All Grown Up


Peering into the Past

When I was a kid, around age 4 or so, my grandmother had a clean-your-plate rule. I was a pretty good eater back then (oh, for that metabolism these days, right?) so compliance wasn’t usually a problem.

Except for 2 foods: Brussels sprouts and turnips.

In the case of the Brussels sprouts, I had a traumatic experience with them. I didn’t particularly care for the taste but, in the interest of pleasing my elders, I wolfed one down. Whole. And it got a little stuck.

I don’t think life-saving measures had to be employed (if so, I blocked that part out) but it was scary.

Sure, as an adult I realize this could have been avoiding by cutting the little green monsters into smaller pieces or, you know, chewing them. But I was a kid. I suppose I lacked certain logic centers. Regardless: mini-cabbage was not my friend and I don’t remember it being served again.

Turnips, though, were another story. I knew I didn’t like them and I knew I didn’t want to eat them, but grandma was adamant: I was not leaving that table without getting them down.

Or so we all thought.

I tried, honestly, I put that first forkful in my mouth and chewed and–as Mom tells the story–they grew and they grew and they grew some more until my poor little chipmunk cheeks could hold them no more.

I know that was the last time they served me turnips.

Things Change

These days I love both of my foodie foes with abandon.

Brussels sprouts came back into my life via those frozen pouches with veggies and sauce. I figured I was old enough not to choke on them and I should give them another go. Yay me for being brave because oh. em. gee. they were delicious. Sure, the buttery sauce that was dripping off them had something to do with that, but it was the tender leaves of the sprouts that caught said sauce just as much. Now I like them steamed with a little bit of olive oil and Parmesan cheese, but tossed with curry powder and roasted is amazing, too.

Turnips were a harder sell.

Having caused a rather… violent reaction in the past, I was wary of giving them another go, convinced there was something in them that my body didn’t want in it.

Until school. Until American Regional Cuisine where I was creating a menu (for actual guests, even) that reflected the mish-mash culture of New York City and my main dish focused on the Irish immigrants.

Enter Dingle Pie.

Oddly named to our American ears, it’s named for Dingle Bay and is a lamb’s meat pie including, among other savory things, turnips. Now, I didn’t have to cook this dish (I was running the kitchen so got to assign roles–that was fun!) but I did have to serve it and, well, a good chef does not serve something she hasn’t tasted. And I had to present each course to the diners (including the dean of our department, the head of the school, a couple of admins, my Mom and my boyfriend) so I had to know the dish on more than just a theoretical level.

So I tasted it.

I did not get sick.

And, oh, it was good.

Since then my favorite way of eating turnips is turnip “fries”–peel and slice turnips into steak fry-like planks, toss with olive oil and a seasoning mix of salt, pepper, garlic powder, parsley and whatever else you have around that sounds good and bake at 375 degrees until fully cooked (about 30 minutes, depending on the thickness of your fries).

Changing Tastes

Do our taste buds mature as we do?

I remember reading, once (and wish I could remember where or find it again) that a child’s tastes run towards the sweet, first, because those taste buds develop first. Or, it could be that a young child is constantly identifying their environment through taste (learning to stick out their tongue is an early trick) and the concentration of sweet-detecting taste buds are focused at the tip of the tongue.

Or, maybe, it’s an evolutionary thing. Something hidden in the primitive part of the brain, something that animals know instinctively: bitter equals poison, sweet is safe.

I was surprised to learn we have up to 10,000 taste buds in our mouths and that they are replenished every couple of weeks. Those of us who’ve scalded our tongues tasting something that was a few shades past warm are grateful for this, I’m sure. As we age not all of those taste-receptors are replaced, which jives with what we were taught in Nutrition: elder palates are harder to please because things just don’t taste the same.

(We also learned that white pepper is easier to digest than black–the outer coating having been removed–but is exponentially stronger so use WAY less than the recipe asks for. But that’s another story.)

Your Turn!

What foods did you dislike/disliked you when you were young that you enjoy now? Are there any you’re still to scared to try? Share in the comments!

The Question of Leftovers


I love leftovers. Leftovers, for me, mean

  • I don’t have to cook the next day.
  • I don’t have to do dishes the next day.
  • I don’t have to go out for lunch or pick-up take-out that comes in super-sized portions (and calories) and less-than-stellar taste.

Leftovers are also inevitable when you’re only cooking for 1 or 2. Veggies are easy to find in single-serving sizes but most grocery stores frequently package meat in quantities fit for 4 or more–same for many other goods. Cooking for 4 takes the same amount of effort that cooking for 1 does and results in more prepared meals instead partial bits of boxes and cans.

Some folks, though–and I fail to comprehend the why–have a real issue with leftovers. As in, they can’t stand them, won’t touch them much less eat them and regard this as trash. My friend’s dad was this way. Serve it once and if it wasn’t finished at that meal he didn’t ever want to see it again, even used in a new dish.

This baffles me because I know several dishes–everything from a seafood dip to a good marinara–can be improved by a night in the fridge. This happens because the flavors have time to really hang out and mingle, they spread through the dish and permeate every corner.

Sure, there’s a limit to the lifespan of a pork chop under refrigeration–after 4 days or so I wouldn’t suggest anyone eat it. But a meatloaf sandwich the next day or a pot of soup that gets you through the week, that’s a deliciously beautiful thing! [Caveat: all leftovers should be reheated properly to a temperature above 140 degrees Fahrenheit–165 is a safer best–before being consumed. Safety first!]

