Monday, March 10, 2008

The Picky Eaters Club

My daughter Cynthia didn't start out life as a picky eater. At eight months, she gobbled down Gerbers like it was gelato. Later, she snacked on canned green beans as if they were wands of licorice. She moved on to devour raw, whole carrots ala Bugs Bunny. "What's up doc?" we'd tease.

But after she turned three, she became a notoriously picky eater. I used to joke that there were only five foods on the planet that she would eat, but we could only afford three of them. Her palate has expanded only slightly since then. And we can still only afford two of her favorite foods, crab and filet mignon, on special occasions.

Not so with me. Except for a brief stage when I didn't like my foods touching, I have never been a fussy eater. Food didn't have to be perfect - it just had to be good and plentiful. I loved to consume mass quantities of food, and, for a few decades, I could get away with it. I'm the only person I know who consistently went back for seconds at her college cafeteria. (I still dream about those Southern-style grits and gravy.) After college in South Carolina, I moved from West Virginia to California where a whole new world of food options opened up - Mexican, Japanese, Thai, Indian, Vietnamese. I couldn't get enough of it.

But now I've finally entered the stage I bypassed as a toddler. I've become a picky eater. Or perhaps it's more correct to say that I'm a particular eater. The old Susan was discriminating but pragmatic. If the eggs were slightly overcooked or the chicken Tikki Masala a little sweet, it didn't matter. And, from the way I would clean my plate, noone would guess that the food didn't meet my standards. These days, after a few unenthusiastic bites of sub-par food, I put down my fork.

It's now official: I'm a member of the picky eaters club. If the temperature and freshness aren't just right, I'm guaranteed to turn into a dining diva. Here are a few of my "rules":

  • Hot foods must be served hot and cold foods must be cold. There's nothing worse than lukewarm soup or room-temperature salad.
  • Sushi and sashimi must be neither hot nor cold. The sushi rice should be room temperature and the fish slightly cool, not cold. That's why prepackaged sushi is a no-can-eat.
  • All of the foods on a hot plate should be the same temperature. When we were in Seattle last week, we ordered breakfast out one morning. The sausage was hot, the toast and hash browns were warm, and the eggs were cold, making the entire plate inedible. My hat (and wig) is off to Russell's, the Pasadena restaurant that always gets the temperature right.
  • Bread or pastries should never be refrigerated. That's why I'll only eat cream puffs from Beard Papa's, where they don't fill the pastry with cream until the customer orders. And I won't touch those expensive, refrigerated sandwiches at Starbuck's.
  • A donut is only edible within two hours out of hot oil. Say what you like about KrispyKreme , but you can't beat the freshness. George, on the other hand, has a "There's no such thing as a bad (or stale) donut" motto.
  • A French baguette should be consumed within eight hours out of the oven. An eight-minute time frame is preferable and always possible at Lee's Sandwiches. (And at 99 cents a baguette, you can't beat the price.)
  • Unless home-made or from Europane, muffins should be outlawed. I recently attended a media event where giant Costco muffins were served. We could still see the tell-tale discarded cardboard box with hermetic plastic seal in the nearby trash can. Does anyone actually like these bloated baked goods?
Now that the culinary cat is out of the bag, it may be less of a mystery as to why I'm having trouble gaining weight.

And I feel it only fair to warn you: I've developed the annoying habit of criticizing the food on other diners' plates, a no-no that is more taboo than prepackaged sushi or Costco muffins.

What are YOUR food turnoffs?


Emily said...

Blech, I agree with you about the Costco muffins. Although, Will loves carrot ginger muffins from Trader Joe's. I don't mind feeding them to him- sweetened with apple juice and they're high in fiber. I consider him to be a pretty picky eater. Like Cindy, I think he has his five. 1. yogurt 2. crackers 3. fruit ... hm? Maybe only 3?! I am picky about pancakes, waffles, and pastries. I never order these out and always pass any time they're being served.

Btw, I think we should make a trip to Bob's for our favorite biscuits and gravy when we're in WV!

Unknown said...

I am astounded by the oversized portions served at so many restaurants. If the portions were more realistic, there would be a lot less waste.

Susan C said...

Em, Consider it a date for biscuit and gravy!

Unknown said...

Hi Susan,

I couldn't agree with you more about hot soup. I've returned many a bowl to a kitchen, iknowing it might be further ruined by microwaving, but...what price hot soup. Ditto with tea -- had to do that at the Raymond high tea service. The cups were so cold, the lukewarm tea inside rapidly cooled to icy temperature. Whatever happened to individual teapots? Well, if ye ask, ye shall receive, but should one have to ask?

Susan C said...

I'm really disappointed to hear that the Raymond didn't serve tea properly, especially with what you have to pay for their high tea.