Sunday, August 24, 2008

this post contains little msg and is a good source of lycopene

it's sunday again, and during my current 10-hour stint at the radio station, i've got three major projects to tackle, but the junk food i grabbed on the way in from a restaurant i won't name, except to say that they looked at me really funny when i asked for a paper crown*, has left me feeling bloated and a bit sluggish.

obviously, i'm in no condition to tackle anything serious, like scribbling on avon brochures or pondering the meaning of life.

so, instead you're stuck with ruminations on food and frugality.

as i waited for my meal this afternoon, i camped out by the soda fountain (which, sadly, lacked cherry coke. what is this world coming to?), and made friends with the napkin dispenser. as i grabbed enough napkins for a small third world nation, i found myself reminded of my family's weekly dinners out during our time in baltimore.

you read that right- we ate out roughly weekly. i assume that was the norm back in the 80s, whereas nowadays it seems rare for a family to actually eat at home five or six nights a week. homecooked meals rarely start from scratch, and 9 times out of 10, if you see a family eating together at the table and having an actual conversation, it's because you're sitting in the theater (or your living room, with tv trays), watching a movie.

but i digress....

anyway, our meals out centered around a few restaurants, and only now do i realize why.

surely, in my last 3 1/2 years of blogging, i've mentioned before that i don't come from money. i mean, we weren't living in a mud hut or out of our car or anything like that, but we certainly weren't rich, either. i clearly recall asking my parents how much money my dad made (mama stayed home with us until my sister was in kindergarten or first grade, then worked part time as a substitute teacher before going back to grad school), and being told that he made $32,000 a year. it seemed like a lot of money at the time.

heck, it may have been a lot of money at the time- back when gas was around a buck a gallon and you could still make a call from a pay phone for only 25 cents.

comparatively, between all of my jobs, i think i cleared somewhere around $30,000 last year, and i think if i had even one other person depending upon me, we might well have to check into whether or not bob vila offers any free tips on DIY mud hut construction.**

anyway, in the blissful ignorance of youth, i hadn't caught on to the little ways we stretched the money we had, including our weekly "eating out".

a couple of the restaurants we frequented were actually "sit down" establishments. our favorite chinese restaurant (the "double dragon", where we used to rub the buddha belly on our way to the table) offered those little crispy noodles on every table. we'd dip them into sweet and sour sauce while waiting for whichever entrees mama and daddy had ordered to split amongst the four of us. sibling and i usually got the free ice cream at the end of the meal (to this day, i find mint chocolate chip hard to resist), and we'd each get a mint on the way out. when we were roughly middle-school age (i went to middle school in baltimore; my sibling did not), we also stuck a couple of sugar packets in each of our pockets, because sibling and i figured we could use them to refill the sugar bowl at home.

come to think of it, whether we ate chinese, italian, or mexican, if we were at a sit-down restaurant, we filled up on the freebies (crispy noodles/breadsticks/chips and salsa), and then split two entrees between the four of us.

fast food was a slightly different beast. generally, we each had our own entrees, but a large drink was always ordered, and three straws were stuffed into the plastic lid on the cup. (sibling and i didn't share, but mama and daddy were still on decent enough terms that they did....though that may be because trying to fit four straws into the opening would've been kind of like trying to fit a sumo wrestler into a wetsuit.) leftover ketchup packets were taken home, as well as spare napkins...hence my little flashback this afternoon.

we were in baltimore for a few years before a subway franchise moved in at the bottom of our hill and was added to our dining repertoire. i no longer remember what sort of subs we ordered, but we always split a footlong between the four of us.

remember chicken littles?

on occasion, sibling and i would pile into the car and daddy would drive us across the pennsylvania border to this huge playground (think swings, slides, and not one, not two, but three of those merry-go round things that i can no longer ride without winding up a little queasy), where sibling and i would wear ourselves out running between pieces of equipment. on the way to the playground, we'd stop and grab fast food to take with us to the park. before the days of chicken littles, i conned daddy into splurging on a mc dlt for me, and life was good.

life got better when chicken littles came on the scene. at 39 cents each, i was allowed to get more than one. plus, since kfc offered little packets of lemon juice, my usual water could be turned into lemonade!

(to this day, that "eureka!" moment still ranks just below the day i realized why a fast food joint specializing in roast beef would plausibly be named "arby's")

i don't know that my ice water/lemon juice/sugar concoctions ever had the proper ratio of lemon to sugar and water, but perhaps that's why i still prefer my water with a little lemon to this day.

given my more advanced cooking skills, i could probably get the balance right were i to give it a shot, but although i still grab an extra napkin or two when i pick up my food, and i know for a fact that i have three packets of hot sauce in my backpack (because you never know when you might come upon a half-naked taco), i haven't had a pocketful of sugar in years- probably around the last time i walked out of burger king wearing a paper crown.

*and no, they didn't look at me funny because i was standing in taco bell. i was actually in a restaurant known for giving kids such "royal" treatment. unfortunately, either they've ceased such practices, or the folks working there this afternoon mistook me for an adult.

**i'd suggest an igloo, as my sibling and i have experience in that field, due to the tendency for mother nature to dump a heaping helping of snow upon baltimore's suburbs in the middle of winter. however, if you count only our successful attempts resulting in structurally sound snow dwellings, then we have nothing to brag about.


Ren said...

Gas for a buck! Those were the days. You could also get a "two-hand shovelpass" in downtown DC for ten bucks. If only inflation had not caught up!

Larry said...

he-heee! you said half-naked taco.

Motherdear said...

Duff, what a sweet reminiscence...I was so moved, your childhood sounded much like mine! Our dining out was limited to twice a month or so, and included a very reasonable Chinese restaurant, a local diner (in one of those adorable railroad cars!), and Burger Chef. We predated Burger King and McDonald's in the Northeast...) Anyway, we did each get a full meal to ourselves, but were expected to eat half of it and doggie-bag the rest home for the next day. And it was such a treat to do that, like extending our 'evening out' and making it more enjoyable because I didn't have to cook dinner the next night!

No wonder you're so skinny, lovekin! You're used to eating half-rations since your youth!!!

Miss you!