Saturday, July 30, 2011

Edible Memories

When I was a snotty teenager, I insisted that I would never cook my own food. I hated cooking and swore I would have my own personal chef. I seriously don't even know who that girl was now. Sure, some days I'm totally lazy and eat Cheez-Its for dinner, but most of the time I love to cook. I pore over recipes online for hours and take at least a week to plan holiday meals. I talk about food endlessly with my friends who are as equally obsessed as I am.

It's not just the food or the taste or showing off at a party. I love the memories that go with the food. Certain smells evoke the memories in the strongest and most poignant way, but food memories are my favorites.

When I was really little, I'd hang out in the kitchen with my mom, handing her the items she needed. I sliced off a little taste of butter whenever I pulled it out of the fridge for her. I learned how to make chicken and dumplings watching her. I mean real southern chicken and dumplings, not those pathetic biscuit imposters. This was my grandmother's recipe. And probably her grandmother's. When I grew up, I only needed the ingredient amounts, but no instruction. For years D hated them, which made me sad. I had imagined this would be the one recipe passed down to my daughter and her daughter after that. She finally learned to love them like I do in the last year and my legacy is again alive.

As a kid, my mom made us whatever we wanted for dinner on our birthdays. I don't know why this was such a big deal to me, probably because it was the one day of the year I could reject less appetizing fare like liver and okra and lima beans. I always chose tacos. Every year. My sister always chose spaghetti.

I think visiting my grandparents in Mississippi is where I learned to equate food with love. We had dinner and supper, same-sized meals at different times of the day at a crowded, very full table. My mom said that my grandpa used to say that a meal wasn't complete without bread. He made the best biscuits and, for a while, my mom tried to replicate the recipe when we returned home. She never could and gave up after a few near-disasters. I'm still too afraid to try.

When we ate at seafood restaurants, I would get popcorn shrimp and hush puppies. I loved the name more than the actual food and hush puppies were one of the first comfort foods I attempted to make in college. I'm super snobby about them now. Yes, snobby about fried corn meal. It has to be done just right.

A trip to Disneyland isn't complete without a churro or two or three. I don't eat them anywhere else. D loves to go to the Mexican restaurant in Frontierland, not so much for the food, but for the view of Thunder Mountain at night.

In-N-Out. Oh, In-N-Out. I don't even care to debate this. It is just hands-down my favorite burger place in all the world. There are restaurants all over California and they have branched out to other states (but not Oregon, ahem. I'm looking at YOU, In-N-Out Corporate!). It wasn't always like that though. We used to go rarely, mostly when we went to the beach because we'd pass by one on those occasions. I had In-N-Out the day I bought my first car. It is probably the one thing I crave most often. Oh, In-N-Out. I love you so.

My favorite candy? Abba Zabba. If you've never had this delicious treat, it's like a bar of taffy with peanut butter in the middle. It's best frozen, but it also reminds me of going to the beach. I lost a tooth in one once.

Vacations are always about the food. In Victoria, it's afternoon tea at Butchart Gardens. Little finger sandwiches and scones and tarts and truffles and fancy tea! My summer cruise offered endless amounts of food but nothing on the ship compared to what I found in port. The Mexican resort provided freshly made tortillas and things I could never name, but couldn't get enough of. And fish tacos on a Mexican beach? There's nothing else like it. In Hawaii I had pineapple juice every morning and vowed to never eat mahi mahi anywhere else.

I love crepes and risotto and lobster, sushi and lamb and pretty plates of delicate pasta. But I also love fried chicken and fried catfish, bad, trashy food full of grease and fat and everything else that gives it a bad reputation. My favorite white trash food is Easy Cheese. You know, stuff that comes in a can that isn't really any kind of cheese at all. Easy Cheese and Pringles are the best snack to take for a day at the lake. It's good on celery if you want to pretend to be healthy. Last night I tried it on a hot dog. Omg, you guys. Try it tonight. Seriously.

Food. Memories of food. So many of them. College means popcorn and rice and fresh strawberries from roadside stands. After 52 hours of childbirth, I rewarded myself with french fries, ranch dressing and a chocolate shake. My ex and I went out for sushi the day our divorce was finalized. I taught D how to crack crab legs the day she got her first pair of pointe shoes and we had pizza when she got her braces off.

Food is family, love, birthdays, drunken Friday nights, beginnings, endings, celebrations, compromise, sometimes regret, more often pure joy. I've loved people with food. I've laughed over food. I've been comforted by it and had invaluable conversations during delicious meals. The best thing about all of this? There is just more to come.


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