A new blogging friend, Raising The Curtain, has reminded me of an old memory. One about my lifelong fussy eating habits, and how it all changed for me in a typically dramatic way even if it was unintentional.
I was a fat baby, and I remember my mom saying all it took to quiet me was a bit of zwieback that I could happily gum to death. I turned into a skinny child and teenager, despite the fact that I ate a LOT. Four big bowls of cereal every morning for many years! Oink. That was fine, it was fuel I burned off easily. And how I loved the food that I loved.
But boy, did I hate the things that I hated.
I loved ribs, beef fondue, pizza, my dad’s weird ‘black fungus Chinese chicken,’ grilled cheese sandwiches, especially with Lipton Chicken Noodle soup which is still my ultimate comfort food, ham sandwiches (no cheese) with the ham shaved so fine it was almost like ham mush – no thick slices of meat please and thank you. Watermelon, corn, green beans or wax beans (what the hell are wax beans, anyway?) fried chicken, roast beef, pork chops, shrimp boiled or fried, my dad’s smoked venison, and ‘hot n juicy’ hamburgers. Listing all these, I see that I preferred meat to almost anything else as a kid.
But…and it’s a big but…my hamburger was always plain. I didn’t even have one on bread. It probably didn’t have cheese often, either. Back then we tended to purchase sliced orange Kraft American cheese (not the plastic stuff that is wrapped in plastic. That crap isn’t even called legally able to be called cheese, it’s named “cheese food,” which sounds like something you feed to real cheese), not really worth putting on a good hamburger.
I ate, and eat: no catsup, mustard, or mayonnaise. I didn’t have salad dressing until I was 20, and it was a restaurant’s Italian dressing which converted me. We always had creamy blue cheese dressing. Blue cheese makes my tongue itch.
I would eat sliced raw tomato, if I could sprinkle sugar on it. I would not eat tomato sauce. I peeled the cheese off of my pizza and scraped the excess sauce out – a little was okay, but not great globs of it. I do this still when we don’t make the pizza ourselves. Did you notice I didn’t include spaghetti in my list of favorites? That’s because mine had no sauce; just pasta with salt and butter; and I irritated the shit out of my dad by rolling my meatballs around on a napkin to get the sauce off them, because they were cooked in the sauce. My meatballs had no onion in them, but did include a toothpick so mom knew which ones were mine (and my maternal grandfather’s – but that’s a story all by itself).
Which leads me into my biggest hate – onions. Hate, hate, hate them. Always have, always will. I can taste or smell them in food when no one else can; the aversion is that strong. If you cut an onion up for a salad and use the same knife to chop the lettuce, I will taste it. YUCK you’ve ruined my salad!
Bread and meat cooked together, for me, was – is – gross. No way would I eat meatloaf, or stuffing in a turkey, or even by extension my mom’s ‘porcupine meatballs’ which had rice in them, and possibly tomato sauce on the outside – I’ve blocked that memory.
We didn’t have a wide variety of vegetables in the 70′s/early 80′s. Or, maybe mom didn’t know what the more exotic ones were or how to cook them. Corn, except for creamed corn, was good with me. Spinach, however, was frozen and mushy. I could stand a little bit with enough butter and salt, but I never understood why my sister loved it so much! Potatoes and mushrooms could never be bad, in any form. Carrots were better raw, and I think I even ate mayonnaise when it was a raw carrot and raisin salad (I wouldn’t now). Coleslaw, no thank you – even though everyone raved about grandma’s secret recipe. But the absolute banes of my dinner experience as a child were Lima beans and Brussels sprouts.
They probably both came ‘fresh frozen’ back then, like the poor wilted spinach. I do know they were never fresh-fresh. I don’t think I’ve even seen a Lima bean in years, so either they are called something else here or they went out of fashion with big collars and pornstar moustaches on men.
I had the same method of attack for both Limas and sprouts: I cut them into chunks small enough to swallow whole, and took them like a pill with a gulp of milk. This was the only method that would win me the prize of dessert. The rule in our house was to eat all of your dinner or you get no dessert. Fair enough, rules are rules, and I tried like hell because back then I was a pretty good kid (that would change) and I wanted that slice of German chocolate cake or bowl of strawberry cheesecake ice cream, and I wanted it a lot!
There came a day, a day that is frozen forever in my mind, when I no longer was forced to eat the things that I loudly, dramatically and continually said I hated. It was a Brussels sprouts day. I cut each sprout into four sections. More pieces meant more time spent trying to swallow them whole without chewing which just prolonged my misery, and of course a longer delay for dessert. They were the only things left on my plate. I’d gotten about one-third through my allotted portion when it happened.
Maybe the sprouts were bigger than usual. Maybe it was just time. You see, my gag reflex nearly always kicked in and caused me to make unpleasant ‘urk’ noises when forcing down the noxious veg – even without chewing they were horrible. This time, it went a bit further and I puked milk and sprouts all over my dinner plate.
I can’t speak to my parents’ reaction, but I was never forced to eat the things that I hated again. My opinion was that they finally believed me, and I was so grateful.
I’ve never eaten Brussels sprouts or Lima beans since.