Food Loathings

Everyone has a food nemesis or several. I grew up with a lot of different food and generally think myself a very open-minded eater. Whenever I travel to another country, I try everything at least once. There’s a few things I really can’t abide though and not for lack of trying!

1. Spawn of the seven perfumed hells: Fennel

Fennel is the absolute worst and needs to die in a dark corner surrounded by starving rabbits. It really is rabid food and more power to them – it smells like stingy grandma perfume and ruins every salad. Steamed or cooked to death fennel is still half-vile and only tolerable underneath a thick coat of sauce béchamel and cheese (usually gratin). I want to forget everything I ever had to do with fennel.

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Monstrous cilantro

2. Satan’s soapy brother: Cilantro / Coriander (fresh)

My first real Cilantro encounter happened with Mexican food in California. I was hungry and super psyched about nachos with salsa in a restaurant in Monterrey, only to find the fresh tomato flavor disgustingly disturbed….by soap! WHAT IS THIS MADNESS?? WHYYY??……………….Anyway, I recently learned it’s a genetic thing (or maybe some tastebuds are just broken), in any case no Cilantro for me, kthxbai! This is why Thai curry > Indian curry.

3. The squishy gnomes: Mushrooms

Okay this is where I feel a little ashamed because mushrooms are considered a delicacy almost anywhere in the world and they’re certainly a great source of protein. It’s just that I can’t stand them and I’ve tried a lot of varieties. Also, fungus IS kinda nasty if you think about it, I mean it even eats people! …..

The earthy flavor and slimy texture of some mushrooms gives me cold sweats. Am okay with morel cream sauce but anything else is torture.

4. Garbage from the Ocean: Seafood (and sushi)

I love cooked fish – seabass, trout, salmon, tuna, you name it. I’ll eat cold fish in salad or a sandwich. Fish is healthy and full of omega-something-trendy and we’ve still got about 30 years to go before we’ve completely rid the oceans of all of them. Everything that ain’t fish however is disgusting and should remain in the water. Shrimps are spongy little monsters trying to facehug you when you’re not looking, mussels are pandora’s box and squid would better serve as a hairband. Go away seafood!

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What seafood looks like to me

5. The wicked sisters: Anise, Licorice and Cumin

None of these should be allowed anywhere near food that isn’t a Christmas cookie. Nuff said.

6. More’s the pity: Bell peppers / paprika

I like the taste of paprika! I wanna eat it on pizza or as stuffed dolma with wonderful secrets inside! But here I am outwitted by fate because for whatever reason, peppers don’t sit well with me at all, especially raw ones but cooked ones too. Not going into any details here, mostly I get stomach cramps for the rest of the day. I have an anti-pepper digestive track or something, screaming <INTRUDER ALERT!> every time I give it a try.

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It’s funny how that works with food we don’t enjoy or can’t stomach. Real allergies aside, I remain convinced it’s a psychological thing – many (not all) of the foods we hate were likely also avoided by our parents (or whoever cooked for you) or simply not served in our home and immediate environment. I mean, I doubt I’d hate mushrooms if I was a wild boar.

That reminds me, I didn’t like tomatoes as a kid either but somehow I acquired a taste for them. They’re a good excuse to eat all the mozzarella. Is there any food you’ve tried over and over and still can’t take or are you an easy food adopter?

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Repairing Relationships…with Vegetables

In my previous post, I mentioned that I haven’t always gotten along with mushrooms. Things have gotten much better between us, but that doesn’t mean I reach for new fungi every time I’m in the store. In fact, during my last weekly grocery run, I realized that mushrooms aren’t the only vegetable this vegetarian had avoided until recently, “recently” meaning within the past five or so years. (This revelation kind of made me think that I’ve been subsisting on iceberg lettuce, baby carrots, green beans for the past twenty years – bland, boring, and American, by golly!) And I’m not talking about utterly fantastical veggies like kohlrabi, salsify, and fiddleheads. I’m talking about fairly run-of-the-mill produce that I spent a long time skipping over simply because I didn’t know any better. Thankfully, vegetables tend to be quite forgiving after being long ignored, and here are five veggies with which I’m currently making, or trying to make decent inroads.

