If the children won't come to the meals . . .

HAPPY EATER

July 19, 1992|By ROB KASPER

At supper time, families are supposed to gather around the kitchen table.

We once sat in the kitchen and ate. But that was in the winter, when the forbidding weather and a pile of homework held the kids at the table.

Now in the libertine days of summer my children have become nomads. They travel around the neighborhood with other kids. Tribes of them journey from the playground to the neighborhood swimming pool to friends' homes, then back to the pool.

When, as dutiful parents, my wife and I attempt to get our children to sit in the kitchen and eat a meal, there are howls of protest.

"I'm not hungry!" "I just ate tuna fish sandwiches." "I'm watching an important television show!"

In the case of the TV show, a rerun of "Married With Children, I negotiated a supper-time settlement with my 11-year-old son: The show was turned off. The kid didn't have to eat with us. He merely had to sit at the kitchen table and drink his favorite beverage.

That beverage turned out to be a glass of chocolate milk. We had run out of chocolate syrup. So he volunteered to go to the store to buy more. He got back from the store just as his 7-year-old brother, my wife and I were finishing our meal. He made himself a glass of chocolate milk, grabbed a piece of pizza and --ed out the door.

This incident and others like it have led me to formulate a theory on how to feed kids during the summer. Instead of hauling them to the supper table, you have to haul supper to them.

You have to pack up a meal and carry it to their lair. Once there, you place the food where the kids can see and smell it. And then -- if you are lucky -- they will emerge from the bushes and forage.

Lately my wife and I have been attempting to feed our children by carting victuals to the neighborhood swimming pool and its adjacent playground.

The logistics of cooking a meal at the pool playground rival the preparations for D-Day.

Before leaving the house, plates, cups, silverware and napkins must be gathered. None can be made of glass because, as a safety measure, glass is forbidden at the swimming pool where everyone runs around barefoot.

The cooking utensils, condiments and sometimes the barbecue charcoal must be loaded. Finally the meat, fish, vegetables and dessert that will make up the meal have to be packed up.

Invariably I forget something. I forgot the forks once when we were eating shark. I forgot the sharp knife when watermelon was on the menu. I forgot the spatula when we were grilling hamburgers. I forgot the beer opener when we had steamed crabs.

In all these cases, there is only one corrective measure. I go back home and fetch the forgotten items, fuming all the way.

Since supper is my big meal, I want to sink my teeth into more than a glorified salad or dressed up hors d'oeuvres.

This means I often end up hauling a steak, or fish fillet and a bucket of sweet corn to the pool.

I fill the bucket with water and soak the ears of corn in it. I light a fire in the barbecue grill. When the coals get ashy, I put the soaked corn on the coals, turning the ears every two minutes or so with tongs.

The husks burn a bit, but nothing serious. When the corn has been cooked on all sides, I use the tongs to remove the singed corn from the coals and put them in the empty bucket.

Then I put the grill in place over the coals and cook the shark or swordfish on it. The fish has been soaking in a marinade made by combining the juice of two limes, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, 2 cloves of chopped garlic, a quarter cup of white wine and 2 tablespoons of chopped mint leaves.

Depending on the heat of the fire, the fish cooks about 5-8 minutes per side.

Finally when the fish is ready, I take it off the grill and put the corn back on.

I pull the husks off the corn, rub the kernels with butter, and roll the corn over a hot grill. It smells terrific.

Usually all this smoke attracts some children. Sometimes they are our children, sometimes not. Other families hoping to feed their offspring have set out food on nearby picnic tables. Kids wander from table to table, eating with friends. Somehow after all this hauling and cooking I feel like a good parent, even if the kids who eat supper with me aren't mine.

Another reason I feed all comers is I don't want any leftovers. Leftovers have to be carried back home.

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