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July, 2016

Food Group Favorites

by Larry

Looking over our archives, I see there have been several pieces on good-for-us foods. Happily, there has been success in recent years eating somewhat more healthily. In the process, I have lost about 25 pounds and kept it off. My focus on better eating habits of late, though, is matched only by how obsessively I still fantasize about the less than ideal edibles I would love to ingest if only...

So in this little farfetched essay, I thought, for the sake of both genuineness and humor, I would pretend I am living so different a lifestyle - maybe doing enough physical work, for instance as a gravedigger, coal miner, rancher, roofer, or stevedore, yeah right - that I could afford to down 6000+ calories of food a day without a risk of exploding and so, instead of the much more meager, correct, and nutritionist approved meals I have suggested heretofore, rationalize gobbling down just whatever I wanted!

Here, then, are meditations on my preferred food groups and favorite examples from each.

What comes immediately to mind are my dad's, Leon's, midnight snacks. When he was close to retiring for the evening and might have already turned off the TV and allowed the night's fireplace fire to die down enough there were no danger of a spark setting the place ablaze, and if Mom might have long before already gone to bed and fallen asleep, he would frequently head for the kitchen, open the fridge, and take out a chunk of sharp cheddar. Next he would open a box of saltine crackers, then cut off a thick slice of orange cheese, and pop one of each, the salty crisp cracker and a tangy cheese morsel, into his mouth, chew for several moments with a look of great contentment on his face, and then repeat the process. They may not have been that good for him or me, but to this day I love crackers and sharp cheddar cheese, probably almost as much as Dad did.

So that is food group number one: Salty Snacks. Into this category go many of my other ideal foods: potato chips; French fries; salted nuts; tortilla chips; Fritos; hard-boiled eggs dipped in salt; and Cheez-Its, to name a few.

Though she is certainly far more healthy in her current eating routines, my mom, Julia, was as into chocolate and other sweets when I was growing up as Dad was delighted by cheesy, salty snacks. Ice creams, chocolate Easter eggs, candy bars, chocolate syrup for making our own chocolate milk, thick chocolate icing on cakes, chocolate chip cookies, and sugar were often available, this last plentiful in soft drinks, Kool-Aid, lemonade, Jell-O, or Tang, and for coffee or tea, and so on. I was so very glad they were, took rich and regular helpings of them, and would today as well, if I felt as yet free to do just as impulses direct!

My mother's mother, Mama Louise, hardly wealthy, for awhile had a small candy counter in her home for extra spending money and also sold ice-cold Dr. Pepper and other carbonated drinks to neighbor kids. There would be deliveries of blocks of ice, and I sometimes got to chop them up with a sharp, long ice pick and dump the ice chips into the drinks machine. Naturally when I would stop by or help, I was pleased if she would let me have a piece or two of candy or a refreshing soft drink.

So that is food group number two: Sweets. In this category are a nearly endless supply of delicious possibilities, such as Mars bars, Hershey's chocolate bars, M&Ms, chocolate ice cream, honey, and Butterfingers. When I started an after school paper route while living in Oneida, NY, there was a little corner grocery where I would wait for the papers to be delivered and then fold them up and shove them into a canvas bag for carrying. Chocolate bars could be bought there for a nickel. Once I learned that, few were the days I did not buy one to help me "endure" the short wait for the papers. I would savor in my mouth as long as possible each tiny bit. How I did not grow up to be 100 pounds heavier than was good for me, I do not know! It was, to say the least, fortunate that my genes did not naturally turn all this excess into a form of diabetes. A number of my older relatives were not so lucky.

Around our house, vegetarianism was not a word or concept with which we had much familiarity. Nor were lean cuts of meat high on our most wanted lists. Some of my fondest growing up food related memories were of going with Mom and other relatives, such as my grandparents on Dad's side, Papa Frank and Mama Pearl, after church in San Antonio to a favorite fried chicken place for fresh, greasy, hot, big pieces of fried chicken with all the conceivable trimmings. Greasy foods were also in abundance in many other wonderful forms, such as bacon, fried chicken livers, sausages, and fried cheese and butter sandwiches. Please do not think ill of my mom, by the way, for some of these less than ideal culinary childhood experiences of mine. During the same years, most everyone thought smoking was cool, yet many had the good sense to stop that habit once it became obvious that this was not conducive to longevity. My mother - who not incidentally raised eight healthy children - quit most of her early more questionable cooking and restaurant tendencies too, after she was the producer of a nutritionist's weekly TV show and learned from her boss that there might be better ways of doing things. Even Julia Child, still lauded today, was big on grease, butter, and the like.

So that is food group number three: Greasy Foods. Lumped into this category were soups with extra bacon and cheese added, fresh mashed potatoes with the thickest, greasiest hot gravy imaginable in Heaven, fried hamburger and onions hash, chicken fried steak, tablespoonfuls of real, warm butter slathered over hunks of hot bread or ladled onto steaming baked potatoes, TexMex platters with hot tamales, cheese enchiladas, refried beans, guacamole, onions, peppers, and the hottest sauces one could tolerate without severe mouth blistering.

Pies, biscuits, cookies, muffins, French toast, Yuletide fruitcakes steeped in whisky, and the like, help round out my food group favorites. In the Great Depression, my mom was for a time nearly starving, but when a grandfather and step-grandmother made a little room for her in their home, she was taught how to cook. Most every Sunday, there was a big spread.

It would not be complete without some form of my favorite food group number four: Baked Goods. Mom learned then or taught herself later to make the most delicious pecan, pumpkin, cherry, apple, rhubarb, and mincemeat pies, to mention a small sampling. I have enjoyed too her strawberry, blueberry, sweet potato, peach, chocolate, and lemon meringue pies also, not to forget key lime pie, oh my! When the full array of her cakes and cookies are thrown into the mix, plus hot, freshly served with powdered sugar homemade donuts, homemade garlic bread, brownies, dinner plate-sized stacks of pancakes under melted butter and warm molasses, shortcake hot and fresh out of the oven, dripping red with strawberries syrup and the fruit chunks on the side, pineapple upside down cakes, the sweetest, gravy-covered hot dumplings with chicken, or cornbread freshly piping out of the skillet, buttered, and dunked into black-eyed peas heated with bacon, it is easy to see Mom could have gone into business with her homemade cooking and done very well indeed.

My list of food group favorites would hardly be complete, though, without mentioning the wide variety of quickly prepared foods one could eat out, and we did, from pizza, hot dogs, tacos, and donuts, to cheeseburgers, and many more. Thus, my last and number five food group favorite is Restaurant Junk Food. In this category, some of my most preferred are: migas; California club sandwiches (in which think lots of guacamole); the Chick-Fil-A breakfast platter; pakoras; chicken pot pie; shrimp fried rice; and taquitos.

Happily, I do not eat nearly as much nor as often from the above inventory of wonderfully tasty, yet in some ways also yucky foods, as I would like! Thus perhaps, despite my many past sins, I may live on a few more weeks and months and even have the opportunity every once in awhile to further indulge, if with a measure of moderation.

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