Season to Taste…

I have no idea what makes us like the foods we like. To some degree, it must be cultural or at least, environmental. North American kids learn to love and live by the peanut butter sandwich. French kids develop a long lasting relationship with the baguette. Hawaiian kids make a staple out of Spam and British Commonwealth children somehow overcome the reaction to recoil in horror at the sight of Marmite. I have no idea how.

My son, Short Stack is, to understate things, a picky eater. He is, in fact, an epically picky eater. To some degree, I can forgive him that. When I was young, I too have an extensive “no go” list when it came to food. It was mostly what you’d expect a kid to eschew, with a few oddities tossed in. Strawberries, for instance, I could no abide. Yes, I know. It was weird.

At one point in my young adulthood, I decided that it was all just too much and I decided to wipe the slate clean and start over. The impetus for this was two fold. First, was my introduction to international travel. When I was abroad, I ate pretty much what ever there was. I was raised to be polite and didn’t turn down food when offered by a kindly resident of wherever I happened to be at the time. The second reason was a rather obvious… inconsistency in my list of foods that I would not touch. Much of what I deemed, “no thank you” food, was either unpleasant to look at or icky in texture. Something like liver? You must be joking. Not a chance.

But… I had a love of muscles. Not the kind that you flex, but the blue muscles, picked fresh that morning and served in a butter and garlic sauce. That was something simply exquisite and I’d would happily use my elbows to make room at a table that included them in its spread. How could I bring my self to eat something that essentially looks like a buttery human ear and pronounce it delicious and then turn my nose up at anything else?

muscles

So eventually, I changed. I decided to eat everything that I came across and give it a fair shake. My only hard and fast rule was that whatever it was, it needed to be dead. I don’t think that’s asking too much from a meal. As it turns out, I like almost everything.

I have become a proud omnivore.

Short Stack is getting truly maddening to feed, however. What you can get to pass his lips is a very short list of food. He’ll eat breaded, fried chicken. He’ll eat breaded fried fish sticks. He does love most fruits and vegetables, so that’s good and makes us worry less about what’s going through his tiny system but then there are the bizarre foods that make no sense.

He won’t touch macaroni and cheese, and yet with happily scarf down a home made white pizza topped with feta, caramelized onion and, anchovies. EH? There is no chance of getting him to touch noodles in any form and yet if you cube up some extra firm tofu and give him a little saucer of soy sauce, he will scarf the stuff down like it was Turkish delight. “Would you like a bite of shepard’s pie? No? Oh, but you would like to have the bratwurst and spicy mustard.” ARG!

One time when he was still eating baby food, I was having a devil of a time to get him to eat the mashed up sweet potato that Gerber Baby Foods thought he should like. He had taken a few bites but then had clamed up and steadfastly refused to touch any more of the stuff. My wife happed to pass through the kitchen and watched as I valiantly tried to squish some more past his pursed lips. With a look of, “I wonder…” she took the jar of mush from me, opened the cupboard and added a good pinch of… curry powder. As you might guess, the rest of the sweet potato was vacuumed up in no time. I looked on in disbelief.

Now that he’s pushing three years old, there are more and more inconsistencies that have shown up. In the drinks category, there is Moxie. This is a regional soda that is loved only by a select, hard-core bunch of New Englanders. The taste starts off a bit like root beer, but then quickly turns bitter in your mouth. I know it sound awful, and to many folks out there, it is, but to me, it tastes great. Naturally, Short Stack loves it and if he catches me with an open bottle, will plead share it with me. He’ll take a sip, wince, and then take another.

Then, this morning, Action Girl called me at work. She has the day off and was home with the kids. One of the things that the two of us love about being home in the morning is the ritual of coffee drinking. Luckily for our marriage, we both like the same coffee, the same way. Black, no sugar, hot and very, very strong. The brand we buy is roasted locally and is called “Blackout”. It’s the type of brew that completely obscures the bottom of your mug even if it’s just a shallow puddle. When the mug is full, it looks like ancient motor oil. It is BLACK.

The phone message started, “Our son is weird.” What she then related was how he had wondered aloud what she had in her mug. When she told him that it was coffee, he had asked if it was very hot.

“No.” she replied. “It’s gotten quite cool now.” She had almost finished her cup and the half-inch at the bottom was not only cool, but also very, very concentrated.

“Can I have a sip?”

Perhaps it was a bad idea, but his food list is so small, and he so often turns his nose up with out ever trying anything that we never turn him away when he wants something new (booze, excluded naturally). He took a drink and immediately, pronounced it delicious. Oh, crap.

So now, I have an almost three year old who wants his own mug of black coffee. Obviously, we’ll have to figure out a way out of this one, regardless of how awesome the mental picture is of him turning up for daycare with a travel mug of freshly brewed joe. Not only that, but the idea of a preschooler with a belly full of caffeine is not a pretty one, to put it mildly.

“Nap time? What nap time? LETS RUN! AAAAAAAAAAH!”

So, to the list gets a new oddity added to it. I’m preying for the day that he’ll go through the same gastronomic metamorphosis that I did and will decide that most foods are in fact, pretty darned good. Tonight though, I know that he’ll be dining on chicken nuggets and peas, just like five of the last ten nights. Either that or Action Girl might decide to make a pizza, in which case, he’ll be eating with us. I’m hoping for mushrooms, turkey sausage and oil cured, kalamata olives.

