Here’s the thing about being the Red, Round, or Green Mom: Despite what people might think, I really, truly don’t expect that everyone else is going to be as insane as I am about food and cooking. I don’t expect everyone in the universe to have a month-long meal plan, to spend hours and hours in the kitchen every Sunday, to make nearly everything their families eat from scratch, or to be lurking in the parking lot at their local farmer’s market at 8:59 every Saturday morning, just waiting for the seconds to tick down so they can pounce on the unsuspecting growers and their produce the second the stalls are open for business. Really, I don’t.
I also don’t expect that everyone is going to have the same standards as I do regarding food and eating and how these things get prioritized — that would be like asking everyone to have the same set of values regarding keeping a clean house, or divvying up chores among children, or controlling screen time. We’re all different people with different lives. And while there are many, many people I respect and like who choose to feed their kids fruit gushers and Cocoa Puffs, there are also many people I respect and like who would probably be surprised, if not a touch outraged, to know that I regularly allow my kids to eat Goldfish crackers. Some people make their own yogurt from scratch, some of us buy Stonyfield or another organic brand, and some of us grab a Go-gurt tube from the freezer every morning to pop into our kid’s lunchbox. That’s what makes the world go ’round, and while I might have an opinion (might? OK, you know I do…) about the Go-gurt tube, there are just as many people out there who would have an impassioned and probably quite compelling argument against my choice of YoBaby flavors for P.’s lunches. I guess what I’m saying is that throwing stones isn’t going to get us anywhere.
So it’s always a touch embarrassing and humbling to realize that some people get uptight about what they’re cooking and/or eating when I’m around. Seriously, if you’re going to cook me a meal in your home, or bring a covered dish to a potluck, I’m happy and grateful for your effort, whether it involves Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup or not. (And in the spirit of true confessions: there is one dish, precisely one, that I still make throughout the winter which features a canned cream soup. It’s a childhood comfort food thing. Now you know my dirty little secret.) I absolutely appreciate the time that you took to make that food, and I will never disparage ANYONE’S efforts in the kitchen. I don’t set out to have the most awesome dish at the potluck so that you can look like a dud; I set out to have the most awesome dish at the potluck because I genuinely enjoy feeding people great food.
But I will admit that there was one time…one time I can recall…when I seriously developed a recipe just because I wanted to out-do somebody else.
It’s not my most shining moment, I’ll grant you, but I’m human. And there was this person who I truly disliked. Now, it must be said that it takes quite a lot for me to truly dislike someone. I’m one of those people who comes to new relationships armed with the desire and determination to like you, or at least feel relatively neutral about you and be able to get along well. But every once in a great while, someone earns my dislike, and that was the case with this person. Without unveiling gory details, she had engaged in petty gossip and rumor-mongering, and had been outright untruthful in many of our exchanges. In short, I was over trying to find a reason to like her.
One day, this particular human being was talking about the struggles she had with a “vegetarian” teenager. As with many kids who proclaim themselves vegetarians, it seemed that her teen was really a carbivore. The kid in question didn’t like vegetables and wasn’t a fan of most alternative protein sources. So, my nemesis proclaimed, she’d had to get creative in the kitchen. She’d hit upon something the picky teen would eat: broccoli bread, made with refrigerated crescent dough, wrapped around a filling of microwaved broccoli, cream soup, and Velveeta.
I’m not heartless; I get that it is a major challenge to feed kids — all kids — especially when they throw you a curveball like “Mom, I’m a vegetarian this week.” I sympathize with her desire to get something resembling a vegetable into her kid, and to find a compromise food that they could both be happy about eating. But obviously, the stuff in this particular broccoli bread was not high on my list of Best Foods to Feed Your Kid as a “Healthy” Compromise.
I knew I could do better. And frankly, in a moment of naked honesty, I’ll tell you that I sorely, sorely WANTED to do better than my nemesis had done. I guess some of you will feel the need to strip me of my Nice Girl crown, but it’s the truth.
What I came up with as an answer to the broccoli bread from processed food hell was a play on the white pizza with broccoli that has long been one of my take-out food guilty pleasures. I figured that my kids would pick all the broccoli off the top of a broccoli pizza, but if it was baked into the dough, they wouldn’t have much choice (other than eat it, or don’t). I happened to have a great pizza dough recipe that I’d gotten from some internet site or another — a truly foolproof, rises-overnight-in-the-fridge recipe that makes homemade crust such a no-brainer that I don’t even consider store-bought dough anymore. It was easy, from there, to simply knead in a whole mess of steamed chopped broccoli, melt some cheese over the top, and make an absolutely killer broccoli pizza substitute that was much healthier for us, I’m sure, than either the pizza-joint version, or the infamous broccoli bread. And since it’s such a simple recipe, it can be embellished any way you’d like — with chopped cooked chicken, mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, red peppers, different cheeses…anything you or your kids might love to eat.
I never did say anything to my nemesis about my creation. After all, I’m not petty — just knowing that I’d figured out a healthier way to get broccoli friendly with bread and cheese was satisfaction enough for me. I do think about her, though, every time I slip a slice of this pizza into one of my kids’ lunchboxes. I guess that’s my penance for even dipping a toe into the waters of kitchen one-upsmanship. After all, it’s not about competition — we’re all just parents who love our kids and want to feed them well. But I still say mine is better.