Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Coffee Gelatin?

Vietnamese spicy steak sandwich and coffee gelatin.
I tiptoed past the pencil marks on the door frame marking years of ages and handfuls of kids into the mysterious pantry. I always thought it resembled one of those "Home Alone"-type closets-- when the lights and TV were on, I was in the clear, but when the lights were off and nobody was around, I flashed past that door for fear something might come alive inside. This was from the age of four to probably too old to be scared of a pantry.

As the seventh child of seven, growing up I developed a horribly obsessive, food hoarding, hiding, and stuffing habit. Strawberry pops shivered in the bottom and the back of the garage freezer where nobody would look. Little Debbie Zebra cakes slid back and forth with the misplaced socks in the "lost sock drawer" because nobody needed lost socks. And Tony the Tiger hid all day, every day at the tip top of the cereal cabinet where nobody could see him. The worst of the food problems has a name though. . . .

Whenever we went to a Mexican restaurant, I, first, overate the chips and dip. Next, I proceeded to, as if a middle-aged OCD woman, mathematically figure out the perfect ratio of shrimp to tortillas, always pre-planning to take most of the food home. Now, in my family, we've titled this my "Shrimp Counting" stage, because once I had counted how many shrimp there were, I would ask for a to-go box. Almost before the box left the waiter's fingertips, I had intently etched my name in cursive, turning with a smile as Claire shivered with the noise the box made under my fingernail. This was the easy part. The real struggle didn't come until the box was in the fridge. I began to come up with elaborate schemes to hide the box only because so many times before, I would come home from school excited to eat one tortilla with two scoops of vegetables and exactly three shrimp only to open the box and realize I now only had one shrimp remaining. DAAAADDDD!!!!

When my dad drove up the hill to our garage around the back, my hands were already on my hips, foot tapping the pine floor as if I had some extraordinary nagging power at such a young age. As soon as I heard the intercom echo, "Hall door open" I began the frustrated lecture: "Dad! Did you eat two of my shrimp?! How could you? I had the perfect amount of shrimp for how many tortillas I had, and you ruined it!" I know, I know. . . . it was a little bit much for a twelve year old to be doing, but this is what happens when siblings and fathers steal your food without asking. I had had too many hands cross in front of my face to my personal plate of food to steal one piece after the other. "Hilary's small. She won't eat that. She won't mind." Whatever they were thinking, it was officially my goal to let them know I was NOT okay with them taking my food before first asking if they could have it.

As part of these food problems, I quickly became surprisingly good at sneaking food, and I knew where every last snack, bottle of BBQ, and can of creamed corn hid in that giant red-brick house on the hill. I remember multiple times cooking for myself by the age of ten. Once I made it past the doorway of the pantry and reached for the light, I lost the fear of the ominously dark closet. I'd found the ultimate fun kid dessert--  boxes of instant jello and pudding.

Last Friday, Chelsea, Lauren and I returned to the International Coffee Hour here at UGA. It's an amazing program offering students an opportunity to meet while also trying international foods. Every week it's sponsored by a different group or club, and last Friday it was sponsored by the Vietnamese and Philippine clubs. They had spicy sandwiches, purple tapioca pudding-type stuff, strange candies, and more. But what excited me most was the coffee jello. Of all my years sneaking into the pantry to open anther box of instant jello, never before had I tasted coffee jello. I mean it makes sense considering we grew up Mormon.

The three of us sat with our filled Styrofoam plates ready to try everything new and I was saving the best for last. Finally, I finished everything, and stabbed my fork in the gelatin. It didn't move. Hmmmm. . . .that's weird. I slowly pulled the fork out and watched as the fork marks disappeared. Chelsea had been watching me and I suppose she saw the confused look I had on my face. She laughed and said, "I know! It's not good! Personally, I don't trust food that heals itself!" Still, I had to try it for myself. I returned the fork to the gelatin and pushed it through the flesh pulling off a hard, unmoving Tootsie Roll-colored bite. I brought it to my mouth and it was instant disgust. Nothing about that gelatin tasted or resembled coffee. I'm not sure what Pacific island or country created that hard, self-healing gelatin, but it's for sure a false claim that it's coffee flavored!

*I would like to clarify that I no longer have these food issues. After being roommates with Lana Pewitt, who has no boundaries to sharing, I had to get over my problems. Lana without knowing it was my own personal food therapist!