I have a new hero, and his name is Jeffrey Steingarten.
I've been reading Mr. Steingarten's first book, The Man Who Ate Everything
, which I enjoy immensely for its wit, appreciation of good food, and persistence in pursuing the capital-T Truth as it applies to eating. I don't always agree with his conclusions, but the rigor with which he tests commonly held food beliefs and the sheer extent of the crazy stuff he's willing to put himself through to find that elusive best way to make something truly impress me.
In fact, you can call me inspired.
As the introduction to his book relates, Mr. Steingarten was a Harvard-educated lawyer until 1989, when he became the food critic for Vogue
magazine. Like a good perfectionist, he worried that he couldn't properly uphold the responsibilities of his new job because he, like most of us, favored certain foods and didn't like others. To him, a food critic who doesn't appreciate all foods is like "an art critic who detests the color yellow." So he put his methodical lawyerly skills to work and designed a program to eliminate all his food prejudices. Within six months, he had taught himself to like or at least appreciate almost everything on his "most yucky" list, including kimchi (a Korean dish like a fermented spicy sauerkraut), anchovies, clams, lard, and Greek food.
Now as you can tell from the name, Auntie Fatcat is not the sort of person who needs to eat more. I already gladly eat more different foods than most people I know. I have only one serious food allergy to hold me back, and am not burdened with the ability to stay on any sort of healthy diet that bans particular foods. My husband's favorite neighborhood restaurant is the one that only offers six things, because he knows even I can decide what to order in less than ten minutes. Usually.
But I got myself to the Auntie Fatcat stage largely by eating too much of the many delightfully tasty things that are bad for me and not enough of the sadly yucky things that are good for me. So if I could follow in Mr. Steingarten's footsteps and develop a taste for more of the healthy things on my own yucky list, I could eat much better without changing the basic format of the only diet I can stick to: eating what I want, but choosing the healthiest of the appealing options.
So here are the six foods I'm going to try to teach myself to like this year:Cabbage.
I already kinda like sauerkraut, but since I mainly like it in the context of Reuben sandwiches and bratwurst hot dogs, it doesn't really count as healthy food. I'd like to like coleslaw because it's often the only vegetable choice in restaurants where it's served, and I'd like to not be picking the big purple things out of my salads. I'd also like to like the cooked version in things like stir fry, vegetarian casseroles, or those Vietnamese cabbage wrap things. But cooked cabbage smells like feet to me, so this is gonna be a tough row to hoe.Eggplant.
This is the biggest "Oh, please, no" food on my list. The only thing I like about eggplant is the color; the flavor and texture both gross me out. I have been known to like certain forms of baba ghanouj (a dip made from pureed smoked eggplant), but the ones I like best are the ones that are the least eggplanty. I'm hoping that my love of Italian food will help me out here (eggplant parmigiana, torta di polenta), or that cutting it into teensy, tiny pieces and mixing it with lots of other stuff will work.Cauliflower.
I've tried it in stir fry, I've tried it raw with onion dip, I've tried it deep-fried with tahini and lemon, and as my mother can confirm, I've tried it hidden in mashed potatoes. Nothing makes this thing taste good or feel okay in the mouth except pureeing the crap out of it and mixing it into a nice fennel and lemon soup with chive oil on top. And even that, my friends, is not good enough to be worth the effort of making it. I'm not sure how to approach this one, but will seek it out on menus and see how other people eat it.Brown rice.
This is on the list not because I actively dislike it--I actually like it better than white rice--but because I don't like it enough to choose it over less healthy starches like potatoes, bread, or pasta. Rice in general sets off a texture issue for me; I don't tend to like things that involve lots of little tiny thingies vaguely stuck together. Here I'm hoping to develop something like a risotto or paella that works with brown rice; the more sauce, the less thingy-like it feels. I'll also try working with 100% brown rice pasta, which probably isn't as healthy as the rice itself but is a step up from semolina pasta, and also edible by my wheat-free husband.Oranges.
I know, I know; who doesn't like oranges? I've known supposedly carnivorous cats
who like oranges. Even I like the flavor all right; I'll drink strained OJ and eat dishes with orange zest, like that yummy-spicy orange-peel beef. But citrus texture is another one that just makes me shudder. So this is all about finding a way to like the fruit itself. If I have to cheat and include tangerines and such, I will.Veganish curries.
Mr. Steingarten had a whole food category on his list, so I thought I should have one on mine. And people whose diets are disgustingly healthy always eat this stuff. Since college I have successfully taught myself to like curry, but mostly just the kind with a cream-based sauce over lamb or chicken. (Frankly, you have to work at it to make lamb taste bad to me.) So I'll be nibbling off the hubby's vegetable jalfrezi, channa masala, aloo gobi (counts as cauliflower, too!), and whatever else I can convince him to order. If they use a wee bit of butter so it's not strictly vegan, I'll look the other way; I need all the help I can get.
So if any of you have a great recipe featuring one of the above foods or know a restaurant in the Seattle area that does a particularly good job preparing them, please let me know. And if you want to be part of the support team that finishes off the rest of the plate after I've eaten as much of this stuff as I can stand, I'm taking volunteers. Progress reports will follow as the situation warrants.
Wish me luck.