My Inner Picky Eater

What's the deal with hummus? I mean, seriously. When guests come to the ranch, they always bring at least two tubs of hummus. It doesn't matter if it's roasted red pepper flavor or roasted garlic with gold-leaf and white truffles, nobody ever eats it. You know why? Because there are OTHER OPTIONS. Nobody willingly goes for the hummus when there are other things on the table. (Don't be that person who brings hummus to a party.) Dieters, especially, believe that hummus is a "healthy" snack, but it's actually loaded with carbs and it tastes meh. Meh, I tell you! It's edible, but it's not fantastic, by any means. It certainly doesn't warrant all of the oohing and aahing that it gets. I've heard people gushing "Omg, I loooove hummus" as they scoop up a gob of it with a baby carrot and I just want to grab them by the shoulders, look them square in the eyes, and say: "It's OK. It's not that great. You don't have to fuss over it. Try the Doritos over there. Those are great." Dips are meant to be fun. Hot spinach and artichoke dip in a bread bowl is fun. Queso con carne with tortilla chips is fun. And, if you want something fun for your baby carrots, try whipping up a packet of Hidden Valley Ranch Dip with sour cream–that's fun. Garbanzo bean paste? Not fun. It's suffice to say that I'm not that into hummus. 

Or beans and lentils, in general.

Tell me, is there anything more unappealing to look at than a bowl of mushy brown lentil soup? You can try to garnish it with a sprig of parsley, but it's like putting lipstick on a pig. It's another one of those things that's marketed as "healthy." I'd beg to differ. A bowl of simple chicken soup is much healthier for you, and your stomach won't feel like it's filled up with slop when you're done.

You know, I never thought of myself as a picky eater. I eat liver and sea urchin and anchovies and headcheese, for crying out loud. I've always kind of prided myself on being open-minded when it comes to food. Only recently did it occur to me that I might be a closeted picky eater. 

For example, whenever I order pancakes with bacon and eggs, I always ask for the pancakes on the side because I can't stand when the syrup touches the eggs and bacon. And, speaking of breakfast, I can't stand omelettes either. I think people go too crazy with the ingredients: ham, cheese, mushrooms, onions, bell peppers, spinach, turkey, sausage... I've even seen chicken quesadilla omelettes on a menu! Stop the madness already! I rarely stray from soft-boiled or sunny-side up because I like my eggs yolky, with the whites barely set. When you ask for them scrambled, it's never done properly. It's either too dry or not whisked well enough. Scrambled eggs should have a certain creamy look that takes skill to achieve.

Caramelized onions? Not a fan. Just because you get caramelized onions on your hot dog or burger does not make it fancy. It just makes it complicated. I do, however, like thinly sliced raw red onions on my burger, but not lettuce–because it gets soggy–unless it's shredded, which is fine. I usually skip the tomato too, due to the sogginess factor. For the tomatoey-ness, I can get that from ketchup. Plain or sesame seed-topped hamburger buns are acceptable. As are soft potato buns. Brioche is a no for me–too sweet. And don't even think about putting a burger patty between a ciabatta roll. Are you insane? It's too chewy. 

French onion soup. I don't mind the soup part, but it's impossible to eat gracefully because when you dip your spoon into the thick blanket of gruyère, the melted cheese seems to string on forever, like an endless strand of spaghetti. Do not order this while you're on a date at a French restaurant. This sort of thing can only be eaten if you're dining alone and your table is completely shrouded by a thick curtain. 

Bell peppers. You know how Nicolas Cage is always Nicolas Cage in every movie he's in? Well, anything that a bell pepper touches tastes like a bell pepper. It doesn't enhance whatever dish it's in, it just overwhelms it. Therefore, I refrain from using bell peppers in curries, stir-fries, fajitas or pizzas. On the other hand, I like them as cold and crunchy slices on a crudité platter, or as the star of a dish, as in Stuffed Bell Peppers. Let's just say they don't do well as a member of the supporting cast.

I'm such a purist when it comes to classic dishes and this could not be more apparent than the night that Mountain Man cooked "spaghetti bolognese". You cannot put chunks of carrots, mushrooms, bell peppers, blue cheese, coconut milk, curry powder, and tons of hot sauce in ground beef and tomato sauce and call it "bolognese"! A twist here or there, like adding a splash of heavy cream, can still qualify it, but not a full-on Frankenstein situation. 

Swiss cheese, like the cartoon one with the holes in it. It tastes like rubber! We can also add Jarlsberg and provolone to this category. They're all flavorless. I mean, why bother? 

Meat dishes that contain cherries, dates, apples, raisins, currants, pomegranate seeds, or any kind of fruit or berry. And may I also add: no pineapples on pizza. Just not into it. Same with nuts. Nuts are totally overrated. Also, do you know how much fat is in a nut? Who can stop at six almonds? 

