We’re one, but we’re not the same. Sometimes during Takeout meetings, we ask everyone to share a personal detail that their colleagues might not know about. Through this exercise we learn that one of us attended poetry camp in high school, another was a Little League baseball umpire, and one of us is living under a pseudonym and currently on the lam from the Feds. It’s a fun icebreaker!
One such recent discussion centered around bizarre family food habits growing up. These might be weird food combinations, old wives’ tales we choose not to correct, or dinner-table behaviors that would otherwise be considered uncouth. In the spirit of opening up, we share these confessions with you.
Growing up, we all have things that our families did that seemed normal at the time but seem strange in retrospect. My family used to let our dog lick dirty plates and silverware while the dishwasher door was open. I guess the theory was that the hot water in the dishwasher cycle would then eliminate any dreaded dog germs? Also that our dog, a lovely beagle mutt named Muffin, absolutely ruled our household. I didn’t realize how strange this habit was until a friend came over for dinner, noticed the dog licking the plates, and realized that she had likely just eaten off of a once-dog-licked plate. It did not go over well.
There were also the obvious things in the fridge that should not be in the fridge, like large jugs of Gallo red. I was in college before I realized that a) red wine does not belong in the fridge and b) red wine could actually taste good. When my persnickety grandmother came to dinner, demanding a white zinfandel, my father would slyly mix the Gallo red with some Gallo white, until my grandmother’s desired pink shade was achieved. I was not in college, but definitely high school, when I realized that open alcohol in the car was against the law, as my dad always kept a cooler of Miller Lite Cans at the ready in the back seat.
Kate, it sounds like your family members were also big fans of refrigeration? [Gwen Ihnat]
In the Bernot house, we refrigerated peanut butter. Not the all-natural kind or a homemade version that required special handling, no—the creamy, regular Skippy. We were also, during my childhood, a Wonder Bread household, and the combination of the two haunted my sandwich making: I’d try to spread the nearly solidified peanut butter on the soft-as-air bread, which would subsequently gum up into tiny, frustrating balls. For the record, the National Peanut Board says an open jar of peanut butter will stay good in a pantry for 3 months. [Kate Bernot]
One of my earliest food memories involved a 10-pound country ham my father inexplicably kept in the freezer (the amount of salt in that ham would survive a Panamanian summer). It reminded him of the ham he consumed growing up in Hong Kong, which he would get shipped from Yunnan, the Chinese province where exceptional cured hams were born. Eating ham wasn’t the strange part, it was that he would add ham on goddamn everything. He would always remove the frozen ham from its cloth mesh packaging, peel back the plastic wrap, then shave a few slices and add to instant ramen—as if there’s not enough sodium in that bowl. He would add ham onto stir-fried Chinese broccoli, ham in clear broth, ham in clay pot rice. The man treated ham the way many people treated salt: an obligatory seasoning you reflexively added to dishes. That mania for ham (maybe it’s not weird, more obsessed?) was passed onto me, and I too would unwrap that frozen ham and added to sandwiches, mac-n-cheese, country ham on my ham sandwiches, or most often, in a cube I’d chew like gum. One time I took a chef’s knife and attempted to carve out a block, when that knife slipped and entered through the nail of my left thumb and deep into the flesh. Blood poured out. The first thing I did was wrap my thumb with a kitchen towel, which quickly soaked through. The second thing I did was cut out the section where blood-met-ham, because nothing instilled more fear in a boy than a father ham-scorned. [Kevin Pang]