Category Archives: Narrative

Road Trippin: What Are Your Ideal Snacks?

As I started my daily scroll through my G-Reader, I came upon this Blisstree post detailing food bloggers’ favorite healthy road-trip snacks. Really, I should have known better — the headline includes the phrase “No More Doritos,” which is unquestionably blasphemous. (It’s like, WHAT, are you going to take away my Jock Jamz and Gatorade water, too?) Still, being the semi-undiscriminating media consumer that I am, I clicked the link. BAD IDEA, Kate. Effing terrible idea.

The post begins with an irrefutably true statement (“Road trips are awesome.”), then moves into questionable territory: “Gas stations and truck stops offer a plethora of junk food…like you need sugar and salt-laden foods after sitting for hours in the car, yuck.”

Of course gas stations and truck stops offer junk food: DOI! They’re gas stations and truck stops — not, you know, highwayside Whole Foods. I was most certainly not on board with the judgey-mc-judgmental tone of the second part of that statement: “Like you NEED junk food, amirite, ladies?” Because, actually, I do need junk food for a long-ass road trip. Peanut M&Ms have saved my ass on more than one stretch of deserted highway.

Junk food — for me, at least — is emblematic of road trips. In my everyday life, I try to eat a balanced diet. I don’t always succeed, but dammit, I make an effort! Road trips, like trips in general, offer us a chance to break from our normal routines. No, I don’t regularly eat donuts for breakfast; yes, I will buy a breakfast donut if I stop at a Kum-N-Go in the middle of Iowa. Could I opt instead for a Luna bar and a sparkling water? Yeah, but I eat Luna bars most other days. Also, Luna bars sometimes taste like plastic. Also? Donuts are one of nature’s tastiest foods, and I challenge to a duel anyone who disagrees with me!

Some of my favorite road-trip memories are junk-food related. As a whippersnapper, I loved Burger King’s Whopper Junior. Go ahead and judge, readers: I don’t mind. I will take any/all heat for my avowed love of this sandwich (“sandwich”)! Whenever I took a road trip, I’d wait until 11:00 AM to eat, that being the time at which BK started offering lunch-menu items. Sometimes I’d eat in the car. Whenever possible, I’d park myself in the melmac-and-tile dining room of whatever BK I’d happened upon so I could really relish the Whopper Jr. experience.

I have similar feelings about Cheetos. When I was a senior in college, I dated a guy who lived about three two three? hours from Galesburg. Whenever I’d drive to visit him, I’d get a gas-station pumpkin-spice cappuccino and a bag of Cheetos. That particular flavor combination — ultra-sweet, moderately nutmeggy imitation coffee commingled with the distressingly salty Cheetos — brings me back: to Galesburg in September, to the flat stretch of highway between my podunk town and St. Louis, to Woody Allen and inexpensive Merlot and walks around Forest Park. I don’t drink gas-station cappuccino much these days — or ever — but now? I’m curious to see whether the drink would unearth more memories than those I’ve listed here.

Another point Carrie Murphy fails to address is the regional availability of certain foods. Dear readers, I’m sure you’re aware that your favorite food (junk or not) may only be available in certain localities. When my sis lived with me in Northampton, she grew to love this cornbread toasting bread — you know, sandwich bread flavored like cornbread. Guess what? It’s not available in the Midwest. Sis also loves Lays’ Limon chips, which are common in San Francisco and sold via Amazon, but aren’t stocked at her local Hy-Vee. When I studied in Berlin, I yearned for my beloved Cheetos; the nearest available bag was in Scotland.

This is the bread my sis loves so much.

When I visit Minnesota in a few short weeks, I’m going to eat the hell out of foods I can’t readily get here. What’s on my list?

  1. A kiddie-sized Dairy Queen Blizzard
  2. A danish from Uncle Billy’s bakery
  3. A veggie Chicago dog from Coney Island
  4. An orange scone from Panera
  5. Papa John’s Pizza

And so on.

