The other day I got a yen for Chex Mix. I bought a commercial version and spent the evening digging the Chex out of the tangle of oddly shaped cracker doodles, teeny toasts and other stuff. The only thing I like is the little basket-weave cereal squares that soak up the butter and Worcestershire and seasoning salt. The other stuff is dreck to me.
So the next day I went back to the store, bought three boxes of the different Chex cereals and made an all-Chex Mix. Then I had to take it over to a friend’s house so I wouldn’t eat it all.
This is one thing I love about cooking: I can make things just the way I like them. Pizza topped with marinated artichoke hearts, goat cheese, mozzarella and never under any circumstances poorly made red sauce. Teri chicken with hot rice and sauteed corn kernels because somehow those three go together for me. Salads made of roasted vegetables or tomatoes, cucumbers and feta or any other combination I like because the day I left my mother’s house I swore that iceberg lettuce would never cross my lips again. (I reneged when Wedge Salads made a comeback but I’m still not crazy about the stuff). Raw onions? Not in my kitchen (they give me a headache).
Unlike a member of my family who shall remain nameless but never leaves anyone in doubt about how they feel about a given food, making a face and exclaiming “Yuck!” when something they don’t like is mentioned, I don’t make a big deal out of my preferences. I don’t believe foods are bad just because I don’t happen to like or understand them. But I don’t apologize for not liking them, either.
I’ll eat oysters but they don’t thrill me. I suppose as a so-called “gourmet” I ought to be ashamed of having so pedestrian a palate that I prefer a really great hamburger to Oysters Rockefeller, but there it is.
The first time I tasted Chardonnay, I sent it back. I didn’t complain, was perfectly willing to pay for the bottle but I just didn’t like it and didn’t want to drink it. I remember being quite impressed that the restaurant, Genoa in Portland, Ore., still one of the finest Italian restaurants in the country, didn’t charge me.
As a food writer and restaurant critic of 30-plus years, I long ago came to understand that dining is the most subjective of arts. I understand in my head, for example, that some people love natto (fermented soybeans) but I can’t go there. Didn’t grow up eating it. Don’t understand it. No offense meant.
On the other hand, I didn’t grow up eating pesto but I loved it the moment it first passed my lips. Ditto hummous, Indonesian sate with peanut sauce, Vietnamese summer rolls, British pork pies (but NOT steak and kidney pie, I’m afraid). Who can explain personal taste?
I’ve heard there are people who don’t like some of my favorite foods. (My mother and my best friend both hate fresh tomatoes, for example. I eat them almost every day.) Even if I think at times that they’re deluded I’d never tell them so. While a palate can be educated by exposure to a variety of flavors and textures, when it comes down to it, you only have the taste receptors God gave you. You may just have been born, like me, without the Chardonnay gene.
My mother thinks fish of any kind (except canned tuna) tastes foul. Doesn’t matter how you prepare it, she’ll have none of it. That doesn’t make fish bad or her wrong.
But it makes it a Good Thing that she gets to be the Mom and cook just what she likes in her own house. Like me.