Confessions of a picky palate

 

First, the good news:  I’m going to Ireland in October. Yay!

Northern Ireland map

I’ll be taking a bus from the Dublin airport to Belfast (in red). Pigeon Top is a bit west of Omagh (see right above “Northern”). Dublin is due south from Newry.

I will be spending most of the trip as a guest in the home of my dear friend Bernadette’s sister, Breda. Breda’s home is in tiny Pigeon Top near the city of Omagh, which is about 70 miles or so west of Belfast. Bernadette, who lives on the Isle of Man, will fly over to meet me in Belfast. We’ll rent a car to drive to Breda’s home. In addition to staying with Breda, I’ll meet more of Bernadette’s brothers and sisters and we’ll take day trips to visit places like the Giant’s Causeway and the Ulster Folk Museum.  Bernadette and I have talked about doing this for years and I’m so glad we’re finally going.

pigeon-top

A view from Pigeon Top in Northern Ireland

However, when I told my son Chris about our plans the other night he expressed grave concerns about me staying with Breda and Bernadette. Chris tends to be rather critical of me (in a loving manner), but it’s not without cause. Here’s why he’s worried:

Baby squash from Babies Ideas

This is how I still react to squash. Pic from Babies Ideas – thanks.

The bad news is that I’m an extremely picky eater. I have the palate of a cranky kindergartner. I wish I could tell you that I bravely suck it up and eat whatever is put before me whether I like it or not. But, no. No. I can’t do it. I think the years growing up when we had to sit at the kitchen table and finish a meal no matter what had an impact. I couldn’t quite understand the correlation between my dad having to eat ketchup sandwiches during the Depression and me gagging on liver and onions in 1958, but the logic was there somewhere, I guess. Wasting food, starving children in China, etc. Plus, Dad was a big and kind of scary guy when he was angry.

Usually I can hide my food phobias thanks to the variety of menu choices on offer when dining out. In the privacy of our homes, my close friends and family know which foods I won’t eat and, to be fair, my sister and brother are at least as picky as I am. Maybe worse. Planning a meal for a big family dinner is fraught with culinary land mines. Nothing made with milk for Bob. Nothing orange and mushy for Kate. Make sure Mom’s and Penny’s meat shows not one hint of pink. That’s just the beginning.

We like to think we’re normal, but my Chris is not afraid to laugh and point out that we’re not. After my own experience growing up, I decided not to force young Chris to eat things he didn’t like. As a result, he was never afraid to try new foods and now eats just about everything. I think it’s safe to say that his adventuresome palate is due in no small part to my enlightened parenting skills. (You’re welcome, Chris. Now stop making fun of me.)

Baby eggs New Kids Center

Eggs for breakfast? Oh nooooooo! Pic from New Kids Center – thanks.

Anyway, now I’m worried, too. That’s why I’m writing today. I am outing myself, admitting to everything I won’t eat. I’ll share this post with Bernadette and ask her to pass it along to my unsuspecting host, Breda. Here’s the deal, dear ladies – I decided it may be wiser to embarrass myself up front rather than sit at your table in October trying to figure out how to explain why I can’t eat a lovely meal that any normal person would enjoy.

It’s not you. It’s me. Boy, is it me. So here we go with the foods I won’t/can’t eat:

  • Eggs – in any shape or form. That’s right – not fried, scrambled, poached, hard-boiled – nothing. Eeuw.
  • Paul and Mary

    Dear ones, do you watch Paul and Mary on the Great British Baking Show? I love them. They would be ashamed of me. So ashamed.

    Mushrooms

  • Anything orange and mushy, which includes cooked squash, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, yams, etc.
  • Bananas (that includes banana bread, or any other baked good with bananas)
  • Asparagus
  • Liver
  • I love mild white fish like cod and halibut, but no salmon, mackerel, herring, etc.
  • Oysters (do I get points for loving octopus, though?)

I think that covers it. Embarrassing, but there you go.  I’m too old to be coy about this, guys. When I was in Ireland about ten years ago I went with my friends to a pub to grab some lunch. I ordered a BLT (bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich) and it was served with a fried egg plopped on top of the usual ingredients. What the . . . ?! I was horrified. What kind of monster would sneak a fried egg onto an innocent BLT, I ask you?

