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Dining out with the family

Food. It’s complicated.

I love it. I used to tell people that I love food, but then I’d slip up and say, “I love all kinds of food, Chinese, Mexican, Japanese, American, Thai. I love slow cooked rich foods, I like dressing-soaked salads and fast foods and junk food and … “ and that’s where I’d lose most people’s attention.

“No,” they’d say. “If you love food, there’s no way you can love fast junk, that’s not even food.”

Those people are, of course, right. You don’t love food if you love cheap-ass burgers, made by the millions that have so many chemicals and sugar added to them to be addictive to children, to make us fat and unhealthy, to keep us coming back. Food is fuel, it is sustenance and love, it is family and celebration, tradition and necessity. It is not, nor should it ever be, junk.

Let’s face it — those chemicals taste GOOD! That Mac sauce is YUMMY! Anyone who tells you otherwise is just a blatant liar. But I thought about it more and decided that food could not and should not be just about the taste. For all I know, there may be a way to get bleach to taste good — doesn’t mean any one should drink it! So, let’s create a category, and call it “guilty pleasures,” and let’s enjoy it responsibly (read: super, duper rarely). Into the guilty pleasures go things that we used to eat as kids without this guilt — pizzas and cookies from boxes, frozen … I was about to say burritos, but let’s just admit that most things from a box frozen belong in this category, things with chemicals you couldn’t pronounce as a child, with dyes. Whew. All right, back to food.

Now, back to food.

I love food. I enjoy cooking, too. It’s strange, because I have great imagination, when it comes to creative writing, but when it comes to cooking, I draw blanks. I can’t think of creative sauces, of proteins other than steak (I do not love chicken, it’s a long story, and worthy of its own blog some other day), nor do I care for fish, except for sashimi, but I cannot make that myself.

Wait. Hold on. Back up. Did I not say, twice, that I love food? Yet here I am, contradicting myself. First, with junk, second with not loving all food. What’s up with that?

All right, maybe I wasn’t all that truthful when I said I enjoy cooking. I enjoy cooking once a week, and other times I really, really enjoy eating out. I enjoy when others creatively cook for me. Honestly, what I really hate is being unable to afford to eat out every day.

Food is miraculous. Food makes me feel good, warm and loved, like being hugged from inside. Like a lot of Jewish families, my family loves, celebrates, and rewards with delicious food. I grew up with latkes, golden brown and melting in my mouth, with thick slices of dark Russian bread slathered with unsalted butter and dotted with chunks of garlic, with potatoes baked in the outdoor fires, with pieces of herrings marinating in olive oil and sweet white onions and I drank thick buttermilk washing those pieces down. My mother’s borsch is the most beautiful red gold color, with large chunks of meat floating with the slices of beats and sauerkraut, and when I add sour cream to it, it becomes the color of pale mauve clouds, almost too pretty to eat.

There is something else you should know about me. My very first memory involves food. It is of me, looking at a reflection of myself, at a window when it was night outside. I was, maybe, a year-and-a-half, a cute, chubby baby. I then looked down and saw a bowl of mashed potatoes swimming in milk.

Sigh. So yeah. There you have it, ladies and gentlemen. Food and my relationship with it. Sort of. That’s scratching the surface. The part that makes sense, the middle, the beginning, one thought in an overcrowded elevator that rarely goes anywhere except sideways. Well, that’s what therapy is for, and wine, scotch and whiskey, Bloody Mary, margaritas, Amaretto sours …

Written by

Writer and storyteller, immigrant, wife, mom, knitter, collector of jokes, lover of cheap, sweet wine.

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