I don’t feel one bit bad about this predicted junk-food binge. Part of a road trip is loosening up, letting one’s hair down, going with the flow, and all that other NorCal jazz. Yeah, I’m going to allow myself to become moderately sunburned! Why, yes, I’ll drink some daytime porchbeers, watch shitty TV, and drive when I can walk! Maple “syrup” made with HFCS instead of sap? Don’t mind if I do!

Food is so much more bound up with our memories — our perceptions of self — than we give it credit for. I was always the kid who got the cookie dough blizzard. I still am.

***
Image sources: [1], [2], [3], [4]

Into the Wild

Almost two years ago to the day, my mom, sister, and I visited Yosemite and San Francisco. I’d just finished my program at UMass and was slated to move to Wisconsin — a move that, as you know, never went through. The three of us thought that this might be our last family trip; now, I’m not sure why we thought that, but the undercurrent of finality affected the trip’s tone, tinting every excursion, every fast-food meal and day hike, with a subtle, unmistakable wistfulness.

Last weekend, my mom, sis, and I replicated that trip with comical precision, with fierce loyalty to the original experience. We followed the same route that we used two years prior, stopping at the same convenience stores for the same snacks (coconut popsicles and lime chips, both of which are difficult to find in Minnesota). Indeed, this particular type of coconut popsicle has become a smirking symbol of our California road trips; my mom and sis, smitten with the soft flavor and the smoothness that only cream can produce, approach every gas station freezer case with anticipation, hoping to find the winning treat.

Lime chips, too, have forever aligned themselves with the dusty drive through farm country. Not the benign green swells of Iowa fields — the farmland of my youth. This land is harsher, sun-bitten. Even the roads, snaking through the hills, seem to shrug off human presence. Rising in elevation, sprouting goosebumps in the chill of air-conditioned air, the three of us shared a bag of Lays Limon, straining to make meaning of the hiss and spit of failing AM radio. We fought carsickness, dehydration. When we arrived, finally, at our condo, we nearly kissed the solid ground.

Our meals this week weren’t extraordinary in terms of innovation. Mostly, we ate picnic fare: thick sandwiches spread with yellow mustard and plain old mayo; local nectarines, purchased from a roadside stand in Oakdale; chips: Limon, salt and vinegar, sweet onion; and strawberry-rhubarb pie. Rather, the meals were extraordinary in their simplicity, their ability to produce a vacation vibe.

Our condo had a propane grill on the balcony, and I appointed myself Trip Grillmaster. (I say appointed, but neither mom nor sis vied for the role — maybe “appoint” is too strong a verb?) Our first evening, we had brats and crudites and fresh sweet corn, sprayed with oil, wrapped in foil, and grilled til the kernels browned. Seasoned with butter and salt, the corn stole the show. So much so that the following day, we made a special trip to the grocery store to get three additional ears (which were three times as costly as those we’d bought in the city). Such are the inconveniences we endured to sate our mad corn craving.

If we’d had a fire pit, I’d have made s’mores like nobody’s business. As it was, I made s’mores — wimpy impostors of the genuine article. How did I make these s’mores? IN THE MICROWAVE. That’s right: microwave s’mores, a trend begun in Massachusetts, when I was craving campfire food but didn’t have the time to drive to Mt. Tom. Disappointingly inauthentic. I didn’t take pictures.

On our last day in the park, we returned to the condo early, wearied by a full day of sightseeing and jockeying for pit toilets. I fired up the grill for barbecue chicken with a side of nectarines, sliced, pitted, and placed face-down to the flames. Mom made a quick salad, and Ali cracked open our watermelon beers. We sat on the couch, eating from ancient Corelle plates. When our beers were gone, we opened new beers. Our last meal truly felt like the end of something — of family vacations? Journeys to Yosemite?

Or maybe I’m muddling things: this might have been a beginning. Where I previously felt adrift, faceless in the throngs of Western European tourists, I now felt solid. In half a day’s time, I’d return to my city, my apartment, my job and friends. If asked, I could recite the bus lines running to each part of the city. I felt no need to cover these visible tattoos. I was on to something.

