Sunday, January 11, 2009

Tune In, Tune Out

I was supposed to go out last night and I probably would have, but the snow made it difficult to conceptualize a trip downtown in the cold.  There's the ten block trek to the train station, the open-and-breezy elevated train, the pink tape I'm so accustomed to encountering when planning weekend travel.  And so I did what I have been doing since I was a very little girl, a latchkey kid left to her own devices on snow days: I made boxed pasta and ate it with cold, canned tomato sauce.  

I suppose that, when you're talking about comfort food, it could get a lot worse than whole wheat pasta (it was all I had) and almost-fat-free tomato sauce.  Not that I'm trying to pass this off as health food, but still.  I wasn't sitting around wondering how I had conceivably eaten an entire pizza instead of leaving my apartment.  That would be cause for alarm.  

Even the most high-minded foodies have their vices.  Mine tend to be junky and prepared.  I love candy with high fructose corn syrup.  I love diet soda.  I love the artificial cheese on certain kinds of chips (you know which ones I'm talking about).  I love the canned soups that are loaded with MSG and I love canned tomato sauce.  I love it in an entirely separate and different way than I love real, homemade tomato sauce.  To me, they aren't even remotely related.  Yes, they both come from tomatoes, and yes, they both go over pasta.  But one has preservatives, salt, sugar, and those little mushrooms that taste like they come from a can.  And the other tastes like someone actually spent time giving credit to the almighty tomato. 

Foods trigger memory, perhaps more than any one thing.  I remember that when I was a teenager someone told me that the sense of smell was the sense most commonly associated with memory.  Maybe that's true.  Maybe that's why I'm reminded of childhood Saturday afternoons when I walk into a McDonald's.  Maybe that's why cherry Blistex reminds me of my first kiss.   I think maybe taste is just as relevant a trigger.

Like how half-decent pizza reminds me of the drives home I used to make on alternate Sunday evenings with my stepfather, who could be easily convinced to stop at Papa Gino's and who probably wouldn't tell my food-restricting mother about it.  Or how Campbell's vegetable soup--even the low-sodium variety--reminds me of the other part of that journey, Friday evenings in my father's kitchen with the New Yorker, where I'd sit at the table after a flight from Boston reading cartoons that I didn't really understand.  Or maybe I did and my parents missed a good opportunity to enroll me in MENSA. 

So for me, boxed pasta and canned tomato sauce conjures the snow collecting on my back porch when the schools have long-since been cancelled. I know I will have to go shovel the driveway before anyone comes home.  I know I have to go shovel the stairs.  But it is cold and we have cable and for now I can enjoy the most corporeal pleasures from the comfort of the living room: cable television, processed food, a glass of soda from my mother's secret stash.  

I didn't go out last night because it was the type of night that reminded me of my least solitary solitary moments, the quiet of nothing and the responsibility of no one.  

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