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Jim Aylward: Favorite foods add flavor to a lifetime of tales

I was a skinny kid. At one point I was 6 feet 4 and weighed 127 pounds. I came home from school one day and my mother was having tea with a friend. I was introduced and then went up to my room as I heard the woman say, "Nell, your son is painfully thin!" My mother said, "He's thin, but he's not painfully thin!"

To remedy that I went to Boyd's soda fountain every afternoon and Mrs. Boyd made me a pineapple sundae. The store was dark and cooled by ceiling fans. The counter was dark wood. The chairs were high-backed cane. And the ice cream was seriously delicious. Three scoops of vanilla in a silvery pedestal dish, fresh from the freezer, pineapple sauce, marshmallows, nuts and the perfect cherry on top. Good stuff.

For a time I found myself in Holyoke, Mass., working at a small radio station. I walked into a lunch place with a list behind the counter of 100 sandwiches. One-hundred! I read the list and discovered chopped egg with green olives. I ordered it, and I've managed to have olive in my egg salad ever since.

Also, in that old industrial town, I dined each evening at Gleason's. They had custardy Grape-Nuts pudding. Perfect. I ordered it every night until the time they ran out of Grape-Nuts and made it with cornflakes. Not bad, but not Grape-Nuts.

In Rochester, N.H., I worked at a radio station on White Mountain Road, and boarded at a dairy farm just down the hill. Mrs. Palmer made fresh doughnuts every morning. She drained them on wooden racks in her little kitchen and then packed them for sale at all the restaurants and diners downtown. I would finish my morning show and come back to the house around 10, and she would always say, "Jim, would you like a doughnut and some coffee?" Would anyone refuse Mrs. Palmer?

There was a restaurant in Rochester that made toast on a curious rack that slowly moved up and down until the toast popped off. Then the chef dipped a brush into a bowl of melted butter and brushed until the butter ran through it. Now that was toast.

When I joined the Army I weighed about 157 pounds. I reported to Fort Dix, N.J., where they had 1-gallon vats of peanut butter and strawberry jam on the tables each day. On the nights they served burgers, they planned extra for the next breakfast. They chopped it up into little pieces and served it in a cream sauce on toast. Almost everybody hated it. Not me. SOS? If you wanted something to stick to your ribs, that stuff did the job.

When I was overseas in 1953 there must have been a shortage of mess kits. The good half was shaped like a bowl. The bad half was divided into two small sections with a well-intentioned but fatal ridge in the middle. You haven't had a holiday dinner until you've had it in the wrong side of a mess kit, the dessert, the turkey, the potatoes all in a pile. Then again, I got so I kind of liked pie a la gravy.

Over the years I gradually put on pounds. Because of my height I've been able to carry it fairly well. Today I'm still tall at 6 feet — where did those 4 inches go? — but with the inevitable ring around the middle.

I blame it on the olives in the egg salad.

Jim Aylward was a nationally syndi­cated columnist and radio host in New York City. Jim welcomes letters from readers. Write him at P.O. Box 1596, Elfers, FL 34680-1596.

Jim Aylward: Favorite foods add flavor to a lifetime of tales 03/23/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 27, 2010 1:31pm]
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