Food: ‘Can’ and ‘can’t’ change as we get older
Are you one of those people who eats to live, or someone who lives to eat?
I used to be a lives-to-eat person — like everyone else in my family. While growing up in Los Angeles, my brother, two sisters and I looked forward to eating out every Sunday. Our parents usually took us to “Restaurant Row” on La Cienega Boulevard.
There was Webster’s, which was the epitome of family dining, and there was Ernest’s, a special place that featured a perfectly cooked steak topped with a great bordelaise sauce.
Italian food was a must at least once a month — pasta and ravioli, meatballs, chicken parm and breaded veal cutlets — at two favorite places.
The Sunday-dinner tradition started before I was 10 years old in St. Louis, where I was born. The folks would occasionally take us to Vic’s for incredible barbecue cooked over a wood fire. And there were the Italian places on The Hill, where Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola grew up.
As a teenager in Los Angeles, Chinese food became a favorite. My mother and two sisters would get take-out for Saturday lunch and still be gorging on Monday.
Now, though, as I approach 76, I’m an eats-to-live guy — unless I want to pay a digestive price.
I splurge occasionally, because my wife is an excellent cook. But she has always been an eats-to-live person. Go figure.
During a recent walk after lunch at home (a tossed salad of lettuce, carrots, green peppers, celery, avocado, and chunks of rotisserie chicken topped with a little Lite Ranch dressing) I got to thinking about how my diet has changed.
During my 30-minute stroll, I recalled the greatest meal I ever had: paella, the famous, rice-based dish that, depending on the version, includes a variety of meat, chicken, rabbit and shellfish.
This was for lunch at a hotel in Lisbon in 1967. I was on a six-week group tour of 11 European countries, during which I wrote a series of articles for the Dayton Journal Herald.
It was a great trip for eating — in Amsterdam, small, fluffy Dutch pancakes, called poffertjes, topped with powdered sugar and melting butter; roast duck in an English village; bread pudding in London; fondue and chocolate cake in Lucerne; escargot in Paris; wiener schnitzel in Vienna, waffles in Brussels.
After that trip in ’67 — my last year of bachelorhood — I became pretty much a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy: top sirloin or a filet cooked medium rare, with a baked potato and either peas or corn on the side. And my wife learned how to make my mother’s brisket and latkes. Nothing fancy; just delicious.
When it came to pork, I favored barbecued baby back ribs slathered lightly in a great sauce.
Fish? Nah, except for a few places that served your basic fish and chips. Salmon? Hardly ever ate it. Tilapia? Never heard of it?
About 25 years ago, my eating habits began to change. Out of a health necessity, or simply acquiring a taste, or, more likely, a combination of the two, I started eating fish and vegetables I once abhorred: string beans, broccoli, spinach, asparagus.
But on a recent trip to Charleston, S.C., where food is embedded in the city’s soul, I couldn’t acquire a taste for collard greens. They came with the fried chicken and mashed potatoes at the Glass Onion, a place featured on the TV show, "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives."
That was a lives-to-eat night for me. The fried chicken is served only on Tuesday nights, and you have to pre-order it by 3 p.m. Monday with a credit card. If you don’t show up, you still pay. The chicken is seasoned and soaked in buttermilk over night before being fried. Awesome.
There were two other lives-to-eat occasions in Charleston. One was at the legendary Hymans Seafood for lunch. I had the Carolina Delight, a lightly fried grit cake covered with a choice of seafood (I had salmon) and topped in a creamy garlic alfredo sauce. Sensational.
The other place, for dinner, was Heart, a small, plain-looking place, where I had lamb meatballs and my wife chose chicken livers. We traded bites, of course. Wonderful.
I’m back home now and eating to live.
Ray Moscowitz of Bloomington is a retired newspaper editor and former publisher of the Peru Tribune. Contact him at email@example.com.