Forks? We don' need no stinking forks.

Dang, y’all are some picky motherfuckers! How I wish my mother were here to read your comments, so she could realize that LOTS of kids have food issues and I was not refusing the lentil soup just to spite her.

Or at least, only PARTIALLY to spite her. Okay, yes, maybe I was kind of a jerk for most of 1989-1997. But if you’re currently 34 years of age, you probably were too. Plus, I was an ANGEL from ’79-’86. Those are what we call “the good ol’ days”; specifically, May through August of 1981.

Anyway, let’s stay on the topic of childhood food weirdness for a while longer, because it’s interesting and brings you out of your shells.


My parents were big on having salad with every meal. The salad was to be consumed BEFORE the meal, because if you ate it after, the quicker-digesting lettuces would sit atop the mound of entree in your stomach and rot before you had a chance to properly digest them.* Please note that my mother was, at various times, a stay-at-home-mom, a piano teacher, a nanny and an electrologist, and that none of those words mean “nutritionist.”

Thus, my parents had to get their picky eater to choke down a nightly salad. Vegetables and I did not become friends until later in my life, so salad greens with discernible flavors were RIGHT OUT.

*Another tip: drinking hot black tea right after eating sweet and sour pork helps melt down the fats in the dish so they can just be expelled from the body, though the lack of Alli-style anal leakage seems to contraindicate this cherished tenet.**

**Question: Have you ever tried Alli? In your estimation, how much anal leakage is tolerable before you give up? Just wondering.***

***The correct answer should be none point none.


My mother capitulated by serving mainly iceberg lettuce, which we now know to be water in lettuce form, with the occasional dalliance with romaine hearts. Aside from my iceberg fetish I had three inviolable salad rules; all needed to be satisfied to ensure any salad consumption:

  • No dressing. Maybe I thought that eating salad was a form of penitence and was not to be enjoyed by tossing it with something that would have enhanced the flavor. Kinda like wearing a culinary hair shirt.*
  • Mandatory fruit. Like an apple or an orange, cut up into the salad, so that I could eat the fruit and veg together and mask the pungency of the iceberg. You think Jerry Seinfeld’s wife was the first person to trick kids into eating vegetables with sweet flavors? My mom was a goddamn pioneer. I demand royalties as the lone U.S. representative of her estate.
  • Eating is with the hands ONLY. I can’t explain this one. You are welcome to offer your analysis.

*Although you gotta wonder how many of the self-flagellating monks were actually getting their rocks off from the pain. Which probably made them feel guilty, which required more penance, which created an infinite loop of jollies. No wonder most of them died young.


Interestingly, it wasn’t until after I’d made this springtime salad that I realized it was really just the grown-up version of my childhood mainstay of lighter, more delicate flavors paired with fruit, kinda.

I wanted to take advantage of the recent explosion of springtime with a big bowl of green. I decided to pair pea shoots – the tender little leaves and curlicue stems of pea plants, they taste just like, uh, peas – with asparagus and a bit of mint. To add some sweetness and acid, blood oranges, and some hazelnuts for crunch.

To up the fancy-schmanciness level, I slivered the asparagus with a vegetable peeler before giving them a super-quick blanch, then tossed everything together and dressed it lightly with a simple vinaigrette made of blood orange juice, champagne vinegar and olive oil. (I have grown up a little.)


And yes, I ate it with a fork.

Paired with some pan-seared fish, it was an easy, quick, delightful dinner. And yes, I know it’s not psychologically wise to give foods moral authority by designating them “good” or “bad,” but I did feel a little virtuous after I ate it.

You really can’t go wrong when you’re pairing up things that come into season together, and pea shoots and asparagus are no exception. They just taste like sweet greenness on a plate. The citrus and mint were punctuations, and the textures were dreamy – crisp shoots, crunchy nuts, explosions of citrus juice, tender asparagus.

Now you spill: weirdest childhood eating habit. Hit me with your best shot.

