Monday, January 31, 2011

Day Thirty-One: Little Accomplishments

Today, I'm 1/12th done with my resolution. Woo hoo! 1/4 done with the foods-I-don't-like portion. Thirty-one little accomplishments. And if I had to eat a new food every day, I would be doomed. But it's practically impossible to adequately judge a food with only one taste of it, and even harder to convince yourself to like it without revisiting it. Over and over, if need be.

I also think it's important that these experiences with formerly disliked foods be pleasant ones. So tonight, eating dinner at the table with my husband, listening to Old Blue Eyes on Pandora, I created a positive memory to associate with kimchi. (Yes, it's 5:40 pm and I've eaten dinner. Yes, it was on the table when my hubby got home from work. Yes, I know it's not 1950. We eat early, especially when we're trying to whittle our waistlines. And we love our big band.)

So tonight, I revisited kimchi, and I liked it a little better this time, I think, than I did last time. And I think it's one of those foods that really works on a fork with several other items. I used to think my dad was insane when he'd fork a little meatloaf, a little vegetable, a litte potato, and eat the whole thing. I was, as a child, a bit of a food separater. I loved the plastic camp trays my mom had that separated elements of a meal like a TV dinner. I'm not that way anymore, but in eating my kimchi tonight, I remembered those days. Because I've become a food combiner. And kimchi, while it has its merits on its own, really adds to and benefits from combination with other elements of a meal (in this case, white rice and chicken with a little sweet chili sauce).

So that was good. And now "Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight" is playing on Pandora and my husband looks like he'd like to dance. So goodnight, sweethearts, goodnight.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Day Thirty: Shrimpy or Wimpy?

Shrimp cocktail is one of those slightly kitschy, slightly outdated dishes that is unlikely to appear on most restaurant menus and possibly less likely to appear on a dinner party menu (though it seems that many cooks take pleasure in updating and reviving over-the-hill recipes, insisting on bringing them back from the grave). I've never thought it looked particularly appetizing, but then, I'm not a seafood lover (as you well know). While shrimp is much prettier cooked than it is raw, I still think it looks a little buggy with the tail on, and I do tend to think that the only cocktails that should be served ice cold contain alcohol. Nevertheless, I had shrimp cocktail tonight. Or, since my husband bought the shrimpies without their tails and we did not serve them as pictured, shrimp with cocktail sauce.

I thought shrimp would be fairly easy, since I've had such success with fried shrimp. Tsk, tsk, Laura. How could I be so foolish? A deep-fat fry covers a multitude of sins. Even with a generous coating of cocktail sauce, my first few shrimp were unbearably shrimpy. Not every shrimp had an equal shrimpy flavor--the few that possessed a milder flavor, I chewed and swallowed easily. The thing is, these shrimp (which were purchased pre-cooked) were simply boiled, not sauteed in butter or other lovely flavorings. And I think the application of flavor to food usually has to occur during the cooking process to be fully effective. Food that is salted during the cooking process doesn't taste salty, just flavorful. But forget to season that food and coat it in salt later, and you'll get a granulated, salty film on the outside of the food. Which is okay in some circumstances, but in general, it's not ideal. So I think next time I try shrimp I will cook it with some garlic and butter. I tried to swim in the deep end without my water wings. Next time, I will not be so foolhardy.

On a more positive note, I voluntarily ate egg salad today for lunch. It sounded really good, so I made some, and I ate it. And I still think it's freakin' awesome. It's hard to know for sure if you like a food after only one tasting. But now, the second time around, I feel confident saying that egg salad rocks. Maybe soon, I'll be able to say the same for shrimp.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Day Twenty-Nine: The Importance of Proper Cooking

Tonight, I made cod with fennel, dill, and tomato and, quel domage, I overcooked it. Rather, I overcooked my piece. Ian's was apparently delicious. I didn't realize this discrepancy until he finished off the last two bites of my dish (the cod pictured was mine... notice how it's falling apart... not moist). BUT: the sauce was delicious. And since this fish was poached, both the fish and the sauce contained fish flavor for me to overcome.

It's tough to judge this overcooked fish dish, since I know it was improperly cooked (next time I will be more careful to equally portion my fish) but it was pretty difficult for me to eat. I think I jinxed myself, really. Just the other day, a friend was asking what types of foods I was surprised to find I liked, and I included cod in that list. Because I've had it breaded, which makes it look a lot less like fish, and we all know the eye eats first. Because the last piece I had was cooked beautifully (fish-cooking beginner's luck, I guess). Because... the fish hate me.

So tonight's fish was a little hard to swallow. Literally. There's that whole my-mouth-does-not-produce-saliva-for-unsavory-food phenomenon that meant I had to use my wine to wash it down. (My dad has a funny story about using that phrase when he had dinner with my mom's parents. In his family, it's not a term of disparagement; in my mom's family, it is. So you can probably guess that asking for something to wash dinner down did not go over well. Ask my dad. He tells it better. But it brings up a good reason for my doing this project--one never wants to be rude when invited to dinner, regardless of what the host or hostess serves.) There's also a rumor I hear that overcooked fish tastes fishier than properly cooked fish. Yay. But I will not be deterred. I will have more cod, and I will move on to more fish-flavored fish. has given me an excellent tip:

"Many cookbooks tell you to cook fish until it flakes; this is too long. Once it flakes, the fish has lost too much moisture and will be dry and bland."

Day Twenty-Eight: Devilish

Okay, so I know it's technically past midnight, so it's day twenty-nine, but on day twenty-eight, which was only eleven minutes ago, I helped host a soiree in honor of the poet Ed Skoog, who was visiting our university, and included in the spread of appetizers my roommate and I prepared was a platter of deviled eggs. Prepared by me, eaten by me. And eaten by a bunch of other people, too. Which is good. Because I couldn't have eaten another one.

Basically, my deviled egg was a wily fellow. He tasted good at first. Then he tried to choke me. And when I managed to get him down, he kept kicking inside my gut. Not so much fun, and not entirely his fault, since I had a much larger dinner than I've been used to lately, and the egg was sitting on top of that. It's the egg white, man. The boiled egg white. It's just not right. It's necessary, I guess, to hold the deliciousness of the yolk, but why should I have to eat it? I can imagine the lovely deviled filling on crostini or crackers--man, that would be good. But the egg white? It's healthy, sure, yadda yadda yadda. But in boiled form, it's still not topping my charts of good eats.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Day Twenty-Seven: We Got the Beets

Tonight, I was surprised by two foods I didn't think I liked: beets and kale. In fact, I was surprised by the entire meal. My lovely friend Kate was gracious enough to cook me (and several others) a dinner of roast vegetables, kale cooked in mirin, sticky brown rice, and beans. Also, some fantastic pickled radishes. The whole meal was technically macrobiotic--something I never associate with culinary delights--and yet it was delicious (adorable, ambrosial, appetizing, choice, dainty, darling, delectable, delightful, delish, distinctive, divine, enjoyable, enticing, exquisite, fit for king, good, gratifying, heavenly, luscious, lush, mellow, mouthwatering, nectarous, nice, palatable, piquant, pleasant, rare, rich, sapid, savory, scrumptious, spicy, sweet, tasteful, tasty, tempting, titillating, toothsome, well-prepared, well-seasoned, yummy--see Who knew healthy food could taste so good?

