I am a foodie and fast becoming a real, genuine food snob.
I’ve always had a deep infatuation with food. I ate my way through my childhood. The kitchen pantry was always full. Being a latch-key kid in the 80s, there was rarely anyone around to smack my hand as it reached into my mama’s vintage strawberry cookie jar a second and third time.
My transition into high school and the burning desire to fit into the newest Outback Red sweater and acid-washed jeans helped me to shed the pounds. Playing varsity soccer and running sprints on the daily helped more. I broke up with the cookie jar and left him on the curb.
But here is a big confession… with great shame and
embarrassment, I began a weeknight relationship with canned peas, asparagus and turnip greens. Yes you read it here! I regularly ate green, mushy lumps, strings and rubbery balls, often cold right out of their metal straight jackets.
My path into the food gutter was fueled by the aforementioned latch-key. You see I knew how to cook. I knew how to cook well; and with parents who liked to stockpile food years before Sam’s or Cotsco were around because one never knew when another food shortage, natural disaster, or apocalypse would unleash chaos, there was always more than enough food. I had simply hit the rock bottom of teenage laziness.
My recovery has been a long, slow one. In college those canned vegetables were replaced with Pop-tarts, frozen dinners, late night chicken biscuits at Time Out, and pimiento cheese-dipped Wheat Thins, which all contributed to the “Freshmen Fifteen.”
As an upperclassman, somewhat smarter and healthier, I began to enjoy weekly family-style dinners with my roommates and friends. One particular summer beach trip to the coast filled our freezers full of tuna when the fellas reeled in a monster of a fish on a deep sea fishing expedition. We ate really well for a long, long, long time. We mastered tuna steaks, tuna salad, tuna cheesy bake, tuna casseroles and every other tuna inspired recipe imaginable. I broke up with tuna for a while after that summer.
Parenthood led me to take a giant leap towards better habits. I began to read food labels, avoiding ingredients that I could not pronounce or imagine sitting on my table. Do you know what Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) looks like? Neither do I. It’s in most boxes of packaged breakfast cereals to keep your sugary-coated flakes fresher, longer. My grandma wouldn’t have eaten it. Neither do I.
A lot of food now grows in my backyard. I have learned to dry, freeze, and can like my mother, and her mother, and her grandmother. We collect eggs from our hens and my husband takes great care in what he feeds them. Our feathered ladies are extremely fond of him.
Yet in recent months, I believe that I have made it to the pinnacle of true food aficionados. It has been less about my desire to fit into my Lands End sweater and skinny jeans and more about making my mind and body healthy so that I am here to cook Sunday dinners for a future tableful of grandchildren.
I have begun a practice of “intermittent fasting.” I’ll make it easy for you… it’s eating only during a shortened and defined window of time each day, then fasting for the remainder of the 24-hour cycle. Sounds like a diet. I consider it a lifestyle. After educating myself about the health benefits, I haven’t looked back.
When I share the idea of fasting with friends, their response has been the same.
“Oh, no! I could never skip a meal! Don’t you get hungry?”
In so many ways, hunger has been the best part.
I have been fortunate to have never known true hunger. I’ve never lived in a food desert or gone days without eating. I have eaten when I haven’t been hungry because the clock…. ding, ding, ding…. told me it was breakfast time. I’ve eaten three squares a day simply because that’s what we are programmed to do.
Fasting for better health has led me to appreciate those moments when I feel those pangs of hunger. I grab a steaming cup of black coffee, an unsweet tea or Yeti-full of water to get me to the day’s starting line. And when the glorious afternoon allows me to break a fast, foods considered junk, fast, sweet, processed, or fried do not make the cut.
Herein lies the food snobbery.
This new lifestyle has given me pause to think about those meals and special dishes in my life that have shaped me, my palate, and in some cases my heartstrings.
I remember the chicken and dumplings that my nanny-turned-adoptive Grandma, Mamie, made for me. She cooked the biggest, fluffiest dumplings seasoned with the perfect amounts of salt and pepper, on her old wood-fueled cookstove. I’ve yet to taste any that come close to hers. My white Regency Johnson Brothers dishes, very similar to those in Mamie’s kitchen, were chosen for how they reminded me of the comfort found at her table.
I recall the old jewel-color enameled cast iron pots brewing tender garden potatoes and green beans at my Grandma’s home. Aunt Eddy, so named by my father when he was knee-high to a grasshopper, gave me my first appreciation of vegetables. They smelled good. They tasted good. They helped me see the goodness in her. They were always served with a Dixie cup of Coca-Cola. She even installed a Dixie cup dispenser right there by her refrigerator just for my little hands. To borrow a line from a favorite song, “I cry just thinking ‘bout the good she was to me.”
Grandma must have taught my dad to cook. Every weekend he woke me with the smells of sausage, biscuits, gravy and eggs, sunny-side-up with runny yolks, just like I loved them best. If a yolk broke and firmed over the heat, he’d flip it onto his own plate and make me another. I was spoiled well beyond the spoiling point.
My mama saved her special dishes for holidays. Her homemade coconut cake with cream cheese icing is the finest, sweetest concoction I’ve ever tasted. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas she would buy a coconut – not the packaged, chalky, sugary stuff, but a hard, brown rock of a coconut. We’d gather outside the glass sliding door by the pool to watch her attempt to crack the coconut on the first try. Daddy and I always thought she had a little cavewoman in her.
Mama baked her cake, whipped up the fluffy icing, and covered it in the snowy flakes. She has never entered it in our county fair, but in my opinion, it would win Best of Show hands down. It has always my favorite part of the holiday meal, and these days I even get one for my birthday.
My in-law’s are quite a culinary powerhouse too. Their dinner table is always an array of savory, confetti-laced dishes. Whether they are brewing mussels, clams, and shrimp into a Low Country Boil, herbing up the crown rack of lamb at Easter, or even brining a twenty-pound turkey to the juiciest level of perfection, they have become masters in the kitchen, quite bold and unafraid. They both dive right into new recipes and cooking techniques and never disappoint. I have come to believe that they built their new house around my mother-in-law’s cookbook collection. We are all better for it.
Indeed I have a long list of memorable dishes that have shaped my palette, but it’s the ones that have shaped my heart that I treasure the most.
Fasting has given me great pause to think about textures, tastes and tables. I am more attentive and appreciative of where my food comes from and who is preparing it. Those hunger pangs serve as little reminders to be thankful, truly thankful, that I know where the next meal is coming from and that there is simply a next meal coming.
I have come to realize that being fed is about much more than the food that is eaten. It is the conversation at the table. It is the precious time spent with those we love the most, or perhaps those occasions we find ourselves in the company of a complete stranger. It’s the memories best created in kitchens, dining rooms, and on picnic blankets that have nourished me all my life.
I don’t miss eating breakfast. My morning workouts, a few cups of dark black coffee, and the morning news often give me more than enough fire to start my day. Yet when the thought of those runny yellow yolks start aching my heart, my family is treated to breakfast for dinner. I pull a kid or two beside me in the kitchen and I remind them that when I was home sick from school as a little girl how Poppy would cook an egg for me until it was just right: light on the salt, heavy on the pepper, a slight sunny flow of yolk, served with a side of dry toast and a good dose of The Price is Right.
Fasting has led me to hunger for the really important stuff of which this life is made.
….and my kids still hate brussels sprouts.