Monday, August 25, 2008

The consequences of food choices (with a bonus recipe)

I'm not above engaging in silly time-wasting activities. I saw a friend had taken an on-line quiz about what kind of American English they spoke, so I took it (45% Yankee, 45% Average American, 10% Dixie). Then I wanted to find out "what my pizza says about me."

I was pretty curious what absurdities could be deduced from my answers. I like pizza without red sauce, extra cheese, mushrooms and sausage (if it's good, but the test didn't ask for that much specificity). I also like thin crust pizza, but honestly, if it isn't cooked in a wood fired oven or on my own pizza stone, I'd prefer a different kind of crust. I would guess that what I just wrote would classify me as one of those dreaded "elites", along with the fact that I like arugula. I prefer micro-brewery beer to wine, but that's mostly because I can't afford really good wine (and yes, I can tell the difference). Another piece of evidence that I am indeed a bit of a snob. If offered a Pabst or wine from a box, I will decline. I can't say the same for pizza. I'll eat pretty much any kind of pizza, as long as it has no anchovies or pineapple on it.

Why am I writing about this when there are important things to write about? Well, a lot of fuss has been made about Obama's eating preferences, which are seen as vaguely un-American. He's picky. I've been accused of that myself, as if I'd prefer to starve than eat spam. No, if I was indeed starving, I'd eat spam (though it occurs me that I've never tried it, though I have tried scrapple). Unlike Obama, if you saw me, you'd see that I can't be that picky, for I could stand to lose weight.

I've left you hanging with the pressing question of the day: "What does my pizza say about me?" Here it is:

"People may tell you that you have a small appetite... but you aren't under eating. You just aren't a pig.

You are a very picky pizza eater. Not any pizza will do. You fit in best in the Northeast part of the US.

Your taste in food tends to favor what's rich and comforting. You prefer food that will definitely satisfy you.

You are generous, outgoing, and considerate with your choices.

You are cultured and intellectual. You should consider traveling to Vienna.

The stereotype that best fits you is guy or girl next door. Hey, there's nothing wrong with being average."

I doubt anyone has ever described me as "the girl next door". In fact, in an article published in a Lubbock, Texas newspaper, there was once a picture of me with the headline "Would you bring this girl home to meet your parents?" I kid you not.

I'm curious as to how my preferences in pizza added up to "cultured and intellectual". And do they serve my favorite pizza in Vienna? Oddly enough, my forebears were from Vienna, and one of my great-grandmothers was a pastry chef there. Though she used dough on a daily basis, I would bet my life savings (not much, I'm afraid) that she never used any for pizza.

It's true I like rich and homey food, in spite of liking arugula. The way I like arugula the best is with pasta. Here's a wonderful little recipe for you, if you like arugula (the amounts of all the ingrediants are up to you): Chop up a large bunch of arugula. Shred a good amount of Ricotta Fresca, or if you can't find that, combine one part large curd cottage cheese with one part feta cheese and mix them together. Cook up some pasta (your choice). After you drain the pasta, quickly throw it on plates, putting the cheese and arugula on top. Drizzle some good olive oil on it, if you want. To make it even tastier, use garlic infused olive oil. This stuff is over priced. Make it yourself. Buy some cheap olive oil and throw a bunch of garlic cloves (cut in half) into it. In a week, it'll be as good as the expensive stuff.

This is a first - a post about cooking! See, I'm not in the worst of moods! I do have a bit of a stomach ache from an overly rich meal I ate last night, however. I went, for the first time, to a popular local restaurant, "The Olde Mill Restaurant". The extra E on the word Old should have tipped me off to this place not being all that it was cracked up to be. It had the same fare as any typical Maine restaurant - lots of fried food (including huge piles of onion rings for two bucks) and a big pie menu. I ordered pot roast with mashed potatoes and carrots. THe entire plate was covered with a terribly dark brown gravy that smelled like "Gravymaster". I pushed that to the side and discovered that the pot roast was actually quite tasty. In spite of the pizza quiz, I am indeed a pig at times. I ate everything on my plate (plus quite a few onion rings). Of course, I paid dearly for my piggishness, and had a terrible night's sleep.

I rather wish I had gone somewhere where I could have had a good mesclun salad, but those places are overpriced around here. No wonder Americans are overweight. The cheaper the food, the higher the calories and the bigger the portions. Everyone knows this, so what have I got to add to it? I stopped eating at fast food restaurant years ago, but I do indulge in Coolatas, which must have at least a thousand calories in them.

Getting back to what my pizza says about me, I am assumed to be a Northeasterner (thin crust?) But how do they account for the "generous, outgoing and considerate with my choices"? How does food choice make one friendly, generous or outgoing?

