I’m a recovering picky eater. From the time I started eating solid food until I was 16, I rarely strayed from the following list of foods:
Pop-Tarts (brown sugar cinnamon)
Peanut butter and apple butter sandwiches (white bread; crusts cut off)
Hard boiled eggs
Note that this list does not contain any vegetables or fruits beyond orange juice. This is not a typo.
During the summer after my junior year in high school, I was lucky enough to spend a couple of weeks in France, first living with a French family
and then biking around with a group of American students.
I went from picky eater to omnivore in the nanosecond after the mother in the French family put the first dinner in front of me and it became clear that not eating was not an option. She also tried to convert me to Catholicism and to convince me that I showered too often. I won the former; the latter was a draw — I was permitted approximately three hard-fought-for showers per week.
Still, I loved being an omnivore, and spent the rest of the trip enjoying my newly-expanded food vocabulary — especially in the bread, cheese, and pastry categories — which was causally connected to my newly-expanded waistline. If memory serves, my mother had to meet me at the airport in New York with a larger pair of pants.
I was even more of an omnivore during my travel in Asia. The food in Taiwan is spectacular — from banquets to road-side stands — and saying no to a dish is a major insult to the host[ess], so I ate almost anything. Highlights: turtle; sea slug; thousand-year-old egg.
I still eat almost everything — with the startling exception of fruit — but given that I never learned to cook, my day-to-day diet is just the grown-up version of my childhood menu. In other words, I don’t cook; I permutate.
Buitoni cheese tortelinni
Grilled red peppers
Near East curry couscous
Annie’s Shiitake Sesame Salad Dressing
These ingredients yield a number of permutations which constitute dinner most nights of the week. For example:
Pasta: tortellini, olive oil or pesto
Pasta couscous:* tortellini, coucous, olive oil.
Pasta salad: lettuce, tortelinni, olives, peppers, coucous, dressing.
Steak salad: lettuce, steak, olives, peppers, coucous, dressing.
Steak fajitas: tortilla, steak, lettuce, olives, peppers, basil, dressing.
Steak sandwich: bread, steak, lettuce, peppers, basil, mustard.
Chicken curry stir-fry: chicken, curry sauce, peppers.
Chicken salad, fajitas, or sandwich: you get the picture.
My mother is prone to quote her favorite cookbook that it’s easier to get new friends than to learn new dishes. I’m at least blessed with friends who are comfortable with predictability . . . and carry-out!
* Yes, I know couscous is technically a pasta. I’m a big fan of carb combos like this. For example, one of my favorite foods in the world is shao-biing you-tyau, a/k/a shao-bing yu-tiao** a Chinese breakfast that consists of a strip of deep-fried dough inside a baked sesame roll.
** I first learned Chinese at the Middlebury language school in the summer of 1979, when for whatever reason they used a romanization system called Gwoyeu Romatzyh. GR has two notable features: it makes more sense than any other romanization system; and it doesn’t appear to have been taught anywhere else in the US besides Middlebury in the late 70s. I have tried to learn Pinyin, the system that both Chinese school children and American students of Chinese have been using since about 1979, but it just blends with GR in my head into an idiosyncratic romanization that makes sense to absolutely no one but me.