Ever since my editor Jim confessed his closet food favorites a few months ago, it got me thinking: I eat some pretty weird stuff. While my plate never includes pig intestine with sour vegetables, I have to admit that sometimes my own cuisine choices make me wonder if my palate became warped in some bizarre toddler dining experience involving a Zwieback cracker, a piece of bad mystery meat, and a demented clown. Or I could blame my parents for feeding me foul-smelling soy formula for my first year of existence. You’ll have to judge for yourself.
1. Lucky Charms mixed in applesauce
I like the flavor of applesauce, but I find its texture to be too smooth on its own. I stopped eating baby food 29 years ago, so I no longer demand purees, thank you very much. And in college, while I’d often have a box in cereal in my dorm room, I wouldn’t always have milk. I think you know where this is going.
The cereal-and-applesauce meal seems really weird, I know, but just try it. You can use many cereals — Apple Jacks, Corn Pops, Honey Nut Cheerios — but Lucky Charms provides the ultimate guilty pleasure. The sweetness of the applesauce gets an extra boost from the sugary marshmallows, and the non-marshmallow cereal bits add a delightful crunch. It’s even better if you let it sit on the counter for a half-hour before you eat. The applesauce coats the marshmallows and then dries a little, creating a sticky sweetness that only compounds the sugary rush to your taste buds.
And while I’m not saying this combo will bring you luck, it was the only thing I could swallow the morning of my wedding nearly seven years ago and my husband still seems to like me.
2. Perkins Three-Cheese Scrambler
I’m not sure when the scrambler actually debuted at Perkins, but my awareness of it coincided with my first trimester of pregnancy. Was that dumb luck or the work of a higher power? I tend to pin it on the latter since I was craving dairy non-stop. A cheese lover under normal circumstances, being with child only made me want it more, and nothing was so satisfying as the Three-Cheese Scrambler.
Picture it: a pile of well-seasoned potatoes topped with wimpy, dried-out scrambled eggs and smothered with both shredded cheese and cheese sauce. I’m guessing at least one, if not all, of the three cheeses was “cheese food,” and my cheese snobbiness should have steered me away. Instead, I’d wake up on a weekend morning with only one destination in mind — Perkins. You’d think that the combination of drippy cheese, fried potatoes, and egg would have disgusted me, but I’d wolf it down and then go home and nap. Exhilarating.
3. Popcorn chicken
The name is a misnomer, I believe, since this food contains no popcorn and barely any chicken. It really should be called “crispy bits with a little chicken thrown here and there.” That is exactly what makes it so good.
Because let’s be honest — the best part of eating fried chicken is savoring the crunchy, greasy coating, and the chicken is an afterthought. So Gene Gagliardi, the man who is credited for creating popcorn chicken for KFC, decided to maximize the good stuff and keep the chicken to a minimum. And though I love chicken — remember that line from the Will & Grace finale: “Jews and chicken, it’s deep and it’s real”? — sometimes I just want the fried bits. Mr. Gagliardi, I salute you. (Note: The popcorn chicken pictured above is from Arby’s, not KFC, and it’s actually quite a bit meatier. Still, the crunchy part is the best!)
4. Gerber Sweet Potato Puffs
Didn’t I just say that I don’t eat baby food any more? I lied. You see, since I’ve become a parent, there have been many days when I’ve been so busy making sure my kid is clean / fed / happy / not torturing the cat that I forget to eat. Or I remember to bring a year’s worth of snacks for him when we travel by airplane but don’t think about my own grumbling stomach. Thankfully, there is a snack that can please us both — Gerber Sweet Potato Puffs.
Yes, I should be ashamed for eating my son’s snack. The puffed grains flavored with sweet potato puree are full of VITABLOCKS® for him, not me. But they’re crunchy, they’re sweet, and 74 pieces are only 25 calories. Really, shouldn’t everyone be eating them?
5. Pickle juice
Pickles have been a long-time love of mine, probably even pre-dating my first-through-third-grade Kirk Cameron obsession. (Please don’t judge me — it was the ’80s.) But at camp one summer, someone dared me to drink the leftover brine solution in the empty jar, and I actually liked it. By taking small sips, the intense pickly flavor wasn’t too overwhelming for my adolescent palate, and I remember drinking it several times that summer. G-d knows why I thought it was cool to be “the girl who drank pickle juice” in my cabin, but I did and I think I even got a few of my bunkmates to try it, too. I can’t say that pickle juice is one of my usual libations these days, but I think it’s the next big thing in cocktails. Instead of a dirty martini, how about a dilly martini?