Thursday, January 10, 2019

Culinary Habits Of A Muse

toddler girl wearing teal and white polka-dot long-sleeved shirt and white tutu skirt outfit walking on green sod at daytime
This is not my muse, but there is more
than one in the world.
Original photo by Marjorie Bertrand
@machosette on
I have a muse. She stands just over three feet tall, wears tutus, and weighs only slightly more than my computer backpack when fully loaded. She watches marketing videos on YouTube in various foreign languages. It will not surprise me if, one day, my muse starts a conversation with me in any one of those languages and tries to sell me something, something I probably don’t need. 

My muse is a bit of a culinary conundrum, as well. When she’s not playing with an app on her phone, video chatting with one of the few people on her contact list, playing with her dolls, or drawing things on paper, only to cut them apart and tape them back together again, my muse tries to confuse me with her culinary habits.

She really likes Oreo cookies. She is like her dad, in that regard. But she had a problem. At the age of three, she was not above taking an Oreo cookie, pulling it apart, licking the frosting out of the middle, sticking it back together, and sneaking it back into the package before the grown-up in charge realized anything was amiss. I caught her trying this one day when I left the package on the lower counter, well within reach. She had to stand on tiptoe and stretch her arm out to its limit to catch hold of it, but she loves a good challenge like that. After I caught her, and discarded the half-eaten cookie, she and I had a long chat and I explained that if she took one she had to eat the entire cookie. All selections were final. I am happy to say that now she likes to dunk them in milk before devouring them whole. No returns.

Realizing that the whole cookie is better than the frosting alone, she now tries to negotiate the number of cookies she is allowed at any given snack session. Her negotiating points are as arbitrary as her food choices. I don’t pretend to understand them but, according to her, one cookie per finger per hand is quite reasonable. We recently settled at three. I am certain she will reopen negotiations again soon.

Even though I know my muse has outgrown this phase, I still feel compelled to check the cookies for frosting deficiency before I eat one or offer one to anyone else. And, what of pizza? She has given me cause to rethink my definition of “pizza.” Does a pizza truly need a crust or sauce to be considered a pizza?

My muse loves cheese and pepperoni. She will either straight out of the fridge. Together, they taste even better. So, when I ask, “What kind of pizza do you want?” her response is always the same.


I don’t know why I bother asking for her input, and I don’t know why I ask what type of crust she prefers. I already know the answer. None. She would be content if the pizza maker left the crust and sauce completely out of the recipe. Perhaps the next time I could get them to simply melt the cheese and pepperoni together right in the box and deliver.

Since pizza qualifies as a semi-health meal, it’s something served once or twice a month. It is on the short list of foods the muse will actually eat, and eat rather quickly. One piece is usually her limit, but on rare occasions she’ll try a second slice. More balanced meals are quite another story.

When required to eat a well-balanced meal of meat and veggies, my muse takes three times as long to consume the food than it would take her to eat something from her eclectic alternative menu. Her record for mealtime avoidance stands at one hour. To delay tackling a healthy meal, she will feign a feeling of great urgency to use the restroom, sometimes multiple times during the meal. If allowed to leave the table, my muse will spend ten minutes playing in the sink water while pretending to wash her hands. Cleanliness is next to godliness, you know, and she’s closer than most by this point if hand washing is the qualifying factor. If a restroom break cannot be achieved, she will wiggle around on her chair and argue the inferiority of peas and corn over green beans until you’re blue in the face, or red and ready to rupture from frustration. If this ploy fails, the muse will concoct lengthy explanations about why she should should be allowed to huddle under a blanket at the table and watch YouTube videos during mealtime, all the while promising solemnly to eat everything if this is permitted. Don’t give in, if your muse does the same thing, for a few minutes later she will take two bites of her food and declare mealtime over. If you argue, she will tell you that if she eats one more bite she will throw up. Right there. At the table. Really. If all other efforts to extricate herself from the dinnertime routine fail, she will, without warning, slide out of her chair and rush off to her room after suddenly realizing she has left something of great importance there, usually an object or drawing you’ve been shown many times but because of its distracting power now has to be acquired, displayed, and discussed all over again. My muse is a master of distraction.

If the muse suspects that you will require her to consume a particularly healthy meal, will morph into a master of alternative suggestions.

“What would you like to eat for breakfast?” Sour gummy worms, with a chocolate milk, is not an unusual response, if there are sour gummy worms in the house.

“What would you like for lunch?” She likes the colorful Kellogg’s Unicorn cereal, which might be fine, except you’re not permitted to add milk.

“What would you like for supper?” If Ramen noodles aren’t available, the muse will be happy to suffer along with Cheetos Puffs and some Kool-Aid.

These are all perfectly acceptable items – to her. Forget the scrambled eggs and bacon, forget the oatmeal, leave out the chicken and steamed veggies. And, whatever you do, don’t offer her tuna fish, at any time of day, nor chicken salad, especially if you have added bell peppers and onions. Unlike a Gremlin she won’t turn evil, but she will get up and leave the kitchen, maybe even the house. She will more than happily accept a large slice of birthday cake or a cupcake instead. They, like mini marshmallows and pretzels, may be eaten at any time of day.

In her defense, the muse is amenable to a few healthy food options, which she is permitted more often. She loves strawberries, cantaloupe, grapes, watermelon, and orange slices. She will eat Jello-O or a fruit cup as a snack on occasion, and GoGurts are on the non-repulsive side of the menu, too. The muse will sneak in some popcorn now and then, or a multi-grain cereal bar (strawberry), and she’s not above eating baby carrots and hard-boiled eggs. So, she does try for balanced, but too often tries to tip the scale into the realm of high sugar content.

Every new day has a question mark attached to it. Will she make a selection from the meal options I give her or try her best to convince me that a honey bun is more nutritious than rice and veggies? Her arguments, at times, certainly give one pause for thought. And, certainly, they would strain the nerves of even the most committed nutritionist. It is an education for both of us, and I am keeping notes as we move along, trying to find as many points of common ground as I can. The biggest challenge is in getting her to understand that whatever choices she makes it cannot be all one-sided. There has to be balance and there has to be compromise, and in all things there should be moderation. But, there are days when I feel wholly insufficient to the task of getting her to see my side. You win, Muse. Go ahead, eat the Zebra cake.

Susan Cronk is the author of multiple fiction and nonfiction books, and the author of several personal essays. You will find more information about writing projects at her website, on Facebook and on Google+. She occasionally contributes personal essays, such as this one, to publications willing to print them and bring a little humor into their readers' lives.

Note: I am not an affiliate of the products linked in the above essay, but I have tried most of them - except for the sour gummy worms. I'm not doing it, no matter how many times my muse tells me they taste great. 

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