How boudin set the course for my curious palate…

My parents both love all things culinary, and, fortunately for my sister and I growing up, they were excellent cooks. I recall coming home from school most days and finding my dad, a teacher, planning dinner, as my mom worked later at her travel agency. I’d always say hi and ask, “what’s for dinner?” My father’s answer was always the same. “Shit on a shingle,” he would say with a smile. Every day I’d roll my eyes. He was always horsing around that way. (I remember learning to drive and asking if there was anyone coming before I pulled out onto the road. He’d say, “The coast is clear except for that giant mac truck!”)

My sister and I weren’t really very picky eaters. I think that’s because we were always expected to eat everything. My parents never tailor-made meals for us. Some of my friends’ parents made them special, kid- friendly meals, but not my parents. I don’t even think it would have occurred to them to make special meals for kids. My parents cooked meals that were often rich with flavor, strongly influenced by my father’s “Frenchie” roots. Bon Appetite magazines battled the Travel and Leisure issues for coffee table space in our house.

I had an aversion to potatoes, so I was allowed to “skip” those. (I hate them still to this day!) Aside from that, I would eat anything. My mother tested the limits of that “everything” with some of her concoctions. A favorite family lunch, for example, was a peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwich! (It is actually so much better than it sounds!) As a kid, she always had cottage cheese on the table and would put a dollop on our plates. My dad refused it, but my sister and I ate it as though it were a normal side dish. I tried cottage cheese a few years ago when I attempted an internet-crazy military diet, and cannot believe that I used to eat it. Maybe it’s a texture thing, but I could not stomach it as an adult.

In any case, we never actually HAD “shit on a shingle”- at least not until one night I’ll never forget.

Dad was cooking and there was smoke all over the kitchen. “What are you cooking, Dad?” I asked.

“A French dish,” he said, trying to manage the meat he was cooking in the pan.
I looked over. “That looks kind of gross,” I said.

“It is delicious! You are going to eat it and like it. My Tante made it when I was a kid. It is called ‘boudin noir’. [He pronounced it boo-deyn] Some people call it blood sausage,” he added, turning over the red and black sausages in the pan.

Blood sausage. He never should have added that moniker! I could not believe that my father wanted us to eat something called BLOOD SAUSAGE. I later learned that these long, curly sausages are filled with blood from any number of mammals and mixed with some sort of “filler”. It was pure torture to serve this for dinner. I knew that I didn’t want to get this boudin anywhere NEAR my palate. My little sister sauntered in, she was probably four or five at the time, and said, “Eeew! I am NOT eating that. It looks like poop!” She was never afraid of speaking her mind.

As we sat down to dinner that night, my sister and I dreaded the boudin. My father put an enormous plate of those blood sausages on the table. They were nearly all black- the blood red charred on the outside- so they truly did look like turds. Dad served everyone a blood sausage, even though my sister sat with her arms folded, shaking her head. “You try this!” he demanded of both of us.

I ate everything else on my plate, and decided to play the “I’m full” card.

“You are going to try that boudin.” My father said, matter-of-factly.

I looked at my mother. She shrugged, took another fork-full of her blood sausage, buried it with cottage cheese, and looked at me with an artificial smile before popping it in her mouth.

I tried to think of a way to get out of eating it. Dad had finally done what he had promised all these years, I thought. He had served the “shit on a shingle”. Begrudgingly, I cut a tiny piece of the blackened blood sausage and stabbed it with my fork. I examined it all the way to my lips, my eyes crossing as it got close. The smell wafted into my nostrils and I knew I was going to hate it. I put it in my mouth, chewed once, and swallowed it. It was just as disgusting as I imagined, and my taste buds were so aggravated that my eyes watered! I knew that I couldn’t eat any more. Dad said he was happy that I tried it, and that I didn’t have to eat any more.

I was ten when I tried that boudin noir. Nearly forty years later, I still haven’t forgotten that night and those vile blood sausages. I no longer feel any sort of antipathy for the boudin, however. I have actually laughed about that evening with my dad over the years. I believe that the experience of having to try that food set the course for a lifetime of trying new foods, even those that sound less than savory. I had, after all, tried something new and lived.

Over the course of my life, I’ve tried other things that I may never have tried if the blood sausages hadn’t emboldened me. I tried escargot and hated it. I tried cilantro and it tasted like soap. I tried Brie cheese and fell in love. I tried things that I can’t even name when I was in China! I tried brussels sprouts and still call them gross little skunk cabbages. But I’m proud to try these new things.

I guess I have boudin to thank.


A resolution of sorts.

Happy New Year!

The History Channel claims that people have been celebrating this idea of a New Year with resolutions all the way back to the ancient Babylonians, who celebrated their new crops each year with royal celebrations and promises made to the gods to do better. That is nearly 4,000 years of resolutions!

The crops that the ancient people planted gave them hope for a prosperous year. They were eager to improve their lives. It seems that not much has changed. People everywhere are making personal promises to themselves- planning to add all sorts of new practices to their lives- healthy food or a new exercise routine. This arbitrary new date at the beginning of January really creates a good starting place for goals, and many folks achieve crazy good results. Others, however, set themselves up for failure. They want to do too much, they don’t set realistic goals, and they give up too easily.

I, too, am guilty of making unattainable resolutions. In years past, I’ve declared all sorts of resolutions. One year I resolved to lose weight by doing a popular diet plan. I lost for a little while, but hit a plateau and lost nothing more than interest. Another year, I got a gym membership. I went once. Still another year, I vowed I would not use drive thru’s. That lasted a couple months. My intentions were always good, but never enough.

I have decided instead of ADDING new things to my life, as resolutions innocently do, I will opt for LEAVING BEHIND things I want OUT of my life. Perhaps we need to think of New Year’s as a time to “cleanse”- a time to get rid of things weighing us down!

Here are the TOP 3 things that I plan to “leave behind”:

  1. Stress. I began working on this in 2020 and it has had a noticeable impact on both my emotional and physical health. Stress is, quite possibly, mankind’s most vicious enemy. It creeps into a content life, disguised as something worthwhile. It is Grendel, Dracula, Darth Vader, and Krampus. It works it’s way into the heart, and pumps its bilious serum out to every appendage. Eventually, it steals sleep and begins to haunt the mind. This is one that I feel most passionate about leaving behind. I seek ways to do this around every bend. I will continue to battle this villain into 2021.
  2. Obligations that are not really obligations. I am famous for creating “obligations” in my life. Oftentimes, these things take away from other important things like relaxing, reading, writing, or playing my instruments- all things that relax me. If attending something that is not “required” is going to cause me more stress, than I need to remember item #1.
  3. Toxicity. This applies to so many things, but mostly people. I want to surround myself with people who want to lift up- not tear down. There may have been no other year, in my nearly 50, that has seemed more toxic than this one. I’m eager to leave the toxins behind. Letting toxicity into our lives creates stress, which means I need to refer back to #1.

So, cheers. I hope that you are thirsty for this fresh start that we all make for ourselves each year. Like those ancient Babylonians, I hope you are eager and motivated to have that bountiful crop!

I’d love to hear what things YOU would like to leave behind as we move into 2021!