I was a flounder…er

Growing up in the 1960’s and 70’s meant fish on Fridays for many families, especially those who had Roman Catholic roots like my granddaddy’s. Because we grew up in my grandparent’s home, every Friday night was fish night. Every. Friday. For. Years.

Even days were covered, and Fridays were fish stick days in the school lunch world. Not that I don’t totally enjoy a tasty, crunchy, overly processed Gorton’s treat from time to time, but even good things can get boring after a while. When we were lucky, our family went out for dinner on Fridays (I assume to avoid fish sticks for two meals in a row), and we sometimes had supper at the S&S Cafeteria. It was an honest-to-God old-school affair, complete with a huge stack of brown plastic trays, still damp from someone’s efforts to wipe them down.

Just past the mountains of trays was the salad area, a primarily greyish-white wave of lettuce wedges punctuated by the occasional shiny, wobbly, Jello-like square, complete with pineapple, nuts or mystery veggies. (I notice that I can’t seem to bring myself to use the words Jello + salad in the same grouping). Then there were the popular mayonnaise-based ‘salads’ – potato and macaroni versions being the most popular. I, however, had my own favorite pseudo-salad…grated carrots with sugary raisins and mayo. I thought it much healthier than the other non-lettuce options and I could live off of the stuff. I will admit though that I was really disappointed years later when I learned that this delicacy was laughable in the salad world…a sort of embarrassing distant cousin.

Continuing down the long narrow line, you next encountered the rows of steam-tabled veggies. First were the green items (keep movin’…nothin’ to see here), followed by the extensive, oh-so-Southern representation from the carb family. Macaroni and cheese, corn, white rice with gravy, mashed potatoes and candied sweet potatoes were plentiful, and don’t forget the hush-puppies and french fries…also popular ‘veggie’ choices at the old S&S. Those were the days…we were ignorantly on the not-yet-identified diabetic path with a vengeance, and ‘all you can eat’ was the short-cut!

Then we were on to the MEAT! You could choose from the beefy (hamburger steak…really?), chicken (meh) and fishy options. We were supposed to get the fish to appease the Catholic side of the family and, luckily for me, fried shrimp qualified! Shrimp weren’t always available, but it was a happy day for me when they were. Fried flounder with a big side of tartar sauce was my second choice…if you gotta have anything healthy at least slap some breading and (slightly disguised) mayo on it, I say. Funny…I don’t remember any pork being present, but I’m pretty sure it was there in abundance.

Next came the bread, dessert and drink selections. For me, cornbread was a given, and it had enough sugar in it that it probably should have been pushed a foot over into the dessert area. For real dessert I was always torn between strawberry shortcake (featuring somewhat plasticine whipped topping) and a slice of (not too shabby) coconut cream pie, but there were also other options. You could go fruity (not technically a dessert in my world) or choose an alien-like green or blue dish (welcome back to the table, Jello old friend).

I was also pretty predictable in the beverage department. It was, after all, the heyday of good old sweet tea in that part of the world, but the S&S also offered a few others to pick from. If you were really brave, you could even wash down your feast with neon-blue generic Kool-aid. (I have personally never believed that blue foods or beverages were a real choice, but Lynnie was partial to anything that looked even remotely like Windex. She also gravitated toward oddly colored desserts and anything with Jello-like qualities.)

It was a great spread, but I’ll have to say that I was never completely comfortable with the logistics of the cafeteria world. Until I was about 10 I wasn’t even trusted to manage my own tray – I had to rely on my Grandmama’s well-honed tray-wrangling skills as she pushed my plastic platter of goodness along, in front of her own. She did allow me to choose my own food, but often prompted me to ‘hurry up’ when I dilly-dallied too long over my options (“But Grandmama, I swore I saw that carrot salad somewhere!”) She also backed me up when my extreme shyness prevented me from piping up to ask the lady behind the counter if there really were no more fried shrimp left anywhere…maybe in the back?