In previous taste tests of beets, I have judged them to taste like dirt. My husband concurs. And yet, when roasted in the oven, mixed with agave nectar, pecans, onions, and sweet potatoes, they are one of the best vegetables I've ever tasted. Nix the other veggies, even. The beets are good enough for me. And I'm an onion and pecan and sweet potato nut. The kale blew my mind, too. I'm going to have to try to reproduce this stuff. Who knew healthy food could taste so good? (I know I said that already, but it's really blowing my mind.)

So I have to thank Kate again, publicly, for changing my culinary mind. For blowing it to pieces. For being the best cook and hostess I know.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Day Twenty-Six: Consider the Source

Pasta salad has long been my enemy. And unlike most cold salads, it's not just the fact that it's slathered in mayonnaise, sitting in the refrigerator. Because a lot of pasta salads aren't mayonnaisey at all. It's the pasta itself that tends to be off. Either chewy or squishy or slimy. It's tough to get pasta salad right, but the folks at Rocket Bakery in Spokane pull it off.

For lunch today (early lunch... I was stressed and hungry) I had the Rocket's pesto pasta salad: bow tie pasta coated in a lovely, olive oily pesto, with chunks of tomato and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese. The odds were in my favor here, since I love love love pesto. I could drink pesto. I could put it on my cereal. Okay, that would probably be gross, but you get the picture. Pesto: good.

Still, the pasta could have been over- or under-cooked. There could have been too much oil. They could have whipped the life out of the basil (when making pesto, if you over-chop and over-stress the basil, it will start to look like guacamole). But they didn't. They made a really lovely and surprisingly comforting cold dish. I'm really coming around on cold food lately. I'm learning (and I did suspect this, but needed proof) that it's not the mere fact that dishes are served cold that makes them unpalatable for me; it's that they're poorly executed. For a long time, I put my faith in the food industry, expecting that what a restaurant/deli/grocery store served me would have to be quality, or they wouldn't sell it. I thought the food I got at restaurants, with perhaps the exception of fast food, was the best there was. And then I started cooking and discovered that my dishes often come out better than the fare at chain restaurants and small-town shops where there are no actual chefs because what chef would want to live in Pullman, Washington? That knowledge that not all dishes are created equal is starting to sink in as I find that I really do like a lot of the dishes I thought were revolting. They just need to be prepared properly.

So I'm going to start considering the source of my food more carefully, which doesn't just mean finding out where my fish came from or how the chickens who laid my eggs were treated--to a certain extent, I do that already--but who prepared my food, and how lovingly? I know any pie produced by my Aunt Lula is going to be fantastic and mouth-watering (she's won awards for them, but also, she makes her pies carefully and lovingly). Deli foods in Pullman are derived from a strict recipe, but they're assembled by college kids, most of whom have no investment in the preparation or serving of food beyond their paycheck and may well have carelessly doubled quantities, left ingredients out, or just neglected to properly stir things. The people at the Rocket in Spokane seem to be invested in their customers and their products; with the exception of a couple of poorly made lattes (new baristas, I think) they have yet to disappoint. They're part of the community here, which I think is important. They know they're feeding people who live where they do, who care about the same things. And that makes a difference.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Day Twenty-Five: It's Pronounced Chowdah! Get It Roit!

It used to be that I thought I didn't like any chowder. And it's true that the lower calorie versions are often insipid and bland. But then I had a beautiful potato chowder with bacon that changed my mind. So only clam chowder remains.

My husband, on the other hand, loves clam chowder. It would make him very happy if I could learn to love the stuff. He keeps cans of it in the pantry and takes it to work for lunch. He stocks up on it when it's cheap. And even when we're trying to cut back our calories, he goes for the lighter stuff. So today, when he came home for lunch, we split a can of "healthy" clam chowder.

Now, when I make "healthy" chowders at home, the soup base has a ghostly consistency, so that many might not think it resembled chowder at all. It's the cream that makes it thick and white, and the buttery roux in the base. Cut those back, and it's a much thinner soup. But, since canned soup companies probably use a lot of chemicals to make their light soup look heavier, this version was not quite so translucent. It was not the thick, stand-a-spoon-up-in-it chowder that some folks make, but it wasn't entirely wimpy.

Mostly, my clam chowder didn't taste any worse than it smelled. It was nice that the clams were mostly difficult to pick out, and the husband remarked how grateful he was that the soup didn't include any sand (apparently cheaper brands are not too fastidious about cleaning their mollusks). It wasn't until I bit into my first clam that I really knew they were there, and when I did, I couldn't help but grimace. It was chewy. That, I expected. It didn't taste fishy, really--it tasted like the sea. That's what it's supposed to taste like, right? But I'm still not entirely used to it. I did, however, manage to chew all of my clam bits but one--I got a particularly large chunk of clam in one bite and, as cowardly as it might be, I swallowed it like a pill.

But I ate clam chowder. I survived. And one day, I'll order it at a restaurant on the beach, and I'm sure I'll find it heavenly.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Day Twenty-Four: Eggy Goodness

I have one thing to say about brown eggs: huzzah! That is, it makes the act of peeling eggs a little easier, since the shells don't blend in with the whites. Of course, it can't make the act of peeling eggs enjoyable. For every large chunk of shell I manage to prize off, there are two thousand tiny shards. Next time I'm at my parents' house, I'd like to try peeling green eggs. Not because it would be any easier, but it might be amusing. (My parents have a little flock of chickens, some of which are araucanas, whose eggs are sort of a pale mint green.)So--why was I peeling eggs this morning? For egg salad, of course! I'm really glad I've already forced myself to eat a few hard boiled eggs on their own. If I hadn't, the act of making the salad would have been a little bit nauseating, and the act of peeling eggs would have been a little more frustrating.

I found a lot of recipes online for egg salad, though, surprisingly enough, I didn't find one in my red-and-white-checked Better Homes and Gardens book, which for basic foods is usually my go-to. Not under eggs and cheese, not under salads. Online I found recipes including smoked salmon, peas, various veggies and spices, but I ended up choosing a simplistic, less mayonnaisey recipe (who needs a lot of mayonnaise when eggs already have a bit of a creamy texture?) that involved dijon mustard (I'm starting to think I'll eat anything if it comes with dijon), onion and paprika.

This is where our pita addiction pays off. You see, in the name of health and our waistlines, the hubby and I like to limit our bread intake, so mostly we have whole wheat pita in our fridge, though we've also taken to extra sour rye and those little thin bun things. But with egg salad (or tuna salad or chicken salad) a pita pocket is ideal, since such sandwich fillings are a little tough to keep between two slices of bread. Who wants to fight with a sandwich?

