I’ve always been acutely aware of what goes into my mouth. Meaning, of course, that more than just shoveling sustenance was going on while I was eating. I was, and am, constantly analyzing the distinct flavors and textures of what I eat. Most of the time, my mind is on reproducing the flavor on my own – I’m a decent cook, and a huge foodie, so I enjoy puzzling out the herbs in any given recipe, deciding on the proportions given, and ascertaining the cooking methods used to produce a given flavor. It’s like a game to me, one I never tire of playing.
One would think that having had surgery to reduce the size of my stomach and radically reroute my intestines, I would have had to give up my favorite game. No. It’s really quite simple. I still play it, but with smaller portions. Sometimes, it makes those portions seem all the more special – I have to plan my dinner around my main course. I usually don’t have an appetizer, and will only have a few bites of salad. Most side dishes are wasted on me – vegetable of the day? Pass. Soupe du jour? Pass. Salad bar? Double pass. Unless it’s something super-tasty, I don’t waste the stomach space on it.
These days, since I can have so little of what I order, I make doubly sure that what I order has intense flavor. Thai food, with its intentional juxtaposition of sweet and salty, soft and crunchy, and all with tongue-tingling heat is one of my favorites. Tangy Italian food, richly herbed and sauced, redolent with garlic is nostalgia from my childhood. Yet another is the spicy freshness of Mexican food – tomatoes, onions, and peppers blended together with cumin and cayenne produce some of the most delectable dishes of my ken. They all pale, though, in comparison with the French – who else would serve seven different courses, each containing several mouth-watering flavors each? These are my people. Small portions of exquisite tastes, served over a period of hours. Ah, ze French. Zey know ‘ow to eat.
Still more seductive than flavor, though, was the texture of different foods in my mouth. The creamy unctuousness of peanut butter or Nutella, for example, would set my mouth undulating in languor. A bite of a well-made shortbread cookie, leaving sandy grains clinging to my lips, would excite me, as I slowly cleaned them from my mouth and felt them crunch beneath my tongue. The feeling of a Pringle, taken whole in my mouth, then shattering crisply against my palate, was an exultation to the senses. If I ate enough of them, the salty sting on the delicate tissues of my mouth produced a sensation not unlike rugburns after really vigorous sex. The crunch of a crisp apple between my teeth, taken together with its loud cracking sound was a joy. Rolling a chocolate truffle around my mouth was a tease – it would hit my tastebuds, my hard palate, my teeth, and my cheeks, eventually melting and trickling past my soft palate, too. Not until I bore down and released the creamy filling did it yield its full flavor.
Alas, lentils did not produce the same sensation. The mushy texture punctuated oddly by hardened lumps was uninspiring. Oatmeal was a prime offender in the texture game – gluey, lumpy, with strangely sharp edges, it does nothing for me except raise my gag reflex. Broccoli florets send cold shivers down my spine, although I will cheerfully eat the stems. The mealy texture of watermelon, along with its completely insipid flavor, finds me with a snarl on my face. Scrambled eggs are hit-or-miss with me – too cooked and I will shove the plate away. Similarly, if you prepare them the French way – baveuse, or drooly – I am equally revolted. Okra, the foul green pod of death, is possibly the most disgusting food on the planet, especially when stewed – it produces a mass of green slime unrivalled by even Nickelodeon. And, one is expected to eat it! Never by me, I say. It could be chocolate-flavored and yet one could not induce me to put it past my lips. Texture makes all the difference for me.I realize that not many people share my predilection for texture. Most people are satisfied if something tastes good. For me, though, my mouth is like another erogenous zone – what goes in it has to feel good as well as taste good. Explains a few things, huh?