Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Innumerable Barriers of Growing Up a Picky Eater, or My Hatred of the Reuben

I was an extraordinarily picky eater as a child... absolutely reviling most vegetables, and not eating much beyond chicken or pasta for most of my meals. And honestly, my so-limited-it's-kind-of-offensive-to-even-use-scare-quotes "palate" lasted well past college. I mean, yeah, going to school in Boston with more cosmopolitan people than myself led to the quick embrace of sushi, Thai, and Vietnamese... but there was still a whole host of foods I had no desire to even contemplate, which still included the vast majority of vegetables. It probably wasn't until I was around 23 or so that I was convinced to try a mushroom... portabello... and realized they were really really good, and that my prior years of avoidance were probably fed more by the texture of slimy canned mushrooms on terrible pizzas than by any objective taste criteria. So for about 10 years... though most heavily concentrated in the last 3 to 4... I've been trying to work through foods I have always absolutely hated, to see if it was more a weird texture or a bad preparation, coupled with adolescent stubbornness, that has led to my habitual avoidance... or whether we're talking about flavors that I just don't dig. But things like my recent experimentations in homemade mayos, come directly from my desire to get over these age-old food fears of mine... something most probably accomplish at 5, but whatever.

Now, as I've mentioned recently... I've never cared for traditional deli meats like pastrami or corned beef... and I wasn't sure why, since they don't really seem offensive... and, most damning of all, I can't even remember when the last time I tried them was. But it when Ezra Klein linked to Michael Ruhlman's "Homemade Short Rib Pastrami", I realized what the problem was, and why these deli meats have been on my black list for so long... The Reuben... "made with corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, Russian or sometimes Thousand Island dressing, on grilled or toasted rye bread." Two of those things are food items I don't care for (sauerkraut and Russian/Thousand Island dressing), but might fall into the unjustified food dislike category. Sauerkraut in particular, being essentially pickled cabbage, seems like something I should revisit... but I don't know if I'm quite ready for "wild fermentation"... we'll have to see about that one... perhaps a bridge too far.

But the real barrier here is... rye bread... oh how I despise it (or more accurately, the caraway seeds ubiquitous in American rye bread - I have nothing against the grain itself). Sadly, this is no childish food fear... but genuine loathing of how people can sully wonderful bread with such a vile seed... a seed that often lies hidden in wait, eager to attack the unsuspecting diner.

I can handle anise flavoring in small doses and in certain dishes... I think the fennel and Pernod in the chicken bouillabaisse I made recently worked very well, and star anise in many Asian dishes is always subtle enough for me to enjoy. Black licorice and American rye, on the other hand... make want to wash my mouth out with bleach.

So if I'm to try the cured deli meats, it will have to be outside the bounds of the traditional Reuben/Rachael methinks... but since Boston is fairly infamous for its lack of delis, it may be a moot point.

In Ruhlman's pastrami adventure, he made what he calls Neo-Reubens: "Pastrami, sauerkraut, gruyere, with a mayo spiked with sriracha sauce, sandwiched between English muffin halves and cooked in a skillet." That could work... especially since I am intrigued by the English muffin recipe in BBA.

I just don't think I can stomach possibly ruining a bunch of short ribs though... so unless I get lucky and find some pastrami/corned beef that doesn't involve rye bread in restaurant somewhere... this might be a food fear that just doesn't get confronted.

photo by flickr user ImipolexG used under a Creative Commons license