One benefit or curse of living in “Vacationland” is having friends and family from away visit you and stay in your home for days and days at a time. As I aspire to be an adequate host, I send the following email to incoming guests: “Do you have any dietary restrictions I should know about?”
Last summer, a friend wrote back: “No peas, please.”
That was his only dietary restriction — peas. Nothing about meat, tofu, lactose, peanut butter, gluten, complex carbohydrates, or red food coloring No. 40.
I wrote back and said I could honor that request and added that I made a great split-pea soup — but that I wouldn’t make the recipe.
To my surprise, he said he loved split-pea soup. He just didn’t like peas “in their natural state.”
It is comments such as these that lead me to take long walks and think about things. Split peas are dehydrated peas — is that an unnatural state of pea existence?
And what is the true natural state of peas — wouldn’t that be peas inside their pod? Maybe my friend dislikes sugar snap peas. Or snow peas? Frozen peas and canned peas, at least to my taste buds, are not in their natural state. Would either one be OK to serve my discriminating pea friend?
I also have friends who don’t like tomatoes. But I have seen them eat salsa, spaghetti sauce, ketchup and pizza with “red sauce” on numerous occasions. Either they have an odd reason to lie about their actual fondness for tomatoes or they have little culinary curiosity about what creates that red tinge in the foods they eat.
Yes, it is unsettling to learn my friends dislike a certain food and then find out they eat it all the time, albeit maybe processed into a condiment. Maybe the question I’m asking my guests — What do you like? — is too simplistic. For example, if I ever get to stay at your house and you ask me what I don’t like, I’ll immediately say coconut to prevent you from placing yucky coconut shavings on any dessert you might serve me. I do, however, love washing my hair with coconut-scented shampoo and slathering onto my shoulders any sun blocker with the word “tropical” in its name. Do serve me any Thai curry recipe made with coconut milk, but don’t serve me coconut ice cream on a cone. That sounds awful.
So here is what I have learned since my friend told me he doesn’t like peas but will gobble up split-pea soup. I really shouldn’t discard an entire species of vegetable, fruit, fungi, protein or fiber from my life, as they can show up at my door in a new disguise that actually tastes good. And maybe this new hesitancy to discard, to entirely cast off, should be extended to other things, too.
Take “The Lawrence Welk Show,” for example. I’m not a huge fan. But maybe I could look to him for inspiration if I’m ever asked to wear a blue tuxedo. So I’m not going to cast off Lawrence Welk even if all the dance numbers make me want to self-amputate my toe, not tap it. And for you who might want to cast off beets or some other person, place or thing, I say, delve a little deeper — process them a little more and see what you find.
If you think you dislike beets, the next time you need to frost some cupcakes, use beet juice to make pink frosting. It’s a great alternative to using red No. 40 food coloring. Just don’t put any coconut shavings on top of those cupcakes!
Gregory Greenleaf lives in Harpswell and teaches high school English. He ascribes, prescribes and subscribes to many old-fashioned ideas, but especially Charles Dickens’ observation that “There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.”