Because I was such a picky eater as a kid and gagged over nearly everything, I can always recall precisely when my feelings toward certain foods took a turn for the better. Not only that, but I clearly remember how the food was prepared, and I know exactly what I read that piqued my interest in the hated food in the first place. Yes, reading makes me hungry for food I wouldn’t otherwise touch with a ten-foot fork.*
I’m not talking about such usual suspects as Calvin Trillin, M.F.K. Fisher, or Eat Pray Love, either. No, my inspirations were much weirder. For instance, Bread and Jam for Frances got me eating soft-boiled eggs when all I used to endure was scrambled; Gerald Durrell had me craving grilled tomatoes on toast; Dickens made me try plum pudding; and perhaps most importantly of all, Sweet Valley High got me into asparagus.
It was in Power Play. Wealthy and spoiled Lila Fowler is caught shoplifting to get her father’s attention. The angelic, nosy, and — as of this year — “perfect size 4” Elizabeth Wakefield manages to come to Lila’s rescue. Because of this, Mr. and Lila Fowler take Elizabeth out to a fancy restaurant to thank her for being nosy and angelic and having a gold lavaliere. Never mind that Lila eventually went back to her rich-bitchy ways. Never mind that the main story is all about “chubby” Robin Wilson losing weight, gaining lip gloss, and making Bruce Patman walk into a door — all I took away from that book was that Elizabeth had asparagus tips at the fancy restaurant.
Asparagus tips. I kept turning the words over and over in my head. I wanted asparagus tips. Except that I didn’t really, did I? My older sister and I used to go around giggle-whispering, “Asparag-ASS” whenever that vegetable came up in polite conversation. (We thought we were so clever.) I remember wishing longingly that “asparagus tips” weren’t a vegetable. That it meant something else entirely, preferably having to do with meat, Doritos, or cream cheese.
Nevertheless, I finally tried it. I tried it roasted. I wallowed in the crispy, olive oil-saturated tips. I got primal and ate with my hands. I sucked the salt and pepper of my asparagussed fingertips. My longing was requited, and I was crushing hard. Asparagus is back in season and tonight I’m having my spring crush over for dinner. He needn’t dress, it’s nothing fancy.
Simply Roasted Asparagus
Serves 4 as a side dish
1 lb asparagus, tough ends snapped off
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Preheat oven to 400°
1. Toss the asparagus with the olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast for 8-10 minutes.
2. Serve cold with Parmigiano-Reggiano.
*(Conversely, Ramona Quimby made me despise tongue and Fig Newtons even to this day.)