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Discover changing tastes by trying new things

A friend of ours dropped by the other night while she was visiting in Macon. She was bearing edible gifts of the best kind. While here, she and a couple of friends had baked not one, but two pound cakes. One was plain and the other one had nuts. She wanted me to taste them and see which one I liked best. I know it’s a hard job but somebody’s got to do it!

She and her two friends, my wife and I sat around in our living room, which is something we don’t do very often except for the holidays. We laughed and visited and I munched on several bites of the two slices of cakes. I had tried to inconspicuously release the sugary surprise from its tin foil prison, but failed miserably as the cracking sound of the tin foil gave away my plan. So, being caught, I just openly nibbled in full sight.

My first bite was one from the plain pound cake. It was very moist and delicious. I wanted to give the nutty version its equal dues so, you guessed it, I had to take a bite or two of it. For almost all of the rest of their visit, I tried to decide which one I liked best.

Even though I was participating in the conversation, deep in the test kitchen of my mind a taste test was in full swing!

Did I like the plain version better or, by adding pecans, had the flavor of the cake been improved upon? I couldn’t decide, so I clumsily rewrapped the tin foil around what was left of the cake slices and tried to take a commercial break from the “which is better food show” playing in my mind. I made sure I put the wrapped cake safely out of reach from our dog Georgie. He is definitely a schemer and likes sweets just about as much as I do.

After a tour of the house and several other stories, our guests left. I couldn’t wait to shift my full attention back to the pound cake taste test. A nibble of one piece and then the other confused me even more. Maybe I was just tired or maybe the sugar streaming through my veins had somehow clouded my judgment. I just couldn’t determine which one reigned superior.

In general, I am of the opinion that nuts make anything better. They are more than welcome at any of my meals. Nuts have the ability to elevate chocolate to tastier levels and are quite at home as the finishing crunchy touch to many of the dishes in my cookbooks. So, why wasn’t I going straight for the pound cake with the nuts with my blue ribbon? I guess there is something to be said for just plain, simple goodness.

I can’t even believe I just typed that sentence. Me, thinking plain was better than embellished! What has happened to me? Was I somehow morphing into someone ordinary? I was too tired to tackle that question, so I put it into the “think about that one at a later date” compartment of my mind.

There was hardly any space left to put it there, but I somehow managed to shove it in and quickly closed the door.

Anyone that personally knows me knows that I am extremely particular about what I eat. I don’t know where or when I became so picky, but I do know that it drives my wife crazy! There are certain things, like mayonnaise, that I simply cannot stand! Not the texture, not the taste! But that’s a whole other column.

Over the years, I do know I have become less hostile to certain foods than I used to be. I’m not quite as quick to judge squash or broccoli casserole as in the past. I also seem to be a little more accepting of plain fruit without it having to be sugared up and baked in a pie for me to enjoy it. I guess it is something that happens when passing time merges with maturing taste buds.

But I’m definitely not the only one who has certain foods they hate. Growing up, my children would not touch anything I baked that had so much as a flake of coconut. But wonder of wonders, as of last Christmas and Easter, they have suddenly devoured my from scratch coconut cake and it has many, many flakes of coconut!

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I first saw them eating it. I thought they had picked up the wrong dessert plate or, at the very least, lost their minds.

Just like our taste buds go through a metamorphosis over time, so do our tastes in friends, decor and fashion. That’s why we should always be willing to try new things. I am definitely talking to myself right here because I have miles to go on this journey.

But if we are closed- minded, we may just miss out on something wonderful!

Nuts or no nuts? I still don’t know the answer to that one. After the taste test was over, I loved both of the pound cakes. And that was all right, but it made me think.

How would we ever know if we liked something unless we venture out by trying something new? Let’s all try adding something creative and new this week to a recipe, to a room or to a friendship. We might just like it better!

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Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; fax them to (478)474-4390 or call (478) 757-6877.