Friday, January 15, 2010

The Durian

If Garlic is Love, then durian is...durian.

Squatting in the snow in my backyard, durian laid out in front of me on a pizza box, I tried to gather the courage to eat this mysterious and misunderstood fruit.

I saw it, frozen, at my local Oriental Mart. I was stunned. I'd heard of it before--on exotic travel and food shows--but thought it was only available in its native Asia, not my middling Midwest town. I had some cash in my pocket, and figured, for a little more than 5 bucks, I had little to lose.

I noted the packaging. Clear hard plastic case, shrinkwrapped in more plastic. Inside, two fruits were bound up in clear plastic wrap, like fat, cream-colored sausages.

I picked it out of the freezer case, tucked it under my arm, and did a little more shopping. After a while, I noticed a strange smell that seemed to be following me. You know how sometimes, if you have a dog, and the dog is laying down across the room, and all of a sudden, your'e on the couch and you get a whiff of dog fart out of nowhere?

A little like that.

I sniffed my hands. Amazingly, the durian smell had transferred through all three layers of plastic. It was faint, but distinct. And seemed to be getting stronger the more I focused on the scent.

The cashier at the counter wrapped the durian box in another plastic baggie. I smiled at her, and thanked her. I could still smell it as I put it into the trunk of my car. Four layers of plastic.

I thought of my friend Donna, a fearless, brilliant woman, who just had a milestone birthday. She wouldn't be afraid of a fruit. Even if it did grow looking like a big, spiky football that could kill you if it fell on you. I thought of all the other odd foods I'd tried--garlic and honey ice-cream, duck's blood soup, chocolate cheese.

I nearly threw the durian in the trash, unopened.

Now that I had direct experience with how fragrant the durian actually was, as soon as I got home, the whole package went directly into the snowbank in my backyard. We'd just gotten a good foot of snow, and the temperatures weren't getting anywhere near freezing, so it was the safest place for it. I had to shoo the dog away from it a couple times until more snow the following week buried it completely.

Just this week, we got a thaw. I looked out my window and saw the box, the pale yellow sausages staring at me. Taunting me.

There was no way I was tossing the durian, I decided, but no way I'd be eating it in the house. I scrounged in the kitchen for a plate I wouldn't mind getting rid of, a fork and a knife. I put my snow boots on and went into the backyard.

I held my breath, opened the layers of packaging. One, then two, then three, now slicing the end off the tube. I squatted down, dug out a hunk of creamy fruit, and chewed.

The taste was not nearly as strong as I thought it would be, considering the smell. Perhaps this was because it was still pretty cold, and the flavor was somewhat muted. It tasted like a very chewy cantaloupe, mixed in with a very runny and stinky goat cheese, with a little bit of onion character thrown in, especially on the aftertaste.

Even so, I only had one bite. I couldn't decide if I liked it or not, and I had absolutely no viable storage options for the rest of the fruit now that I'd opened it and the weather was warming up. So, still undecided, I closed the pizza box lid, and walked the whole thing across the backyard, to the garage, to the trash.

It would have been nice to figure out something else to do with the fruit, but small steps. I was proud that I'd tried it. The risk taker in me (such as she is) wins out again. And, if for a very short second, it was no longer winter in Michigan, but summer in Malaysia.

Now if I can just find a place nearby that serves Fugu.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

2009 culinary recap

I was so busy cooking in the last quarter of 2009, I had little time to blog. Here's a quick highlight of what I was up to between then and now:

* Hosted an epic Halloween party which included two types of punch (both with dry ice smoke), squid-ink pasta, roasted garlic with anchovy paste, and numerous other spooky bites.

* Wrote a 50,000 word novel in the month of November, using dining scenes for inspiration when I was stuck.

* Baked three different types of cookies, some chocolate chipotle brownies, cranberry sauces, green been casserole and saganaki (opa!).

* Got back on the scallops wagon six months after eating some bad ones while celebrating my 5th wedding anniversary.

* Improved my soup-fu (aka improv soup making).

* Made a halfway decent (and somewhat authentic) curry for the first time.

* Fell in love with saba nigiri (mackerel sushi).

* Re-created at home a roasted squash and bean hummus dip that I'd had at a fancy restaurant.

* Lost, then gained back, 4 pounds.

My food goals for 2010 are to:

* Consume wine or cheese older than I am

* Do another "Iron Chef" party with friends, but as a judge, not a competitor

* Master pastry crusts (I'm thinking just about the time that berries and peaches come into season).

* Eat more fish; get more creative with fish meals

* Have more fun with vegetarian food

* Find more fun and delicious local restaurants

* Enjoy food more; worry less

2010 should be a good food year.