Monday, October 17, 2011

To Eat or Not to Eat is Never a Question

Most of the world has post mortems. This is a post prandial. While my other classmates may have come to our 50th high school reunion last weekend to engage in lively conversation and revel in the camaraderie, I mainly showed up for the food. Food is associated with all events in my life -- especially when the food or the event is particularly good or particularly bad. There's almost no recall when my food/event experience has been in between.  
          The gastronomic highlight of the long, difficult twenty-four hours I spent birthing my first child without anesthesia was the tray of four-star hospital food in the recovery room -- artificially flavored strawberry jello, canned vanilla pudding, watery cottage cheese with canned pineapple on top, a carton of milk, and a plastic cup of reconstituted orange juice -- all of which I inhaled like a starving dog. My second child only took five hours and I have no recollection of food at all.  
          Two beautiful wedding receptions are forever etched in my memory because one had the best cake I ever tasted, most notable for its light, butterscotch filling. The other left a permanent mark because the cake must have been baked during the Roosevelt administration. Clearly the fancy New York hotel where the reception was held didn't know you can't freeze pastry indefinitely. Slapping buttercream on the top and sides won't mask that distinctive, moldy flavor. 
          The craft service table [a production term which means snacks to civilians] can make or break the success of a movie/ad shoot. One of the first things anybody talks about on the set isn't the actors, the director, or the script, it's the quality of the craft table food. They can have donut holes, chips and dip, everything from fancy pretzels to Twinkles, sushi to soup, but no gold stars unless they've got Peanut M&Ms. The same goes for focus groups. I've spent hours and hours in dark rooms behind two-way glass watching fat people drink diet Coke and claim they only eat egg whites and never put sugar on their cereal. So there better be some good snacks in that room to keep my strength up. The finest testimonial for a focus group facility will always be, "They have great snacks." The best place is in Atlanta, by the way. 
          The tastiest meal I ever had, while shooting a commercial, was in Los Angeles after a very long, tedious day. Most of us were expecting the La La Land treatment, which usually means going out to a fancy restaurant, or having a caterer bring in stuff you don't recognize, or just ordering Japanese/Thai/Mexican food. Imagine our surprise when the producer had a Thanksgiving dinner brought in -- the works -- turkey, dressing, green beans, yams, mashed potatoes, homemade gravy, and cranberry sauce with pecan and pumpkin pies for dessert. I think it was April. We were in heaven. In the land of sushi and green tea, that midwestern comfort food really hit the spot. 
          So, for me, while my 50th high school reunion had much to recommend it, the food will be what I remember most. In fact, this entry is taking shape about 24 hours after eating the final food offering, a truly uninspiring breakfast buffet at the headquarters hotel that I may just forget about.
          Originally touted as a Sunday Brunch, the 9:30 AM start suggested otherwise. So no chance of pasta or any kind of salad, quiche, or frittatas. This was going to be eggs and bacon stuff, maybe with pancakes/french toast/waffles. A girl can hope. 
          I'll mention that this repast was the third leg of an overpriced weekend that I bitched about HERE]. Considering that I didn't need a hotel room, because I live in the area, plus I don't drink alcohol, $165 for some hors d'hoeuvres one night and two other meals was excessive. In fact, if you only went to one event you still had to pay $165. Yes, I got a ball cap with our school colors and class year on it. Yes, I got a book called "Reflections" with my classmates' memories about high school and details of how they've spent their last fifty years. [No, I didn't contribute to it, but now they're doing an addendum, so I'm getting some pressure to write something.]    
          Back at the buffet, I chose the scrambled eggs because no pancakes or french toast was offered. No bacon or sausage either. Or cereal. Or yogurt. There was fruit -- but when I was in line, there was no sliced cantaloupe, watermelon, blueberries, or strawberries as one might expect -- just bowls filled with apples and oranges. You were left to slice and dice them yourself. Fortunately, there were some bananas so I took one. However, instead of making my own toast -- there was actually a toaster for the do-it-yourself-ers -- I took a blueberry muffin and some honey, picked up a bottle of 10% cranberry juice/90% water, and stuck a can of V8 in my purse for later. 
          I went back to make myself some tea, but decided to have some coffee instead. Like many people who don't embrace those roasted beans as their primary caffeine delivery system, I concocted a brew with half half & half and half de-caf Gevalia plus four or five, maybe even six raw sugars. I tend to eschew coffee in general, thus the addition of a large amount of cream and plenty of sugar, so it tasted like melted ice cream. However, the taste of the Gevalia, even though it had to wend its way through all that sweetness and moo-juice was surprisingly smooth and delicious. That coffee is now imprinted on the hotel reunion breakfast forever. The rest of it, not so much. 
          Our buffet dinner at the venerable lakefront club the night before was so-so. There were two food lines: one for pasta, the other for carved meat. The problem was that if you were in one line, no one told you that the other line had a completely different selection of food. For quality comparison, I was at a football banquet catered by Outback steakhouse that served a better buffet in the cafeteria of a high school. Plenty of their excellent steak or chicken for everybody. Rolls. Baked potatoes. Butter. Sour cream. And Caesar salad. And dessert. For a lot less than the fancy club that would never want me as a member and excluded a good portion of my classmates because they weren't the right religion or color back in those halcyon days of yesteryear. 
          Meanwhile, back at the party with three hundred senior citizens, I was hungry. I had already spent twenty minutes in a two-block long line, just to valet park my car, and suffered through a well-meant, but poorly executed tribute to our 107 dead classmates [one of them murdered by her husband], followed by a presentation honoring our Reunion Chairman For Life who is fighting cancer. So I was in a "Somebody feed me!" mood. I picked one of the lines and had a chef assemble me a plate with cooked chicken and mushrooms tossed with Alfredo sauce and poured over bow tie pasta. When I found out there was roast beef at the other table, I was sorely tempted, but I decided not to load up my purse for later. 
         There were other reunions with food during the 50th reunion weekend festivities. On Saturday afternoon, three or four of the different junior high schools we attended had separate gatherings. Since my group met from 2 to 4, I wondered if there would be any snacks or would they try to get out of serving anything because it was the middle of the afternoon. These are white people. We do stuff like that. What was I thinking? Of course our hostess served food. She served tasty cheeses, gourmet crackers, several kinds of spectacular dips and chips, plus homemade bundt cake and freshly baked chocolate chip cookies with all kinds of refreshments. I arrived a couple of minutes early and stayed late. 
          The best food I had all weekend. And it didn't cost me a thing.          

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