Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Have Food Issues, Will Travel

You know how when you go into the monkey house at the zoo, and the smell of the place assaults your unsuspecting nostrils and you can’t help but gasp and exclaim “Wow, it smells AWFUL in here!” to anyone in earshot? And then you’re all like “Hey, look! Baby gorillas!” and you find yourself enjoying watching the chimps frolic on their jungle gym and laugh as the cranky old orangutan flips the bird to the crowd with a big, gummy grin, and after a while it doesn’t smell so bad because you’ve gotten used to it and you don’t even notice it anymore until someone new walks into the building and you hear them gasp and say “Wow, it smells AWFUL in here!”

Turns out I was living in the monkey house.

It didn’t occur to me just how much life I’d been missing out on in the last several years until I started actually living again. All of a sudden I felt free to actually DO things, amazing and exciting things like running out to the store on a whim, or going to a movie on a weeknight, or having a leisurely Saturday night dinner with a friend, or going to sleep before 10 PM. And—if I wanted to get REALLY kooky—maybe even a romantic weekend trip to someplace exotic and fabulous.

Like, say, St. Louis.

Ok, so maybe it isn’t exactly synonymous with romance, but it was the destination of my first weekend getaway with Tim last November. I could tell you that we settled on that city because the prospect of a ride up to the top of the Gateway Arch and the promise of two free beers at the end of the Budweiser Brewery tour was just too tempting to resist. Or maybe because we both love long car rides that are unencumbered by a bunch of pesky scenery, but you wouldn’t believe me. Of course if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, the real reason we chose to go there won’t surprise you at all. We decided to spend the weekend in St. Louis because it was the closest metropolitan area to this:

Lambert's Cafe in Sikeston, MO.  The birthplace of many an eventual heart attack, I'm sure.

Several years ago, I saw Lambert’s Cafe featured on a Food Network special about the country’s best places to “pig out”. Famous for it’s gigantic portions of down home specialties, side dishes served family style by roaming restaurant staff, and their world famous “throwed rolls” (which are served to you from across the room via jump-shot, and if you want one you have to catch it midair—totally worth the burned fingertips!), a visit to Lambert’s went on my personal bucket list. When I mentioned to Tim that I’d always wanted to eat there, being a foodie himself (and a fan of car trips in general) he was all in. We decided to make a weekend of it, and thus found ourselves spending a three wonderful days driving across Missouri, drinking free blueberry beer, roaming the charming shops of St. Charles, viewing the city from 630 feet above the river, and driving two hours to the thriving metropolis of Sikeston where I was served this slab of chicken fried steak & mashed potatoes smothered in cream gravy in a 12 inch stainless steel skillet (a meal which I believe legally qualifies as a suicide attempt in every state except Missouri).

It was a long way to travel for dinner, but you know what? It was totally worth it. We had a fantastic time, and look forward to going back someday. It won’t likely be any time soon, though. Partially because we value our cardiac health, and partially because there are lots of other restaurants in the world that we’d like to visit.

The idea of foodie-tourism is something that’s always appealed to me (surprise!), and I’ve had a running list of places I’d like to eat someday that’s been growing for years. I blame cable TV, which is the food-addict equivalent of internet porn. If Guy Fieri features a particularly interesting Diner, Dive or Drive-In, it goes on my list. If Adam Richman from Man v. Food eats sandwich on french bread loaded with grilled pastrami, cheese, cole slaw and french fries (ON the sandwich! OMG!), then you can bet that someday I’ll find an excuse to get to Pittsburgh and try one.

There is a piece of conventional weight-loss wisdom that says we should strive not to have food be an “event” in our lives. If we remove the mystique surrounding special occasion meals and diminish the excitement of an anticipated treat, we can begin to view food only as the fuel our body needs to function, and nothing more. We can train ourselves to believe that Thanksgiving is about family, not oodles of food as far as the eye can see. July 4th is about the celebration of our freedom, not eating the world’s best lemon bars. Vacation is about seeing new sights and experiencing the culture of unfamiliar areas, and not about catching a hot roll with your bare hands before slathering it in sorghum & butter and devouring it.

I disagree.

Well, not totally. I believe that my food-crazy is part of who I am, and I am never going to eliminate it from my life. But I also believe that I can train myself to channel it in a way that makes my life easier to live on a day-to-day basis. For me, the problem isn’t that I put special food events on a pedestal, it’s that I put EVERY food event on one. There are days that I look forward to having a stick of string cheese with the same anticipatory glee that the thought of dumplings and kraut once a year at Thanksgiving induces. I have daydreamed all afternoon about the tater-tot casserole that we’ll be having for dinner with the same kind of palm-rubbing glee that a piece of my sister in-law’s chocolate cake incites in me a week out from a birthday party. Maybe the trick is to make everyday food unimportant, and to let the special event foods keep their mystique. If I can work each day to see food as fuel, then I honor my body by keeping it healthy and fit enough to really enjoy those moments when food is allowed to take center stage.

So that’s what I’m trying to do. Tonight I fuel my body with grilled chicken & brown rice & veggies. Tomorrow I fill the tank with steel cut oats, fresh strawberries, and low calorie popcorn. And the day after that I will cheerfully dine on low fat cottage cheese, steamed brussels sprouts, and baked tilapia--because I know that, someday, there’s a 22 inch loaded chili dog in Phoenix that’s got my name all over it…


  1. Love this post. 1. because I live in St. Louis and I have LOTS (well maybe not lots) of romantic weekends here. 2. because before I changed my life, Lamberts was a monthly staple. 3. because life is not all about depriving yourself, but about changing your life everyday, so you can have moments (MOMENTS) like these!
    I am having a give-a-way on my blog. Stop by this post, if you are interested!


  2. I thought you liked the place (before I read your blog) because it was called Lambert's and then I went to the whole Adam Lambert scenario - then I read it...love love love your writing. I look forward to it all the time. I hope you keep it up.