A Haumelette and a Pint of Sprite.

Reading the title essay of Elizabeth David’s An Omelette and a Glass of Wine has given me space to reconsider my own version of Madame Poulard’s renowned dish. The best omelette I’ve ever eaten — that at the Broadview Restaurant in Galesburg, Illinois — might not even classify as an omelette, by Davis’ definition, but it classifies in my unstringent American book.

It also stands up to the OED’s definition, which designates an omelette as “a dish mainly consisting of eggs whipped up, seasoned, and fried; often varied by the addition of other ingredients, as cheese, apples, parsley, chopped ham, fish, mushrooms, etc.” The first recorded usage of the word was in 1611: a Haumelette was a “Pancake of egges.” The word “omelette” is thought to have derived from a transmutation of the Latin “lamella,” or sword blade — a reference to the dish’s flat shape. So far, so good. The Broadview’s omelette is anything but flat — rather, it is a big ol’ heap of food — but it is a dish consisting of eggs and sundry other ingredients. My musings, then, can proceed as begun.

I was a latecomer to the Joy of the Omelette. For much of my life, I avoided eggs entirely (minus those baked into desserts: those were unavoidable). I remember being grounded, as a four-year-old, when I refused to eat the scrambled eggs I’d been served for breakfast. They were perfect eggs, too, light and pale yellow and scooped into a small, fluffy pile on my red plastic plate. But, to my young self, the texture of eggs was incomprehensibly nasty, just worse than jello and just better than mucous. It took me years to introduce eggs to my diet; even then, I’d only eat them hard-boiled, still warm, and lightly salted.

Then college happened. My food tastes diversified multifold. Suddenly, I was eating things I’d never have deigned to try: polenta, feta, raw baby spinach — even eggs! Eggs were still a tricky subject; in addition to eating them hard-boiled, I now ate them in the form of a Breakfast Bagel. (Note: The Breakfast Bagel was a sandwich served at the Gizmo, my college’s student union restaurant. The BB consisted of a white bagel, toasted, that sandwiched a fried egg topped with American cheese. Two slices of bacon or a sausage patty (or both) could be added to the BB for an additional charge.)

Breakfast Bagels were critical in my slow acceptance of eggs as a Good and Necessary Food. I enjoyed my bagels with pepper and dipped in ketchup — gross, I know, but this was Western Illinois. I now counted two preparations of eggs as edible; I no longer feared the errant runny yolk.

I wish I could tell you that my transition to omelets was swift and sexy, that the Breakfast Bagel was a gateway drug that worked its wonders stat(!), but that wasn’t the case. Not until the midpoint of my senior year did I sample my first omelette.

(From top: Stef at the Broadview, 2006; Me, Queeney, Rebecca, and Stef, 2005; winter in Western Illinois.)

I wish too that I could recall with perfect clarity the events preceding and following Initial Omelet Consumption, but my memory, like the food itself, is muddled. What I do know: it was infinitely late at night (the Broadview, for those not in the know, was a popular post-party destination). I was with friends, one of whom convinced me to try a Denver omelet. Thus, it began. Bleary-eyed and wobbly, smashed in a vinyl booth with five of my pals, I gave eggs another chance.

Clearly, I’m glad I did. Omelets have become one of my all-time favorite foods — and for good reason. They’re highly customizable (bacon, cheddar, and broccoli? YES PLEASE), high in protein, and good for any meal of the day. As I learned several years after my first taste, they’re also pretty easy to make at home. In college, though, and for most of grad school, omelets were strictly diner food, best enjoyed in the company of the hungover in a joint with jukeboxes on each table.

