Many of you already know that I've been spending a lot of time on Twitter, especially between the hours of 2:00 and 3:00, when I am usually parked across the street from my daughter's school. Texting my "Twitter Peeps" over the phone makes that time go by quickly... and you never know what you'll find out.
Like last week, when Busy Mom announced that she had never tasted sushi. NEVER. As in, "not ever."
I told her that I found this mind boggling. I had heard rumors that sushi was not so prevalent in other parts of the country, but out here, it's everywhere. All the supermarket chains devote deli space to the stuff (and most have chefs behind the counter, making it fresh all day). All the food court malls have a sushi option, and it's common here to see little kids bellied up to the sushi bar with their parents.
As it turns out, Busy Mom's turn-off isn't so much that the fish is raw, but that it's fish. She doesn't eat seafood, and I can relate to that, because I have suffered from allergies since childhood. Sometimes (as in the case of white fish like cod, sole and halibut) my reaction is somewhat mild: tingling and/or swelling of my tongue and lips. But there was one time I ate something and I thought I was going to die.
The occasion was a visit to Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco. I didn't think it would do too much harm to sample one of the little shrimp cocktails they sell in the stalls there. Huge mistake. My heart began to race and I felt like I couldn't breathe, and it lasted for a good long time.
Epi pens? I'd never heard of them. They may not have been invented yet. This was over 30 years ago, and needless to say, I have not had a bite of shrimp since.
So when sushi first became popular in SoCal, I kept my distance. The closest I came was buying a refrigerator magnet that looked like a miniature plate of the stuff. It was pretty.
At the time, the only fish I was certain I could consume without problems was tuna, and I wasn't about to try it raw. However, as a single gal living alone in the early '80's, keeping out of sushi bars was starting to impact my social life. The kicker was the day I interviewed Bay Area rocker Greg Kihn (who was promoting his hit, "The Break-Up Song." Yes, that's how long ago this was).
I guess I should mention now that my first job out of college was really cool: I worked for a radio syndicator, where I wrote and (eventually) produced a weekly Top 30 countdown show. It didn't pay well, but I got perks in the form of free records, concerts, and the opportunity to chat with about half the people who made the Billboard Hot 100 between 1980 and 1983.
The problem was, even though I had a cool job, I wasn't anythng close to cool: I've always been the same geeky person you know today -- only worse, because I was young, naive, a total fan -- and self-aware enough to know it. As much as I tried to project the image of a young hipster, it didn't work.
I'm pretty sure some of the artists I interviewed tried to flirt with me, but I was too stupid to recognize it. Instead, I focused on trying to be "professional," and the next day, while transcribing my tape, I would wonder why the guy I was talking to had suddenly started telling me how his wife or girlfriend didn't understand him (as if I was a therapist).
I don't think that was the case with Greg Kihn, but I definitely think he had become bored with the interview, because about halfway through my questions, he cut the session short.
"My friends and I are going out for sushi. Do you want to come?"
"No thank you," I replied automatically. "I'm allergic to fish."
D'oh! The interview was over, I only had about half the material I needed for my show, and I'd missed an opportunity that might have been fun (or at least given me a better anecdote to relate to you now that I'm middle-aged and terminally uncool).
But it was a catalyst. At the time, I lived in an apartment in Studio City, just a short walk from Ventura Boulevard. Today, people think of that part of town as "Sushi Row," because that stretch of the Boulevard is home to at least one sushi joint per block. In 1981, there were about a half dozen places to choose from, and so one night, I went into one of them and sat myself down at the bar.
"I'm allergic to fish," I told the sushi chef. "What can I have?"
He thought for a minute and then got creative. He made me a hand roll out of rice, cucumber, pickled burdock and grilled chicken, and it was delicious. I also sampled his cucumber roll, futomaki and tamago (which is a kind of sweet egg omelet, traditionally ordered at the end of a sushi meal).
I decided I sitting at the sushi bar. For one thing, eating Lean Cuisine alone in my apartment had gotten old. I had taken to eating alone in restaurants a couple of nights a week, so I could take in the energy of being among people -- and dining solo at the sushi bar was a lot less awkward than getting a table for one.
I returned a few more times to the same restaurant before I felt comfortable enough to suggest going there together with some friends. That's when I learned that if you buy your sushi chef a drink, he will often reward you with a langniappe - a little something extra, at no charge. With the first drink, we got some edamame (boiled soybeans - yummy!) ... the second drink brought us some tsunemono (a salad of pickled vegetables, often with some seafood, which I picked out and gave to my friends)...
Of course, every time we bought the chef a drink, we'd ordered another round for ourselves. So by the time the waitress brought me my third hot sake, I was feeling pretty good (inhibitions? What inhibitions?). And so when the chef rewarded our third drink with a gift of baby squid, I said "what the hell?" And I ate them.
And a funny thing happened: nothing. I discovered that night that I'm not allergic to squid. I also sampled a friend's California roll and found out that I'm not allergic to crab. Over time, I learned that raw tuna (especially in spicy tuna rolls) tastes WAY better than Starkist, and that I like yellowtail and salmon, too. I am still, however, allergic to all kinds of white fish, and keep the hell away from shrimp and lobster. I'm certain I am avoiding foods that I could consume without harm, but the memory of that long ago shrimp cocktail keeps me from being too adventurous -- I mean, why take that risk?
By the time I met the man I eventually married, sushi (which is low in fat and high in protein) had become my favorite cuisine. So of course, I suggested it for our first date. I learned later that he only went along with it to impress me. Like Busy Mom, he wasn't that in to the seafood, and the thought of eating it raw disgusted him.
But eventually, he learned to like the stuff. Love it, actually. In the years before our daughter was born, we frequented Teru Sushi so often (as much as three times per week) that we used to get invited to their customer appreciation parties. Alas, it is amazing what a baby and a mortgage do to your disposable income. Sometimes I wonder if all the weight I gained in the ensuing years was due to cutting all that sushi out of my diet.
Today, Japanese food is about the only cuisine the entire family can agree upon, and that includes my daughter who (I wonder why this keeps coming up?) won't eat seafood (even though she has grown up going to sushi bars with us). So I was confident when I told Busy Mom that I would be happy to introduce her to sushi (and sushi-type food) when we meet at BlogHer his summer -- that's because several years ago, the concierge at the Westin St. Francis directed us to a nice, casual Japanese place that's Megan-friendly and within walking distance. I figure Busy Mom can have some cucumber roll, futomaki, and grilled dishes like chicken yaki-tori.
And if she drinks enough sake, who knows? She just might be ready for adventure.