Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Just try it!

When I was a teenager, I was the queen of picky eaters. The only vegetables I would eat were raw carrots, cucumbers and celery. I also turned my nose up to dishes that had mixed ingredients - quiche, pasta sauce with veggies, casseroles, you name it! My food had to be carefully separated on my plate, and nothing could touch.

What did I eat? A lot of sandwiches (as long as there was no lettuce or tomato piled on top); pizza (pepperoni and cheese); cans of zoodles and fruit. Dinners out with me were easy to predict - I would order chicken fingers and fries. If there was nothing resembling chicken fingers and fries on the menu, I would order some kind of a sandwich....with fries.

My most shameful moment (shameful to me NOW) was when I was treated to a real French dining experience while visiting a cousin in London, England. In a place where haute cuisine was essentially born I ordered and chips. I think it was the only thing on the menu that might have been put there in the event a child was joining in. The sad thing was that I was 16 at the time; no longer a child. My cousin couldn't believe that I was being offered the meal of a lifetime in the heart of one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and I chose to eat fish.

I think my eating habits began to change slowly when I moved away to St. Catharines, Ontario, where I completed my degree at Brock University. Suddenly I was on my own - I had to take care of cooking for myself, and boxes of Kraft dinner were no longer cutting it. One of my roomates was getting her degree in Health Sciences, and with every food choice I made, she would grab the box/can/bag and cry "do you know how much fat is in that!?" She patiently showed me how to read nutrition labels, and pointed out that I was probably eating 3x the listed serving size.

I began to use recipe books, and started cooking simple meals. And I figured since I was trying to get healthier, I might as well start eating some vegetables. Lo and behold, I discovered that lettuce and tomato on a sandwich is not gross, but actually creates a much more pleasurable eating experience. I mean, who wants to eat a dry sandwich? Boring!

Soon I was venturing into different cultural territories - Indian, Thai, Chinese, Mediterranean. I learned how to use various spices to enhance the flavours of a dish. I wondered at the simplicity of a cucumber and tomato salad, sprinkled with balsamic vinegar, olive oil and fresh herbs. I attempted to create sauces that would make a pork chop get up and do a little dance for me. I was still a student, and definitely enjoyed my pizza and pitas, but my tastes were changing.

The defining moment in my relationship with food came during a three week trip to Thailand, where I came across stuff I hadn't even known existed. I was committed to trying everything. My friends and I ate dishes so hot that we all looked as though we were having a good cry. In Northern Thailand I found a display of roasted bugs in one outdoor market, and tasted my first pan fried worm (in case you're wondering, they tasted like fried puffs of some kind). Outside a wat (temple) we had just visited, we purchased a whole roasted chicken from a street vendor for $1. It had been stuffed with a variety of herbs and spices, and we tore into it with gusto. Eating on the floor is a normal custom in parts of Thailand, as well as forgoing spoons and forks. Many dishes are made so that you can pick the food up with your hands.

I came back from Thailand with an entirely different take on food, and was no longer satisfied with boxed creations from the grocery store. And lately, I've become even more interested in making a variety of different foodstuffs that I might normally purchase - such as cheese, yogurt, butter, crackers and mayonnaise. Food is an exciting hobby, and I am learning how to perfect my recipes and find the courage to try new ones.

It's my opionion that no one has an excuse to pooh pooh something, especially when it's been prepared by someone you know (ok, but if you have allergies, you're forgiven). Politeness aside, I think it's our duty to try new things. Food that is well prepared has the ability to alter our state of mind, and can create memories so strong that we spend years trying to re-create the taste of a dish we once tried. My travelling memories are full of food - I remember exaclty what I ate, where, and what the weather was like. I remember the sounds of the restaurant or street, and can smell the aromas wafting from the kitchen. Food is an experience, and one that should not be taken lightly.

We are very lucky in Canada to have access to a great variety of ingredients. Although I believe that the majority of our food should be purchased from here in Ontario, I also find pleasure in occasionally buying an exotic fruit or vegetable. But if you take the time to look around a little, you'll notice that there are "exotic" veggies right in our own backyard! Heirloom vegetables are making a comeback - you can find purple, red and yellow carrots. My personal favourite are blue potatoes - how much fun do kids have making mashed potatoes that turn out blue or purple?

So I hope to hear back from you, readers, about what kinds of new food you have been trying lately. While you're chopping and slicing in the kitchen, take a little listen to Serena Ryder's A Little Bit of Red (check it out here)

Hey you say you want to start over again
like I ever wanted it to be any different.
I've been watching all your colours fade to blue;
Said you'd come back,
like I'd want you, want you.
Stop pretending everything's all right.

Oh baby blue Oh baby blue
Come here I'm gonna smear another colour over you.
Get out of bed you little sleepy head.
Your black and white needs a little bit of red.
Your black and white needs a little bit of red.

Couldn't handle pressure life had put you through,
thought you might have bit off a little more than you could chew.
No I don't believe it when you say,
I will make it up to you.
Said you'd come back,
didn't want you to, want you to.
Still pretending everything's all right.

Oh baby blue Oh baby blue
Come here I'm gonna smear another colour over you.
Get out of bed you little sleepy head.
Your black and white needs a little bit of red.
Your black and white needs a little bit of red.

1 comment:

  1. Halibut........with chopped grape tomatoes, fresh cilantro, lemon juice and green onion piled on top and baked in the oven.


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