Even in this city, I have yet to find an omelet that stacks up to the Broadview’s. This declaration is fueled, in part, by nostalgia: that much is true. But it’s also rooted in reality — I can’t name my favorite SF omelet joint because I don’t have one. Squat and Gobble’s product is hopelessly average; Bar Tartine’s (the one time I had it) was offensively underdone. What’s a girl to do but dream of the good old days, the days when the only toast options were white or wheat, when the jam wasn’t local/organic/handmade, but rather came in miniature plastic packets stacked on each table? Until I find my SF Broadview, dreaming will sustain me.

Upping my Competence

I realize that this link is hopelessly outdated in internet years, but I wanted to share this quickie from The Hairpin about how to make your own Muesli. After reading this, don’t you just want to make a bigass bowl of Muesli? Don’t you love the idea of adding a cup of shredded coconut to something? Do you even eat Muesli?

I don’t. I mean, I have, but it’s not something I routinely eat. Buuuuuut, as is the case with most comestibles, Muesli plays a small but critical role in my food history.

Late in my senior year of college, I decided to “get healthier.” I’d had a rocky year: I’d suffered a massive, drunk-inducing breakup; I’d undertaken a senior honors project, which sucked up endless time; and I’d had a falling out with my roommies — a fight that culminated in my moving out two months before graduation (yowch).

Needless to say, my eating habits throughout this stretch were deplorable. I subsisted on sugar cereal, Blue Moon, taffy, and sleeves of chocolate donettes purchased from the corner store, which was, conveniently, a block from  my new residence. Not surprisingly, I finally had to grapple with the [post]-Freshman 15. (Again, yowch.)

At this point in my life, “getting healthier” was a daunting chore. I smoked, and I mean really smoked; at my worst, I went through more than a pack a day. I drank. I was on the college meal plan, so I had unlimited access to highly processed carbs. And, aside from the walking I did, I avoided exercise. Where, then, did I start with my “Fit Back Into My Jeans Plan?”

With breakfast. Breakfast was the smallest and first step. Changing my morning eating habits seemed like the gentlest possible way to ease myself into a new, brutally austere, Danish-free existence.

I remember driving to Hy-Vee and vowing only to purchase “healthy” foods. Gone were the days of semi-instant cinnamon roles, of Red Baron frozen pizzas eaten during Law & Order marathons! I walked longingly through the aisle of chips and dips — Tostitos, my old friends, mourned my rebuffs — and filled my basket with Splenda-sweetened yogurts.

In the cereal aisle, I turned a blind eye to Lucky Charms (no small feat for this mallow-lover). Instead, I chose the healthiest cereal I could find: Muesli. “This will get me on track,” I remember thinking. Muesli and yogurt: that was what the track girls ate, right?

For the next few weeks, I began my days with breakfasts of Muesli and skim milk, eaten from a Spanish-patterned mug I got for a quarter at the Goodwill. Between bouts of thesis writing, I’d go to the school’s new fitness center and lounge on an elliptical for half an hour, puzzling at the Resident Overexerciser, who was at the gym whenever I was. Evenings, when I’d maxed out on writing, I’d lay in my lofted bed, sipping a cool beer, listening to the traffic. Beer, somehow, was on the diet plan.

Weeks before graduation, a massive thunderstorm flooded the street in front of my dorm. Intuitively, I rolled my pants, donned flip-flops, and headed out into the tapering drizzle. A few other people had the same idea, and together we waded barefoot into the pool that spanned South Street. When I think of that storm, I think of my minifridge, the acid-washed Diesel jeans I loved to death, a certain dude, and Muesli.

What a strange time in my life; never before or since have I spent so much time alone — never have I needed to. Muesli has become a food to be eaten in solitude, from a mug, with a modest pour of milk.

Saturday morning, I made Muesli following the directions in the article. I’d bought a bag of Bob’s oats, mixed nuts, and dried mango; I had on hand raisins and shredded coconut. Beyond the recommended ingredients, I added Ceylon cinnamon and finely chopped chocolate (just a little bit!). Immediately after mixing it, I tried my homemade Muesli, and I like it. I really like it. Store-bought Muesli tastes like paper, but this tastes like real-ass cereal.

