As some of you may know, I flew back to Madison for the week to visit with my parents, do some martial arts training, and clear my head. I apologize in advance if this entry ends up being less food-oriented and more cathartic for me, but I promise to try to make it a good read.
I always smile when I come back home - the drive from the airport, regardless of the season, is always the same. Some things change - Madison is especially fickle about its eateries - and where that Thai place stood now resides the King of Falafel (I've already requested an audience from His Highness, if you were wondering). Likewise, the stores and bars come and go, but the feel of the place is constant. State Street, Madison's pedestrian mall that runs from the Capitol square to the Union at Lake Mendota, is always overrun by bleach-blonde sorostitutes and their beefy, backwards UW Hockey cap-wearing brothers. Interspersed are seemingly innumerable geeks, dweebs, dudes, chicks, foreign exchange students, and people just trying to get by. I usually fly in before lunch, so we have to dodge a million late-risers and slackers sprinting on their way to Psychology 101 or the like. It's fine, though, because it never changes.
When I get home, the first thing I do is open the fridge. I'm not necessarily hungry, and opening that cream-colored gateway is mostly a test for myself and my memory. I'm never disappointed. Without fail, there is an almost-empty half gallon of skim milk next to an unopened counterpart. Cliques of yogurt - usually two groups of three 100-calorie cups each (always one cherry, one blueberry, one peach) - stand as sentinels guarding Sargento low-moisture string cheese and a variety of cold cuts nestled amidst a hundred types of cheese (this time it was corned beef adjacent to queso fresco - Marti and Doug are really firing it up these days). I trust there is always spray-on I Can't Believe It's Not Butter that my dad loves and a couple slabs of Philadelphia cream cheese just in case my mom gets a hankering for cream cheese-and-jelly sandwiches of her childhood. The fridge is like Madison, really - the leftovers change, from a new recipe for potatoes au gratin out of Cooking Light, to penne or flank steak or tuna salad (always chunk light slathered in mayo with a generous shuffle of chopped celery). Some of the components change, but the general mise-en-scene is always the same.
The cupboards and pantry are no different. We've never been a one-cereal family, and it's not often you find us without Cheerios, Quaker Oat Squares, and some sort of granola. Taco shells that I've never seen used sit on the lower shelf along with various broths, Williams-Sonoma glazes and marinades, and countless other tins and cans bespeak my mom's love for exotic, prefab delicacies. You never can tell when you're going to need artichoke lemon tapenade or hand-cut marshmallows, but it's good to have them on hand.
Moving over to the bread box, you can be sure there's a least two slices of Oat Nut left (lucky for me, my parents leave the heels of the loaf until last because I think they're uncertain of their ability to finish an entire loaf before it gets moldy and leaving the end parts on will apparently preserve it). More often than not, there are two or three other loaves ranging from sourdough with whole garlic cloves embedded in it to crusty French peasant that makes a delicious, tooth-ruining peanut butter and jelly sandwich. On top of the bread box is an open package of dried apricots. This may be the touchstone of my culinary existence in Madison. I remember years ago when I started "eating right," and introduced mass quantities of nuts, dried fruit, and the like to our kitchen. At first glance, the package of apricots is the very progenitor of this trend, and by all rights ought to be filled with dessicated, inedible orange-brown lumps. It is, however, at least half-full of succulent, plump fruits whose soft-but-wrinkled skin I bite through with ease. I usually proceed to eat the remainder of the package within minutes, but somehow there is always another half-full clone in its place in a heartbeat. Don't ask me how it happens, because I don't want to know.
Being home reinforces a certain consistency with regard to food, but also reflects the constant change in my life. I don't eat every meal with my folks - not becaues I don't like them, but because sometimes I'm off kickboxing and don't get home until late, or I'm catching up with friends, or I just feel like eating alone...it may be impossible to really "come home" again, but at least I know there will be yogurt waiting for me when I get there.