So I had my egg salad in a toasted pita pocket with some arugula and a little more dijon mustard. It wasn't intimidating looking at all--kind of like scrambled eggs--and the smell was quite enticing. It smelled a little like a deli, but without the meat. And man, was this egg salad good eating. I don't care that it's hard boiled eggs or cold salad--this is going into my regular rotation. The problem of separate whites and yolks is gone, because I mashed them together with my fork. As for cold food having less flavor--I guess you just have to season it correctly. That even proved true for the leftover potato salad I had on the side. A little extra salt=an enjoyable cold food experience.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Day Twenty-Three: Seoul Food

The last time I had kimchi was at a little Vietnamese deli, where everything was served in Styrofoam to-go boxes and everything came with kimchi. I poked at it, smelled it, tasted it, and then scooped my helping into my husband's box. The blight removed from my lunch, I then ate happily. After a while, the owner came over (it was a slow afternoon) and noticed that I was all out of kimchi; she offered me more. I almost shouted, "No!"--and got a "thank you" in there somewhere, too.

Tonight, my kimchi came out of a jar. Seoul kimchi. Which, I discovered, means that my kimchi (you can also spell it gimchi, kimchee, or kim chee) contains fermented shrimp and a particular blend of spices found in the kimchi of that area. I discovered also that my kimchi was high in dietary fiber, vitamin C, and carotene. The oldest references to kimchi can be found 2600 to 3000 years ago, the first text reference being in the Chinese poetry book, Shi Jing. Knowing that, since I am currently taking a poetry workshop, I'm tempted to take a crack at writing a poem about kimchi. But I don't really know where I would start.

The thing that struck me most as I was preparing to eat my kimchi was that the bottle made sure to warn me: Open Slowly. Okay. So I did, fully expecting some sort of pressurized fermented vegetable to squirt out at me. It didn't. I smelled it, and it smelled much as I remember it, but without a certain acidic kick that I remember from my last kimchi experience. I put a little pile on my plate, alongside my white rice and some beef I'd marinated with sesame oil, ginger, garlic, etc. I tried a little kimchi on its own and it didn't choke me the way my last batch did. When I put it on a fork with some white rice, it was pretty good. The spicy, tangy, fermenty flavor was interesting but not one that my palate immediately rejected. I detected a slight essence of old feet in the background, but not enough to be off-putting.

This is a flavor I could get used to, I'm sure. I've gotten used to a lot of vinegary, spicy things in my lifetime that I would have spat out when I was younger. This is a little more complex, perhaps, but it is conquerable. I have half a jar left and a package of kimchi-flavored ramen, so there will be more fermented veg in my future.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Day Twenty-Two: Oh My Cod

Tonight, I made pan-fried cod with slaw. It was my first time cooking a fillet of fish, and yeah, I breaded it, so maybe it's still beginner's fish, but it's fish. And I cooked it. My second time cooking fish, my first fillet. And guess what? It came out perfectly. Moist, with a perfect crispy crust.

I consider this a big step up (for me, courage-wise) from deep-fried fish. It was pan-fried, but with less oil than the recipe called for (I wanted to keep things light) and I used olive oil (for the flavor and the health benefits). It tasted like fish, but only lightly. It had a lovely texture. My first thought, on biting into it, was not, "Oh, how delicious!" but I did think, "Yum!" quite a few times. And I'm astonished at how easily I ate it.

My one concern: my cat is going to get fat. Seriously. When we eat fish, she circles like a shark. She sits in an empty chair and pokes her head up, chin on table. She stretches up from the floor and grabs the table top with her paws. I always seem to cave in. I don't give her much, but I give her a nibble of fish. I'm turning her into a confirmed mooch. I'll have to be careful not to spoil her.

So: oh my cod! (Ha ha.) I cooked fish and I cooked it well. I think it has to do with how nervous I was that I might get it wrong. Every cooking show I've ever seen has warned me of how easy it is to overcook fish. I cooked it and I savored it. I don't like to toot my own horn, but I have to say, beep beep.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Day Twenty-One: Irish Cream, Two Ways

Once upon a time, when I was an undergraduate, I was at a party. I'd been drinking. And at some point, a male friend of mine came over to me and kissed me on the mouth. Now, I'd really been drinking. I was a little off-kilter. And when my male friend kissed me, with Irish Cream on his breath, that was the last nudge that churned my stomach and sent me running for the bathroom.

So now, I have a little problem with Irish Cream. I've heard that most people have one alcohol or another that they don't drink anymore, for similar reasons. Usually it seems to be vodka or tequila. But for me, it's not just a type of alcohol, but a flavoring that pops up quite often in coffee drinks, desserts, and the like. So I figure I ought to get used to it. Take it off the list of things-Laura-doesn't-like.

Today, I tried Irish Cream two ways. I had an Irish Cream latte this morning. Unfortunately, it really had no flavor. Maybe it's because there wasn't enough syrup in the drink, maybe the barista knew my general habits of coffee ordering and gave me sugar free, but I did not detect Irish Cream flavor. So tonight, I tried again. I know, I said I wasn't going to have alcohol this January, but I decided to have real-live Irish Cream liqueur. I figured that would be the only way to really get used to the flavor that has so long churned my stomach. So I ordered it, straight up (confounding the bartender) and sipped about a shot of it.

The conclusion: I think I'm past it. I don't think I'm going to be ordering it regularly on nights out, but I think I'm past the point where it nauseates me. It's sweet. The alcoholic edge to it is a little strange, still, but that's okay. That's true of most, if not all, sweet and creamy alcohols. But I can deal with it.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Day Twenty: An Evening in Spamalot

Tonight, at the request of a certain friend, I ate Spam. This friend ate Spam with me, so I guess that makes it okay.

Actually, the Spam was not that bad. Slicing it up was an interesting experience. There were gelatinous deposits in certain places, and I couldn't help remarking (several times) how much it smelled like cat food (much to my friend's chagrin)--but I've been told by another friend (who also partook of Spam) that cat food is actually quite tasty. So there's that.

My experience with Spam was quite an interesting one. I didn't just have a Spam sandwich or Spam and eggs. I had Spam sushi. Seriously. Spam with white rice, some soy/sugar/teriyaki sauce, wrapped up in seaweed. And crab wontons. I know. Multiple food conquests in one night. Woo hoo! It was salty and a little creamy and pretty satisfying. And it came with good company and good conversation, which makes any meal worthwhile.

So. Spam. It's okay. I don't feel like it's a food I need to acclimate to (since it's not going to appear on most menus and let's face it, it's not good for you) but it's not something that makes me gag, either. I'm having some cat food burps (is that indelicate to say?) but that's okay.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Day Nineteen: Doesn't Taste Like Grape To Me

I think grapefruit (the ruby red variety) has some of the prettiest flesh of any fruit I've ever seen. It looks so inviting. It smells so wonderful. Its essential oils are even used in aromatherapy. But then you bite into a segment and the grapefruit kicks your butt.

Well, it kicks my butt. The sides of my tongue, where the majority of my bitter-sensitive taste buds live, are buzzing. They actually hurt a little. And I know I said I liked food with so much flavor it made my mouth hurt, but this is just ridiculous. Especially since I have a pretty good tolerance for bitterness. When it's properly balanced, I think it's the equal of any of the other flavors and can add deep layers to a dish. But when you eat grapefruit plain, or even from a cup, where it's floating in sugar water, the bitterness overwhelms.

I ate about a half cup of grapefruit segments this morning, as a mid-morning snack. I had intended to eat the whole cup, but I couldn't make it. The smell of the grapefruit kept enticing me, and I enjoyed the initial sweetness of the fruit, but then the bitterness kicked in, and when I say kicked, I mean kicked. Ouch.