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Brussel sprouts

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Long the butt of jokes concerning their taste and general odiferousness, the first time I ever had brussel sprouts was three years ago. And I’m really not kidding about that. My parents never made brussel sprouts (that I can recall), and I never sought them out on my own. But then, a few years back I was looking expand my traditional holiday dinner fare and found a recipe for roasted brussel sprouts that couldn’t have been simpler. Sprouts, olive oil, salt pepper. Clean the sprouts, cut them in half, toss them in the oil and seasoning, roast a 400 degrees from 15 or so minutes. I was amazed at the tender, nutty, and flavorful results! I’ve since tried to make brussel sprouts more regularly. Granted, the smell from cooking them does linger, but the immediate deliciousness of eating them is worth the price of a few air fresheners.

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Olives

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Unlike my childhood that resided with the lack of with brussel sprouts, I did grow up with olives, LOTS of olives because my Dad really, really likes them. If there was one thing that was always, without fail, in our fridge, it was olives. And particularly the green Spanish olives with the pimento centers. (Perish the memories!) And because of that, olives ended up in so many recipes…so many recipes that I avoided because I hated olives! Oh my, how I couldn’t stand them as a kid! To me, they smelled bad and tasted worse, all sour and salty and yucky! Since becoming an adult, I have tried very hard to rectify this hatred, but it’s tough. Though I now don’t mind the way olives taste, their texture just doesn’t sit well with me. I’ve managed to accept sliced black olives, and only sliced black olives, on pizza and in pasta salad. But that’s as far as it goes…for now.

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Asparagus

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Asparagus is another vegetable that simple wasn’t around in my house growing up. As an adult, it was never on  my grocery radar – green beans, peas, broccoli – those were my “green” staples. But asparagus? Don’t you have to prepare it in some complicated manner? Doesn’t it smell funny? Isn’t it hard to cook? No, no, and no were the answers I discovered when I made my first batch of roasted asparagus about five years ago. Since then, it’s become my first “green” staple, when it’s in season, that is. (And even when it isn’t, the imported stuff isn’t that bad.) I’ll admit that I haven’t strayed too far in terms of asparagus recipes as I just like it roasted in olive oil, salt, and pepper, but there’s plenty of time to get more esoteric.  Asparagus Lemon Gelato, anyone?

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Avocados

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In my early years of vegetarianism, I discovered that avocados were good for more than just guacamole. They were just as excellent in their naked form cut to top a salad or mashed and spread on a sandwich. Helping the situation tremendously was that, at the time, I lived in a place where avocados were local produce and were always guaranteed to be ripe and ready to use. When I moved to a place where that wasn’t the case, I remained spoiled, and it didn’t help that the avocados in the big ol’ chain grocery store were hard as rocks and never seemed to ripen properly. Eventually, I stopped buying them altogether. What’s brought me back to them in the past couple years is hope…and maybe a few health concerns – fiber, vitamins, triglycerides, all that adult stuff.  And this tip about finding ripe avocados from Lifehacker has saved me from bringing home bad ones.

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Okra

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Like brussel sprouts, I couldn’t haven’t identified okra in a vegetable line-up until I was in my twenties. My husband, being the good southerner that he is, took great delight in introducing his Yankee wife to okra. The results? Um…ewwww, and that was with the fried variety! Worse yet was having it in soup or stew when the okra turned gooey.  Over the years I have gotten okra (usually frozen, sometimes breaded) at my husband’s request, but you couldn’t have gotten me to eat it, no way, no how. But considering how my palette has calmed down and matured (I guess), it seemed only natural that someday, eventually, I have to try okra whether I wanted to or not. And that time came last year when I reluctantly agreed to make a vegetarian version of a gumbo recipe that was already in our arsenal. Substitute veggie stock as needed, omit the seafood and chicken, and voila! I’ll be honest, it wasn’t half bad. Really, it wasn’t, and that was despite the gooey okra (which was nearly as gooey as I remembered it.)  Though I don’t feel ready to fully accept okra into my life, we’re going to try growing it in the garden this year. If we get a decent crop then I won’t have a choice. Okra or bust!

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What foods (vegetables or otherwise) have you gotten to know better, and for the better in recent years? Any suggestions as to other oft-overlooked vegetables that should undoubtedly be in my kitchen?


While Cary’s happy to talk food here, she’s also pretty good at doling out words about video games at United We Game while simultaneously maintaining her own blog, Recollections of Play. You can also find an archive of fun, geeky articles from her and like-minded souls at Geek Force Network.

I don’t like blueberry bagels, and other arbitrary food musings

This post was originally published on Geek Force Network, December 5, 2014.


A lovely picture from Think Fooditude.

