Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Popcorn, Piggy Parts, and Penicillin

I don't know why, but I've been thinking about food lately, and the memories certain foods evoke for me. We have some odd food habits in our family tree, some that were one-time deals and others that have stayed with me well into my adulthood. In many cases, I have utterly no idea why. Here's a random smattering:

1.One of my earliest memories is standing in my great-grandmother's pantry, on a little step stool, watching her make me popcorn. She was my dad's Nana, but my mother also had a Nana, so I christened Dad's Nana "The Popcorn Nana" to keep things straight in my 3-year old head. (Further complicating things is that they were both Nana Allen's, because in some weird twist of fate there are Allen's on both sides of my family tree; though why nobody thought to have me call them Nana Ruth and Nana Hazel is beyond me.) Later on in life, someone (probably my father) introduced me to the notion of eating popcorn like cereal. You take a glass of milk, throw in a handful of popcorn, and eat it with a spoon. Then repeat. This, more than any other Weird Food Thing, has consistently grossed out my friends and roommates and boyfriends over the years. Given that popcorn is, well, CORN, and given that most breakfast cereal is made of CORN, I don't know why this freaks people out. But it totally does.

2. More weirdness (although much less weird than popcorn cereal): taking crackers (usually saltines, but tonight it was Wasa sourdough), putting American cheese on top, sprinkling it with paprika, then either microwaving or toaster-ovening them until the cheese melts. It's the paprika that makes this odd to me, mostly because I have never, EVER used paprika in anything else. My family is mostly of Scotch-Irish descent, why this Hungarian spice? on American cheese??? But indeed, I own an entire bottle of paprika just to make these.

3. Then there's maple syrup on chocolate ice cream. Most objections to this one are just simply that people find it too sweet. Actually, our family has found that there's not much that maple syrup can't improve. Nana Hazel used to make corn fritters, which are kind of like a plain donut with corn mixed up in it, and they were spectacular with maple syrup. (Up until that time she had us all over for dinner and and there were ants swimming in the gravy boat of maple syrup...but that's another story).

4. My dad cooks hot dogs in a frying pan with butter. The only time I will eat hot dogs is when I am back in Maine with Dad and he cooks them this way, usually when it's just us and my mother isn't around to calculate the calories involved. Dad prefers the red hot dogs, the ones I think you can only buy in Maine these days, the ones in a bright red casing that snap when you bite into them. I like the all-beef Hebrew Nationals, because I don't like to think about random piggy parts, but sometimes they are hard to get in rural Maine so I just eat the regular brown ones. I smother them in relish and listen really hard to whatever Dad is talking about so my mind doesn't wander to thoughts about those random piggy parts.

5. Dad also makes really great hot cocoa from scratch - the kind with milk and unsweetened cocoa (brown Hershey box) and sugar, made in a saucepan on the stove. One year, I think 8th grade, I got a terrible case of strep throat that would not go away. I was a total wuss and incapable of swallowing pills, and for whatever reason there was no liquid penicillin to be had (rural Maine, not many pharmacies, who knows), so every morning before he went to work Dad would make me hot cocoa and dissolve my penicillin in it. It was disgusting, no doubt about it; I can still remember how awful it tasted, like moldy chocolate-flavored pond scum. And I'm sure it diluted the effectiveness of the medicine - but I eventually got over it, so it must have retained some of its mojo. Still, I can clearly remember sitting at the table, wearing a flannel nightie and wrapped up in an old quilt, miserable as miserable gets, watching Dad make me my cocoa-penicillin concoction. And though it's not something I would recommend trying, it's actually kind of a sweet memory for me, not the least of which because I could tell Dad was pretty worried about how sick I was.

And, truthfully? I have yet to find another man who wouldn't have just said "Swallow the damned pill already".

No comments: