I recently journeyed back to my childhood home to visit my mom. She asked me to help with some random chores around the house; in return, I asked her to make me a Real Farm Dinner. I wanted something nostalgic, something that would really evoke the true meaning of “Home.” It took me only a few seconds to decide what to request: roast beef sandwiches with mashed potatoes and roasted carrots, all smothered in homemade gravy.
(Sidenote: It was fucking delicious, you guys. Even if we did eat at 4:30 p.m. because my mom is a weirdo senior citizen and goes to bed at 8.)
The meal got me thinking: in my mind, every family member or friend is inextricably linked to a particular food. A strange mental filing system, to be sure, but it helps me lock in great meals or experiences or parties I never want to forget.
My dad is goulash. Before Kindergarten, I stayed home with him all day and, not being a great cook, goulash was his simple go-to lunch.
My brother is tuna noodle casserole. I have a crystal clear mental image of 15-year-old him sitting at the dining room table long after the rest of us had finished, studiously picking out peas and diced onions one by one by one, wielding his fork like a surgeon’s scalpel. I think he was my inspiration to be so strong-willed: they can put onions in this casserole, but they can’t make me eat them.
Adam is oysters. Neither he nor I particularly like oysters, but we order them on special occasions, when we want to feel rich and grown up. On our fifth wedding anniversary, Adam surprised me with a steak dinner, compete with bottle of Dom Perignon. Thinking we were big-timers, the maitre d brought us a complimentary platter of fresh oysters to enjoy with the champagne. We slurped them up with shit-eating grins on our 27-year-old faces. I remember thinking, So this is marriage, huh? Not bad. It was an absolutely perfect evening.
My friend Amy is appetizers and wine at the Houlihan’s in her neighborhood. We don’t go there all that often (3 or 4 times a year, maybe?) but the ”Amy” flashcard in my head is a picture of her in a Houlihan’s booth, lit from above by a dim pendant lamp, a two-for-one wine special in front of her and a plate of half-price apps between us, getting tipsy and gabbing about God Knows What. We always stay later than we intend. It’s incredibly comforting.
My friend Nathan is Chinese food from our favorite hometown restaurant. We went there every chance we got during high school (when we had the money, that is). He and I lost touch for a while during college but one summer weekend, we met back in our hometown. We ate at that restaurant, reminisced and re-introduced ourselves to each other. I never wanted that night to end.
And so on and so forth–you get the idea.
Do other people do this, too? Is it normal to mentally associate your loved ones with specific foods or drinks?
Or–grab your shovel ’cause it’s about to get thick in here– is this how my brain processes the fact that just as food nourishes and comforts me, so too can my friends and family? Maybe it’s not Chinese food or oysters I hunger for… maybe my appetite is actually for love, acceptance and security, even though I have a hard time directly asking for it?
Or maybe I’m just really obsessed with food.