Thursday, September 2, 2010

Secret Sundaes

When I was younger, I used to take private music lessons twice a week: one day for flute and then one day for tenor sax. Because I didn't get my driver's license until I was 19, my dad drove me all throughout high school.

My mom and I didn't get along so well when I was a teen so I enjoyed getting out of the house with my dad -- especially since we came up with a little ritual surrounding my lessons. After each lesson, we'd stop at the nearby Roy Rogers or Friendly's and get a small dish of ice cream. My dad always asked them to put the fudge in first ("So I get more," he explained). We'd then sit for a while and chat about whatever. And it was our secret that neither of us ever told my mom. As I've said many times in this blog, I was stick thin in high school, but my mom still didn't want me eating junk food. I don't know if my dad has ever 'fessed up to her about our ice cream runs, but she'd probably cite that as being the reason I became fat as an adult.

It's not like my mom never allowed me to have ice cream, though. Whenever I got a good report card or had a concert, we'd celebrate by going to Friendly's. Since this was a special occasion, I'd treat myself to the biggest sundae that was on the menu, the Jim Dandy. This monster was made up of five huge scoops of ice cream, plus fudge, caramel, peanut butter and fruit toppings. They would then pile about a foot of whipped cream on top and, of course, finish it off with a cherry. Somehow, I managed to eat the entire fucking thing. Eventually, I switched over to a dish of plain frozen yogurt, but until the time I was about 14, I could wolf down one of these gigantic sundaes that was meant for three people.

But once I started to gain weight in college, my dad stopped taking me for ice cream. We did stop at a McDonald's one time while I was home for winter break, but he wouldn't let me get a sundae even though he bought one. Instead, I sipped on a Diet Coke. I remember feeling really sad, not because I really wanted the ice cream -- it wasn't THAT good -- but because I felt like such a disappointment. I doubt my dad even remembers this day, but I can recall it very clearly.

Fast forward to the other day when I was visiting my friend Michele out on Long Island. She asked where I'd like to go for dinner and listed some nearby places -- and Friendly's was one of them. Of course I wanted to go! I hadn't been to a Friendly's in about 10 years, but still associate the restaurant with some great memories and accomplishments. When I told this to my friend, she laughed and said, "Well, I guess you got a good report card today!"

Still, I planned to get something reasonably healthy for dinner. Yet when I looked over the menu, there weren't many options; almost everything was fried or covered in cheese, save for some boring-sounding salads. I finally settled on a Buffalo chicken wrap and ate half. It was mediocre at best.

When we were done, though, Michele got a gleam in her eye. "Are you going to get ice cream?" she wondered. I thought for a moment. "Only if we share something," I replied. We then looked over the menu and chose the brownie sundae, which looked to be pretty small, at least in the picture.

Soon the waiter arrived with our dessert ... and it was HUGE. There were two brownies, five scoops of ice cream, whipped cream, fudge and nuts. It was ridiculous. I made a deal with myself, though; I'd take four or five bites. This way, I could enjoy it, but not go overboard.

I then tried it ... and you know what? It wasn't that special. I mean, it was GOOD, don't get me wrong, but it didn't blow me away. If anything, it was too sweet and the ice cream was kind of a let-down after eating homemade flavors or even brands like Ben & Jerry's. I then realized that my nostalgia for Friendly's or those ice cream runs had less to do with the food and more to do with how I was feeling at the time. Knowing that my parents were proud of me made me happy. It also made me happy to spend that time with my dad.

It's interesting how often our liking for certain foods has little to do with taste and more to do with our emotions. How many of us crave particular things during the holidays because they make us think of our childhoods or of a certain event? I think that this is part of what makes food so enjoyable -- that it represents families, cultures and even eras in history. But sometimes you need to step back and see it for what it really is: food. End of story.

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