Tempra’s Food Profile
Ancestry: Russian and Romanian Jews on my mom’s side
Food History: Became a vegetarian for three years after reading Diet for a New America while in college. Fell off the wagon one fateful Thanksgiving (there’s a photo of me fervidly gnawing a turkey drumstick with glazed over eyes). Spice rack always includes cumin, coriander, smoked paprika, and turmeric. Doubles the garlic in any recipe. Chico’s Spice Creek is favorite local restaurant.
Current Favorite Recipes: A short-cut Chicken Marbella (it requires no overnight marinating) and North Indian Chicken with Spinach and Mushrooms (from Sunset magazine).
Not a Fan: Raw oysters; duck; green beans (it’s a long story involving the slimy frozen variety that barely resembled anything edible and torturous hours as a child left sitting at the dinner table while everyone else watched t.v.)
David’ Food Profile
Ancestry: English, Irish and German (in his words: “Euro-mutt”)
Food History: Became adept at hiding food in his napkin, or under the ledge of the dining room table, to be found later by his mom. Alternately wretched and starved while traveling through the Ukraine as a 20-something (no way to hide food in the napkin while staying with his host family—“you’ll have another serving of the fish head…eat, eat!”).
Favorite Foods: Most fruits; mac and cheese; pizza; peanut butter, eggs and homestyle potatoes.
Not a Fan: Where do I start?
When David and I first started dating, I had a deep-seated urge to feed him that I can only explain by way of “apples not falling far from their trees.” When I was a kid in San Diego, we would visit my Jewish Gramma, who lived alone in her tiny one bedroom condo in Leisure World in Long Beach. Though she was long past the age where she cooked much, the first thing she’d do when we walked in the door was go to her fridge and find something for us to eat. It wasn’t like we drove all night and weren’t about to go out to lunch within a half hour of our arrival. But for some reason, my Gramma had it in her head that no one would starve on her watch. She usually had a half a corned beef sandwich from the Jewish deli to share, or some roles, and the ubiquitous dill pickles. If we went out to lunch and there were not dill pickles placed on the table within minutes of our seating, my Gram was grumbling. But I digress (I miss my Gram).
So I asked David early on if there were any foods that he didn’t eat. “Oh, I eat everything!” was his quick and emphatic response. I’ve often repeated this to him, and it sticks in my mind so strongly because it is so contrary to the truth, which I discovered right away. On our first real date (beyond hitting tennis balls together at the public park, where he’d spotted me…that’s another blog), I wanted to share a light supper before going to an early concert. It was fall, the summer vegetables were waning, and the root veggies were coming on. So I went for homemade carrot soup, crusty bread, and a beet and goat cheese salad.
When I told my mom about this plan over the phone, she audibly gasped. “You are NOT going to feed him beet salad!!!” To her, that sounded like absolute torture. My mom is also a somewhat picky eater with a limited range (think: Midwesterner). To her, beets just taste like dirt. Plus they are messy and stain things. What, really, is the point of their existence? I could also hear my stepdad in the background, “She’s making him dinner on the first date???!!” OK, so maybe it was a little forward. And presumptuous.
He was polite—you’d have to be, first date and all. But he dawdled with the soup a bit too long. Picked at the salad. The bread disappeared quite fast. He did compliment the bread—the one part of the meal I didn’t actually make. I brushed this off. OK, it wasn’t the manliest of meals. I’ll cop to that. I plotted my next opportunity. Chicken enchiladas maybe? Fish tacos?
A few days later, he invited me to stop by his ceramics studio. I offered to bring lunch. I stopped by Upper Crust to pick up some pre-made smoked turkey with garlic aioli on ciabatta, one of my favorites out of their case at that time. What I didn’t know was David’s abhorrence of mayonnaise. These were, admittedly, somewhat slathered in the aioli (primary ingredient: mayo). I think David choked down a few swallows before giving up. I confronted him.
“Oh. You don’t like your sandwich?”
“I’m sorry, I forgot to mention that I don’t like mayonnaise.”
“Darn, I wished I knew that ahead of time. Hmm, what else don’t you like?”
A lot, as it turns out. David’s “no” list includes the following:
- Mayo, mustard, ketchup, salad dressing, sour cream, guacamole, anything with vinegar in it…basically all condiments except soy sauce and salsa (mild) in small quantities.
- Spices (particularly those used in Indian and Asian cuisine).
- What he calls “slimy vegetables,” including winter squash and pumpkin (except in pie), summer squash, mushrooms, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, eggplant, radishes, turnips, bell peppers, onions (except in very small quantities, minced), avocado, arugula, sweet potatoes/yams. (Excitingly, I’ve gotten him to come around to grated raw beets in salad and juiced beets!)
- Crab and most other shellfish (shrimp excepted, except that I can no longer feel good about buying shrimp since it’s unsustainable).
To get to the bottom of it all, I created a chart to test David’s food sensitivity. Here’s a sample:
As time went on, though, I discovered plenty of foods that David will eat (the Chicken Marbella being one of them), and he loves my cooking. I know what I can include and what to omit, and I’ll make condiments or sides in one-serving amounts just for me (such as guacamole). Sometimes though I just crave a good Thai or Indian curry. I save up for times he is out of town and then I cook up a weekend’s worth of mushy vegetables like a madwoman.
Ethnic cuisine is dangerous territory for David (weird spices, weird vegetables). Case in point: 10-Day Silent Meditation Retreat at the California Vipassana Center. We decided to embark on this little adventure together and it was a wonderful experience. Men and women are of course separated for the duration of the course, so it wasn’t until afterwards that I got to ask David how he felt about the meals. They were completely vegetarian—mostly vegan—and consisted of only two meals a day—breakfast and lunch. He later described it as “Mushy Vegetables from Around the World.” I found it delicious. And, in fact, I have never felt so healthy. I lost seven pounds and vowed to keep that eating regimen, and the meditation, going. I did neither, and so I gained the weight back and remain unenlightened.
In the end, though, I’ve found the food differences to be no big deal. Yeah, some of my foodie friends have commented that my partner has the palate of a five-year-old. But as David will point out, taste is relative, and it cannot really be judged. You can’t like what you don’t like. You can’t tell me I am a plebeian because I don’t enjoy the feeling of rubbery, slimy raw oysters sliding down my throat. You can’t say one person’s taste for food is right and another’s is wrong.
But, really, not liking guacamole is just wrong.