Last week I was walking around a New Orleans grocery store with my daughter helping her re-stock her apartment, which had been virtually empty since Hurricane Ida swept through town almost two months ago. Everything in her refrigerator had been thrown out a few days after the storm, and she had been working out of town for weeks, so she was starting from scratch.
My wife headed down a different aisle as she needed to get some things for our apartment. I was mainly hanging with our daughter, pushing her cart, enjoying the time together, and taking interest in the items she chose.
My daughter’s taste in groceries and my taste in groceries as a 24-year-old are night-and-day different. She was buying fresh vegetables and all manner of healthy and wholesome items. There seemed to be a method to her grocery shopping. We would walk down an aisle and I would ask a question such as, “Do you eat these frozen dinners?”
“What about this?”
“No.” At every turn she was buying things like cottage cheese and fresh vegetables. I am 60 years old, and I still don’t eat cottage cheese. When I was 24, I don’t ever remember buying a fresh vegetable at a grocery store. From the time I was 18 until I was 30, I lived on crapfood. Seriously, I survived on food that was not good and food that was not good for me.
I never ate breakfast. It’s a fact that baffles me today, because I am such a breakfast fanatic. I guess it’s mainly because I slept late. Which is another fact that’s hard to believe since I’ve rolled out of bed around 5 a.m.— a time I was just getting to bed back then— for the last quarter century. There was a lot of fast food back in the day. Once I opened the first restaurant at 26, I ate late night delivery pizza five nights a week after midnight.
Not a good game plan for healthy living.
It’s amazing the crap I put into my body back then and still maintained a 32-inch waist. Then in my early 30s, my metabolism took a permanent vacation, and the pants sizes slowly increased for a couple of decades because I wasn’t about to adjust my eating habits. By the time I blew out the candles on my 50th birthday cake, I was half-again the man I used to be.
Back to my daughter making adult decisions in a grocery store at 24. I took a sense of pride in the fact that she was leading a healthy lifestyle at such a young age, but I also was a little sad that she missed out on the crappy food years.
There is a lot of bad food that I still love. I rarely — if ever — eat it anymore. But walking around the grocery store with a healthy-eating daughter who turned down all my suggestions brought back a lot of old memories of bad dining habits.
Here’s a Top Ten List of My Lifelong Guilty Pleasure Crappy Foods:
10.) Gas Station Microwaved Steak Burgers with Onions — Driving around all night in high school, mostly up to no good, this was a staple of late-night convenience store munchie stops. I tried to eat one of these about 15 years ago on a road trip to a football game and I felt bad for two days. There’s no way 60-year-old Robert could hang with 20-year old Robert.
9.) Gas Station Tater Logs — This is basically a quarter of a potato, cut lengthwise, breaded, and deep fried. This was also a late-night staple after partying all night. About once a year I’ll eat one at a gas station I occasionally stop at in Scooba, Mississippi.
8.) Donuts — A couple of years ago I opened a donut shop. It was a blast. It became a Covid casualty, but it was fun while it lasted. I ate a lot of donuts in the morning when my kids were young. It’s another one of those food items that hasn’t aged well with me. I love them— especially the Bavarian cream-filled ones and cinnamon twists— but it’s not worth feeling bad for the rest of the morning. Well maybe it is, occasionally.
7.) Microwave pizza from my school — I have always believed that even bad pizza is good. Maybe I got that idea from my school cafeteria. They offered pizza that came in a small plastic package that had to be microwaved (basically pizza en papillotte). To be more accurate, it was steamed and had no qualities that I like in pizza today. It was floppy and greasy, and I ate one almost every school day for six years.
6.) Café Du Monde Beignet Mix — Another late night go-to was beignet mix cooked like hushpuppies in a countertop fryer and dusted with powdered sugar.
5.) Cinnamon Sweet Rolls — The whop ‘em on the counter kind.
4.) Chicken Pot Pie — My sophomore year of college I spent all my meal ticket money on a new color TV. For the rest of the semester, I lived off the $1 kid’s menu at a Bonanza restaurant and frozen chicken pot pies that were three-for-a-dollar at the grocery store.
3.) Caramel Danish Sweet Rolls — Pillsbury stopped making these years ago, but when I was a kid, this was a huge treat. It had a crumbly brown sugar mix that you sprinkled in the bottom of a buttered cake pan and then baked the sweet rolls on top. Excellent. Seriously, outstanding.
2.) Totino’s Pizza — If you looked in my freezer today, you would likely find a couple of Totino’s frozen pizzas. They used to cost a dollar. The kind with the small cubes of “pepperoni” are the best. It’s the one “bad food” I still eat on occasion.
1.) Orange Sweet Rolls — Thank God Pillsbury didn’t discontinue these like they did the caramel ones. These are a prime example of really good “bad food.” I could eat an entire tin at 12 years old, and probably still could today.
I truly enjoyed grocery shopping with my daughter. We have done a lot together in the 24 years since she was born, but grocery shopping was never one of those things. There is something about the activity that made her seem truly “grown up.” She’s no longer the little girl who sat on my lap, but she still gives me a hard time because I don’t know how to take a selfie. She is an independent career woman now who turned me on to an excellent bottled salsa I had never heard of that day. The tables have truly turned.
Hattiesburg native Robert St. John is a restaurateur, chef and author. He has written a syndicated weekly newspaper column for more than 20 years.
Sausage Cheese Dip
Yield: 8 Servings
• 1 pound spicy breakfast sausage
• 2 tablespoons garlic, minced
• 2 tablespoons bell pepper, small dice
• 2 tablespoons onion,
• 2 tablespoons hot sauce
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 pound cream cheese, softened
1. In a large skillet brown the sausage.
2. Drain the grease and add garlic, onion and bell pepper. Continue to cook three to four minutes.
3. Place sausage into a mixing bowl and, while still hot, add remaining ingredients. Use an electric mixer and mix until everything is well incorporated.
4. Serve warm with chips, French bread or your favorite cracker.