(And on a side note, as you may have guessed, I refused to touch the blood pudding or sausage or whatever it was that accompanied a hotel’s fried breakfast, the price of which was included with a night’s stay. Most folks rub their hands with glee at the sight of a hearty Irish breakfast. I ate the toast.)

Irish breakfast

This traditional Irish breakfast would send me screaming into the woods. Are those mushrooms near that triangle thing? Aargh!

So there it is, my friends. I might add, as soon as poor Breda gets a look at me she’ll wonder that I don’t eat everything, including the kitchen sink. I am not a wispy little lass by any stretch of the imagination. This body is what happens when someone chooses the

ArnoldThumbsDown

Yes, darling Breda and Bernadette! Send me to Omagh if you must!

cheeseburger over the seasonal pumpkin soup. Pancakes instead of an omelet. A Kit Kat rather than a banana.

Other than that, I hope you’ll find me to be a pleasant enough person, dear Breda. If not, feel free to boot me toward the nearest hotel in Omagh. I promise not to throw a toddler tantrum.

Bills with teeth

This week I went to a new dentist, recommended by my periodontist. The fact that I just referred to “my periodontist” should be your first clue that my relationship with my teeth has been a long, complicated, and expensive one.

You could start calling me Elizabeth, what with all the crowns in my mouth.

Ba da bum.

I’ve also treated myself to numerous root canals, extractions, and probably a place setting’s worth of silver that filled cavities from about age five on, only to later be removed and replaced with white(ish) composite fillings.

big laugh

Thankfully, this eliminated the blinding metallic glare that flashed from my mouth, particularly when laughing hysterically with friends at a bar.

But whether silver or white, when a tooth becomes more filling than, well, tooth, it’s only a matter of time before a bite of popcorn or apple or (once for me) a soft pumpkin cookie causes the precarious structure to collapse completely. Then, of course, a root canal and crown are called for.

Cha ching.money mouth

So, last fall one of my molar crowns – no doubt one that had served faithfully for years and years – broke while I was eating something ridiculous like a Ritz cracker. I went to my former dentist, whose children I helped put through college, to assess the damage. After an x-ray and very brief consultation telling me that even the little stub of original tooth holding the crown was gone and I’d need to have the root removed, followed by an implant, I walked out of his office $120 poorer – having made no progress toward fixing the problem.

“My” periodontist does implants, so I called her office to set up my next appointment. More x-rays and probing determined that not only did the stubborn remains of that upper left molar need to be yanked out and replaced, but that the last remaining upper right molar was actually in even worse condition. Surprise!

Thus, began my entry into the elite, costly, and time-sucking world of dental implants.

Now, I ask you, has a dentist ever said to you, oh, your teeth are lousy and you’d be better off with dentures? I’d like to meet that dentist and give him or her a hug, if you have. Everyone I know has been advised by their dentists that having dentures is like stepping into the third ring of hell and should be avoided at any cost (with cost being the operative word).

Oh, you’ll regret it, they say. You’ll hate dentures, they say. There’s no going back and you’ll be miserable, they say. Your pets will run away from home and your friends and family will shun you because of your Polident breath, they say.

Well, I’m here to tell you that the next time my teeth start crumbling, I will be going the denture route and will report back to you here on whether or not my life has been ruined as a result. Corn on the cob be damned, I say.

So, I gulped and signed up to pay about $6,000 to get both teeth pulled and have two implants installed.

Call me Stupid, but it was only after the second appointment that I realized that implants do not include TEETH. No. The implants are steel posts set into the bone in your mouth and it takes as much as a year for the whole thing to safely settle in before you can get crowns.

Wait. Crowns? Don’t those come on the end of the metal post somehow?

Nope.

Happy dentistEnter dentist #2 (because my old dentist pissed me off charging $120 to say he couldn’t do anything) who will create and attach two new crowns to the posts in January. Mind you, by that time it’s been more than a year since this all started.

