What was your favorite snack as a kid?
The snacks I remember most from my childhood were breakfast foods, which is probably not a big surprise since breakfast is still my favorite meal today. Few things are better than breakfast. As a great man once said, “There has never been a sadness that can’t be cured by breakfast food.”
Breakfast as a kid was a little different than the multiple varieties of meat pork-stravaganza with eggs I like to chow down on these days. It was all about cereal — sugary, sugary cereal.
Most of these multi-colored boxes of happiness were cross-promotional items for TV shows, movies or action figures. In the ’80s, my dental kryptonites of choice were Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Batman, or two-in-one goodness of Nintendo Cereal System. If my bowl of sugar-coated carbs wasn’t promoting a cartoon or toy, you could be sure it was from an oversized box packed with a free toy of its own: Cap’n Crunch with little Cap’n and Soggy figures, Fruity Pebbles with rubbery Flintstones figures, or Raisin Bran with its California Raisin toys. There were also plenty of Fruity Marshmallow Krispies, Count Chocula and Cinnamon Toast Crunch consumed between 1985 and 1995. In the dusk of my cereal-eating years, it was Spider-Man Cereal, which in retrospect I’m fairly certain was just a fresh face on the Ninja Turtles cereal — think: extra-sweet Chex with multi-colored marshmallows.
Eventually, I graduated on to microwavable pairs of Jimmy Dean sausage biscuits, putting a fatty finishing touch on the foundation of my formative years. I don’t know how I lived past 20.
What was the most common meal you ate as a child?
Every Friday, I would go with my parents and meet my grandmother for the breakfast buffet at Shoney’s. Shoney’s, if you’ve never been, is like a less fancy Sizzler or Golden Corral. I can still taste the awful orange-red seasoning salt I would sprinkle on scoops of slimy instant eggs topped with heat lamp-warmed cheese sauce. These were accompanied by dry biscuits and mountains of frozen hash browns drowned in bland white pepper gravy with all the spice of lukewarm wood glue.
Grandy’s was the last thing I ate before getting braces put on and the first thing I ate after getting braces taken off. Whether I was getting the buffet or ordering off menu, my choice there was always the same: chicken-fried steak with gravy, eggs and a McDonald’s-like fried puck of hash browns.
If it was after 11 a.m., the meal I remember most was a dish from El Chico, a chain of Tex-Mex casual dining establishments big in the ’90s around my hometown and the rest of the Ark-La-Tex — the cutesy name for a culinary bermuda triangle around the Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas borders framed by East Texas’ dry, over-lean barbecue, North Louisiana’s echoes of great Creole and Cajun cuisine available five hours to the south and… whatever it is that Arkansas brings to the tri-state dinner table.
El Chico was my go-to birthday-dining destination. It was the place I wanted to go if anyone was taking requests. Besides consuming an ungodly amount of paper-thin tortilla chips, corn tortillas and runny salsa, my go-to there was an appetizer called the Botanas Platter — a sampler plate stacked with a couple of greasy fajita nachos, quesadillas, taquitos, stuffed jalapeño peppers, a mini chimichanga and a shot of queso.
Did you have any odd eating habits as a child?
Around the age of 25, I became more sensitive to the fishy taste of lower-quality seafood and cheap fish. Southern staples I used to love like fried catfish or boiled shrimp just isn’t very appetizing any more without copious amounts of lemon juice and hot sauce to battle off the bad taste. Fortunately, it doesn’t seem to be an issue with fresh cuts of cleaner fish or in raw or under-cooked fish.
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