Now that my appetite is returning, I have begun to think about Great Food that I have had over my lifetime. There has been a lot of it, of course. I have known some wonderful cooks in my life. My sister was a good cook, all my kids are good cooks and I, myself, (forget modesty here), have turned out some pretty good food. But a few stand out.
In Wolf Point, Montana, we were invited to one of my mother's cousin's for a catfish fry. I don't remember anything that was served except the catfish, giant platters of crispy, golden fish, freshly caught from the Missouri that day. I can still taste it. When we left Vermont to return to California, we took a detour up to Maine to visit friends and had a real, honest-to-goodness clam bake. The kind you read about but never get to try. Fresh lobster from our friend's boat, clams, potatoes, corn on the cob. It was fabulous! Once in Frankfurt, Germany, Erik and I dined at an ancient cellar restaurant on fresh oysters followed by salmon so succulent and perfect that I have never forgotten it. Erik did not care for turkey, so we usually had something else for Thanksgiving dinner, and one year I made a crown roast of pork that was a triumph. Lisa and I met for lunch in San Francisco one day and each ordered a hot turkey sandwich which has been the gold standard for hot turkey sandwiches ever since. In Sweden, where it seems every woman is a gourmet cook, I ate so many wonderful meals that I lost count. Our friend, Ulla Svensson, used to stuff strömming (a small, herring-like fish, harvested from the Baltic Sea by her husband and sons) with fresh dill, and then bread and fry them to golden perfection. Ulla was a wonderful cook and her pittipanna, a kind of Swedish hash, was outstanding. Erik's Uncle Lasse made heavenly plättar, (Swedish pancakes) with cloudberry preserves and whipped cream. Yum, yum.
But my all-time, never-to-be-forgotten meal, the one that sticks in my mind as the most delicious food I have ever consumed was a KFC take-out meal. We were on a trip to Montana and the plan was to link up with Lisa, Scott and Jack (then about 18 months old) and tour the old Anderson haunts and my birthplace in North Dakota and other points of interest. It was one of those made-in-hell travel days, where the flights were late, the connections were bad, Erik's blood sugars were low, and the accommodations were not really what you would call plush. This was Billings, Montana. Our motel was a row of nondescript, identical rooms, no restaurant, no shopping center nearby. No car, since we had flown in. We were famished, crabby, ready to chuck the whole thing and head home. But we had to eat, especially Erik. So I picked up the telephone and called KFC. In no time, an angel from heaven arrived at our motel door. He had with him a large packet, warm to the touch and steamy when opened. In it was crispy, golden chicken, mashed potatoes, flaky biscuits, creamy gravy. I have never tasted anything so delicious before or after.
I have never eaten KFC since that night. I do not want to spoil the remembrance of that wonderful meal, since I suspect that in the light of everyday dining, Colonel Sander's food is quite ordinary. But, oh boy, on that occasion, no 5-star German restaurant could have produced anything so life-savingly scrumptious as that take-out packet of production-line fast food.
Makes you kind of stop and wonder how much of what we enjoy in food is based on conditions, atmosphere, hunger, company, and other factors, and how much is actually based on taste. A hot dog roasted over an open campfire on a chilly evening does not taste a thing like that same hot dog heated up in your broiler at home. A toasted cheese sandwich shared with good company at the end of a long hard day does not resemble that same sandwich thrown together for a hasty lunch on your way out the door. A gourmet meal in a fancy restaurant will be tasteless and dry if you are sharing it with people you despise. Maybe it doesn't matter so much what we eat as when and with whom we eat it.
All I can say, if you are starving and distressed and at the end of your rope, ole Colonel Sanders sure knows how to deliver!