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40 T/D/Y #33: Food

I was a very fussy eater as a child. I didn’t like much to begin with, and was always reluctant to try new foods. I arbitrarily disliked whole kinds of food, such as cheese, even though I happily ate pizza. I wouldn’t eat tomatoes but would eat tomato sauce; I didn’t like peanuts but loved peanut butter; I didn’t like fish, but my mom got me to eat tuna by telling me it was “chicken of the sea”. I loved canned peas—and still do—and also liked canned corn, but absolutely hated canned green beans, string beans, and wax (yellow) beans with a passion. I would spend a good half-hour or more at the dinner table, reluctantly and very slowly finishing my green beans after everyone else was done dinner, so that I could get dessert. (My younger sister, more pragmatic, would ask what was for dessert, and if it wasn’t anything she felt like having then she’d happily abandon whatever part of dinner she didn’t like.) I also hated meatloaf, the one dinner sure to cause me to wail with dismay, such that it’s still a running joke in my family.

In elementary school for the first several years, I would only eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch. I didn’t like any kind of regular sandwich fixings—I might’ve eaten cold turkey or ham, but I wouldn’t eat cheese or lettuce or mustard or anything else you’d put on a sandwich. Eventually around fourth or maybe fifth grade my mom persuaded me to start trying the hot lunch at school by pointing out things on the menu that I would eat, such as the turkey dinner or pizza on Fridays, and letting me buy only the meals I wanted rather than paying for the full week.

Although my dad worked as a cook in the LaRose family restaurant, my parents never urged my siblings and I to learn how to cook, and I didn’t have much interest. I did learn to make cookies and brownies for parties or bake sales at school. Later, in Boy Scouts, I learned to do some cooking while on campouts; I was particularly fond of making french toast. But I still wasn’t much interested in preparing regular meals at home. We all settled into fairly well-defined roles: Mom would make dinner, one of us would set the table, I would always clear the table, and my sisters would wash and dry the dishes.

As I got older, I very slowly and gradually became willing to try more foods. Macaroni salad is a good example: my mom’s macaroni salad is made with mayonnaise, pickles, celery, and eggs, all of which are things I believed I didn’t like (besides macaroni itself). However, one day for whatever reason I decided to try some, and discovered it was really good. Likewise, I found that cheese by itself was good, not just when it was on pizza, and I started eating sandwiches with meat and cheese, instead of just peanut butter and jelly. Still, I was never that adventurous about eating, and it took years for my palate to expand.

I’d never liked vegetables much. Carrots, peas, and corn were all good, other kinds generally not. Beets were the one vegetable that my sisters and I all hated, while my mom loved them. When we were older, my mom added broccoli into the vegetable mix; I didn’t really like it, but it was okay in small amounts. The one vegetable I still hated passionately was green beans… until one day, for some reason, my dad brought home fresh green beans and prepared those instead of canned. What a revelation! Fresh green beans were good. We’d always had fresh carrots, so my only guess about the green beans is that the fresh ones didn’t keep as long and that’s why we had canned.

Once I moved out of my parents’ home, I had to start cooking for myself. While living in Medford, my home-cooked meals stayed fairly simple and conservative, featuring a lot of pasta because that was easy to make, and including at least one frozen dinner a week and at least one can of chunky soup as a stew-like base. Boxed couscous and rice pilaf were also regular items. I did however also make a point of buying frozen vegetables and mixing them in or having them on the side; I also started taking a daily vitamin supplement, just in case.

In Seattle, my cooking and eating menus have slowly expanded even more over the years. I’m now more willing to try new foods or foods I rejected in the past often without trying them. I’ve also been a little more ambitious about cooking. In 2003, I decided I would invite a bunch of friends over for Easter dinner and make chicken cordon bleu, which I’d never done before, and it turned out fine. I stopped buying frozen dinners and started buying more fresh meat to keep in the freezer and prepare for myself. Out for lunch at a mall one day, I decided to try a grilled chicken sandwich that included spinach on it, and found it quite tasty, so I’ve since added spinach into my regular home menu, both uncooked as a substitute for lettuce on sandwiches and cooked with various meals. Pasta is still a staple of my diet but I found some meals took long enough preparation that it was worthwhile taking the time to bake potatoes, too. I not only started using recipes out of cookbooks, but also felt able to experiment and adapt them to what I had on hand. I’m now at a point where even though I often don’t feel like cooking, or feel like it’ll take longer than I want to spend in order to get a meal, I’m always happier for making the effort and cooking a decent meal instead of falling back on something like a pseudo-stew made from chunky soup with macaroni and frozen vegetables added.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention ice cream. I’ve always loved ice cream, and my family almost always kept ice cream on hand for dessert, as well as often going out to ice cream stands during the summer. So naturally as an adult I continued to keep ice cream at home for myself. A couple years ago, I made some idle remarks about how I should learn how to make my own ice cream, and Tony and Farida gleefully took me at my word and bought me an ice cream mixer. It turns out that homemade ice cream is much better than store-bought ice cream. I actually eat less now than I used to because I feel obliged to make it myself rather than buy some at the store, so that means I have to take the time to make it. (Similarly, I used to always have cookies on hand for snacking, but I came to feel that homemade cookies were better-tasting and better-quality, and so I rarely buy cookies anymore and only have them when I make a batch.) Plus, bringing homemade ice cream to a party always makes me popular. Now I just have to figure out how to make an ice cream cake, per Farida’s request…

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