Pea Shoot, Asparagus and Blood Orange Salad
serves four as a side dish

3 blood oranges
1 bunch asparagus
1 1/2 tbsp. champagne vinegar
1/3 c. olive oil
4 large handfuls of pea shoots
1/2 c. chopped, toasted hazelnuts

Dispatch the oranges: Supreme the oranges. Take the leftover orange innards and squeeze them over a bowl, aiming to get 2-3 tablespoons of juice. Stash the supremes and the juice in the fridge.

Dispatch the asparagus: Snap off the tough ends by holding one end of a test stalk in each hand and bending it until it snaps, then trimming all the other stalks to the same length.

To cut them up, you can do what I did and cut each stalk into long slivers with a vegetable peeler, which is tedious and annoying, or you can do what I’ll do next time I make this and just cut the stalks into two-inch sections. Cut on the bias if you want to be pretty.

Put a pot of water on to boil and have a bowl filled with ice water at the ready. When the water comes to a boil, give it a good tablespoon of salt then dump in the asparagus. If you’ve made the ribbons, you’ll want them in the boiling water for under 10 seconds. If you’ve just cut the whole stalk into pieces, give it more like a minute. Plunge the cooked asparagus into the ice water, swish ’em around, then drain completely.

Make the dressing: Stir the reserved blood orange juice and vinegar together with a pinch of salt. Slowly pour in the olive oil, whisking.

Assemble: Toss the pea shoots with the asparagus, blood orange supremes and hazelnuts, then toss the whole salad with the dressing – go easy, you can always add more.

Serve immediately.

26 thoughts on “Forks? We don' need no stinking forks.

  1. Damn these opposing seasons, this salad looks way glam but importantly, delicious too.

    Probably my weirdest food quirks as a kid was making sandwiches, four or five bits of bread high, layered with either marmite and cheese or tomato sauce and cheese, then microwaving the living hell out of them. Another option was golden syrup and butter.

    Frankly, I could go for some right now…

  2. The ONLY salad I would eat as a kid was croutons with blue cheese dressing on it, maybe some carrots. Not a green to be found – I still don’t like iceberg lettuce – it tastes like too much water packed into a tiny little space.
    Seriously, I can’t believe my family would let me eat croutons smothered in blue cheese dressing and call it a salad!

  3. Sardines and birch beer. Yep, you read that right. Canned sardines in olive oil with a birch beer chaser. My Grandpa Higgins used to take my brother and I on his Sunday afternoon rounds to the local taverns (this was 1960’s north Jersey, so it was perfectly acceptable, apparently), and I would belly up to the bar next to Grandpa and eat my sardines and drink my birch beer while he had his shot & beer. My next favorite was dunking my potato chips in my birch beer, so that the bubbles in the chips would fill up with soda. This explains so much about how I turned out…

  4. When I was a kid, our family’s favorite candy was chocolate drops, little cone-shaped things with a creme inside and a thin chocolate shell, which went by a name that I didn’t realize was racist to the point of now being ***’d out, so I won’t repeat it. But my great-grandfather would take those, which were sweet to the point of hurting your teeth, squash them into a little flat disc between the heels of his hands and meticulously assemble (1) a Town House cracker, (2) a slice of sharp cheddar cheese, and (3) the smashed candy. I STILL love that.

    Inquiring minds want to know — what was the key to the felicity of May-August 1991?

  5. Hmmm, fresh bread dunked in malt vinegar, always on a Sunday after church.
    OR “Gunk”, confectionary sugar, cocoa and butter, heated on the stove top and eaten hot with a spoon, I went through a phase of eating this at lunchtime. My Mum worked so didn’t know what I got up to during the day, she must have wondered what on earth was happening to all her confectionary sugar though.

  6. @hungryandfrozen, not bizarre enough, sorry.

    @kayb, a few points:

    1. yuck.

    2. from may-august 1981 i was largely in italy, traveling with my mom – trieste, roma, brindisi. i was a happy little italian child, and actually forgot my english. the memories are hazy and piecey, but they’re super-duper-happy.

