Choosy Beggar Bonanza #1: Comfort Zones

Well, we’ve been waiting a long time to do this, and we’re pleased to kick off our very first Choosy Beggar Bonanza contest with an offer of not one, but a bundle of cookbooks for your reading pleasure.


If you’ve never heard of Julie Le Clerc, then you’re missing out — she’s the greatest thing to come out of New Zealand since Flight of the Conchords, and just as unique.  The product of a successful career as a food stylist and caterer, she’s also a contributor to Cuisine magazine and a successful author of beautiful, useful cookbooks.

Three of which, incidentally, we have ready for the winner of our inaugural challenge.  But first, a quick sideline into my personal food journeys as part of this website.

Since we launched Choosy Beggars, I have handled sheep’s intestines to ensure that the raw pork I was grinding would flow properly into a sausage casing.  How many of you out there would have bet that, at any point in your life, those were twenty-one words that would ever come out of your mouths?  And yet here I am.

Since we launched Choosy Beggars, I have eaten meat that has tasted like butter, I have smelled cheese that had the scent of decaying flesh, and I have eaten fruit that has had the flavor of decaying flesh.  Just about the only thing that I haven’t done is eaten decaying flesh itself, but I haven’t seen what we have on tap for the weekend.  I should probably be staggering around in a torn shirt and bawling out for brains, BRAINS, BRAAAINNNS.  And yet, here I am.

Since we launched Choosy Beggars, I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so many animals with tentacles as appendages, nor have I approved of the use of tofu so frequently in any kind of cuisine.  I don’t know which throws me into sharper cognitive dissonance, with colliding ideas threatening to shred my very mental integrity — and yet, here I am.

Adventure in food has been one of the most rewarding parts of this undertaking, and I wish I could take even a heartbeat’s credit for it.  But Tina’s been so creative, dedicated and downright appetizing in her rewards for luring me out of my comfort zone that I can’t help but enjoy myself.

Which is why Julie Le Clerc is such an appropriate reward for this competition.  Her recipes take the comfortable and commonplace, and transport them into new places through creative ingredients, novel preparations and fundamental twists on familiar foods.  Beautifully presented, simply prepared and delightful, they’re a wonderful way to travel just beyond the well-known.

So!  On to:

The challenge

Tell us in the comments what your most adventurous, novel, bizarre, terrifying and/or rewarding venture outside of your culinary comfort zone you’ve taken — anything qualifies, from breakfast to dinner, from meats to desserts.  Details gets you consideration, and emotions win you sympathy… but pain wins you points.

The Reward


Three volumes of Julie Le Clerc’s cookbooks:

Shipped to your home with our regards, respect and admiration for your take of gastronomic courage!

Ways to earn a bonus entry

Follow Tina on Twitter after you’ve submitted your story, and pass along our contest using the non-crappy retweet function!

Our bonanza will run until Sunday, November 15th! Winners will be selected according to a panel decision of Choosy Beggars and be announced Monday, November 16th!  This contest is null and void where prohibited!  Because that kind of legalese needs exclamation!

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand go!

  • Spikeylu

    Last weekend….at an Irish Pub, a friend and I inquired about the Black Pudding, and were told what was in it. We were advised that it was “f-ing delicious”, so we ordered a sample. My husband has quite a weak stomach, so he was NOT happy with our order, as he had overheard the preparation. Our sample comes out, and we dug right in. It WAS f-ing delicious, but neither of us could get past what it’s made of, so 2 bites each was all we could do. My husband, meanwhile, has LEFT the restaurant and is puking outside in the parking lot. All it took was watching me take the first bite…of blooooood….PIGS BLOOOOOD! I love that man.

  • Kristie

    Okay, I don’t know if this counts, but given my aversion to many foods, I think it should.

    Four days after I returned from my honeymoon, I had to perform my final practical for culinary school. Our evaluator was a German chef who is married to a Chinese woman, so his tastes are rather eclectic.

    We had to draw out of a hat what dish we’d be making, and since I hadn’t been there for the drawing, I was left with the last option. Shallow poached fish with sauce vin blanc. Do you know what sauce vin blanc is? It’s basically fish sweat and white wine and butter. White wine and butter? Delicious. Fish sweat? Not so much. Gah I hate fish.

    Anyway, I was handed a pallet of fish that smelled exactly like a whore’s vagina and told to make the dish without being told what kind of fish I had. It was so stinky, and seemed to really appeal to the chef. I prepared the dish while being timed and watched, after weeks of being out of practice, and then brought it over to the table to be evaluated. He handed me a fork and told me to sit down, then surprised me with the “honor” to sit and eat with him. The stinky fish. While he watched me and asked me to evaluate it.