When I was in grad school, one of my professors once said, “There are only three kinds of bagels in this world: plain, poppy seed, and sesame.” Well… two out of three ain’t bad. But my dislike of poppy seed bagels (too many damn seeds to get stuck in your teeth!) reaches nowhere near the height of my abhorrence for blueberry bagels. Oh, I’ve tried to quell my hatred – just the other week I purposefully added two blueberry bagels to my grocery store stash just to see if my opinion had softened. Nope. They were still yucky. I think it has to do with the fact that they don’t taste at all like blueberries. In fact, I really don’t care for any baked goods that contain blueberries – muffins, scones, cookies, cakes, pies, even pancakes. Not only is the blueberry flavor never all that pronounced in these items, but it seems that they end up extra sweet to make up for that lack of taste. Plus, when you cook blueberries, they tend to disintegrate into mush. When I want blueberries, I want that extra-fresh *pop* of flavor that only comes from them being fresh. I can handle fresh blueberries in salad or on top of cereal or oatmeal. But in a bagel? Never.

The exact opposite is true of raisins. The thought of eating raisins straight out of the box is perfectly vile. The chewy/gritty texture is one thing, but their heady, sweet n’ sour taste makes my stomach churn. Cook them however, and they become magical. In fact, I l-o-v-e- cinnamon raisin bagels. Yep. Had one just this morning with cream cheese, and it was perfect. Cinnamon raisin bagels aren’t nearly as sweet as blueberry bagels (if you have to go with fruit bagels, that is), and the taste pairs really well with a nice, slightly bitter cream cheese. See, most of the time, raisins rehydrate slightly when they are cooked. So you’re not left with complete mush (like blueberries) or hard, inedible bits (like, well, raisins) when you add them to cookies, bread, pies, etc. They become plump and moist and lovely-tasting. The same kind of goes for yogurt-covered raisins. At least covered they stay more moist than usual.

I was on the hunt for yogurt-covered raisins at the store the other day. Didn’t find any, and I ended up bringing home yogurt-covered cranberries and yogurt-covered peanuts, just because. I’m not sure what fool enjoys eating dried cranberries straight, but I’ve never been so silly. They are solely for making pumpkin-cranberry bread in my house. Covering them in yogurt makes for an okay snack, but they are oddly sweeter than yogurt covered raisins, and are also extremely tart. Like a Sweet Tart covered in yogurt. Hmm…no thanks on that front. As for the peanuts…icky and insipid. I was hoping they’d fall in the sweet n’ salty realm, but no. They taste just like you’d expect plain peanuts covered in a slightly sweet yogurt shell would taste. And that taste would be bland.

Speaking of bland, as a vegetarian, some people think that I live in a world of free from flavor. That because I’m not cooking everything in bacon fat and chicken grease, I’m stuck with boring vanilla vegetables and cardboard-y fake meats. Well…I can’t really deny that latter because some vegetarian “meat” is pretty rank. (And this after many advances in the science of creating said fake meats, which must be a college major by now.) But some of it is very edible and even delicious! I’d offer you some of my fake bacon, but I won’t because I like to too much. Also, you’ll hate it. So, win-win! But going back to the bland factor, I have a cupboard full of spices, which are quite easy to obtain. Want to punch up your broccoli? Add a couple dashes of garlic powder. Hate cooked carrots? Go with some dried sage or curry powder to spruce things up a bit. Wish that your coleslaw tasted like anything other than cabbage? Then you need a good palmful of celery seeds. There’s absolutely no end to the flavor combinations that can turn any boring foodstuffs from bland to brilliant! I’m fully aware of the flavors that I’m missing by not cooking my black-eyed peas in bacon or making my split-pea soup without ham hocks. But that doesn’t mean I can’t make black-eyes peas or split-pea soup. I can, and I do, and it’s all just as flavorful.

Around this time of year (i.e. the “holidays”), one family member or another will always ask me if I miss meat. I really don’t. Except…for one thing. My mom’s sausage and peppers. Boy oh boy…if I think about it long enough, I can start to smell it. The sweet and hot Italian sausage cooking away in a crock pot with a glorious array of bell peppers, all in a hearty tomato sauce. At dinner time, warm up some hoagie rolls (Amoroso‘s, please) and spoon out the delectable mix of meat and veggies. Mmmm, mmm, good! Though it’s been 20+ years, the thought of that meal makes me smile.

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Care to share any favorite food musings/memories so I don’t feel like such a dork here?


While Cary’s happy to talk food here, she’s also pretty good at doling out words about video games at United We Game while simultaneously maintaining her own blog, Recollections of Play. You can also find an archive of fun, geeky articles from her and like-minded souls at Geek Force Network.