May 21st

theresa albert - my friend in food


Some Like it Hot


My husband is a self-professed chilli-head.   That is to say he’s very happy when he’s eating food that makes him sweat, burns his mouth and turns his face bright red.  As his dinner companion, the show is amusing but for my part, I’ll just remain a spectator.  You see, I am a chilli-wimp.   I cannot handle spicy heat of any kind though my tolerance has increased slightly over the past two decades because sometimes there are dishes that taste so good that they’re worth a little discomfort.   For those, I keep a glass of milk handy… is there anything wimpier than that?

Yes, milk is the solution to the burn as dairy products (Raita, for example, in Indian cuisine) contain certain fats that neutralize Capsaicin, the ingredient in the peppers that causes the burn.  Water will not do the trick as this ingredient is oil based and will cling to the soft tissues of your mouth and throat, impervious to any amount of H2O you swig.

I confess that I don’t understand the love affair so many people have with hot (meaning spicy, not scalding) foods.  I’m told that the burn releases endorphins but then I was told that about exercise too and I’ve never experienced it.   I think endorphins are a ruse like the one I heard in high school, no doubt made up by teenaged males, who said a certain activity would “clear up acne”.  There is something semi-masochistic about voluntarily causing yourself to feel like a flame-eater without even the off-chance of making money in tips for doing it.

Many years ago, I visited a famous eatery in Metarie, just outside New Orleans, which was reputed to have the freshest deep-fried seafood in the region.  This being Louisiana, I suspected the batter on the shrimps I ordered might contain cayenne so I took the first bite rather gingerly.  My assumption was correct so I carefully peeled off the batter while my now crimson faced, perspiring husband gleefully dug further into his feast.  I took a taste of my now naked shrimp and was shocked to find my tongue singed anew.   “You’re paranoid”, said my devoted life partner who, by then, had so much heat on his palate that he could detect none in my innocent cooked crustacean.   Believing him, I tried again and once more the burn came.

A little bowl of steamed new potatoes sat in the centre of the table in lieu of bread and as there wasn’t much else on the menu, I resigned myself to make a meal of it.   I took a hefty bite of one of the golf-ball-sized spuds and it bit me back!  Frustrated that this too seemed dusted in cayenne, I tore off the peel and now, quite hungry, took another good-sized chunk into my mouth. Scorching pain shot down my throat.   “You’re nuts.  It’s just a potato”, said my dear one.

Ignoring my almost-ex-husband (well, it felt like it at the time), I called over a waitress who explained that everything they served was, in her quaint colloquialism, “burled in earl”, which I found out meant it was boiled in “crab boil”, a mixture of chilli powders that penetrate the flesh of anything cooked in it.     That night, after guzzling a gallon of milk, I had popcorn for dinner… UNSEASONED popcorn.



Ilana Waldston is the mother of two teenage girls who keeps sane by singing. A graduate of the prestigious International Cabaret Conference at Yale, she’s been delighting Toronto audiences with her comedic patter and well-honed ability to sell a song. She’s a self-professed foodie, loves to bake, travel and dine (often all at once) who sometimes sings of food in songs such as “My Diet Starts Tomorrow”, “Dieter’s Prayer” and “Foodblooz”. In addition to her solo work, she’s also a part of Toronto’s only female jazz quartet, The Satin Dolls...


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