Ancient Greek Temple of Concordia, Agrigento Sicily with olive trees and white flowers

Strange Food and Beautiful Places

Growing up I had an Italian grandmother. She was born in Sicily and immigrated to Boston with her family as a kid. She spoke no english, and at the age of 16 had an arranged marriage with a fellow Sicilian from the same village. It’s hard to know her exact history because, true to stereotype, she came without papers.

Hills and farmland in Sicily
Sicilian Countryside 2010

But somehow, I grew up eating Hamburger Helper. I’m sorry, Grandma Rose, these things happen.

Despite my one degree of separation from Sicily, I had a mostly middle American, suburban upbringing. My parents were raising five kids on one income, and let me tell you, my mother could stretch a dollar. Enter Hamburger Helper, and it’s weirdly named cousin American Chop Suey.

Hamburger Helper in a white bowl with blue trim.
Oh, Hamburger Helper, never change.

Both were (still are?) basically elbow macaroni, ground beef, and some tomato-y based sauce. I have been looking at pictures on line of these dishes and I just can’t imagine having them in the regular rotation, but I loved them as a kid. Especially Hamburger Helper because it didn’t have any chunks of canned tomatoes in it like the chop suey did.

After graduating high school and getting my first apartment, it got worse. Hamburger Helper was a childhood memory by then, and I had taken meat out of my diet mainly because I couldn’t afford to buy it. Also, I’m a bad housekeeper and it’s one thing to let spinach stay too long in the fridge and quite another to decide you aren’t going to cook the meat you defrosted.

I came up with a dish made of noodles, tuna, canned corn, and mayonnaise. I cooked it in a pot and I must have added some spices because it was usually pretty yellow. There must have been curry powder because I always put that in tuna.

For a number of years, this was just delicious. Quick and filling and cheerful looking on the plate. For four or five yearsIt was in a higher rotation than Hamburger Helper ever was before it dropped off. I think I started to have a little more time and money and began cooking for real.

Some 10 years later I remembered this cheerful little meal and decided to make it for myself. Friends, do I need to tell you it was disgusting? It was just awful. That was probably the last time I even looked at a jar of mayonnaise.

Nowadays, the 1970’s and its culinary delights seem to be well behind me and I’m not really sorry. Did you have any childhood favorites that seem bizarre to you as an adult?

Here is a gratuitous image from Sicily, as a palate cleanser.

Ancient Greek Temple of Concordia, Agrigento Sicily with olive trees and white flowers
Temple of Concordia in Agrigento, Sicily

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