I’m pretty sure I was what, for my generation, would be described as a “weird kid,” at least in terms of my eating habits. Take, for example, a list of my favorite childhood foods. Here are the things I loved most, back when I was in the single-digit age bracket:
- Oysters on the half shell
- Harvard beets
I ate my first oyster on the half-shell when I was, I think, nine. My parents, siblings, grandfather, and I had gone to the Molly Pitcher Inn in New Jersey for dinner. My grandfather ordered a plate of oysters on the half-shell as a starter. He noticed me gazing at them and offered me one. I took it.
Love at first slurp.
I don’t know how I acquired my love of olives—it goes pretty much as far back as I can remember—but I can tell you that one Christmas, again when I was about nine, I asked for my own personal jar of Queen olives (those colossal green ones) as a gift. I may be the first and only kid on the planet to have requested such a thing. I got my jar of olives.
As for the beets and the spinach, I have always loved all vegetables, apparently another thing that made me weird, since all kids are supposed to hate them. (I have always had a streak of the perverse.) The only vegetable I will not, cannot ingest—I suppose, strictly speaking, it’s a fruit—is lima beans. They’re disgusting. There is no form of preparation that will render them anything less than vile. Put this on my tombstone: Lima beans made her gag. That and: She screwed up every demographic she got into. The latter’s, however, another story.
As a kid, I didn’t care much for the two things kids then were supposed to adore: hamburgers and apple pie. I quite like either one now, but that’s because there are so many interesting ways to prepare them. (Try a shot of Courvoisier in the apple mix before baking the pie.) As a child, though, I found both rather dull.
But the all-time disgusting food I remember from school cafeterias is that culinary abomination known as…American chop suey.
Every kid I knew loved it. They’d gobble it like starving wolverines. As for me, I would eat it maybe as an alternative to being tortured. Under any other circumstance—no, no, a thousand times no. This stuff is slop: overcooked macaroni mixed with poor quality canned stewed tomatoes and overcooked pulverized gray hamburger meat. No herbs. No cheese. No touch of olive oil. No frigging salt and pepper, for God’s sake. Absolutely nothing to make it remotely palatable. But, as I said, every other kid seemed to love it.
Another thing I couldn’t stomach was those cold cereals in weird florescent colors. Worse were the ones that had rock-hard marshmallow bits in them. Even worse than that were the ones that were in the shape of animal, quasi-human, fairy tale, or horror movie characters. Happily, my mother refused to buy any of them. Even as a child, I hated getting up in the morning, and the only thing that would have made getting up worse would have been lurching to the table and staring down into a bowl of teeny green leprechauns or teeny brown vampires. (Lucky Charms and Count Chocula respectively, if you care.) To this day I avoid the cereal aisle in the grocery store, except on the rare occasions when I want a box of raisin bran, which I do find edible, although not as an every day or even weekly event.
The thing that strikes me, though—and I consider this a happy development—is that if I were a kid now, my tastes might be…mainstream. I once overheard a lively discussion about the level of cuisine in various Thai restaurants conducted by three of my nephews, who were, at the time, sixteen, eleven, and eight. More recently, another eight-year-old nephew informed that he’d eaten some “super-good” Indian food at a local restaurant, as opposed to the just “good” Indian food he’d had elsewhere. This is also a kid who, at age 2 ½ , devoured three helpings of a chicken-prosciutto tortelloni dish in an Alfredo sauce I made.
So perhaps I wasn’t weird, back then. Just…ahead of the curve?
Happy New Year to you all. And may your children and grandchildren never, ever have to consume a bowl of American chop suey.
If they do, and they like it…they’re weird.