I have a confession to make. I used to be a picky eater. Like a REALLY picky eater. My mom reminded me of this in an email yesterday and, in the interest of full disclosure, I decided to share it with you. As a cook and a food lover I guess I feel that this is a bit embarrassing. I’m still fussy when it comes to certain foods, flavors, and texture, which has limited my culinary explorations extensively. I often look at something and think that it must be so delicious, but just can’t bring myself to actually put it in my mouth.
When I was little my mom made a calculated choice to not force me to eat too many things as long as I liked enough stuff to achieve a balanced diet. For vegetables I ate green peas, green beans, and corn. I liked potatoes in the form of French fries, but would not eat mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, or any other form of potato. I loved noodles but wanted nothing on them but butter and Kraft parmesan cheese. I was in high school before I ate anything on pizza more than red sauce and cheese. I loved hot dogs but could not stand the idea of any other form of ground meat or sausage (this is one that’s still with me in a lot of ways). I would rarely eat hot lunch at school and my sandwich playbook consisted only of peanut butter and jelly or honey. I’d never had an egg, scrambled, fried, poached, or any other way, until I’d graduated from college. Needless to say, cooking for me as a child was a bit of a challenge.
In a lot of ways I credit my start as a picky eater with my eagerness to get into the kitchen. In an effort to get me to eat different things my mom encouraged me to make food for myself. She let me make huge messes and then cleaned up after me. There was a comfort in making my own food – I knew I would like it because I knew exactly what went in it. And, of course, when I gained some confidence in my limited culinary skills, I became very eager to share my creations with others. Mom probably wasn’t fazed in the least when, as a first or second grader, I invited all of the kids in off the swing set to have English muffin pizzas that I’d prepared in the toaster oven. And that, my friends, is where my love of hospitality began.
When we moved to Belgium after third grade, my pickiness reared its ugly head again as many of the foods I was familiar with went away and I had to learn to like new things, new brands, or versions of things that I’d never had before. My plain, white, soft, Wonder-type bread went out the window and was replaced by baguettes and other crusty varieties. Our Kraft macaroni and cheese supply was limited. I even remember throwing a fit about peas because they weren’t just like the baby Le Sueur peas that I was used to eating at home. I had to learn to like pizza “Margherita” instead of just plain cheese pizza from Dominoes. My journey to finding new foods that I liked was an interesting one (and one probably better told by my mom).
There were a couple of things that I learned to do or like during our two years as ex-pats which are still with me. I know for a fact that my love of roasted chicken described in (Let’s Talk Turkey…Err, Chicken) comes from Sundays at the market in Belgium. My mom and I would buy a whole chicken from one of the amazing rotisserie trucks and devour it standing at the kitchen counter as soon as we got home. These trucks were so cool and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like them in the US, though I know they exist because I found some photos online (see below). They looked like a normal delivery truck (or what a food truck might look like today), but the side would open up to reveal a counter and a giant wall of chickens rotating and roasting on spits. You could point to the chicken you wanted and they would wrap it up in deli paper, pop it in a bag, and send you on your way. A-MAZ-ING.
Another thing I learned to love were crêpes. My mom enrolled me in a French class the summer before we moved to Belgium and in that class I made and ate my first crêpe – with melted butter and powdered sugar. Because of pickiness I chose to not add any of the other fillings that I now consider delicious, but did consume my fair share of “crêpes au sucre” throughout our travels in Europe. Stay tuned tomorrow for my post about my new crêpe pan and the beauties I made with it last week.
And, lastly, there is my pièce de résistance of juvenile cooking adventures – the time I invited all of the ex-pats in the neighborhood (adults, kids, the whole lot) over for a dinner party to celebrate my parents’ anniversary. I’ll tell the full story in a future post, but the short version is this: I had learned how to make homemade pasta from my dad’s colleague, Sarah. And I had learned how to make a béchamel sauce with gorgonzola dolce from my mom’s cooking class recipes. So, since I knew how to do these two things, I figured I could make a meal for a big group of people. Mind you, I was 10 years old! Needless to say, I needed plenty of help both cooking and cleaning up. I honestly don’t remember how it tasted, but I do remember being proud of myself. And I still think I’m a little shocked that my mom let me do it.
So, there’s my confession. I’m still not entirely sure how a child who would eat almost nothing decided that she would learn how to make a gorgonzola sauce, but I do know that it happened. I am grateful for the fact that learning to cook helped me open myself up to foods that I would never have considered otherwise. I can only hope that this trend continues as I explore new dishes and ingredients. For your entertainment I am including two lists below. One is of things that I used to hate but now eat at least semi-regularly. The other is of items that I still haven’t managed to make myself eat and/or like. But who knows what I might try in the future and why. I guess we’ll all just have to wait and see!
Things I Eat Now (But Used To Hate)
Spinach, kale and other greens
Ground meat (in the chili or pasta sauce
Tomato sauce (on something other than pizza)
Fish and shellfish, especially clams, mussels, and shrimp
Salad and salad dressing
Mustard (but only in things where I only kind of taste it)
Things I Still Won’t Eat
Hamburgers and sausages
Paté and foie gras
Certain types of fish (like salmon)
Any kind of offal really
Mustard (where it’s a topping or prominent flavor)
Pickles of all varieties
Anything that is gelatinous and is not either JELLO or panna cotta