Beyond Bizarre 

Odd eating habits die hard.

I was recently reminded of a dinner incident from when I was a kid. My mother, her friend Bill, and I went to eat at my grandparents' house. In the middle of dinner, my Papaw noticed that Bill was cutting his English peas in half before he ate them and asked why. Bill looked up and slowly replied, "Sir, that way they won't roll off my fork."

We all have our own food idiosyncrasies. For people like Bill, it's the way they eat certain foods. For others, it's the strange foods that they eat. Some go public with their weird food issues, while others live a double life of shame and fear. The Travel Channel's Bizarre Foods could probably do an exposé on any family and find meals just as strange as the various worms and intestinal parts the show regularly features.



My mother, who is fond of publicly proclaiming her healthy eating habits, is too embarrassed to eat Cheetos in front of anyone. She is so secretive about her cheesy snack habit that I didn't even know she liked them. Yet, she's not embarrassed that she made us eat shoots from the bamboo growing in our backyard. 



My father used to eat crackers with mayonnaise until Jan, my stepmother, caught him and told him it was weird. Somehow, I think he still eats them when no one is looking. As for Jan, I know for a fact that she has eaten lutefisk, which is a Scandinavian dish consisting of fish soaked in lye. So she really can't talk when it comes to strange eating habits.



A close friend, who will remain nameless, hides her favorite sweet treat — condensed milk, which she consumes straight out of the can. A few years ago she put together an emergency preparedness kit that contained all of the basic necessities: batteries, flashlight, radio, water, and canned goods — including numerous cans of condensed milk.



Then, there was my best friend in college. She was one of those vegetarians who hates vegetables. Her favorite lunch was what she referred to as a "bread sandwich." Yep, that's exactly what it was — two pieces of white bread smushed together. I think for our four years of college, she subsisted on bread, cereal, French fries, and fried cheese sticks.



My husband's family eats their black-eyed peas mixed with crumbled-up cornbread and lots of mayonnaise. The entire family does this. It's hard enough for me to eat black-eyed peas anyway, but their method seems flat-out revolting (and that's coming from a person who thinks that sucking crawfish heads is perfectly normal).


Of course, I have no strange food habits whatsoever. Yeah, right. I remember a phase where I ate only peanut butter and cheese sandwiches for weeks at a time. 



My biggest food issue, however, is irrational, and I know I need to get over it: I feel guilty if I don't cook completely from scratch. I blame my mother and her hard-core "no processed foods" approach to cooking when I was a kid. I ate cream of mushroom soup only when I was sick; it was not something one would ever use in cooking, at least not in my mother's house. Inevitably, this made cream of mushroom soup seem tantalizing but forbidden. Somehow, using canned soup in cooking feels like cheating, even apart from nutritional concerns. 



I am taking one small step toward overcoming my own food idiosyncrasies by sharing this recipe for my secret food indulgence.

HASHBROWN CASSEROLE

Half of a large onion or one small
onion, chopped


A couple of cloves of minced garlic


2 to 3 tablespoons melted butter


Salt and pepper to taste
lll

One can cream of mushroom soup


A cup or so of sour cream


Pre-packaged hashbrown potatoes (the shredded ones in the dairy section work best)


Lots of grated cheddar cheese



Mix together the onion, garlic, butter, salt, pepper, mushroom soup, sour cream, and about a handful of cheese. Add the potatoes and mix well. Pour into a greased casserole dish and put more cheese on top. Bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

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