So, Thanksgiving is just two days away and I’ve done the shopping and made my prep lists. I am excited to cook, eat and drink (even got a new Zinfandel to try!). I’m lucky to spend Thanksgiving with my husband and am grateful that we have a home, food on the table and lots of love in our house. All is good, right? Then why am I feeling so blue? It happens every year. The holiday season comes and I get sad. I would say depressed, but I think that is too strong a word. More of a general melancholy that I must battle through and not let it make me a weepy nut. So, this year, the blues set in and I really started to analyze the why of them. Why do I feel sad? What is causing this impulse to run crying into the bedroom, shut the blinds and stay there until January second? Then, I had an epiphany. It came while I was watching television. There was a commercial on and it showed a very happy and functional family enjoying the holidays. Right away I became sad. See, I like many people, did not grow up in a “functional” family. Our family holidays NEVER looked like any I saw on T.V. In fact, they still don’t. Yet every year I get sad and wonder why we couldn’t (and still can’t) have a “normal” holiday. That is it, you see, these great expectations are killing me.
Let’s face it, we all KNOW how our families behave. So why around the holidays do we expect them to magically change from the Osbournes into the Brady Bunch? Why do we think that just because it is Thanksgiving (or Christmas) that our families will somehow become different people? That the “magic” of the holidays will transform them into the family you always wished you had… Because it doesn’t. They are not only the same people they have always been, they are also maybe a little worse due to the tensions and stress of the holiday. Yet year after year we cling to these great expectations that something will change and get sad when it doesn’t.
So this holiday season I’m taking a different approach. I’m stopping these ridiculous expectations and embracing the reality of my family (a family that I love very much). I will feel grateful for every moment I get to spend with my sisters and love them for who they are, not who I would like them to be. I will watch my Dad, with all his “quirks”, and be thankful that he is still on this planet to celebrate with me. Because life is short and when all is said and done, it is these crazy moments that will mean the most to us.
I do believe that the families we see on T.V. are a fantasy that most of us will never realize. And really, who wants them? It is the insanity of my family that made me the person that I am today and I happen to like that person. Besides, I think if I DID grow up in a family like the Brady Bunch they would have disowned me a long time ago. But my crazy family? They “get” me and let me be. So let us all do away with these great expectations and be grateful for the family we have and the precious time we get to spend with them.
Who doesn’t love a Diner? The huge menus, the late night hours, the fresh coffee and, of course, the grease. Yes, you heard me right, the grease! Normally, I would say that in most foods grease is bad, but when it comes to a “real” Diner, grease, my friends, is good. Can you imagine eating at a Diner and getting a grilled cheese that didn’t leave your hands shiny? Or how about that bowl of chili with the iridescent ring of orange on top? Now, let me interject here that I’m not talking about a dirty greasy spoon, I’m referring to those bright and shiny, 24 hour beacons of properly greasy food. Besides the grease, diners create such fond food memories. After my very first concert (Summer Skank Off at the Hollywood Palladium) we all went to eat at a diner, the Rock n Roll Denny’s in Hollywood to be exact. I was thrilled to be out so late (1:00 a.m.), in a restaurant with my friends and surrounded by leather clad rockers. I can still taste those piping hot fries and the unbelievably good Thousand Island dressing. I can’t think about that concert without also remembering that meal. So stroll (or should I say, slide) down memory lane with me as I remember my favorite Diner meals.
When I was in college, my friends and I would frequent Dolores on Wilshire Boulevard. We would always go there after 11:00 p.m. and pile into one of the huge half-moon booths. We would “study”, drink coffee and eat for hours. I always got the same thing: french fries, garlic toast and a side of ranch dressing. The fries were perfectly cooked, with just the right snap when you bit into them. The garlic toast was sufficiently greasy and reminded me of my favorite Oh Boy! brand. The ranch dressing? Well I dipped the fries AND the garlic toast in it of course. We always bought fruit flavored Mentos candy on our way out and made fun of the commercial, “Mentos, the fresh maker!”
