A piece of green pepper once fell from a slice of pizza I was eating while leaned over the kitchen counter, right onto my nursing baby’s head. When I pinched that pepper up from my child’s unfazed, peach-fuzzed head with my free hand and ate it, my husband made a face that was more impressed than appalled. It was the beginning of a whole new standard of eating for us.
We were parents. This was survival.
Now that nursing baby is a green-pepper-hating seven-year-old with three younger siblings, and the years have brought us culinary experiences beyond our wildest imaginations. Occasionally, we make it out to our favorite oyster bar; sometimes we have take-out chicken tiki masala on the couch. But more often than not, we eat off what I’ll call the Mom Menu.
Its rotating cast of specials will keep you on your toes.
Let’s begin with the appetizers:
- Yogurt cup lid, nearly covered, mixed berry
- Pretzel stick, salt licked off
- Roasted carrot piece that touched ketchup
- Plastic hotdog bun, fed to you by eager toddler
- Cucumber slices that you don’t really want but which you will choose because no one will try to take them from you
Not listed on your menu is the special Soup of the Day, recommended by the chef. It is cereal milk, room temperature and rainbow-colored, served in a small plastic bowl, with no spoon (the spoon fell on the floor). The special Lucky Charms that come out ahead of St. Patrick’s Day have added to the spectacular color and flavor of this seasonal dish.
Now, for our main course:
- Seedy bread crusts, traces of smooth peanut butter and grape jelly
- Cheeseburger, no cheese or patty, small pecks in bun
- A burrito with everything, including the black beans and corn salsa that no one wants to eat except when you are eating them
- Baked rosemary chicken with rice and broccoli, cut into pieces, cold and untouched, served on a sectional plate
- Whatever you can find and eat in the four minutes that your toddler will sit happily in her high chair with a lime popsicle
For the entrée special this evening, we have a soft flour tortilla of incredible artistry, with two holes bitten into it. If you hold it up to your face, you can actually see through the holes. It is a mask, this tortilla, an edible mask.
- Ice cream sandwich, dipped in the pool, traces of chlorine
- Oreo cookie, icing removed
- Blueberry that had been blending in with a dark knot on your hardwood floor, remarkably un-smushed
- Bottom of a red velvet cupcake
- Gatorade backwash sip, Cool Blue
The dessert special for tonight is that delicious mixture of crumb, birthday cake bottom, and frosting left on a grocery-store sheet cake tray, scraped up with your finger, alone in the kitchen after all the guests have left and the children are sleeping, after your three-year-old looked up at you with the elastic string of the party hat squishing his toddler cheeks and told you it was the best day of his life. This dessert is the reason you’re here.
Hampton Williams Hofer lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she writes and raises babies. Her work has appeared in Flying South, Walter Magazine, Architectural Digest, and Food 52, among others. Family aside, her great loves are a South Carolina beach, a Roger Federer backhand, a Charlottesville lawn, and — most of all — a good story.