Rhubarb. It's so ridiculously tart and sour. Why is it used as pie filling? Blech. In the same dessert vein, toasted coconut flakes always texturally feel like they don't belong on whatever they're sprinkled on. Kind of like finding a hair that has accidentally fallen into your food.

Quinoa, buckwheat, bulgar, barley, farro, and other grains. I must not have the same tastebuds as a horse because I cannot down any of the aforementioned grains. Yet another thing labeled as "healthy". Listen, I've tried living on a macrobiotic diet for four months in my twenties, and grains were put on a pedestal, but, for slimming down, I'm all about the high protein/low- or no-carb aspects of diets like the Dukan Diet or the Paleo Diet. I can't stand when I see a "quinoa and kale salad". The kale would taste so much better on its own without those soggy clumps of quinoa!

Broccoli. Poor broccoli. It's kind of an outdated vegetable and it smells awful when you cook it, no matter whether you're steaming it or puréeing it into a broccoli and cheddar soup. My thought is, why not eat broccolini? It has a much nicer flavor and doesn't stink up the house. Or try cauliflower, which looks like an albino version of broccoli, but has a nice mellow sweetness to it. 

Chicken feet. 'Nuff said.

 

 

 

 

Chicharrón and Pickled Okra

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I'll have to admit that I have strange cravings. Sometimes I'm in the mood for something funky and off-beat to nibble on–something other than cheese and crackers... Something like chicharrón (Mexican fried pork rind) and pickled okra! It's Texas on a plate for me, those two flavors. Don't confuse chicharrón with the processed, puffed up pork rinds that you find sold in convenience stores. The Mexican version is more substantial and has a hearty crunch to it. We found a Mexican butcher shop in a nearby town that makes it fresh daily. I can't help but fill up a brown paper bag with the choicest pieces from the glass case every time we go. When we get home, I shake them into a large glass jar and keep it in the pantry, just in case I need a snack with my Corona. When I need a spicy kick, I'll add a few dashes of Cholula on top. Pickled okra's zippy tang is the perfect antidote to this fried snack!

The Lonely World of Acquired Tastes

A page from Eleven Madison Park: The Cookbook

Oysters, caviar, anchovies, sea urchin, tripe, bone marrow, pâté, testa, blue cheese, chicharrones... My affinity for acquired tastes definitely comes from my mother, who I would say is my original #singlegirldinner muse. I remember very vividly catching her make her own #singlegirldinner for the first time as a child and this has always made an impression on me. 


It was an odd hour for my mother to be cooking. It was late in the afternoon—much too late for lunch and way too early for dinner. I was in my room doing my homework when I smelled a buttery and garlicky perfume waft down the hallway. What is she cooking? I wondered, and trotted down to the kitchen to investigate. 

There she was, hovering over a sizzling frying pan on the stovetop, nudging its contents gently with a wooden spatula. She spooned a steaming scoop of rice into a small bowl and scooted her secret dish onto a plate.

"Is that steak?" I asked, with my mouth watering.

"No, it's something else" she responded, carrying her little meal over to the kitchen table, "Do you want to try it?"

I examined the plate, She had cut the liver into strips and seared it with caramelized onions and crispy garlic. It looked like steak that was perfectly charred around the edges and still pink in the center. I had never had liver before, but I wanted so badly for it to taste like steak. I nodded.

She put a little bit of everything onto a fork and fed it to me. I grimaced, "Yuck! The texture is so strange! What is it?" I had expected to chew and instead it just became a paste in my mouth. I was weirded out yet intrigued.

"It's liver," she said, with a sigh, "See? I could never make this for dinner. Nobody would like it except for me."

You might protest: "But she was married! And she was a mother! She wasn't a single girl!" Oh, but it doesn't matter, you see—it doesn't matter where we are in our lives, if there is a moment to steal to ourselves to have our cake and eat it too... We will! 

It didn't stop at liver with my mother. She had her own stashes of things, like jars of homemade kimchi, blue cheese dip (which, to my own dismay, I once confused for ranch dressing) and papaya (which looks so much like cantaloupe to a child when it's all sliced up). I thought it was marvelous that she preserved her own little world, in spite of having a troop of five children.

Her snacks were particularly quirky. She would pair bananas with Laughing Cow cheese, dip grapefruit segments into chili salt, and mash soft-boiled eggs into stinky tofu so that she could dip sprigs of watercress into the mixture. I've even caught her sautéing ramen noodles with garlic and French's Yellow Mustard, which—believe it or not—became a hit with her friends. Many of her acquired tastes eventually became mine. But I draw the line at pickled chicken feet. That, I can't do. 

Now I understand why she had all of the #singlegirldinners that she did. It's not easy to find dining partners who share the same craving for those off-the-beaten-path tastes; the pungent, bitter, sour, unctuous, mineral sorts. And that's fine.

More for me.