Saturday, January 20, 2007

Spice It Up!

While reading one of my favorite blogs today (East of Oregon), I see she mentioned liking Chinese food and commented on the spiciness of many of the dishes in that cuisine. That brought to mind a few things about cooking - mine in particular - and spicy foods.

Back in the mid 90's, I was working for "the world's largest private weather forecasting company" and frequently, a couple of my co-workers and I would bring in food we had fixed at home and would share it with whoever happened to be on shift that day.

One young lady I worked with for at least a year, was from Korea and every now and again, she would fix some Korean dish to share with me and our supervisor. One day she fixed Chicken and vegetables - a very spicy concoction - but since I love spicy food, it struck a chord with me and I wanted to try making it. So, she told me how to fix it and it was relatively easy to follow her recipe and instructions. I tried it out on my kids - the two younger ones were still at home at the time - and they both really liked it too. Ok, I had a keeper recipe for my notebook of recipes.

About a year later, a young man from down in the Philadelphia area whose family owns an old house a couple doors up the street from us decided to transfer from a Philadelphia area campus of Penn State up to the Main Campus. HIs idea, which his Dad had approved of was that he would live in the house here that the family used as a hunting camp and that way, it wouldn't be as expensive to them as it would have been if he had opted to live on campus or to share a place in State College. This idea made sense to me and my kids loved it because they were both good friends with him as well as with his younger sister. And, I had told him he was welcome to join us anytime I was home and cooking, for supper! At that time, I was also a student at the University and working hours which generally entailed afternoon/evening shift so I wasn't always at home to cook supper for my kids, much less to invite him down. It was a kind of hit-and-miss proposition.

But, one week, when Mandy knew I would be home in the early evening -thus cooking supper - she invited this young man down for supper. He had said he was not a picky eater and considering he was of Italian descent, I just sort of figured he would probably be accustomed to fairly spicy foods so I decided to fix the Korean Chicken and Vegetables dish for supper the nite he was to join us.

Now, if you ever come to my house for a meal, you really have to act like family and speak up if you want/need something to drink or bread or whatever. Apparently, he was not comfortable with that environment though. I asked him at the beginning of the meal if he would like something to drink - milk, coffee, iced tea, water - and he refused all offerings.

We sat up to the table, my kids and I dug in - as did he - and all seemed to be fine. It wasn't till a couple years later that they kids told me our young friend, too shy to ask for a beverage of any type, had felt like his throat was being burned up by the hot tobasco sauce used to fix the chicken and vegetables in this particular dish! Poor kid! He's probably terrified that he might some day get invited here again for a meal and be fed some other concoction along the hot and spicy lines and get his throat feeling like it needs relined again. Hopefully, he would, should this ever occur, have enough sense, nerve, whatever, to speak up and at least ask for a drink of water.

My son-in-law here is slowly getting a bit acclamated to my use of hot spices but it hasn't come about easily for him either. His taste buds still run pretty much along the "bland" flavoring lines.

But one weekend almost three years ago - shortly after my son had moved back home - his former girlfriend had come up for a weekend visit and she had thought as a surprise to my son and to me, she would prepare some Thai dishes that she does a really bang-up job on. Now I've not eaten all that much in the way of Thai foods, but what things she had cooked for me before, were all pretty heavily seasoned - very, very spicy. But she knew these things she was going to bring were also dishes both my son and I loved so she figured there would be no problem.

She set the dishes out on the table for a nice lunch and my son, daughter Mandy, the former girlfriend and I all dug in and boy, really good stuff! All of it was the type of hot food that you don't taste so much on your tongue but it gets you after you begin to swallow -in the back of your throat. This nice biting sensation of flavor.

My son-in-law wasn't present when we first began to eat but popped in on us about mid-way through. Saw all this food on the table and grabbed a plate, silverware and sat down at the table and began to ladle out servings for himself to his plate.

My son, knowing how spicy this stuff was and how much my s-i-l DOESN'T care for hot spicy stuff, told him in a little cautious word to the wise that it was pretty hot and he might want to take it easy on it at first. Bill replied that it would be fine as he was famished, it looked great and he dug in - jumped in, you might say, with both feet!

The rest of us just sat there kind of dumbfounded as he took a bite of one thing, then another, chewing it all together, making a few comments that this was really good stuff - all this though before he had begun to swallow any of it.

And when he did swallow that first mouthful, the look on his face was something else! His mouth flew open, he was fanning his tongue as he leapt from the table and ran to the sink to draw a large, very large, glass of cold water to try to cool his throat down a tad!

"Phew!" he said to us, as he returned to the table. "You weren't joking about that stuff being spicy, for sure!"

Well, buddy boy, it's not that anyone didn't try to warn you. We weren't out to play a dirty trick or anything like that on you either.

Since then, he has been pretty cautious about how much of a new dish he puts in his mouth before loading up with more.

And, I do try not to get tooooo carried away with the spices and amounts I use in the foods I fix now as well. It's kind of hard though when some recipes are meant to be really sharp, tangy, with a lot of bite to them and you have to back off for fear of burning his taste buds and throat clear down to his stomach though.

But, the look on his face that day, is etched in my memory bank forever!


East of Oregon said...

I had to laugh out loud reading this! In my family too, if you're thirsty - just say so... be bold I say! There's no point in being bashful if you need something..Poor guy. Oh well, I bet he learned to speak up :)

SingingOwl said...