Saturday, September 26, 2015

The rules of consumption

"Yesterday you were an only child, now your ghosts have gone away.
Don't look for answers, you took your chances, don't ask me why."

On top of everything else, I have food issues!

Or maybe the rest of the world does, and I'm the normal one.

I admit that I have a lot of rules when it comes to comestibles.

My number one rule is, I don't like to eat if I'm not hungry.

The other rules pretty much are correlaries of Rule One in some respect.

I have a somewhat spare pattern of eating. In the morning I have coffee, black. My preference is to wait until I'm hungry to eat breakfast.

This rule is flexible. For example, if we are staying at a hotel with a free breakfast, I will eat breakfast. Obviously if we stay at a bed and breakfast I eat breakfast because that's kind of the point.

But I'm picky about what I'll eat for breakfast. At home it's often cereal with almond milk. Sometimes, if we have any, it's pie. Or cake. Coffee cake is especially nice, but chocolate cake has been known to happen. Other breakfasty things are granola bars, fig bars, oatmeal, pop tarts. Peanut butter and jam on a bagel is good too.

I don't eat pork period, but I seriously don't eat sausage or bacon. I don't eat donuts or kolaches or anything deep fried. Or chicken fried.

I like eggs. For dinner. Pancakes, waffles and French toast all are good for dinner, but too heavy for breakfast.

Lunch. Lunch is optional. Most days I don't eat lunch because I'm not hungry. Here's where my food issues start getting sticky. It's fine if I'm home, but if I'm anywhere else, with other people, lunch is mandatory. And for some reason people seem unable to gracefully accept that I'd rather not eat lunch.

This came up again last weekend when we visited my stepdaughter and her husband. I deliberately had only a granola bar for breakfast before we hit the road to Lake Charles. Because it's awkward and feels rude to go to lunch with three other adults and not order anything.

Which brings me to my next rule. If I'm going to eat lunch, I like lunch foods for lunch. Sandwiches, soup, salad. A bagel. I don't want a burger or a hot dog or even pizza. I definitely don't want tacos and chips and salsa. And that's exactly what happened last time my stepdaughter was in town and picked Chuys for lunch. For her birthday.

There is nothing on Chuys menu that qualifies as lunch. As a result I had tacos and chips and salsa and I didn't feel well for the rest of the day. There was nothing wrong with the food. I should mention that I've never had food poisoning from dining out. No, my body just isn't programmed to handle onions and spices in the middle of the day.

So just two weeks after this, I found myself in a cafe in Lake Charles searching a menu for something lunchy. I ordered a grilled tuna melt and only ate half the bun and not all of the sweet potato fries. I hate to waste food, but I knew I had to save room for the obligatory dinner.

At home, if I eat a big brunch or lunch, such as when we meet Neil's work mates for dim sum, I often have no appetite for dinner. When I'm home, this is fine. I have a yogurt or half sandwich or a bowl of soup. Or maybe I have some cookies. Or cake. I love cake.

After lunch in Lake Chuck, we had a fun afternoon doing a ceramic painting activity and then we took a short walk around a park to build up our appetites for Mediterranean food. Yes, within a few hours of lunch, I was studying a dinner menu, looking for the lightest thing I could order. Laurie wanted to split an order of hummus. I said I'd take a bite. Of course it came with warm pita bread and I lost count of how many bites I took.

I ordered an appetizer of 8 fried shrimp. Yes, I know what I said, I don't eat fried food, but even a salad felt like too much food and Neil said he'd help with the shrimp. He had one, because they were tasty and on the small side. I was relieved to have dodged the deadly dinner bullet, but food shouldn't make me feel that way, like it's some battle I'm fighting.

I may have mentioned that when I was teenager I invented anorexia. That is, I starved myself long before I'd even heard on an eating disorder. I think I did it mostly as a way to outwardly express the inner turmoil I felt, as a girl attending a school for gifted girls, surrrounded by girls with not only brains and talent but with innate self-esteem and without self-consciousness. I craved attention and the one way I got it from my mom was to be sick. And a good way to make yourself sick is to not eat.

All that of course is fodder for another post or maybe a novel. For this post I'll stick to the here and now. Before we left Lake Charles the next day we went out to a famous hot dog place for lunch.I got a Kobe dog with mozarella and avocado and my saving grace was that we'd be home by dinnertime and I could eat or not eat.

I don't know why I feel like I am an abberation. I generally like food. I'm picky when it comes to things like gristle but I like a wide variety of foods and cuisines. I like almost all fruits and vegetables, some more than others of course, but I'll eat lima beans and eggplant and brussel sprouts and really almost any vegetable that is well cooked. I don't care for raw onions but I love cooked onions. I don't like raddishes. I like peppers but they don't agree with me. I like every kind of fish and seafood, poultry, but it should be white meat. Calves liver makes me a little squeamish but I like pate and liverwurst. Beans may be my favorite food.

