Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Dining Influences

Top Chef Masters host and food journalist Kelly Choi tweeted recently: "Tru or false? Who I hang out with has a major influence on what I eat. (Feel free to elaborate)"

As elaborating will take far more than 140 characters, I'm going to answer the question right here.

Once upon a time, I would say that statement was true. When I was a kid, the people I spent the most time with were my family, so my diet consisted of the American-style stuff my mother cooked for dinner (pot roast, meatloaf, Shake 'n' Bake), Grandma's Polish food (kielbasa, kotlety, barszcz), and the Italian food my Aunt Stasia learned from her in-laws (braciole, pasta), with occasional excursions outside the bubble for fast food and Chinese.

I didn't have a lot of friends in grade school; it seemed that as soon as I got close to someone, she transferred elsewhere. In any case, my over-protective mother wouldn't have let me stray away from home (or even cross the street) to share meals with other kids' families. But on the very first day of high school I found a Best Friend.

Because I took two buses back and forth to high school, my mother had less of a hold on my wanderings; once my BF had access to a car, she lost all control. Mom was lucky though - BF was incredibly boring. Excruciatingly so. We took being "good girls" to an extreme. A hot night on the town for us usually involved a PG- or G-rated movie or duckpin bowling. Or mini golf. And fast food.

Not only boring, BF was also a bit controlling. We did what she wanted to do (I hate mini golf!) and ate what she wanted to eat. I suppose I was so happy to have a regular friend who wasn't going to disappear at the end of the school year, I didn't care. So I didn't complain that our diet consisted of Burger King and pizza. Burger King, because she could have it her way and her way was two plain hamburgers. "Plain" as in no condiments whatsoever, just a bun and a thin disc of a meat-like substance. Personally, I've never cared for the faux grill flavoring at BK, and if I must eat a fast food hamburger I prefer Wendy's or even McDonald's; when out with BF those were options only if there was no BK around for miles. On those rare occasions when happenstance forced her to eat non-BK meals, BF would complain about having to wait for her plain burgers, or that they contained too much gristle, which she would pick out and flick at me from across the table. (OK, maybe she was a little abusive too?)

As for the vast amounts of pizza we consumed, need I mention that it was also plain? Maybe she'd go a little crazy and order extra sauce, but pepperoni, sausage, and mushrooms were never options.

I ended up spending the night at BFs house on many an occasion, in my zebra-print sleeping bag on the hideous, smelly, orange shag carpeting in her bedroom. Her mother was a decent, if limited, cook. Her vegetable soup was incredibly good, and her pot roast - although vastly different from my mother's - was tasty as well. We also ate hamburgers and pork chops, and that's about it. If there was anything vaguely ethnic about a food, it was not served in that little house off Harford Road. Excepting pizza, of course. Astonishingly, despite her love for that cheese-laden Italian-American staple, my BF had never eaten spaghetti...because her mother did not like it. Nor had she eaten Chinese food, nor any other ethnic cuisine, for the same reason. Later, as an adult, during a dinner at Angelina's (she would eat crabcakes) and after a lot of coaxing, BF tried a bite of the ravioli I had ordered and seemed astonished that it tasted good to her. One small step for mankind, one giant leap for her.

BF and I went to different colleges and eventually started spending less time together. Almost immediately, I started making friends who appreciated food. Eventually, the love of food became a near-requirement for my friendships. All of my current friends are fairly adventurous eaters, except one, but I will allow her to blame it on various digestive disorders, even if it drives me bonkers (and I am skeptical).

Although at this point in my life I am now in many cases the influencer rather than the influencee, the answer to Kelly Choi's question is still "true." What else would be the reason for eating mostly Chinese food with one friend? For not preparing lamb or anything with sour cream when Dad comes over for dinner? (Or for contemplating making duck if I know his duck-hating GF will be around?) I also avoid cooking with or eating peanuts before and during visits with my highly-allergic brother. Of course one's company affects what one eats! Sharing meals is a hugely important part of human socialization. Through food, we get to know one another, whether we realize it or not, and if we do realize it, that may come years later.

BF and I parted ways fifteen years ago now. On one occasion I didn't say "how high" when she said "jump" and was abruptly cut from her life. After reflecting on our relationship, I can't say I miss her, although I do find myself wondering what her life is like now. Somehow I doubt she's broadened her culinary horizons very much, but hopefully she has moved past mini golf and duckpins and maybe even allows a spot of ketchup to sully her hamburger from time to time.


Meklena said...

LOL...I dont' just do chinese...remember the bingeing we did with the crabs??? :-)

theminx said...

I said "mostly" Chinese, and you have to admit that we've had more Chinese together than anything else!

Kate said...

My answer to this question is definitely "true." I grew up with mostly classic American cooking at home, with a bit of Pennsylvania Dutch on my maternal grandmother's side, and the Sicilian influence from my dad's family. Knowing the Minx has definitely broadened my horizons and influences what I eat and where. My first experience with Thai and Indian foods came with the Minx. I had eaten Japanese food a couple of times, but my Morimoto experience was with the Minx. Tapas was something I'd only heard of before my trip to Pazo with, you guessed it, the Minx. So, having such a knowledgeable foodie friend has completely opened my mind and widened my horizons. Thanks, Sis!

David Dust said...

I absolutely loved this post!! I think I learned more about you in it than I have in all of our face-to-face visits. :)

Since I know you "post-BF", I simply cannot imagine you putting up with Burger King and Pizza all the time. However, I'm wondering if BF laid the groundwork for our Arby's trip - insomuch as going to a fast food restaurant is something you used to do often.

If that is the case, I have to thank BF just a little (even though she sounds like an asshat) - because I can't wait to go to Arby's with you in a few days!!!


theminx said...

David - I suppose I could be very much the bottom in my HS years! And I'm going to Arby's with you because I want to see the place through your eyes. :) I've never had a problem with Arby's, and I'd eat there or Chik-fil-A or KFC without much argument. I'm not 100% against fast food, just against crappy sub-standard hamburgers and bad pizza. :)