Growing up, I liked food a lot more than I liked school. I was lucky enough to go to lovely schools with gifted, caring and motivated instructors with whom I rarely engaged. My view for the most part was that school was what I tried to survive when I wasn’t cooking, organizing or eating my next meal, snack or treat. Only music, culture and sport engaged my brain as completely as mealtime.
For first and second grade, I wore proper Catholic uniforms to school and social pressures in my co-ed environment were pretty light. Then, in the third grade, I changed to an all-boys school and a more competitive world. And I suddenly had to carry my lunch to school, which meant the selection of a lunchbox.
This was a pressure-filled choice. You had to choose one that the other boys would think was cool and unique but not too weird. I recall being caught up between a Kung Fu box replete with a squinting David Carradine in a calm pose, and an “Emergency” box with the blazing backdrop and the face of the fire engine. I threw over both for a funky green and brown Scooby-Doo box (most likely the cute redhead Daphne made up my mind). I made no pals with my choice, but I liked it, anyway. My Scooby box was the right environment for my peanut butter sandwiches and apples.
By sixth grade or so, I was too cool for a lunchbox and graduated to the anonymous brown bag. By then, I was regularly packing lunch for my two younger brothers and myself. We were quite likely to have peanut butter and strawberry jam three days a week, Swiss cheese, lettuce and deli mustard another day— and, on a lucky day, rare roast beef or maybe bologna and Miracle Whip. To accompany: celery or carrot sticks. Hell no! Maybe some Fritos or a cookie if I could scrounge them up. Still, I kept the constituents happy enough, working with what I had.
Once in a while, Mother would take a shot and we’d head out to school with olive loaf sandwiches and maybe a boiled egg and a pickle. God bless her, but this was not a lunch one could survive in the company of other boys without withering commentary. She sent us once with pasta salad! I could have stepped in front of a bus and had a better day.
In high school, I made a point to get to know the lunch ladies, and on Mondays, they let me know the menu for the week. That way I could strategize lunch money allocation and lunch preparation planning. A good day was grilled cheese and bacon. A bad day: Salisbury steak. Why were the onions sweet and the sauce gritty? And did this mystery meat really come from the Eastern Shore? I was clearly more determined to enjoy lunch than Art History. (My apologies, Mrs. Lord.)
I can only imagine, had I children, what ridiculous items I’d send them to school with. How would these lunches go over with the current cool kids?
Monday: A crock of rabbit rillettes, some cornichons, demi-baguette, potatoes and leek salad, carrot and fruit juice, peach muffin.
Tuesday: Heirloom Tomato BLT, red beet and green apple pintxos (skewers), oatmeal and bitter-chocolate cookie.
Wednesday: Pain bagnat (tuna salad with lemon and artichoke on olive bread), ratatouille, fresh blueberries with a crumbly lemon cake.
Thursday: San Daniele prosciutto and mozzarella di bufala panino, arugula salad with honey vinaigrette, a white nectarine and a few Torrone (hazelnut nougat).
Friday: Pulled lamb shoulder confit, French country boule, green olive tapenade, manchego manzana (Spanish green apple and manchego cheese salad) and carrot cake with dried cherries.
I have no doubt my child would be in the hospital after a week. Sigh.
Tony Foreman is a restaurateur and co-owner of the Foreman-Wolf group.