Monday, June 2, 2008

The Makings of A Foodie, Early Memories

When I think about Gilly *sigh* and the News Blog, I remember all the fierce politics, but I also remember learning about his family, his past, and his present through his writing about food. This got me to thinking about my own road from food hater to food lover.

When I was small I was a pretty picky eater (an understatement to say the least). I was a deadly combination of cautious and suspicious of food, particularly vegetables and I turned up my little nose at everything except corn.

One of the first "outside my comfort zone" food memories I have involves a long drive, a dark beach and a camping stove in Nags Head N.C.

My mother, her friend Mary, and little 7 year old me were on a epic journey. Mary was relocating to Miami, and mom and I were moving down to where my father had set up our new home on the island of St. Thomas. Somehow, someone came up with the wonderful, crazy scheme that when the house had been sold and movers had moved our things we would drive from our old home in upstate NY all the way to Florida and then fly to the island.

And so the journey began. We camped, slept in the car, and occasionally stayed in cheap hotels. I remember eating at Howard Johnson's-- I liked the fried clam strips and cocktail sauce. I remember eating normal kid friendly foods along the way. Nothing risky or surprising.

On the day a week into the trip, that we were supposed to camp at Nags Head. I think things got off track. I was too young to really know what happened but we were lost part of the day, and everything took longer than expected. We had campsite reservations but after driving around for hours, and a run in with the local authorities we got to our campground only to find that it had already closed for the night and the gate was locked across the road to the site. Tired and very, very hungry-- we drove down the long peninsula trying to figure out what to do. There were no restaurants open that we could afford and no campsite to cook and rest in-- but there was the gorgeous sea and sand.

At last we decided we would sleep in the car, and eat what we could manage to make in the dark, by the meager light of our one flashlight that still had a battery.

Out came the camp stove, and the can of food. I was too hungry to be picky. I remember the smell, spicy, warm, and savory... I had no idea what it was- but I was eager for my portion. With a small metal bowl and camping spoon I relished every bite of the meal that I could not see. I marveled at the textures, the tastes, and the bits of unexpected sweetness and hot spice. This was my first taste of Vegetable and Beef Chili, though I did not know it at the time.

Now chili may not seem exotic to you, dear reader, but as a vegetable hater, my seven year old self would have gagged, whined and done everything to avoid chili in the light of day around our kitchen table. Yet, here I was practically shoveling the spoonfuls to my mouth with record speed. I think I ate two bowls and I certainly remember loving it, the spicy chili peppers, the sweet carrots and beans and the flavorful bits of beef... This was just canned chili. I loved it, not even knowing it was inferior to the wonderful homemade chili I would enjoy the rest of my life.

There on that beach with the sand between my bare toes, and the spoon making a soft scraping noise as I reached the bottom of my bowl, my food world began to open up. It was a long road from picky-eater to food lover-restaurateur. But looking back now, I truly believe that I took my first small steps that night, in the dark on Nags Head beach.

What is your first or best real food memory?