I love grapefruit soda (Squirt being the most popularly known variety), but I notice that none of the fruit's bitterness translates into the grapefruit flavoring. Maybe a little of it does--but in a much more palatable way. I've seen recipes for salads containing grapefruit segments, and I'm guessing if those salads are well composed, they're probably delicious. But grapefruit alone? I just don't know how people do it. I also don't know how people make things like grapefruit meringue pies, grapefruit cakes, or grapefruit frostings (all those recipes can be found here). But I do know that grapefruits get their name from the cluster formation in which they grow, not because they have anything else in common with grapes. I know it was first bred in Barbados. Like other citrus, it contains lots of vitamin C. The pink varieties contain lycopene. They make special grapefruit spoons for people who like to dig into a grapefruit half every morning. I don't think I'll be investing in a grapefruit spoon.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Day Eighteen: A Certain Je Ne Sais Quoi

My husband is home for lunch (we have lunch together a lot, especially now that I spend four days a week in Spokane) and we just finished trying our very first Medjool dates. I've had dates before--the dried variety--but I'm not sure if I've had them fresh before today. There has been some confusion for me on the dried vs. fresh front, as far as dates are concerned, because in their fresh form they are so wrinkly and soft, much like their buddy the prune. Except, really, dates and prunes aren't buddies. I don't think they have much in common at all.

The main thing that struck me about these Medjool dates was their custardy texture. The flavor was almost exactly the same as the flavor I found in my dried dates, and while not disagreeable, it's a flavor I still can't quite pin down (as we were eating, the hubby and I probably used the word "weird" about fifteen times). I chewed and chewed and tried to think of a way in which this flavor would be truly delicious. Of course, it might just be a matter of my getting used to it. Maybe one day, dates will be my snack of choice. I came to the conclusion that a date pudding might be good, and while dates enjoy a reputation of sweetness, I think my candy-eating palate would like just a little more sugar.

Then, I looked dates up on the interwebs. Apparently, they are a good source of magnesium, potassium (like bananas), copper, and manganese (the latter two I didn't really realize I should be eating but I know they're good wiring materials). They have about 66 calories each. They're apparently a Christmas tradition, but not in my family. They are often used in both savory and sweet culinary applications; apparently it is popular to stuff them with nuts and wrap them in bacon. I can see that. Anything wrapped in bacon is good. They are also used to top salads and foie gras, which seems appropriate given their texture.

I'm going to have to go on more dates with these dates (ha ha). Give them a second, third, fourth chance. I really think they're hitting a section of my palate that has atrophied over the years. I tend to go for foods with so much flavor that they make my jaw hurt. Super stinky cheeses, super sweet desserts. I've got to learn a little more finesse. Subtlety, you know? A certain je ne sais quoi.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Day Seventeen: Dill-icious

First, let me say that I do like dill. I love dill, actually. I love dill, tarragon, fennel--all those herbs that people seem to be hot or cold on, the grassy, licoricey ones. In fact, I like black licorice. I am the smug happy one who gets all those black jelly beans at Halloweentime when everybody else passes them up. My dad probably laments this fact. When I was small, he got all the black jelly beans to himself.

I'm saying this because I've been focusing so much on the foods I don't like, I don't want you to think I'm a food hater or the pickiest person in the world. And I put dill in the title, because I think I'm punny. Jeffrey Steingarten, who inspired me to start on this journey, didn't used to like dill, but I always have. I put dill in the title because I had it two ways tonight: on my salmon burger and in my potato salad.

You might remember that I had a salmon burger on the second day of this journey, and it was a little tough for me to swallow. You might also remember, from my tuna salad entry, that I am no fan of cold, mayonnaisey salads. In fact, I'm not much of a cold food fan in general--with the exception of my mom's crazy, Catalina-dressing-soaked taco salad, which is amazingly awesome. But every rule has its exceptions.

So. Tonight. I ate my salmon burger much more quickly than the first time, with some dill sauce (left over from the potato salad--I'll get to that) and some dijon mustard (how I ever used to hate dijon, I don't know--I could eat barrels of it now). I'm still not drooling over fish but I'm making baby steps, even if they are of the shaky, fall-on-your-diapered-butt-every-two-seconds variety. Also on the menu was a red potato salad with dill, which I reconstructed from my husband's memory.

The sauce must be white, he said. There's sour cream in it, he said. There's red potatoes, he said.

So I boiled a five-pound bag of red potatoes in fairly big chunks (the hubby likes his leftovers), mixed together about a cup of heart smart mayo, a cup of light sour cream, some salt, pepper, and about a quarter cup of dill, plus about a tablespoon of dried chives, which we had in the cupboard. Once the potatoes were cooled, I splashed them with about a quarter cup of white wine vinegar and then added the sauce (there was extra sauce--thus using it on the burgers). And all it needed to be what the hubby had hoped for was a little more salt. Hurrah!

I tasted the sauce and the potatoes and even the finished salad--a good chef tastes each step of the way--and yet somehow I liked each tasting better than I liked the salad when it had been sitting in the fridge for a while. I think I just like my food hot, or at the very coolest, room temperature. I had the same problem with hard boiled eggs. I wonder if it's any better in hot weather, but then again, I've had potato salad at picnics and not been interested.

But I can change that. I will change it.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Day Sixteen: Thanks, Ladies

You'll be happy (I hope) to know that my second attempt at pasta puttanesca was successful, no exploding crockery or anything.

Pasta puttanesca is a dish with an interesting history. It originated in Naples, and the word puttanesca means, "in the style of the whores." The word puttana means "whore" and is derived from the Latin word putida which means "stinking." There are lots of stories about how this dish got its name. The more innocent way would be to associate the sauce's pungent aroma with the term's Latin root. But what about the whores? Well, the ladies of the evening would put this aromatic dish outside their houses of ill fame to lure gentleman callers inside. Another possibility (these things are in no way mutually exclusive, but none of this information is exactly written down) is that puttanesca is quick and easy to make, and the ladies only had a limited amount of time to cook between engagements. Another version of the story concerning the dish's short cooking time: married ladies would whip it up quickly so they could feed their husbands and meet their lovers, all in the same night.

Now, don't suspect me because I made pasta puttanesca. I made it quickly (about fifteen minutes, start to finish) but I fed it to my husband. I'm a good girl, I am! (If you get that reference I award you two thousand cool points.) And since my husband had just come back from two hours of curling, which he recently discovered burns about six hundred calories, he gobbled it up. However--when asked, out of five stars, how this dish would rate, he gave it a two. And I would have to say that I concur.

Which isn't to say I hated it. But my first impression was that I could taste the anchovy paste, even though there's only a teaspoon in the whole pan (to which my husband replied, Really?!) and also that capers are the ugliest things in the world (probably an overstatement, but still). So this dish contains two of my darling disliked foods. But it was okay.

I still have a pretty full tube of anchovy paste in my cupboard, so I may have to have more adventures with anchovies. I still have capers, too. When I used to work at a bagel shop, we served bagels with cream cheese, lox, and capers--so that could be on the horizon. Though, whenever anyone ordered it, we teenage girls in the back room would giggle and squeal over who had to touch the lox, and dared each other to try the capers, which terrified us all.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Day Fifteen: Reubenesque

When I was little, my mom once made a batch of sauerkraut that stunk up the house for days. It has a sort of locker-room musk, with a little bit of a pickle edge, and I've never been able to palate it. It has such a specific flavor, but more off-puttingly, it has such a specific smell. But there are so many foods that I enjoy whose smells are a little off-putting. Curry. Stinky cheese. They're some of my absolute favorites. So I know I can conquer sauerkraut. I just have to try.

