Specifically, I’d like to talk about peas. And onion.
In a bold move this Christmas, I served some peas onto my Christmas dinner plate. Just a few, maybe nine or ten. It made me feel nice to have them there. I know some picky eaters couldn’t even bear to have them on the plate. I guess for those people, that would have to be the starting point. My family, they offered me carrots, when they saw what I’d done, but that would have been a bridge too far. Thinking back, I probably should have done it, just to see how it felt, but my instinct was against it, and the peas were quite bold enough for my liking.
I think when you’ve been brought up with people who lived through the War and/or rationing, the wasting of food is a factor one can’t help considering when going through the trying of new things. If I buy, say, an apple to try, I have to accept the likelihood that 99% of it (if not 100%) will go in the bin. Which does seem a fearful waste, and puts me off doing it. I think it makes me less gung-ho about trying things off my own bat, so to speak, as opposed to dealing with a pre-dished-up dish as in a full-on social situation. So it didn’t seem right to take any carrots when I knew full well I wouldn’t eat them, whereas with the peas, I knew I’d manage to at least try. It might be lazy or self-indulgent, but I didn’t want to blight my Christmas dinner with too much novel-food-trauma all at once.
But back to the peas. I ate three of them. I’ll tell you what it’s like. You know how it is with Smarties, that there are different ways you can eat them? And sometimes, even though you might have a whole tube of Smarties, sometimes it can be difficult to decide which way to eat them each time. Well, for me it was like that with the peas. The first one, I just hid him inside mashed potato. Now on the one hand, I was tempted just to swallow it down and focus my mind on the mashed potato, and try not to notice the fact that there was a pea in there. But I know that is not the way to learn new foods. Or at least, if that’s all you do, then you won’t progress terribly much.
You have to pay attention and notice its presence in your mouth as much as you can. Of course, the danger then is that you will notice it too much, and the spirit of you will feel upset about it. Then you are edging into gagging territory. Which is the level I got to with the third pea, so there I had to stop. It seems to be a very fine balance that one has to strike.
Now, the Christmas dinner was in amongst the bosom of my family, and so, for me, benign in terms of eating pressure. But on Christmas Eve, we went for dinner at some friends’ house. When we went to sit down to eat, it smelled delicious, but I did feel anxious, so I went up to the hostess as she was dishing up, and I asked her “What is the name of this?”. Came the reply “Shepherd’s Pie”, and I knew I could fundamentally relax, that I’d be able to eat a fair 50% at least.
On the plate, there seemed to be no vegetables in it, which I think you sometimes get? So that was fine. But the lighting was dim, and I wasn’t wearing my glasses, so I realised too late that there were large pieces of onion in it, of a centimetre or even more. At first in my mouth I thought maybe it was potato that wasn’t cooked well. But it was not. I realised I would have to concentrate. I realised I would have to shout down the urge to gag or spit it out. It’s dreadful when one’s instinct and comfort is socially unacceptable. For me, I think this fact has confused me somewhat as to my place and value in the world. But that’s by-the-by.
Now with big pieces of onion, you’ve got a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they are big enough to avoid if you are careful, and if you don’t mind being seen to pick through things. But on the other hand, they are not small enough to eat without gargantuan effort. Teensy pieces of onion (I like to cut them to a couple of millimetres), are too small to avoid, but then they are small enough to wash down without too much upset. Me, I do not like the stripes on big onion pieces, or the translucent shininess, or the way I know they will feel if you accidentally bite them. Sort of slide and skid and crunch. But my adulthood forces me to try and be less squeamish about this in such a situation. So I avoided what I could, but triumphantly I report that where my avoidance inadvertently failed, I was able to reassure myself enough to get through.
These things I know are just not a big deal for a normal person. But I don’t seem to have to pretend anymore that it’s not a big deal for me. And I know that unpleasant and dangerous as the stealth onion onslaught was to me, it is experiences like these that take me a step further along on my journey.
Merry Christmas one and all. Got any Christmas food stories to share?