March 5, 2012

Food Quirks

Foods I classed as acceptable when I was a kid:

Spaghetti without sauce, raw hamburger, cookie dough, cake batter, peanut butter sandwiches (no jelly), red Jell-o (no whipped cream topping), chocolate milk made with Quik, Boston-style brown bread, Boston baked beans, and Boston cream pie. Pineapple juice.

Fried clams at Howard Johnson’s restaurants. Souvlaki at The Torch, a Greek restaurant in the Dallas neighborhood where I grew up. The sugar cubes given to me by the doting waiters at The Torch. Cabrito (kid — as in “baby goat”), first offered to me at a Mexican restaurant in San Antonio when my father explained to the waiter that I was a fussy eater but would eat things that were plain and lightly seasoned.

Also, strangely enough, baked flounder. I think my mother used to bake what were called “filets” of flounder, which my father referred to as “flat flounder.”

“What’s for supper tonight?”

“Mother’s making flat flounder.”

Oh! And those store-bought cookies with a layer of something like a vanilla wafer topped by a pink or white coconut-encrusted marshmallow topping. Kind of like a Hostess Sno-Ball on a plain cookie. My Connecticut grandmother used to buy them as a treat for me — a “smack” (her term for “snack”). There was always a package in the mahogany sideboard when we visited in August. Her maiden name was Stonebridge. Her parents were English. I liked her roast beef and her Yorkshire pudding.


  1. Joel Bernstein on March 5th, 2012 at 2:17 pm

    Pretty much anything from Boston.

  2. Sheila Ryan on March 5th, 2012 at 2:42 pm

    The cabrito and souvlaki were wild cards.

  3. Sheila Ryan on March 5th, 2012 at 2:45 pm

    Oh, I forgot. Le Page’s Paste. In art class at school.

  4. Deron Bauman on March 5th, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    I’m not sure my palate has changed much since childhood. We grew up overseas and ate well and ate well when we returned to the States. I still like bold flavors and spicy food. I do remember requesting ‘normal’ meals when friends came over, but that was out of embarrassment.

  5. Sheila Ryan on March 5th, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    Unacceptable: Dash dog food and Stripe toothpaste.

    One day I saw on the kitchen counter a dab of what I thought was raw hamburger, and I ate it, only to realize it was our Dalmatian’s “Dash” brand of canned dog food. My mother was outside talking with one of the neighbors, and I ran outside, shrieking, “MA-ma! I ate . . . DAAASH!”

    I also recall being so intrigued by ads for Stripe toothpaste that my mother finally caved in and bought it for me. Tried it. Didn’t like. Over-reacted. Stood on the laundry hamper in the bathroom and screamed, “I . . . HATE . . . STRIPE!” Strategically timed for an audience: the mailman.

  6. Sheila Ryan on March 5th, 2012 at 2:58 pm

    Deron, I think I was just a neurotic kid.

    It would seem I went for bland glop. Except when at restaurants. Go figure the souvlaki (lamb marinated in lemon juice and olive oil, I’m thinking, and sparked with oregano and thyme, maybe) and the cabrito (tender young goat, maybe some cumin and cilantro).

    Maybe it was the waiters. Possibly an early attraction toward hot Mediterranean and Latino men.

  7. Deron Bauman on March 5th, 2012 at 3:05 pm

    Or maybe a safety for new things outside the home?

  8. Sheila Ryan on March 5th, 2012 at 3:28 pm

    That could be. Our personal food histories are so intimate, so tied into what who we were and who we became.

  9. Sheila Ryan on March 5th, 2012 at 3:36 pm

    The changes in my food tastes were evolutionary, not abrupt; still, the changes were distinct.

    Come to think, it could be that my mother cooked the bland New England food of her own childhood as a way of establishing a sense of home. (She’d been uprooted and shifted to Texas when my father’s aircraft company moved south after WWII.)

    I know that in the years after my father had died and I had left home, when I went to visit, she made much lighter and more adventurous meals than I recall from childhood.

  10. Sheila Ryan on March 5th, 2012 at 3:47 pm

    (But what was with those HoJo fried clams? I’m still debating those vs. the whole real deal.)

  11. Rick Neece on March 5th, 2012 at 5:18 pm

    Fried clams at Legal Seafood at Reagan National in DC were the exact thing that sent me into a tail-spin (See the phrase as a verb for what actually happened) on a flight back to KC.

  12. Sheila Ryan on March 5th, 2012 at 6:00 pm


  13. Dave Vogt on March 5th, 2012 at 7:35 pm

    is that like #meatspin?