When I was a little kid, we would sometimes have spaghetti for dinner. This normally caused me to panic.
For those of you whose parents were not in theatre, spaghetti is, at approximately a buck a box and three for a jar of sauce, one of the cheapest foods imaginable. Only ramen is so brother-can-you-spare-a-dime economical. When you factor in a picky little sister who still only eats plain noodles, only dirt gives a more competitive bang for the kid-feeding buck.
When I was small, spaghetti dinners meant 'holy shit! Payday's three days off and we're broke!' Putting on the worn VHS of 'Lady and the Tramp' and throwing a theme dinner might have worked for my small siblings, but I was a fairly sharpish little six-year-old. I could tell when Mom and Dad were pulling overtime or worrying for the lack of it. I avoided spaghetti at all costs for many years, and on occasions when it was patently unavoidable, the tomato sauce always carried a coppery aftertaste of panic.
Sparky, however, does not have such negative associations, and as such, he harbors no grudge toward the cheap-ass food. He orders it in restaurants when he feels like it, has preferences about how it is to be served (the spaghetti of my youth came in 'hot,' 'cold' and 'Parmesan cheese on top,') and frequently requests it. To him, it is a special treat.
We had been dating for about two years before the dreaded s-word came up as a dinner possibility. We were at the grocery store and he picked up a box of it.
"Uh...dear? We aren't broke, are we?"
"Of course not. Why do you ask?"
"Oh. ...Was I bad?"
"You don't like spaghetti?"
Therein lies one of the ironies of the age. I dreaded spaghetti and what it meant. I feared its' presence on the table as the sure sign of a coming Apocalypse, usually of a Daddy's-working-late and can't-read-your-story-tonight nature.
I didn't mind it, as far as taste. As a matter of fact, it was the one food I never did dare complain about. If Mom and Dad served spaghetti, they had enough worries. Least I could do was eat t he stuff gracefully.
"I d'know. It just...it wasn't good at home."
"Really? How did your folks make it?"
"...While arguing and waving bills at each other, much."
I should point out at this juncture that not only is Sparky a hopeless engineer, he is the son of an engineer and therefore did not spend any portion of his childhood with his health coverage coming from the state. My folks were not dirt poor, either, they just had some lean times. Sparky's idea of 'lean times' is "When Mom was finishing her second degree and Dad was still building the house." My idea of 'lean times' involves frequenting pawn shops to keep the heating on in January.
Nevertheless, he understood once I explained the negative connotations I felt spaghetti had. Clearly, he explained, I had been conditioned to associate spaghetti with crisis times. (Why, yes, I had just told him that.) The engineer's solution for such conditioning, therefore, was counter-conditioning. We would have to eat spaghetti -really good spaghetti, and lots of it, and when there was nothing wrong. Hells, spaghetti should become one of our celebratory foods.
Yes, we have celebratory foods. Everybody does. Stick a candle in a dead raccoon and it becomes birthday roadkill, does it not? Shut up and let me finish.
So we made spaghetti. It was my task, as She Who Does the Cooking, to experiment with adding browned ground beef, cooked sausage, sauteed onions and all manner of spices to store-bought sauce, all in an effort of reconditioning. Normally, the more I get to jake with a food's recipe, the more I like said food. Sparky, otherwise known as He Who Does the Dishes, was well aware of this, and by playing my strengths against my weaknesses, he was soon able to make me into a mild aficionado and frequent server of spaghetti, in addition to many other things pasta.
Why, yes! He is an opportunistic git who wanted meatballs! Doesn't make him any less wonderful for trying to de-traumatize the daughter of theatre folk. And it's okay, I make him watch musicals.
This would be a fine place to end the post, perhaps with a recipe for a particularly tasty iteration of sauce I've developed to please Sparky. It would be a fine thing if that were the end of the anecdote.
I was diagnosed with celiac sprue this year, after about six months of lead-up symptoms and a surgery. For those not familiar with the Plague, celiac disease means that one cannot eat wheat gluten ever again, on pain of some dramatic symptoms Sparky calls 'rocketbutt.'
It seemed that the exercise he had influenced me to start getting regularly was not the only reason for my dramatic inverted-freshman-fifteen weight loss and Ethiopian-orphan-grade gut bloating. The pieces of peanut-butter toast I had been happily replacing meals with in an attempt to look a bit less like Mia Tyler and more like Liv (a patently stupid venture on which I shall never again embark,) were literally tearing my tripes apart and rocketing right through me, leaving no nutritional impact whatsoever -except maybe from the cinnamon and legumes.
The first few trips to the grocery store after my diagnosis were like the visits of a newly-frocked priest to a whorehouse, or perhaps a recovering alcoholic to a liquor store. "No more of this for me! Nope, nope, nope -this I can have, but who wants to drink straight margarita mix? Damn! Why on earth do I even live?"
It is only the celiacs of this world who realize just what a pervasive element wheat is in the American diet, or precisely how good the Asians have it with their delicious rice-laden food.
(I would like, at this time, to extend my thanks to the entire Asian continent and the nation of Mexico for producing rice- and corn-based dishes I can eat. In particular, the developer of the frozen microwaveable egg roll, or Celiac Hot Pocket, has my undying gratitude.)
Of course, spaghetti is made from the finest wheat -and almost nothing but. The food I had dreaded for so long...well, I was finally justified in that. Trouble was, Sparky still loves the stuff and I'd grown to like it quite a bit myself. I cursed the Deathly Sprue every time I saw a box of noodles, a jar of sauce, or 'Lady and the Tramp' for six angry months. All that reconditioning, and for what? A beloved food that I couldn't eat for fear of death by rocketbutt.
Luckily, my Amazing Best Friend sent me a big box of gluten-free goodies in which my autistic godson, her little boy, was not interested. (They say a gluten-free diet helps with autism symptoms sometimes, and hey, anything he doesn't like, Aunt Dusty likely will!) Said box contained crackers, cereal bars, mac-and-cheese mixes, cookies -everything I had resigned myself to a life without!
Oh, yes. There was also a package of brown-rice gluten-free noodles. My Amazing Best Friend is hell of awesome and full of win.
Tonight I made Sparky a crockpot-ful of meat-laced, fresh-sauteed-onion spaghetti sauce and we feasted like two dogs in a back alley. Life is good!