I'll make some stabs at over-analyzing this bit of fluff. One can be generous in their choice of foods. If you're invited to someone's house and eat what they offer, regardless of whatever pickiness one might have (oh, say, vegetarianism or food allergies), one could be considered generous. Friendly? If, even as your eyes are swelling up due to eating an overabundance of whatever you're going into anaphalactic shock over, you say "Gee. That was great. Can I get the recipe?", you are indeed a friendly person, and quite considerate to boot. You're even more considerate if you don't put your hosts out by asking for a ride to the hospital for some epinephrine.

I don't have any serious food allergies and have ceased to be a vegetarian, so I have no reason to turn down any food I'm offered. Therefore, I have every opportunity to be friendly, considerate and generous when it comes to food choices.

Now I'll tell you a story that proves this isn't all in good fun. It hadn't occurred to me until now that I had an experience that gives all this nonsense some reality.

Years ago I was invited to a formal dinner party, something that is rare in these parts. The hostess asked me if I had any foods which I could not eat, which was truly considerate of her. I said I didn't much like fish and that I seemed to have a bad reaction to salmon, though while not an allergy, was more of a serious aversion. The smell of salmon makes me want to gag.

I showed up at the party, which had a few guests whom I knew the hostess was a bit nervous about. It was all very stiff and polite, everyone in their best clothes and making horrendously small talk.

The table was laid out beautifully and there were even name cards for the guests. First, a salad was served. Then came the main course: salmon.

I sat there politely with my plate of salmon, eating what was around it and trying not to breathe too deeply, but it started to become too much for me to bear. Without knowing it, I pushed the plate away from me. I didn't push it far. It was only about one or two inches further than where it should have been. But the hostess noticed. She asked me to come into the kitchen, where she asked me if there was something wrong. I told her that I had a problem with salmon, and very gingerly brought up that we may have had a misunderstanding, for I was sure I was clear about this when we had spoken about the dinner party. She declared she had no memory of it at all. I didn't see what the fuss was, really. There was plenty of other food, and it was lovely. I did ask if she minded if I removed the salmon from my plate and stuck to eating the side dishes. I returned to the table and told the other guests that I was allergic to salmon.

After dinner, the table was cleared and the hostess said that she was sorry to inform us that she was feeling poorly. She apologized for not serving any coffee, tea or dessert (which she indicated was something lovely), but she just had to go lay down. We all put on our coats and left.

About a week later I received a letter in the mail from this woman. It was four pages long. She told me she could no longer be my friend, for I had terrible manners. I had ruined her dinner party by rejecting her food and it had pained her so much, after all the trouble she had gone to, that she had taken ill and laid in a dark room for a few days. She said I had embarassed her in front of "important people" and would have to work hard to mend what I had done.

Who knew that my dislike of salmon could cause such distress? I must confess, there was a time I might have taken this letter to heart a bit for I used to be prone to terrible feelings of guilt, but this time I felt no such thing. I was rather outraged at being blamed for such neuroticism, even though I tend to be quite forgiving of other peoples' craziness (after all, I have much). But not this time. I wouldn't eat the salmon and I wasn't going to eat the blame. That was the end of the friendship.

On rare occasions I see this woman on the street. After more than fifteen years, she still will turn her back or cross the street to avoid me. Small town life is like that. There are people I would prefer not to see, too, but these awkward moments are over things that are bigger than a piece of salmon steak.

I daresay everyone is crazy in some way. It's just more obvious in some people than others. And I shouldn't be throwing stones, as they say. I mean this woman no harm by recounting this story, truly.

I just noticed that I thought I smelled salmon. Can one hallucinate smells? Perhaps I should think about the smell of a good pizza dough, cooking on a stone in a brick oven.

Painting note: Still Life with Stoneware Jug, Wine Glass, Herring, and Bread 1642
Pieter Claesz., Dutch, about 1597–1660

The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has a wonderful interactive site that includes "MFA Images: Feasts".

Addendum: I can't believe I'm still thinking about that pizza quiz. Since when was the "average girl next door" intellectual and cultured? We should be so lucky. Maybe we'd elect some better politicians if all us average folks liked thin crust, sauceless pizza with sausage and extra cheese. And, y'know, I've always wanted to go to Vienna. . .

Addendum #2: I felt rather uncomfortable that I had written about a person who lives in my area (and is still alive). I want to assure readers (and my friends) that this is an exceptional circumstance. I know for a fact (for reasons that would help disclose the identity of the person I wrote about) that the woman mentioned in this post will never read it, nor will anyone who could identify the "incident".

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