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Cook wanted for busy family " no pay

Alex Miller
Vail CO, Colorado
Special to the DailyAlex Miller
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Editor’s note: Alex Miller took a week off from Mountain Family. Enjoy this classic column!

No one would respond to an ad like this, would they? “Cook wanted. Busy family with incredibly picky tastes. Almost impossible to please. Voracious appetites. One half hour allowed to prepare nightly meal. Must please everyone. No pay.”

I did, though. Among the many hats I wear, family cook is one of them. The deal with my wife seemed fair: She’d take care of the laundry and much of the cleaning if I did the bills, the cooking and the car stuff.

I thought about this hand I was dealt last night as I was preparing five salads, each one of them slightly different. Mom, extra mushrooms and no cukes or carrots! The girl, super-plain with just lettuce and cukes. The youngest boy, plain with cukes and a few mushrooms. Now who was it who didn’t like chives?

Call me crazy. Maybe I should have everyone do their own, but if I did, we’d never eat. The only thing that gets everyone in one place is the dinner bell (in reality a stentorian yell up and down the stairs).

Talk about an amazing machine, the human brain. In addition to all the other stuff in there, I have a file on family food preferences that grows and morphs weekly, if not daily. Combined with the recipes and other cooking know-how, I must have five or 10 gigabytes of information stored by now, and thank goodness it’s not “read only.” The teen girl seems to change her eating preferences even more frequently than her boyfriends. And pity the cook who lets her see the messy process of food preparation.

“Ewwwww,” she’ll say in that inimitable way teen girls have of articulating disgust. “What’s that?”

I am, in fact, cutting fat off chicken breasts or removing a roast from the package. Sure, raw meat is not anyone’s idea of a joy to handle, but it’s part of the deal ” unless you’re a vegetarian.

“Are you a vegetarian now?” I might ask. No? Well, this is meat, dead animal, and I’m sorry if it looks too real, but someone’s gotta mess with it.

Talk about being removed from the source of food: My kids think chicken emerges from some kind of ether in fully formed McNugget shapes. The middle boy often conflates “turkey” with “ham,” and when I correct him, he says “What’s the difference?”

How do you answer a question like that? I know he knows turkeys and pigs are different critters, but once it’s all killed and plucked and deboned and cooked and sliced, it’s all academic as far as he’s concerned. Is there any point in mounting an argument to this?

I used to think yes; now I know better. The kids have learned that the funnest way to tease dad is with mock ignorance (and yeah, sometimes it’s not so mock). But I do have some tools to make them think twice about it. I do the shopping as well as the cooking, so if they want their favorite ice cream or a beloved chicken-and-couscous dish, they need to watch their step.

I like to cook, always have. Even so, given limited time, budgets and wide-ranging tastes and finicky palates, I sometimes long for someone like Alice, the jovial maid from The Brady Bunch. What an extraordinary luxury such an individual would be!

But, then, chances are even the unflappable Alice would run screaming from our house once she realizes the need for special software and the patience of Job to track and satisfy ” or at least placate ” the multitudinous food preferences in the Miller household.

So goodbye, Alice. We hardly knew ye. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve some potatoes to peel. Other than pizza, they’re the only thing everyone agrees upon.


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