Thursday, August 5, 2010
Feh … Feh… No. I Just Can’t
Despite their efforts to playfully sneak some into dishes where its distinctive – nay, wretched – flavor may be masked, Tim and Graham know that the mere mention of the word fennel is enough to twist my face into a mask of disgust. Even now, just thinking about it, my jaw aches at having to support every disapproving muscle.
Like Voldemort, he who cannot be named, I prefer that even the full word not be spoken in my kitchen, lest some sticky haze settle over it the way a dust cloud always hovers around poor Pigpen’s feet. I generally opt for just “feh,” an apt Yiddish term that signals due displeasure.
I do allow the plant to be grown in the garden, but only because I like the way its dark fronds flutter in the breeze. However, like people who sell magazines door to door, and large bugs, it is not permitted past the threshold.
This is on my mind today because I read Alexandra Guarnaschelli’s characteristically luxurious prose, which described the “spicy chicken sausage filled with fennel” she made breakfast. A smell so foul, especially first thing in the morning, makes me think of nothing so much as morning sickness.
While many admired chefs sing its praises, especially those of Italian lineage, I will not be persuaded. I dread the idea of it being served at a friend’s table, where I would feel obliged to eat it and nod with woozy approval. At restaurants, I cut short any waiter’s enticing description as soon as he utters the word. I waste hours trying to come up with appropriate substitutes when confronted with a gorgeous (albeit fennel-filled) dish featured on the pages of a glossy magazine.
Simply put, it hate it and all its kin: anise, licorice, Thai basil; even distant cousins like cloves reside like wary squatters in my spice rack. So, if I unwittingly toss back a slug of ouzo and do not gleefully shout “oopa!” you’ll not only know why – but also understand that my curdled words are actually this urgent plea: “Call poison control!”