Thursday, July 28, 2011

You know, sometimes I’m just not hungry

I’ve started to tell more people about my new food adventures.  That’s not true: the boys have started telling people.  I have said very little about it unless people ask.  The first thing most people do, understandably, is find something for me to eat.  Eat this! They want to see my face as I take that first bite.  I feel a lot of pressure to smile and say I like it.  How can I explain that chocolate is still a very new taste to my senses.  It kinda has a dirt and burnt metallic taste a lot of the time.  It tastes much more bitter (bitterer?)  than I expected it to.  I don’t think that’s what other people taste, though.  If it was, why the fuck are we still eating it? 

It’s been five days so far.  I’ve had chocolate everyday for the last 5 days.  My name is Lisa and I have been a chocolate-eater for five days.   I don’t know if I’m getting used to the taste or not.  I’ve also been on new allergy meds for 10 days to help calm my reactions to pollen.  I think they may have affected my sense of taste as well.  Like having a cold, I only have a few taste and smell receptors that are working.

And then, sometimes, I’m just not hungry.  I’ve already eaten.  I’ve just brushed my teeth.  I have no desire for food of any let alone some new burnt metal taste-sensation.  Someone gave me a whole candy bar at 5:30 in the evening.  Wouldn’t that spoil my dinner, I thought. I’m on a diet.  I’m fasting for summer lent.  Well, now that’s you’ve opened it, I guess I have to try it.

Everything takes practice

I hate to say it, but it’s true: everything takes practice.  Floating through anything on beginner’s luck only lasts so long and if you want to be good at anything, you have to practice. 

Yesterday, I had some time to kill and I was thirsty so I went to the nearby grocery store for some tea.  Since I had no particular agenda and a little time to spare, I decided to take my time and look at the different sections of fruit and chocolates that I found.  Previous trips to the grocery store had involved tears as the sheer volume of possible food items bared down on me from every aisle.  This time I would not be pressured by the need to get frozen foods home as quickly as possible. I could go slowly, consider ingredients, weigh my options and know beforehand that I wasn’t going to buy any of it—I was just looking. 

This was actually a really great exercise, I thought.  I needed to adjust my mind to include things that I had previously dismissed completely.  I have to make myself look at chocolate.  I have to seek out the citrus table in the fruit section.  It’s truly amazing how we can put blinders on, whether they are self-imposed or not and simply gloss over vast quantities of information.  I’ve done this for years.  I had trained my eyes to simply ignore anything with chocolate, strawberries or citrus.  An automatic filtering system that was very efficient at selecting only what I could eat.  I didn’t even know I could do this until I tried to look for things outside the filters perimeters. 

I was practicing: practice seeing chocolate and saying “mmm” silently to myself.  I have to retrain my brain: make these previously repulsive things seem desirable.  I was looking at the chocolate bars, comparing cocoa percentages, flavor combinations.  “Can I help you find something?” a cheery voice said behind me.  “No thanks.  I’m just practicing.”  Shit. Did I just say that out loud? Judging from the look on her face, it seems I did.  This is embarrassing: who needs to practice grocery shopping?!  The clerk keeps looking at me out of the corner of her eye. Time to move on. 

I noticed how tentatively I approached the pastry counter.  I’ve approached wild animals with less trepidation.  The chocolate cake is not going to attack, Lisa.  The strawberry pie cannot fling itself up against the glass and try to bite you.  These are the things I’m saying to myself.  The pastries aren’t puffing themselves up to look bigger, just to intimidate me.  They are more scared of me than I am of them.  Damn it.  First I have to practice grocery shopping and now I’m personifying pastries!  Once again, I am confronted with my own naïveté.  Cocoa novice.  Beginning berry-eating. 

I make complex conceptual art pieces!  I have a long list of literary accomplishments and a wide variety of interests!  And yet, my mind cannot deal with so many dessert choices.

The Fake Outs

A couple times over the years, candy companies have come out with a “white chocolate” version of their famous candy.  I admit, I fell for it.  I bought a few packs of Reese’s Peanut Butter White Chocolate Easter Egg Cups.  I got in the car, ripped open the pack and dove right in.  I’ve always been amazed at how quickly my body could identify something I’m not supposed to eat.  It is almost instantaneous.  My brain says “Yucky! Spit it out!”  Bastards! They snuck a layer of dark chocolate under the white coating!  I think I threw the rest of the packs away.  I felt so betrayed.  And involving peanut butter in the deception was just salt in the wound.

