A few years back, I sat down to interview my mom and asked her about my childhood food life. Her answer: "Well, this will be a short discussion. You didn't eat anything."
OK, so she exaggerated, but not by much. I probably ate five things growing up: cereal; peanut butter and jelly sandwiches; noodles of all kinds; pizza; and...well, I can't think of a fifth thing. I'm stumped.
Family legend has it that at age three I ate shrimp by the handful. My parents would take me to Arthur Treacher's and treat me to shrimp dinners. I don't have any recollection of this. I do have memories of going to Arthur Treacher's, but my dinner of choice was a Krunch Pup (Mr. Treacher's version of a corn dog) and fried chips soaked in malt vinegar.
I had no interest in food nor learning how to cook. I didn't want to try anything new. I did have a little play kitchen, but I enjoyed that because I got to pretend, not because I wanted to make a meal. My mom collected recipes, tried new dishes. There was a drawer in the kitchen that held recipe cards, categorized, neatly typed out and in little plastic sleeves.
Our kitchen cupboards were stocked with canned vegetables and fruits, boxes of macaroni and cheese Rice-a-Roni, scalloped potatoes, Lawry's seasoning mixes, Betty Crocker mixes for muffins and brownies. The fridge always contained some kind of deli meat, hard salami, bologna, or ham. Mom always stocked refrigerator dinner rolls and cylinders of Pillsbury products, like orange danish and cinnamon rolls. In the freezer, she kept Sara Lee pound cake, Stouffer's French bread pizza and spinach souffle, and Steak-Umm's. We had a junk food drawer filled at all times with at least two types of potato chips, pretzels, crackers, and Dots or red licorice. I remember that my mom liked Lay's and dad liked Ruffles. Typical that they were on opposite sides.
For breakfast, I ate cereal. Being a mature and responsible forty-year old even at age eight, I always chose a "healthy" cereal to start my day, Cheerios or Corn Flakes or Life. I ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and one banana in my bagged lunch throughout my school years. I picked at whatever Mom made for dinner. For my bedtime snack, I had cereal again, but this time, something fun like Fruity Pebbles or Lucky Charms.
By eighth grade, I had to take Home Economics. That or shop, and I wasn't about to take shop. I knew my lack of gracefulness by then. I liked playing piano and enjoyed having all my fingers. I left home ec. with the knowledge that, as my favorite bumper sticker of all time said, the only thing domestic about me was that I lived in a house. Oh, and I left with a recipe for something called a Tuesday Pancake that turned into a family favorite. (Instructions: Crack eggs into a blender and add flour, sugar, milk. Press the blend button. Pour into hot skillet. Bake in the oven for fifteen-twenty minutes.) Later I discovered that I had been making a Dutch Baby pancake since age thirteen.
Even with my pickiness, I had some peccadillos as a kid. At family get togethers, if there was a relish tray, you could find me snacking on black olives placed on each of my ten fingers. (Don't even suggest the green ones. Ugh!) If there was a bucket of KFC, I would eat the breading and leave the chicken on my plate. Somehow, Mom decided to serve us lamb patties and they were a big hit. I made no sense at all.
As I grew up, signature meals appeared. Mom's regular rotation consisted of chicken paprikas (I ate the dumplings, but passed on the chicken), steak and ketchup noodles, ravioli casserole, and chicken Tetrazzini/Divan/Kiev. By high school, besides pizza night on Fridays, my favorites were Campbell's tomato soup topped with croutons, served with grilled cheese and sweet pickles, chili with Jiffy cornbread muffins, breakfast for dinner, and salads (no tomatoes, yuck) that had to include croutons again and jarred bacon bits, with enough salad dressing for a family of four.
By eighteen, I'd graduated to helping in the kitchen by setting and clearing the table and washing dishes. Still no cooking. Then, I cut open my hand while washing a glass and experienced stitches for the first time. This mishap easily became another excuse to excuse myself from the kitchen.