"No matter what happens in the kitchen, never apologize." - Julia Child

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Good gravy! Gravy!

Yesterday I hinted at the fact that I needed to share a major life revelation. Here I am, about to do, boldly going where few Cubans have ever gone before.

I have finally eaten gravy. For the first time in my life.

Yes, gentle reader, lift up thine jaw from where it's surely fallen to the floor in shock—I speak the truth! In my 29 years of life, I'd never ONCE tasted turkey gravy, or any traditional brown gravy made and beloved by so many on their turkey and mashed potatoes. Not once!

You must understand that this stems back to the days of my youth. When I was just a wee one, with my soft, impressionable mind still highly prone to serious molding and sculpting, my father took it upon himself to impress upon me many of the foods that are on his seemingly unending list of evil foods that no one in their right mind should ever, under any circumstances, consume. Foods that because he does not like, he thinks no one else should like either. This list includes: mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, and most other condiments, peanut butter, Cocoa Puffs cereal, all types of squash (my mother and I delight in hiding squash in things, making him eat them, asking if he liked it, and after he says yes, telling him that there was squash in what he just ate and liked—but he still goes on saying he hates squash), avocados, al dente pasta, any soft drink that isn't clear (he actually had me trained as a child to respond to his question, "What is Coca-Cola?" with an exuberant shout of, "Poison!"), any and all Mexican foods (including burritos, tacos, and tortillas), curry, stuffing, chewing gum, whipped cream, most kinds of frosting, and let's not forget, for the purpose of this blog entry—gravy.

I think it's the color and the consistency that my father's not happy with, or perhaps it's the fact that gravy (in the traditional American/Thanksgiving essence) is not part of the Spanish or Latino food pantheon, but my father passionately despises gravy and refuses to eat it. My mother also politely and less vocally turns up her nose at it, but she still turns it up. So while I had the good sense to ignore my father on most of his other warnings about the evils of the foods on his most-hated list (how could ANYONE hate whipped cream!), the gravy thing really stuck with me. I just never had an occasion to eat it growing up, so I never did.

But what about at Thanksgiving? you ask. Surely there was gravy for your turkey then! Ah, dear friends, we Cubans sassed up the turkey Latino style and instead dressed it with mójo (pronounced MOH-hoh), a Latino "gravy" made of hot oil, thin-sliced onions, garlic, and citrus juice. It's simple and delicious and is perfect with meat and potatoes—or in our case, lechón (roast pork) and yucca. Even when gravy was made available to the Gringo contingent of our family, there was also always mójo, so I never hesitated: I went with the sauce I knew.

For the last 4 years, I'd attended Thanksgiving dinner at Jeremy's parents' house. His mother is an excellent cook and makes a pretty traditional Thanksgiving dinner, including homemade gravy. My father had me thinking that this was made of no less than the tears of abandoned Asian infants thickened with essence of Adolf Hitler, so for the last 4 years, I absolutely would not eat gravy at the Trout family Thanksgiving dinner. I politely helped myself to everything else that was available, and when the pitcher of gravy came my way, I discreetly passed it along to the next person, dressing my turkey only with cranberry sauce or forkfuls of stuffing (one of the foods I was wise enough to ignore my father on, because it's scrumptious!). I just couldn't bring myself to ladle a spoonful of the thick brown stuff out on my plate.

But this year I had a serious pre-game pep talk with myself. All right, self, said I, this is it. You're 29 now, and you're into food more seriously now, and you're always trying new things, so how can you possibly hold your head high and call yourself a lover of food if you've never had the guts to try something as simple as gravy? For god's sake, it's just meat drippings mixed with roux! Get over yourself! Try it! How bad could it REALLY be?

I spent the pre-dinner hours helping in the kitchen and warily hovering near the gravy, checking it out. I watched Jeremy's mother concoct the gravy. I watched it turn brown. I watched it thicken. I even stirred it for a few brief minutes when she left the room to answer the phone. And when the time came and we sat down to dinner, I took the gravy pitcher with only the slightest tremble of unsteadiness in my hand and put one conservative spoonful into an indentation I'd specifically made for it on top of my mashed potatoes. I passed the pitcher. I took a deep breath, and then I took a forkful.

I didn't die! I didn't immediately grow horns and find myself indentured for all eternity to Satan! My insides didn't shrivel from this noxious substance! I ate the rest of the gravy-covered potatoes in relief.

Later, on the ride home, I confessed to Jeremy that during dinner I'd eaten my first serving of gravy ever.

"What did you think?" he asked.

"It tasted like turkey juice," I said. "Thickened turkey juice. It's not bad. It just tastes like turkey. But I think I prefer mójo." Here Jeremy made an appreciative noise, as he is a fan of my mother's cooking, including her mójo. (In fact, he's such a fan that every year he films her on his cell phone video camera making the mójo, which actually is quite a sight to see. Maybe we'll post the video on here this year.)

So there you have it: a Cubanita had her first gravy at the tender young age of 29. The spell is broken. The gravy was eaten. And I am still alive, and better for it, I think.

Checking out my edible adversary

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