Personal preferences – a rant

I do not consider myself to be a fussy eater, but there are certain food stuffs that I prefer not to eat. I have developed and changed my preferences over a number of years as I have aged. I will try most things at least once before I decide if I wish to repeat the experience based on my enjoyment. I have no interest in what others think I should like. How could others possibly know what will please me?

Take shellfish as an example. I just adore the taste of the shellfish that I have tried, but I now refuse to eat it for a reason. When I was on my honeymoon, my husband and I stopped for lunch one day at a lovely little coastal cafe where I ordered a crab salad. This was the first chance I had ever had to try crab and it was delicious. Around fifteen minutes later, feeling decidedly unwell, both lunch and breakfast made a dramatic reappearance.

The incident reminded me of a similar experience a few years previously when I had disgraced myself at a friend’s house after consuming a yummy prawn curry, lovingly prepared by his mother. After the crab incident I decided that perhaps shellfish were not for me.

Most people will understand and tolerate such preferences. I have a similar issue with raspberries, once again discovered when I was presented with these delights in a pudding at a friend’s dinner party, and spent the next few hours miserably contemplating a toilet bowl. I realised that I had encountered similar issues on previous occasions and added these bright red fruits to my list of banned substances.

There are, however, less dramatic preferences that others seem unwilling to tolerate. Like many British people, I enjoy a nice cup of tea. As an aside, complicated political events mean that I am also Irish, a fact that gives me a certain amount of nostalgic pride. However, I have chosen to carry a British passport so claim that as my nationality rather than the land of my birth. I know a lot of Irish as well as British people who choose to drink their tea very strong.

I like my tea to be made with an ordinary teabag in a pot, with just a splash of milk at the bottom of a large mug before it is poured. I also like it weak. This seems to offend so many people who are convinced that, because they would not choose to drink weak tea, I cannot possibly wish to have mine served in this way.

It is such a simple request to make, to pour my tea before the leaves have had time to fully brew as that is the way I like it. Others look at me aghast and cannot believe that I could enjoy such a beverage, because they would not. Thus I am presented with a drink that I will not enjoy. Often when I am out this results in me asking for coffee, which I do like strong, and drinking tea only when at home and in control of the pot.

It is not just friends and acquaintances who refuse to allow me to indulge certain preferences that they cannot approve. When I am eating out in a fine restaurant the talented chefs will rarely cook my meat the way I like it, particularly beef. Despite the fact that I am paying for this meal, and ask that it be well done, it arrives pink and chewy, sometimes even bloody. In this instance it seems that the customer is not always right.

Now, I get that a piece of quality beef does not require a lot of cooking, and that connoisseurs believe that the animal need only to be shown the heat source briefly before being served. If that is how others choose to eat their beef then that is fine with me, I just wish that they would be as fine with my choices.

Fellow diners wrinkle their noses and decry my wish to spoil a delicacy by incinerating it. If that is how I wish to eat it then why does this annoy them? What is it to them how I wish to eat when I am not asking anyone else to do as I do? Once again, I will rarely order beef when out as I know I will not choose to consume what is presented to me. It is a shame as I enjoy a good piece of beef, but only when cooked through.

I would never claim to be an expert on food or wine, yet I know what I like. I am willing to try new dishes but, if I know from experience that I will not enjoy some supposed delicacy, then I see little point in eating it just because the rest of the world rates it highly.

I mentioned wine. I have lost count of the number of people who have turned up their noses at my choice of wine. In this area I am only too well aware that I am not an expert. When I have been out with others who know what they are doing I have been offered some delightful choices. I have also been offered sweet or paint stripping concoctions that ensured I went home half a glass short of sober.

I generally know which of my friends and acquaintances I can trust to choose my wine for me, those who will select a bottle of something that I will consider nectar. I also know those who have preferences that differ so markedly from mine that I will order my own bottle and leave them to enjoy theirs. This is not an insult to their taste as they sometimes seem to think, but simply a difference. Why do some people not understand that it is fine for individuals to enjoy different things?

