My college friend, who had graduated a year before me, came back to visit me one weekend during my senior year. Still clinging to my freshman fifteen (cough, 3 years later), I was stunned to see her svelte figure. What the…? I could’ve sworn she was just like the rest of us — chunky from chicken wings and puffy from pizza — just the last time I saw her. What was her secret?, I demanded to know over pitchers of full-caloried, non-lite beer.
She shrugged. “I eat to live — not the other way around.” She was burning the midnight oil with her first teaching job and sometimes (deep breath here) forgot to eat — at times opening up a single can of corn and digging right in with a fork. Dinner. Imagine that.
It’s been a long time since that unsettling day but it turns out, away from the excess and decadence of all-you-can-eat cafeterias and 24-hour sub shops, I’m not much of a food person myself; today her words seem hardly profound anymore. Sure I’ve got my favorites (I defy anyone to pass up a pig in a blanket) but I’ve realized that, like my friend, I’m not such a big fan of well, food. In fact, I rarely ever even think about it let alone obsess over it like a few people I know.
I couldn’t tell you what I’ve eaten at any wedding (and definitely can’t recall what was served at my own) and it takes way more than a strand of hair in my plate to make me send any dish back. I don’t salivate over brownie sundaes and I can’t even think about Chinese food in the summertime. Going out to dinner is a simple joy based solely on the fact I’m not home scouring the sink. Actually, as a mom, a dinner out is clumped into the same luxury as getting my teeth cleaned without simultaneously rocking an infant car seat with my foot (who hasn’t done THAT?). For me, food’s always been an afterthought. Lunch? I don’t know, just how many leftover peanut butter and jelly crusts constitute an actual lunch?
When I became engaged I didn’t register for china. What for? I’d argue. Or better: have you met my friends? What in the world was I supposed to serve on expensive and delicate dinnerware to a group who typically raced the rising sun home to their beds after a night out?
My take-it-or-leave-it (not to be confused with my take-out) attitude has little to do with cooking. I can cook and I do cook. I’ve thrown dozens of parties but not once have I ever stressed out over a menu (my sister’s left eye is twitching right now at this admission; she, dear readers, is a foodie: one who will stir homemade risotto for hours until her wrist snaps off). Not me. I’ve scanned hundreds of recipes in an attempt to try something new, only to get to an ingredient I’ve never heard of and turn the page (what exactly is bulgur?). And, like millions of others, I’ve watched the Food Network in amazement, truly believing that my kids would develop a fondness for (pick one) beets, turnips or summer squash if only I knew how to julienne.
Once for my birthday my husband thought it would be faaaaaabulous to treat me to a fine dining experience. You know, one of those “It’s a surprise — just look pretty, honey, and get in the car.” He found a unique French bistro that a local couple ran out of their home.
The husband was (according to them) a renown European chef and the wife was (according to mildly nauseating innuendo and touching) his biggest fan and cheerleader. Because various fine wines accompanied each course, (and because “wine tasting” is my own personal oxymoron) naturally we got shattered.
Before too long, we couldn’t wait to leave. By the time dessert was being presented we were offering up fake apologies and explanations of babysitter problems and texting friends underneath the table “Where R U?” I know, I know, you can take the girl away from the Big Mac but….
I must add that in no way is my family suffering from their mother’s lack of culinary class. They appreciate and embrace all kinds of foods. One eats mussels while the other grabs the chair farthest from them. One uses Tabasco on everything and the other has never once felt a lettuce leaf in his mouth. We all fight over the last mozzarella stick. Every. Single. Time.
But it’s taken me far too long to realize my family is just as happy with omelets for dinner as the balanced array of protein, starch and vegetable I was falling down with exhaustion preparing for them each night. It’s not that the effort wasn’t appreciated; it’s just that I finally noticed the banter (and burping) was exactly the same regardless of the caliber of the meal.
The sheer width of my backside attests that I truly do love food. I just don’t want to spend precious time talking about it. Or thinking about it. OR SEEING PICTURES OF IT ON FACEBOOK…..
The truth is I don’t care if it’s a baked potato or fries on the side and I think there are far too many salad dressings to choose from. I want my dining experience to simmer with laughter. I want my meal to boil over with glasses clinking and forks dropping and knees touching. I want to pass around warm stories, not warm bread. I want to share mouth-watering moments found in every day living. Like when my little guy’s Spongebob underwear showed clear through his white tee-ball pants. Delicious. Like when I discovered that a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser will poof! vaporize the scratches off my fender after I’ve screeched against the garage door. Delectable. Like when torrential downpours completely freed up my scheduled afternoon of back-to-back ball fields. Scrumptious. Like when friends are genuinely surprised at how late it is because the night just flew by. Undeniably lip-smacking.
These are the flavors I choose to savor and these are (mozzarella sticks aside) my favorite foods. Bon appetite indeed.
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