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Picky Kid to Adventurous Palate

     It's the day after Thanksgiving, so what better time for a Munchies post? A couple weeks ago, I ate sea urchin, not for the first time. And I liked it. A little Uni sandwich from Toro restaurant in Boston. I also ate a lot of other things there, all of it Spanish and delicious and perfectly plated. If you had told 11 year old Maria that someday she would eat sea urchin and like it, that she would order things she could barely pronounce off a menu and enjoy every bite, that, as an adult, she would try any food just once, just in case it turned out to be something she liked, she would have said: "no way, no how, you're crazy, bring me my mac & cheese!"
      That last statement is not an exaggeration. Baby Maria would be absolutely APPALLED at the things I eat as an adult. Back then, if it wasn't pizza, spaghetti, mac & cheese, or mashed potatoes, I was having none. of. it. I would suffer through peas and corn, and maybe carrots because my mom always made sure we had the usual protein/starch/veggie meal model. But a salad? No way.

My idol, Leslie Knope (Pinterest.com)
      I think it's safe to say that most kids are picky eaters, and in my experience with friends' children, I can attest to this. Although, I once babysat a little girl who loved broccoli and green peppers at age 3, so clearly there are exceptions. Did baby you or do your kiddos like veggies? Still, looking back on it as an adult, on all the trash I ate and all the delicious things I missed out on, makes my heart hurt.  I spent years hating mushrooms, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and most fish that wasn't in breaded stick form. Our taste buds grow and evolve as we become adults, but I'm also super grateful to my parents for making me try things. The rule at our dinner table (we had dinner together basically every night, which I am also very grateful for) was "you can't say you don't like something until you have tried it." This created a lot of Table Turmoil© for my parents, I'm sure, because I can remember it often ending in protest. I have vivid memories of sitting at the dinner table, arms crossed and face wrinkled in front of a mostly clean plate with a pile of veggies and refusing to eat. We also used to have to asked to be excused from the table (my parents were old school) and I wasn't going to be excused until I at least tried the veggies. A 5-year-old Maria stale-mate.

     I would finally get bored and frustrated and pick up the *tiniest* bite with my fork or spoon and chew it with the front of my teeth so as to not let it touch my tongue at all and then swallow it very fast. Sometimes, I got away with this, but often I did not. "A real bite. and give it a chance!" Mom would say and I would heave a sigh of a tortured 5 year old soul who thought her life was over, and try a "real bite." Basically, I was this cat:

    
 Sometimes, I would actually like what I tried. Often, I kept this to myself, because I knew even then that that meant my protest had been for nothing and mom was right and I wasted everyone's time and I could not have that. I tried to use it to my advantage the next time it was served by eating the particular food I once hated and declaring: "Look! I cleaned my plate! Can I have dessert?!" Friends, I was a weird kid. This isn't new information to me. 
 
     As an adult, I can also look back at the socioeconomics of my eating habits (!!nerd alert!!). You'll learn more about my humble upbringing as this blog develops, but money was tight. We were on food stamps for much of my childhood if not the whole thing. My parents used to shop at the Wholesale Depot (before it was BJ's Wholesale...who else remembers that?!) and I have such fond memories of shopping there. I'd hop in the cart with dad pushing, or walk next to it when I was older, and get so excited at the free samples (ya girl never outgrew this part; I love a free sample!). Knowing what I know now as an adult, I realize this was a money-saving move. (I'm sure it also had a lot to do with my dad growing up with nothing and being scared of running out. More on his pack-rat ways another time). Buying toilet paper and ground beef and mac & cheese in bulk was cheaper. Mom and/or dad always had a calculator with them at every store. I also delighted in punching the numbers in as they'd tell me the cost of something. I should be better at math after all that! To me as a kid, shopping wholesale and adding up each purchase were games, and were things I assumed most families did as a general rule. It always felt fun to me. Now I know just how necessary it was to count each dollar and get the most bang for our buck. Poverty informed the process of shopping as well as what we ate: Hamburger and Tuna Helper, cans of soup, Rice a Roni, pasta & sauce, mac & cheese. So many carbs and processed foods- but all of them cheap. Maybe I would have been picky either way, but I know our tough financial circumstances had a lot to do with my picky palate.

*Not the actual Wholesale Depot, which apparently still exists in some states! 

     It is important for me to note though, that I had glimmers of adventurousness in my eating habits back then due to my dad's ethnicity. He was born in Budapest, Hungary. I have some of his cookbooks, all in Hungarian, though he did start to translate some for me before he died. He was always in the kitchen, and cooking food from his childhood and sharing it with us brought him a lot of joy. A favorite in the summer was a cold cherry soup known as Meggyleves. The closest recipe I can find to dad's is here; his recipe is for me. Sorry not sorry. I know that a soup of cherries and sour cream might not sound appetizing, and soup is supposed to be hot, but this will blow your mind. It's the perfect dinner on one of those screaming hot & humid August days. And don't even try to make  or buy me Hungarian Goulash. Dad's is the best forever. I once ordered some in a restaurant and uttered the phrase "this is not the Goulash of my people." It seems insane that the same picky kid who wouldn't go near anything out of her comfort zone would enjoy sour cherry soup and Goulash (which has veggies, y'all!) but it was dad's food. He made it special, and he asked me to help him make it. I wanted  to try it. I'll be forever grateful to him for encouraging me to dip a toe into adventurous eating. 

     Now, there are few foods I won't eat. I'm not wild about Indian food (though people keep telling me I just haven't found the dish I like yet; I'll keep trying), I can't stand olives and sweet pickles make me want to murder things (pickles should be dill or sour, fight me). But over all, I'll try any food. I love eating, I love cooking & baking, and I love the stories behind the food. I'm so thankful for the "try it" rule (which I am trying to institute with the picky bonus kid) and my dad's insistence on sharing his native cuisine with us. I understand how fortunate I am now to be able to buy, cook & eat the foods I want, and that I can shop at BJ's because I want to, not because I have to. I don't carry a calculator to the grocery store, but I do sometimes keep a running total in my head out of habit. It's not lost on me that I'm very lucky now. Each year, especially around the holidays, I make it a point to donate to a food pantry; I know the simultaneous joy and relief (and sometimes, though unnecessary, shame) of opening the front door and having boxes of free food delivered to you from your church or a local agency. I try to give that feeling back to other families. So, if you ever need a meal, are curious about sour cherry soup (expand your palates, my loves!), or can't afford milk, let me know. <3

Love,
Maria


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