simple meals

kinfolk photo of a sardine

 photograph from Kinfolk, taken by Jennifer Causey

Over a decade ago, when I met my husband — then an awkward 20-year-old from New Orleans to my brash 18-year-old self from California — our foreignness to one another was perhaps most evident in our palates. Though we were both Americans, our upbringings meant that I, the first child of immigrant Taiwanese parents, experienced the food of our country through the lens of fast food pizza, spaghetti with Prego sauce (always Prego sauce, never any other brand), Arby’s roast beef sandwiches, and the occasional bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, while Chris ate his fair share of gumbo, po boys, and jambalaya. Before I met him, I had heard of none of these foods. Growing up at home meant that I ate my mother’s meals of steamed fish with ginger and soy sauce, of rice wine chicken soup and sautéed morning glory greens with garlic. She used oil with a light hand. Instead of having sweets for dessert, we ate fruit, and ice cream was a delicacy to be saved for birthdays.

When we arrived at university, though two years apart, both Chris and I were thrust into making cultural adjustments. The dining halls, in attempting to appeal to students from all states and all countries, featured things that I found bewildering, such as beef stroganoff, and even a form of what they called gumbo that was not so much gumbo as it was a dark, stewy concoction with spices. Chris and I began seeing one another — dating is not the word for it; we did not go on “dates” so much as we just hung around one another for epic stretches — in the first week of my freshman year.

And we discovered, across his Southern background and my Taiwanese one, that we both liked sardines. There was much we couldn’t stomach, but canned sardines, a food that is reviled by most folks, was something he and I had in common. (Not politics, though. He was, back then, a registered Republican, and I was a post-punk feminist.)

So we decided to settle in the middle of my common room floor, by the television with a VHS of Say Anything whirring, and ate cheap, canned sardines on common saltine crackers. Any one of my roommates who happened to wander through took no time in expressing her disgust. But we were happy. Now Chris and I tend to refer to those younger versions of ourselves as “little weirdos,” because… we were. Awkward, funny, and in my case, wracked with the initial onset of bipolar disorder, we were strange, and not at home in those borrowed meat suits of ours.

But we liked one another. 9/11 had just happened. The President hadn’t declared war yet. We liked one another, and we did not know how tumultuous life would become for either of us, or for our lives together, but we knew that we felt the tickle of fondness at our sternums, and we knew the pleasure of a simple meal.


Do you have any minor food combinations that trigger memory?

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  1. i’m not sure i have a good answer to your question, but — my favorite part of this post is finding out that morning glory greens are edible? is it the leaves themselves that she’d saute? im intrigued & very curious to try if so!

  2. oh, I love this. it’s so sweet. I’d love to read more stories like this, just because I’m a sucker (yet also deeply cynical! hahaha!) for love stories.

    hmm, food combinations? I’d have to write something about that for myself sometime. I can’t think of any right now, I’d have to think harder :)

    • I’m glad you liked the story. It’s important for me to remember to write about things other than the difficulties of life, which is hard to keep in mind when in the midst of a health crisis. But love has been something in my life that holds me more together than I would otherwise be, and for that I am grateful.

      I’m also sure that you have some great food combinations. I’m fascinated by the weird things that people like to eat together, such as peanut butter and bacon sandwiches. I think that’s a thing.

      Oh! And I’m still interested in publishing something you might want to write about race and the personal development online world.

      x E

      • Ahh, yes. I just read something by one of my favourite artists on this yesterday that I think you’d like (love?):

        Ew, peanut butter and bacon? I’m sorry but that sounds so gross to me HAHAHA.

        Oh! Yes! Thanks for reminding me, because I think having a platform to publish those thoughts would make my mind feel like I have more space to explore those topics. I publish mainly poetry/creative writing/more autobiographical/creative nonfiction/prose these days on , so having a different space (especially in a friend and *blogger*’s space) would be good for me. I need to just get down and write about it, I have other more intentional things I’ve been needing to write for months. Heh! <3

        • I did like the quote; thank you for sharing it. And yes, I’m definitely still interested in having a piece by you about women of color and blogging. One thing I’ve been thinking about lately is the proliferation of whiteness in Pinterest images. I am so conscious of the amount of Caucasian-centered images that I pin on my boards. I try not to do it so much, because it bothers me.

  3. Leigh Stein

    I love this story. :)

    When I met my boyfriend three years ago, he had the most horrible vegetarian junk food diet of anyone I’d ever met. One night I came over to his apartment and he apologized for drinking soda right out of a 2 liter bottle. “Actually, you should be apologizing for eating Hot Pockets and orange soda for dinner…”

    I’ve tried to introduce him to new foods and one of the funniest things has been brussels sprouts, which I never even thought I liked. I found a Mark Bittman recipe that looked good and now it’s our favorite vegetable, and my boyfriend even learned how to cook the recipe himself. It’s the only thing he knows how to cook, aside from Pasta Roni.

    Highly recommended:

    • Thank you so much for sharing. I think that the vegetarian/vegan junk food diet is actually pretty common. I remember hearing stories about people eating barbecue potato chips with hummus as their only meal. :)

      Brussels sprouts, I think, are one of those vegetables that has really gotten a bad rap over the years. Once I introduced them to Chris, roasted, he adored them, and they are now a staple in our home. I’ll have to check out the recipe you linked to.

      Hot Pockets and soda! Oof. That makes my stomach hurt just to think about it.

      x E

  4. Christopher Fleitas

    Just to clarify: the whole issue with Yale’s “gumbo” was that it was gooey and translucent. Yet it somehow still tasted close enough that I ate it up. I was…not so discerning, as indicated by my Andy Capp’s Hot Fry intake.

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