Memories are about taste, too

Ok, I’ll admit it, from my first memories to just last week, the things that usually stick with me from any trip or vacation revolve around food. I have no shame for making these strong associations because they dredge up many more wonderful memories from each event.

My mother, a foodie herself, used to get exasperated with me. For example, we were once reminiscing about my childhood trip to Mystic Seaport. The first thing that popped in my head was that a huge bee landed in my root beer and I had to toss it out. My mother threw up her hands and said, “Really? That’s what you remember?”

Well, no. I remembered the huge ships and flapping sails and chilly (in summer!!) breeze. That appeased her, some. But from then on she told anyone who would listen that all I remembered about Mystic was the damn bee.

It was a HUGE bee, I’m just saying.

Likewise, the other day I came across some photos I had taken during a trip with four college friends to the World’s Fair in Knoxville, TN, in 1982. I spent the entire two-day whirlwind trip with my jaw agape, blown away by the size, scope and representative cultures of the fairgrounds. I saw my first robot,  building a car in the Japanese pavilion, among dozens of other marvels.

We could only afford a weekend trip and we slept on the floor at a friend’s house, because, you know, college equals dirt poor. So, while I eyed the exotic food being offered hither and yon, I couldn’t afford most of it. That’s why my food memory of The World’s Fair is Fritos chili pie. Yep, at a lowly stand, they would slice open the side of a Fritos bag, top it with chili, cheese and onions and hand it to you with a spoon. Nirvana for a college student.

When I unearthed those photos, of course I had to make Fritos chili pie for dinner, and it was a good as I remember, even when eaten from a bowl and topped with a heap of crisp arugula  to offer some semblance of a healthy meal. Now I can call it Fritos chili salad to appease the guilt, because we will have it again.

You don’t need a recipe for Fritos chili salad, but here are a some variations:

  • Use your favorite recipe for black beans or red beans, skip the rice, and pile on (in this order) the shredded cheddar or Monterey jack, diced raw onions, and arugula, watercress or cilantro.
  • Instead of greens, top your “salad” with quick pickled slaw and cucumbers: In a medium bowl, combine 1/4 cup of rice vinegar with a tablespoon of sugar and a pinch of salt. Stir until sugar dissolves. Add a cup of coleslaw cabbage mix (the kind with carrots) and one diced cucumber. Let sit, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes before you begin assembling the meal. Use slotted spoon to scoop the pickled slaw on top of your creation.
  • Add what you usually like on your chili, whether it’s jalapenos, green olives, green onions or sour cream.
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