There were a lot of things I loved as a kid because they were bad for me: Tang, Marshmallow stuff from a jar, fruit shaped cereal, and macaroni and cheese from a box. They were also the things my mother never let me have, so I had to enjoy them at friends’ houses.
When I moved away to college one of the first things I did was go on a bad food buying binge. I was an adult, I choose what I wanted to eat. I ate potato chips for breakfast and Coco Puffs for dinner. I drank Tang and Fanta instead of water and tried those sugary “International” instant coffees.
I was in heaven, for a while. Eventually, the cereal started to scratch the roof of my mouth and all the pop and Tang left me thirsty. I started to crave all the things I had been forced to eat as a kid. Broccoli, spinach, and baked chicken had never tasted so good.
Certain junk food was still good occasionally, like Cool Ranch Doritos and chocolate milk already mixed. But the majority of my food was the same relatively healthy stuff I’d grown up on. Yes, ice cream counts as healthy. It was a balance I liked.
At some point after college I saw a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese in the grocery store and remembered how delicious it had been when I was seven. So I bought the box, some butter, and even a little container of whole milk. I wasn’t going to mess around with nonfat. Not for mac and cheese.
If you’ve ever had boxed macaroni and cheese, I’m sure you can predict how it turned out. Not anywhere near as good as I’d remembered. In fact, it was really bad. Bland, mushy, and basically tasteless. I threw it out and had a salad instead.
My very favorite meal from childhood was Champagne Chicken. My dad made it a few times when I was growing up and it was delicious every time. At least as far as I could remember. I have a lot of childhood memories of my dad in the kitchen, cooking, singing loud and making a mess. His cooking always involved lots of pans, lots of sauces, and at least one secret ingredient. And usually Bob Dylan in the background.
As an adult I’ve noticed that my dad doesn’t cook as much as he used to. So I’ve been bugging him. He’d probably say nagging. About Champagne Chicken. He’s had many excuses. He doesn’t have the recipe. He doesn’t remember what’s in it. He wouldn’t know where to start.
I decided it would probably be like the mac and cheese, anyway. Better in my memory. So I stopped asking.
Then one Sunday I went over to my parents’ house for our usual Sunday night dinner. I recognized the smell as soon as I walked into the house. Champagne Chicken! My dad had made it as a surprise for me.
It turned out, it was even better than I remembered. Maybe because I could appreciate the champagne flavor as an adult. Or maybe because my dad took the time to make something just because I wanted it. All I know is that we had a great dinner that night and I learned that some things are even better the second time around.
Have you tried anything you loved as a child? Was it the same taste or experience? Or was it even better?
I love traditions, especially fun ones. I’m all about Birthday cakes, Christmas jammies, and Signature drinks at cocktail parties. But, one of my favorite times for traditions is the New Year. The eve before and the day of are full of fun things to do every year. Some are well known and long celebrated by my family. Some are fun things I’ve discovered through research and forced upon my family.
They know they love it.
Living in Ecuador I learned a lot of tricks for bringing luck in the New Year. Most of them done at the stroke of midnight.
The first was Grapes. The tradition is to eat twelve grapes right at midnight and make a wish with each grape. One wish for each month of the new year. Twelve is a lot of wishes, so you have to plan ahead. And chew fast.
If you want to travel in the new year, there is something you can do to help make your wish come true. Also done at midnight, you grab a bag or suitcase and run around the block. You have to make it around the block before 12:01.
It can be hard to do the grapes and the suitcase in the same year, but it can be done. A few years ago a friend and I planned it out. We had our wishes written out and popped the grapes in quickly. Then we picked up a suitcase together and ran around the block while chewing. It was fun and we ended up taking some fun trips together that year.
My favorite New Year’s tradition, of course, is the underwear.
In Ecuador, you wear a pair of colored underwear on New Year’s Eve to bring you luck in a certain area of your life. Red is for love, romance, and passion. Blue is for travel, Green is for money, and Yellow for good health. You cannot wear undies with a little of each color and think you’ll be lucky in all areas. It’s important to choose.
When I moved back to the US I heard of a similar tradition somewhere in Asia. Maybe my Cambodian friend told me, or maybe I read it in a magazine. I can’t remember, and really that’s not the important part. What is important is that it’s a tradition to wear red underwear on New Year’s Eve to bring good luck.
I decided that love and passion can really be for everything. If you love travel and are passionate about cooking, then red underwear will bring you luck in those areas, too. So, we made it a family tradition to wear red underwear on New Year’s Eve. Even my little brother gets a pair of red boxers in his stocking at Christmas. He grumbles about it, but he puts them on.
New Year’s Day is the ritual that is most important to my dad. We have a good luck dinner as a family every January first.
He tells us the story of how eating pork on New Year’s Day is lucky because it shows that you had enough money left over from the year to afford pork at the end. It can be pork chops or pork roast, the way it is prepared is not important. It’s that you are eating pork on the first day of the year. It also has something to do with the pig being lucky because it moves forward, unlike lobster and chickens who move backwards.
Black eyes peas are also considered lucky. They are supposed to represent coins, meaning gold or money. We usually have them with rice, as Hoppin’ John. Greens are also on the menu because they represent cash. There is usually hot links and cornbread, too. But that’s more about what we like eating than bringing luck.
Some years we look up a lucky dessert to go along with it. Last year we made an orange sponge cake that is considered lucky in China. The year before that it was Red Velvet cake because anything red should be lucky on New Year’s.
The best part of the tradition is that we sit down together as a family and share what we are grateful for from the year that just ended.
Some people may not believe in lucky food or underwear. I say, that’s their loss. Try picking out a pair of fun undies for New Year’s Eve and I dare you not to smile!
What are your favorite New Year’s traditions? Anything you do for luck?