While pointedly ignoring my husband who’d just made a snippy comment at me over dinner, I found my eyes wandering toward the econo-sized Sam’s Club container of parmesan cheese. As my son was already in bed and I had not yet resolved myself to get over my husband’s fever chilled brainless comment, I took refuge in the label on the bottle.
This is not as strange as it may sound. I have always loved to read. Usually my preference is for books, although as I spent a good deal of my childhood eating breakfast alone and my mom didn’t like books at the table (which is quite odd as she was a school librarian for a number of years), I became a peruser of pre-packaged products. Like many kids in my generation, I am a cereal junkie. My mother has never been a morning person, so the idea of a hot cooked breakfast before school sent her into giggles. Instead I got a box of whatever cereal we had at the time, a carton of milk, a bowl, a spoon and a glass of juice. While she was off getting presumably getting ready, although I suspect catching a few more winks, I devoured not only my crunchy flakes and candied marshmallows but also every delicious word on the back of the box. Although I had no pen (another no-no at the table), I did the mazes, unscrambled the letters and answered riddles in my mind. I read and re-read long lists of ingredients, wondering what in the heck riboflavin actually was. I tried to remind myself to save the boxtops so I could send in for the cool t-shirt or toy on the back of the box, even though my mother almost always threw the box away before I could remember to remind her. Cereal boxes were my morning textbooks and I was a good student. On the rare mornings my mother actually scrapped together scrambled eggs or an omlette (usually on a Sunday before church since my step-dad was home and not a fan of cereal), I would still grab the box of my sugar coated love, if only to use it as a barrier between my plate and my step-dad’s, which always featured eggs smothered in ketchup. A sight, I might add that to this day still makes my stomach churn.
It didn’t stop there though. In the evenings if we had crackers, I would sneak the box onto the table under the guise of wanting more so I could look at the cool snacks on the back. I imagined myself at grown up parties eating little canapes (which I defined as any sort of mayonnaisey goop on top a Ritz cracker), sipping soda from those long glasses that made my mother giggle even harder than breakfast and talking to all her friends until the late, late hours of the night…10 o’clock at least. Not that my parents had these kinds of parties often. I actually only remember two, one for New Years and one for my mom’s 30th birthday where everything was draped in black, but the tasty snacks were directly off the back of a Ritz box, a suggestion I was quite proud of. I don’t really remember what they tasted like, but I loved every morsel of them.
All of this no doubt helps to explain why I was so interested in the cheese in front of me last night at dinner. This particular bottle of Kraft cheese had two recipes on it. One was for parmesan crusted meatballs and the other for a pasta bake that sounded a bit like a skillet lasagna. Both require few ingredients, require less than 10 minutes prep time and less than 30 minutes of cooking time. On a weeknight, that sounds heavenly to me. I decided to start speaking to my husband again when he became very intent on the recipes in an attempt to regain my attention. I filed them away in my “remember to try that file” along with a recipe for creamed spinach from the back of my Saltines box, one for peanut chicken off of the box of Thai peanut sauce I bought* and one for a ooey-gooey chocolatey-fudge dessert from a package of butter.
I know some people (Eee in particular), find it utterly eccentric that I not only read these boxes, but have actually grabbed a particular box of food based soley on the recipe on the back.** I think it is even stranger to her that I have on multiple ocassions I’ve gone so far as to actually cook these dishes. Some have been stellar hits, like the pasta recipe I got off of the package of grape tomatoes a few years ago and the crab cakes I got from the package of Stove Top I bought last year. Others, like the pasta recipe from the label off of my bunch of broccoli, have been disappointing at best. Then again, I willingly subscribe to two different cooking magazines. I’m not sure how a recipe found on a box of crackers, or potato buds or even Saltines can be any odder than one found in a cooking magazine. Still, I know it’s a little Donna Reed of me.
*Which I bought to make Thai pizza, a recipe I picked up from a friend which I think may have actually come off a package of peanut sauce itself.
**Only once, my current box of Saltines, which I chose specifically because I liked the last recipe I got off of one of their boxes and creamed spinach is a favorite of my husbands.