I ate an orange tonight for what I believe to be the first time in my life.
Not one of those delicious dark chocolate oranges. An orange orange. Alas, not a full one, just two wedges. Just enough to be an orange virgin no longer.
I have also tried clementines recently, so I was surprised to see the eyes of my girlfriend bulge out as her jaw dropped when I disclosed to her that it was, in fact, my first time.
“How have you lived your life without ever having eaten an orange?” she asked.
“By being very sneaky,” I said, standing next to her. Over the years, I had learned how to turn down politely the food that was foreign to my palate. Saying “Sorry, I don’t care for (fill in the blank)” may not have been the most socially outstanding phrase to utter at a party or gathering, but it worked; my taste buds were safe and sound.
“Why didn’t you tell me? If you had told me before I gave it to you, I would have had you sit down,” she said as she arched her arm toward the kitchen table chair.
“… and put on some music … and dim the lights …” I offered, laughing.
I love orange juice, and have loved it for years. But it had to be Tropicana and with NO pulp. Pulpy orange juice ruins the flavor worse than drinking OJ after brushing your teeth. So my logic was that an actual, honest-to-goodness orange would have more pulp, or at least just as much pulp, as pulpy OJ. So I didn’t touch it.
And tonight, when my girlfriend offered me a wedge, I quickly brushed away the loose white fibers and bit the wedge in half. I did enjoy the feel of the carpel, as my tongue pressed it up against the palate, rupturing its sacs and providing me with a small pool of juice that I swooshed around my teeth. And after gnawing at the remaining fibers of the carpel shell with an exaggerated yuck-yuck face, I spat the wad out.
As a child, I would sit in front of my plate at dinner and stare at the steak or other icky thing that my mother slaved over, and after everyone was done and the table was cleaned, I was stuck in that seat. I could not leave the table until I was done. But I was a stubborn picky eater, and I held out. When my mother finished washing the dishes, she would heave a disgruntled sigh, pluck my plate and, before washing it, scrape the food into the dog bowl.
In my tween days, my family would eat a scrumptious dinner while I hovered around the toaster oven waiting for my two slices of toast with a lone slice of cheese bubbling on top. (Nowadays, I stay away from cheese because I believe I’m becoming intolerant to lactose.)
As I grew up, I did become a more adventurous eater. I didn’t even try bacon until I was in college. Fruits and vegetables were not in my vocabulary for a sad, long time. The only fruit I ate growing up were apples, and the only vegetables were the good ol’ Maine potato and corn.
“They don’t count,” my girlfriend said tonight. “Corn is just starch,” and same goes for potatoes.
I didn’t argue with that; years ago I heard someone at the church food pantry say corn was the least nutritious food there was. And I haven’t had much of it lately either. From corn, I did branch out to green veggies, firstly broccoli, then zucchini and green beans. Kale is the latest.
My diet in college was the worst. I had such a high metabolism in high school that I could eat anything and still be thin, which meant I did not worry about my weight at all. It was far from my mind. I could wolf down a large pizza by myself and still have room for soda and breadsticks. I continued my blissful ignorance through college with Hamburger Helper, all-meat combo pizzas and huge salami subs. I weighed in at 210 pounds somewhere in late 1999, early 2000, and, based on pictures of me in 2002, I weighed even more then. I remember weighing 160 pounds in the tenth grade.
Luckily, exercise helps keep the weight down. For the better part of six years, dancing tango rigorously brought me perhaps to the lowest weight I’d been in a long time, at least according to all the “Gee, are you losing weight?” comments I received. I never weighed myself during that time, but after a year of not dancing, I’m hovering between 185 and 190.
Dating health-conscious women has kicked me into the right direction, too, of course. Two vegans in a row introduced me to a world greener than I ever imagined, and while some vegan meals were barely tolerable, others were pretty tasty.
In the last year, I’ve had roommates who surprisingly turned out to be courageous and/or adventurous cooks, and the variety among their ingredients were a pleasant surprise. Their panache encouraged me to be daring as well; I’ve come up with a few recipes of my own that probably should be left to myself. My (vegan-friendly) brownie/cake has become a recurring hit, and not just in my mouth but in others’ as well.
As a former picky eater, I can appreciate how daunting it might be for a new parent (or significant other) to cook for someone with a limited range. The adventure of trying new foods is a pleasure I wish my body had convinced my brain to explore much earlier. Essentially, it’s all in the preparation. If kale still tastes stale, add olive oil and salt. If chicken breast doesn’t work, you know why? Chicken thigh.
As an adult, I have tried many other cuisines, including Thai and Indian. I had sushi for the first time a few years ago in Providence. Gone are the days when I fall back on toast with cheese. My body is aching for more. More variety, more healthy, more flavors. I still don’t know everything I’m missing out on, but there is enough ambition to cancel out the knee-jerk revulsion and have a taste.
So tonight I tried another clementine. I pierced the rind with my thumbnail. Picked off the strings of albedo. Peeled away the skin of the carpel, revealing the beautifully tender juice sacs in all their pulpy glory. My girlfriend joined me and tore apart her own fruit, having been able to peel off the carpel skin in one impressive translucent piece. She waxed poetic, and compared it to a jellyfish. She fished her finger around inside to get at the sacs, the juicy gems, she called them. She offered her now wet and sticky finger to my lips.
Trying new things can be so much fun. This time, I wasn’t at the table for long.