To get my teeth cleaned this past Monday, including the hygienist taking pictures of each individual tooth (or so it seemed) with a new teeny weeny camera (no one asked if I wanted this, by the way), and to briefly consult with the dentist cost $180. As I was leaving I was presented with the charge I will pay for two crowns and two visits in January:  $4,600 and change.

So, if we do the math, it’s costing me pretty close to $11,000 to replace a couple of teeth. Cha ching, indeed, right?

I shouldn’t complain, I suppose. I have a dear friend who has been putting off dental work because of the expense. She learned that her front teeth are in danger of serious damage if she doesn’t promptly deal with what’s left of her pesky back teeth by purchasing a combination of crowns, implant, bridge, etc. The estimate for her dental extravaganza is $23,000. Ouch.

Are you chewing a big glob of saltwater taffy right now and thinking, wow – why don’t these Bozos have dental insurance?

Well, here’s the deal: none of our procedures would be covered by insurance (verified by our dentists). Why? Well, if you check your own dental insurance, chances are you’ll discover that most policies pay for things like annual check ups and cleanings, but are very, very picky about whether they’ll help out with the really expensive stuff. More often than not, you’d better hope your dental disaster is the result of an accident, rather than just ordinary wear and tear or due to an unfortunate encounter between tooth and gummy bear. And then, if insurance covers 50%, consider yourself lucky. You’re paying the other 50% or so . . . plus whatever you’ve been paying for your insurance over the years.

Which leads me to ask, why is having a relatively full set of reasonable-looking, working teeth (especially as we age) available only to those privileged enough to be able to afford it, or fortunate enough to have been born with strong, healthy teeth? And yes, the sturdiness of our teeth owes more to genetics than dental hygiene – though neglect is not recommended in any case.

I can’t say for sure, but I don’t think many countries with universal health care offer the same coverage for dental work. Can anyone speak to that, since I’m too lazy to Google it at the moment?

I hope a day will come when our wealthy land will offer both. I’d pay higher taxes so I didn’t have to deal with the insurance industry, wouldn’t you? In the meantime, I’m grateful that I can come up with the cash to keep my chompers for a bit longer. And to my younger friends out there?

For all that’s holy, don’t forget to freaking FLOSS!

Quote

Choosing legitimate news

via Choosing legitimate news

Choosing legitimate news

Today an old friend reprimanded me on Facebook for posting an editorial from the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The essay suggests that Donald Trump’s charitable foundation was likely used for frivolous things like buying a portrait of Trump for display in one of the Trump properties, to more serious infractions like donating funds to a Republican candidate running for an office in Florida.

(I’m no expert, but apparently those things are illegal for nonprofits. So – yikes.)

The essay was written originally for the venerable New York Times by Phillip Hackney, who is a former attorney for the chief counsel of the I.R.S. specializing in nonprofit organizations. The writer appears to be a knowledgeable source and I would unhesitatingly call the New York Times, along with the Plain Dealer, a legitimate news source.

But this is the era of “fake news,” as frequently proclaimed by the president. Right?

Well, I say:

How dare he?

These are news organizations that kept our country informed for over a century as our nation suffered through wars and natural disasters and tragedies. They’ve faithfully reported triumphs like the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of school segregation. They search for and hire dedicated professionals who sometimes put their own lives in danger to witness and write about what is happening in the world.

Yet, we’re supposed to believe, according to Donald Trump, that a majority of news sources, both in the U.S. and around the world, have gone rogue to attempt to coerce people to think badly of Trump and his administration?

Can’t trust ‘em.

New York Times? Washington Post (and COUNTLESS other publications)?  CNN, ABC, NBC and CBS? And those left-wingers at NPR and PBS?

Liars? Every damn one of them?

If you believe that . . . if you really, truly believe that . . . have you ever asked yourself why? What would all of these news organizations gain by banding together to lie about Donald Trump? Or about what’s happening with Congress or the NRA or our Mexican border, or . . . well, we can go on and on, can’t we?

I could understand it if, oh, let’s say just the Washington Post hated Trump for whatever reason. You’d have to dismiss that one paper as a fluke. I would.

But, my Trump-supporting friends and family, it’s not ONE newspaper. It’s not only CNN. Look at the numbers! Do you care at all that the MAJORITY of long-established news organizations are basically saying the same thing?