Another time, my aunt and uncle brought me White Chocolate Kit Kat Bars.  I was thrilled—a taste of normalcy!  Or at least as close as I was ever going to get.  But again, they hid layers of chocolate in between the layers of cookie.   I don’t know if you’ve ever done this but, if someone offers you something to eat and you almost immediately spit it out…it’s just not a situation one can get through gracefully. 

So I don’t have a lot of faith or loyalty to candy companies.   And don’t think for a second that I will be able to forgive or forget these past transgressions even now that I can eat the originals. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Candy Bars

Living with a chocolate allergy had always presented challenges.  Candy options are limited.  Eliminate citrus flavors and strawberry candies and I was left with a few kinds of caramel and Dots.  Dots were the go-to candy for me.  I got a big box or two every Christmas and a lot of the little boxes at Halloween.  I only really like the red and pink ones, though.  I would always try an orange or yellow or green one, but I hated the taste of them.  I probably threw away more Dots than I ate now that I think about it.

But candy bars have always held a certain fascination for me.  They were mysteries to me.  I knew the jingles and tag lines of most of the candies advertised on Saturday morning TV, but I didn’t (and still don’t) know what is in them.  I used to ask people to bite into their candy bar and then let me see the inside—it was the only way I could find out. 

 Though I couldn’t eat real chocolate, I could eat white chocolate.  Over the years, I’ve had a wide spectrum of white chocolate, but since it is less popular, there weren’t that many options.  There is a waxy substance made with an artificial vanilla flavor that is on the yuckier side of the spectrum.  My dad used to (and probably still does) make pretzels covered in the stuff.  It’s not great, but I think it’s cheap so many “white chocolate” candy bars are made with it.  Nestle used to make a White Crunch bar with this stuff and rice puffs.  I didn’t really understand the combination.  Was it supposed to be like rice crispies in milk? It wasn’t.  They could have called it Wax Crispies and that would have been a more accurate description.

Zero bars.  They were called this because they sucked.  On a tasty scale of 1-10, they were a zero.  I already couldn’t eat real chocolate, but I felt like the candy industry was just trying to rub it in at that point.  Luckily, they were only available on the east coast and I live in one of those middle states so I wasn’t constantly reminded of them.

People say what about carob? Fuck that.  Just because I can’t eat real chocolate, doesn’t mean I don’t have 
taste buds.

Sure, there have been a few OK white chocolate bars on the market over the years.  I adored Nestlé’s Alpine White bars! I think they had almonds in them or something.  They were discontinued in the 1990’s I think.  I used to get the bite size ones at Christmas and I really loved those things.  When they suddenly went away, I felt truly forsaken (or as forsaken as a ten year old in the suburbs can feel anyway.).  I searched in vain for substitute for years.  Toblerone has a white chocolate bar with almonds and honey.  I like those.  I always wanted to find one of those giant ones that they have in the airports, but I don’t think they make them.

Progressing towards the better side of the white chocolate spectrum there is a Danish chocolate that comes in little disks about the size of a quarter.  They are as good as white chocolate gets.  They are buttery and I loved the way they would slowly melt away on my tongue.   My uncle used to bring me white chocolate back from Europe.  Of course, they are addictive too, so a whole box had to be carefully rationed.  I always assumed this was as close as I was ever going to get to a real chocolate experience.

Remember, this was all in a pre-internet world.  No one was going to call Denmark (on a rotary phone no less—think of how long it would take just to dial!) just to order a couple boxes (I couldn’t eat a whole case by myself and who else was going to eat it?).   Now I can probably hop on Amazon and have as many as I wanted shipped to me for free.  But fuck that—I can eat real chocolate now!

Dogs and chocolate

When I was little, I was terrified of dogs.  I was convinced they all wanted to bite me.  There’s a notation in my baby book in my mom’s writing that says, “We have been practicing with a beagle at the house.  You and your sister lived on the couch for a week”.    Obviously, my mom wanted a dog, but with half of her children afraid to expose even their toes to such a vicious creature as a dopey beagle, there was little chance of it happening. 

What finally allowed me to get over my fear of dogs?  I found out that dogs can’t eat chocolate. I thought I was the only one!  The enemy of my enemy…kinda.  But that was all I needed.  We got a golden retriever puppy shortly afterwards.  We named her Nutmeg and we all adored her.  I was in kindergarten when she joined our family.  She lived to the end of my first year of college.

Last night I read that, ironically, the spice nutmeg is actually very toxic to dogs.  Go figure.