So tonight I made Reuben sandwiches. I looked around on the internet for tips on how to make the perfect Reuben, and ended up squeezing my sauerkraut vigorously, then mixing it with my makeshift thousand island dressing (not Russian--but I had what I had, and it's pretty similar). That, plus extra sour rye bread, swiss cheese, and corned beef made for one incredible sandwich, I must say. The sauerkraut really balanced out the other flavors and made for a deep combination of flavors.

However, I did not have sauerkraut straight. I'll work my way up to that. It still has what my husband calls an "unattractive texture" but I can get used to that. And I've only had one type of sauerkraut; I know that every batch is bound to be a little different. I look forward to sampling a variety of sauerkrauts. I'm sure I'll find one I love. My mom says it's best on a really good hot dog, so I'll try that, of course. Any other serving suggestions are welcome.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Day Fourteen: A Small Order of Self-Pity and a Slice of Cherry Pie

Tonight, I had planned on making pasta puttanesca, which contains anchovy paste, and would therefore fulfill my quota of things I don't like for the day. I had my garlic and olives chopped, my pasta weighed (eight ounces, as per the recipe--all hail the glory of the postage scale), my capers measured, and a can of tomatoes ready and waiting. I filled the pasta pot, salted the water, and turned on the heat. I went into the living room and turned on the TV, waiting for the water to boil.

But the water didn't boil. Instead, about three minutes later, I heard a spectacular pop, and the sound of shrapnel scattering across my kitchen. I smelled smoke. You see, despite my thorough preparation of the ingredients, I had turned on the wrong burner, and on that burner I had left a Corelle plate, with the eight ounces of pasta. You see, Corelle is made from tempered glass, which explodes when super-heated. The plate exploded, the pasta set on fire, and all my prepared ingredients went into the trash, since they may or may not have contained shards of glass. I managed to get the burning pasta off the burner without burning myself, smothered the fire, and got things cleaned up. Thank goodness neither the cat nor I was in the kitchen at the time, or I might be writing this from the emergency room. But as it is, we're okay. The apartment smells a little smoky still, and we wasted a fair amount of food, but the stove was due for a good scrubbing anyway.

The incident did shake me up. I was collected enough to do what needed to be done (I'm ashamed to say this is not my first kitchen fire), but I was not ready to turn the burners back on and resume cooking. Also, I'd ruined a good percentage of my pasta ingredients and didn't have back-up. So once my husband got home from work and helped me with some of the cleaning, we went out. We live near a college campus, and they have free movies on the weekends (for students--I have to flash my outdated ID, and the hubby flashes his current one) so we saw Easy A and had Panda Express.

Here's the interesting thing. I was hoping to find something in the student union food court that I didn't like, so I could keep up with my resolution. But, as I perused the menus of five different options, I found there was not a single menu item that didn't sound good, including Panda Express's sweet breaded shrimp with walnuts (how good does that sound?!). This, while putting a bit of a cramp in my plans, was amazing. Proof, in a small way, that the plan was working. Of course, there was no fish joint in the food court. There was one downstairs, but it seems to rarely be open, and the movie was about to start.

BUT: I did eat something I don't like. Or didn't like. After the movie and a little more kitchen scrubbing, we went to Shari's and split a slice of cherry pie.

That's right--until tonight, I believed I did not like cherry pie. Or any fruit pie, really. But I think that notion has been dispelled. Apple pie, I'm still iffy about. But cherry--Shari's cherry--I thoroughly enjoyed. At first, the texture was a little strange, but I got used to it quickly. The syrup was amazing and the pie crust absolutely perfect. I love the way they sand it with sugar. I had it with coffee and while I've often seen people enjoying coffee and pie, I've never really seen the appeal. Now I've been converted. I'd have coffee and pie every night if it didn't make me fat.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Day Thirteen: Following the Conveyor Belt Forward

I ate the last of the hard boiled eggs in my fridge this morning, and it was fine. You're probably sick of hearing about hard boiled eggs and frankly, I'm a little sick of writing about them. I still don't love them, but I'm ready to move on. Or, at least, to start having them on salads and, one day, maybe an egg salad sandwich. But I ate it. Also for breakfast this morning, I ate a prune. Which was the squishiest, most unpleasant dried fruit I think I've ever had. The package claimed, "Ounce for ounce, bite for bite, better than apples!" Which I guess could be true if you don't like apples. And they probably mean that nutritionally.

But the biggest news I have today does not concern today's breakfast of things I don't like or anything else I might eat today. It's about last night.

Last night, I ate sushi.

Okay--I ate two California rolls and a tiny bit of seared salmon. And then I had orange chicken. BUT: I did eat sushi. At a sushi restaurant. With the little conveyor belt of oddities buzzing past my shoulder and the smell of fish all around me. Oh, and I tried a tiny bit of my friend's sweet egg dish, which was surprisingly good.

I don't think, the next time I go for sushi (which might be very soon) that I will be having California rolls again--they were fine, but I want to challenge myself further. The seared salmon was really interesting, though I had such a small nibble, it's hard to tell. The texture, I thought, was really interesting and velvety. It had a bit of a cooked flavor, but mostly a raw texture. So maybe I'll order that next time (or pluck it off the conveyor belt) and skip the orange chicken. Though, I was just having a conversation with some friends about salmon farming and some of the terrible practices that go on, which are unhealthy for the fish and unhealthy for us. So there's something to consider.

I'm already looking forward to my next sushi adventure. Next time, I'll be able to bring the husband along, and he is a seafood lover and something of an adventurous eater. So we'll see how many fishies my sushi-loving friends can feed him.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Day Twelve: An Adventurous/Existential Lunch

I ate another hard boiled egg. This time, I brought it to the office, where I carefully removed its shell in one million little pieces, mostly into the trash though I'm sure there's some in the carpet and probably some in my stomach, as well. My mother mentioned that her mother used to put vinegar on hard boiled eggs, so I dipped mine in the vinaigrette I brought for my carrots and beets. I'm warming up to the texture but I'm still having a hard time with the fact that most of the egg is pretty tasteless, especially when they're icy cold (which seems to be the most popular way to eat them). I think hard boiled eggs are starting to move up to tofu level in my esteem. They don't really disgust me anymore, but when I eat them I can't help but think I could be eating something better.

I also ate beets today--or, really, one small slice of canned beet. And it tasted like dirt, no joke. So, yes, I stopped eating my beets. BUT--before you think me too much a quitter, I should tell you that I have been invited to eat real beets, not canned, roasted and cooked by my lovely and talented friend Kate, who is an amazing cook and who admonished me against the canned variety. And really, I know that anything that comes out of a can isn't going to be as good as fresh, but I'm lazy. There it is. L-A-Z-Y might as well spell Laura. So anyway, in a week or so, I will have more to report on beets and I'm sure I will be converted. I will be a beet-lover.