And do you honestly think anyone, and I mean ANYONE, is HAPPY that the Trump administration is even worse than what many people feared it could be before he ever moved to Washington?

I’m not. I would have been delighted to have made a mistake about his character and intent. What a relief that would have been!

But. I. Didn’t.

I’m not going to list all the reasons why I think Donald Trump may be the worst thing that ever happened to our country. If you voted for him and haven’t figured it out yet for yourself, then you’re part of the problem, too.

As I told my friend on Facebook, I will always wish her well. I sincerely mean that. I will continue to care for and love the handful of close friends and family members who are still deluded by this man.

But wake up and smell the coffee, folks. When all the legitimate news sources, around the world, agree on this subject, why are you wasting your time and misguided loyalty reading propaganda?

It takes a big person to admit they’ve been duped.  Forget about any idiot (yeah, there are idiots on both sides) who might enjoy gloating over your mistake.

I, for one, would just like to shake the hand of anyone ready to raise their hand say . . .

Yup. He got me for awhile. Now what can I do help turn this country back around?

It’s good to be in Gouda

On Thursday mornings in the warmer months, visitors can step back in time to observe the Gouda Cheese Market as it would have appeared at its inception in 1395. Ginny and I did just that on our visit to the Netherlands last month – along with a boatload of other people happily milling around Gouda’s historic town square on a sunny May morning.

Ginny and me in Gouda

Ginny and Kate with a big cheese.

I’m not going to call it a mob scene but suffice to say that there was a very healthy turnout of tourists that fine day.

The market starts early with horse-drawn carriages delivering big wheels of cheese to display in front of the Het Stadhuis van Gouda, or City Hall. Cheerful red shutters doll up this otherwise-staid Gothic structure that opened for business in 1450. It’s situated right in the center of a huge plaza ringed by old buildings hosting shops, restaurants, and other businesses, as well as the magnificent Sint Janskerk church and the Waag (weigh house), which is now a small cheese museum.

Gouda cheese

Other people enjoying big cheese.

People in costume perform an old hand clapping ritual that was once used to confirm a sale between a farmer and trader. Dutch girls and farmers in wooden shoes are friendly and selfies are welcome. Super cute, and I don’t mean that in a snarky way.

In addition to the reenactment of the cheese market, other folks in costume were demonstrating how cheese was made. Market stalls selling cheese (naturally), tchotchkes, souvenirs, etc., circled the outer edge of the plaza. A broad walkway between the market stalls and the permanent buildings allowed visitors to comfortably explore the entire area.

StroopwafelAfter loading up on cheese, we stopped in several shops and were especially glad that someone had recommended we try stroopwafels. Stroopwafels are a very thin, crispy, spicy waffle cookie sandwiched with caramel (our favorite) or a gooey syrup (also tasty). I think that if I found a recipe, I could make the waffles on the iron I use every Christmas to make my favorite Italian cookies, pizzelles. Maybe melt caramel squares to make the filling? We’ll see. Ginny brought some back to give as gifts and her friend Janeen loved them so much, she immediately ordered more on Amazon. My mother gave a thumbs up, too.

Eventually Ginny and I decided to take a break from a big morning of buying cheese and cookies and enjoy a coffee at one of the outdoor cafes before leaving Gouda for our next adventure (or a nap; I forget). A little oom-pa-pa band strolled past while we people-watched and enjoyed the sunshine and cappuccino.

Evil Kneivel

Don’t try this, or speak Dutch, at home.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you (my English-speaking friends) that we’ve all been saying “Gouda” wrong. It’s not GOO-dah. It’s more like HOW-dah. But try to work up some phlegm in the back of your throat so you can almost hawk up that “how” and you’ll be close to the Dutch pronunciation.

It’s interesting to me that any attempt on my part to reproduce the sound of a Dutch word is vaguely disgusting, and yet, the language is charming enough when spoken by the Dutch themselves. It’s like Evil Knievel having the ability to leap across twenty pickup trucks on his motorcycle but knowing you really shouldn’t try it yourself. If you are not Dutch, don’t try to speak Dutch. You’ll sound like a child molester or something.