Right after I graduated college, I started going to Norm’s on Lincoln Boulevard in Santa Monica. I heard they just closed it. It was like losing a friend. My boyfriend and I would go there at least twice a month. Always at 2:00 a.m. and always buzzed. He would get the cheeseburger with onion rings. The cheese oozed out onto the plate, the burger squirted grease when you bit into it and they buttered the bun! I would get a grilled cheese. Swiss on rye with french fries and a side of mayonnaise. Yes, mayonnaise. I liked to slather it on my already greasy sandwich. The grilled bread was so buttery, that I swear they used a stick to make the sandwich. We would happily eat our meals, guzzle sodas and pester the server for extra napkins (greasy hands). I also went to Norm’s alone. There were Holidays when I was without family and I took comfort in the fact that I could go to Norm’s and order some food to go. I would sit at the counter and people watch as I waited for that box of greasy goodness.
Later when I was married (the first time) my husband and friends would go to Edie’s Diner in Marina Del Rey every Sunday morning. Alas, this too is gone. We would stumble out of bed, throw some clothes on and wait with the other hungover people. While we waited we talked about how the grease was good for our hangovers and would make us feel better. Once seated (always on the patio overlooking the Marina), we would order like we hadn’t eaten in ten years. We all got what we called the “cholesterol breakfast”. Two eggs over easy (basted in butter), bacon, sausage and buttered toast. That never changed. What did was the potato component. If we needed extra grease it was the hash browns, if not, the home fries. Then we would order sides to share. Onion rings, short stacks and french fries. We would sit for at least two hours. Eating, drinking coffee and telling tales from last night’s adventures.
I still go to diners, but not as much as I used to… Good Diners are a dying breed and are harder and harder to find. I recently tried two different ones with my husband and both were less than okay. Sigh. But we will keep looking! Because there is nothing a greasy meal in a Diner shared with friends and loved ones can’t cure!
If you regularly read my blog, you know that I am food passionate about ALL kinds of food. Yes, I dream about and love those five course dinners where each course is paired with a different wine and you blissfully dine for three hours. But I also crave a great slice of pizza, really good french fries and an occasional late night fast food meal (see my blog on Taco Bell’s Smothered Burrito). I also remember, mostly fondly, being, ahem, younger and coming home after a long night of drinking ravenous and eating what most of us know as “drunk food”. Most, if not all of us, went through that phase where we did a lot of our eating after two a.m. And let’s face it, what we wanted was fast, fried, greasy and cheesy. In other words, I get it. But, as of late, I have become concerned with the youth of our country. Not because of the usual stuff, but because they really don’t seem to care about food! How did I come to this conclusion? I recently moved to Pacific Beach and what I have seen over the past few months makes me worry for our culinary future.
For those not familiar with Pacific Beach (PB) , it lies in San Diego between La Jolla and Mission Beach. It has the nickname of “Party Beach”. In fact, until 2007, one could drink alcohol ON the beach! You can no longer drink on the beach, but quite frankly, there is no need for it. Pacific Beach is packed with drinking establishments just steps from the sand. With even more drinking/eating establishments lining the blocks leading to the beach. As a person that LOVES to go out to eat and drink, moving here was exciting, especially because I had spent so many years in a rural part of Arizona with a dearth of restaurants. So when I moved here, my husband and I excitedly started trying all the restaurants. Our excitement quickly turned to disappointment. Almost every restaurant had the exact same menu: fried food, chicken wings, burgers and a token salad. Yes, I like ALL of those things, just not ALL the time. Furthermore, while they all had an extensive craft beer selection (with alcohol content posted by each beer!), they had a VERY limited and honestly, not very good, wine selection. Don’t get me wrong, I do like craft beer, but I also REALLY enjoy a nice glass of wine and in PB that is about as hard to come by as a girl wearing shorts that actually cover her ass (yes, you read that right!). We soon realized that almost every restaurant/bar in PB was catering to the 20 somethings with chilled Jagermeister on tap, slushy drinks composed of vodka and red bull and just enough fried food offered to soak it all up. Before I’m pegged as a bitter, older woman, let me say, that I think that one should be wild when one is young and part of that “wildness” is sometimes stupidly drinking alcohol infused slushies chased with shots of Jager. But, I also remember when I was younger and wilder… And even then, my friends and I tempered our “wild” nights with appetizers and wine at “nice” restaurants. We were interested in fine food and wine and looked forward to splurging on a meal at a nicer restaurant. We wanted to expand our culinary knowledge by eating different foods and trying new wines. This is what I don’t see here.
