It all traces back to journeys with my father (who did all the family shopping) to the Italian markets of the North End, where he bought artichokes and olive oil and provalone and sometimes strange cuts of meat, and to the Faneuil Hall market where he knew butchers and greengrocers and fruiterers... And there was a man who sold oranges and apples in bulk next to the train tracks down near MIT, who would take tins of bacon drippings as partial payment. My mother read Gourmet Magazine, favored exotica like lapsang souchong tea, used garlic and lots of herbs and spices in her cooking, and had a deft hand with souffle. I absorbed a lot of arcane food lore in restaurants like Ola (a Norwegian place on an alley near Park Square) and the Blue Ship Tea Room at the end of T Wharf (where they served whale steak), and we sometimes visited Boston's Chinatown, long before that was a common thing to do. There were Greek and Syrian restaurants in unpreposessing corners of Boston, Kasanof's pumpernickel bread at the Wursthaus, and Armenian bakeries in Watertown... All of that just seemed normal to me.
During the 1961-1965 period I frequented several Harvard Square eateries: Hayes-Bickford, Elsie's of course, Bartley's, Hazen's for chocolate cake, Patisserie Français for espresso and croissants. The Acropolis further down Mass Ave., Simeone's in Central Square, and the S&S in Inman Square. Further afield in Boston, we visited a couple of seedy Middle Eastern places (Red Fez, and a bakery on Shawmut Street), and occasionally Joyce Chen's when it was on Memorial Drive. Betsy and I were married in our senior year, and we remember buying Syrian bread, and yogurt in glass bottles, but can't remember where. I don't think there were any Thai or Ethiopian or Korean places until the 70s, but we'd have tried them if we'd heard rumors.
I didn't do all that much cooking until we came back from Peace Corps, but the techniques and flavors of Malaysian and Chinese and Indian cuisines were at the core of what I was working to develop. The influences of Tassajara (Ed Brown's cookbooks especially) and Mexican styles and materials were also significant. Food movements were an element of Bay Area culture in the early 70s, along with other forms of direct action: we embraced organic this'n'that, participated in food distribution coops, and for a while ran a Cheese Conspiracy that bought at wholesale and distributed hundreds of pounds a week in the Palo Alto area.
When we first arrived in Nova Scotia the array of exotic foods was very limited --no garlic or ginger root in the supermarkets, and I recall being asked by a checkout clerk what broccoli was called. We had to venture to Halifax for whole-bean coffee and fancy flour, but by the mid-1970s there was a food co-op in Wolfville, and a New Age-y bakery. We did absorb quite a few native items into our food habits: sauerkraut, solomon gundy, fiddleheads, gaspereau, shad, Lunenburg pudding, rappie pie, salt cod, blueberry buckle, maple syrup, and apples of many varieties unknown in the US... We had a large garden, did a lot of canning and freezing, and imported exotica like olive oil and fish sauce and sambal oelek whenever we ventured to Boston. I made tofu and tempeh ("Daddy's mouldy soybeans") from scratch, there being no alternative. The 1979-80 sabbatical year in Palo Alto greatly expanded the family palate, and inspired even more experimentation. By the time we left Nova Scotia in the early 1990s, we had developed a wide repertoire of signature dishes that are still mainstays.
The Virginia years weren't very distinguished in the gastronomic dimension, but we sought out local food specialties during weekend Appalachian Trail adventures, and followed the evolutions of a number of restaurants around Lexington. I cooked a lot, but didn't absorb Southern methods or ingredients. I did develop a taste for okra, pickled and fried, and I know a Southern biscuit when it crosses my path.
The last decade in Maine has seen a lot of exploration of seafood, and --though I say it myself-- the perfection of a number of dishes. New cookbooks cross the threshhold and are mined for ideas. Rockland is just 30 minutes away, and has enjoyed an explosion of superb restaurants, at many of which we enjoy Favored Eater status. My Flickr photostream documents hundreds of meals at Home Kitchen, at John Conte's, and at home (many of the latter feature Betsy's artistry, with me as sous chef). I notice that when I travel there's always a consultation with Yelp as part of the planning, and detours to food venues are pretty much standard operating procedure. Not long ago we ventured to Turkey for a cooking and food photography workshop, and we've recently been exploring galettes and cider in Brittany. Things gustatory continue to evolve.