Reentering the realm of Muesli is a strange step for me to take, especially now, five years after I graduated from college. My extremely narrow experience with the food has linked it inextricably and precisely to a three-month span in my life — not an altogether pleasant span. Dipping into the Muesli mug — and discovering that I do indeed like the cereal — is bittersweet, signifying the departure from who I was half a decade ago, emphasizing the ways in which my tastes have since changed.

Reincorporating nostalgic foods into one’s diet brings the attendant danger of redefining the significance of those foods; the fear of overwriting food memories has prevented me, on several occasions, from eating or drinking certain things. This is faulty logic, I realize: no food should act as a tomb. Some foods can’t transcend their nostalgic meanings, no matter how sharply they reinvent themselves, and Muesli is one such food. The Muesli I made this weekend bears little resemblance to the pulpy junk I ate senior year, which is a relic of a bygone era. Then again, all foods — even a food’s better selves — can become relics.

It’s Not Junk if It’s Homemade, Part 2

For most of us, summer fast approacheth. (The notable exception is San Francisco, where it’s summer all the time — or none of the time.) When I lived in a place that had seasons, I loved the activities that summer ushered in: sitting on the porch and mitigating the heat with a sixer of PBR. Purposely underapplying sunscreen and browning my bare arms. Rollerblading for hours and not giving a shit about the anachronistic nature of my workout.

Paramount to these were the trips to one of two Dairy Queen locations, each ramshackle in a charming and particular way. The Northdale Boulevard store was frequented by the skaters who practiced their skillz in the parking lots of the library (now defunct) and the Cousin’s Subs (also defunct), by families, and by sad, sweatpants-clad suburbanites who dove into their Peanut Buster Parfaits as soon as they reentered their Windstars.

The CR Boulevard shop, situated in a distinctly commercial zone, transmitted a weird vibe of early-1980s innocence/optimism. Crossing the threshold (red tile with black grout), sprouting goosebumps in the blast of the A/C, you just feel like you’re stepping into 1983. This vibe is difficult to explain, not least of all because I wasn’t even alive in 1983(!), but bear with me.

As I’ve ascertained, the decidedly 80s feel of the CR Boulevard DQ location owes to two factors: its situation in an area that was developed during the 1980s (and consequently represents that decade in purpose, design, and aura), and my nostalgia for that DQ (which always conjures 80s images). The first factor is easy enough to understand: because Coon Rapids Boulevard underwent major development during the late 1970s and early 1980s, the buildings (and landscaping, and general urban layout) are representative of that time.  The DQ is shaped like a barn: a big white barn with a red roof. What’s more Reagan-era than that?

The second factor is a bit trickier to pin down. I didn’t come of age in the 80s (and, in fact, remember little of the decade), so I have no obvious reason to romanticize the period. No obvious reason, but the fact remains that I feel more fondly toward the Zeitgeist of ’83 than that of a decade later. Maybe I’m jealous of people born in the late 70s: people whose parents played 8-tracks (not cassettes), who watched Electric Company instead of Sesame Street. Whose elementary school years were blissfully void of Pogs.

These days, the workers at the CRBlvd DQ do not wear red short-shorts with white piping; they do not sport tube socks or feathered hair. Hell, they don’t even have frosted tips/puca shells. They’re clad in whatever 17-year-olds wear these days (and how out of touch am I that I don’t know what that is? I mean, jeans? Are teenagers still wearing jeans, or have they all crossed over to Leggingsland?). Chronological signifiers don’t make a difference, though, because that dining room is a portal to the past.That, friends, was a terribly circuitous way to relate my ice-cream nostalgia. See, certain types of ice cream — specific brands, flavor profiles, and dining environments — produce a nostalgia so strong it’s almost visceral. My gut lurches and I feel 16 again: young but feeling old, wracked with the attendant anxieties and joys. Or 18: still young, feeling falsely wise, and consumed by feelingz for The Dude of the Moment. Ice cream captures the intensity of those post-adolescent emotions, so seemingly significant and now so quaint!

