I have always had a complicated relationship with food.

From a very early age, I adored eating.  Food is one of the great pleasures of life, and I partook with gusto.  At the same time, my mother was not a good cook.  She always served us a home-cooked dinner, at 5:00 sharp (except Fridays:  Friday was Pizza Day), and for that I’m grateful, but the content of the meals, plus my innate fussiness, pretty much guaranteed that my love for food would only be granted to a tiny percentage of it.

Until my teens, my list of acceptable foods was limited largely to: white rice, apples, corn, cheese pizza, chocolate, Lucky Charms, chicken, hamburgers, and junk food.  My mom’s method of cooking involved boiling and baking everything into submission, resulting in vegetables that were limp and bitter, and starches and meats that were so dry, one needed a mouthful of milk to chew and swallow them.  Everything was under-seasoned.  There was no salt on our table (just black pepper, which I disliked), margarine rather than butter, and the only savory spice I remember is paprika on chicken.  The percentage of foods I tried to foods I didn’t hate was so low that trying new foods became something to avoid, rather than something exciting.  Slowly, my tastes broadened to accept new things I had previously disliked, but my culinary range remained extremely limited.

I cannot, however, blame my food woes entirely on my mother’s unadventurous and often-unappealing cooking.  Fact is, I’m just an annoyingly picky eater.  No matter how hard I try, there are certain tastes and textures that I cannot tolerate: anything slimy or too gelatinous, creamy foods that are also savory, almost all cooked root vegetables, licorice-y flavors like anise, fennel and fenugreek, cilantro, and any kind of egg-heavy dish.  A “cheesy” dish is a negative thing for me.   Again and again, I have tried to like Japanese food, and failed.  Any trip to a new restaurant, vegetarianism aside, is an exercise in anxiety as I wonder whether they’ll have anything I can stand to eat.

The good news, however, is that my tastes have continued to change as I’ve reached the middle of my third decade, and many foods I shunned as a kid – onions, garlic, spices, peppers, cruciferous vegetables, leafy greens, beans – are now a regular part of my diet.  While I am still hampered by an intense aversion to certain textures and flavors, I am more willing to at least try new things.  And I’ve found that one of the best ways to try new things is to cook them yourself.

I can pretty much cook on a genetic level.  While my mother’s culinary instincts are lacking, my father’s side of the family is full of good cooks, from Italian and French stock.  My paternal grandmother, a Neapolitan, used her tiny kitchen to turn out enormous meals of homemade linguine, amazing sauces, flavorful vegetables and tender meats.  While cooking has not long been a regular practice for me – tiny budget + “too busy” = lots of prepackaged, boxed and frozen foods – I’ve always been able to cook without a recipe, measuring things like my grandmother did:  a pinch of this, a little of that, a few drops of this, cook until it’s done.

Recently, my spouse and I looked at our grocery bills and realized we could probably save money, and eat much more healthily, if we started buying fresh ingredients and cooking them.  It was a bit of an initial outlay for equipment and pantry staples such as flour, spices, oils and utensils, but so far we have indeed been spending less, and getting a wonderful variety of fresh foods.

So, armed with lovely fresh ingredients, I realized I was going to have to learn how to cook actual meals on a regular basis.  The Internet has provided a wealth of information, techniques and recipes for me to try.  I was inspired to create a space to collect and share my recipes, and to share my experiences as I try new foods and experiment with new ingredients.  I am very into food, despite disliking so much of it.  Thus, the Reluctant Foodie was born.

On ingredients: While I have resolved to try new foods and new flavors, there are some things you will not find here.  I have been a vegetarian for 16 years, so you will find no recipes containing meat, fish, or animal-based stocks.  I cannot stomach the taste or smell of eggs at all, only being able to cope with them as a minor component in certain baked goods.  I dislike the texture of tofu, as well as the texture and flavor of roasted/braised vegetables.

I hope you enjoy reading my adventures as much as I enjoy having them!

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