Monday, October 6, 2008

Eat me crunchy

I imagine all manner of snickers and innuendo when reading the title of this entry, but we'll keep this blog g-rated, mmm-kay? I've provided you with a quick visual to clear up any lingering questions about my meaning.

Today's entry is a tribute to the wonders of human invention. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. First, some background. Like most Americans who grew up in the 70's and 80's, I'm a product of our instant gratification culture. What was started in the late 50's - namely, convenience foods to make the lives of housewives "easier" - was really coming into its own in the 70's, highly advocated by my busy father who raised us along with the help of Louise: our Jamaican nanny/housecleaner/cook/friend and mother-substitute.

Weekends were a time for scrambled eggs and Bisquick pancakes, but weekday mornings we found succor in the pantry. Oh, that tall double-doored cabinet to the left of the refrigerator (I still reach out for it in my dreams). Within, we could almost hear the jingles we learned on t.v. "If you like cookies..." as I reach for the brown box, "you'll love Cookie Crisp!"

My father raised us right. My brothers and I appreciate things, take nothing for granted and work hard for what we have. But when it came to nutrition, my father turned a somewhat blind eye to the contents of our Grand Union shopping cart. In went the Double-Stuff Oreo cookies, the Fritos, some clam dip, and boxes after boxes of sugary, teeth-chatteringly sweet cereal with negligible nutritional value. And how we loved him for it.

I was an extremely picky eater as a child and had (and have) a sweet tooth that is beyond compare. Cereal made me happy and there were hardly any I wouldn't eat, although I was drawn -through clever targeted marketing and shit-tons of high fructose corn syrup- to the sweet ones. The crunchier the better, as my pickiness would rear its ugly head if my cereal were to turn even the slightest bit soggy.

My father had a love for the Frosted Mini-Wheat, the big kind that would bob along in his milk like some abandoned log waiting for rescue. To overcome its powdered snow-like sugar coating, Kellogg's claimed, "Surprise!... they're good for you!" After bowls and bowls of empty calorie, chocolate chip cookie breakfasts it surely would be a surprise if any cereal with that much sugar could actually be good for you.

I wasn't the only one to prefer our cereals sweet and crunchy. I'd say it was around 1978 or 79, a late summer morning and we're all sitting around the breakfast cereal munching away; there were no less than 4 gi-normous boxes on our table at any one time. Behind each box was a member of our family sleepily reading everything and anything printed on the packaging while we ate. We watch for a moment as our father pours his Mini-Wheats into his bowl and tops it with ice-cold whole milk. We tuck our heads and resume our reading just as my father screams and jumps back from the table. Seems as if a family of New Jersey born and raised black ants also had a thing for Kelloggs Frosted Mini-Wheats and chose my father's bowl to make their debut to the family. From that day forward, we examined our boxes and bowls vigilantly for any sign of movement not created by our own spoons.

Captain Crunch was a personal favorite because they seemed to understand how important it was to manufacture a cereal that wouldn't get soggy. Sure, the roof of your mouth was shredded in the process, but you never had to deal with a limp, disgusting Corn Flake plastered like so much Elmer's glue to the side of your bowl.

Today we eat much healthier cereals. Before I had to go temporarily wheat free I was a big fan of Nature's Path Organic Optimum Power Breakfast Flax Soy Blueberry Cereal (a name as verbose as Life Cereal is succinct). These days I'm liking Perky's Nutty Rice (another funny name) with soy milk, dried strawberries and sliced banana. No cereal name, however, past or present ever rivals the fake health cereal of SNL fame - known the world over as "Colon Blow".

I may have grown out of my love of non-nutritive sugary cereals, but I will still gag, retch and complain if my cereal goes limp. One day, I saw this cereal bowl on some random British website that claims it prevents soggy cereal. One deliriously happy customer reported, "eating cereal is no longer a race against time!" I sent the link to the wine goddess saying... "hey check this out - for the prima donna who has everything."

3 weeks later a package arrived in the mail for me, postmarked from England.


Jesse said...

Hi! I love cereal too!

Ok, here's one fact that is funny to explain. Louis was from Costa Rica. On the weekends she would go home to Jamaica - the neighborhood in Queens. This confused the geography out of me for about a year and a half. Also, my friends as a kid thought that I spoke a foreign language because they couldn't understand a word she was saying and we could. It's just that we had been around her enough to make sense or her accent. We were with Louise on the day that she first saw snow falling from the sky. It was beautiful to see that in her eyes.

Secondly, an amazing detail that maybe was too shocking for you to include: When Dad ate a frosty mini-wheat he pulled the spoon away from his mouth after having eaten a small bite. Black ants crawled out of the powdery morsel onto the white milk on the spoon. Screaming ensued!


Becky said...

Man, she really screwed up your geography... she was from Jamaica, not Costa Rica!! and was very consistent by also visiting Jamaica, Queens on the weekends.

And yes, you are absolutely right, they totally crawled out on his spoon. EEEEEEE!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for putting a smile on my face! And how SWEET of your wine goddess to get you that.

How's this? As a child I use to put sugar on Frosted Flakes! Can you imagine?

I've come across a lot of gluten-free cereals at the supermarket, but not many are also cane sugar free. (Nutty Rice is one of them, and I like those.) There are only a couple others, and taste apparently isn't on the top of their list. (-: But luckily I really like Erewhon's corn flakes. Ingredients? Corn and salt. I sprinkle flax on top to get some fiber. How I miss my Trader Joe's Organic Morning Lite high fiber cereal -- with it's 11g of sugar! (But 9g of fiber, so it can't be all bad!).

-- Julie

Anonymous said...

My family shopped at the Grand Union as well. My mother bought generic Rice Krispies served with powered Milk. No snap, no crackle, no pop. No wonder I started drinking.