increasingly alarming, dinner bouquets have become significantly less enticing. Do you find your kids hovering over the lentils boiling on the stove and begging for just one taste before dinner? As they watch you mix a balsamic vinaigrette to pour over steamed asparagus, do they beg to lick the spoon? Salmon on the grill just doesn’t get the gastric juices flowing the same way a bone-in rib roast does. It’s no wonder that family dinner is no longer the main attraction it once was.

But let’s not forget that although the everyday meal has morphed into a less alluring, albeit healthier fare, every now and then some indulgence is called for. For example, our father was recently in the hospital for a bit of orthopedic surgery, a partial hip replacement to be exact. On day three of his road to recovery, the man’s hemoglobin counts were a bit low. So the doctors ordered him a pint of blood – and he ordered a plate of liver and onions. By the third day post-op, Dad had done his time with jell-o and clear broth, and enough was enough. What the Surgeon General didn’t take into account when issuing forth the new dietary mandates were the specific needs issuing forth following our dad’s general surgery.

The liver and onions brought the pink back to our dad’s cheeks (pretty sure it was the pint of blood, but for the purposes of this article, our research points to the food as the cure), and his hemoglobin counts returned to normal. But the liver and onions did one more thing….

Earlier that day, as the onions were browning in the oil and the livers were frying on the stove, deliciously enticing, savory scents wafted up through the vents and out into the neighbor’s driveway. And there she was, the 10-year-old girl who lives next door. Her face stared into the kitchen window with wonder. 

“What are you making? It smells soooooooooo good?” She jumped up and down on the deck.

“Liver and onions, want to try it?”

“Yes, please.” Big smile.

She took a tiny bite. She scooped up some more caramelized onions and a few crispy pieces of liver. 

“That is soooooo good. But what is it really?” Her head tilted back, big smile.

“It really is chicken liver and onion. The liver, from a chicken.”

“Eeeewwwwwww. Yuuuckkkkk!!!!!!!” Horror and disgust enveloped her.  Her eyes popped open. All bouncing ceased.

“Do you eat chopped liver?”

“Yes.” Her shoulders lowered back down to the resting position.

“Well it’s the same thing really, except this isn’t chopped up.”

“Oh. OK. Thanks. Bye.” And that was that.

Our children are odor deprived. Not when it comes to Axe or Viva la Juicy or whatever scents kids are wearing to kill off other teens in the hallways of schools these days. But they are odor deprived when it comes to good foods. That is why when they walk by a McDonalds, or an Auntie Anne’s or a Cinnabon at the airport they are drawn in. That is why when we walk by chestnuts roasting in New York City, we are drawn in. That is why when we pass a bread shop we inhale deeply. We are trying to fill a void.

Eating healthy means our homes will more often smell like cooked cauliflower than fresh baked bread.  If nothing else, this is a good argument for brewing your own coffee. But coffee won’t bring the little ones running downstairs for dinner or the neighborhood kids in off the streets. So every now and then, throw caution to the wind, give yourself permission to bake a pie, let it cool on the windowsill, and let the aroma work it’s magic.

Willie Wilmette September 22, 2012 at 12:53 PM
A study has shown that 60% of the additional calories in the American diet come from fresh fruits & vegetables. Therefore, vegetables are killing us. :-)
Jill katz September 22, 2012 at 02:36 PM
We love it! What will you cook next for her to try?! XX
melanie Lewis September 22, 2012 at 04:18 PM
Wow that liver looks good. I'm making Italian sausage with steamed veggies and fettuccine today. I thInk I will put some fresh garlic in the veggies, with a side of blue cheese. It's my first time actually making fettuccine, nothing fancy, but I'm proud to cook for myself. It's a pleasure:)
melanie Lewis September 22, 2012 at 04:39 PM
Squash that! I'm making corned beef and cubed potatoes, with green onions, green peppers, baby carrots, fresh garlic, with brown homemade gravy. And garlic bread. For desert im baking a chocolate chunk cake, I'm adding coconut into the batter, and homemade chocolate chip cream cheese frosting. And Im making my thanksgiving mac and cheese, early I'm freezing it. I'm using condensed sweet milk, aged Wisconsin cheddar cheese, with a little paprika and cloves. I'm trying some today with my stew, and freezing the rest for my holiday at home. holidays are important up me, and I'm already in theThanksgiving spirit. I'm glowing and feeling very festive. I totally love the winter and autumn holidays. :)
melanie Lewis September 22, 2012 at 04:45 PM
Or I might just snack on the baking coconut and chocolate chips while watching movies at home. Until the holiday:)
Michael Ioffe September 22, 2012 at 06:14 PM
What is your address? For smell only.
Jim Osburn September 22, 2012 at 06:24 PM
That is why grilling is such an anticipated event, the savory smell of properly seasoned beef, pork, lamb and/or chicken enticing the neighbors to ask, "what's cookin'?" The nattering nabobs of negativity* are trying to make us feel guilty for that, too. Thank you for reminding us that life is to be relished and relish can smell so good!
Dick Hostetler September 22, 2012 at 07:18 PM
How about a hearty vegetable soup or savory rice and beans for the aroma? Grill marinated portabello mushrooms and the neighbors will still comment. Vegetarian needn't, and if done right, shouldn't be boring and unappealing to all of the senses.
lucas September 23, 2012 at 02:50 AM
Liver is good and bad for you. Just depends on who did the study.
Michael Ioffe September 23, 2012 at 05:19 AM
Problem is not a liver or any other product. The main problem is size of plate.
David Greenberg September 23, 2012 at 06:29 AM
I've been baking for years (it's in the blood - great grandfather was a baker too). I can't remember the last time I bought a loaf of bread in the store. Granted, I don't punch it down, and wait for it to rise anymore because I'm too busy - but I'll toss all the ingredients into the bread machine, and pop it out 3 hours later... Volia! Tasty bread, no preservatives or any other unpronounceable additives... :-) Is "red meat" bad for you? Sure if that's all you eat. Everything in moderation. Get exercise. Stay hydrated. And enjoy life a bit... over a delicious extra lean corned beef on rye w/that brown mustard.... mmmmmm...
Tina Helsell September 23, 2012 at 05:21 PM
I lived in a semi-constant state of fear about liver growing up. Sometimes it was on the menu and those nights were hard. Liver might be on the Wheat Belly diet I am considering going on, though hoping it has wheat. Good for Al for knowing what he really needed during his time of need. I would seriously consider dying over eating liver, but am so glad Al chose to do the right thing!
Phaedra Wilkinson September 24, 2012 at 01:21 PM
Everything in moderation. Though we eat healthy, there is still plenty of good smells in our home. I use a lot of onion and garlic to cook with...that helps...spices are important too, though my kids would agree that roasted broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage don't smell near as nice as chicken and dumplings or baked bread! ;-)

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