I wish I could say that I remember all this vividly, like the nightmare I had as a two year old where our orange cat jumped from the top shelf of my closet and suddenly turned into a lion, trying to pounce onto me in my crib. But I don’t, so this is more or less a story from my mother rather than me.
Experience Number One
When I was three years old, I watched a lot of “Sesame Street.” This was before it turned all crazy, with new characters and the Elmo’s World segment; when Bob and Maria lived there and the letter U attacked Smokey Robinson. And right after “Sesame Street” ended, our public broadcasting system channel immediately followed it with a Cajun cooking show. I don’t know who the chef was (not Emeril) or whether it was a national show or local, but I do know that I watched it religiously. And lest you think I was one of those kids who would just plop down in front of the TV and watch till my parents yanked me away, apparently I was not. (Incidentally I wish this were still the case, but there are these rare occasions when I find myself watching “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” and I just don’t know how it happened). My parents never stepped in and stopped me; instead they let me sit there, contented, watching thirty glorious minutes of non-stop food action.
Experience Number Two
This one I do remember because I was eleven and thankfully I have my wits about me and can recall events that occurred sixteen years ago. My mom and I were in Salt Lake City, having spent one night in a truly hideous hotel, and had been whisked away by a very nice taxi driver who told us to stay at the Inn at Temple Square (no longer in existence). The exact details of the evening are fuzzy, but I think the general layout was as follows: bathtime, room service (how I came to love room service is a whole other story in and of itself), and a show. And perhaps dinner was going to happen after that. We love to eat, what can I say.
So I took one look at the children’s menu options and found myself rather displeased with the generic grilled cheese sandwich/chicken tenders options. I was a grown up, after all, and grown ups don’t eat grilled cheese sandwiches made with plastic cheese. I asked Mom if I could stray and look over the regular menu, and she acquiesced, with the understanding that I not go overboard and order, say, the New York strip. I perused the entire menu thoroughly and decided I would be ordering the fettucine with sundried tomatoes and artichoke hearts in a parmesan cream sauce. Well, my mother was shocked because at that point, eleven year olds weren’t going out of their way to eat sundried tomatoes and certainly not artichoke hearts. (I know, I know, kids these days have far more refined palates so your kids have been eating those ingredients since they were two. It was the 90’s, people.)
It didn’t really matter that I’d never had either sundried tomatoes or artichoke hearts. I decided right then and there that I needed to add them to my repertoire and I’ve generally lived with a “no better time than the present” sort of mentality. It was that evening that I discovered I wasn’t particularly crazy about sundried tomatoes, how their sharp flavor made the back of my mouth, around my molars, ignite (you know what I’m talking about), but I forged a deep and abiding relationship with artichoke hearts — how tangy and tender and flavorful they are.
Experience Number Three
When I turned perhaps twelve, I upgraded from the Kid Cuisine frozen TV dinner to the Hungry Man. It was a substantial enough life event that I wrote about it in my journal. True story.