One day, my husband came home from WinCo, that Mecca of fine gourmet food items, with American Cheese. Yeah, I just capitalized that. I have not put that in my fridge since college. My inner foodie was appalled, but my inner child was delighted. I got to thinking about all those not-so-right foods I enjoyed as a kid, and maybe how I've evolved into what I like today. So here is a journey to the early years...
Before I begin, you should know a little about my upbringing. I was a somewhat lonely kid, brought up by the babysitter and when I was old enough, brought up by myself at least until 8pm when my parents came home from their long commutes. The house was filled with diet food, as my mom was on-again off-again dieting and trying to reduce my butterball-like frame after the doctor told me my cholesterol was off the charts (that was before the days off good cholesterol/bad cholesterol). Fat free American cheese (the horror!), "turkey salami" (a total sham), whole grain crunchy nut bread (to get stuck in my teeth) and fat free whatever else the food labs could think of. At least we had diet ginger ale in the house. I don't like ginger ale.
Anyhow, I was bored, lonely, and feeling a little culinarily deprived. In the early days, I would go fishing for couch change that my dad dropped and use my pennies to buy a cherry slurpie and a Slim Jim from 7-11 at the corner. I kept that on the down low for awhile. Sometimes my friend and I would buy hot dogs and overfill them with nacho cheese, squeeze on some drippy chili meat-like products, and of course, my intro to spice world, pickled jalapeño. I discovered that while I feared the jalapeño I also loved it, and the the rest was history. God Bless America.
Fast forward a few years to high school. Parents still worked late, but I spent most of my days at my best friend's house. They were from the Midwest and enjoyed good simple American staples like white bread, full fat American cheese, sweet tea, baked potatoes, and the like. It was my wildest dreams, finally realized! All that fat and empty calories at the ready! We developed our favorite dish, spaghetti with tomato sauce and a mega heap of American cheese melted on top. In the microwave. There was no finer cuisine in the world. Melty, saucy, with silky spaghetti to hold it together. And simple, cheap! Brilliant. (my friend who shall not be named is now an organic vegetarian cook who practices low impact homesteading...)
Fast forward a few more years to college, when I started to try many different foods. Just the fact that Rutgers had an all you can eat dining hall made me try things I never would have paid for normally, but got me out of my shell. My then British boyfriend introduced me to mango chutney, and I was hooked. How many things could you out mango chutney on? Toast, rice, pasta... pasta! And I learned the secret of college food savings... Come out even after buying mango chutney by also using ramen as a pasta, just throw the soup mix away. Hence a newish dish was born: stir fried ramen noodles with chutney... I had many variations with cheapy veggies, and tried to add other sauces like hoisin and oyster (which I discovered at the Asian market down the road). I was a veggie at the time, so no meat. Sometimes I'd even melt some American cheese on there. Yeah, I admitted it. At least my roommates didn't steal the leftovers.
I gradually migrated from making crazy things up to actually following recipes. I started out with back of the box recipes, asking myself why Kraft products were required for the dish. I went through a casserole phase which was about the only thing that my then boyfriend who eat besides pizza and chicken wings from the mom and pop shop down the road. I should have know it was over when he wouldn't eat my cooking because I didn't blacken then chicken or beef before baking for 45 minutes. I decided cooking leather probably would have been more profitable.
The rest of my story actually involves me eating real, delicious food, so I'll shorten this story to say that my inspiration really started with my husband then boyfriend who LIKED food, and with my first real cookbook, Mario Batali Molto Italiano. Who knew that a sauce that just mildly coats the pasta could be so amazing, and to heat up crushed red chili peppers with your garlic sautee? Also have to give credit to weight watchers which forced me to cook without dairy and with real veggies. Oh and there was my subscription to Rachael Ray who really got me in the kitchen, to her credit, every day.
Anyway here is to weird child foods, and the surrounding stories that bring us to them. I'm sure there was some much deeper psychology there, but I'll leave that for another blog post.
Credit to Two Girls and a Potato for the hot dog photo, which means I didn't have to find a 7-11 and take the shot myself. And credit also goes to My Healthy Gluten Free Restart for the spaghetti shot, guess I'm not the only one who thought up this awesomeness, however, I fail to see how it contributes to health...