Not a ‘foodie’
The other day, I swung by The Cheese Traveler, a specialty food shop in Albany, to purchase some fine cheese for a picnic.
The Cheese Traveler is a little like a winery, except with cheese. You can request samples of any of the cheeses in the cooler, and there are free snacks throughout the shop, such as almonds and little cubes of cheddar cheese. There is fresh fish provided by the Guilderland-based fishmonger Fin, locally raised, organic meat from Tilldale Farm in Hoosick and high-quality sodas.
My mouth always waters when I go in this place, because everything looks good. On this particular day, I decided to try two different kinds of brie; they were both good, and I opted to buy the one that was cheaper. Then I scanned the shelves for a cracker to complement my wheel of cheese. “Are you looking for a neutral cracker?” the salesman asked.
“Yes,” I said, “a neutral cracker.”
After a short discussion, I settled on a wheat cracker with a hint of rosemary. This seemed like a perfectly good choice, but as I was driving home I thought about how ridiculous my exchange with the salesman had been. When did I become the sort of person who could utter the phrase “a neutral cracker” with a straight face, and who sought expert advice when purchasing snacks?
In all likelihood, a box of Triscuits or Saltines purchased from Price Chopper would have been perfectly adequate. I’m eating some Wheat Thins I bought from the vending machine at work right now, and they taste pretty good.
I like food. I always have. And I’ve generally been a fan of some of the more recent food trends — the rise of restaurants that specialize in locally grown and raised ingredients and unusual flavors and combinations, the increasingly widespread availability of ethnic food, the overall emphasis on taste and quality.
As a result, I sometimes look back on the lack of culinary options during my childhood with amazement. New Hampshire was not exactly a hotbed of interesting dining in the 1980s and 1990s, and the list of foods I first tried in college is extensive: sushi, hummus, pesto, pizza with marinated artichoke hearts, fresh bread with oil and balsamic vinegar.
Years later, my food education is ongoing.
I’m always on the lookout for new and interesting places to eat and new foods to try. In the past year, I’ve gone on a search for dim sum, which I found at Ala Shanghai in Latham, indulged in the tangy and flavorful Moroccan food at Tara Kitchen in Schenectady and tried the ackee and saltfish at Roy’s Caribbean Restaurant in Albany.
When I’m not eating out, I still try to eat well: I buy fresh produce, and cook from scratch, and make a point of spending a little more for better-tasting beer or coffee.
However, I remain wary of anyone who identifies themselves as a foodie, and I’d never want to be identified as such. For one thing, I don’t really know all that much about food.
I’m also opposed to snobbery. Someone I know once suggested that people who eat American cheese are idiots, a theory I immediately rejected because I love American cheese. I also understand that not everyone has the money or inclination to drive out to a specialty food shop and sample fine cheeses. And that people eat because it’s a biological necessity, not because it’s fun and entertaining.
Perhaps this is why the New Yorker food issue often makes me feel like throwing up my hands and screaming “Who cares?” When it comes to food, my interest has limits.
A couple of years ago, I remember reading an article on foraging for food with fascination, but feeling exhausted by the time I got to an article on the wonders of heirloom tomatoes. How much do I really need to know about tomatoes, really? And is my palate really sensitive enough to distinguish between different kinds of tomatoes? I doubt it. Although, now that I think about it, I only like tomatoes when they’re fresh.
Which might be why I’m excited to see that my garden is producing tomatoes.
Much like last year, the garden is a hit-and-miss affair.
The peas and zucchini we transplanted haven’t survived, and the lettuce we planted in early spring never came up, perhaps as a result of unusually cold temperatures and excessive rain. But our beans, tomatoes, squash, basil, okra, cauliflower and kale are doing pretty well.
Last weekend I made pesto for the first time this year using basil leaves from the garden, and used it to flavor my pasta. I chopped up some tomatoes, and sautéed some of our beans with garlic and butter. It all added up to one of the more satisfying meals I’ve eaten recently. Best of all, there will be more fresh vegetables soon. All I have to do to get it is go down to the garden and pick it.
There are all sorts of different ways to enjoy food, and eating from my garden brings a unique satisfaction. But I’m not going to lie and say that the best food I’ve ever had is the food I’ve grown myself. Because that’s simply not true. That wheel of brie was very good, too — a near-perfect snack on a hot summer night.
In any case, I’m already looking forward to my next meal.
I’m thinking it will be the rest of the pesto, mixed with spaghetti and tomatoes. It probably won’t be the best thing I’ve ever eaten, either. But it should hit the spot.
Foss Forward makes a weekly appearance in print, in The Gazette’s Saturday Lifestyles section. You can email Sara at email@example.com.