A Kingly Appetite

Elvis Presley

I never quite understood the hullabaloo about Elvis, who’d have turned 76 today had fate not been cruel to a heart that’s true.

My mom, on the other hand, understood it quite well. Elvis blared from our scratchy Hi-Fi more often than not. This was back in the ’70s, when he was still big—quite literally—and my mom was barely in her 30s. A farmwife in rural Iowa, she had a husband who worked the fields from morning well into the night, and two rambunctious kids—my older brother and my tomboy self. For company during the day she had me, endless chores, and her Elvis LPs.

By first grade, I knew the lyrics of “Hound Dog” and “Blue Suede Shoes” and “All Shook Up” better than I did the lines of Mother Goose. I don’t recall my mom doing the twist or singing into the end of the broom–although she would occasionally stand up from scrubbing, toss the rag into the bucket, and drag me onto the kitchen floor with her to dance. What I do remember was how she swooned to the ballads. She’d take a seat at her piano, her hair long and bouncy and just unrolled from hair curlers, and croon along with him to “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” and “Moon River.” She was no longer my mom with the ripped jean shorts, faded tank top, and farmer’s tan. She was someone else. Someone giddy and moony and free. Someone who didn’t have a neverending list of chores. Someone who didn’t have to answer the uncomprehending complaints of a 6-year-old that her singing was distracting me from “Happy Days” reruns.

He made her happy. And he made me miserable.

Much to my smirky satisfaction, there were two things about him that irked her. His gyrating hips, for one. (Actually, I don’t think she minded the swiveling. I think she thought she ought to mind it given her Catholic upbringing.) And his royal appetite. His weakness for pleasures of the gustatory sort irritated her to no end. Even I couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for The King when Mom would frown at him and his expanding girth and murmur her disapproval with her characteristically terse “Oh, honestly.” (To say that I found this perplexing as a child is an understatement, given the stash of wretched-tasting chocolate “candies,” the ones that were supposed to suppress the appetite, that Mom kept hidden behind the candlesticks in the cabinet alongside the stove and quietly unwrapped when she thought I wasn’t looking.)

It wasn’t until some years into my indifference toward Elvis that I learned of his eccentric penchant for peanut butter, bacon, and banana sandwiches. And that’s what finally earned him my esteem. Not because I liked peanut butter. Because to me, this quirky craving made him real. I knew all too well what it was like to seek comfort in something soul-soothingly satisfying, if a bit odd. Say, a Snickers bar stashed in the freezer or a sugar and butter sandwich on white. I would wonder, as I buttered my bread, if Elvis felt the same about his PB&B&B, licking his fingers standing at the sink, or in front of the open fridge, or maybe surrounded by all those flashy gold LPs.

We each have our own take on Elvis’s sandwich. Haute or not, an everyday indulgence or an occasional gratification. Chances are, whatever it is, it makes no logical or epicurean sense to anyone else other than ourselves. And that’s okay. In honor of The King’s birthday, Leite’s Culinaria asked a few folks to share their own fantastically idiosyncratic fixes. Go ahead and snigger, but we know you have one of your own to share.

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I like to fill a small bowl with dill pickle spears, salsa, and hot pepper cheese cubes.  Sometimes I follow it with a little ice cream. My wife says I have a strange snack, even though it doesn’t seem strange to me.  No, I am not pregnant!
—Brad Crum, Elvis impersonator

For breakfast, I have my daily corn flakes topped with caramel yogurt and frozen cherries, although I sometimes swap out the yogurt for low-fat sour cream mixed with apricot jam. My favorite late-night-but-don’t-tell-my-wife treat is ice cream, which I pop into the microwave just long enough to soften it, then top with Hershey’s syrup that I also stick in the microwave to warm. Then I add Cocoa Puffs.
—Michel Richard, chef at  Citronelle, Central, and Michel restaurants and author of Sweet Magic: Easy Recipes for Delectable Desserts

I like to drag hard, salted pretzels through pots of crème fraîche. It’s completely indulgent, and I unapologetically love the salty crunch with the tangy, luxe crème. Crave.
—Heidi Swanson, blogger at 101 Cookbooks and author of the forthcoming Super Natural Every Day

Sweet potato and kimchi. It’s a really good combination. But they have to be experienced together, in the same bite, not separate ones. I wrap a piece of kimchi around the sweet potato.
—Nevia No, owner of Bodhi Tree Farm, whose vegetables can found at Manhattan’s Union Square Greenmarket and Abingdon Square Greenmarket

When I was a kid in suburban New York, the neighborhood deli sold dense, round loaves of sticky date-nut bread whose only acceptable accompaniment was a blanket of full-fat cream cheese. It took me years to replicate this recipe in my own kitchen, but I finally did it. Now, whenever I get a date-nut bread craving, I dig out my recipe, but I foil my plans more often than I see them through. Like a junkie seeking an instant fix, I pry the pits from the moist Medjool dates for which I forked over an obscene amount of money and shove little nubbins of cream cheese directly into their cavities, then down them one by one by one. It’s quick and dirty, but it gets the job done.  Craving filled, no clean-up. A true win-win.
—Cheryl Sternman Rule, blogger at 5 second rule and author of a forthcoming cookbook

