Look at me, I'm eating peas. I'm nearly 40 years old and I'm eating peas. Who says middle-aged men don't have growth spurts?
I never cared for peas as a child. Perhaps that's too mildly put. I had always hated peas. No, still not enough. I had a terror of peas as a child.
That's more like it.
I would not touch them, I hated looking at them, and I certainly would never eat them. If I saw them on television, I would either cover my eyes or run from the room, just as I did anytime I saw two people kissing. Peas, for no good reason, caused me acute emotional distress. When it was beef stew night in our household, I thought my mother was making it specifically to torture me.
I would spend the hours before dinner time hiding in my room, wondering what I had done to deserve something as hideous and traumatizing as beef stew made with a heavy dose of frozen Green Giant peas. When finally lured to the table with threats of punishment, I would sit quietly with my eyes puffy from crying and my hands sore from wringing, and think to myself, "What greater punishment is there than a plateful of stringy beef dotted with disintegrating potatoes, carrots, and grey-green peas?"
I couldn't think of anything.
I would drink several glasses of milk trying to get the stuff down without having it immediately brought back up. Nights would be sleepless knowing those little green monsters were inside of me.
As I grew a little older, I learned to work my way around the peas. My place at the dinner table was closest to the Tomorrowland-blue napkin holder. I would line my lap with three or four napkins and, when my mother wasn't looking, dump a forkful onto my semi-protected pants. The warmth of the stew caused an unexpectedly pleasant sensation, which I will not go into here.
When my lap was full of warm stew, I would quietly fold up my bundle with one hand while trying to keep the dogs' noses out of my crotch with the other, and politely ask if I might be excused to go to the pantry cupboard, which was where we kept our trash bin, cereal, dog food, and was, coincidentally, very near my mother's seat at the table. I would walk around the table, past my brother who was more than likely too busy separating all the ingredients on his plate and then eating each one in alphabetical order to notice what I was doing in my lap, past my sister and her glass of Mountain Dew that she could not seem to drink without tinting it some even-more-unnatural color with Schilling food coloring, and over to the cupboard, where I would pause and give a thoughtful look at the childhood growth markers that covered the inside of the door. When I thought my mother wasn't looking, I would drop my bundle into the garbage.
This ritual would be repeated at least two more times during the meal.
I don't know who I thought I was kidding. Certainly not my mother. Apparently, she just go tired of fighting with me over the peas and the stew, so she let me carry on my charade-- it freed her from an annoying confrontation, it freed me from having to eat peas, and it freed everyone from having to listen to me cry and gag.
And now, I am an almost-40 year-old man eating peas. Why? I have no real idea. Perhaps I just grew out of hating them.
Then again, I may have this salad to thank...
Green Pea and Feta Salad
There are a few seasonal dishes we obsess about at work. This is one of them. Towards the end of every March, someone will ask our chef, Erik Cosselmon, this question: "Are peas in season yet?" The question will be repeated about every two days until peas do finally make their appearance. I never thought I would join the ranks of pea-loving waiters, but I have.
It's an embarrassingly easy salad to make (apart from shelling the peas). The saltiness of the feta that has been creamed together with good olive oil mixes with the sweet burst of the peas as they pop inside your mouth (which is one of the things I hated about them as a child) makes for a remarkable combination.
2 cups fresh English or Snap peas (typically, one pound of peas in their pod yields 1 cup of shelled peas)
About 1/3 cup feta, crumbles (Greek. Use Greek feta. Really.)
2 to 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil (I will give you a pass if you don't use the Greek stuff here)
The juice of 1/2 lemon
a small handful of both chopped mint (or cilantro) and scallion for garnish.
1. Blanch peas is simmering water for 1 to 2 minutes (they should appear bright green). Remove the peas and place them in an ice bath to prevent further cooking. Cool and drain.
2. In a medium-sized bowl, cream together the feta cheese and olive oil, but not obsessively. lumps are both texturally necessary and attractive. Add peas and mix enough to coat them thoroughly with the feta and oil.
3. To serve, place pea mixture in a serving-appropriate dish, squeeze the lemon over it, and garnish with mint and scallion. If you are making this dish in advance, I would advise you to add the lemon only just prior to serving. If left in contact with the peas for a long time, the lemon will turn them an unappetizing color. Just think about what lemon juice does to very dark-haired people when they rub it in their hair and then go out in the sun. Sort of like Sun In, but organic.