Years and years ago, I saw a Christmas-themed TV commercial where an adorable redhead is running to tell her parents that Santa had arrived! As they walk into the living room to see mountains of gifts piled up, Dad says something about “Those must have been some cookies you left out for Santa last night.” And the adorable redhead says….
Wait, let me do a Youtube check and see if I can embed the punchline for you to see with your own eyes:
(I [heart] the Internet.)
I have remembered this commercial with shocking clarity because it made such a profound impression on me. I, like this fictional Santa, am much more a lover of cheese than of cookies. Y’all may recall that different times throughout my HCG journey I talked about missing cheese, and when I was in that last stage of partial food restriction (fats okay, but still no carbs or grains), the thing I was most happy to bring back into my daily routine was cheese. I’m still having a cheese and egg white omelet for breakfast most mornings,* and there’s plenty of days where my late afternoon protein boost is a cheese stick or two. (Except the days it’s a small container of cashews.)
From childhood into adulthood, when I had toast or an English muffin for breakfast, I would always want to have a slice of melted cheese on top, instead of jelly. And my absolutely favorite food during my childhood was macaroni and cheese. Lest I oversell the contrast between my childhood self and my sage maturity today, let me be really clear: I have not outgrown that love for mac & cheese. (Nor do I ever want to.)
But, even though I feel greatly abashed and embarrassed to say this — especially on a week when there’s been this whole kerfuffle about the FDA’s attempt (thankfully abandoned) to ban the making of artisanal cheeses — I have a confession to make.
I love Velveeta.
Your toxic kisses make my heart race
Faster than a cheetah
I’ve been stapled and spindled
My willpower’s dwindled
You melt resistance down like hot Velveeta!
~Reefer Madness, “Mary Jane/Mary Lane“
I know, I know. Velveeta isn’t even really a cheese. The label on the box says “pasteurized recipe cheese food,” and I don’t know exactly what that means, but I do know it means “not really a real cheese.”
And yet, it was a core pillar of my formative cheesy experiences. Something about its peculiar, pasteurized and processed nature gives it that uniquely “liquid gold” melty-ness. So, for many many childhood foods in my memory — the melted sauce for mac & cheese, melting a slice of cheese on top of that English muffin, cheeseburgers on the grill, cheese melted into an omelet for Sunday brunch, or even our cheese fondue on Christmas Eve — Velveeta was part of the recipe.
During those few years when we lived in Brasil, whenever Dad would head stateside for a business trip, we’d send him with an extra-large suitcase. It’d be mostly empty on the flight to the USA, and then would return chock-full of Velveeta cheese blocks and cans of Campbell’s Tomato Soup. Mom would host her own personal Velveeta cooking festival,** and I, hopelessly picky about food and struggling always to adjust to the heat, the flavors and the concrete surfaces of Sao Paolo, would feel, if only for a few dinners, like I was home.
As years have worn on, I have come more and more to replace Velveeta with really real cheeses in my life. So now, the morning omelet is made with colby-cheddar shred, the afternoon cheese sticks are mozzarella or cheddar, and if I’m melting cheese on top of toast it’ll be swiss or provolone. As for that Christmas Eve fondue? My brother-in-law, who is quite a talented cook but who doesn’t get much of a chance to express that with his work schedule, has taken that over and concocts a new and yummy combination every year.
But still. A block of Velveeta has been a perpetual staple in my fridge for my entire adult life, maintaining its prominence for two specific dishes: mac & cheese and queso. There’s even an unopened package in my fridge right now. (Why do you think it was so easy for me to get the precise wording off the box describing how it’s not really a real cheese?)
I bought it on autopilot right before I started the HCG journey, so it’s been sitting there a while. That hasn’t especially worried me — I figure the expiration date is probably 2023 or something. But I haven’t quite figured out whether I’m going to start eating it again, or toss it out unopened. I’m also not sure which imagined outcome of eating it scares me more: the possibility that my reset palate will find the flavor to be not-very-enjoyable and that my nostalgic love for Velveeta will be tarnished, or the possibility that renewed relationship with Velveeta will slide me right down the rabbit-hole of over-processed food all the time….
Until I can figure that out, I guess the package will just sit there on the bottom shelf of the fridge.
Tell us about your favorite childhood meal — the one that was always a treat, that meant “celebration,” or that comforted you and has deep roots in your memory.
Free free to focus on any aspect of the meal, from the food you ate to the people who were there to the event it marked.
Today’s twist: Tell the story in your own distinct voice.
Obviously, rather than following the suggestion to the letter, I ended up following the thread of a beloved food throughout multiple times and events. I also didn’t fret overmuch about “finding my voice.” If there is nothing else I am certain about in writing JALC, I do know that my voice here is authentic and authentically mine.
I can’t remember if I’ve talked about this before, but every time I sit down to write a post, and every time I feel blank or blocked within the process, the same prayer runs through me like a mantra: “Say it plain, say it true.” And yeah, my version of saying things “plain” is a slightly unusual version of the term.*** But that prayer, that compass guides me to true north. Every time. [/Post-script]
* Okay, it’s really one whole egg and a half-cup of egg whites.
** Our family’s separate body of Campbell’s Tomato Soup cuisine will, alas, have to wait for another day.
*** Perhaps the understatement of the year.
Image credit: http://veryhilarious.com/i-notice-you-have-cheese/