My taste buds have been through a lot in my 43 years.
When I was little, I loved Ho Ho’s and licorice.
I was an East Coast middle class kid in the 1970s and actually, I loved all things food. Tuna casseroles with a potato chip crust, chicken stew, home made chocolate pudding, tapioca, spaghetti and meatballs—I wanted it all.
At 6 I developed a passion for raw oysters, steamed lobster, and fried clams with the squishy gooey black bellies and fresh tartar sauce. I loved the seafood accouterments as much as the seafood; three bean salad, boiled corn with real butter and salt, cucumber salad with sour cream and dill and Waldorf salad packed with mayo, walnuts and red delicious apples.
When I was eight, we moved to England, and my willing palate embraced such things as kippers (cured herring you fry up in hot oil) for breakfast, Orange squash (a predecessor to Sunny D which tasted like vaguely orange flavored tap water), pork pie, Cadbury Cream Eggs (then unavailable in the US), whole milk in glass bottles and Cornish game hens. I was disturbed by the lack of a decent pizza or grinder, but I had fish ‘n chips doused in vinegar and wrapped in newspaper to console me until our return to the States when I was 10.
By the time I moved to New York after college, I was ready to try anything. Back then, foods we consider common now in middle America were just making themselves known. I was all in.
Sashimi? Bring it on, with extra wasabi and pickled ginger. Caviar and chilled vodka served by stoic Russian men in crisp tuxes? Yes, please. Squid ink linguine and home made gnocchi with a little wine from Montalcino? I’ll take a table by the window.
And don’t even get me started on egg creams, real pierogis, good bagels with smoked salmon, thin crust pizza from Original Rays (or Two Boots for something a bit more avant garde), the hummus plate at Yaffa Cafe’ and anything at Dojo or Zen Palate.
(Oh my God, I miss New York.)
Oddly, with all this love of food, I had no idea how to cook.
I began to putter around and discovered I had a knack. What fun! Now I could make my own exotic dishes. I went vegetarian, and then vegan and figured out how to make vegetables soak in all the international flavors I’d grown to adore. Never one to shy away from spice, I loaded on the hot madras curry, the Sriracha hot sauce, the ancho chili powder and more.
So imagine my surprise when recently, I took a bite of my own home made guacamole spiked with serrano chilis plus the seeds, and my eyes filled with tears of pain. These must be some supersonic serranos, I thought.
Then, a few days later I put together a beautiful Moroccan stew with cinnamon, cumin, turmeric and lots of cracked black pepper. I took a little taste, and again, those tears. My lovely broth had set my mouth on fire. What was happening to me?
It was the same with everything I ate. My roasted vegetables with red pepper flakes made my throat burn. A dash of horseradish on my vegan meat loaf—agony.
And it wasn’t just spicy things, it was sweet things too. Suddenly my morning smoothie made my teeth ache from the sugar in the fruit. My chia seed pudding tasted like pure honey and an innocent piece of vegan chocolate made me nauseous.
If I were younger, I’d think I might be pregnant—but there’s no chance of that. Is this the new state of affairs in my mouth? Have I used my taste buds so fearlessly that they are now, in their old age, giving out on me?
Are my taste buds going through menopause?
I have no idea what’s going on, but if it continues I will have to make some major changes. I expect I will become a connoisseur of the subtle; miso broths, purified water and undressed micro greens will be my thing. Perhaps I’ll even become a raw foodie, the kind of person who eats a slice of raw cucumber with a dot of lemon juice and is in heaven.
After all these years of sensory overload, that might not be a bad thing. As I age, I find the simplest things in life are the most pleasurable—perhaps my taste buds are just catching up to the rest of me.
Either way, the food I eat continues to reflect the evolving person that I am, and for that I am grateful. It is so endlessly fascinating to be human on this good green earth.
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Editor: Catherine Monkman