It’s been said that there are two kinds of people in the world: Those who eat to live, and those who live to eat. I am clearly in the latter group. Geri lives happily in the first. By assumption, those who eat to live will settle for any old food that fuels the body; my group is comprised of people who care less about energy than they do about savoring what should be nothing less than an experience worth writing home about.
Oddly enough, the eat-to-live group tends to be picky; my group is not, notwithstanding the snob factor.
Geri could live on a diet of PBJ sandwiches and bread with a good butter. Like many of us in our age group, our appetites for animal protein seems to be waning. Geri never had an appetite for some of the most delicious four-footed protein: lamb, veal, game. She also won’t eat quail, duck or goose. In the world of seafood, she will eat halibut and, if she’s at a wedding or an after-memorial service reception, boiled shrimp with cocktail sauce. She likes clam chowder, but not linguine with clams. She used to like fish sticks until she found out what was in them.
Basically, she has yet to meet a processed food that she didn’t love. She could build an entire diet regimen from the grocery store’s freezer section and whatever aisle it is that has re-fried beans and salsa.
To accompany her disdain for many foods, Geri hates to cook. The few things she does make, however, are delicious. While most of her culinary creations involve ground beef, onions, and cream of mushroom soup, they are just fine.
People who are aware of my culinary habits, know that there are few foods I don’t like. I’ve yet to meet a food I won’t try.
My Uncle Joe, the gourmand and physician, told me that the more unusual something was to stick in your mouth, the greater chance there was for a celebratory experience. It was at that moment—I was ten—that he stuck a piece of octopus in my mouth. After a few minutes of chewing, I asked if I should swallow it or stick it under my chair like a piece of contraband chewing gum.
I have since had octopus on several occasions. It’s far from my favorite, but I’ll gladly eat it again.
Some people like to refer to my kind of eater and others as “adventurous.” I’m not so sure. I don’t believe I’ve ever eaten something that nobody else has, unless you count the occasional clump of mud I might have tasted as a two-year-old. I love to contemplate how people discovered things that, after a brave consumption, were deemed to be food.
Milk comes to mind. We’ve been consuming cow’s milk for millennia and most of us don’t think twice about it. But what about the first person to drink it? Was it curiosity about the udder that drove that first person to have a sip? Or was it merely noting that since the baby cows seemed to like it, we should too.
And then there are those who felt ill after drinking it. Did they create a demand for almond milk? And how, exactly, does one milk an almond? Where are its teats?
On occasion, I like milk. I also like oysters—another foodstuff that might have posed a challenge to its discoverer.
“Hey Marty,” the caveman said, “look at this snot-like thing on the half-shell. I think I’ll eat it!”
Within weeks, there were oyster bars up and down every coast in the world.
The most profoundly adventurous food experience must have involved an egg—chicken, duck, quail—it doesn’t matter. Think about the general egg-delivery area and you’ll get my point.
Things that grow wild present a plethora of questions. Walking along a wooded trail, are the plants sticking up out of the ground edible? Are they tasty? Are they deadly? I know how to identify morel mushrooms; the others I will leave to the experts. I’ve also identified and consumed wild asparagus, ramps, and fennel. But I’m always worried that I might mistake a ramp for a bulb of death camas. The name tells us all we need to know.
Although I hate the word “foodie,” I’ll admit that I buy into the exclusivity that the name implies. Taste defines any dietary regimen I might adopt and, therefore, there are foods I prefer not to eat.
Just a couple of weeks ago I ate a corn dog. For seventy-one years I had avoided this abomination that seems most at home at county fairs and gas stations, places I don’t usually considering as dining choices. But it was what was for a dinner I hadn’t planned or prepared. It wasn’t exactly horrible, although I could easily have gone another seventy-one years without eating one. Give me a kosher hot dog with mustard, relish, sport peppers, onions, tomatoes and celery salt on a poppy seed bun any day of the week.
Although I’m in that minority of diners who likes Brussels sprouts, I could easily pass on ever having broccoli again. It goes from woody at the stem to mushy at the floret. And it’s almost impossible to deliver a serving to the table and keep warm.
I find kale to be disgusting, although I love Belgium endive, watercress, escarole, and frisee.
Let’s save a discussion about okra for another day. And peanut butter. And tofu. And…
Photo illustration by Courtney A. Liska
This was a popular dessert at my restaurant, Adagio, for my entire 12-year run. It’s gluten-free and not too sweet.
4 oz. unsalted butter, cut into pieces; more softened for the pan
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate (60% to 70% cacao), coarsely chopped
1-1/2 cups almond flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 Tbs. dark rum
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
6 large eggs
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 350°. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform cake pan.
Combine the chocolate and butter in a large bowl set in a saucepan over barely simmering water. Stir occasionally until melted and smooth, about 5 minutes. Remove the bowl from the skillet and set aside.
Mix the almond flour and 1/4 cup of the sugar. Stir into the chocolate along with the rum and vanilla.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl using a hand-held electric mixer), combine the remaining 1/2 cup sugar with the eggs and salt. Beat on medium-high speed until tripled in volume and the lifted beater leaves a ribbon on the surface of the mixture, about 5 minutes.
Using a rubber spatula, fold the chocolate-almond mixture into the eggs until no streaks remain.
Transfer the batter to the prepared pan. Bake until the top is set, 25 to 30 minutes. Check with a clean toothpick. Cool on a rack for 30 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pan, and remove the side. Use a large, lightly oiled spatula to carefully transfer the cake to a serving plate. Cool completely before slicing and serving, topped with whipped cream and/or a fruit compote.