All in all, I'm a three year old in some respects when it comes to food. I will happily eat the same thing for dinner every day, as long as it is flour tortillas with melted cheese, deli turkey and/or hummus. An added bonus is that there is virtually no cleanup. I'd cook more but I hate the cleanup. Whenever we have a holiday meal with the kids I think about large families, moms (or dads) who have to put supper on the table for 5 or 6 or 8 every single night. I'd go mad.

After my divorce, when it was just me and the girls, we picked up dinner a lot, chicken teriyaki bowls from Jack-in-the-Box, Subway, 7-layer burritos from Taco Bell. We ate out a lot too, Cici's pizza or Sweet Mesquite barbeque. Kids meals saved me. Dominos delivered. We did eat at home too, simple things, boiled shrimp or boiled chicken, macaroni and cheese and pasta, a bit like Neil and I eat now. Frozen pizza, bagels and cream cheese, frozen pizza.

I'm just grateful that Neil gets it. He doesn't make me feel obligated to cook or eat. He's a three year old too in similar respects, he will happily eat peanut butter on crackers and a yogurt for dinner and wash it down with 10 glasses of chocolate milk. In front of the TV. He never minds that I don't cook. We both like to eat dinner early, me just to get it out of the way, he because it makes the evening seem longer.

We both say when he retires we will shop more often and buy more fresh food and buy a cookbook and learn to make soups and stews. My mom was a good cook. Not an adventurous one, dinner was meat and a vegetable and a starch, de rigueur. We always had an appetizer, half a grapefruit, a wedge of cantaloupe, gefilte fish, or just a small glass of tomato juice. We always had dessert. I remember with love so many of the meals she made, roast beef and baked potatoes, beef stew, pot roast, meat loaf, corned beef, tongue, stuffed cabbage, turkey with homemade stuffing. She baked too, apple and plum tarts, fruit cakes, pound cakes, brownies to die for. She made a chocolate pudding cake with cooked pudding, social tea bisquits and real whipped cream - and sprinkles. She made English trifle and homemade applesauce and noodle pudding. Special meals at passover, cakes made with ground nuts instead of flour, homemade matzoh balls.

I boil water. I microwave. Every now and then I try to stretch. I bake a cake - but I go upstairs and don't hear the timer and it gets charred. So I think, I'll frost it quickly so no one will notice and the frosting runs off the hot cake and separates into curds and whey. I make a sweet potato dish for Thanksgiving that's pretty good but I have a hard time timing it so that it's completely cooked but not overcooked and hot when the rest of the meal is ready to serve. It's stressful.

OK, I didn't mean to start a food blog. I'm more or less happy with my choices when I have a choice and just a little regretful that mom's homemade cooking isn't something my girls will look forward to when they visit or remember fondly when I'm gone.

Funny, last Christmas, inspired by our trip to Hawaii, we made Loco Moco for our family dinner. That is hamburger served on rice, topped with a fried egg and brown gravy. We had sliced pineapple as a side, but my younger daughter who is health conscious and semi-vegetarian and dating her dietary doppleganger, was horrified by the absence of vegetables and the overload of protein, carbs and fat. Everyone else, including the boyfried, who is 6 feet tall with a hollow leg, cleaned their plates, but I felt guilty all the same.

My own relationship with food has been an up-and-down one. My teen anorexia turned into the freshman 15, followed by a summer of relentless dieting (have you ever had a vodka and diet fruit punch? No? Don't.) followed by a long period of fear of food and then a long period where I just got over it. It is only of late that I've admitted my rigidity about mealtimes and what must be eaten when and all my other food rules are food issues.

Or are they? Maybe it's just easier to say, I have food issues, than to try to justify why I don't want lunch just because it's noon, or dinner just four hours after lunch because it's dinnertime, why I don't want Mexican food at 11 am and why I don't want to go to a specialty burger joint ever.

Unless they have salmon burgers. Then I am all over it. As long as it's dinnertime and I'm hungry.

All the waiters in your grand cafe
Leave their tables when you blink
Every dog must have his every day
Every drunk must have his drink
Don't wait for answers
Just take your chances
Don't ask me why

All your life you had to stand in line
Still you're standing on your feet
All your choices made you change your mind
Now your calender's complete
Don't wait for answers
Just take your chances
Don't ask me why

You can say the human heart
Is only make-believe
I am only fighting fire with fire
But you are still a victim
Of the accidents you leave
As sure as I'm a victim of desire

All the servants in your new hotel
Throw their roses at your feet
Fool them all but baby I can tell
You're no stranger to the street
Don't ask for favors
Don't talk to strangers
Don't ask me why

Yesterday you were an only child
Now your ghosts have gone away
You can kill them in the classic style
Now you parlez-vous francais
Don't look for answers
You took your chances
Don't ask me why."

(Billy Joel)

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