Foods We Love, Quirky Stories, Travels Around the World

Acquiring a taste for…

It’s an acquired taste.

How many times have we heard that expression? When I say it, it’s usually in reference to something I don’t much care for (like beets). Sometimes you really are able to acquire a taste for something, and sometimes not. I’m still working on the beets!

I was reminded of this the other day when I was piling green peppers onto a fajita, and my husband commented that he remembered when I couldn’t stand the smell of peppers. It’s true. My best friend from childhood lived with us for a while when my husband was in graduate school. She used to try to sneak little bits of green pepper into the meals she cooked. The second I walked into the house, I would smell those suckers and cringe. Yet I credit her with desensitizing me to peppers, which I now love. So yes, for me, green peppers were an acquired taste. Judging from the ratio of peppers to meat in my fajitas, I’m now a fan. Taste acquired.

Living in a country other than my own has been a learning experience. We once hosted

Acquiring a taste for tacos!
Acquiring a taste for tacos!

a Mexican-style meal for a group of dear Brazilian friends. If you look closely at the picture, you can see little note cards on the wall that tell how to construct a taco, burrito or a fajita and explains what guacamole and sour cream are (things that Brazilians don’t normally eat). In fact, guacamole was a very different taste for our friends, who normally eat avocados in sweet dishes. One of our friends told me she likes to sprinkle sugar on a slice of ripe avocado and eat it for breakfast. So to have them mashed and served in a savory dish took some getting used to—just like eating them in desserts has been new for me.

One taste I have definitely acquired is bacalhau (a variety of dishes made from dried

Tina with friends at the "House of Bacalhau" restaurant in Brazil
Tina with friends at the “House of Bacalhau” restaurant in Brazil

salted codfish), which I learned to eat and prepare while living in Portugal. Brazilians also serve bacalhau from time to time, especially at Easter. The first time I tried a bite, I detested it. It’s salty and tastes strongly of fish. It’s said the Portuguese have 365 ways to prepare bacalhau, one for each day of the year. It’s true. I have a cookbook to prove it! The second time I tried bacalhau, it wasn’t as terrible as I remembered. But the day I helped a dear friend prepare it was the day I fell in love with bacalhau. It’s a long, labor-intensive process which involves soaking the fish for a couple of days in the refrigerator in order to rehydrate it and remove the excess salt. And you don’t just shove it in the fridge and forget about it. You have to change out the water several times. Then you boil the fish. Then you let it cool and take off the skin and pick out hundreds of bones (some of which are tiny—and are incredibly hard to remove, since your hands become slippery within minutes). Finally the bacalhau is ready to use in whatever dish you’re making. You have to truly love someone to make bacalhau for them. I still fix a small casserole dish of Bacalhau com Natas (codfish in cream sauce) every Christmas. And I still love it. Taste acquired!

What about you? Are there any tastes you’ve acquired over the years? It might not even be for a certain food, it could be a book. Is there a genre you didn’t expect to like but now can’t devour fast enough? I’m currently having a love affair with YA (young adult) books that are written in first-person. One of my daughters has gotten me hooked on Meg Cabot. In fact, this particular daughter is coming home from college in a few days, and she called and said, “Guess what? I’m bringing a new Meg Cabot book with me. We can fight over it.” 😉 Taste acquired!

Foods We Love, Holiday Celebrations

What a Week! by Fiona Lowe

Have you looked at the calendar for this week? It’s a biggie for events. Actually, it started last week with Chinese New Year and yesterday in Melbourne, the mighty dragon came out to celebrate the Year of the Snake. Did you know that Australia has THE biggest dragon and due to the cultural revolution and China losing so much cultural heritage, Chinese now come to Australia to learn how to do the dragon dance!

But Chinese New Year was so last week 😉 and I’m talking about this week. It’s busy! It features Shrove Tuesday (Pancake Tuesday) and Valentine’s Day, 48 hours apart. I’m going to leave VD day alone as I am sure Dianne will probably want to chat about it.

So Shrove Tuesday. Or Fat Tuesday.  Why?