    @annemarie, so when you say “gunk” you mean “spoonful of diabetes.” yowza!

  7. This is one of the areas of food disagreement between myself and my flatmate– she thinks salad counts as the vegetable part of teh meal, but I think it’s always what you have in addition. We always had salad, usually a mixed green thing with tomatoes, but often bean salad or cucumber salad, and with whatever was in the garden thrown in. It was always part of the meal -you have protein, starch, vegetables and salad.

    At home, the only real arguments were salad dressing– my mum and my brother like it much less vingerary than me and my dad. I liked a salad with lots of floppy lettuce (round lettuce) so it would soak up more dressing. I used to wait until the next day to eat the leftovers, so they’d have even more dressing.

    My three biggest comfort foods to his day are bean salad and lentil stew, because they were such staples– pantry food, where you’d always have the stuff for it, and they were a basic haven’t-throught-about-dinner/been-shopping/can’t-be-bothered thing. That and gunk, which is basically fresh tomatoes, mostly diced, mozzarella, mostly diced, about half of it blitzed with a handheld blender, then all of it on a saucepan on the stove and cooked until it was all melted and bubbly, with some herb and seasoning.

    It’s seriously just so good.

  8. Sunday salad at my house were serious affairs, with about a million things including cheese and pepperoni and anything else mom wanted to get rid of.
    Most beloved thing to eat when very young… white bread with a thick thick layer of soft butter, then a thick layer of granulated sugar pressed into that.
    Which now I realize is just cheap ass “cake” with deconstructed buttercream frosting!

  9. Bread and butter with granulated sugar! Cynic1, we used to eat that as kids too! We always ate french toast with butter and sugar instead of syrup too. Until I saw your comment I’d forgotten about it!

  10. I always liked salad, although when I was a child the only salad dressing in my world was Hidden Valley Ranch. I have since branched out and my favorite dressing is now homemade sherry vinaigrette. I have taught my mother to make homemade vinaigrettes as well, so she can escape the Ranch cycle.
    My weird childhood food quirk #1: putting ice cubes in my milk…not to let them totally dissolve and water it down, but just to make it extra cold, and then drink it all down very quickly. I was never a fan of just drinking milk, but I didn’t like chocolate milk (1 sister’s preferred flavor) or strawberry milk (other sister’s preferred flavor) either.
    WCFQ #2: Peeling grapes. I would take a grape, bite a bit of the skin at the stem end, and pull the grape, peeling off strips of the grape skin. I would peel the whole grape, eating all the skin, before I would then pop the juicy soft peeled grape in my mouth. I would perform this feat of patience and skill on every grape I ate. Sometimes I still do it, just because it is still good.

  11. When I was a kid I hated any and all salad dressings. Granted, I only hate carrots, celery, cucumber, and iceberg lettucs (which I thought was rather sweet) for veggies, so salad dressing wasn’t generally required. I never liked mayo, so the mayo-based dressings were out. I hated vinegar, so ditto for those. Even today the only dressings I like are mild-vinagrettes and will sometimes eat a salad dry. I went on a kick once where I tried to acquire a taste for ranch, but I’m just not a fan of buttermilk.

  12. Weird eating habit: my strongest memory of childhood is going to eat dinner at the sushi bar once a week and without fail, I would patiently watch the guy make my little rolls and then I would spend an equal amount of time systematically deconstructing each piece and eating the ingredients separately. Why they just didn’t pile it all on the plate and let me have at it I will never know.
    Weird food choice: Thick cut french ham with chocolate mousse. Excellent balance of fat, savory and sweet.

  13. I had a weird habit of putting two slices of Kraft cheese (with a heavy layer of dehydrated onion, garlic powder and onion salt in between) on a bun and nuking it until it was all melted and soggy… I thought it the best thing on earth.

