October 5, 2004

Did You Know?

In the year 2700 B.C., a Chinese emperor declared wheat one of the five sacred grains. Today, it continues to be one of the world's most important food staples.

I read that on the side of a Trader Joe's Frosted Shredded Bite Size Wheat cereal box. We don't eat much cereal here in our household. And when we do eat it, we eat it dry. Mostly because since The Boy is gone, we don't use enough milk to justify keeping it around. Even the little quart size goes bad before we use it up. I only buy it now when I have a specific recipe in mind that requires it.

Yesterday morning I was eating the Frosted Shredded Bite Size Wheat cereal dry right out of the box. It's good that way, but my jaw sure gets a workout. I recall eating cereal often when I was growing up. With milk. And I took great pleasure in reading the sides of the box while I munched.

One of my clearest memories surrounding cereal is the Captain Crunch mashed potatoes incident. Captain Crunch and mashed potatoes? Ick, you may say. And I would concur. Those are two food items not typically combined. And they weren't combined during the incident of which I speak.

Mashed potatoes have always been one of the foods I just do not like. It's a texture thing. My friend Tina mocks me and says I am "sensorily challenged." Fine. Label me such. Just don't make me eat mashed potatoes. The smooshy texture of them I find revolting. And no, revolting is not too strong a word.

When I was growing up, well, until the Captain Crunch mashed potatoes incident anyway, my parents strictly enforced the "eat what is on your plate or it will be served to you again and again until you do." Wonderful rule, that. Not! Actually now that my sister and I are grown up, it's a super thing to hold over my mother's head. Instant guilt. We don't do that to her often and we all end up laughing together when we do.

One evening when I was, oh, 6 years old or so, my mother prepared mashed potatoes with dinner. Being the stubborn little shit I was back then (and still am today to a large extent), I did not eat them. So I was left sitting at the table long after everyone else had finished. Those mashed potatoes and I just stared at each other. The potatoes mocked me as I wished with all my might for them to disappear. They didn't. With my fork, I pushed them around the plate a bit. I stared some more.

I imagine I was a pretty pathetic figure, sitting alone at the table looking forlorn as I watched my mashed potatoes grow colder and colder. (In hindsight, I now believe that was the point my hair started turning prematurely gray.) After what seemed an eternity, my mother took my plate and with a sympathetic kiss on my head, sent me off to bed. The plate she covered in plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator.

In the morning when I got up, I began anew my stare-down with those mashed potatoes. They were served to me right out of the refrigerator for my breakfast. Oh yeah, baby. Right in the same place on the same plate as the night before. I think I was supposed to be learning a lesson.

I don't know for certain how long I sat at the table that morning. It was evidently long enough to inspire some serious guilt feelings in my parental units. I was an exceptionally cute child, doncha know. Blonde curls, green eyes and a legendary pout. Or so I'm told. Apparently just not exceptionally cute enough to avoid being subjected to the cold-mashed-potatoes-for-breakfast punishment learning experience.

It was parental guilt, however, which inspired a bowl, a spoon, a jug of milk and a box of Captain Crunch to be offered as a substitute for that cold plate of mashed potatoes. Both my parents agree it was my father rather than my mother who gave in first. It was perhaps my first (but not only?) victory in a test of wills with him. Yet I did not recognize it as such. I just did NOT want to eat those potatoes!

This stand led to a new family food rule: the Food Exemption. My sister and I were each allowed to designate one Food Exemption. We would never again be asked or expected to eat our chosen Food Exemption.

I, of course, chose mashed potatoes. My sister, who loved mashed potatoes, chose lima beans instead. She never even thanked me for doing the dirty work to earn her that shiny new Food Exemption! But I also hate lima beans. She used to quietly gloat when I had to eat them. Sisters can be like that at times. Then I figured out that Mutt, our family dog, would take care of them upon request.

Dogs rule. Just a hair more than that Food Exemption though.

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