Friday, May 14, 2010

A Picky Eater Heads West for a Food Adventure

Warning: Long, rambling examination of a culinary belly button along with more of my famous pointless anecdotes ahead.

My dear TERP Muffins, I will be briefly taking a week's leave of you while I head out to Jackson Hole Wyoming for a week. I'll be scoping out the scenery and the wildlife in Yellowstone and Grand Teton by day, and hope to be discovering new culinary adventures by night.

I've never been to this part of the country before and don't know much about the local cuisine. I do know that there is plenty of wild game to be had. Right now I embrace the adventure. But once upon a time, the idea of eating all sorts of unfamiliar ruminants and their cousins would have scared me, or more accurately, grossed me out.

I didn't grow up eating game. No one in my family hunts. I don't have any hunting friends. Animal lover that I am, I had issues with eating my furry forest friends. I was no dumb kid. From a young age I knew where my food came from, and I had no pretension about the loveable farm animals I was eating. Somehow it never bothered me the way the idea of shooting Bambi or Thumper and carving them up for dinner did. It's just hard to accept things that you're not exposed to.

As I grew older I realized the hypocrisy of saying one animal was too "cute" to eat, and realized that it was no less ethical to eat something caught in the wild than one that was raised on the farm. (On some levels, it's more ethical. What's more "free-range" than something that ran wild in the woods?) My issues related more to issues of simple taste. I know I'm a picky eater. Would I be able to handle meats that were "gamey," that didn't taste as if they were raised to be consumed by humans?

This was reinforced when I was in high school. I went on a school-sponsored trip to Italy. On our last night there, we ate at a rustic restaurant outside of Milan where the food was served family style. On the table was a huge platter of grilled meat on the bone. I assumed it was chicken. I took a piece and began snarfing it down only to find it tasted kind of funny. I kept eating it because my brain kept wanting to believe it was chicken. My taste buds were telling me otherwise. I didn't enjoy it much.

After the dinner was over, some of the adults in our group were wondering exactly what that plate of "roasted game" was. Some said quail. Some said rabbit. As I tried quail years later (more on that to come) and liked it, I believe what I ate that night in Italy was rabbit. I know rabbit is very popular in Italy. At least I can say that I come by my dislike or rabbit honestly and not because of some prejudice against eating cute widdle fwuffy bunnies.

My attitude began to change for two reasons over the years. Thanks to both some postive experience and just plain old logical thinking, I have become more adventurous.

My brother-in-law may be an extremely picky eater (if my husband is Sir Pickypants, his brother is King Pickypants and his son is Prince Pickypants) but I can give him some credit to opening to the gates to a better palate. You see, for many years, my mother-in-law had a winter place in Florida and the family would often congregate down there at Christmas time. Kevin and I always stayed in more modest hotels, but his brother stayed in the swanky Turnberry Isle.

For events like New Year's Eve and Christmas Eve, he would treat the family to dinner in Turnberry's fancy restaurant. One Christmas Eve I had been less than thrilled with the choices on the menu. I could have fish, fish, fish, steak, or a mixed grill. I wasn't in the mood for steak. The mixed grill included quail. I thought, "What the heck. I like duck. Why not quail?" The quail was pretty good. It reinforced that I likely ate rabbit in Italy and that unusual game birds were not out of the question.

The following year we were there for New Year's Eve. This time it was a set, multi-course menu. That night I tried my first Beluga caviar (not impressed), my first foie gras (I had avoided it for years for the same ethical reasons I had stopped eating veal in high school - it was complete crossover to the dark side that night), and my first venison. I remember what it was like cutting into that venison for the first time. What would it be like? What would it taste like? After taking my first cautious bite, I found it wasn't all that different from beef. Maybe it was the wine talking (every course had a wine pairing and the venison was course 4) but nothing tasted unpleasantly strange. The scary food wasn't so scary.

Those two experiences made me just more self aware about my food preferences. I thought for years that I am a picky eater because I don't like seafood. It's true. I can't eat anything I feel tastes remotely "fishy". Fishiness doesn't bother many people, and some people find that mild fishiness is pleasant, or they don't even detect it. I do. I just assumed if I didn't like "fishy", I wouldn't like "gamey." But what is gamey? Many people have told me they dislike foods such as lamb or duck because they're gamey. I love lamb. I love duck. (My love of duck is well noted after all.) I think pheasant tastes like chicken. Just because I don't like fish doesn't mean I'm going to hate any animal not traditionally raised on farms.

This trip is a real "Bucket List" trip for Kevin. It is a belated gift to himself for his big birthday last year (I have a big birthday this year and my Bucket List trip is in the works and quite different from this one). He has every detail for this trip in place, including the restaurants he wants to try. These places offer bison (which I've tried), elk, venison, and wild boar. I say, BRING IT ON! (Well, maybe not the Rocky Mountain oysters though).

I'm still not too sure about the rabbit thing though. Did I dislike it because it wasn't chicken, or did I just dislike it? I'm willing to taste it again, but wouldn't order it in a restaurant.

Can't wait to talk about my adventures - culinary and otherwise - when I come back.


The Blonde Duck said...

We're awaiting your return!

Ali said...

I've never had rabbit but I do enjoy duck!

Bellini Valli said...

Have a great time in Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. Don't miss the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and the hike to the bottom.

Donna-FFW said...

Have a BLAST!!!

Lo said...

Oh, I love your stories. And I'm always glad to hear how others came to expand their palates. Good stuff.

Not sure what to say on the topic of rabbit, except that I think you might want to try it again sometime. I always think rabbit tastes a great deal like chicken... even moreso than pheasant. I do think there's something to how the rabbit was raised... it might sound bad but happy rabbits, well, they just taste better.