True, some things don’t reheat well. Rice and pasta–dry things–tend to need a little help. Sprinkling either with water before popping into the microwave or toaster oven help hydrate the drier parts during reheating. Breads should never be put into the microwave for more then, say, 20 seconds or you’re going to end up with a brick about 10 seconds after it cools.

But why the lack of love towards the leftover? Seriously, if you don’t like leftovers please leave me a comment and try to help me understand. It might not be solvable, but I really would like to understand.


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Follow That Craving!


The other night Todd made a yummy supper (grilled beef roast, fluffy baked potatoes loaded with toppings and steamed asparagus) and I just wasn’t feeling it.

Temperatures are already high here and Florida and this meal, while tasty, was hot, heavy, solid and totally not what my body was wanting. I’d been craving fresh fruit, fruit juices (water just has not been getting the job done, lately) and light foods in light colors.

A few years ago I did some basic reading on Ayurveda and wondered if there wasn’t something in my cravings to be found there.

Ayurveda is a [holistic] system of medicine from India that uses a constitutional model. Its aim is to provide guidance regarding food and lifestyle so that healthy people can stay healthy and folks with health challenges can improve their health. —Ayurvedic Foundations

Now, according to the quiz over at What’s Your Dosha? I’m Vata (with a slightly more Pitta mind). Even though I don’t fit some of the physical attributes of Vata (thin with a weight-gain difficulty? Hah!), I do fit other characteristics of the type (sensitivity to cold, delicate digestion, low stamina and so not a morning person).

Vata season is November through February and that’s the prime time for heavy meals and warm spices (a time I love, by the way–I’m usually all about sturdy foods). What we’re nearing the end of is Kapha season (March through June) when light meals are de rigueur to combat the “cold and wet” of the days leading up to the heat of Pitta (July through October) when light and cooling meals will keep the heat in balance.

Balance is a big thing in Ayurveda.

Of course, as I’m babbling on about one thing, Todd’s wheels start turning and he brings up Constitutional Psychology: the idea that body types can be classified as ecto-, endo- or mesomorphic based on physical characteristics. I hadn’t heard of those types before. Apparently this is really big in the body building world since it has a lot to do with bones, muscle and fat stores but doesn’t really affect the nutritional basics.

But what about those cravings?

I remember I would periodically crave all sorts of dairy out of blue. After noticing this happen a few times I began to think that it was my body’s way of telling me my calcium was low, or something like that. Incidentally: now that I have yogurt nearly every day, I no longer have those massive cravings for milk, yogurt or cheese. Not the most scientific testing method, but observation is a part of life, right?

Keeping in mind that I’m not a doctor or even a registered dietitian (though culinary school did include some nutritional training), I think there’s three reasons giving in to our cravings can be beneficial to our health:

  1. Cravings can signal something our body needs. Dairy cravings are simple, you could need more dairy or Vitamin D. But what about craving, say, pizza? Maybe your body needs some of those great tomato antioxidants and your body is just using a language you’ll easily recognize.
  2. Cravings can keep us from being overly restrictive. Dieting is usually the culprit here. When we restrict our diets to any sort of extreme (no carbs, no snacks, no sugar, etc.) sometimes those restrictions really get to us, wear us down and lead us to totally blow a diet (or lifestyle change) with a binge. By allowing small items that would otherwise be forbidden on your diet you lessen the chance of a binge.
  3. Cravings can signal a need for comfort. Different than a dietary need, when we start to crave foods from our childhood it can signal am emotional need for comfort or consolation. Sure, there are other ways to deal with emotional needs but having a cookie or cooking a favorite meal one night in full knowledge of what you’re doing can be quite soothing.

Moderation, as always, is the key, even when dealing with cravings.

What do you think? Given in or stand firm?

No-Cook Mode


Every time I finish with an event of any kind it takes me about a week to recover and want to get back in the kitchen.

This is nothing new and if I’ve just thrown a party I’ve usually got plenty of leftovers to last me the better part of that off-duty week or, you know, there’s always take-out. But I’ve discovered a new facet of this quirk.

This past weekend was, of course, my brother’s wedding and we were out of town for 4 days, I was elbow-deep in cake for more than that, and I’ve hit my off-duty phased. But even with Todd here and more than willing to pick up slack this week–nuh uh!

Apparently I don’t even want him cooking this week. At least not very much. We did stop at the grocery store on the way home from the beach (because I knew I’d never want to go back out and stock up once we made it home and unloaded the car) and I didn’t get 100% convenience foods but, well…

Sunday night I wanted corndogs (all beef, at least) and I did make a batch of my pineapple-poppy seed coleslaw to go with them and the sweet potato fries. Monday night was potato-crusted fish, green beans and boxed rice pilaf (Todd did the prep, I had comics to do). I’m somewhat redeeming myself with the brisket that will cook in the crock-pot along with potatoes and carrots. But it’s still a one-pot meal that hardly constitutes cooking–I didn’t even cut up the new potatoes!

It certainly compounds matters that Friday is my birthday and I feel like celebrating in little ways all week. Eating comfort food is one of those ways, but it’s not going to last too much longer: I bought chicken thighs and artichoke hearts and I haven’t decided exactly what I’m going to do with them on Wednesday!