Is it just in PB? Or is this the way it is with the majority of younger people? Do they really have no interest in good food and wine? I hope not! Appreciating good food and wine will always help them as they navigate through this world. Just when I was about to give up hope, we found a wonderful little Italian restaurant with authentic (and delicious!) food plus a really nice wine list. As my husband and I dined, we looked around at the other patrons. All were our age or older. Damn! But as we were leaving, a group of 20 somethings were coming into the restaurant and I overheard one of the girls saying to her friends, “They have the BEST house-made pasta here and a really affordable Chianti!” And yes, all the girls were wearing shorts that actually covered their ass… There is hope after all!
I have a love/hate relationship with food trends. Being food passionate, I DO want to know what is new in the culinary world, but I also hate them, because as many of you know, the “trend” soon becomes a never-ending barrage of articles, shows etc. about said food and that turns what was initial excitement into outright loathing. It is at that point, just when you think if you read one more article on the wonder that is kale, that you will be forced to act out by over-turning kale displays in the local supermarket, that a new “trend” magically appears and kale starts to turn up in salads at Burger King. Yes, you know a trend has died when you see said food incorporated into menu items at fast food and fast casual restaurants. For example, the pretzel buns that are now being advertised at Sonic and Red Robin. Do I ever get sucked into a food trend? Yes! I recently became obsessed with Cronuts and must admit that I am fascinated with the Ramen burger. So, if you will, indulge me while I rant (and rave!) about food trends.
Who starts these food trends any way? I imagine a bunch of food critics and bloggers huddling together in a dark, hot room smoking cigarettes and downing lattes while they conspire to “inform” the general public about what is up and coming on the food scene. I can hear them arguing, “No! We can’t use organic baby purple spinach! We JUST had kale.” Or “Cronuts were huge! How about a confection that combines bacon (a food trend that just keeps going) and ramen? We’ll call it a Bacra!” Okay, I know this isn’t exactly how it works, but sometimes it feels that way. I mean, really, how can ten food writers ALL come out with an article about Cronuts on the same day? And, who decides what is trend worthy and what isn’t? I mean, why kale and NOT swiss chard? Somebody, or a group of somebodies, made the decision to promote one food over the other. I would just like to know the process… That being said, here is my list of some of the more annoying, at least to me, recent food trends.
First, I must address kale. You know, I always liked kale. I would saute it with a little lemon and garlic, toss it in my salads and sometimes use it in place of cabbage in recipes. But then the trend happened and I found myself hating kale. Kale was everywhere: Guy Fieri was making kale salads, kale chips were in the grocery store, kale recipes were in every food blog and every chef put a kale dish on his menu. There was even a kale diet advertised! Enough! Yes, kale is good for you. Yes, it adds a nice texture to salad. Yes, it is versatile. But after the food trenders (okay, I made up a word) got through with it, you would think that kale was the answer to every problem that ever ailed you and that if you weren’t experiencing the wonder that was kale there was not only something wrong with you, but you may also be, gasp un-American!
Secondly, I am going to address the recent food trend that is the Cronut. Haven’t heard of it? How? The Cronut has been featured on several television news shows, on podcasts, in magazine articles, recipes, reviews, etc. Basically it is a donut made from croissant dough, thus a Cronut. Sounds sinfully delicious, right? I must admit, after I read about them, I became obsessed. It was easy to feed (pun intended) my obsession thanks to all the aforementioned coverage this food trend was getting. Those that sold Cronuts could not keep up. Lines formed around the block to try them and they would sell out in record time. Scarcity always adds to a food trends popularity and notoriety. I was dying to try this hard to find delicacy and just when I thought I would go to my death without eating one, the Cronuts trend died. How do I know this? Safeway now carries a Cronut. So, while the trend that is Cronuts is dead, I will at least not die before trying one…
Finally, I will address one of the newest food trends, the Ramen Burger. Yes, the Ramen Burger. It is a hamburger that uses semi-fried (but still soft in the center) Ramen noodles as the bun! And no, I am not making this up. It is a real trend and restaurants, food bloggers, magazines and the like are already jumping on the Ramen Burger bandwagon. As I type this, people are waiting in line for hours to eat one. Really?! When I first heard about this trend I rolled my eyes, but as much as it pains me to admit it, after reading at least twelve articles on it, I am now curious. What would a Ramen noodle bun taste like? What EXACTLY is the texture? See?! I was sucked in! Just like the food trenders hoped I would be…
What is a food passionate person to do? Ignore food trends and consider them the falsely inflated and calculated machinations of the food marketing world or embrace them and look forward to discovering a “new” exciting product in the food world? There is no easy answer. I do not think all food trends are simply useless hype and propaganda. For example, the farm to table trend, while the term has been bastardized and hijacked by marketers, the sentiment behind the trend was great. I do think that the exposure this trend received educated many people about where their food comes from and that there are conscious choices one can make about what food producers they choose to support. This trend also played into the organic food trend and the non-GMO trend, Both of these “trends” have turned into movements and have served to make people aware of pesticides and genetically modified foods. I guess one must pick and choose which food trends to follow or even pay attention to, for that matter. I just wish that the food trenders would learn that sometimes (most times!) less is more and that we don’t need 30 different articles in one week on the joys of Kim Chi.
