Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Ridiculous Ode to Cheese

Confession #1: This is not an entry that can be classified under “Travel Blog”.  Sorry!

Confession #2: I love cheese.  A lot.  Too much.  Now, yes, cheese has an amazing taste, no one deny that.  But I’ve realized tonight, after reflecting upon cheese via a thread on my friend Hollie’s Facebook status, that cheese is oh so much more than a sharp bite of extra calories on my thighs.  I think I have an emotional relationship with the dairy food group.

So, my love affair with cheese… it all began as a childhood crush when I was 7.  I remember that lunchtime walk home from school, in the bitter Canadian cold, (you know, in those days before global warming made us all subtropical) looking forward to my dad’s world famous grilled cheese sandwich.  He would cut thick slabs of cheddar or marble cheese from a brick and grill it between the bread, with heaps of butter.  I remember kicking the snow off my boots on the threshold of the front door and running into the kitchen to my dad’s ready-waiting frying pan.  His sandwiches were always grilled to perfection, never burnt, never cold in the middle.  Every morsel of melting deliciousness warmed me from the inside out on those cold winter days. I don’t know why I didn’t just bring a packed-lunch to school like everyone else.  It would have been much easier on my parents.  But I’m glad I didn’t.  So artery-clogging.  So perfect.  Great times spent with my dad.   

When I got a bit older and was at that baby-sitting age, I had the privilege of “baby-sitting” one of my best friends, Amanda.  It wasn’t so much work as it was play (but I kept a good eye on her!  I was responsible!) and we opened our own celebrity restaurant.  Imaginary Michael Jacksons and Elizabeth Taylors dined in our establishment and the menu specialty was fried cheese (as that was all I could cook).  I discovered fried cheese by accident because I sucked at making grilled cheese.  Fried cheese is when the cheese slips off the side of the bread and just bubbles up in the pan, then turns hard when removed from the burner.  Amanda and I eliminated the middle man and just threw a bunch of cheese in the frying pan.  For a more ‘adult style’ version of fried cheese, use haloumi and squeeze a lemon over it.  I had this for supper last night. 

And now we get serious. When I was 19, I became a very strict vegetarian (except for that time a certain roomie vengefully drained beef grease into my ‘textured soy protein’.  I’m glad we can all laugh at that now).  At that point, I stopped eating cheese with rennet in it.  For years, I read labels and became more and more disappointed in my cheese choices.  Microbial enzymes just weren’t what they are now so I ate less cheese for a good half decade or so.  (If you don’t know what rennet is, I’m not going to tell you.  I don’t want to be directly responsible for ruining your dinner.  I’ll let Google take care of that.)  During this same time, I was living in Quebec.  Something went awry with the French-English translation during a Dial-a-Cheese by phone type of thing and I ended up with $90 of fromage on our doorstep the next day!  Mon Dieu!  Au revior, weekly budget!

When I started to eat cheese again, I noticed a change.  A horrible, gut-wrenching, gaseous change.  It seemed that in my non-dairy phase, I’d become lactose intolerant.  I still am to this very day.  My body had stopped producing the enzyme that digests lactose.  To be officially declared as such, I had to have some testing done.  This involved days of fasting (literally days of eating NOTHING) and sitting around in the lab at the hospital.  It turns out, I was never able to officially take the test because my body was never able to purge itself of all the lactose.  They declared me lactose intolerant based on that fact alone and suggested I never touch cheese again.  The good part about all this was that my waiting around at the hospital gave me ample time to spend with my grandma in her last days. She was one floor down, in the cancer ward, and I cherish that time we spent in the hospital together.  I love my grandma dearly and if it weren’t for my horrible stomach cramps, I wouldn’t have had that extra time off work to spend with her.  Those days were worth all the lactose-induced pains I will ever have in my life. 

A few years later, after my first year of working in the real world (right before finding out I was laid off from the real world), I booked a trip to California.  Well, “booked a trip” is a loose term, as it involved me taking the train across the country to meet my girlfriends and then staying in hostels from San Francisco to L.A.  (and, oh, what a time it was!)  California was obviously where all of my dreams were going to come true.  So, one rainy night in Kansas, our train’s navigation system got struck by lightning (come on, are you really surprised…. this is me we’re talking about) and we got stuck in a cornfield or something for a day.  The train quickly ran out of vegetarian friendly meals and left me only with a large amount of Babybel cheese.  It was my first time having it (these were the expensive, wax-coated slices of heaven I could never afford at home) and man, was it delicious.  I spent the next 24 hours or so stranded in a train car with people who had been strangers to me the day before.  I drank beer and ate those colourful wheels of glory while bonding for life with Jersey, Cuba, and Pok as we all made our way westward, listening to Simon and Garfunkle’s America. What happens in Kansas stays in Kansas.

And now, for some refined times.  *Cue the classical music*  My childhood besties and I can’t resist a good dinner party.  And a good dinner party must include fondue.  About once a month, throughout university and beyond (until careers and life scattered us across the globe) the very same girls that I’d played hide-and-seek with as children, showed up at my door bearing dessert squares, fruit platters, and a multitude of dips from around the world.  But the centerpiece of it all: a cheese fondue, homemade, by yours truly.  That’s right.  I painstakingly mixed wine, flour, cheese, and whatever else went into that concoction.  I stirred it patiently while it turned from a gloopy paste into the perfection where we dipped our vegetables.  After fondue, we would always have a karaoke session in my basement.  That was the significantly less classy part of the evening, but no less cheesy.

And that brings me to this summer.  My husband and I had a remarkable time travelling through Europe (and I have been very negligent in blogging about it… only 2 countries out of 6 so far, I believe).  Living in Asia, I just don’t each as much cheese as I used to.  It’s not a staple in their diet here (and it shouldn’t be a staple in mine).  But in Europe, oh, it is the very lifeblood of civilization.  Cheese flows through their veins!  I guess my lactose intolerance had kind of slipped my mind.  On our cruise in Norway (my first cruise), I was surprised with the richness of the food.  We had to stop at the next port to buy Lactaid.  Back home, it’s around $12 CDN for 100 pills…. in Norway, the same amount cost nearly $100 CDN.  The cost of living in that beautiful country…. Ugh, I don’t want to talk about it.  In Ireland, the go-to appetizer on every menu was deep fried Brie.  I easily lost a year of my life to poor eating in Ireland.  In Scotland, I ordered a blue cheese and onion sandwich, thinking those would be the subtle accents atop the lettuce and tomato on whole wheat.  Oh no, I ate a year’s worth of blue cheese between two slices of bread.  And thankfully, I had my toothbrush.  In Holland, we ate cheese, dipped in spicy mustards, while catching up with dear old friends.  In France, it was fancy Champagne and cheese beneath the Eiffel Tower for our two year anniversary.  I really overdid it this summer.  I swear, by the time we came home from Europe, I had such an aversion to my beloved cheese that I thought I might even be pregnant.  What else could cause such a hatred of an otherwise adored food?  Not so, but I guess you really can have too much of a good thing.

And thus ends my ode to cheese.  

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