Also in my lunch (yes, I was very ambitious today) I packed a fruit cup, which I am currently working on. I think fruit cups (this one seems to have pear, pineapple, cherry--maybe peach?) have improved greatly since I was a kid. The fruit isn't mushy or sugared. It's just fruit. In water or juice or something. And it does double duty because it has cherry in it, which I'm enjoying just fine. So I'll be up to fresh cherries soon. I will be a true omnivore before you know it.

So now we get a little introspective. I am kind of proud of myself, in a certain way, for taking this on, but I'm also a little ashamed that there are so many foods out there that I have told myself I don't like. Especially in the fruit and vegetable kingdom (plantdom?). I am SO interested in food and yet I find myself shying away from it. And I know that's a cycle I'm trying to break and that's why I'm doing this and I should feel like I'm breaking down walls but I find myself more accusing myself of ignorance/bull-headedness/what-have-you because the walls went up in the first place. And in my head, I know that I can enjoy anything if it's prepared well (and should probably stop trying to eat canned things when I know fresh is better...) and I know that I am the type of person who likes categories, straight lines, right angles, and I kind of hate that about myself. Go with the flow, man, you know? Isn't that what artistic types aspire to? But maybe, despite the fact that I like to make stories and create new recipes (when I should probably be following established ones) and paint things and make earrings, I'm not an artistic type. Maybe I'm something else entirely.

Amazing what you'll find on the inside of an eggshell or at the bottom of a fruit cup.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Day Eleven: The Anatomy of an Orange

There are many things I like about oranges. Their color, their fragrance, the way you can watch the essential oils spurt from the skin when you squeeze it. I like the taste of their juice. I use orange zest regularly in cooking, and I like to squeeze a wedge of orange into my beer.

My beef with oranges is 100% textural. I don't drink orange juice much because I hate the pulp. The central column is just dry roughage (see diagram, above). I can't abide pith (the white stuff that coats your orange when you peel it without aid of a knife, see below).

Also, I have a hard time with fruit that sort of explodes when you bite into it (see diagram above, "juicy vesicles"). I know that's weird. I was talking to my dad the other day and that juicy burst is exactly why he likes oranges, and exactly why I don't. He likes grapes for the same reason; it has taken me years to come to terms with grapes, and they still aren't my favorite. And I'm sure I'm the odd person out here. Gushers fruit snacks were all the rage when I was a kid. When someone brings oranges (or tangerines or clementines, what-have-you) to class, people gobble them up.

I have considered the idea that my taste for orange juice might cancel out my distaste for the oranges themselves. But I've been poking around the interwebs for information, and it turns out that the pith of an orange contains flavanols which are thought to recycle Vitamin C, which apparently boosts the vitamin's benefit to the human body. So it doesn't get flushed right out, or something. And while oranges with pith intact rarely manifest on menus (the closest I can think of are the soft little mandarin oranges that hide in chicken salads--generally, it seems that citrus included in cuisine is cut into supremes, which means as much of the pith and connective tissue has been removed as possible), I should really think of my health (notice how most of the things I don't like are really quite healthy).

So I dig into my orange. Maybe it's my inexperience or my particular orange, but I leave a lot more pith behind than whoever peeled the orange in that photo. At this point, I don't know why anyone would want to eat this. I understand the impulse to pluck the fruit from the tree and try to get at its flesh--the smell of oranges is probably one of my top ten favorites. But then the peel comes off and there's this white fuzz, somewhat reminiscent of mold. If I were a cave person, I think I'd drop it and run away.

But I keep going. I separate my orange into segments and decide to take it one bite at a time. And really, once I have a segment in my mouth, I'm grateful for the onrushing of juices. If it didn't burst, I would be stuck with this fuzzy, slightly rubbery, dry white gunk. So I enjoy the juices as I chew, and by the time the juices are gone, I'm left with a slightly more pliable flesh. It's still pretty gross, but it's manageable. The first orange segment goes down smoothly. The pith tries to choke me a little on the second segment--maybe I inhaled it, or maybe it was just resisting digestion--but the rest are fine. And I comfort myself with the knowledge that the pith is so good for me. Though next time, I'll probably peel my orange with a knife. After all, the eye does eat first.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Day Ten: Tofu or Not Tofu?

Tonight, I had tofu. Tofu tacos, actually. And really, they would have been better with chicken.

Not that tofu is bad--it really isn't anything. It's a little limp, a little wet (despite the time spent between two paper towels with a skillet squishing out moisture, and yes, I did buy the firm variety), and a little flavorless.

But I did realize, while cooking it, that I might never have had tofu before. It's one of those things that I've seen and, in my childish way, determined I couldn't possibly like. I heard The Beets sing about it on one of my favorite cartoons, Doug: Killer Tofu. I had friends who ate it and seemed to think it was okay. I had a roommate who seemed to like it. But I don't think I actually ate it until tonight. Though it could have been hiding in my entrees and I never would have known. There were a lot of flavors in my tofu tacos--lime, cilantro, and the like--so I made sure to single out a piece of tofu and eat it on its own. And still. Nothing.

So there's one more item crossed off the list of things I don't like. I don't dislike tofu. I nothing tofu.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Day Nine: Hashing Things Out

I had a bit of a false start this morning, when my Irish Cream latte didn't taste much like Irish Cream at all. I ordered sugar free, which apparently equals flavor free, so my Irish Cream aversion was not challenged today (there's a story behind this--I'll tell you later) and since I didn't fancy another latte and I'm not drinking alcohol this January (yet another New Year's resolution), it will have to wait for another time. I have plenty of days ahead of me to eat foods I don't like (nine down, 111 to go).

BUT--my new issue of Food Network magazine did arrive a few days ago, and with it, a list of low-calorie weeknight menus, including salmon hash. So the hubby and I hit the grocery store, found a slab of salmon (among other ingredients) and then wandered, looking for things we could buy that I don't like. So along with our regular grocery haul, we came home with canned beets, lima beans, sauerkraut, and fruit cups. Also almond milk, but not because I don't like it--I'm just curious, and we eat a heckuva lot of dairy. It was kind of a fun grocery trip, despite the crazy shoppers who seemed to be playing some sort of Grand Theft Shopping Cart game.

Anyway. Back to salmon hash.

The recipe called for Greek yogurt and I only had regular, so I got to use Alton Brown's cool trick for yogurt transformation (though I used paper towels instead of cheesecloth). Since the husband was curling (you know, with the stones and the brooms and the ice--he does that) I was left to butcher the salmon myself, or at least to rinse off the scales, separate the meat from the skin, and pull out all the little bones. I'll admit, I screamed when I first saw the skin side of the fillet, alarming my cat. But I told myself, Laura, you just have to suck it up. It's a fish. It has skin. Get over it.

So I did. I chopped up the fish and the veggies, cooked it, and put it all together. I know I'm not on the cooking-things-for-the-first-time portion of the experiment yet, but it was my first time cooking fish.
It did not come out as beautiful as the photo in the magazine. Still, it was tasty and the fish was moist.

