Full stomachs, full hearts

  • Sunday, February 23, 2014

Emma with her waitress. PROVIDED

After battling “The Stomach Virus of 2013” and emerging victorious, I have spent the last two weeks battling my seven-year-old's asthma. We have driven all over the state of Mississippi, chasing her allergist from office to office like Thelma and Louise, minus the convertible.

Emma is an excellent patient and even in the middle of a coughing fit, red-faced and hacking away, she'll give you a thumbs up to let you know she's hanging in there.

Last week we headed to Oxford, Miss. for a doctor's appointment and afterwards I asked Emma, “Baby, what do you want for lunch? There's a Chick-Fil-a here…”

“Can we go to a restaurant? Like some place fancy?” she asked.

I like to eat good food, so this wasn't really a hard sell, but Baby Girl had been so sick and so sweet for so long, it was a done deal. We headed to the renowned City Grocery on Oxford Square.

Emma fancies herself a foodie. Since she was old enough to stand on a stool beside me in the kitchen, she has been enthralled with the art of cooking. As I reach for spices to add to a recipe, I open them and let her smell them and tell her their names. We've done this for years, so I trust the child when she tells me my chili needs more cumin.

She is obsessed with cooking shows like Top Chef, Chopped and the Youtube hit, “Nerdy Nummies.” For Christmas, everything she asked for was related to cooking. She has her own basket of kitchen utensils in the kitchen and her very own cooking show on Youtube, “The Very Serious Cooking Show.” If you haven't seen it, you are missing out.

Recently, we were walking through Tuesday Morning. Emma had $20 of her own money to spend and instead of finding her on the toy aisle, I found her holding a full set of stainless steel flatware. She's committed.

We were seated at City Grocery and Emma was pleased to have a “real” menu placed in front of her. You've never seen eyes roll until you've seen someone hand this kid a children's menu.

Emma and my mother looked over the menu, trying to decide what they wanted — I didn't have to look: Shrimp & Grits, y'all.

Shuggie, my mom, asked, “What do you think, Emma?”

“I want the Grilled Shoulder Tender,” she answered.

I glanced at the menu:

Grilled Shoulder Tender

Grilled teres major medallions, potato puree, fried brussel sprouts and charmoula.

Mom and I laughed.

“Do you even know what that is?” I asked.

“Nope, but I'm gonna try it,” she grinned.

Our waitress, Jennifer, came back for our orders and raised her eyebrows a little at Emma's.

“I'm serious. The kid will eat anything,” I explained.

“Excuse me, where is the restroom?” Emma asked.

“Go straight back towards the kitchen then take a left,” Jennifer said. “Just don't go in the kitchen!” She joked.

Emma's eyes got huge and she could barely walk for staring back into that glorious vortex of steam, stainless steel and sweat.

I laughed, “You'd better watch her! That'd be a dream come true for her. The kid is crazy about food and cooking.”

Mom and I talked to Jennifer and told her about Emma's love and appreciation for cooking and good food, and about “The Very Serious Cooking Show.”

“I love it. So many kids just want chicken fingers and fries!” she said.

Emma wandered back to the table, still looking over her shoulder towards the kitchen and finally sat down. She sipped her water and tapped her fingers on the table, “What's taking so long?”

She answered herself before I could say a word, “They're probably working on the presentation,” she mused.

A few moments later Jennifer brought our entrees to the table and Emma's eyes were bigger than her plate. She ate with glee and abandon, only stopping to mutter between bites, “Mmm, so much flavor. So juicy. Mmmm, this is amazing. Amazing. Mmmm, the flavors!”

We shared bites from each other's plates and Emma almost cleaned hers.

“Can we get dessert? My Shoulder Tender tank is full, but my dessert tank is still empty.”

I snickered as she told Jennifer, “We're going to share the Chocolate Chess Pie.”

By “share,” she meant two bites for me, one bite for her grandmother and the rest of the bites for her.

As she was licking the chocolate syrup off the plate, Jennifer came back to the table, “I have a little surprise for you. I checked with the kitchen and they would love for you to come back and see them.”

Y'all.

You could've knocked that kid over with a feather.

“Really?! Really!” she squealed, shoveling the last bite of pie into her mouth. She wiped her face and leapt to her feet and I followed the two of them to the kitchen.

Jennifer walked her down the line, explaining everyone's jobs and pointing out the grill top where Eric had just cooked her Grilled Shoulder Tender. Emma leaned across the counter, gave him a thumbs up and said, “It was AMAZING.”

“Who's the top chef?” Emma asked.

“Well, Brian is in charge of lunch,” Jennifer explained.

Emma grinned from ear to ear as we left the kitchen. She thanked Jennifer and we headed back out into the cold with our bellies, and our hearts, filled to the brim.

Robin O'Bryant is an author, humorist and speaker. Her latest book is “Ketchup is a Vegetable and Other Lies Moms Tell Themselves.” Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter and visit her blog at RobinsChicks.com.

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