If you follow my blog, you know I am married to a Chef. It is something I never would have thought would happen. After years of working in the restaurant business, I found Chefs to be self-absorbed, egotistical and just not very nice. In fact, I used to tell myself (and my friends) that I would NEVER date a Chef. Flash forward more than a few years and I found myself on my first date with a Chef that would eventually become my husband. What did I tell him on this first date? ”I always said I would never date a Chef.” Yes, I said it and he STILL reminds me of it! But date him I did and as you know, went even further down the rabbit hole and married him. So, how has it been? Let me start off by saying I love my husband very much, but there are some “special” things about him being a Chef, to which I have had to become accustomed. What follows is a little peek into what it is REALLY like being married to a Chef…
Get used to doing all the cooking. Yes, you read that correctly, I do all the cooking. My husband cooks and creates fabulous dishes all day at the restaurant, the last thing he wants to do when he gets home is cook. So the meal preparation falls to me. Luckily, I love to cook and my husband enjoys my food. But most people have some fantasy that I am eating beautiful, five-star restaurant meals nightly. If I had a dollar for every time a fan of my husband said to me, “You are so lucky! You get to eat his food all the time,” I would be a very rich woman today. Fact is, the ONLY time I get to eat my husband’s food is when I go to his restaurant.
Say goodbye to traditional date nights. Why? Because Friday and Saturday nights are when everybody goes out to eat (they are enjoying a date night) and my husband has to be at the restaurant to cook food for all those lucky daters. So on Friday and Saturday nights I am usually at home, alone. Oh, we still have our date nights, but they are on non-traditional days, like a Monday. I normally don’t mind too much, but sometimes it would be nice to actually go out on a Friday night.
Get used to eating alone. I eat the majority of my meals solo because as a Chef, my husband works long hours that always go well past a traditional dinner time. So I had a choice, either eat dinner at eleven with him or eat it at a more civilized hour. When we were first married, I would wait to eat with him, but after too many midnight suppers, I had enough. Now I eat my dinner at a normal time, alone.
Rethink Holidays. Chefs work Holidays. My husband is in the restaurant on Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, New Year’s Eve, Christmas Eve, etc. I discovered very early in our marriage that if I wanted to “celebrate” Holidays with my husband, I would have to rethink what they meant to me. So, we celebrate Thanksgiving either very late night or the next day. New Year’s Eve? We ring in the New Year together a couple of days later. Valentine’s Day? We go out to eat a few days later. What I learned, Holidays aren’t a day on the calendar, they are about being with the person you love.
Be prepared for the physical toll. Chefs get tired. They are standing all day cooking. They are lifting, chopping, stirring… So when their day off finally comes and you have planned a full day of dining out, running around and lots of activities, they don’t want to do any of it. What do they want? To lay on the couch, watch some television and nap. This was really hard for me. After spending most of a week alone, I really wanted to get out of the house with my husband and have some fun. Now we compromise, we spend one day relaxing at home and one day running around.
You must love food. This one was easy for me! Chefs are passionate about what they do and want to talk about it, a lot! Be prepared for endless discussions about the qualities of black garlic, the new spice in the potato dish and on and on. Be ready to read hundreds of “new” menus and to hear countless specials. For any really good Chef, cooking comes from the heart and soul, so they are immersed in food every minute of the day. Hence if you are married to a Chef, you will be immersed too.
