Many of the memories I have about growing up involve some form of food. Our lives seemed to revolve around meal times. Breakfast was always the meal we planned for the least — especially on school mornings. It had to be quick and simple and capable of being wolfed down in a couple of bites before walking out of the door. Cereal was always a staple — as long as it was with whole milk.
Back then, labels indicating the percentages of nutrients in our food weren’t on the boxes and cans. We knew nothing about how much sugar was in our cereal, but always felt compelled to add a couple of teaspoons more for good measure. Some of my favorites that come to mind are Captain Crunch, Fruit Loops and Lucky Charms — but any cereal that didn’t have a visible form of bran in it would suffice.
My favorite part of a bowl of cereal was the tiny bit of milk at the bottom with the grainy sugar that had successfully bypassed the pieces of cereal. Sometimes the spoon couldn’t retrieve the last little bit so the bowl was placed directly to our lips and tipped at the appropriate angle to allow the rest to dribble directly into our mouths. It was like a boost of glucose to start our day.
If we tired of cereal, we reached for a box of Pop Tarts. They could be flipped into a toaster at the same time we were grabbing our book bags. We knew exactly how many minutes we had to catch them when they were propelled out of the toaster. Before we could take a bite, a pat of butter was smeared onto the top, melting on contact and oozing into any tiny opening in the pastry.
One of my favorite quick and simple breakfast choices was a delicacy we affectionately called cheese toast. My sister and I could have four slices of bread on a pan quicker than Mother could say, “We have to leave right now or y’all are going to be late!” I never was a fan of those individually wrapped pieces of “plastic” cheese. I preferred the cheddar cheese you had to slice and, if it just happened to be hoop cheese, well, our day immediately got better.
I creatively arranged the unevenly sliced pieces of cheese on the bread in such a way to make sure no bread was visible except for the edges. Like a complicated puzzle, I had to work diligently, to make sure all the pieces fit. The end results varied depending on how much time I had. I will say it is amazing how good I got at this process over time. I often wanted to put it on my resume.
The bottom drawer of our stove was basically an open fire furnace doubling as a broiler. You had to be very careful putting the pan inside as to not singe your eyebrows or the tiny hairs on your arms. We shoved the pan in quickly and slammed the drawer shut. But, under no circumstance could you leave your cheese toast unattended. In the blink of an eye, your cheese toast could turn into a burned and blackened catastrophe.
A perfect piece of cheese toast was golden brown all around the edges and the top of the cheese was slightly seared creating a crunchy top layer. Hiding under the crispy top, the rest of the cheese melted, basically becoming at one with the bread. Since the heat source came from the top, the bottom of the bread became somewhat soggy with the grease from the melting cheese.
Eating was so much fun back then. We didn’t know much about what caused high cholesterol, diabetes or heart disease. The joy was taken away when we found out. The first thing I do now is read every label for calories, fat, sugar and salt content. Why did they have to tell us that what we were eating was killing us?
Every so often, when no one is looking, I allow myself to eat some of the “bad for me” food. The child in me tells me it’s OK and I believe him. But, then I jump back on the track to being healthy and living longer or onto a bike to burn away any evidence of unhealthy eating.
There is no doubt it takes a lot of miles to pay for my food sins — but sometimes being bad is just so tasty!
More with Mark
Join Mark for tastings, door prizes and lots of fun at the Vidalia Onion Culinary Extravaganza during the 40th annual Vidalia Onion Festival. It’s all happening at 6 p.m. April 25 at Southeastern Technical College in Vidalia. Tickets are $10 and are available by calling 912-293-2407.