Tales of the Picky Eater

Tale Number 1: There Were No Food Questions on the Web Form

The first sign of trouble came as I sautéed onions and garlic for the sauce to my baked ziti recipe. Mike, my future husband and the love of my life, walked into the kitchen and asked, “What are you cooking?”

Even though I knew what was cooking, the tone of his voice was such that I looked at the skillet to be sure. “Onions and garlic.”
           
He scrunched up his face, put his hand on his stomach, and said, “It’s making me queasy.”
           
Now, I knew he liked spaghetti and lasagna. If you like one Italian dish, you like them all, right? I also knew he liked sautéed onions on burgers and with potatoes, so it had to be the garlic causing the problem.
           
The man I loved, the man of my dreams, got sick to his stomach at the smell of cooking garlic.
           
Oh no.
           
Once I added the Italian sausage, seasoning, and the tomato sauce to the mix, Mike’s queasy feeling dissipated. Thank goodness! Maybe everything would be okay.
           
The baked ziti came out of the oven all bubbly and fragrant, with the layer of melted cheese all nicely browned. This was one of my favorite dishes. In the past, I served it at dinner parties and when my parents came for a visit, all to rave reviews.
           
Mike didn’t like it.
           
The garlic and Italian seasoning were too strong for his tastes. He said the dish reminded him a little bit of his ex-wife, Jody’s, Italian goulash. He started to reminisce about how good her dish was and maybe he could get the recipe for me.
           
This was not good.
           
Maybe I should have paid more attention to his food choices the past few months than his sweet blue eyes and soft kisses. Actually, I think I’ll write a letter to the internet dating site where we connected and suggest they put some food-themed questions on their form. Ones like:
           
Does the smell of cooking garlic make you queasy?
           
Let me back up a bit. Seven months earlier, at the end of June 2010, I arrived at my new home in Meriden, Kansas, just outside of Topeka. The previous 18 years of my life were spent in New England, first in Massachusetts and then New Hampshire.
           

I loved everything about living in New England—the climate, history, people, and close proximity to the key centers of our country. What I left behind were friends who were like family to me, shops and restaurant I adored, thriving cities and quaint coastal and mountain towns that look just like what you see on television, and a failed marriage.
           

The Ex and I were married for almost 11 years. Though my marriage didn’t work out, my writing career flourished during that time. It began with my writing op-ed pieces for the Concord, Monitor newspaper, and then I got my first magazine article published in the Boston Globe Magazine. That was followed by a couple of years as senior editor at Taste for Life magazine, where my love of writing and food came together. When my sideline work started to pay close to my regular salary, I jumped into freelancing full time.

This was also the time I blossomed as a cook. I’ve always enjoyed trying new recipes. However, in my large, homey Hillsboro kitchen, with its forest-green walls covered in antique cooking utensils and baskets, large pine table, and wood-grain-laminate countertops, I began to experiment. Recipes were changed a bit here and there to see what happened. More challenging recipes were attempted. New dishes were created and then tested out on any willing person. Popular ones, such as my Creole-style shrimp cocktail and chicken cheese soup, were often requested and repeated.

After the divorce, my kitchen shifted to a minuscule one in a Concord, New Hampshire studio apartment. There was little counter-top space and no room for a table. It did have a full-sized refrigerator and electric stove, but no place to roll-out pie crust or cinnamon roll dough. Dishes were hand washed and placed in a drainer sitting on top of the stove’s burners.
           
By this time, I was working as the food reporter for The Hippo, a regional entertainment newspaper, which covered the southern part of New Hampshire and northern Massachusetts. I wrote four to six pieces each week on the area food scene—new restaurants opening, food-themed events, chef profiles, and articles with recipes I developed myself or got from an area expert.

Food and writing were a natural pairing for me. I loved telling readers the story behind the recipe, especially if it came with an old family memory. We often see chefs in the media ranting at their staff in a frantic, fast-paced kitchen. I wanted readers to see behind the image to where their passion first started, often in their grandmother’s kitchen or watching a single father learn to cook for his kids. Behind every dish there is usually a story to tell.     
           
Even with all of that work, I struggled. It is hard to live off writing income alone, especially in the expensive Northeast. Then the economy tanked in 2008, and with it went a lot of my writing work. I finally began to see the reality of my situation.
           
It was time for a change.
           
Since my divorce, the family ties back in the Midwest were stronger than the ones in the East, and those ties were calling me home. My parents weren’t getting any younger. I liked the idea of being closer than two plane rides away.


That’s how I wound up in Kansas renting a room in a country house. My landlord/housemate/friend, Derrick, and his daughter, Sarra, made me feel welcome from the start and helped me learn to navigate my new home and surroundings. The large ranch-style house was only a few years old. It was located on a gravel country road overlooking soybean fields.

Soon after I arrived, I met with some local editors, which lead to writing assignments for the Topeka Capital-Journal newspaper and Sunflower Publishing’s regional magazines. I also continued to write for magazines in New England. To make extra money while my writing career got back on track, I took a job as a Montessori preschool teacher at Discovery School Montessori Preschool in Topeka. I learned the Montessori method of teaching while working at schools in both Massachusetts and New Hampshire years ago, and it was fun to be around children again.

Though hanging out with Derrick and Sarra was great fun, I soon started to think of ways to meet new people. Male people. One path I’d considered for a while was signing up on Match.com. I wasn't necessarily looking for a relationship. After my divorce and a couple of misses in the romance department, I was more interested in having fun, meeting new people, and seeing what the Topeka-Lawrence-Kansas City area had to offer.

This is how Sarra and I wound up one evening sitting at the dining room table with my computer in front of us, looking at the profiles on Match. After signing up, I had gotten a lot of responses. Honestly, I felt kind of silly. Here I was, 47 years old, looking for a date online.
           
Sarra proved to be a very insightful advisor regarding which men I should reject and the ones I should consider. We both rejected the one we nicknamed Psycho Santa, who looked like a cross between Santa Clause and the Unabomber. Ugh.
           
We came to a suggested match named Michael3022. He went by Mike and was 52 years old, cute, and a 95-percent match with my interests. His profile said, “I enjoy all kinds of things—dinner, music, plays, sporting events, mini-vacations. I’m looking for a nice looking girl who is fun to be around, honest and a little adventurous.”
           
Sarra looked at me and said, “He seems nice. I think you should say you’re interested.”
           
So I did…and my life changed forever.



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