Tuesday, October 16, 2007

How It All Began?

Somewhere along my timeline, within these 27 years, food went from “basic necessity, a turkey sandwich will do” to “I absolutely refuse waste a meal on mediocre pizza.” I have no idea when this transformation occurred, but I can’t believe there was actually a time when I did not plot and plan every single meal and when vacations did not revolve around the cuisine we’d encounter along the way. Food, aside from my fiancé, family, and friends (hello, Fs!), has slowly become one of my greatest loves.

I wish there were some blatant “aha!” moment I could point to as The One that changed me. All I know is that the new me was present and feisty during a post-college trip to Europe, where my friend Alison and I basically laughed in the faces of some new friends who suggested, in Paris, that we “just, whatever, grab a slice of pizza or something at that place across the street” Um, no way buddy. We’re going to the creperie we read about in our book. Later!

However, while she waited about 20+ years to find her way, this little eatin’ beast has apparently been hiding away, fighting to get out since about kindergarten. I just recently realized that my favorite books from childhood—where I shunned Lincoln Logs, card games, bike riding, and pretty much everything else Toys R’ Us related to read books from the moment I awoke, through meals, under my school desk, in the bathroom, and well past my bedtime—all had memorable food scenes and descriptions.

• My favorite hardcover picture book by far was Dr. Seuss’s The Butter Battle Book, a tale of war between two towns—one that preferred its bread butter side up, one that preferred it butter side down.

• One of my favorite scenes is from Sydney Taylor’s All of a Kind Family. Each of the five little girls is given a penny of her very own to spend on a family trip to market. I still remember that one girl selected a paper cone filled with sweet crackers, one chose a fat dill pickle, and one some kid of grape-flavored sweet.

• The only vision I can recall from A Wrinkle in Time is the scene in the beginning where a pot of hot chocolate is being warmed and stirred on the stove, with the milky skin on top.

• When asked what my favorite book of all time is, I often answer Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (and this was way before my Cobble Hill days!). Francie’s absolute happiness was trading in trash to earn a single penny, which she then brought to the candy store. She stood before the case for an eternity, assessing, thinking, deciding on the perfect treat. She then brought it home (usually with a bowlful of peppermints), poured herself a glass of water, and sat on her Williamsburg balcony reading a book and savoring her riches.

• I must have read Cynthia Voight’s Homecoming at least ten times, but the only snippets I remember involve the characters foraging for food. Dicey and her siblings are abandoned in a parking lot by their mother, and begin a journey on foot to their grandmother’s house with a meager amount of money that they must make last. They go to the “used” aisle of supermarkets and buy day-old doughnuts and old apples and bananas. They wash it down with quarts of milk. When the come upon a kind college student, he takes Dicey to a diner while the children sleep and buys her a juicy burger, which she savors bite after juicy bite.

A little weird, no? And there are more, many more. Lemon-lime shakes and boxes of gumballs in Henry Huggins, all of Stone Soup (I thought the smooth stones would feel really interesting in my mouth if I were to eat it), Claudia’s junk food stash in every single Baby-Sitters Club book, the fact that Kendra’s brother kept Ring Dings in the freezer in Paula Danziger’s Remember Me to Herald Square (please read this if you haven’t!), and on and on.

So yes, obviously it took a while for my adult life to catch up to my latent childhood obsessions. But they were, apparently, always there. And now, here I am today, totally obsessing about a mug of hot chocolate with a frozen Ring Ding.

1 comment:

Alice said...

I LOVED Sydney Taylor's books. That was one of my favorite scenes, too! Growing up very far from New York City, I imagined the places in those books (Coney Island, Hester Street) in such a weirdly particular way. Obviously, it didn't match up, but there are moments, especially in the fall, when I'm walking down the street and I have a "oh, this is such an All of a Kind Family moment." Same thing with The Cricket in Times Square and Elizabeth Enright's The Saturdays.