Food Memories

Be Here Now, Or How Kettle Chips are Super Deep

Someone had scrawled a long paragraph down most of the bottom half of the stall door. Two phrases caught my eye before I took the time to read the entire passage. “I can’t stop crying, because I just feel like I don’t belong at UCLA.”  And “I don’t have anyone to turn to.”

I never met the person who wrote those messages. It had definitely been done within the past few hours, because the maintenance crew hadn’t wiped the sharpie from the door. What occurred during what was clearly a very bad morning/early afternoon? What prompted the final push to removing a sharpie from their backpack and losing control in such a strange juxtaposition between private and public? I wasn’t in the presence of mind to analyze the situation so thoroughly at the time, but I definitely wondered if she was anywhere near. And all right.

It was my first week of classes at UCLA. I had managed to find the Dodd building successfully and had some time to kill before Classics 10: Ancient Greeks. I wandered into the women’s restroom and stared at my reflection in the listless and brooding aesthetic perfected by teenage angst. My high school boyfriend had broken up with me via phone the first night of my freshman orientation, and I still wasn’t over it. I didn’t know my two new roommates very well and had already gained my Freshman 15  (soon to be Freshman 30) from drowning my feelings in Chipotle (I’d still rather customize a burrito bowl than a sundae, conceptually.) I missed my parents. I had never lived away from home.

I mean, I was a college freshman.

When I ducked into the nearest bathroom stall, I wasn’t expecting to see a paragraph of handwritten text describing exactly how I felt. In the selfish state of being that comes with feeling lonely and upset, I couldn’t do much more than let an overwhelmed feeling wash over me.

Yes, my stoic exterior is a shell (a shell that’s as thick as molasses-based BBQ sauce, but a shell nonetheless) for a burning passionate nature. I’m essentially a Vulcan. Or Shrek.

Daria 22
Maybe Daria hides her ears because they’re pointy like Spock’s. I digress. There are only so many nerd references one can make before it starts to weigh down an anecdote.

I also didn’t expect to see the plethora of scrawled responses. A multitude of ink thicknesses and textures made up the kaleidoscope of handwriting in the supportive replies. “Girl, we are Bruins. We stick TOGETHER!!” read one bubbly print, the I’s dotted with circles instead of dots. “You proved you were good enough by getting in! We’re the most applied-to university on the planet! This is going to be the best four or five or six or whatever years of your life and you get to live it with all of us,” read another.

I will never repeat this act in a public restroom again, but I reached out and touched the words. I didn’t want to introduce myself to every contributor and become their best friend, but I at least felt as though I’d be able to stomach a 75-minute lecture. I wiped the tears from my eyes, wiggled my feet around in my checkered Van loafers (I wore flat shoes then), and stumbled out of the restroom door. In a moment of movie magic, I bumped into a young man outside the door and knocked his laptop to the ground.

It wasn’t a Carrie and Big “Sex and the City” moment. It wasn’t even a “Kobe and Shaq exchange high-fives amid rumors of rivalry after that epic alley-oop play” moment. After getting mutually excited about the indestructible nature of Mac laptops, he noticed my red eyes.

“You okay?”

I smiled and replied that it had just been a long day.

“Freshman?”

I nodded.

“Don’t wait until your senior year to finish your GEs,” he joked. “You here for Classics 10, too?”

He slung his backpack to the floor and slid down the wall to sit, motioning for me to join him. He pulled a small bag of Kettle Chips from his backpack, opened it, and extended it to me.

“It’s rough, you know? You’ll be fine.”

He prattled on about professors, classes, and tests as we continued to dip into the bag of chips. He knew I wasn’t listening or attracted to him, that we wouldn’t speak after class or possibly ever again, and he didn’t care. He was selflessly giving me the opportunity to collect myself. He was providing me with multiple iterations of nourishment.

A $2.00 bag of Kettle Chips isn’t a quarter-inch thick piece of seared foie gras on toast or my Grandmother’s pumpkin pie, but I can’t see a bag without thinking of that moment, being grateful, and hoping that girl found the push into readiness she needed. It is an intense emotional journey to experience in the span of two seconds, but one I am continuously appreciative of.

“When a film’s heroine innocently coughs, you know that two scenes later, at most, she’ll be in an oxygen tent; when a man bumps into a woman at the train station, you know that man will become the woman’s lover/murderer. In everyday life, where we cough often and are always bumping into people, our daily actions rarely reverberate so lucidly.”          from Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy

kettle chips

Stirring Up Memories

It’s some point in the mid-90s, and I’m in elementary school. There is a two-tier black footstool in the kitchen, which I use to stand at the counter next to my mother while she cooks. Tonight, we’re having breakfast for dinner. I drag the stool over to the counter to “help.” I am still young enough (Full Disclosure: I will be this emotionally young until about age 20) not to process that Mommy is exhausted from making breakfast, throwing me out the door and into the car to get to school on time, and eight hours in an office. We always cook in chaos: bags of miscellaneous ingredients sag on the counter, magazines and junk mail are stacked across the dining room table, Tupperware and spice containers burst out of the refrigerator and pantry doors.

I suppose the prosaic way of phrasing it is that we’ve accumulated a lot of crap.

My favorite part of pulling up the stool next to Mommy at the counter is making waffles. I like being reminded to be careful when pouring the melted butter slowly into the batter. I like that the only thing Dad has to do to assist is whip egg whites into fluffy peaks, which he can do while watching TV.

Dad? Dad makes eggs. It doesn’t happen very often, but I think that’s because he’s not retired yet.

Hindsight being 20/20, I hope I didn’t insult my mother by having a clear preference for Dad’s scrambled eggs over hers. I have a feeling it was their allure. I was never allowed to help Dad make his eggs, so I had to surrender to the mystery. I didn’t know what herbs he used. I didn’t know how long they took to make. If you were to ask my father for the recipe, he’d chuckle and say he doesn’t really know what he puts in them. He does, but anything less specific than the way he makes hamburgers or meatloaf is something he claims not to know much about.

Remember, my father isn’t particular about what he eats. Just give him exactly what he wants.

The thing about food memories is that they have nothing to do with what is consumed in the moment we are eating, and everything to do with what is in our heads. After a certain length of time passes – one day, one month, one year – our inner recollections carry more weight than what actually happened.

Last week, I came across an article written by Aria Beth Sloss in 2013 with the following piece of trivia:

“In researching my novel, I came across Owen Wister’s Lady Baltimore, a 1906 novel that features a cake by the same name. Though the cake’s origins remain in dispute, one version of its legend has Wister responsible for inventing it. He made the ake sound so delicious that readers demanded the recipe. Fiction became fact. A story birthed a cake. What we believe is just one side of the truth.”

It’s always a good time to create new traditions. It’s why I created a section of this website titled “New Classics.” When I get to the point far, far, FAR down my road map in which I am a mother, I’m not entirely certain if I will share more food stories or food lessons with my child(ren), but I’m going to have a two-step footstool in my kitchen next to my counter.

After that sentimental interlude, I present you with this thrilling photo of my father leading my scared nugget self on a horse ride through a park.

horsie