While eating lunch with some coworkers in the breakroom, one of them pointed out the meal I’d packed for myself was the epitome of an elementary school lunch.
I could hardly disagree after looking up from my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, bag of Doritos, yogurt, Capri Sun juice pack and oatmeal cream cookie.
But there were differences between this and the lunches I ate almost every day in kindergarten through fifth grade:
1. this one wasn’t packed in a Disney princess lunchbox;
2. in elementary school, the Doritos would’ve been pretzels (I only liked those and regular salted potato chips);
3. the strawberry “J” in the PB&J would’ve been grape (the only flavor I’d eat back then).
I was a picky eater as a child. Some might say I still am, but not to the same extreme. I prefer the term, “selective palate.”
I was in high school before I’d eat any pizza topping other than plain cheese. I still don’t like pepperoni, but I now crave bacon and/or ham and pineapple on my pizza (don’t judge, pineapple haters).
I’ve always loved pasta, but there was a phase in which I refused to even touch spaghetti because the noodles reminded me of worms.
And those PB&J sandwiches? They had to be cut in symmetric halves (down the center from top to bottom), not diagonally (from corner to corner).
And the crust? I did not consider it edible until I reached middle school.
Potlucks, large family dinners and summer barbecues are especially difficult for us people with selective palates. Church ladies used to tell me I “don’t eat enough to keep a bird alive” because I’d go through the long food line in the fellowship hall and sit down with only cheese and crackers on my plate. It wasn’t that I wasn’t hungry; I just didn’t like casseroles.
And at cookouts I lived mostly off potato chips, occasionally nibbling on a hamburger (ketchup only, no cheese and definitely no mustard), because I didn’t – and still don’t – like hot dogs. Hamburgers were never a favorite, but eating one was better than going hungry.
My culinary repertoire did eventually expand. Some foods took more tries than others (Brussels sprouts, for example), but there are some recipes I fell in love with at first bite.
Here are a few of my favorite family recipes that are great for summer cookouts, especially for people with selective palates.
No one makes coleslaw like my mom, Dawn Baumeister. And for a while, hers was the only recipe I would eat. Even the church potluck ladies agreed: her coleslaw was the best. And it was thanks to one secret ingredient.
Although she never followed a recipe, mixing it from memory instead, Mom graciously typed out the approximate ingredients and instructions for me to share with readers:
■ Cut a head of cabbage in chunks and peel and cut 5-6 carrots for chopping in food processor to desired coarseness. (Sometimes Mom also adds a tiny amount of onion and green peppers.) Set aside in large bowl.
■ For the dressing, in a smaller bowl, combine several tablespoons of Miracle Whip salad dressing, enough milk for desired consistency (start with about ¼ cup), 1-2 teaspoons lemon juice or vinegar and 1-2 teaspoons sugar. Whisk until smooth and creamy.
■ Pour the dressing over the cabbage and carrot mixture and stir well. Make more dressing if needed. Taste, and add more sweet or sour as desired.
Aunt Thelma’s easy barbecue sauce
Mom’s aunt, Thelma Pool passed this recipe along to us many years ago. It was the first barbecue sauce I tried that I liked.
Mix and cook for five minutes on low heat:
¼ cup onion (Mom added this to the recipe. Take it or leave it.)
¼ cup brown sugar
1/8 tsp. black pepper (optional)
¼ cup ketchup
2-3 Tbsp. vinegar (Aunt Thelma says Heinz is stronger than other brands; use 2.)
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
Makes enough for three chicken quarters. Pour the sauce over the meat and grill or cover and bake until sauce is cooked down (uncover during the final 15 minutes).
Ultimate twice-grilled potatoes
This one’s my own, a combination of a few recipes I found online and in a book. I’ve been working on perfecting it for a few years.
4 large baking potatoes
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup milk
salt & pepper
6-8 green onions, sliced (or chives)
6 slices of cooked bacon, crumbled (or bacon bits)
You can also add jalapenos if desired, but I wouldn’t -- yuck. (To each their own.)
■ Fire up the grill or preheat oven to 400 and bake the potatoes until soft (I check them after about 50 minutes). You can also cheat on this step and speed things up with the microwave (about 3 minutes per potato. Don’t forget to poke holes in the potatoes first, so they don’t explode.)
■ Allow potatoes to cool for about 10 minutes, then slice them in half lengthwise and scoop the flesh into a large bowl, leaving about 1/4 inch so the skins maintain their shape.
■ Add the butter, 1/2 of the cheese, sour cream and salt and pepper to taste. Mash or mix with hand mixer until creamy.
■ Spoon the mixture into the skins and top with the remaining cheese, bacon and onions or chives, along with jalapenos, if so inclined. Throw them back on the grill (or in the oven) until the cheese is melted (about 15-20 minutes).
Of course, no dish is going to please everyone, especially at large gatherings.
But hey, if something goes wrong, you can always pull out the PB&J.