Anyway. That’s my take on Gouda. Highly recommend a visit. Keep calling it GOO-dah, though.

 

It’s not all about the food – part one

Peach cobbler in Atlanta? Crab cakes in Baltimore? How about pizza in Naples, or sushi in Tokyo?

High-minded folks may tell you that travel is not about the food. I love to travel. And I agree. There is so much more to travel than the different kinds of foods you can find around the world.

But travel’s not not about the food, either.

If you’re not slathering French Camembert on a fragrant baguette in Lyon, or slurping fresh-cut Hawaiian pineapple at a beach resort on Maui, you’re missing a delightful piece of the travel pie:  Food. And it occurred to me that remembering our experiences relative to the food we ate might be a fun way to tell you about our trip to Belgium and The Netherlands with my buddy, Ginny.

Grand Place Brussels

The Grand Place, Brussels

It started in Brussels . . . .

I can’t sleep on an overnight flight. I just can’t. Turns out Ginny couldn’t, either. So by the time we landed in Brussels on Saturday morning (and after standing in line for forty minutes to go through immigration at the airport), we were beyond tired. Fortunately, our room at the Park Inn by Radisson near the Brussels airport was ready when we arrived (nice room, reasonable cost, great staff – definitely recommend). After collapsing for nearly a four-hour nap, we roused ourselves to walk to the local train station and, after deciphering how to actually buy tickets, rode to the center of Brussels to spend the rest of the afternoon and evening.

Late afternoon in the center of Brussels is – magical. There were people everywhere, and honestly, they mostly looked like locals. Families strolled along eating ice cream cones, and friends enjoyed a beer and conversation sitting shoulder-to-shoulder at the many tables perched outside cafes in the city Centrum. Street musicians played upbeat tunes and shoppers clustered around little tented booths checking out handcrafted jewelry, jars of honey and jam, candles, etc.

We were starving and walked into the closest restaurant, the Brussels Grill. I later learned on line that this is kind of a small chain of steak houses in the area, but I’m pretty sure that the restaurant where we ate was on the rue marché aux Herbes near the city’s magnificent Grand Place.

dinner in BrusselsChain or not, that first dinner turned out to be the very best meal of our entire trip. Belgium is famous for its mussels (moules) and French fries (frites), and that’s what Ginny chose. Her order was perfectly cooked in white wine and Ginny said they were the best mussels she’d ever eaten.

I ordered the steak-frites (a ribeye with French fries) and it, too, was fabulous. The steak was juicy and tender, and the fries were an unlikely combination of being fluffy, but very crisp. I know we were really, really hungry, but seriously? If you find yourself looking for a place to eat in Brussels, the Brussels Grill won’t disappoint. Ginny also ordered a beer that she loved, but sadly, we were too jet-lagged to remember to take a picture of the bottle so she could find it again.

The second fabulous food moment in Belgium took place on the last day of our trip in the tiny village of Sint-Katelijne-Waver.

Our European adventure was nearly over and I’d yet to try a genuine Belgian waffle. I’d promised myself that I couldn’t leave without fulfilling that particular foodie dream.

You may be wondering how we ended up in Sint-Katelijne-Waver. I’m pretty sure the residents wondered the same thing, especially after Ginny entered a roundabout going the wrong direction and had to back out of the town square while traffic patiently waited for us to correct our path.

Allow me back up the story just a bit, too . . .

That morning we had packed the car and closed up the Airbnb house we’d rented in Dordrecht, Netherlands. We planned to stop in Antwerp to see the sites before dropping off the rental car and returning to the Park Inn for our last night in Belgium. By then we’d actually gotten pretty good at driving (Ginny – what a pro!) and navigating (me – interpreting the GPS as needed) in The Netherlands. But as we left Holland and approached Antwerp, the traffic became very heavy and progress slowed to a turtle’s pace. Prudence, our GPS, kept suggesting alternate routes and we finally agreed to follow her advice.

