Thursday, August 13, 2009

Guilty pleasures

We all have things we like to eat that give us comfort and, oddly, a kind of secret pleasure. They may be things we enjoyed as children. They may be treats once out of reach - forbidden or too dear, or considered shameful or lowly by our caregivers. They may be treats given by admired babysitters, or grandparents, remembered long afterwards.

We may be ashamed of our guilty pleasure foods. They may be tastes that remind us of a past that we'd prefer to hide - though we still crave the sweetness, the salt, the fatty lusciousness or the chemical fakery of that wonderful taste. They may be gauche, unsophisticated, or cheap.

It could be anything. Sardines. Garishly-colored cereal. Food of the cradle. Foods from the farmyard or barrio. Ketchup. Cans of Chef Boy-ar-dee. Double Bubble gum.

I also think that guilty pleasure food has a sensual quality - it's more than taste; it's feel, or smell, or texture. The renowned food writer, M.F.K. Fisher wrote of toasting sections of mandarin oranges on a hot radiator, then chilling them in the snow outside her hotel window in Strasbourg, so that the skins crackled when she bit them, and hiding evidence of this intricate preparation from her husband.

I have a couple of guilty pleasures. I like to eat pretzels and milk. I love the contrast between the sweetness of the milk and the salt of the pretzels. There's a certain kind of mint candy I like - they're puffed and chalky, and they dissolve unevenly in your mouth, leaving hollows and pockets that fill with sweet minty saliva. I think they're called Buttermints. As a young teen I used to buy packages of these at the five-and-dime store with my allowance, and hide them in my room.

But my guiltiest pleasure, the one that gives me a truly pleasurable sense of shame, is Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.

Back in college, my roommate and I made many pots of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese on a hot-plate in our dorm room. We'd swipe butter pats from the cafeteria, and buy tiny cartons of milk from the vending machines in the dorm basement - or if we lacked those, we'd just dissolve the chalky orange powder in hot water.

The slick, bland, and salty fake-cheese sauce coating the limp tubes of macaroni was just what we needed to fill out bellies during times of academic or romantic stress.

Thirty years later, I still keep a blue-and-orange box stashed away in a cupboard. [The Man I Love] is appalled by the stuff. Our son enjoyed it as a small child, which gave me an excuse to eat it myself, but now he wouldn't be caught dead with it.

So tonight, all by myself, I made a box of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. And ate as much of it from the pot as would give me comfort. And then promptly threw the rest away.

What's your guilty pleasure food?


cactus petunia said...
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cactus petunia said...
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cactus petunia said...
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cactus petunia said...

Wow. You should have called me. I'd have caught a flight down there to share it with you.

My biggest guilty pleasure? Mashed potatoes. From KFC.

But Mac and Cheese comes in a close second!

cactus petunia said...


Anonymous said...

I used to feel that way about KM&C, but lately the thrill has gone (something about the powdery stuff). I LOVE buttermints! They were my favorite part of attending weddings as a child.
I have too many guilty pleasures to name (the evidence is carried with me at all times and makes it hard for me to find proper clothing).

Beverly said...

I do believe you are the mother of my son. He loves this stuff, too. And, sometimes he adds a can of chili, and calls it Chili Mac.

I think you will love him. He is a nice guy. ;-) He also likes the Velveeta brand.

g said...

Hi, Cactus - I removed your duplicates.

Sue said...

My favourite comfort foods have to be warm and milky - rice pudding, porridge, pasta and cheese... I think I must be stuck in some psychological phase. Oh dear.

Anonymous said...

I love the blue box and I adore Buttermints. I just this week found Flicks in the candy aisle and snarfed down two rolls worth over just a few days. And I always have skippy peanut butter in the cupboard - for a spoonful or a sandwich or on high culinary days - pad thai.