The s’mores ice cream I made two weekends ago brought me back to my first trip to Kastle Kreme, which I took — eight years ago — with Hook. Eight years: that is almost a decade, folks. Still, the memory of that trip — riding through the green hills in Fuerte, the dawdle at the abandoned drive-in, my post-ice cream collecting of railroad spikes — is enough to make me wish I were eighteen again, that I could sit at a poured-concrete table (itself on a concrete slab of a patio), eating a Kastle Kreme blizzard and listening to the trains.

Kastle Kreme’s blizzard equivalent is more dessert than I can handle, really. It’s a styrofoam cupful of full fat ice cream, blended with cookie dough and chocolate syrup. The concoction is so thick that, until it melts into a sugar puddle, it holds a plastic spoon upright. I’ve never come close to finishing one of KK’s behemoth blizzard, but that never stops me from ordering them. Sadly, the next time I’ll be in G-burg (homecoming), Kastle Kreme will be closed for the season. But, if you’ve paid any attention to my ramblings, you know that Galesburg is home to lots of other memory-suffused eateries, and my nostalgia hankering won’t go unattended to.

***

To make your own s’mores ice cream, follow the Cuisinart recipe for basic ice cream (I omitted the vanilla), and make a few strategic additions. Cuisinart has a recipe for s’mores ice cream, but I like mine better. (Aside: I’m all about the mini marshmallows instead of Mallow Fluff — frozen marshmallows are boss.)

When you’ve prepared your basic ice cream and the freezing process is almost complete, add about 1/3 bag mini marshmallows, one half of a Ghirardelli chocolate bar (coarsely chopped), and six graham crackers (crumbled). Initially, I’d prepared more mix-ins than what I’ve just described, and I ended up with leftovers. Which is fine: extra chocolate crumbles are never a problem, amirite?

After it’s made, the ice cream will be a bit smooshy, but don’t let that deter you from sampling! (Not that a minor textural issue would deter you from tasting the sweet fruit of your labor.) A few hours in the freezer will further solidify your ice cream, giving it the texture of store-bought varieties. But don’t be fooled: homemade ice cream could shank any mass-produced variety! Ah, yes: homemade ice cream is a pleasant reminder of the wonders of full-fat dairy. If there’s one thing we need to bring back, it’s heavy cream. Don’t believe me? You will after you eat this ice cream.

Have any suggestions for ice cream flavors? Send ’em my way, and I’ll whip up a test batch.

Late-Night Baking: Irish Soda Bread

David Lebovitz’s recent post about Irish Soda Bread gave me reason to reflect on my own history with the food. I used to be — and still am — a soda bread fiend. This fiendishness was an accidental development. I didn’t grow up eating the bread, and it certainly wasn’t a sought-after starch in my neck of the woods (that neck being suburban Minnesota). I didn’t even know what it was until I bought this book — Time Life’s Foods of the World: The Cooking of the British Isles — at a garage sale, where I’d hoped instead to find stackable plastic bracelets and maybe a ceramic dog.

Time Life's "Cooking of the British Isles," the book that brought soda bread into my life.

The book set me back a mere $.75 — a way better deal than any of the tchotchkes available — and provided hours of browsing pleasure. At the time, I wasn’t a fan of big, bloody hunks of meat: the only recipes that interested me were those for baked things. Of those recipes, the only one I tried was soda bread. I’m not sure now how I settled on soda bread as my target project, but I suspect its relative ease was a key factor in my decision.

For three-odd months during my sixteenth year, soda bread reigned supreme. I baked loaves and loaves of it, foisting it on my family and facing their steady rebuffs. I ate it for breakfast, spread with lemon curd or slathered with a thick coat of butter, itself just darker than the bread. I brought foil-wrapped slices in my lunchbox. I loved it more than anything until one day, I moved on. This was through no fault of the bread’s, mind you. You know how fickle teen girls are.