Short Stuff should love that.

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A Taste of Maine

“Here honey, try this! It tastes like Maine!”

I watched as the little girl happily took the ice cold, orange wrapped bottle from her smiling, tourist father and took a long swig. Then she stopped, eye’s the size of half dollars. Dad laughed heartily and the little girl looked around desperately for some way to wash the taste from her mouth.

The soda that she had just been tricked into drinking holds a special place in my heart. Few will willingly let it pass their lips and fewer still will admit publicly to loving it. The drink, is Moxie and while I would expect a soda that “Tastes like Maine” to be a combination of pine trees, moose and seaweed, I find it to be quite refreshing. Others, would agree with the little girl.

Moxie is a regional soda and like so many others, it’s beloved by many Mainers, even those who can’t stand the stuff. To describe it, it starts off tasting a bit like root beer but that is quickly overridden with a very bitter finish. It has some, but not much carbonation and is old as the hills.

Back in the 1870’s, Moxie was invented by a Maine doctor who was, at the time, working in Lowell, Massachusetts. In its original form, it was uncarbonated, billed as a curative aide, (though in those days, what wasn’t?) and must have been fairly hard to get down. Of its many healthful claims, in addition to preventing “softening of the brain” as well as the “softening” of other male specific anatomical bits, the good doctor hoped it to be a respectable substitute for alcohol. In an era when most everyone you met was in some degree of drunkenness, the inventor hoped to have come up with a beverage that could be consumed by adults with out being laughed out of the corner watering hole. To some degree, he succeeded. Moxie appeared in some New England bars and was allegedly given to patrons who had already had too much but were demanding more. Whether it slaked their thirst or just put them off liquids for a while is not known. The effect was the same.

Over the next several decades, Moxie’s fame grew and spread, though mostly through costal New England. Ted Williams endorsed it at one time as did Calvin Coolidge. It has also seen advertisement space in the illustrious literary circular, Mad Magazine. With time though, Moxie’s star began to fade. Then, one day, a young New Hampshire boy found it.

When my family traveled to the Maine coast for the summer, I knew that it would mean beaches, sea gulls, lazy days and, of course, Moxie. Kids will naturally try anything providing that it is loaded with sugar and that your parents want you to limit your intake. My Grandmother always made sure that there was a big bottle of Moxie in the fridge and every summer, it took me a while to get used to the taste again. Often, it was the only soda in the house, and since kids seem to need soda to live, I drank Moxie. I even started to like it!

Fast forward a few years and now you have an older, far geekier version of the little boy sitting at the cottage picnic table, eating his hamburger and drinking his medicinal soda. I had moved beyond the things of youth. I was older now and there were more important things to do. For me, that was spending long evenings, sitting around a table with friends, saving the world from evils beyond description using nothing but pencils, bits of paper and dice sporting far more that the usual six sides. It was the early 80’s and I had been eaten whole by Dungeons and Dragons.

The games would run long into the night and required close attention to detail, lest you miss the secret door that lead you to the treasure room or the pit that ends abruptly in ten foot spikes. Artificial stimulant was called for. The soda of choice was usually Coca Cola and it was sucked up by the gallon. I remember watching six packs practically vaporize at these sessions. The problem was that if you had paced your self in your soda consumption, hoping to make the drinks last, inevitably one of the guzzlers would start bugging you for some of your precious supply. I bought a lot of Coke that I never got to drink. Enter, an old friend.

On my way to some weekend D&D game, I stopped in at a corner store for the required survival provisions of chips and soda. With a fresh bag tucked under my arm I reached for the Coke and saw… Moxie! It sat there on the bottom shelf, looking neglected and sad. I immediately left the big red bottle I originally grabbed and swapped it for the orange “Bottle of Bitter Doom!” As expected, after an initial taste from the unfamiliar members of the group, no one ever asked me again for a soda. It was mine, ALL MINE!

Like most adolescents, I drank an indecent quantity of carbonated, corn syrup flavored beverage. I shudder to think what its done to my intestinal track and marvel at the fact that I never developed diabetes. Things have changed and I’ve long since forsworn soda. I just don’t drink it anymore… with one notable exception. During the weekend days at the house, especially if I’m doing loud and manly things with power tools, I need a drink. Beer is out of the question for the industrious hours. It makes me want to sit down and relax. No, if I’m going to get covered in sawdust and scare the hell out of Action Girl with my dubious handling of a Sawsall, then I need something to keep me going. I need Moxie!

I live in Maine now and Moxie is the official beverage of the state. Not a stellar use of our governing time, voting it in, but still, it makes me happy. Short Stack too, has started to appreciate it. Most likely because his dad seems to like it so much, and he always wants a sip.

He’ll take a tentative slurp, make a sour face much like the girl did, but then after shaking it off, comes back for another. I think he’s starting to really like it. I doubt that Action Girl will object too much about his choice in soda, so long as it’s accompanied with the promise that my old Dungeons and Dragons books stay carefully locked away from his sight. I doubt seriously that she could deal with that blow.

*Fsssssssss!* Moxie, anyone?
*Slurp* Ahhhh!

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