Be ready for the fans. Today Celebrity Chefs are like rock stars. And just like rock stars, they have their fans. Most are harmless and it is fun to see people get so excited about my husband, the Chef. Then there are those that cross the line. You know the type: flirty and inappropriate. My husband wears a wedding ring and never makes any secret about being happily married, but that does not stop some women (sorry to say, yes it is women) from offering their number, their hotel room key (yes!) etc. I completely trust my husband and that trust is imperative when it comes to the aforementioned craziness. Also, when it comes to fans, be ready to be “the Chef’s wife”. I joke with my husband all the time that I should legally change my name to “the Chef’s wife”. Many times when we go out to eat people will recognize my husband and want to talk to him. That is when I become “the Chef’s wife”. Does it bother me? Sometimes, but not as much as it used to, now, mostly, I just get a kick out of it!
Yes, being married to a Chef has its obstacles, but doesn’t being married to any profession? As much as I didn’t want to marry a Chef, I also didn’t plan on meeting and falling in love with such an extraordinary man, who just happened to be a Chef. I guess that is it really, you marry a person, not a profession. So while being “the Chef’s wife” isn’t perfect, I wouldn’t trade it for the world because that ALSO means I am my husband’s wife and that is just ideal.
My husband and I just celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary. Along with cards, flowers and gifts, there were, of course, restaurant meals. Yes, meals. Any reason to eat out, right?! We had some really great experiences and some not so great. But it was not the food that was off at the not so great meals it was the service. Before I go any further, let me say I was a server for many years and KNOW that it is a difficult job. Also, because I was a server and my husband is currently a Chef, we have a tendency to be very understanding when it comes to service. In other words, it takes a lot for us to feel like a server was truly bad and not just having a bad day. This aforementioned poor service got me thinking about how important service in general is to having a fabulous time dining out. Great food cannot make up for bad service, but great service can totally make up for okay/bad food. Furthermore, bad service can make even the most delicious meal taste sour. That is exactly what happened to my husband and I. Not once, but twice.
The first time we had a less than pleasant time with a server was a week before our anniversary. We had been dying to try this adorable little Italian place for weeks and had been making ourselves crazy reading the rave reviews of the food. So we decided to make a pre-anniversary trip for dinner to see if it was as good as everyone said and if it was, we would dine there on our anniversary. The first tip that things may not go smoothly was when we called to make a reservation. Their website said they opened at one time, but the gentleman on the phone told us that actually they didn’t open until 30 minutes later. Hmmm. We laughed it off and thought the food must be REALLY good for them to get away with opening later. We giddily drove to the restaurant, discussing what we wanted to try from the menu. We sat outside on a cute patio and for the first part of the meal, everything was great. Our waiter was very Italian with a wonderfully thick accent, friendly, knowledgeable and overall very nice. We ordered salads (one of the best Caesar salads I have EVER had!), wood-fired Neapolitan style pizza and herb roasted chicken. We also had a bottle of wine ( they offer 50% off bottles on Sunday, bonus!) and my husband just had to try a glass of the Italian beer. At this point, we were in love with the place and couldn’t wait to come back for our anniversary. When offered dessert, we said, “No.” The server came back with a cannoli for us to share saying, “On the house! Enjoy!” Wow! Perfect evening, right? Wrong. We get the check and I notice that they had charged us full price for the wine. I really thought that maybe the VERY promoted deal was over and thought, “Oh, well.” But my husband grabbed the manager as he was walking by and asked. It was still going on and he took the check to correct it. Our formerly sweet server brought the corrected check back, threw it at my husband and snottily said, “Happy? A free dessert and half-off your wine!” Then he stormed off. My husband and I were agape. Wait a minute here. We did not ask for a free dessert and the restaurant is having a wine promotion. My husband was livid, but I told him to calm down. I paid the check and just got the hell out of there. Did we go back for our anniversary? No. Will we ever go back again? No and that makes me sad because it really was one of the best meals we have had in quite a while, but the way the server treated us simply left a bad taste in our mouths.
The second time this happened was on our anniversary weekend. We had gone to a buffet brunch at a very nice resort that sits right on the bay. Yes, a buffet! And I am happy to report that both my husband and I controlled ourselves. I digress. The views were to die for: white sand, blue bay and sailboats lazily floating across the water. The buffet itself was just okay. Lots of variety, but nothing that knocked my socks off. My husband did love the sushi station and the Ahi sashimi. My memory of the brunch is stellar and I would highly recommend it. Not for the okay food, but for the view and the great service. Our server was attentive, warm, funny and just a pleasure. She MADE the food taste better. We liked her so much that we went back the next day to sit by the bay for their happy hour. Here is when we met bad server number two. She ignored us, rolled her eyes, was surly and generally was just not a very nice person. The happy hour food was very good, better than the brunch and the view was still fabulous, but it wasn’t nearly as enjoyable. Why? Because the server was an unhappy mess.