It dates back to early Christian times and according to a variety of sources, the name Shrove Tuesday comes from the custom of ringing the “shriving bell” to summon the people to church to be “shriven” – that is, to confess their sins at the beginning of Lent.

Lent is a time of self-discipline and denial. Throughout the 40 days of Lent, people are called to fasting and prayer. However, the week preceding Lent has become a time of merrymaking, culminating on Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday.

At this time, certain foods were/are given up for the duration of Lent, such as eggs, milk, meat and rich buttery dishes. On Shrove Tuesday, families eat up all the rich foods left in their pantries. One way they use up the eggs, milk and fats in the house is to add flour to make special pancakes! Hence the name, Pancake Tuesday.

mardigras floatOf course down in South America and up in New Orleans,  they celebrate with Mardi Gras. A week of merrymaking before Fat Tuesday.

An author mate of mine is there right now AND she got to ride on a float and throw out all those beaded necklaces. I am very jealous. The closest I have got to Mardi Gras was the museum across the river from the old town of New Orleans.

My sons are always keen to celebrate Pancake Tuesday so I whip up some savoury pancakes and then follow them with dessert pancakes.

Looking for ideas? Savoury Pancakes & dessert pancakes

Over dinner we talk about what we’re giving up for Lent.  We’re not a religious family but when you look at the world’s poverty we are a privileged one and despite my boys sometimes thinking they are hard done by, they are not so I think it is a great idea to give something up for six weeks and learn from a bit of self restraint and self-discipline. That said, I gave up wine once for Lent and I learned from that..choose something else 😉

So do you make pancakes on pancake Tuesday? Do you give up something for Lent?

Book Stuff? Check out my website! Also up until Sunday Feb 10th midnight USA time, Boomerang Bride is available as a free download at  Barnes and Noble

Foods We Love, Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels, Holiday Celebrations, Quirky Stories, Travels Around the World

Two Chickens and a Thanksgiving Dinner (and other tales of woe)

Thanksgiving Chickens

Most readers of this blog know that North Americans celebrate a holiday called Thanksgiving. A successful Thanksgiving dinner normally involves three Es: Enormous quantities of food, Eccentric family members, and Elaborate desserts.

My husband and I have lived outside of the United States for more Thanksgivings than we have inside our own country. I’ve learned a thing or two about planning during that time:

  1. Really think about where you live. Turkeys are not available year round in every country.
  2. Concoctions such as pumpkin (or sweet potato) pie may elicit frowns of confusion from some of your guests.
  3. Sometimes there will be no translation for words such as cranberry in your host country. Have a photo and a sample handy, just in case.
  4. Go back to rule number one: Turkeys are not available year round in every country.

And now we come to my particular tale of woe (which may be repeated this year, since I have yet to find a turkey to roast).

The first year we lived in Portugal, I sent my husband out to the supermarket to buy a turkey. We’d invited some dear Portuguese friends to come over and celebrate with us, and I was busy baking pies and prepping the house for company. About two hours later, my hubby came back with a worried look on his face. He dumped out his grocery bag, and there lay two…chickens.

Not large chickens, mind you—normal-sized fryers.

I blinked at him. “What’s this?”

“They don’t have turkeys.” My husband backed up a pace or two. Did I mention he’s a smart guy?

“Who doesn’t have turkeys?”

“Anyone. There is not one turkey in this whole city.”

What? That couldn’t be. I peered inside one of the chickens. It was tiny. How on earth was I going to get enough stuffing inside those birds to feed ten people?

To make a long story short, my husband was right. There were no turkeys. I found out later, you had to order one a month in advance—something I should have realized.

So my guests arrived, and we had these two poor little chickens on a platter with stuffing spooned around them. I stammered out an apology, explaining what had happened. My friend looked at me with a huge smile. “That’s okay, we like chicken better anyway.”

What could have been a disaster ended up being a wonderful meal with some truly gracious and now-dear friends. And every year, at Thanksgiving, she sends me a note that starts off: Remember those two chickens you served for Thanksgiving? And she ends the letter with a picture of the pumpkin pie she now makes every year.

How about you? Any cooking oopsies that have ended up not being the disaster you feared (or maybe it was)?