I will be the first to admit that I am a pretty picky eater. I always have been. When I was a kid, I rarely ate vegetables. I rarely ate fruit. When the rest of my family was eating roast beef, I would beg my mother to make me hot dogs. If I was unsuccessful in my pleas, I would make myself a Swanson's frozen dinner. When I got older and was left to fend for myself by my constantly-working parents, I survived on pizza and hamburgers.
When I got married, I made the decision to keep kosher, based on my wife's influence. It was not nearly the imposition I had imagined and I adjusted to certain foods — bacon, shrimp and the Philadelphia staple cheesesteaks — being eliminated from my diet. In all actuality, I was not a big fan of seafood. Despite my Philadelphia roots, I didn't eat a whole lot of cheesesteaks. And, in 1984, bacon was not touted as the be-all-end-all, omnipresent, food-of-the-gods ambrosia that is today. Bacon was just another food that I stopped eating.
Eventually, I gave up eating meat altogether. I started to try and soon enjoy vegetables. I have expanded the ingredients in my salads from iceberg lettuce and croutons to artichokes, red cabbage, endive and radicchio. I have developed a taste for tofu, tempeh and, superfood-of-the-moment, kale. I have become more adventurous and curious with other (non-meat) foods, as well.
Only recently, however, have I begun to bring myself to eat baked beans. When I was a kid and my mom would serve hot dogs, I was very happy. But, when that big bowl of baked beans would hit the table, I would gag. I'd pull my plate away and fill any remaining space on it with potato chips. "No thanks!," I'd protest, "No beans for me." Meanwhile, I'd be thinking, "Ecccchhhh!"
Just after high school, a couple of my friends moved to the main campus of Penn State University. One long weekend, my friend Scott and I took the three-hour drive to Happy Valley for a visit and three days of drinking, drinking and more drinking. Sobering up for the ride home, we stopped on the Pennsylvania Turnpike for a quick bite. I didn't know how I could keep anything in my stomach after the 72 hours of abuse to which I had subjected my body. Scott, however, eagerly ordered a big dish of franks 'n' beans, a specialty of Howard Johnson's, our chosen stop. I don't remember what my menu selection was (I probably didn't remember then, minutes after I had ordered) and I'm sure I didn't eat a bite. All I remember is that giant plate of beans with two fat frankfurters glistening lazily in the center. There must have been five gallons of 'em. I'm surprised I didn't throw up the meager contents of my guts all over the table.
But, just a few years ago, my wife was making hot dogs for dinner — beef for her and the vegetarian version for me. Mrs. P cannot eat hot dogs without an accompaniment of baked beans.It would be like peanut butter without jelly, pancakes without syrup or (for my Philadelphia homies) soft pretzels without mustard. As she assembled the various components of our evening meal — rolls, condiments, a big bag of potato chips to share — she placed a large bowl of baked beans closer to her place setting. Past experience taught her that I wanted nothing to do with that particular side dish. However, as I watched her spoon a helping of beans across the top of one of her hot dogs (a long-time ritual of hers), I made a surprise request.
"Could I try some of those?," I asked.
Mrs. P was taken aback. She pointed to the bowl filled to the brim with orange-sauced beans. "These? You want to try these?," she questioned and then reminded me, "These are baked beans. You hate baked beans!"
"Lemme give 'em another chance.," I said.
I gingerly scooped a small amount of beans onto my plate. I maneuvered one into the bowl of my spoon and popped it into my mouth. It wasn't horrible. I repeated the move, this time tripling the number of beans. I wasn't gagging. I actually enjoyed the taste. It was a culinary revelation! Well, maybe I'm exaggerating a little.
Recently, at an informal dinner party at a friend's house, a concoction identified as "doctored baked beans" were served. Oh man! When pressed, the hostess revealed that, in addition to a base of canned baked beans, the ingredients included caramelized onions, maple syrup, mango salsa and alcoholic root beer*. A true comestible treat for even the most die-hard baked bean hater.
Until recently, that was me.
*Did I miss any ingredients, Kathy?