The funny thing about what we experienced is that I THOUGHT I knew how important service was, but really I didn’t. It was not until I had these meals did it really hit home. It was a good lesson in the importance of service.
So, last night I am cooking dinner and watching The Stepford Wives for probably the tenth time. It was the remake with Nicole Kidman (but I highly recommend the original if you can find it!). I love both the original and the remake of this movie and even read the book, yes, it is based on a book, when I was eleven years old. My Mother, along with my Aunt Betty, were HUGE feminists and were always giving me “important” things to read and then they would want to discuss the material with me. The Stepford Wives was one of those “important” pieces. I can still remember sitting at the kitchen table with my Mother and Aunt Betty asking me what I thought of the book. Of course I thought it was scary, but for very different reasons at age eleven. I listened to both women tell me why the book was scary, why it was important and why the men of Stepford were such chauvinistic shits. I sat at the table, nodded my head and probably “got” about half of what they were telling me. It wasn’t until I reread the book in my teens that I fully understood its terror and what my Mother and Aunt were trying to tell me.
Last night, while watching the movie, I again thought about that long ago conversation and was struck by an even scarier thought, “I think there are a lot of men that would not mind having a Stepford wife!” I am sure that many people reading this would find that statement shocking, but before you write me off as a lunatic, hear me out. I know there are lots of enlightened men out there that truly want a strong, successful, intelligent woman. These men want a partner in the real sense of the word and are not threatened by a woman who is smarter, makes more money or is more mechanically inclined. But, and this is a big but, there are also a lot of men (more of this type than the aforementioned I am afraid) that do not feel this way. These other men are completely threatened by smart, successful women and they label them as “pushy” and not “lady like”. They are uncomfortable around ambitious and assertive women and call them “bitches”. They want a woman who looks pretty, defers to their every whim, does not question anything he does or says and is a wildcat in the sack. So, basically, a Stepford Wife.
Think I am exaggerating? That maybe I am one of those radical feminists that hates all men? Well, I am not. I am a feminist, but I love men and have lifelong male friends that I cherish deeply. And I do not think men and women should be EXACTLY alike. I celebrate the differences in the sexes and think that it is those differences that makes life interesting. That being said, I have unfortunately come across more of the Stepford Wife men than I can count. I have had one tell me, “Maybe you should just pretend like you don’t know about a subject. You know men don’t like women that are too smart.” This came from a guy I THOUGHT was my friend! I have had another say to me, “He is a man, so they will listen to him and besides, he has a family to support.” This was from a male boss who promoted a far less capable man over me. Finally, I had a boyfriend say to me, “Why must you fight with all my friends. Can’t you just sit, be quiet and smile?” Yes, he really did say that! It was after a night of spirited political debates. I foolishly thought he would be proud to have such a smart, well-informed woman by his side. Boy was I wrong! Needless to say, I broke up with him shortly after he said that to me. The worst part of all of this? I fear that even the enlightened men, at times, secretly would not mind having a Stepford Wife.
I wish I could wrap this up in a few wisdom filled sentences, but I can’t. It is disheartening to know that there are so many men that want women to be, as my former boyfriend put it, “quiet and smile.” Further, I get so angry when I see so many women, especially the younger generation, that are basing their entire self-worth on how sexy they look and how many men they can attract. And once they get that man, they will do anything to keep him, even if that means being a submissive robot. I guess I would simply like every man to look deep in their hearts and at least try to understand that ambition, strength and intelligence are not solely male characteristics, but are also female attributes. I would also like all women to look into their hearts and ask themselves, “Am I playing dumb, using my sexuality or pretending to be something I am not to please a man?” The answers just may surprise you.
Let us all be brutally honest and just admit that sometimes what one wants to eat is NOT the farm to table, perfectly seasoned, beautifully presented dish, but a greasy, cheesy, fat-laden mess greedily eaten out of a paper bag. Even the most food passionate of us, and yes I will say it, food snobs, occasionally want, no crave, no NEED, that guilty pleasure that only fast food can provide. These are the same people who roll their eyes at the Taco Bell spots, that give disdaining looks to those at the Burger King drive-thru and refuse to eat pizza that isn’t in the Neopolitan style. Trust me, there are nights when these same people are giddily returning home from a fast food run, sitting down on the couch and digging in. How do I know? Because I am one of them. I don’t eat fast food often, but there are times when only a fast food meal will satisfy me. It is a guilty pleasure that I truly relish.