I’d largely forgotten about soda bread until a few days ago, and then I was seized by the urge to bake a loaf. Never mind that it was late in the evening, that the bread’s baking time tops an hour and that I don’t have my copy of Cooking of the British Isles with me in San Francisco. I’d be damned if I let any of these things stop me! I searched online, found a decent-looking recipe*, and began.

Hook doesn't have a microwave and so when I need melted butter, I melt it in the old-school way. Here, then, is my obligatory "butter on the stove" photo.

I used Karin Christian’s recipe, posted on Allrecipes.com. It is as follows:

Ingredients

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Grease a 9×5 inch loaf pan.
  2. Combine flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and baking soda. Blend egg and buttermilk together, and add all at once to the flour mixture. Mix just until moistened. Stir in butter. Pour into prepared pan.
  3. Bake for 65 to 70 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the bread comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. Wrap in foil for several hours, or overnight, for best flavor.

I made no modifications to the ingredients list, though I used a greased pizza pan instead of a loaf pan. (Note: Back in my soda bread glory days, I always formed the dough into a rough boule and baked it on this selfsame pizza pan. Also, I don’t have a loaf pan (shame!) and didn’t feel like buying one at this very juncture. I will, soon, though: promise.) As Lebovitz notes, this is the ultimate quickbread — prepwise, at least. Hook was astonished by the speed with which I mixed the dough, formed it, and popped it into my preheated oven. Then began the waiting game. I sipped a beer, watched an episode of “Bored to Death,” sipped more of the slowly-warming beer, watched an episode of “Eastbound and Down,” thought about opening another beer but decided against it. Though the dough is quick to mix, the bread has to bake for at least an hour and cool for a bit after that. I’m good at biding my time, but I couldn’t stop myself from tearing off a hunk of bread before it was cool.

The finished loaf. I've been eating the bread all week, with and without jam.

Compared to the soda bread of my youth, this loaf was less dense, more buttery, and with a more open crumb. The loaves I’d gotten used to were brick-thick, almost white, and heavy as a bowling ball; this one was more like a giant buttermilk biscuit, faintly golden and flaky, still heavy for its size. In short, I loved it. I cut myself another slice and packed up the rest. I wanted to have some left for breakfast, after all.

For now, I’ll use this recipe for all my soda bread needs (and those needs are many), but I’ve placed an Amazon order for Cooking of the British Isles. It would feel uneasy to abandon my keystone recipe for one that I happened upon online; I’d like to revisit the book that introduced me to this glorious bread, that brought about this craving in the first place. For now, I’ll content myself with the remainders of this loaf until the mailman delivers my Time Life goodness.

***

*Based on 573 reviews, the recipe received a rating of 4.5 out of five stars. That, and it was easier than some of the others I found.

Childhood Redux: Oops! All Berries, Part One

On Thanksgiving of last year, I became blisteringly sick. I was well enough on the holiday proper to prepare (with Hook!) a turkey, dressing, two relishes, and two pies, but I crashed so hard after dinner ended and the Chinet tableware was swept into awaiting trash bags. I spent the next four days on Hook’s couch, doing little else but sipping diet ginger ale, checking facebook, and adjusting the layers of blanket enwrapping me. Bravo became my constant companion. I may or may not have started a brief stint playing “Cafe World.”  On day three of my terrible illness, Hook asked if he could make me popcorn. When I declined his offer, Hook knew that I was seriously ill.*

Sad but true: for three days, I took part in this Zynga phenomenon.

Near the end of this weekend of woe, my hunger returned full-force. Still feverish, I walked to the grocery store and wandered the aisles, glassy-eyed with awe of all the choices. Udon noodles! Rice milk! Oreos! Veal! How would I decide what to make for dinner? (Note: I did not make Oreos and veal.)