When it is just me drinking, I choose what I know I will like, usually a Chardonnay. This may not be considered classy, but then nor am I. There is no need for others to turn up their noses, laugh at my choice, or mention some television show that mocks this widely derided grape. Wine is to be enjoyed, so I drink what I know I will like.

I feel frustrated when my children refuse to try new dishes. Once tried though, once given a decent chance, each of us will favour different things and this is okay. If my preferences lower your opinion of me then I can live with that. Just please don’t ask me to drink strong tea or sweet wine. And pressure me into eating shellfish at your peril.

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Eating out

After considering our options for the second week of my husband’s fortnight long break from work, we decided to stay at home but go out and about from there. The weather had turned wet and my teenage boys, being overly attached to their electronic entertainments, reluctant to commit to any ideas we suggested for days away. Add to this mix my own minor health issues and we have ended up spending the week fairly quietly. We have, however, managed to eat out locally on a couple of evenings.

I have developed a dislike of cooking so a meal out is a real treat, although eating out with teenagers can also be a challenge. By checking menus beforehand we can select a venue that offers the type of food that they are likely to be willing to try, but there are no guarantees that they will show any sort of enjoyment of the experience. I find this apparent sense of entitlement frustrating. I mean, what do I expect, gratitude?

Having determined that we would regard this week at home as a holiday, and treat ourselves accordingly, we were keen to try out some new venues. All too often we return to favourite places as we wish to celebrate an occasion and do not wish to risk disappointment over a meal that is intended to be a treat. We gain a great deal of enjoyment from eating good food but the cost of going out has made this an indulgence, albeit one that we have been allowing ourselves to do more in recent months than for many years.

Our first foray was earlier in the week when I hobbled down the tree lined drive to the Bowood Hotel to eat at their Brasserie in the company of my little family. I thought that the casual menu would suit my boys and the food did not disappoint. Service was excellent and the atmosphere relaxed and convivial; it should have been a very pleasant evening.

However, for whatever reason, my boys decided to squabble. Nothing loud or embarrassing, just jibes and unkind comments thrown at each other over the course of the evening that tarnished my enjoyment. My husband and I agreed that, if they considered this behaviour acceptable during a supposed treat, then we would leave them at home next time.

And that is what we did. Last night we decided to try out The Bridge Brasserie, a venue that had been recommended to us but which we had yet to explore for ourselves. Leaving the boys to find their own entertainments, we caught a bus into town and spent a very enjoyable few hours indulging in what turned out to be delicious and well prepared food. Service was excellent and the various dishes presented in a timely and attractive manner. I do not like being rushed when eating, but here the waiters were attentive enough to note when we were ready to move on without hovering. The ambiance of the place was friendly yet discreet; it was a very enjoyable experience.

We like the current fad adopted by good restaurants  of small portions, artfully presented, combining interesting flavours that complement each item of food on the plate. I have read reviews of other places that suggest some patrons feel short changed when charged a large tariff for a small amount of food; we prefer flavour to quantity.

The Bridge Brasserie certainly ticked all boxes for taste and presentation, but nobody could complain about portion size. This generosity did not detract from the deliciousness, merely surprised us. I could not finish my main course and skipped pudding to avoid spoiling the pleasure by overeating.

My husband would have liked to have seen a little more variety in some of the wine recommendations but, mindful of the pricing structure and clientele at which the establishment is aimed, enjoyed the drinks offered with each course. I was happy with my well chilled and tonic heavy G&T (just as I like it) followed by a fruity white wine that held up to the deliciousness of the perfectly cooked lamb.

Just as, after recent experiences, we wonder how we can provide a family holiday away from home that will suit my teenage boys, so my husband and I are now wondering at the wisdom of including them in meals out. It is important that, as parents, we expose them to different situations to enable them to pick up on social cues and learn acceptable behaviour. It is also important that we, as adults, are allowed to enjoy the experiences ourselves.

I need to mull over the best way to proceed as regards balancing family time with the enjoyment of expensive experiences, and to discuss with my boys why they sometimes behave as they do. Perhaps all we need are ground rules for participation. In the meantime, The Bridge will be added to our list of places worth considering for celebratory nights out. We will undoubtedly return.

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