Sometime before puberty I gained full tray responsibilities…I had arrived! Lynnie, on the other hand, still had to take a back seat for a few more years as Mama guided her tray and, often, her food choices. Had she not, my sweets-loving sister would have ended up with an entire tray of jewel-toned, wobbly items that would, in today’s world, have probably initiated a child protective custody situation. And that doesn’t even take into account the time that some strange man came out of the S&S’s men’s room with my 5-year-old sister in tow. She had apparently wandered in on her own…I’m guessing sugar and red dye #5 were at least partially to blame.

Not sure I'd trust that one...

♪ “Trust the Gorton’s Fisherwoman” ♪

Advertisements

Less of me around

And no, I’m not writing about my recent lack of writing. I’m working on that even as we speak! This time I’m writing about my favorite subject…ME.

I’ve talked before about having been a bigger girl most of my life. By the 5th grade I was 5’1″ and (almost) towered over my 4’11” mama. I already had a womanly shape, complete with boobs and the accompanying embarrassment over needing a bra before the other girls in my grade did. It took me years to understand the power of those curves, as well as to realize that they could betray me if left to their own devices…it’s a sad, sad tale.

By high school I was still shapely, but in a bigger boned sort of way. I still loved my southern food (hello, Banana Puddin’…I wish I knew how to quit you), and I never was one for sports. By the time I got to college and met my new best friend Michelob, I had been introduced to a whole new set of adventures and opportunities for getting even fluffier.

Curves aheadIt turns out that there’s a point for some of us when voluptuousness can take a left turn down a dark road called Chunky Lane… a byway littered with empty SnackWell and Quarter Pounder wrappers, Halloween candy bowls with only the nasty orange-colored marshmallow things left at the bottom, and the occasional half-drunk can of Slimfast. It’s a path that I’ve known intimately my entire life.

In my twenties I stumbled into one of those give us your money and we’ll give you nasty food that will make you skinny companies. I gave them a chunk of change, lost 10 pounds and crashed so badly from a potassium deficiency that the word attorney was actually thrown around (to no avail). Not being one to learn give up that easily, a few years back I tried yet another diet plan that involved plastic (both the food and the payments). I figured, hell, if it’s good enough for Marie Osmond, who am I to judge? Much to my surprise, I was miserable on the plan and couldn’t get past 10 pounds, and the counselor kept looking at me and shaking her head. Let’s just say that Marie wouldn’t have been very happy to see me eating about 10 bags of those teeny tiny cardboard cookies at one sitting!

It’s now been about 8 years since that last foray into $$$ for pounds. I started thinking recently about how my eating might be affecting me and somehow, in spite of myself, I managed to figure out that eating entire bags of ‘baked not fried’ carbs, adding just a little sugar to my morning coffee and hitting the Burger King once or twice a week might actually be a real problem…who knew?! What I did know for sure was that my curves were leaving Chunky Lane in the dust and Butterball Acres was coming up fast on the right. I had to get serious.

As it turns out, it’s not food in general that I have a problem with…it’s sugar. No, I’m not diabetic yet, but that was looming on the horizon, so I cut out all processed sugar, artificial sweeteners and am severely limiting my total carbs (oh bread and taters…you betrayed me!) On my new plan my old pal known as ‘The First 10 Pounds’ came off, just like it always has…but this time was somehow different. Once I got past the I’m definitely going to hurt someone if I don’t have a candy bar phase, things started falling into place for me. I stuck to it and am now hitting the 20 pound mark. I certainly have a long way to go, but I feel so much better that it’s easy to stay focused.

At this point I’m just setting the GPS for straight ahead…and we won’t be stopping at the Krispy Kreme.

 

Larger than life

Growing up, my mama was always a tiny little thing. She grew up to be only 4’11” and when she got pregnant with me in her 18th year, she weighed a whopping 98 pounds. Back then, I guess everyone encouraged pregnant women to EAT…and by God, she took them seriously! There are stories of her eating whole pies, and I guess it didn’t stop there, because she says that she gained somewhere around 70 pounds while carrying me. She lost most of it, of course, but I can’t help but wonder if maybe that 9 months earned me some sort of karmic weight debt…one that I’m still paying off!