What do I eat? Well, I dream about the salty, crisp and just greasy enough fries from Carl’s Jr. I eat them with way too much ketchup and eat half the bag in the car, on the way home. I also obsess over really good waffle fries. The best in my opinion come from Chick-Fil-A, but now with the owner’s outspoken rant about gays, I can no longer eat them (sigh). So, if you know of a great waffle fry, please recommend! For breakfast I want an Egg McMuffin with a side of those gut busting hash browns. I spent many late nights (early mornings?) in my twenties stopping at McDonald’s on my way home from a wild night and ordering not one, but two Egg McMuffins and at least three hash browns. My hands would feel greasy for days after eating the hash browns, but it was well worth it. I also like the ultra thin crust pizza from Domino’s, much to my husband’s chagrin. You know the one, it is cut into squares and is like eating a pizza cracker. Remember the Edge pizza from Pizza Hut? Also loved that and wish they would bring it back. But my true first love when it comes to fast food is Taco Bell and Del Taco. They are always first on my list when I am considering giving in to a craving. At Del Taco, I always want a couple of Spicy Jack Quesadillas. I get sides of sour cream and put Del Scorcho sauce on each bite. They also have surprisingly good crinkle cut fries. I go to Del Taco when I want Mexican food AND fries, but Taco Bell is where I go for Mexican with no fry chaser. I like just about everything on their menu, but am now completely obsessed with the new smothered burrito. Every time the ad comes on the television I groan and turn to my husband and say, “I REALLY want this!” Something about all that burrito goodness with the extra kick of enchilada sauce and cheese… Remember the Enchirito? I LOVED that and this reminds me of it. Have I tried it? Not yet, but I am thinking a night of Taco Bell is in my near future.
I guess I wrote this fast food confession because I think that we, as food passionate people, feel that we can’t enjoy both a Chef created masterpiece AND a smothered burrito from Taco Bell. That somehow, if our secret forays into the fast food world got out we would be shunned and our palates called into question. Why? Just like I can enjoy a CNN Documentary and then watch the Real Housewives of New Jersey, I can revel in the subtle flavors in a beautifully composed dish and like the in your face flavors of an Enchirito. Well, I am breaking my silence and proudly saying, “I am food passionate and I like fast food!”
P.S. I am married to a Chef who is an admitted food snob and he too likes fast food. He craves Whoppers from Burger King, Chinese Spare Ribs drowning in that sticky, sweet sauce and Kentucky Fried Chicken. He won’t however, eat any chain pizza. You know, the whole New York thing…
So it is Sunday night and after the riveting Real Housewives of New Jersey episode (best season yet!), my husband and I are looking for something to watch. We stumbled upon Buffet Paradise on the Travel Channel and were instantly sucked in. The Travel Channel has an entire series of Paradise shows, everything from Fried Chicken Paradise to Cheese Paradise (a personal favorite). The premise of the show is that they travel around the country and show you the best places to eat whatever they are profiling, thus it is a paradise. If you haven’t seen any episodes, I highly recommend them for unparalleled vicarious eating. This last Sunday, as I mentioned, it was Buffet Paradise.
I have always been a sucker for a good buffet. When I was younger I would eat until I was sick, yes, literally sick. I could not control myself. I had to eat too much of everything. I would go to Sizzler with friends and eat ten pieces of that fabulous garlic cheese bread. Pile at least four plates with salads, tostadas, etc. They would go out after dinner. I would need to go home and lie down. My first husband and I used to go to a Souplantation that would leave me hurting for two days. Not only would I gorge on cheese and ranch laden salads, but I would also eat slice after slice of the focaccia bread. After he rolled me out to the car, I would get home and moan while rubbing my horribly distended stomach. But my favorite buffet during this time was a Sunday Brunch at the Red Onion. It was a Mexican restaurant that put out a huge spread every Sunday: omelet bar, waffle station, endless guacamole, chile rellenos and on and on. Oh yeah, they also included bottomless mimosas! So, we would go to this buffet and eat and drink for two hours straight. Oh, the memories… But all that excessive over-eating ended very abruptly when I was diagnosed with an ulcer. I could no longer stuff myself until I was about to pop. I couldn’t because if I did, I was facing hours of excruciating pain. Did I do it anyway? Yes, a few times. But let me tell you, the one thing stronger than my compulsive need to eat everything in sight was the pain from my ulcer.
