I don’t know what made me start thinking about food this morning. Perhaps it was when I sat down to a breakfast of beets and eggs. Perhaps deeply buried in my subconscious was a longing for bacon and eggs and hash browns and a pancake drizzled with real maple syrup — somewhere — anywhere other than my own kitchen. Despite the peculiar color, my red beets and eggs tasted delicious. The beets were left over from my dinner last night — garden beets diced and sautéed lightly in butter with a sprinkling of cinnamon. Actually, they composed my entire dinner. I love beets, the earthy flavor, the crunchy texture, the color that stains my fingers and my tongue. I often eat such simple meals. So it seemed a natural thing to me to break a couple eggs over the beets and stir up a red scramble. I don’t always eat from such a strange menu. In fact, I’m a pretty good cook.
But at times I just want to eat out. In our town of 700 people, we have few options. I can go to Deb’s Diner for breakfast or lunch. There is a round table inside the door where the regulars hang out for coffee. Juneberry pie on the specials board turns my head every time. If I am hankering for a steaming bowl of homemade soup, I might walk up the street to KB’s. Both these places have limited hours and close down mid-afternoon. To serve the dinner crowd, the folks at the Hitching Post roll out an inventive variety of pizzas. The town is abuzz about an abandoned Pizza Hut building which was recently moved onto a vacant lot on Main Street and is being renovated. Word is that the owner plans to serve designer coffee and other goodies and to be open extended hours. Many of us drive by every couple days to see if the place is up and running yet. This is a community that looks forward to the annual pancake supper at the fire hall or the Pig in the Park potluck on the Fourth of July. We take our dining pleasures when and where we can get them.
We have the best beef in the world right here in our own neighborhood. But if I want to get out of town for a few hours, I’ll drive to Kimber’s Border Bar in Turner or the Little Montana Café in Grass Range for a chin-dripping burger. Or I might head out to Havre or Malta to wield my fork into a tender, juicy steak just as good as one can find anywhere in the world. But more often than not, ennui keeps my feet in my own kitchen, and I slam together a lima bean sandwich with thick slices of sweet onion on homemade bread.
I wonder what makes eating out such a special treat for me. Growing up on the farm we had fantastic meals, huge and wholesome. Every bite originated from our garden and the cattle, hogs and chickens that we raised and fed. Made-from-scratch Sunday dinner after church usually featured roast beef or fried chicken. Potatoes, gravy, two vegetables, a green salad, a Jell-O fruit salad, hot bread, a variety of pickles, and pie or cake completed the meal. Never once in my entire growing up did my family go out to a restaurant. When I left the farm life behind. I had to train myself to cook differently. I had to pare down the menu considerably.
What I really hunger for after a hard day’s work, is dinner at my favorite Vietnamese restaurant, but that is 1,000 miles west. Or the Afghani restaurant, ditto. My mouth waters for Indian food like I had in Bangalore or for a plank-grilled salmon on the Seattle waterfront. I have learned to prepare a limited number of exotic foods, but most I leave to the experts. I don’t want to learn to cook all my favorite dishes. I want to go to a good restaurant and enjoy food that I haven’t a clue how to prepare at home. That way I never get critical of the meal. I enjoy it for what it is and never think I could do better.
The weekend is fast approaching. For several days I have been wanting to sink my teeth into a plate of my friend Ron’s sesame-ginger beef at his Quick Stop Diner in Watson, Saskatchewan. Watson is only 690 kilometers, or 375 miles, or eight hours of travel time up the northern road. I have not seen Ron and Sharon since last year. They always welcome me with hugs and kisses. Then they stuff me with good food. I’ll pack my toothbrush and a change of clothes. My truck is full of gas. Now where did I stash my Canadian money.
(Sondra Ashton graduated from Harlem High School in 1963 and left for good. She finds, after recently returning, things now look a bit different. Join her in a discussion of her column at montanatumbleweed.blogspot.com.)