Panorama of San Bernardino

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Girl's Hunger

Food is love, it is comfort, it is joy, it is sadness. Food is childhood. In short, food is who you are (another way of saying the oft repeated phrase, you are what you eat).

My favorite food memoir is a book called "Toast: A Boy's Hunger" by Nigel Slater which uses the food of 1960s London to tell the story of his childhood and adolescence. Slater's boyhood food consisted of such unfamiliar things to this Inland Empire girl as crisps, lemon meringue, jam tarts and something called Cadbury's MiniRoll (the name alone sounds delicious). 

My childhood weekday breakfast consisted of either Lucky Charms or Fruity Pebbles and a side of Wonder Bread toast with margarine. Dad always bought his bread at the Hostess bakery outlet store on Holt and San Antonio in Ontario.

Bet you didn't know that there was such a thing as an outlet for baked goods. 

On the weekends, Dad made his famous (hmmm maybe infamous) pancakes with a smear of jam or peanut butter inside or fried bologna and eggs. I still have not figured out how he got the bologna crispy without burning it. 

My dad loved donuts and sometimes for a special treat, he would go to Yum Yum Donuts on Fourth and Grove and get the day old donuts for half off. My favorite was the glazed with strawberry jelly inside, but Dad always got the lemon filled ones by mistake. I would settle for an old fashioned and Jackie would eat a maple bar. Annie always picked the one with sprinkles.

The cafeteria at Mariposa Elementary served the typical 1970s California cafeteria fare of pizza, hamburgers, tator tots and Sloppy Joe's. The coveted role at Mariposa was to work in the cafeteria line.  They school only allowed sixth graders in the cafeteria. My twin sister Jackie and I waited in anticipation.  The summer before sixth grade we got the news that my mom was sending us to St. George's, a Catholic school on "D" Street and Euclid in Ontario. We never got to work the cafeteria line. My parents struggled to pay our tuition and we were back to public school after two years.

Once we hit junior high, we started bringing our lunch and Dad usually made it the night before because Mom worked nights. Dad loved the shock of our faces as we watched him make us a sandwich of hot dogs and pickles on white bread with mustard, or his dreaded potted meat with lettuce and mayonnaise or worst of all, spam sandwiches. I wanted peanut butter and jelly. But damn, I miss those hot dog sandwiches as an adult.

Dinner depended on who cooked. Mom's specialty was taco night. She sauteed ground beef with tomato sauce and served it with shredded lettuce, cheese and tomatoes in small glass blows with tortillas on the side. She made a mean Mexican rice with lots of garlic and salt (the trick is to fry the rice with oil and leave it alone to simmer with the red sauce).

Being German, Dad's top meals were meatloaf with a ketchup glaze on top, pork chops and applesauce and his legendary overcooked roast. His roast was always well, well done and he boiled the vegetables until they were grey.  

I preferred a dinner of Kraft Mac and Cheese and mashed potatoes out of the box.

Our favorite fast food restaurant growing up was Pup N Taco. Pup N Taco was a precursor to Taco Bell. My best friend Melinda and I would ride our bikes over to Pup N Taco which was on the corner of Fourth Street and Vineyard. Melinda would order a couple of 39 cent tacos and I would have a flat crispy tostada. We only had enough change for our entree so we would drink water or share a soda (no refills in those days).

You can't forget McDonald's if you are going to talk about a 1970s and 1980s childhood. If we stayed home sick, the gift was a cheeseburger and fries. I groaned if Dad decided to get me Weinerschnitzel instead which was his favorite and always more of a gift for him.

My favorite afternoon snack was Melinda's tomato and lemon soup which made me pucker with delight. The best after dinner snack was my dad's salty popcorn. Dad popped it in a big pot with Canola oil.  Dad dumped the popcorn into a brown bag and melted down a stick of margarine and poured it inside.  It wasn't complete until he shook Morton's salt all over it. My sisters and I raced to see who could get the first grab of the hot buttery mess.  I can almost taste it. That popcorn is what memories are made of.

This whole story is making me hungry.  I think I am going to make me some popcorn in the microwave with my mother in law's unsalted butter and no salt, well maybe just a pinch.

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