Fear vs Expectations

by Kimberley Thompson, Tastemaker in Residence

What is it about expectations, real or assumed, that cause grown adults to fear the results of change? And I am not talking about the life altering, climate changing or relationship breaking changes.

I am talking about the fear of NOT CHANGING what signature dishes one will be forever more bringing to your family reunion from now until shuffling off life's mortal coil! You bring a delectable food contribution once...and if successful (accolades from great aunts down to cousins' children), you are STUCK FOREVER bringing that same dish year after year!

You feel guilt when an uncle remarks "Oh good...you brought my favorite salad! I wait for this every year," because up until buying the groceries for the salad you had thought you'd make something different.

You chafe at the SAMENESS of your picnic basket and cooler year after year. You drool over the multitude of cooking magazines in the grocery checkout that tout the "Perfect Recipe for Picnics."

Oh, the first few years of making the same bok choy salad made life simple. A little effort on my part meant basking in compliments all day. But after 3 or 4 years, after giving out numerous recipe cards with full instructions to the uncle's wife, I have grown tired of making the SAME recipe over and over again. Does bok choy salad define me?

No...but the fear of disappointment looms large when I pondered changing it up for this year's reunion. (And before you think "it's a picnic in the county park for crying out loud," it is spelled and ALWAYS referred to as the "Smith Family Reunion.") Year number 78th of the Smith Family Picnic to be exact. Yup. No pressure there.

I have seen normally rational adult cousins snarl at a hapless cousin who did not bring her extra crispy oatmeal cookies one year. She spent the day apologizing to any one approaching her...which left one great aunt very confused as she was not a sweet imbiber.

But this year...I found myself perusing recipes the week approaching this Sunday. Was I brave enough? What over the top treat could I make that would cause amnesia through the entire bok choy salad munching crowd? Could I face the disbelief on my uncle's face?

Thankfully this year, (praise God!) I found a willing accomplice in my brother. He came in town a day early...and we were discussing the kitchen schedule...as in when he could use it VS when I seized it back for my purposes.

Unexpectedly, Mark stated "I am tired of making food I either don't really like or that I cannot eat." The elephant was officially in the room.

Sensing that a mutiny of 2 halved the snarky remarks that would be forthcoming on a menu change...I eagerly leapt on board.

So...no bok choy salad this year. No mandarin orange fluff salad. No blonde brownies made extra gooey with 2 different chocolates and cubes of caramel.

Mark subtly worked the pre-lunch crowd talking about his diet change and mine...stressing how hard it was to find food we could eat that would not stress his blood sugar and my gall bladder.

I talked to aunts and cousins about how we were all such GOOD cooks that it was A PITY we could not show off our talents a little more.

(Sensibly, we both were wily enough NOT to mess with the biggest food tradition of all times...dense Baker's chocolate cake topped with 1" thick decadent coconut and pecan frosting...THE German Chocolate Cake.) Wisdom and hedging our bets. No use really peeving off everyone at one time.

Extra special attention was paid to every detail of the new recipes...they MUST be tasty...they MUST wow...they MUST visually please the eye. Talk about pressure. I was chewing Tums like I used to chomp Milk Duds. Two at a time until the whole box was gone.

Nervously we carried our bounty to the long tables covered with a crazy quilt assortment of mis-matched tablecloths. Each table held specific food groups: meats and main dishes, salads and breads, chips and sides, and desserts.

So what did we bring?

Roasted beets, fresh plump blueberries, dustings of mint, pecans with little nuggets of goat cheese enrobed in a silken ginger and dijon dressing. A most delightful and unusual salad.

Crimson strawberries snuggled with juicy freshly cored pineapple chunks were tossed with toasted coconut and almonds in a lime, honey,  and cilantro dressing.

Finely diced jicama, roasted corn kernels, black beans, green onions and red peppers glazed with lemon-lime, Tabasco, garlic and olive oil.

Tart lemon and lime posset sprinkled with  toasted shortbread crumbles and citrus zest in individual cups.

Were they a hit? Yes...and no. The salads disappeared from the table as if swarmed by locusts. It was as if the cooks at the reunion sensed a line had been breached and that victory needed to be embraced by all in order to have a fighting chance of change for next year...and the next.

Did I see a few plates get dumped in the composting bag with one salad or another left virtually untouched? Yes. But did we get kudos from the oldest generation down to the youngest? You betcha.

Did we discuss the recipes of each salad? Yup. Recipes were jotted on used envelopes, pieces of newsprint and old grocery recipes. The merits of how the new foods "travelled," and their ease of preparation was discussed from each lawn chair.

I left, sensing a spirit of hope and renewal, waving at cousins and in-laws, aunts and second cousins. Not every dish will change...some never should (see the referral to THE CAKE above!)...and others needs to be buried in the backyard forevermore!

Oh, and the lemon lime possets. Winner! A triple request for Thanksgiving this year! A new tradition is born!