    I also liked to mix soy sauce, worsteshire, butter and a bunch of different spices, nuke it in a coffee cup, and mix it with chex cereal. Kind of like chex mix!

  14. When my parents would go out and my sister and I had to fend for ourselves in the kitchen, we were big fans of making “Everything Sandwiches”. They would normally include over 30 ingredients, most of which, sadly, were from the spice rack. I have no idea why this was a regular event. On a fancier note I was known as a child to DEMAND rock cornish game hens and tiramisu. I guess when I was making it, I would eat anything, and when it was someone else, well I was just a bit of a c*nt.

  15. My dad and sister used to eat peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwiches which I thought was weird then, and still do. A family favorite that I wouldn’t consider eating now was Kraft Macaroni & Cheese with tuna and mustard. This was a Friday night too-tired-to-cook staple. I loved it, but thought it was even better as leftovers – cold.

  16. I HAD TO HAVE ketchup and (raw) onion sandwiches in my lunch. Mom would also invariably include a PB+J or tuna salad, probably because she didn’t want anyone thinking we were _that_ poor.

    I also liked to drink straight vinegar. Sometimes I’d dunk some uncooked spaghetti in it and let it sit until it got soft. Guh.

  17. Dill pickles, specifically Heinz Original Dill, accompanied by orange juice. It used to be pickles with chocolate milk but I got too many stomach aches. Also ketchup sandwiches.

  18. @hebby, who knew there were so many kinds of “gunk”? fascinating!

    @cynic1, you are insufficiently freaky. i’m pretty sure every little kid likes white bread with butter and sugar. if they don’t, there’s something wrong.

    @rachel, i’m with you on the iced milk. did that until i was a teenager.

    @hillary, monica and kate, THAT’S what i’m talking about! nuked cheese and dried onion sandwiches? vinegar-soaked spaghetti? pickles and oj? YOU WIN!

  19. I was, among other things, fond of grating cheese onto a plate, microwaving it, and eating the melted cheese with a fork. Also got into the habit of eating ramen noodles dry, but that was a weird trend among a lot of the other high-schoolers, so I’m not responsible for that one.

    Thinking back on my mom’s fairly regular salad–eating those by hand would have taken a long-ass time, with all the kidney beans and slippery bits of avocado. Woof.

  20. Peanut butter and dill pickle sandwiches. With mayonnaise. This is actually genetic, as my mom and her siblings used to take them to school for lunch.

  21. Vinegar! I used to sneak into the kitchen and steal a teaspoon of vinegar as a treat. Raspberry or balsamic, one of the posh ones, or one of the tarragon vinegars mum would do (white wine vinegar with some tarragon put in to infuse).

    My dad use to eat onions like apples when he was a kid. Just peel and bite.

  22. Oreos accompanying tuna-fish sandwiches (alternating bites). Pea shoots = bean sprouts; rather, pea sprouts? Source=whole foods or other chichi market? Also, in reference to the breakfast strata entry (3/29), let there be no question: Michelle has the most sailor-y mouth of all foodbloggers. Also, welcome back from the surreal mind-twisting temper-shorting world of pain. Glad to hear you got a diagnosis and relief.

  23. @jessmilkshake, that is horrifying.

    @ieatsigrins, nope, pea shoots = the leaves and tendrils of very young pea plants. you could probably get them at whole foods; i got mine from fresh direct.

    and i bet i don’t have the MOST sailory mouth, unfortunately. when you look at the total number of words i fling at you v. total number of cuss words, it’s actually pretty reasonable.

    even rick santorum curses sometimes.

  24. My weirdest was having a stick of butter at grandma’s with my name on it so I could just eat in large bites. I still love butter…just not THAT much. My sister used to eat Alka-Seltzer tablets. Shudder! My mom would have to hide them.

  25. I have to try this dressing! My mom made a really good vinegar & oil dressing growing up. This looks a lot like it, but more flavors. Not sure if I could do the asparagus strips. Doesn’t sound (a)peeling. HA.

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