Abalone > How did I miss that?

I've always hated ketchup which may seem odd given its popularity. Not that I am one to hop on the popularity bandwagon, but I love everything else that surrounds ketchup - burgers, fries, and Coke. Where did this odd bias come from? My brother.

For as long as I can remember, he put ketchup on everything; two pieces of bread with ketchup in the middle constituted a "sandwich". He ate ketchup on potato chips, mounds of ketchup on fries, ketchup ketchup ketchup. It didn't help that I already had a distaste for so many foods in this country being sweet; of which the worst offender of all time is "Miracle Whip." If you've ever naively mistaken it for mayonnaise, you know the palate-wrenching horror that ensues. If you haven't imagine oily cake frosting. Yeah, nasty.

In essence, I had 30 years of prejudice against ketchup. I've done just fine in defiance of it, cringing should it wind up in a burger without my knowledge, but I knew that to truly "get" food, I needed to overcome my bias. Thanks to Jeffrey Steingarten, whose brilliant book "The Man Who Ate Everything", included a chapter about him overcoming much more formidable food "obstacles", such as oysters, I felt confident I could conquer ketchup. In fact, it was an entire chapter he dedicated to "the best" ketchup debate that really drove me to reconcile my distaste with such a perfectly formulated sauce.

I sat down with the best fries on earth (In-and-Out Burger), a large Coke (he prefers the vile "diet" version), and a burger to balance things out. It was tough. Re-educating a palate, stuck firm for so long, took some time. Ketchup and I are now on fantastic terms. I was, if you will, playing catch-up with ketchup. (I actually wrote this entire blog entry just to do that joke.)

Another culinary breakthrough happened again last night, though not out of bias, but out of neglect: abalone. It felt like one of those dreams where you arrive at school (or work) without clothing. The question should be, "When is the last time you had abalone", not "Have you ever had abalone?" How did I miss something so obvious? I love every other kind of shellfish, how did I miss this one?

It was time for reconcilliation.

Rather than take on the task of cooking something myself for the first time, I did the smart thing; I let someone who has done it before do the cooking for me.

"Diane" ran through the usual caveats, "This is definitely not gourmet, I don't know if you're going to like this, this isn't fancy", yadda yadda yadda. What she didn't know is that I was humbled to have her cook for me and, more specifically, cook something I had no idea how to prepare. I stood back, said little, took pictures, and learned.

They were magnificent and just as she described, mild, firm but not rubbery in texture, like well-prepared calamari, breaded and fried, with a simple salad, potatoes, and wine. It didn't need a sauce swirled on a plate, exotic knife skills, or obscure ingredients. That meal, like art and good design of any kind, was successful - not because there's nothing else to add, but because there's nothing else to take away.


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