My husband also spent his youth over-eating at various buffets. His parents loved them too. Loved them so much that when they went on a seven-day cruise they came back twenty pounds heavier! They told my husband stories of the midnight buffets, the breakfast bars and ice cream socials. So for him, buffets were a family affair. But he too realized that eating until sick was no fun (okay, fun while you are eating!) and learned the difficult art of moderation.
So, here we are, two buffet fanatics, watching Buffet Paradise. Should have been a match made in heaven, right? It started that way. We excitedly watched the profiled buffets and paused the program to discuss what we would eat at each particular buffet (yes, this is what we do). Then, it happened. My husband said the one thing that could put a damper on all this food fun, “Really, though, how much can you eat?” Damn! But he was right. How much can one eat? Even if you starve yourself for two days before going to a buffet, you can still only eat so much.
In theory I think buffets are spectacular. In practice, not so much. I do think you can have too much of a good thing. Buffets tempt us with so many delicious dishes that loss of control is not only inevitable, but also expected. But what a price we pay for that loss (see the twenty pounds gained in seven days)! Now I am going to tell you something you may not expect to hear, I still love buffets and still go to them. I get a lot of food, but just take small bites of everything I want to try. As soon as I start feeling full, which for me is way too fast, I stop. But only because I have to… My husband also has mastered the not over-eating at a buffet, but it is harder for him. He doesn’t have the specter of a night of pain looming if he over eats.
Reading back what I just wrote, I realized I sound a bit schizophrenic. What can I tell you? I LOVE food. So as a food passionate person I can’t completely knock buffets. I guess we should all go to buffets the way we should eat while at them, in moderation.
Yes, I said, “Terror.” Of course by dining alone I don’t mean sitting solo in front of the television, shoving take-out into your mouth while you watch your favorite show. No, I mean, going out to a restaurant, sitting at a table and eating, alone. Just writing that sent shivers down my spine. Before I go on and before you judge me, let me tell you a little about myself. I consider myself an independent woman and I do MANY things alone. I shop, go to the movies, go to the beach, travel, etc. all alone. But for some reason I just can’t get past the fear of dining alone. I HAVE dined solo and instead of abating my fears, it just exacerbated them. I know I am not the only one who feels like this, anyone remember the scene from Steve Martin’s, The Lonely Guy? He walks into a restaurant, says, “Table for one,” and a spotlight goes on and follows him to the table. Then the staff runs over and noisily clears the other place setting from the table. It is how I feel, like there is a huge spotlight on me and everyone is thinking, “What is wrong with that woman who not one person in the entire world would like to dine with her?” Do I think this when I see people dining alone? No! I envy them their courage, but I just KNOW people aren’t looking at me and thinking I am courageous when I eat alone.
My husband shares this fear with me (I knew there was a reason I married him!), in fact, he has NEVER dined alone. So he looks at me, a person that has done this incredibly scary thing twice, like I am the bravest person in the world. Yes, I have dined solo twice, both times when I was traveling. My job used to entail lots of travel in and out of the country. Most days I could grab food and eat in my room, but there were a couple of times that I just couldn’t, so I HAD to eat in a restaurant, alone. Both times I brought magazines, my phone and work to the restaurant. It was my way of saying to the world, “See, I COULD have a dining partner, but I simply have too much work.” The entire time I was eating I could feel the other diners’ eyes on me. I would order, eat (I couldn’t taste anything but my own fear) and get the hell out of there.
I no longer travel and have a fantastic dining partner in my husband. So why am I revisiting this? Because it is a fear I want to get over. My husband works late nights (he is a Chef) and there are times when I would really love to go out to a restaurant, sit at a table, sip a glass of wine and actually enjoy a meal all by myself. I am determined to conquer this fear and have just recently walked to the local bar, sat down and drank a glass of wine all by my lonesome. Not a full meal, but it was a start. Was it scary? Yes, I thought my heart would beat out of my chest. But I survived and actually felt proud of myself. Next time, maybe I will have two glasses of wine and an appetizer. Then who knows? A full dinner? A late lunch? A leisurely breakfast? I will enjoy the day when my choices for eating alone aren’t either take-out or cooking at home. Here’s looking forward to a brave new world…