Thursday, January 21, 2010

From Caviar to Moon Pies

I've got to be perfectly honest with you here. I'm not a fan of sweets (I'm the girl you can leave alone in  a dessert shop for hours and just know she won't touch a thing while you're gone) and, typically, I have fairly refined and somewhat sophisticated taste in food. You might even call me a food snob, if you were feeling kind of snippy. I like caviar with my pasta, but not just any caviar, Beluga caviar from Russia. My uncle used to get it from a friend when I was a little girl and one day, when I was about five, he put it in my spaghetti. Mom told him I wouldn't like it, but I was the only one of my three siblings who felt okay about having black fish eggs dumped into my meal. Much to Mom's dismay, I didn't like it; I adored it. And so began the corruption of my tastebuds.

At the opening of his and my father's new office down the street from our house, they had lots of gifted Beluga caviar and I stationed myself at the hors d'oevres table, stuffing my face with it. There's a photo floating around somewhere of my sister and I with my dad, celebrating the opening in matching floral dresses. My glasses are bigger than ever, sliding down my nose, but my usual smile does not join my father's and sister's. Instead, my lips are closed, my cheeks are full and I am holding a napkin with caviar-drenched crackers in my hands. It's obvious to me why I'm not smiling. I can still taste the crush of salt in my mouth lapping itself over my tongue, coating the insides of my cheeks. I can still remember how thrilled I was to have a huge, barely touched supply of black fish eggs at my disposal.

Not much changed as I got older, except my uncle somehow lost his caviar connection and over $800 a can is a bit pricey, even for the most refined caviar connoisseur. I've tried the $5 or more kind at the grocery store, but it just doesn't have the same taste. Too salty, really. Sometimes I splurge on a caviar that's pretty tasty, but it's so rare. I've come to accept that my love affair with caviar must be put on hold until I find a reliable, affordable kind.

Aside from my uncle introducing me to foods way beyond my maturity level, my mother cooked. When I say she "cooked" I mean to say that I never tasted much that came from a box, had artificial ingredients or was processed in any way. Not to mention, Mom really encouraged healthy eating choices, or at least the healthiest kinds when we weren't at home. A few years ago, Huz and my bf Megan were talking about foods on sticks when I remarked that I hadn't, in fact, ever had such a thing before. Needless to say, they were quietly, but obviously shocked.

"Haven't you ever been to a fair before?" They asked.
"Sure, but we always had Italian sausage and peppers at the fair. Maybe we'd share some cotton candy," I put in for good measure. "Does cotton candy count?"
"No. That's a cone and it's just not the same."

They threw out every possible stick food they could think of: corndogs, chicken-on-a-stick, pancakes on a stick, fried cheese on a stick, kettle corn on a stick...etc. We ruled out shishkababs, since they typically get pulled off of the stick before being consumed and, plus, those are really skewers, not so much sticks. Never mind the fact that I'd never had deep fried oreos, Snickers or any other candy or cookie or the fact that I hate--and I do mean hate--fried dough (which I tried once as a child and once more to appease Huz this past summer. Still hate it). The mission began and before the last few years fully passed...I can proudly say I've finally tried a corndog (blech), a pancake on a stick (even grosser), chicken on a stick (disappointing) and frozen Snickers, deep fried and on a stick (fascinating-how do they do that!?!).

After we were married, when Huz first said he'd like to have mac and cheese one night for dinner, I went out to the store, bought a block of cheese and some elbow macaronis, and marched back home to make dinner. He came into the kitchen just in time to see me dumping the last of the cheese I'd shredded up into the cooked macaroni with milk, butter, salt and pepper.

"Oh, honey, I didn't mean for you to...I just meant, like, Easy Mac." He looked alarmed, though the process had only taken fifteen minutes up to that point.
"Easy Mac?" I asked not fully understanding.
"Yeah...the kind in a box. You add water and heat?"
I just shook my head at him in baffled disbelief why would anyone would want to eat this Easy Mac he spoke of when what I was making was infinitely better and, probably, better for us, too.

The same happened with mashed potatoes. He meant: dump the contents of the box, add water, heat and I meant, boil the potatoes, add butter/margarine, milk and mash.

When our friend Beth went to dinner at a place called Fazoli's with us one night, I casually mentioned it was my first Fazoli's experience and had been looking forward to it. Beth was shocked, to say the least. "Where did you grow up?" She asked, confused as to how this was possible.
Huz leaned toward her before I could say a word and explained: "Her mother cooked."
"Aaaah," she said. "That does explain it."

While a lot can be said about what this discrepancy between my food-relationship and how it was fostered and my husband's and how it was fostered (about parents, society, how family is or isn't developing, value system, most obviously-this generation's emphasis on a 'faster' paced life with less time and attention and care put into the food-making process) means, it's really all just leading up to a fuller understanding of how I typically eat and why. And while I do think my philosophy, relationship and care with food is a good one, I did miss out on one crucial food that I might never have tried if my brother had not been here in November. And if Huz hadn't suggested we go to Bass Pro Shop. And if I hadn't, somehow, gone through nearly thirty years of life without ever liking sweets enough to eat many of them.

Moon Pies.

I don't know if you've had a Moon Pie before, dear reader, but I do know I am properly obsessed with them. My brother insisted that I have one when we saw them at Bass Pro. They were only fifty-cents a piece, which worried me (if they were good, wouldn't they be more than fifty-cents?). He was appalled that I'd never had this "Great American Classic" and I began to question whether I remembered our healthy-eating childhood accurately or whether I had been the only one who truly ate healthy as a child (I do remember he and my sister eating lots of Chef Boyardee and microwavable snacks after school while I usually gravitated toward cheese and crackers or half a turkey sandwich). He handed the small plastic bag to me as we ran to the jeep in the rain. Once in the back seat, he waited while I unwrapped the Moon Pie and examined it. My other brother started the car.

"Just do it. Eat it."
"What if I don't like it?" I asked, looking over the smooth, chocolate exterior of the rounded pie.
"Then don't eat the rest."
I closed my eyes, clenched my teeth over the exterior of the Moon Pie and.....bit.

My life has never been the same.

Now we buy Moon Pies by the scores (2 for a dollar!) and store them in our bread box. We have learned that heating them in the microwave for 7-10 seconds makes them taste like self-contained s'mores. I have never felt this way about a sweet of any kind in my life and honestly believe that every bad day could be made better with a Moon Pie. I don't eat them constantly, but savor them for a day like today when it's rainy and cold and my phone is breaking, as did my pen in class today, and I'm just so tired I can barely keep my eyes open. Then there's my beloved Moon Pie shared over a paper white plate with my loving, wonderful husband, heated in the microwave for ten seconds, gooey and happy in my mouth...and the whole world seems better.

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