If you were to ask me to close my eyes and imagine the taste of my childhood, it would be Little Debbie oatmeal pies. That soft, ever so slightly spiced, oatmeal cake with the white cream filling that left your mouth coated with…something both chemical and delicious.
The taste of college? McDonald’s hamburgers and fries. Our cafeteria was, shall we say, lacking, so my friends and I often ventured down the street to McDonald’s where I would order the two cheeseburger meal, hold the cheese. The bread was soft, the hamburger was…meat-ish. And the fries were salty and crispy and, let’s face it, delicious. I can practically feel my lips dry out from the salt just thinking about it.
In my 20s, there was a lot of take-out. Food that tasted good precisely because it was not good for me. Lots of cheese and butter and pasta that left me feeling uncomfortably full, yet still vaguely hungry.
Suffice it to say, I haven’t always made the best eating choices. So in my 30s, when I began this journey to be healthier, the transition from processed and greasy and salty was a difficult one. Vegetables tasted like sadness. Whole wheat left my mouth coated in disappointment. Butter ripped from a recipe made the angels cry.
I feared I had broken my taste buds.
Maybe you’ve been there? That place where all you want is the grease and the fat because, dang it, it tastes good! But I want to tell you, good food can taste good too. Eventually.*
Finally, finally, I can appreciate fresh food. Even call it delicious.
It is complex.
It tastes like food is supposed to taste.
I just never knew.
How whole wheat toast, just this side of burnt, can taste like a camping trip, a sleepy evening by a dying campfire.
I never knew how creamy an avocado could be. How, when splashed with some lime juice, it could taste buttery and tart and like summer.
When that bread, topped with that tangy avocado, is finished with thin slices of turkey, the edges peppery, it would turn into this crunchy, creamy, chewy masterpiece. Sprinkled with salt, eaten open faced, balanced on fingertips still slightly puckered from squeezing that lime and a little crusted with stray salt flakes.
It’s simple. It’s real. It’s less a recipe. And more a way of life.
(*It is here that I confess to you I am not a whole-food-clean-eating-fanatic. I like cooking with fresh ingredients. But I also like white flour and sugar and Diet Dr. Pepper (I KNOW). So please, know there is freedom in this. I am only a partial hypocrite.)