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July 13th, 2010

So far, in my adult life, I’ve had three major revelations about food.

First, I am not a picky eater.

This surprised me. I grew up hearing how picky I was, how my tastes were so limited, and how it was hard to find anything I would eat for any meal of the day. As it turns out, I discovered that I’m not picky at all. There are few foods I can’t tolerate; beets, feta, and lamb. The first two, I keep trying every year or so, in hopes that I’ll get used to the taste. And I haven’t been able to eat anything remotely lamb like since traveling through Mongolia, where even the money smelled like mutton.

Mom is partially right when she calls me picky. I didn’t enjoy food at much as a child. My list of things I wouldn’t eat included anything “white and squishy” like ranch dressing, bananas, mayonnaise, or cream sauces, most vegetables, and even most pies. (in my head, pie crust was gross.)

But something changed as I went on to college and had my first apartment. I bought one of those cookbooks in the checkout aisle. Betty Crocker’s Fast and Easy or something like that. And just like that, I started to cook. And as I started to cook, I started to realize that all the things I thought I didn’t like were made up of things I did; milk, butter, flour, eggs.

This brings me to the second of my great realizations about food.

When I cook properly for myself, I am rarely disappointed, and often thrilled.

I don’t mean heating up leftovers or putting in a frozen pizza. I mean looking rough my fridge, my pantry, picking out some ingredients, and crafting something delicious.

See, even when the finished product is just so so, I actually enjoy cooking enough that the act of creating can actually make it taste better. But generally, I can adapt what I cook as I do it. Needs more seasoning? I throw in some oregano, basil, or chilis. More flavour? Cheese works in nearly every. Dish.

This magic began for me back in college, the first time I experimented with a recipe for baked chicken. I didn’t have the called for spices, so I crafted my own spicy blend, and used mustard to slather it on before baking. I was certain it would be a failure, that I’d be walking down for Jimmy John’s in an hour. And yet, it turned out awesome.

My third revelation is this; good ingredients make good food.

Part of what i hated growing up was the boxed frozen veggies that mom boiled and served smooshy with margarine and a little salt, I discovered, as I started shopping for myself, that fresh carrots nearly always taste…well…fresher. And more delicious. The same holds true for corn, peas, beans, onions, peppers, you name it. When possible, I buy fresh, local produce. In the snap peas I cooked tonight, it was as if I could taste the air, the sun, and the ground,

Cheese too. If I’m able to splurge on a really great piece of parmesan, I nearly always find it lasts longer than the less flavorful cheap chunk from the supermarket. It not only makes a bigger impact on my pasta, I can use far less of it at a time.

The corollary to this idea is that I have to keep these good ingredients on hand if I want to cook right. I’m getting better at making sure my fridge and pantry have a few staples; cream, butter, olive oil, eggs, a good hard cheese, grainy mustard, chicken stock, dried pasta, canned tomatoes and black beans. I can then add in whatever I have fresh, and can make so many things with no trips back to the store.

Tonight, I didn’t feel like eating, much less cooking. It’s hot and humid in Toronto, and vie just been exhausted. But at 8pm, I went to the fridge and pulled out what I had. And I made a simple pasta with bacon, green veggies, aged cheddar and a light cream sauce. And it was delicious.

So, yes, I do like to cook. And I do like to eat. And these two things sometimes surprise me still,

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5 Responses to “revelations”

  1. louisa @ TheReallyGoodLife Says:

    I’m in a similar position – I was told I was a picky eater because I wouldn’t eat over-boiled veg or bland stews. I was fine until I went to school then had a year of mandatory school dinners – the worst of institutionalised cooking which we were forced to eat in its entirety, and shouted at until we cleared our plates – and that put me off a lot of things from then on. Funny how the problem was always with us, but miraculously fixed itself when we started cooking fresh things, seasoned things, homegrown things for ourselves… I’ll eat just about anything now.

  2. kingshearte Says:

    No wonder you were “picky” if many of your options were overcooked, mushy vegetables. Gross.

    Good ingredients really do make a huge difference. I haven’t actually read the whole book, but the basic philosophy behind “French Women Don’t Get Fat” just makes so much sense to me: don’t deprive yourself, but eat real, decent food. It’s amazing how the good stuff makes you satisfied much sooner so you end up eating less without feeling any less satisfied.

    And it just tastes soooooooo much better.

  3. GeekKnitter Says:

    I have to agree… boiled veggies create ‘picky’ eaters! My grandmother was the queen of boiled (to death) broccoli, and my father and aunt won’t touch the stuff to this day, even if it’s just been blanched a bit to take the ‘raw’ off.

    I live right on the edge of farm country. There are roadside stands all over the place, and I never know what I’m going to find. I love it, it makes me be more creative in the kitchen.

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