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Food, (in)glorious food

January 9, 2014

Me: “Morning Stomach. How you doing today?”

Stomach: “Oh god, really – it’s that time again?”

Me: “I’m afraid so.”

Stomach: “What do you have for me?”
Me: “I’m thinking some form of griddled bread product, topped with processed meat, doused in a modified corn syrup and washed down with a good litre of coffee. How’s that sound?”

Stomach: “It sounds like yesterday.”

Me: “You’re right. It’s been too long. Get ready.”

My stomach and I are currently engaged in a battle of wills. I’m breaking long-established patterns of digestive behaviour, attempting to redefine meal parameters and portion sizes, and acceptable times at which to ingest these meals. Normal rules don’t apply when on holiday, but my stomach is confused, unhappy, rebelling.

My food intake for today, for example, has been particularly puzzling. My fast was not broken until ten past midday with, oddly, a (delicious) plate of lobster eggs benedict. Starting the day with fish is not the norm for me, and nor is lunch being replaced with half a pack of haribo gummy bears, but we were stuck on a busy stretch of highway coming out of Santa Cruz, and there was nothing else to hand. The day’s culinary events were concluded with a microwaved pizza – too late we realised that the as-advertised convection oven in our camper was merely a microwave, and so a disappointingly-moist bottomed pepperoni pizza was consumed, in silence, straight from the slightly sweaty glass turntable of the oven. The highs and lows of eating, USA-style.

Since arriving in the States ten days ago my digestive system has been subjected to a whole new world of cuisine, some of it gourmet; others less so.

Oysters at the Hilton in San Diego marked a highlight. Pecan ‘flapjack’ pancakes at Richard Walker’s pancake house in downtown were another win. Lemon meringue pie from Cambria, and the afore-mentioned lobster eggs benedict at Carmel have been other notable delights, the calibre (if not the timing or sizing) of which have been first class.

However, there have been some significant low points.
Eggs, ready whipped, from a carton. Microwaved pizza. A questionable (if inventive) dinner of leftover spag bol, turkey slices, ‘fiesta mix’ cheese and croutons.

These latter culinary delights have all been prepared by my own fair hand in our camper van, utilising the microwave oven, burner, limited cooking utensils and non-non-stick pans. Eating well is very easy to do in the States – as long as you go out to do it.

It’s our own fault really. A three-week holiday has us maxed out to our limit, and so eating out every day just isn’t tenable, especially when you choose one of the most expensive states in the country to travel around. The food is great, the portions huge, and I suppose if we were sensible we could share one main course instead of ordering two huge platters of food, leading to lengthy periods sat staring in a stupefied daze in the roomy armchairs of the RV, saying “I shouldn’t have eaten that”. But we’re still on menu-amazement mode, where choosing one thing each is hard enough, let alone something to share.

So we’re limiting ourselves to one meal out, one meal in, which means long, protracted tours around giant supermarkets, attempting to choose foods constituting a balanced diet, that can be cooked in the limited facilities available, and that perhaps contain a few ingredients that haven’t first been blended, frozen, dehydrated and formed into patties (a surprising amount of food comes in patty form over here).

Also, we have to choose products that we will be able to finish within a week, when we hand over the RV keys in Seattle. Although the 1.5 litre tankard of Jim Beam is a very reasonable price, and comes in a very cool bottle, it is frankly irresponsible for us to buy it, knowing it would involve at least five very drunken nights in the next seven. I wanted to buy some traditional chocolate chip cookies today, the chewy, chocolate-loaded ones you always see characters munching their way through in chick flicks. They had a great selection – but, did I want them in a 24 or 36 pack?

The frozen lasagnes (or lasagnas as they would have them spelt) feed 12 at a minimum. Milk comes in gallons, and a family-sized pizza could double up as a spare car tyre. If I don’t return to the UK at least half a stone heavier I’ll have been doing something wrong.

And it’s easy to keep track of how much you’re consuming. The menus on the wall in McDonald’s display the calorific content of each of the burgers in larger print than the prices. The five different grades of milk (no fat, 1%, 2%, soy and full fat) come in separate fridges.

Of course, over-eating is part of the whole holiday experience. I only ate three of the six pecan pancakes I was given the other day (plus a jug of maple syrup and a curious confection they call whipped butter, which frankly should be served with everything), but I would have been disappointed if I’d only received three in the first place. Exclaiming “wow!” at first sight of the tray of food you’re offered is one of the pleasures of eating out, as is the wry, shame-faced grin you adopt as the waitress collects your still-third-full plate half an hour later. It, and the constant stream of tea and coffee, certainly make the cheque easier to swallow.

Generally, Ben and I don’t really eat breakfast, but it’s now become our favourite meal of the day, appearing in some battered and griddled form, its chief constituents being eggs and pourable sugar. Sometimes it involves fresh berries, usually it has some sort of processed meat, except for today when the liberally-hollandaise-doused eggs were topped with juicy chunks of lobster, a decadence that perhaps went a little far, even by our standards.

How long we’ll be able to keep this up is anyone’s guess. We’re now coming into the part of the coast famed for its seafood (or at least, its ability to source seafood from Alaska, as the majority of its waters are over-fished and empty), and so I can’t see our eating habits getting back to anything like normal until we return to the UK. And perhaps by then my stomach will have expanded so that normal, England-sized meals just won’t fill the void. We’ll have to wait and see.
Stomach, I’ll keep you apprised of events…

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