    I know there are grosser things to eat. I have eaten them. But not while being watched by a certified master chef who is deciding my graduation-fate.

    • Jacquie

      Kristie, hearing about people’s nasty fish experiences makes me very sad. Mostly because I love fish. But really, fish should not stink. It should not smell fishy. A person should not eat fish that smells like coochie. Stinky fish means its gone off and is not really good enough to eat anymore. Fresh fish should smell like the sea, salty and clean. Even fresh-frozen fish should not stink. (I’ll get off my soapbox now.)

      Your aversion to fish is probably your nose/mind protecting your body from bad food.

  • Pingback: Tweets that mention Choosy Beggar Bonanza #1: Comfort Zones | Choosy Beggars --

  • Colette

    From a food-ordering perspective, my most adventurous meal was in Botswana, when I ordered a traditional food saswaa. I had no idea what it was going to be, but I wanted to try something traditional.

    It was beef with pap. (What is pap? I still don’t know.) Beef is big in Botswana, and they are very proud of it. However, I grew up on well fed Canadian beef which I still prefer. Anyway, it turned out to be shredded, seasoned beef. It tasted kind of fatty. (Maybe that’s what pap is?) It came with white stuff that looks like potato, but seemed to be mushed up rice.

    • Claire

      Pap is basically a very stiff porridge made from corn. It’s a staple here in South Africa as well.

      • Colette

        Awesome! I’ve been curious for a while, but not enough to actually look it up. I’m wondering now if that was the side dish (i.e. the white stuff that came with the meat). I really enjoyed that. Thanks!

        • Claire

          Yip, the side dish it was. It’s delicious with tomato and onion relish and boerewors (South African sausage). And now I am hungry.

  • lo

    Pain? What’s pain?! 🙂
    Adventure? Adventure is when you decide to host an African dinner party and make traditional food. It’s when you find out that the beef stew you’re making requires “dried ground shrimp”… alright, so what?… yeah, that’s what I thought too.

    And then we went to the one Asian grocer in the city and asked for dried ground shrimp.

    The guy handed us a little plastic package filled with HUGE dried shrimp. Yeah, they were large. And dry. And they weren’t your friendly headless variety of dried shrimp. They had heads. And eyeballs. And little hairy eyebrows. And big long legs. But, we were ALL ABOUT being authentic, so we bought the shrimp.

    We brought the shrimp home. And opened the package. And at least one of us fainted from the shrimpy smell… the other of us invested immediately in a pair of noseplugs (which, while not fashionable, kept the choking at bay). We were a determined pair. We took the shrimp out of the package. And analyzed it. And, in our brilliance, we decided (even then) that we couldn’t POSSIBLY grind that shrimp up for the stew before we removed the legs and eyeballs. So, guess how we spent our afternoon? Yeah, that’s right. Removing shrimp eyeballs. In the stench that now was our kitchen.

    The worst of it was that, after all that, the stew we made with the shrimp tasted SO INCREDIBLY of huge-mutant-shrimp-with-eyeballs that we could barely eat it. We DID eat it (because we do NOT waste food — and because our guests didn’t seem quite a grossed out as we were). But, there was definitely a little bit of that… pain you were talking about. And a bit of shrimp-smell-induced gagging.

    And our kitchen? Yeah — we moved a few months later.

  • Jan

    Oh, I have so many. To pick one…

    In 2006 I visited Taiwan. My mom is from Taiwan, so I was visiting family and rediscovering the country (the last time I’d been was around 1987). My aunt, feeling that I’d benefit from some interaction with people around my age, sent me off with some of her friends’ daughters (she hasn’t yet started setting me up with possible Taiwanese husbands, but it’s probably only a matter or time). These girls dutifully took me around to the various hotspots, and were very excited to show me the local specialties of each area. In short, these were my kind of people. I ate and ate, and oh, how I ate. Squid on a stick? Yes please! Stinky tofu? Sure! Tofu puff stuffed with mung bean vermicelli and swimming in a pungent hot sauce? Ok! Cherry tomatoes on a stick, lacquered in a hard candy glaze? I’ll pay! Oyster omelette? Hey, first time for everything! I ate, and importantly, I finished everything. This was for 2 reasons; one, to be polite, and two, because not finishing your food is Asian code for “I’m full, stop feeding me.” Make no mistake; I was full (these are Chinese people we’re talking about. They feed you good). However, I had no intention of stopping.

