Steve and I were talking last night about the old blog and he told me that I needed to tell you all a little story about why no one should ever invite themselves over for dinner at our house. We put a beautiful piece of flank steak onto the counter last week, in a lovely soy, ginger and garlic marinade; it was frozen solid, so we thought it would be fine to leave out until Steve came home at lunch and could put it into the fridge. However, his dog apparently thought it smelled as good as we did, and got into it. Only, you know, it was frozen, so she could really only gnaw a little bit off of one side of it. He came home and caught her, and end of story. Except, of course, that we actually just washed it off and cooked it anyway. As Steve exclaimed, “That was a $10 piece of meat!” and my thinking is that if you get it hot enough, all the germs will be killed off. None of us got sick, anyway, and it ended up being a damn fine piece of meat. I think it was actually a little more tender than it might have been otherwise, you know, without the gentle gnawing. A sort of natural tenderizer, if you will.
Food is a funny thing to me. We grew up poor, so we never got to have the kinds of things even my kids get, and we don’t get a lot of shit food. But I remember walking to the grocery store with my mom and my sisters in the hot dark night of a Colorado summer, and we only did this once a month or so, so it sticks in my head. We could pick one thing as a treat-just one, and it could be whatever we wanted, even if it meant we had to put something else back on the shelf that we had on the main grocery list. It surprises me that I remember this so clearly, because I couldn’t have been more than 4 or so, but we none of us ever picked candy. I know my mom always bought herself a pound of Bing cherries, a sister always chose an orange, another picked a bag of sunflower seeds, the last sister a coconut, and a pomegranate was my choice. I don’t know if we all craved those particular items because of a lack of something in our diet, or if we picked things that seemed to last longer, I don’t know. I do, however, remember how wonderful it was to sit in the kitchen and know we had this one whole thing all to ourselves. It is a good memory, one I cherish, and something I also did with the kids when we were dirt poor-they could pick the one thing at the store, or we would go to McDonald’s once a month, and I hope they remember it as fondly as I do.
Like I said, we were poor, and my mom’s family was poor, and food-well. We all learned that there are some things you just overlook; we cut the mold off the cheese and eat the rest, as long as the bread smelled okay it was okay to eat, even if it was hard as a rock-that’s why there are TOASTERS, right? Leftovers in the fridge for over a week were ground up with potatoes into hash, and on one memorable occasion we had Ramen Noodles at my grandma’s that were really old, so we just picked the weevils out of them and ate them anyway. It was just how things were, and even though it makes me gag NOW to think about it, at the time, it was eat what was there or eat nothing.
Things aren’t that bad now, and haven’t been for a long time, but some of that, what would you call if, thriftiness? Frugality? Whatever it is, I still carry it over to my life now. For good or ill, I should say-because I am either really great and blase about it, like in the case of grilling the gnawed on meat, or totally weird about it-like, I won’t eat tuna fish if it has been covered up and put back in the fridge, even if it is only an hour old. I will eat leftovers for lunch one day, and after that, no way. I only drink out of the top half of a gallon of milk, and it has to be ice cold. I don’t eat egg salad sandwiches or meatloaf or canned peas, EVER. I have an unhealthy obsession with food I am not even eating (I could tell you daily what my good friend SJ eats, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, because I ASK her every.single.day.).
Sigh…I was going somewhere with this post, making some point, but said point has escaped me. I was just thinking about this after reading Michelle’s post awhile back about her Mother’s Legacy, and as I went through the fridge looking for something to take for lunch (potato salad left over from Sunday? Hell no. Lunch meat that was unopened but left on the counter all night? Perfectly fine), how food can nurture or damage, sometimes both in the same meal. How it can be the best most wonderful experience there is, or something that you have to do to stay alive, no matter what it is you are putting in your mouth. How food is the one constant at celebrations or life or times of sorrow or loss, how we show we love and hate. I have such a strange relationship with food, and I know it, and sometimes I can even laugh and make a joke out of it and sometimes I am ashamed and embarrassed, and sometimes there is progress made; I can now, for example, have two foods actually touch on my plate, unless one has juice that might sort of dribble over into the other one, and not only do I not gag when I smell powdered milk, I can sometimes cook with it.
However, I haven’t progressed so far that I can throw away a perfectly good chunk of meat just because the dog chewed on it in one spot. And I also pick up food off the floor and brush it off and eat it, and I have never ever sterilized anything in my entire life except for canning jars. I will still toast slightly stale bread, and yes, I actually save bacon grease to cook eggs with. Which is why we don’t have a lot of people over for meals.