I can tell you every single thing that I ate within the past week, down to the handful of almonds and cup of tea. I have trouble, though, remembering what and how I ate as a child. I remember that my sister ate her hot dogs with the skin peeled off and that I had mine skin intact, but plain as could be. I know that my mom's hot chocolate was a mix of boiling water and Swiss Miss, but that for the longest time I found chocolate in any other form unpalatable. Lime Jello and flat 7-Up were reserved for sick days. For many years Carvel ice cream cakes, the kind with the cookie crumbles layered inside, were a staple for my birthday. I remember going out for pizza every Friday, and how I was often compelled to eat the cheese separately from the dough, a floppy brain-like slab without its topping. These little dishes come back to me, but the details of dinners, dislikes, and favorites seem for me to be gone for good.
Another more established food blog, Molly Wizenberg's Orangette, inspired this walk down memory lane. A few years back Molly was tagged to write about childhood food memories. She found the task to be a bit taxing, but I, though unlike Molly was not passed the writing torch, find the concept enticing.
Hardly the essence of my childhood eats, the foods and instances that follow have, unlike most others, are the ones vibrant enough to have left an imprint in my recollection.
I lived in Connecticut, not far from the beach, for the first seven years of my life. My summers involved frequent visits. I remember little but the irksome feel of sand that clung like magnets to our beach chairs' metal legs and the red cooler my mom loaded with fruit, diet Cokes, and aluminum-wrapped sandwiches. In my memory the sandwiches were always bagels, mine gummy and dense, slathered with cream cheese, and finished with tomato slices. I don't often eat cream cheese now, but whenever I do, I'm brought immediately back to the pleasure with which I ate those bagels. I imagine I usually ate sitting in our beach chairs, the plastic woven ones whose seat sunk into the sand, my knees lined with sand and my finger nails positively caked with it. My sandy state and the mess with which I think I lived most of my childhood made for a sandwich seasoned with sand. I relished it, actually - no sandwich was complete without that crunch - just as I delighted in the tomato seeds that dripped to my thighs.
The Dairy Queen closest to my house is legendary, at least I always thought of it that way. It was the only place around you could count on seeing people from town and its peeling old-timey facade suggests a story of affection. Seemingly set at random in an empty lot forming the corner of a busy intersection, the ice cream shop is little more than a shabby hut. You must understand, though, that this is the appeal. Other Dairy Queens are flashy, commercialized; the Montvale DQ is two sticky window slots through which you shout your order, two glass walls plastered with images of blizzards and florescent floats, and, most notably, a once neon sign, paint peeling so that the vanilla cone it flaunts looks grey. Though the old-school advertisements that lined the DQ's walls in my childhood have since been replaced with contemporary counterparts, its menu never acquired the hot dogs and other fast food fare that newer, flashier Dairy Queen menus now boast.
It was a treat to drive to DQ on summer nights, not as much for the ice cream as for the ritual that getting it entailed. I don't remember ever eating it on the store's benches, or standing in a circle among friends in the lot as many do. My family almost always consumed Dairy Queen in the trunk of my dad's Jeep, parked in the messy lines that somehow came to organize the open lot with its back open. From here we could enjoy in privacy, fart at will, and observe the busy streets around us.
My order was consistent, almost always a vanilla milkshake. I loved everything about those shakes, so artificially and quintessentially vanilla, effortless to consume until the last quarter when my stomach bellowed from the saccharine syrup. The remainder often came home with me to be saved for the following day, and although the ice cream would have likely held up better in the fridge, I always stored it in the freezer, and then gave it a spin in the microwave before revisiting it.
Braided Everything Bagel Sticks
Grandpa Seymour's always brought gifts when he visited. Two dollar bills and braided everything bagel sticks stand out most in my mind. The sticks were the same as any doughy well-seasoned bagel, except for that the dough was twisted into a stubby braid. The shape made the eating experience evermore thrilling for a child, especially one, who like me, enjoyed (and does to this day) playing with her food. My eating style was calculated and only slightly destructive. I tore the bagel apart, unraveling the twist and eating each of the dense tresses on its own in pieces I broke apart.
He brought the bagels in a brown paper bag. I only remember him bringing two - one each for me and my sister. To my mom those bagel sticks were like glitter: strictly forbidden everywhere but the garage due to their sweeping mess potential. So my sister and I ate them outside, on the deck or in the front lawn, or, though my memory could be misleading me, inside, standing over newspapers.