    So we come up to an extremely busy stall, and one of the girls turns to me and asks if I’m thirsty. I smiled, and said a drink would be lovely. The three of them beam at me and tell me they’ll order up what I understand is the “drink to have” when visiting this area, sort of like beer at a hockey game, or McDonald’s orange drink at sport’s day. Now, I don’t at all want to malign these girls, so I will point out that they ordered 4 of these drinks, one for each of us, and showed all evidence of loving it. I should also mention that as a halfer kid growing up in Vancouver, I’ve been exposed to a lot of flavours, textures, and food concepts. I am not one to shy away from new things, and there are very few foods which cause me to gag. In fact, so far there is only one; this drink. Sour plum juice.

    To those who are blissfully unaware, sour plums as they relate to this beverage are in fact dried ume plums, which have been…cured in a salty and sour…seasoning mix. I am in no way exaggerating when I describe them as flavour bombs. In fact, as a kid it took me a good 20 minutes to eat a single one of these things, and they’re about the size of a sultana, but with a pit inside. I eat lemons as a fruit, and can’t put a whole one of these in my mouth.

    The juice I was served, as far as I can tell, is made by reconstituting these in what felt like vinegar but was probably water, discarding the pits but retaining the flesh, and then blending it. Think of it as a combination of maximum levels of salt, sweet and sour in a red liquid with bits of even more flavour hitting you every once in a while. Then imagine a litre-sized cup of it, and three of the sweetest tour guides in the world happily drinking theirs and asking how you like it.

    Of course I lied. What else could I do? After a moment of desperation when I thought I’d have to drink the whole thing, I realized that the cups were opaque. I nursed that thing for an hour before throwing it out, and then asked for more squid on a stick, and a bubble tea. You can make me gag, but don’t count me out.

  • _ts of [eatingclub] vancouver

    To put it mildly, I have a certain “dislike” for liver. I don’t care what animal you are — chicken, duck, goose, beef, pig, human — I don’t want your liver.

    This probably stems from being force-fed liver as a child. It was so vile that I could not force my head to wrap around the fact that I had to *swallow* and ingest it. Hence, what usually happened was that I would have chewed-up liver pieces in my mouth for most of the meal. In hindsight, that was probably worse than just swallowing the liver straight up. The chewed-up liver pieces in my mouth would dry up as their livery juices would leak out, resulting in a mush of *dried-out*, chewed-up liver pieces in my mouth. The dry yet mushy liver paste, as it probably became, shared the space with some chewed-up rice that I counted on for neutralizing the liver.

    After that trauma in childhood, I was pretty much liver-free. Free, that is, until I started working in a fine-dining restaurant. Whole ducks would come in, someone would butcher them, and I would end up with the duck livers to make into pate.

    The first time I made pate in the restaurant, the experience was not half-bad. I sautéed the brandy-soaked duck livers with some shallots and green peppercorns, and they smelled lovely. Then, it was time to purée. I hit the ON button on the RobotCoupe, and the liver stench started wafting out of the hole on top. And guess what? Puréed duck liver is just like the mashed-up, chewed-up liver pieces in my mouth from childhood, just smoother. I was brave; I tasted and seasoned pates for weeks. Weeks!

    But, we had ducks on the menu for months and months. With each butchering session, I’d end up with more and more duck livers. I kept having to make pate day in and day out that as soon as the sautéed livers hit the RobotCoupe blades, I would use all my strength not to vomit in my mouth. By this point, I had to plead for someone else to do the tasting and seasoning.

    Oh, know what else I found out about duck pate, if you pipe it into a circle, it looks remarkably like a pile of… use your imagination.

    After that trauma in the restaurant, I thought I was free. But, after trying to donate blood, I was rejected because my iron levels were too low for some reason. I thought it was a fluke, but it happened 2 more times. So, what else could my mother do to boost little-ol’-sickly-me’s iron? On multiple occasions, perhaps for a *whole* year, she lovingly made EXTRACT OF LIVER for me.

    That’s right, kiddos, pure unadulterated essense of liver. She would take 2 pieces of pork liver and brew them until I end up with a bowlful of an elixir as dark as the depths of hell.

    And that’s all I have to say about that.

  • _ts of [eatingclub] vancouver

    I don’t have twitter. I don’t get a 2nd entry!!! [sniffle]

  • Jacquie

    A conversation with my brother reminded me of my most painful food adventure. (A story of ungross food can make you a very gross person.) We were in Aveyron, visiting a recently-discovered branch of our family. No, french food isn’t very scary but it is very pork dominated.