I craved only two things: salami and Cap’n Crunch’s “Oops! All Berries” cereal. The former was easy to find. The latter was a boondoggle. Despair struck in the cereal aisle of Lucky Market.  I first thought that perhaps I was overlooking the cereal; it had, after all, been years since I purchased it. But there beside the regular Cap’n and the Peanut Butter Crunch was a void — a figurative one, but its metaphoric quality made it no less real to this hungry, cranky, mucous-laden waif.

The cereal in all of its tri-colored glory.

I settled for regular Cap’n Crunch. “Settle” is not a euphemism. Who actually likes those little beige pillows of grain? Bring on the berries! In a pinch, the original variety of Crunch sated my hunger. I picked around the pillows and ate all the Crunchberries, and then the uneaten cereal sat on top of Hook’s fridge for the next four months until finally, acknowledging that I was never going to finish the box, I threw the leftovers out.

In a way, I’m surprised that my love of Oops! All Berries had a chance to take root; as I’ve mentioned, “sugar cereals” (as they were classified) were semi-forbidden in my home. Somehow, Oops! slipped beneath my parents’ radar — on occasion, at least. Ali and I used to sit in the dining room on Saturday mornings, pouring ourselves massive bowls of the tri-colored berries and watching reruns of “The Hurricanes,” a cartoon show about a soccer team. If it happened that we woke up later in the morning (i.e., after 8:00 AM), we’d spy on our neighbors from the Bay windows in our dining room, critiquing which pajamas they wore to pick up their newspapers from the paper boxes, their unbrushed hair.

Oh, how Ali and I loved SJR. And how can you not love those specs?

Oops! All Berries wasn’t just a breakfast food. Ali and I would often eat the cereal as a pre-dinner snack. I’d fill a clear glass ramekin and, with sys, make myself comfortable on the floorspace in front of the TV, where we’d watch Geraldo and Sally Jesse and Ricki Lake until one of my parents came home and asked us to turn the trashy TV off, please.

Yes, Ali and I loved our Oops! All Berries. The cereal represented not only a permissible entry into a world of banned foods, but the best kind of sibling solidarity: the kind formed through dozens of hours of talk-show viewing, gossipmongering, and just plain hanging out. In time, Oops! All Berries became a tangible symbol for Ali’s and my indestructible sibling bond.

***

In August of this year, Ali came to visit and brought a literal suitcase of souvenirs for Hook and me. (Note: Ali is the most generous sibling of all time. You all should be jealous!) Among these was a bag of strawberry-flavored Kellogg’s MiXit cereal, suspiciously similar in appearance to Oops! All Berries.

MiXit: the new Oops! All Berries?

“Try it,” Ali raved. “They’re just like Crunchberries, I swear.”

Months later, I heeded my sister’s advice. (Note: despite the passage of months between my receipt of the cereal and my actual tasting of the cereal, the product remained fresh. I’d kept the bag sealed, y’all!) I gingerly opened the foil baggie of pink puffs. The cereal looked and smelled indistinguishable from Oops! All Berries. I nibbled one puff, then another. Even the Crunchberries’ kibble-like density was perfectly reproduced in these faux-strawberry flavored orbs. At long last, I had an approximation of my beloved childhood treat! Once again, I filled a clear glass ramekin almost to the spilling point. I settled myself in my Mission chair, cracked open a beer, and crunched.

Interior shot of the MiXit bag. If this caption didn't identify the variety of cereal, you might think these were Crunchberries.

***

Since my initial drafting of this piece, I’ve learned that Quaker has reintroduced Oops! All Berries to the US market. Whaaaaaaat? Don’t believe me? The information is here. To date, I’ve checked the cereal aisles at two stores near me; neither carries Oops! Don’t worry: I’ve contacted “Cap’n Crunch” (via the “Contact Us” feature) for assistance in locating a retailer near me who carries the product. Fingers crossed, I’ll have my hands on a box of berries in a week or two.

***

* Popcorn — homemade popcorn with lots of salt — is one of my Top Five All-Time Favorite Foods. I’ll never turn down an offer of popcorn — unless I’m deathly ill, as this example shows.