The Comfort Zone: Reminder and Story


Well guys, it was my full intention to give you an actual post today.  The recipes are starting to pile up, the card on my camera is full, and I’ve got leftovers out the wazoo that need to be eaten before I can start cooking again.

But instead?  I’m drinking vodka with diet cream soda and humming the theme song to The Drinky Crow Show (awfully catchy, it is!) and trying to forget that the week isn’t over and I’ve already clocked in enough hours that I’m in danger of getting deported as a migrant worker.  I’m just tired, guys.  Really, really tired.  This means that today you get a fat lot of nothing.  Well, nothing other than a reminder!

Oh yes, this is your OFFICIAL REMINDER (please note the trumpets blaring in the background) about the Choosy Beggar  Bonanza # 1:  Comfort Zones.

This is our very first contest, and we’re giving away three (3!!) fabulous  Julie Le Clerc cookbooks.  THREE!!! And all that you need to do for your chance to win is to leave a comment on this post and tell us about the most adventurous, interesting, challenging or just plain frightening thing that you’ve ever eaten.  That’s not so hard, right?

I’ve read over the comments that have been left so far, and frankly I found myself chortling out loud more than once.  You have some great stories, and we’d love to hear even more!  If you haven’t entered yet (or even if you have, feel free to post another comment.  I DO enjoy the giggles and we think multiple anything is pretty grand) I thought I’d share one of my most challenging stories to get you started.

This was actually much harder than I thought it would be.  I mean, I’m no stranger to organ meat.  I’ve eaten the liver out of 6 different types of animal, as well as some kidney, heart, lung, stomach, brain, and something which was curiously labeled “cow wheel”.  I had a Taiwanese boss who brought me buns stuffed with “red sauce”.  Use your imagination on that one, because you’re right – that’s exactly what it was.   I’ve had horse, frog, what might have been dog, what was definitely dog food, and cheeses that smelled so ranky my eyelashes might have singed off.  This makes it hard, really hard, to figure out what my most compelling food adventure would have been.  But I think I’ve got it.

In 2008 I spent a month working in Pakistan.  It was mid-summer and the air was so hot and thick with humidity that your body would carve a shimmering trail through the atmosphere every time you stepped outside.  I spent 29 days giving myself hourly sponge baths, and thanking the powers that be for creating antiperspirant.

For the first two weeks, I ate whatever came my way.  Green chili omelet and lassi for breakfast?  Yes, please.  Saltish mutton and chapli kebab?  Well, I don’t mind if I do.  Eating my way through a country is completely my forte, and I was happy as a clam dining at exotic restaurants nestled in the mountains, or terrifying back-alley garage tandoors that opened up in a clothing store after it got dark.

There was one place that I really wanted to go, however.  It was a restaurant that I kept hearing about in Lahore.  The place was called “The Cuckoo’s Nest”, and apparently the menu was one of the best in this vibrant food-centric city. You can only imagine the palpable delight when my boss told me that we were bringing some clients there for dinner that very night.  Look,  I may not always have been happy working for that company, but I do have a strange kind of affection for my previous boss…which grows retrospectively, and it was moments like this which inspired in me a particular fondness.

I am nothing if not enthusiastic, and he was a kind man.  He seemed to really get a kick out of the way my eyes would light up when he’d talk about anything from dinner to a day trip, and he took pains to show me the best that the cities had to offer.  The Cuckoos Nest is famous for being a vertical restaurant that finishes on the roof with a view over the main mosque and the whole of Lahore.  So, of course, we had to head to the top. We climbed somewhere between 6-8 flights of stairs.  The last one was so steep that it might have well been a glorified ladder.   But the view….my god, it was glorious.  The whole city was pulsing and brightly lit, and for the first time in almost 3 weeks I felt a cool breeze tickling the back of my neck.  It was perfect.

I didn’t order the food, I just sat back in my shalwar khameez and I let it come.  Course after course, there were roasted and braised meats, stewed vegetables, curries, daals, and at least three types of delicious flat breads to sop it all up.  We feasted on so much intoxicatingly tasty food that I reached a kind of meaty-nirvana and went floating on my way.  Finally, with a glitter in his eyes, my boss announced that he had something special on the way next, just for me.  I was almost agog with excitement!  He told me that it was his favorite dish as a child.  Yes!  Yes please!  I want it NOW!!!

Finally, after much anticipation, the dish arrived.  We each got a separate bowl full of a steaming and fragrant broth and….uhhhmmm….an ankle.

Specifically, a goat ankle.

The entree was stewed goat ankle.

Well, I suppose that goats don’t actually have ankles, but you catch the drift.  Sitting in a bowl of rapidly cooling broth was the remnants of a hoof.  A pseudo-hairy hoof with loose, pale, gelatinous skin hanging wearily off the bone.  I faltered.

So what would you do in this situation?  Would you close your eyes and sup it up, smacking your lips in enthusiasm all the while?  I couldn’t.  Would you push the bowl away in disgust and shudder at the thought of eating a fat-skinned goat ankle?  I couldn’t do that either.  Instead, I watched the others and took some cues.  I carefully peeled back the squishy skin and tentatively tore off a shred of meat which got enveloped in naan.  And I ate it.  It tasted like the ankle of a goat.  I managed about three more bites before politely patting my lips with my napkin and exclaiming that his generosity had simply been too much, and although I was exceptionally embarrassed I just couldn’t eat another bite.  My boss, bless his heart, politely asked me once more if I was quite sure that I was all done before delightfully spiriting my bowl away to his side of the table and polishing off the rest with glee.

I am still, from time to time, haunted by a waking dream of hairy ankle swimming in an oily red broth.

So that’s my story – a horrible gift from me to you. Do you have something to share?  It doesn’t have to be awful, it can be a surprising treat!!  Just like I really, really wish that the goat ankle had been a surprising treat.  Oh, if only….

Tell us your thoughts, because time is running out and November 20th is the last day to share your delightful or excruciating experiences!!

  • Kristie

    You do know that none of us can beat you, right? You’re more adventurous than the whole of the blogosphere, outside of maybe Jeffrey Steingarten and Anthony Bourdain.