We exited the Antwerp ring road to find ourselves immersed in what I’m calling the Bagdad of Antwerp. In addition to pedestrians darting everywhere wearing burkas, head scarves, and assorted caps and turbans, there was construction, buses pulling in and out from the curb, a trolley and tracks running down the middle of the street, and oh, yeah, cars everywhere. There was nothing that felt threatening or uncomfortable about the location; it was just unexpected. At one point we waited for a woman wearing a hijab to park her tiny car in a space roughly the size of the love seat in my living room. I had to lean out the window and give her a thumbs up (I hope that’s understood universally) as we passed around her. I was impressed.

By this time Ginny had been battling this urban free-for-all for about twenty minutes. I turned to her and said, “So, do you still want to search for the center of Antwerp or would you like to explore the countryside?”

With Ginny’s relieved endorsement for Plan B, I quickly gave Prudence a new destination somewhere between Antwerp and the airport and we escaped from the city without incident. When we saw signs for Sint Katelijne, it kind of looked like my full name, Kathleen, so we decided to follow the signs to that sweet little village.

waffleThere we walked around the quiet square and randomly chose to stop for lunch at the Ice Cream Parlor De Joppe. The courtly French-speaking gentleman who directed us to our table outside in the sunshine turned out to be the owner of the restaurant. When I explained that I was soon to leave Belgium but had yet to sample a waffle, he convinced his wife to heat up the waffle iron (there was something I didn’t quite understand about the weather being too warm for waffles) and soon was served a gorgeous, crispy, golden waffle topped with fresh strawberries and homemade whipped cream. It tasted even better than it looks in the photo.

Stay tuned for more stories about food and fun in the Netherlands. I’d try to say goodbye in Dutch, but after more than a week there, the language remained pretty much incomprehensible to us. Dutch makes German look easy and sound melodious. Think about that for a sec.

As my friend Sue would say, a tout a l’heure!

No giggling allowed

I recently started reading a book, but decided last night that I’m not going to finish it. When I was much younger, it was a point of honor to finish every book I started – no matter what. Now I’m old. Life is short. If the writing doesn’t grab me – or worse, it annoys me – I move on. This book annoyed me.

So what’s wrong with it? The writer’s main character, an accomplished Australian woman who’s probably in her early thirties, giggled.

That’s right. Giggled. More than once.

It’s not that I’m opposed to giggling in and of itself. We’ve certainly all giggled on occasion at various points in our lives. But I will not read a story where a grown woman’s conversation goes like this:

“Private Investigator Ryan!” Christie giggled as she inserted the long key and turned it.

and . . .

Christie giggled as she climbed the gate in case she was shot as a trespasser.

Giggle baby

Giggling is only cute when babies and little kids do it.

There were more giggles involving Christie and other women in the story. But not surprisingly, no giggling by the male characters. Giggling usually is presented as a feminine expression of amusement, often accompanied by a hint of shyness or nervousness. Giggling also is something we expect from children, right?

Call me particular (or worse – I don’t care) but I think that coyly substituting “giggled” for “said,” or saying that an adult was giggling at all infers that the character is childish or flighty or in some way just not fully adult. Does anyone else get that?

I have to say, I had no idea that I so heartily disliked giggle until it popped up twice early in this book. It may have backed up the author’s portrayal of a woman who is bright and successful in her work but a kind of insecure door mat in her relationship. I’ll give the writer credit there – if it was intentional. But if she thought giggling made a grown woman sound cute and endearing, I say, oh HELL no.

So, I’m removing giggle from my personal dictionary. Banned from the thesaurus. Screw giggle. It’s never complimentary to anyone past puberty.

Giggle, we’re done.

Are there any words you hate, possibly for no good reason? How do you feel about moist? Pimple? Girdle? I think a number of words ending in “le” are bothersome, although there’s something adorable about puddle.

I encourage you to post your annoying words here. No judgment – and hopefully,  we’ll share a few good laughs.

P.S. I wrote this yesterday and left it to marinate overnight (as I often do). An hour or two later, I went to Facebook and my buddy Judith Podell had posted a meme she’d created with words she hates! We must have been on the same wavelength yesterday, my friend. So here’s the post I mentioned. I hope you and your delightful friends will share the words that make them cringe right here. And I’m off to Belgium! Au revoir!