Food fancies

IMG_5693I fancy myself to be a foodie. I like dishes that awaken my palate, juxtapose flavors, surprise my senses. Buttermilk basil sorbet. Brussels sprouts tossed in homemade pomegranate molasses. Duck meat loaf. Stinky cheeses. Anything with arugula. Latte art.

There’s not much I won’t try–unless it features goat cheese or a nasty orange vegetable–and in fact, I relish any chance to tickle my taste buds. I’ve tasted a lot of dishes, and I know my food.

Or so I thought.

Last week, to our surprise and delight, my brother and I stumbled across a multiethnic grocery store. We marveled over the unusual vegetables (would you believe that it was the first time I had ever seen a chickpea in its natural hull?) and ogled new species of fish. We piled our arms full of assorted Japanese mochi. We admired the rows of live frogs, sitting at attention like Kelly green soldiers waiting to meet their fate. We laughed at buckets of pig snouts.

The deeper we got into the store, the more items we found that we didn’t recognize. Puck cream. Freekeh. Basil seed drinks. Black silkie chickens, frozen whole and feathered.image2 We even found things we hadn’t considered food. Seagull meat. Beef blood. Beef bile. Goat heads.

We had a ball poking around; the colors and smells and packaging–and the items themselves–were fascinating. They were also humbling.

I may think I know a thing or two about food, but outside my comfort zone, I don’t know jack squat.

Twenty aisles in a Florida grocery store taught me that I still have a lot to learn. Even when I take pains to expand my horizons, the world around me stretches far beyond my field of sight. How arrogant of me to think I could master any subject.

 

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Don’t touch that cheese

“Oh, you don’t want to try that cheese, Brynna.”

I looked up from the produce I was examining to get a bead on who had said that–and why. It was sample day at the grocery store, and my eyes quickly landed on a mother and her young daughter. The girl, probably around eight or nine, had spied some samples of an aged gouda and wanted to taste one. She had asked politely, but her mom nixed the idea.

Let’s assume that the girl was not allergic to cheese and that her mom wasn’t worried that she would ruin her dinner. Because the emphasis on the word THAT leads to a certain implication, I’m going to to with it.

Mom’s attitude implied to me that she didn’t think Brynna would like the cheese, that perhaps it was a bit too advanced for her immature palate. I wanted to scream, LET HER TRY IT! Why do we assume that children should stick with chicken nuggets and mac-and-cheese until some magical age when they can suddenly handle new flavors? Why do we shelter our children from expanding their horizons?

These questions actually apply to more than food. How often do we “shelter” our children from new experiences, rationalizing that they are too young? Certainly some things aren’t appropriate for children: a crying baby can ruin a concert for everyone in the audience, for example. However, I suspect that upon further investigation, we’ll find many situations where it really doesn’t matter, but it’s just easier to exclude them. We make a judgment on their behalf that they won’t like the event, the food, or the situation at hand.

The next time it comes up, think of it this way. Don’t consider the event at hand. Or the food. Or the situation. Consider the OPPORTUNITY at hand. If it doesn’t involve a real, inappropriate-for-children kind of scenario, if you’re just making a judgment on their behalf, let them try it.

Let. Them. Try. It.

If they don’t like it, so what? They will have been exposed to one more of the world’s flavors, and you will have added context to their life experience. Then again, they may like it. What’s so bad about that?

C’mon, Mom. Let Brynna try that cheese.

The key ingredient

I don’t watch much TV, but occasionally I’ll flip to the Food Network to gratify my inner foodie. My kids watch along with me (they’re kids; they’ll watch anything), and the three of us particularly enjoy a show called Chopped.

The show features four generally unknown chefs who compete for a $10,000 prize by concocting various courses from mystery ingredients packed into a basket. With three courses and three rounds, one chef is eliminated (“chopped”) at the end of each, leaving the last one standing to collect the prize. The concept is simple enough, but the execution is tough. The ingredients in the baskets never go together, and often they make no sense at all.

Being evil geniuses, my kids have decided this exercise should be undertaken at home–on me. From time to time, they’ll decide it’s Chopped night at our house and proceed to fill our picnic basket with wacky items from which I am required to create a meal in a given amount of time. For example, one basket contained blackberries, honey, baby arugula, and Sprite. Sometimes I succeed (a sweet and savory crepe duo), and sometimes I fail miserably (peanut/tomato/rice noodle blob). Either way, I’ve had to look at the ingredients differently in order to find a creative solution. Sprite, after all, isn’t just for drinking.

My days are generally like those baskets. The things packed into them mostly make sense and I can put them in some kind of order to move forward. There’s always something, though, that throws me a curve. Good or bad, it forces me to rearrange everything to make room for it. It changes the whole character and nature of my day–just as one ingredient can change the whole character of a dish.

The only way to make those ingredients work is to change the way I look at all the others. I guess there’s a lesson in everything.