I can remember when the Golden Arches reached the Motherland, back in 1974. I remember being insanely jealous as my sister attended her orthodontist appointment, as after the visit, as a special treat, she went to the burger bar that revolutionised our taste buds. We, in England, were not ignorant to the concept of 'fast food', per se, as the Great British tradition of Fish 'n Chips had been in existence for many years, but the phrase was not used as it is now. We did have our burger bars. I may be in the minority, but I loved going to the Wimpy Bar. Brown coloured, chewy slabs were thrown between a soft roll, and either wrapped, to go, or slid on to a plate. The manoeuvre of transferring said item to the crockery was always done with such precision. With the amount of grease that was still pouring from the patty, it was difficult for the food to stay put. The highlight of the trip came when, and if, we were permitted to have dessert. The Brown Derby, as I believe it was called, was a doughnut filled with ice-cream and covered with chocolate sauce.
Wimpy, I believe, is now as credible as the other fast food burger joints, and although my favourite haunt in a town called Kingsbury is long gone, the memories are still very clear. When I was a child, 'take-away' (or take-out) was not a regular occurrence. Parking the car and walking excitedly into a restaurant, only to walk out again with the food, was somewhat thrilling. We could actually go home and eat this food, and if it were an extremely special occasion, (history was about to be made, etc), we would be able to eat whilst watching the television! Those times were so few and far between, that even my recollection is not great! Now we have 'drive-thru's' (oh don't get me started on the Texas drive-thru's!), and fast has become faster.
However, I digress to a degree, as fast food is only part of my chosen topic. We are very fortunate to be surrounded by many varieties of culinary delights, and many 24 hour restaurants. I have found that my tastes have changed, and the preferred waffles and pancakes for breakfast (which were a favourite when I was visiting) have given way to Huevos Rancheros (fried eggs on top of corn tortillas and lots of cooked salsa). Perhaps it is the middle age preference for savory rather than sweet, but I have become very partial to 'Tex-mex'.
There are times when I think my taste buds are adopted. They do not always seem to belong to me, genetically. My brain activates one sense of culinary desire, and by the time I state my preference, the back of my throat is craving something entirely different. Of course, this has absolutely nothing to do with the notion that women of a certain age go through a period of 'indecisiveness'.
Although I am not home particularly early every evening, I do like to cook dinner during the week. I once thought there was a certain sense of romanticism about being taken to a restaurant every night, but when the Legislature is in session, and our normal workload is backlogged due to other demands, we leave late and it is more convenient to 'grab a bite' on the way home. It is at times like these that I crave a home cooked meal, and my crock pot becomes my best friend. By the time the weekend comes around, and we consider the thought of relaxing over a nice meal, with no washing up, choosing somewhere to eat becomes a chore, and I would rather curl up in front of the television with a bowl of home made chilli.
Our restaurant dining has, for the most part, been limited to the weekends. I know, I am fortunate enough to be able to go out each weekend, and enjoy the variety that this town offers. From fast to faster, to slow and slower, our choice is vast.
We enjoyed a weekend of much diversity a couple of weeks ago. Sunday lunchtime we followed up on an invitation to a free dessert at our 'special occasion' restaurant. The Brazilian Steakhouse that we frequent on birthdays, had opened additional diner in the north part of town. We had a wonderful meal and enjoyed the sophistication of the surroundings, and the attentiveness of the wait staff. It was quite full, with couples as well as families. Children sat beautifully, and when they did behaved perfectly when they visited the salad bar, always accompanied by their parents. It reminded me of days long past, when the threat of 'behave yourself or you will not come out with us again', held some weight.
Such a contrast to the previous evening, when we had visited a local buffet. The particular chain has two other venues in town, but they do not compare with the newest location, which has an international selection of dishes to tempt even the most discerning palate. Whilst the other places are clean, they lack the same sparkle and the new pad is always very, very busy. I was in one of my usual, 'I don't mind; don't have a particular fancy' moods, and it seemed a good idea to add to my indecisiveness. A little bit of everything sounded good, but there was so much 'everything'. I am always rather concerned at the amount of undernourished people at these restaurants. An enormous amount of teenage boys appear to have problems with putting on weight. Their trousers are incredibly loose and they obviously do not own a belt, or perhaps they are just wearing their big brother's hand me downs. Many walk around holding up their slacks, and others just display their underwear! Some people tell me it is fashion, but I cannot imagine Vivienne Westwood's catwalkers having to hike up their skirts as they belonged to last year's larger models!
Although the food is of good quality, most of the people do not reach the same standard. The trick is never to wear heels as you need to keep your balance. As the constant human avalanche flows down from the seating booths, the floor vibrates and I feel like the skittle at the end of a bowling alley. However, unlike the pin, I am able to avoid the strike providing I have my wits about me. 'Left, right, left, left, right', takes on a whole new meaning. Ballroom dance training, no matter how crude (my dad taught me to waltz) comes into its own, as I swirl and dip my way through the crowd. 'Excuse me' is a quaint, old fashioned courtesy call that is not understood by many, In fact, the people are either hard of hearing, or just don't listen. Requests not to leave your child unattended by the serving counters, seems to go completely unnoticed. I am not a linguist, but I am quite sure that even at its loosest translation, 'do not leave your child unaccompanied around the food', does not sound like, 'allow your child to wash their hair in the chocolate fountain'.
I find that I do not crave Wimpy burgers, despite my fond memories, and despite the high class of fast food available, I rarely have a desire to 'drive thru'. Fish and chips in Texas are generally served in high class restaurants, and yesterday's newspapers are set aside for recycling, other than wrapping. Chipotle is now my preferred sauce, and salsa is used for cooking as well as dipping. My homemade bread contains jalapenos, and I occasionally enjoy an apple pie pizza, and even make my own cornbread. I can generally find any delicacy my heart desires, including Bangers and Mash. However, the Brown Derby will never taste the same as it did in that Kingsbury restaurant. Perhaps it is not just the doughnut, nor the chocolate sauce; not even the ice-cream. I believe it is the memory of the 'occasion', that makes it impossible to reproduce.
Last weekend we had a different culinary experience, as we spent Veterans Day in not so sunny California. Destination, City of Angels will be.....another story.