Sunday, February 13, 2005

Saturday Afternoon Comfort Food

Between work and the weather, I've been exhausted. Not just merely tired, the kind of tired a nap can fix, but that bottom-of-the-bones, need-to-be-sleeping, can't-focus-on-anything kind of tired. So, Saturday, after waking up just as weary as the night before, I didn't cook. I just lazed on the couch all day watching the Discovery Channel. I took a couple of short naps, but it was all I could do to venture out to the grocery store. For a week, I've been down to plain rice and a lot of ingredients that on their own make up nothing to actually eat.

At the grocery store I struggled to fill my four basic food groups -- noodlely, crunchy, drinkable, and frozen. As I was lamenting the replacement of my favorite small-sized can of turkey chili with mondo sized cans of some other brand now called "Tantalizin' Turkey", I had a thought. A comforting thought. And I smiled and turned my cart around to the chips aisle. Frito Pie!

Now, I'm not sure about Indiana. The comfort foods you all grew up with here are different. Breaded pork tenderloin, elephant ears, corn. Where I'm from, we have a whole different range of comfort food. Chicken-fried steak with white pepper gravy (oooohhh); tex-mex mexican food from small local places (and those big, flufffy sophapillas, oh, yeah!) and biscuits and gravy for breakfast (Yes! Yes! Yes!). But one of my favorite comfort foods from childhood was Frito pie.

From first grade through high school, we had Frito pie for school lunches, usually every other Friday, at least until the Reagan administration. (How frightening is it that I can't remember important things like my bank PIN, but I can sure as hell remember we had Frito pie every other Friday for lunch!)

In junior high, when we could finally go "off campus" for lunch, we would go to the only place around our school, "the candy store". Now, I don't really know what this place was called. There was no sign. It was just a shop in an anonymous storefront in what was largely a residential neighborhood that sold every type of sugary treat known to kids.

To me, my parents said "the candy store" was forbidden. I don't know why -- I was one of those kids who always assumed that there was more to the story than met the eye, and that my parents must know it. Although, it could have just simply been that a) they didn't know the people who ran it, b) didn't trust what they were giving us kids, and c) just wanted to curtail any pre-dinner or daytime unsupervised candy eating activity. It could have been a combination of all three. Either way, I envisioned my parents must have heard that the three or four seemingly very nice little old ladies who ran the place must be on the run from the law, or acccused of giving drug-laced candy to children, or maybe that there was a secret candy workshop in the back for kids who were cooler or more in-the-know than me.

When you walked into the candy store, you were immediately confronted with a big, L-shaped counter and a large counter window of candies. And aside from the regular candy (and those huge dill pickles), they also had lunches. Hamburgers, hot dogs and ... Frito pie.

Frito pie is, for those not in the know, Fritos corn chips, covered in chili and topped with cheese. Fritos are essential instead of some other knockoff chip since the salt and corn crunchiness is what makes the dish work. (Listen to me, I sound like I'm writing for Gourmet). Old-timers will say that the small Fritos bags would actually be clipped open in order to accommodate the toppings, but the nice little old ladies at least had us eat in bowls. (At least our parents would have been happy about something.) They also had a variation called something like "nachos with chili" which was was essentially the same thing but with Doritos instead of Fritos and the chili was on top of cheese sauce. Oh, and how could I forget the chili cheese french fries. It was heaven.

Despite what it all says about me yearning for childhood or my carefree junior high days (right, like I had less stress in my life then, junior high was hell!), yesterday, I had Frito pie. I'm sure my parents knew exactly which days I skipped over to the candy store for lunch. (By 9th grade, Reagan had made ketchup a vegetable.) But to me it was a clandestine activity. It was just as much about the sneaking of the Frito pie as the tasty, decadent treat itself. Today, it's a little different. We all choose what we eat every day, but for someone watching their weight or cholesterol or trying to eat a little better, I guess there's still room for the clandestine excitement of comfort food. One or two servings usually seems to satisfy the craving and I'll be really tired of it by the time I finish up the whole bag of Fritos. Besides, I bought Tater Tots, too.

For more on my weird eating habits or just general info on food and wine around Indy, check out my wine/food blog.

And for more down home comfort from my home state, check out my favorite Okie blog .


At Sun Feb 13, 02:32:00 PM, Blogger Erudite Redneck said...

It saddens me to think that some people have to be told how to make Frito pie. :-) 'Course, you're not far from where they think cocoa goes in chili, are you? ... BTW, I put chopped onions and jalapenos on top of the cheese on top of the chili on top of the Fritos. And somewhere in there needs to be a little dust, 'cause the best Frito chili pie anywhere is at any random rodeo. :-) ... Victuals of the day in the ER household: big shrimp, soaked in Budweiser, wrapped in bacon, skewered, slathered in honey barbecue sauce and grilled on my trusty Weber grill. It's like early summer in Oklahoma today.


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