The Foodie Fifteen

My Food Tour of Europe

screenshot_20161227-1747372Yesterday, four days after I returned home from three months in Europe, I asked my dad if I had put on any weight while I was away. “Give it to me straight, Dad,” I said. “You’ve always been honest with me, and don’t sugarcoat it.”

He hesitated.

“C’mon, Dad,” I said again. “I want the truth.”

“Weeelll,” he cleared his throat. “Aidan, ah, I think you might have put on a few pounds.”

I looked at him again. “Dad,” I said. “You’re not telling me something.”

“Well,” he said again, trying to build up his courage. “You might have put on the Freshman Fifteen.”

“The Freshman Fifteen!?” I asked incredulously. “But, I am not even in college.”

“Then, call it the Foodie Fifteen,” he replied, before adding with an apologetic smile, “but, that’s what you’re supposed to do in Europe. You’ll take it off in no time.”

I glared at him and ran upstairs to check the bathroom mirror. From the front, I looked exactly the same. Maybe a little bustier, but no real change. Then, I checked the back. My dad was right. My butt was significantly bigger. Europe had given me an ass.

It all began in Italy. I fell in love with Italian food over my first dinner in Rome, and my love affair with Europe’s food didn’t end until I left Stockholm, Sweden just before Christmas.

In the wilderness, I ate to live. In Europe, on the other hand, I lived to eat.

In Rome, I finally found a dish that rivaled caribou heart when I broke my year-long vegetarian diet and ordered pasta all’Amatricianaguanciale (cured pork jowl), pecorino cheese, and tomato sauce. In Florence, I mourned the death of American democracy and the election of Donald Trump as the airy crust of a real Margherita pizza melted in my mouth. In Switzerland, I learned that a backpacker’s budget doesn’t go far in a country of bankers and discovered the wonderful simplicity of a supper of Swiss chocolate and a plate of rösti (hashbrowns). And, in Budapest, I substituted Thanksgiving dinner for two cones of gelato and Lángos, a donut deep-fried in animal fat and topped with sour cream and grated cheese.

These days, as I sit eating my salads in my newly purchased curvy jeans, I dream of my European meals. I think of the pastas and pizzas and spiraling cones of gelato and my stomach gives a long mournful growl. I may be back to salads and long ski workouts, but I don’t regret a single pound. As I discovered in Europe, sometimes the best way to see a country is by eating your way through it.


Bush Eyes

Our staple, Arctic grayling.
Our staple, Arctic grayling.

I was 2 ½ weeks into our trip, when the first sign of food-deprivation set in.  My dad, my uncle, and I had nearly finished off the last of our chocolate. We had one bite-sized Snickers bar left, which, after supper, we’d agreed to split three ways. After that, there’d be nothing sweet till Fairbanks. To make matters worse, I had to conserve my cocoa, my lone indulgence. I had just enough for the mornings. So while my dad sipped his coffee and Heimo cradled his cup of Raman broth, I sat empty-handed.

Heimo glanced at me as I sat pining away, and smirked, “Someone’s got a bad case of bush eyes!”

“Bush eyes? What’s that?” I asked.

“I’ve seen that look on your face; your head’s full of food.”

It was true. I was not homesick or lovesick; I was foodsick.

All week, I had been dreaming of frappes, chocolate malts, cheese, juicy watermelons and fresh-baked bread. I couldn’t wait to get back to Fairbanks and eat something other than fish and pancakes.

Heimo continued, “I remember my girls, Rhonda and Krin, going through the same thing. Understand, they weren’t here for just a month. We were out from August till June. And in winter, there’d be nothing but meat. All they could think of – dream of – was food.  I remember them writing long grocery lists and making up menus. Man, were they happy when they got to town.”

I thought of what my life had been like compared to Heimo’s daughters. I grew up with access to restaurants, stores, supermarkets, where anything my heart desired was just a shelf away. And now I had bush eyes – and I had ‘em bad.

I wasn’t the only one. My dad had them, too. Like a good Cheesehead, he craved dairy. Even Heimo had his cravings. He wanted salmon and moose tacos and Diet Cokes.

When we finally did get back to Fairbanks, I walked through Fred Meyer eyeing the mountains of food. I wanted it all: fruits from Chile, Alaska-grown vegetables, 20 kinds of cereals and sodas, nuts, chocolate, and cheese! I marveled at the selections and the excess that most of us never think twice about.

That evening, after doing our laundry, my dad and I made our way down to College Road and found a Thai restaurant and ordered chicken skewers with peanut sauce, spring rolls and rich, spicy curries. Then we made a bee-line for Hot Licks Homemade Ice Cream and bought the biggest chocolate malts they had.  Nothing ever tasted so good. We walked back to our hotel, sipping our malts, with full bellies and bush eyes temporarily sated.