Food of our youth--or, the good stuff we dare not eat any more
I've heard that the healthiest way to grocery shop is to make sure you stay in the outside aisles where the dairy, meat, and produce reside and to avoid those inner vistas that are home to things that are processed, pre-packaged, canned, salted to the n-th degree or chock full of fat/sugar.
In other words, the good stuff.
A recent trip to the corner store drove home to me just how much my eating habits have changed (supposedly for the better) and how much of what I grew up on I now avoid.
My mom was a fantastic cook who kept most of her recipes in her head. It wasn't always the healthiest fare--mom loved to cook with butter, made fantastic gravy, never considered the fat content of anything--but it sure was good and I miss it almost every day. When she died 17 years ago, her bill of kitchen fare went with her for the most part.
Mom didn't cook every meal though, and I got to fill in the blanks. As I walked through the store the other day, I saw some of my old favorites and thought about what it would be like to do a day living on my childhood/teenage diet.
It would start with frozen waffles--not Eggo's but square ones of unknown brand that came in a waxy cardboard box. There'd be a pat or three of hard, cold butter slathered with--wait for it--Karo syrup.
Mrs. Butterworth had no place in Irene Mueller's pantry, and Log Cabin wasn't welcome either. I don't know why she preferred this stuff but if you wanted syrup when I was growing up, Karo is what got poured.
I could opt for cereal, too. Cap'n Crunch was brand new. as were Apple Jacks. If mom was in a good mood, I could snag a box. Otherwise, she wanted me to eat "healthy" (less fun) stuff. No Trix for me. I got Kix, which are the flavorless, sugarless, colorless unloved sibling whose lone redeeming trait seemed to be the fact it didn't get soggy in milk.
As a kid who lived close enough to elementary school for lunch, it meant I didn't have to suffer the digestive indignities of the cafeteria. I was home with dad and mom as they listened to Paul Harvey's take on the world right before the local radio news (including the obits), just ahead of "As The World Turns." I had enough time to wolf down a bowl of Campbell's Chicken & Stars or, if I was feeling particularly worldly, Minestrone. If I still had an international hunger, I could call on my friend, Chef Boyardee for a tall honkin' can of pasta (back then, they were still noodles).
There was the macaroni and cheese option, too. Canned, of course.
You were livin' large if you got the boxed variety with tasty, pasty powdered cheese sauce.
...and you were positively big-leaguing if you got the deluxe version with cheese sauce in a funky foil packet.
Partner that up with some Spam and, well, who needs vegetables?
Dinty Moore was a good friend, his beef stew being rib-sticking good. Pizza Hut and Domino's didn't exist back then and a lot of Sheboygan mom-and-dad pizza joints didn't deliver so you were left to your own devices.
Enter again my good friend, The Chef:
We'd start with the boxed variety as a base and load it up with all manner of whatever was in the fridge including any meat product and whatever would pass for cheese.
A late night snack meant Geiser's potato chips and a bottle of Double-Cola, made in Kewaunee, Wisconsin.
Ingesting all that fat, salt, and processed matter, it's a miracle I'm alive today.
I've thought about doubling back to see just how many of these "food items" are still on the shelf today and picking them up for old time sake, to see if the tastes bring back any memories. I'll make sure I'm months removed from any blood work at my doctor's office.