January 26th, 2011

love a nerd

LJ Idol - Haute

When I was broke, young and newly married in my early twenties, my dreams centered around having enough money to go to the Excel down the hill from where I lived and buy everything I wanted to have. I fantasized about a freezer full of steaks instead of ground beef. I desperately wanted a refrigerator containing fresh fruits and produce. I imagined real cheese instead of generic processed singles that, as the kid from the Kraft commercials informed me growing up, were mostly made out of oil and water. In my cupboards, I yearned to see brown basmati rice and all those amazing things I read about in the copies of Bon Appetit that I picked up for fifty cents apiece at the St. Vinnie's on Trent.

Instead, all I saw when I opened the freezer were see-through packages of ground beef and ice cubes. In the refrigerator, instead of beautiful vine-ripened red tomatoes that tasted of sunshine and exploded when you bit into one and water-packed mozzarella, I saw sickly pink hothouse tomatoes, their flavors dulled from the fridge and iceburg lettuce. The cupboards contained Campbell's soup, off-brand rice mix and long grain rice, cheaper than the Minute rice that I craved desperately for reasons I couldn't understand.

Fortunately, my Fresh Express iceberg lettuce salad days are in the past.

Now I spend hours on foodie websites. I browse allrecipes and food.com for recipes I haven't tried yet. Instead of the latest Oprah's Book Club selection on my night table, I have a copy of the Silver Palate Cookbook that I flip through at night sometimes before bed, trying to figure out what kind of recipes I want to make. Williamsburg orange-sherry cake? Warm potato salad with fried potato skins? Layered chef's salad? I ooh and aah and make comments and sometimes read the ingredients out loud to Mike, who usually replies with something along the lines of "Honey, are you trying to kill me?"

"You know, you could just make something simple," he tells me sometimes. We could JUST have burgers. Not buffalo chicken burgers or turkey patty melts. Or we could have pork chops, you could cook them in the oven and dump a can of mushroom soup over the top. Or maybe spaghetti. Just regular spaghetti."

I have a problem making simple meals. I do. I'll admit it. I have a hard time just thinking that burgers are good enough. Or that grilled chicken basted with barbecue sauce (not sauteed on the stove in a lemon/honey/whiskey sauce and served on top of pancetta mashed potatoes) with storebought potato salad is good enough. I think of those iceberg lettuce and ground beef days all those years ago in that tiny attic apartment with my ex-husband, those sickly pink, pulpy tomatoes in the fridge. I think of the four years I lived with his mother and how we had Hamburger Helper, fried hamburger patties slapped on white bread that stuck to the roof of your mouth with processed cheese, iceburg lettuce salads covered with gloopy Ranch dressing.

It reminds me of her using me as a meal ticket and asking how she would pay her bills when Mark claimed he beat me up to defend HIMSELF. It reminds me of not even being able to heat up a can of soup for lunch because he would flip the circuit breaker in the basement. It reminds me of being lied to while sitting on a plastic chair in a visitor's room upstairs at the county jail. It reminds me of desperately trying to get through to someone who didn't care enough about me to tell the truth. It brings it all back.

That's the kind of food that conjures negative memories for me.

So when I'm making a citrus - pomegranate steak salad with a honey dijon dressing, homemade buffalo chicken pizza on a crust that I've made myself from King Arthur bread flour, or pork chops marinated in honey, lemon and Tabasco, please bear with me.

I do it to forget.
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