The dawn of the New Year as we celebrate it is upon us and I am falling into that usual “must lose weight” frame of mind. It’s a familiar mantra whose priority never lasts as long as it should. This year I’m putting my foot down and making some changes to my eating habits in general. Should the weight fall off me, fine. But the goal is to expand my palate and diversify.
It’s pretty easy to get into an eating rut. Fast-food lovers tend to stick with the same restaurants and the same meals. Second-tier chain lovers do the same. Even in family-owned restaurants we find ourselves ordering from the familiar side of the menu. It’s time we branch out. Open our minds. See what treasures we’re missing.
Here is a list of ways to help our taste buds find new flavors in the upcoming year.
Let’s say you and your sweetheart always visit a certain Indian restaurant where she orders the same thing every time. It’s comforting. You know it’s going to be good. Be a little more daring next time. Go to a different Indian restaurant and try the same dish. You may find you like it better. More importantly, the new place may have a chef’s specialty that will knock your socks off.
When it comes to ethnic food, I may have three or four locations of the same ethnicity that serve different purposes for me. For example, when it comes to sushi I want the tuna bomb appetizer at Bamboo Fusion, the Shaggy Khani at OK Bicycle Shop and the Bob Marley at Jack’s by the Tracks in Pascagoula. All of this came from discovering something I liked and hanging on to it, which brings me to my next idea ….
Order something you’d never normally order
Menu items are there because someone else at some point was excited about that item. Often a chef’s moron cousin guilts him into putting a harebrained dish on the menu no one else would ever enjoy. “Dude, you have to put that mayo and saltines with anchovies dish on there. We ate those like crazy when we were kids.” Truth is I’d probably eat that, but you shouldn’t get it in a restaurant.
I’m speaking of the other offerings, the serious ones that don’t receive the attention. Someone took the time to create a dish they were proud enough to put on a menu. You should try that dish.
Oh, and I have also found more often than not simpler is better. If the sauce is 12 words long and really just a list of the ingredients, as in “white wine chicken stock lemon rosemary beurre blanc sauce with garlic and scallions” there is a chance it’s probably good. Another dish with a mother sauce that already has a name and has stood the test of time will usually win out. Find that simple-sounding dish you never ordered.
Flip around eating out with cooking at home
My sister recently commented that her family cooks a couple of times per week, ashamedly eating out the other five nights. Usually this is out of convenience. I am pretty good about cooking, but I do spend a lot of time eating out. Here is the best way to flip that around.
Think of a restaurant you want to visit and what you will order when you get there. Now change your plans and do your best at cooking that for dinner yourself. This may take some preparation. If you want tamales and you’ve never made them before, well, the process traditionally starts with a roast. You’re not going to be whipping out a batch of tamales from scratch in an hour, but you could plan ahead for the weekend.
Some Asian foods scare me to death as far as cooking. It isn’t the execution in the kitchen that gets me quaking. It’s the shopping. Knowing how to shop for the right items is key to most styles of cooking. Find a pro. Ask some questions.
Seasons change, taste buds change
Farm-to-table freaks are like broken records with this one but I agree. Eat with the season. With hot houses, hydroponics and modern transportation bringing fruit and vegetables from all over the globe, we no longer are forced to eat with the seasons, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t.
Watermelon in December certainly didn’t come from Smith County, Mississippi. Nor were your peaches picked in Chilton County, Alabama. I love a good sturdy apple with a hunk of cheese every now and again, but if the apple doesn’t rot and the cheese doesn’t mold, then I don’t want it.
It’s best to eat things grown for flavor, not genetically modified for longevity. When you get in this habit of knowing where your perishables come from, you’ll notice a huge difference in taste. It’s a cleaner way of eating.
Cleanse your system
Let’s not get too hippy-dippy here, but deprivation is another great resolution. There are many cleanses one may do to avoid the poisons we so often crave. Think of it as a reboot to your digestive tract. You may discover a lifestyle you enjoy. Some of these last from about a week to an entire month. Choose one you are most likely to stick to as your first outing.
These may seem like simple resolutions, but if we take them seriously some big changes may come our way. Now I have to practice what I preach. Hold me to it.