    I was a college vegetarian (as many young California women are prone to be.) Nary a meat product had crossed my lips in about 6 years and I had etiquette beaten into my by a very french grandmother. Rule #1 was, “You eat what someone else prepares for you and you don’t make a face.” I dutifully cleaned my plate meat and all. Forcing down the seconds that were heaped on it because I was “too skinny.”

    Having to eat everything on your plate forces you to try things your brain is screamingly against. I tasted food I had only heard about and saw how even the simplest ingredients could be sublime. I drank so much wine I spoke french fluently for the first time in my life. Amazing food experience all around.

    Heaven lasted 3 days. After 3 days my body began to rebel against the incredible meat input. I walked back to our small, stone apartment nearly doubled over in pain. I laid on my bed curled around my bloated belly. Hours and hours were spent between my bed and the bathroom. Oh holy moly the smell just about killed my brother (To this day he calls me Pork Blast to commemorate this experience).

    Was it worth it? Probably. I’m not a vegetarian anymore and I got to eat my weight in goose liver. Mostly I learned that having an eclectic palate can and will give you an iron stomach given enough time.

  • Pingback: The Comfort Zone: Reminder and Story | Choosy Beggars()

  • Kristie

    Almost forgot another good story, though it’s not so much adventurous as it is scarring.

    My grandmother is Pennsylvania Dutch. Like, Amish country. And they believe the waste-not-want-not ideology to a fault. They also had one of those old-fashioned root cellars in their house from before the great depression.
    I was visiting one summer, and my grandma had made a fancy meat dish for the grown-ups, but was making macaroni and some kind of sauce for the kids. Also, pigs in a blanket. I could get behind that kind of meal, as I was only 5 years old.

    I walked into the kitchen as she trudged up from the root cellar carrying a jar of macaroni. She opened it, and a whole cloud of miller moths flew out. She giggled, told me moths are “good for you, and it’s just for the kiddies anyway.” OMG.
    I told my mother, who said I should stick to the pigs in a blanket, and that anything I didn’t want to eat I should “push to the side of your plate and say nothing.”

    When dinner was served, I got a plateful of macaroni and cheese and pigs in a blanket. The pigs in a blanket ended up being some kind of pork mixture wrapped in limp cabbage leaves, rather than a hot dog in a croissant. As a child, I was horrified.
    About 20 minutes into the meal, my mother and grandma came in to check on me only to find me picking up each individual macaroni from my plate, putting it on the tablecloth beside me and exclaiming “nothing!” at the top of my lungs.

    I had raisin toast for dinner.

  • Sarah

    In high school, my class went to the Chinese Cultural Center in Philadelphia for dinner. Every year, the Center would fly in a chef from a region in China to cook several dinners, as a fundraiser. The chef that night was from Nanjing and the food was spectacular…I was used to take-out Chinese and my dad’s versions of food he ate while stationed around Asia while in the army. This food was miles away…from the taste to the presentation, everything was just amplified.

    One of the dishes was a fish that had been deconstructed, cooked, and then reconstructed to be presented whole. Once we had finished it, the head and body sat at the table. The boys at the table next to our’s, being boys, joked around with it and eventually someone ate the eyes.

    Never ones to back down from a challenge, my friend and I picked out the eyes and ate them, much to my mother’s horror.

    Since the whole fish had been fried, it was just a bit of crunchiness (with an odd squish) that didn’t really taste like anything…but I can now trot out this story whenever I need to.

  • Scarlettb

    My cousin Declan married a Cockney, which we all ribbed him about at the time (we’re Irish). A couple of years later, I was living with them and minding their baby while I lived it up in London, and I came home one night to find that Allison had made tiny little individual chicken pot pies.

    Now, I love chicken pot pie, so when we sat down to dinner, I just dug right in, not really paying attention, because I was talking to Declan about what he’d done that day. And I took a bite. And I had to run immediately to the bathroom and throw up. Because that was NOT a chicken pot pie, but instead a JELLIED EEL pie.

    I have no problem with eel. I like eel sushi. And I enjoy jello. But I am telling you right now that there is no excuse for a pie full of eel-flavored jello. Particularly with chunks of eel in. PARTICULARLY when your cousin clearly doesn’t know that that’s what’s inside the pie she is about to eat.

  • Pingback: Choosy Beggar Bonanza #1: Winner! | Choosy Beggars()