I think I've got to cut the crap, fish-wise, and face a fillet head-on. I'm starting to like the flavor of salmon, but I've been eating it in strange ways. Still, even with little pink chunks hiding in a mess of veggies and potatoes, I hesitated to take my first bite tonight. I thought, Ew. Fish. And yet, while eating, I found the salmon flavor to be a gorgeous complement to the potatoes, onions, peppers, baby greens, and dill dressing. But it was just that: a complement. Not a hit-you-in-the-face, full-on fish flavor. As a dear friend said to me, it's time to take the training wheels off. I'm ready.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Day Eight: Who You Calling Shrimpy?

Last night, while out with friends, I had my first piece of popcorn shrimp in many years. I was surprised to find it somewhat enjoyable. But I wondered: had I just gotten a particularly bready piece? Were my tastebuds off? Or is there something magical about breading that makes food satisfying? So tonight, I put popcorn shrimp to the test. Gorton's brand. From the grocery store, baked in our oven.

I realize that I said I wouldn't be drowning out the flavors of my foods with lots of sauces, cheese, or whatnot. And it's true; I ate these shrimp with very little cocktail sauce. But what about the breading? Is that cheating? The fact is, I definitely tasted shrimp as I ate my full serving of them, and I smelled it, and felt its particular texture on my tongue. I even opened up some of the breading to force myself to look at the meat underneath.

The fact is, shrimp isn't fishy--it's shrimpy. The flavor and aroma, in my mind, can't be compared to anything. It did, however, transport me back to my childhood, to a Long John Silver's (I have no idea how old I must have been), where I know I once happily enjoyed popcorn shrimp, before I really learned what a shrimp looked like. I know we shouldn't judge books by their covers or crustaceans by their shells, but I really think my aversion to seafood started not when I tasted it, but when I saw the little creatures the food came from. Much, if not all, of my aversion to seafood (or at least crustaceans) may be rooted in their bug-like appearance.

So--I think popcorn shrimp can be crossed off the list of things I don't like (I am hacking that list to pieces!) but shrimp, sans breading, has to stay. They say the eye eats first, so if my eye tells me to run away from something, it's going to have to be convinced by my tongue and stomach.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Day Seven vs the Hard Boiled Egg

This morning, I met an old foe for a rematch. It was a tough fight. She fought as best she could, but ultimately, I chewed her up. I did not spit her out.

That's right. I ate another hard boiled egg.

I'm taking any and all advice you'll give me on how to eat these things. Last time, I did it my husband's way: whole egg, sprinkle of salt, three bites. Today, I took advice from some gal pals and cut the egg up (my goodness the yolks are beautiful when properly cooked--I feel like I've accomplished something in having two sets of eggs now come out with perfect golden yolks). Once it was in quarters, I sprinkled it lightly with salt and dashed on a little hot pepper sauce. It was a pretty plate, actually, until the egg and I went to battle.

I stabbed her with my fork. She tried to choke me, but I was stronger than that. She tried to intimidate me by letting the yolk separate from the white, which flopped unappetizingly around my plate. I ate it anyway. Poor egg. She was a worthy opponent. (Is it weird that I keep referring to the egg as a she?)

It's still going to be a while, I think, before I see hard boiled eggs on a breakfast menu and think, That sounds amazing. I only shuddered once, this time, while chewing the first bite, and my gag reflex remained calm. I'm getting over the psychology of it, I think--I eat eggs all the time. I like eggs. Hard boiled eggs are no different. They're good protein. They make a fabulous breakfast-on-the-go (well--not the first day you make them, but when you keep a few stashed in the fridge). I almost think I need a mantra.

Hard boiled eggs: yum! Hard boiled eggs: yum! Hard boiled eggs: yum!

We'll see how I do next time.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Day Six: The Dreaded Kiwi

I had to do a little research on kiwis (technically, kiwifruit, named for the little birds, kiwis, who eat them--more technically, Chinese gooseberries). I've rarely had them, and when I have it's been in fruit salad, and I've done my best to pick around them. (Why do people make fruit salad, anyway? What is so appealing about a bunch of mushy fruit mixed together, especially when you throw in yogurt? It can be done well but so many people murder it.) I had to ask a friend how to eat it (with a spoon). I looked up a few recipes that call for kiwi and mostly I found cocktails, though I found a salsa meant to accompany pork that looked pretty good. But I ate my kiwi raw, with a spoon, as instructed, and I think it can be crossed off the list of foods Laura doesn't like. It didn't make my eyes roll back in my head with pleasure, but it was kind of nice, and I found I liked it better with each successive bite.

I was worried, when I found the stack of kiwis in the grocery store, that I would be eating fruit out of season and thus have no way of knowing if I really liked it or not. I bought the kiwi anyway, and when I got home and looked it up, it turns out we are smack dab in the middle of kiwi season, which would explain the bright green color, the firm but yielding consistency, and the immense amount of juice in my kiwi. I was afraid of the seeds, but they sort of crackled between my teeth, like tiny ice crystals exploding.

But I must say this: Who ever thought to eat a kiwi? They certainly don't advertise themselves the way bananas do, or apples, oranges, mangoes, etc. Fruit want to be eaten! They're meant to seduce the senses. They're meant to make you (or a kiwi or a goat or a giraffe) eat them and, um, scatter their seeds elsewhere. How else does a tree propagate the species? Anyway, as for the why-we-eat-kiwi question, my hypothesis is that animals are hard-wired to know what is good to eat and what isn't. We humans don't always seem to be. But, we are smart enough to say, Hey--that monkey's eating that little brown thing. I bet I could eat that little brown thing, too.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Day Five... and a little of Day Four again

Last night, I had my first class session of Poetry Workshop. When I got to the room where it was being held, I saw my professor leaning over something at the end of the table, deep in concentration. He was peeling the skins off of three large, cooked fish. With his bare hands. My professor, ever the outdoorsman, had caught those fishies (a salmon, a trout, and a whitefish) in Lake Superior just five days ago. He had smoked at least two of them--the salmon was less smoky, I thought. Yes, indeed, I ate those fish. Not a heaping helping, but I ate those fish. More than a mouthful of each. And only the salmon made me reach for my Diet Coke to wash it down. Go figure. But I am extremely happy about the progress I'm making, even so few days into this experiment, and I made a valuable connection last night: fish is a wonderful vessel for other flavors. Kind of like chicken, you could say. Why does everyone compare everything to chicken?

Anyway, back to day five. Here I am, with a little bowl of chopped, dried dates. They're scary looking, I have to say. They look hard and sharp and jagged and maybe a little bug-like. To me, anyway. But you put them in your mouth and they're really quite harmless. They taste a bit like raisins but with a deeper flavor--muskier? Is it muskier? Maybe that's an unappetizing word to apply to it. I mean, it's dried fruit. It has a dried fruity taste. But what I mean to say here is, these dates seem to be inoffensive to me. I don't know that I'll finish my whole helping, but only because a third of a cup (the serving size listed on the back of the bag) seems to be a lot more dates than I anticipated. But you know what? These suckers would be very good in trail mix.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Day Four: Lady Marmalade

"Marmalade" is a fun word to say. It's especially fun in a British accent, spoken by Paddington Bear (who likes marmalade so much, he's the official spokesperson for Robertson's--the best I could find was Smuckers). It's fun to say it "Mar-muh-lahd," as in the song with the French lyrics that tend to get people in trouble. But is it fun to eat? That is the question.

