Monday, October 28, 2013

Processed, A Food Love Story By: Karen Pilarski

I read an article in The New Yorker written by actress and writer Lena Dunham titled "Deliverance."  

She discusses being raised on delivery food. Dunham and I must be kindred spirits or MSG twins. She has the other half of the greasy finger printed locket.

 Staples of my childhood were frozen pizza, macaroni and cheese and fish sticks. All generic brands, thank you very much.

I call it not, poor people meals -- but survival food. When times were impoverished, I would eat a can of corn or powdered sugar by the spoonful. In a family with nine children, my mom lacked patience, culinary skills and money. 

Today, I'm the apple that didn't fall too far from that tree in those three areas. However, my husband and kids never had to resort to such desperate means to eat. 

Dunham and her siblings often wore the parents down in the effort of fast food success. She said her father would say, “It’s a waste of money. It has too much oil. We have a fridge full of really nice, healthy food. But they can take only so much resistance. When the food arrives, I insist on shoveling it right out of the container, eyes trained on the TV." 

My siblings and I did that to our parents to escape the processed food cycle. Instead, we begged for McDonald's or Pizza Hut. Somehow we thought the meals would taste better than what was usually plopped and slopped down in front of us.

My dad loved learning about different cultures and would cook up different dishes. The kitchen was usually thick with smoke. "Dad must be cooking again," we would bemoan. 
I almost wished for SpaghettiOs and cool ranch Doritos. 

He would prop open the front door to air out the smelly air filled with seasoned salts and boiled fish. Opening the door meant letting the humiliation in. Neighbors would gawk and friends would yell in to see if I was around. 

"Dad, can we pleaseeee close the door?!" 

He would shake his head and make us turn on a beat up window fan. The food appeared and tasted detestable. My dad would make banana fritters that had brandy in them. He made Hungarian Goulash. By the evening's end our family looked forward to burnt Pop Tarts and Stoffer's TV dinners. 

On, writer Jeff Sherman discussed in his blog area restaurants that closed.
 He named several that he personally missed in Milwaukee. However, he may have skipped one. 

As a treat, my parents would take us to Shakey's Pizza in West Allis, Wis. Since I was eight years old, we would pack in the car -- if we had one at that time. It was a buffet-style restaurant that had smorgasbord of options. There was a salad and dessert bar. The freshly-made, non-processed pizza was a delight.
The pièce de résistance was the Mojos. It was thinly sliced potatoes lightly fried to oily goodness.

Every time my family went, we were given coins to use in the bubble gum machine. However, Shakey's Pizza didn't just have stick-on tattoos or the parachute guy. It had a Flintstones bubble gum machine. We lovingly named it the 'brock brock machine.' A big Fred Flintstone was in the middle, next to a worn out Dino. As soon as the coin drawer snapped in and out, the lights around it would be lit. Dino would twirl in a circle and Fred would shout, "YABA DABA DOOOOO DINOOOO LOVES YOUUUUUUU!"  

Plunk! A colorful egg would spit out.

As the years went by, the machine and Shakey's Pizza changed. The food choices at that location diminished and a rickety game room similar to Chuck E Cheese was created. The 'brock brock' also showed it's age. Dino's purple painted fur was dulling and Fred Flintstone smile was rubbed off. 

For old time’s sake, I put in a coin and pushed in the metal coin holder. The lights were burnt out. Dino didn't spin around and it sounded like Fred was possessed. "Yab Dooo, Din..O.. you." It sounded as if he was under water and gasping for a breath. It took forever and a day for the colorful egg to plop out. Clunk! A half green and purple cracked egg was the reward. 

Shakey's was a great place for my family to sit around a table and dine like a normal family. We celebrated birthdays there and bridal showers at that specific location. The last time I was there was for my own bridal shower in 2008. My aunt and my mom planned my shower while my aunt was dying from cancer. She died a few weeks before the event. It closed down shortly after I was married. 

Ironically, after my parents split up, my mom miraculously became a good cook. Apparently divorce and a new boyfriend worked wonders. I only got to indulge in her new found skill a handful of times as an adult. My husband prefers unprocessed foods and homemade dishes. However, I still crave a can of Ravioli from time-to-time like no one's business!