I came into this world weighing in at 8 pounds 9 ounces. Mama swears that she slept though the whole thing, but that seems like an awful lot of baby to sleep through to me. I think I look pretty normal-sized in all of my baby pictures, but I do seem to have a somewhat larger than normal head…which leads me to believe that Mama’s birthing-sleep may have been from a big old dose of morphine.Sears0001

My first memories of myself are of being a bit of a ‘big girl’. Most of our clothes came from Sears when my sister and I were little, and I remember getting excited when I moved from the kids department to the ‘Lemon Frog’…their bizarrely named pre-teen department. That turned out to just be a quick pit stop though…from there I skipped right over the juniors department into the grown up parts of the store. Here’s a picture of an 8 year-old me at Sears with Mama…note how excited I look. And how tall I am. And how short she is…and is my noggin huge, or is Mama’s tiny? And what about that stylin’ couple in the back in their fancy 1960’s shopping duds? (This obviously has me all churned up.)

By the sixth grade I was almost the same height I am now, and was one of the tallest girls in my class. Unfortunately, I peaked at 5 feet 3.25 inches (and I cling to that extra quarter of an inch, so don’t go calling me 5’3″). I always thought that an extra couple of inches would have made a world of difference in how all this Tammy I’m carrying around was distributed, but there are some things we just can’t change, no matter how many times we pray to Baby Jesus to please fix it. (Really…I promise I’ll never eat banana pudding again!)

Unfortunately, it didn’t work. If you added up all the time I’ve lived as a thin person…well, you wouldn’t need all of your fingers and toes…not even close. I may never have picked up any extra height, but I have come to grips with my ‘fluffiness’. I figure that, if it doesn’t bother Baby Jesus, I’m ok with it. Let’s just say that if you put a big old bowl of nana’ puddin’ in front of me right now…well, as my sister loves to say, “You stick that hand out there…you’ll pull back a nub!”

Soul food

Some days just require grease.  The craving caught up with me at about 3 pm today, and I couldn’t shake it. The weird thing is that I don’t even really care for fried chicken, but I knew before the day was over I had to visit the colonel (as Mama puts it). Yep, that evil extra crunchy was gonna be mine.  Naturally I had to buy the whole show…mashed potatoes and gravy, cole slaw and baked beans…and a big old biscuit. Once you’ve crossed to the dark side, I figure you might as well do it in style.

I was crunching away on a drumstick (the coleslaw was only a memory at that point) when it hit me. I wasn’t really craving KFC…I was craving the South. I rarely get such a hankering, but when I do it tends to sneak up on me through food. I’ll see sweet potato pie on the menu at the barbecue place I visit from time to time, or someone on tv will mention that the crazy people down south actually eat boiled peanuts, and I’m done. Today I blame the Barefoot Contessa – she made mashed potatoes and it flipped my SFS (Southern Food Switch). Funny thing, since mashed potatoes aren’t even really Southern…but the SFS has a mind of its own, so I won’t pass judgment.

Now, no one in my house growing up ever made homemade mashed potatoes, and the only fried chicken I even remember having there was KFC. We usually had lots of store-bought meals (mmm…fish sticks with canned peas), and even our Thanksgiving dinners always came from the S&S Cafeteria. Mama could bake amazing carrot cake and a few other things, but dinners were not all that memorable. Every once in a while though, my grandmother would make real macaroni and cheese…the gooey, custardy kind that has a crisp top layer of semi-burned cheese (much to the disdain of the person stuck doing the dishes that night). The only runner-up to that wonderfulness would be Grandmama’s (or anyone’s, for that matter) banana pudding (aka Nanna Puddin’). Once I ate it until I got physically sick…I’m not proud of that, but it was a serious addiction that I conquered…um…by moving 3000 miles away from anyone who really knows how to make it.

The food here in Portland is great – I can’t deny that. Fresh caught salmon, hazelnuts, amazing produce and marionberries (beautiful Godzilla-sized blackberries) are everywhere, but you have to look to find some good old grease. My arteries are happier, I guess, but sometimes my soul needs to take a drive, just to make sure the colonel is still there if I need him.