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Unexpected Encounters Are the Best Kind

By Tina Chaytor:

Food has taken on many entities in the past century. To some, it’s a means to an end; to others, it’s the enemy. Different diets and eating plans come at us in alternating waves as we try to navigate what food really is to us. We are counting our calories, measuring our portions, and avoiding certain foods in our collective obsession to achieve optimum health.

I have one question for all of us: where is the love?

As I see friends and relatives jump onto the next health kick, I often wonder why we can’t just love food for what it is. It’s not a means to an end. It’s not the enemy. It’s simply food, and it deserves every bit of our passion.

Now, I’m not saying we should all give in and gorge ourselves on every morsel that comes our way. I’m probably just as health conscious as the next girl and want to keep it that way. However, why can’t we just enjoy our food? Why do we demonize the very thing that is meant to nourish our bodies?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from cooking in the kitchen with my grandparents, it’s that food is meant to bring happiness. We have taste buds for a reason, so we shouldn’t forsake them. Good food is the key to overall happiness, so let’s take this journey to incredible flavor together!

I’ve often found that some of the best food combinations are the unexpected ones. Ironically, the idea for this article came to me as I recall something that happened after watching an episode of Lucifer. I won’t go into detail over the plot, but there’s a certain scene where I saw Old Scratch enjoying a rather unusual snack: plain potato chips dipped in Nutella.

My first thought was to recoil in horror at the thought of mixing my favorite hazelnut chocolate spread with a root vegetable, but then I realized that maybe he was onto something. In the heat of the moment, I decided to follow his example and try the concoction for myself. (Yes, some of you could say the Devil made me do it.)

Words could not describe the mélange of flavor that exploded in my mouth with that first bite. I was startled, amazed, and ultimately pleased with the euphoria that came with the unexpected combination. It was like I was made whole with that single, solitary bite.

Something awakened in me, as I became acutely aware of a desire unfurling within. That desire soon ignited a passion, which spurred me to begin my journey to find the unexpected.

My next conquest was not as unusual as my first, but the result was almost the exact same to my questing taste buds. As an Italian-Canadian, I’ve been lucky enough to be exposed to some of the more exotic fruits from the Mediterranean. Out of all the ones I’ve sampled, figs remain my absolute favorite. Unfortunately, this fruit is taken for granted. Its unusual texture makes it difficult to enjoy unless it’s as a spread or used in a balsamic glaze.

Enter mascarpone cheese, another staple from the country of my ancestors. As a cream cheese, it’s very versatile and plays an excellent supporting role in many desserts. The smooth, velvety texture of mascarpone complements any fruit it’s paired with. When figs come into the equation, be prepared for an inevitable chain reaction of explosive flavor.

You can manipulate this combination in a few ways: (1) Simply spread the mascarpone on top of the fruit and pop it into your mouth; (2) whip together the fruit and cheese into a delectable dip for fruits and crostini for summer gatherings, or; (3) mix both together into a delicious cream to add to your summer fruit parfaits. The possibilities are endless, and you will find yourself in a world of sweet euphoria no matter how you pair the two.

I could go on and on with my food discoveries and reactions, but I have another mission that I must accomplish: to get people to start enjoying what they eat again.

You can still count your calories or follow Weight Watchers’ regimes and enjoy what you’re putting in your mouth. It’s all about perspective. Why should we sacrifice taste in order to lose weight or become healthier?

Moderation is always important to a healthy regime. You need to find your limits and understand them, or all your efforts will be in vain. Within reason, you can enjoy almost anything as long as it’s in small doses.

While I don’t recommend breaking out the potato chips and Nutella, I do urge you to look at food differently. Do you see that jar of clover honey? Drizzle some of that on top of your apple slices. Unsure of what to do with that picnic pork shoulder roast? Marinate it in orange juice and add some star anise to the handful of spices you already want to use.

In other words, play matchmaker with the ingredients you have. You’ll never know what delicious temptations are hiding in your refrigerator or pantry. If a potential combination sounds weird to you, try it anyways.

Embrace the unexpected.

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