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.