I don't know when exactly it happened, but it became clear with tandoori chicken a couple weeks ago: my mouth has changed. My taste buds are far more demanding now, but also more appreciative. If I eat good food - I mean really good food, with fresh, local ingredients and spices that complement - it's like I'm getting high.
When I ate the chicken and curried okra, after I was finished I sat and enjoyed the buzz. The flavors lingering in my mouth, all together in perfect harmony. It's happened several time since: Central Grocery muffaletta yesterday, and just now with Thai basil beef. The sauce is too heavy with the beef - I was too heavy-handed as I eyeballed. I skotch too much oyster sauce, too much fish sauce. But honestly, they make my mouth happy. They work with the farmer's market green beans and zucchini, with the mashed garlic and jalapenos, with the many leaves of two types of Thai basil as I pruned the plants.
Tonight, I'm making okra, tomatoes, and garbanzo something ... probably a curry. Definitely a curry. Coriander, cumin, fennel, ginger, turmeric, garlic, cayenne - they'll all make an appearance. They will work an alchemy with my garden-fresh okra, and there will be choirs of jubilation dancing on my taste buds.
I did not know that my tastes would refine as I aged - I thought just the opposite would happen. Not that I ever seriously abused myself with bags of Cool Ranch doritos, but I have partaken.
and maybe that's the secret - now that I'm off processed foods, my taste buds have cleared and are receptive in a way they never were before.
Or maybe it's just New Orleans. This crazy city changes everything about me. And I think I'm going on a fried chicken quest this week - Willie Mae's it is. I've heard so much.