Marmalade is probably the only jam (or jelly) that I know for sure I don't like. It's rather perfumey, I think, and not incredibly reminiscent of the oranges that went into it. There's a bitterness that probably comes from the inclusion of any pith, or just the boiling down of things. (I wonder if the outcome is any different when you make marmalade yourself. I found a recipe, anyway, and might experiment with it in the future.) It's a unique flavor, and I think that makes it interesting, if nothing else.

But as I eat my wheat toast with marmalade on it (I'm getting the keyboard a little sticky--whoops), I find that each bite gets more enjoyable. No, I won't be having it every morning or even on a regular basis, most likely, but I feel like a little door has been opened. I couldn't make myself like it when I was seven and playing Mrs. Brown in my class's production of Paddington Bear. I couldn't make myself like it when it was available on the sparse "continental breakfast" tables at the hostels I stayed in when I was nineteen. But evidently, at twenty-six, I can. Check one off the list. I do like marmalade.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Day Three: Two-in-One

It is a mystery to me why cats like fish so much, especially considering how much they hate water. Well--most cats. But I suppose my instincts have never told me to go out and hunt a pig, grind it up, add spices and call it sausage.

I'm pondering the feline/fish phenomenon because I had tuna salad for lunch today, and my cat, upon smelling it, took to milling around the kitchen floor, popping up to put a paw on the table every minute or so. Once, she jumped all the way up and we had to shoo her away. By the end of the meal, she got to lick a small bit of tuna off my finger, after which she took to running around the apartment like her tail was on fire. Celebration? Maybe. My husband seemed to think she was just mad she didn't get more. I guess normally, when he makes tuna salad, he lets her lick out the can when he's done. Today, he made the salad before he left for work (so it would lose a little of its fishy stink, to make it easier for me--he's a sweetheart) and she was still asleep on my tummy.

So--lunch. I had my tuna salad (chunk light tuna, a little bit of heart smart mayo, yellow mustard, and diced dill pickle) in a whole wheat pita pocket, with some raw veggies on the side. It's a familiar food to me, if not my favorite. It combines two of my food phobias: fish and cold, mayonnaisey salad. However, of the three feared foods I have eaten so far, it was the easiest and most enjoyable. I noticed I still ate it slower than my husband ate his (why is it that I eat less tasty foods slowly and gulp down what I love?) but I didn't have any moments of cringing, gagging, etc. I almost think I should have eaten the tuna yesterday and the salmon today. Tuna (or tuna salad, anyway) is like training wheels for fish-haters.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Day Two: Tickled Pink

My cat now loves me more than she ever has, and she's a cuddly cat. Not only have I been sick for a few days, and thus available for cuddling most of the day, but I'm starting to eat fish, and I like to share.

Don't worry, I didn't feed the cat half my salmon burger (my husband keeps these in the freezer and eats them when I'm not around). She only got a few tiny niblets, probably not even 1% of the burger's total mass. But she sure loved it. There are very few foods, no matter how she mooches, that she actually eats once she has them. Apparently, salmon is one.

I have to say, having my feared food at dinner was much more difficult than having it for breakfast, mainly because I had time to think about it. I had time to psych myself out. I tried to think how great it was going to be, how much I was going to love it, but that wasn't the foremost thought on my mind. Mainly, I was thinking about the last time I tried to make myself eat fish, in the form of a swordfish fajita that nearly made me puke. I tried really hard to like that swordfish, but it still triggered the old gag reflex.

But I also had a few fairly encouraging memories to hang onto. When I worked, briefly, for a caterer, I got stuck pulling all the teeny tiny bones out of five thousand slabs of smoked salmon, and it sort of acclimated me to a salmon-y smell. Also, the first time I went to the French restaurant in our area, I had a taste of a smoked salmon mousse that I actually enjoyed. Mainly because the smokiness overpowered the salmon. But still, I liked it.

So--tonight. I ate a salmon burger, and it was okay. I didn't hesitate to eat it as much as I did with my egg. I have to say, there really wasn't any fishy smell, though there was the tiniest hint of fishy flavor. I had it on a super-thin bun, so there wasn't a ton of bread to mask the flavor, and just a little tartar sauce and yellow mustard. What I found most interesting was, while I could appreciate the sweetness of the fish and the flavor--even the fishiness, really--my mouth was not producing very much saliva. This made chewing a chore. I had to concentrate in order to swallow. I don't know if this happens to everyone, but I know it's happened to me several times. If my parents are reading this, they're probably remembering the time I chewed a single piece of broccoli for about two hours and just couldn't swallow it. They thought I was stubborn. Okay, I was. But also, my little mouth wasn't producing the saliva I needed to swallow that broccoli.

I have to change my idea of what is appetizing. The fact that this salmon was in burger form might have been a hindrance; it's a little unnerving to look at a burger and see that light pink color that doesn't happen to beef and in poultry would mean stomach cramps. But I'm not drawn to any fish dish, truth be told. There are maybe a few fried seafood dishes that lure me in visually, but it's less about what's under the breading than the breading itself.

So that's something to work on.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Day One: Hard Boiled

This morning, I ate a hard boiled egg. (No, that's not my egg in the picture, but it looked a lot like that.) As innocent as the hard boiled egg might seem, as simple and unassuming, it is one of my mealtime nemeses. The texture has always bothered me, and along with that, the separate entities of the white and the yolk don't blend to create the eggy flavor I like. Eggs and I are on-again-off-again anyway--even a beautiful, soft, cheesy, scrambled egg can disgust me if I'm not in an egg mood. But hard boiled? Forget about it.

I was trying to remember, as I waited for my eggs to cook (I actually had to look up a recipe for "hard cooked eggs" in my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook--I also consulted Ina Garten online, and found the cooking times too contradictory, so I just went with my old standard cookbook) when I last ate a hard boiled egg. Not too long ago, my husband brought me salad with hard boiled egg on it, and I was so hungry I ate it, but that was just a few slivers, soaked in dressing. The last image I have of myself eating a hard boiled egg is Easter morning, when I was probably six. There had been an Easter egg hunt--just me and my brother, I think, and I was in the kitchen (we had a bright orange counter top that I loved) and my dad said I couldn't just have chocolate. I had to eat an egg. Being a kid, I preferred my food as bland as possible, and I struck a bargain. I would eat the egg white, and Dad would eat the egg yolk. Since he liked the yolks so much (and probably because the whites are the healthiest part anyway) he agreed. So I choked down a few whites and then dove into my candy.

This morning, I had to eat the whole thing.

I made my husband eat his first. I needed to see how he did it (a sprinkling of salt, three bites). I needed to know it could be done.

Silly as it sounds, it was incredibly difficult to take that first bite. And the second one. And the third one. I liked the second bite best, since it was mostly yolk and I had managed not to overcook it, so it wasn't grainy or green but a bright yellow and just solid. Before I took my bite, I asked my husband to give me a positive descriptor to focus on, and he said "creamy." And really, the yolk was creamy. Fairly enjoyable, really. My gag reflex triggered on the last bite, which was equally divided between yolk and white, but I kept my cool.

So I ate a hard boiled egg and it didn't kill me. Step one, complete. I will boil more eggs soon, and find some ways to enjoy them.