Since I have two young pre-schoolers, dinner tends to consist of noodles with sauce on the side for my boys and a pancetta-based tomato sauce for me. In other words, I’m pretty conservative at home. However, when I go out, I love the more experimental dishes. And over the last few years I have had a few great ones, including fois gras “sushi” at O Ya, in Boston, with balsamic chocolate kabayaki and raisin cocoa pulp. The most ridiculous sounding combination worked beautifully. It was as rich as any dessert, and as decadent, too.
—Michele Karol, who blogs at FoodieMommy

Marmite and butter. Or just butter. Or just salt. Big, crispy flakes of salt.
—@FreyaReinsch

Toast with mayonnaise!
—Kierstan Correnti Renner

Lately, it’s bahn mi. All the time.
—@virgosun

Good, snappy dark chocolate on salty, crusty sourdough bread.
—@familystylefood

My husband likes peanut butter and butter sandwiches. I just put potato chips in my regular sandwiches.
—Sara Goulet

Peanut butter, tomato, and pickle on toast.
—Rachel Sauter

Slices of cheddar on a plain bagel, microwaved to half melt the cheese! I remember my Dad sometimes spreading whipped cream on toast and sprinkling it with sugar. Not sure how that would taste, but he liked it!
—Isabel Abdai

Comments
Comments
  1. Lovely story indeed. But as a non-american native, I must say the sandwich combination of flavors sounds… disgusting ;)

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      True, true. And yet, in a strange way, that’s sort of the beauty of it…

  2. marcella says:

    Great article! I enjoyed so much reading Renee, thank you.

    My own indulgence has to be anything with garlic or raw onions in it, especially green ones or scallions. It could be a simple tomato salad, a slaw, or our very own Piemontese bagna cauda. The sinful part of it is, of course, the social awkward-ness of it all ;)

    Anything creamy – from mascarpone to creme fraiche to cream cheese – is another huge weakness of mine. But at least this is harmful to my waistline only, and not to my relationships ;)

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      Ah, cream by the spoonful…thanks for the reminder! And of course thanks, too, for your kind words, Marcella.

  3. Karen says:

    Oh Renee! At last, someone else who treasured that first gritty bite of a sugar and butter on smooshy Lone Ranger bread! And even worse, was when I discovered a mayo sandwich. I know, it sounds absolutely disgusting, BUT it is glorious. And a big gob of smooth peanut butter on the end of an iced tea spoon? Ah, the memories. And licking Kool-Aid right out of the pack when we were out in the woods playing “frontier people” and pretending to be lost on the long trek to California and the gold? Even better. Thanks so much for the trip down Memory Row. I’ve been dancin’ to the Jailhouse Rock all morning

    Karen

    P.S. January 8th was my Dad’s birthday too, but he was way into Beethoven and Mozart with a little Chopin on the side.

  4. Mel M says:

    Lovely story…

    Oh, the possibilities for “strange” mixes are endless.
    my favourites would be:

    –cheese sandwiches with chips (preferably cream cheese & doritos)
    –cream cheese and peanut butter sandwiches
    –fries in my burgers
    –fries dipped in ketchup and then dipped in my milkshake

    I never had butter and sugar sandwiches but I remember having butter and Nesquick sandwiches!

    Oh, and almost anything with condensed milk (or even condensed milk all by itself!) is a temptaion.

    • David Leite says:

      Thanks, Mel. And I really like your kingly foods–except fries dipped in ketchup and then in your shake. That’s a nonstarter for me.

  5. ruthie says:

    Cream cheese on one piece of bread, peanut butter on another, and chopped green olives and scallions in the middle. Heaven. You can even throw in some bacon if you don’t think you’re getting enough fat and salt. ;)

    Renee, thanks for the reminders of the weird things we love, and notice how they mostly involve bread? Bread and butter was how an Italian neighbor got me to eat the onions I’d picked out of my salad–onion sandwich. And my great aunt could only get me to eat bacon if it was between slices of toast. I guess a little bread makes anything palatable. Ahem, thanks to those bacon sandwiches, I now have an unwise adoration for the stuff.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      Ruthie, you are quite welcome. I know that onion sandwich well, as my mom often indulged in it. And if there were cold boiled potatoes in the fridge, she’d slice ‘em up and slip ‘hem between the bread, too. I can actually see how that olive and scallion concoction could work. But mostly I’m just relieved to hear that you’ve come around to bacon, seeing as a world without it is just a sad, sad place. Thanks for sharing your insights and for the reminder of just how personal–and satiating–a sandwich can be.

      • ruthie says:

        After I posted that comment, I had a craving for one of my other, stranger guilty pleasures…carrots and hot dogs sliced into “coins,” simmered in tomato sauce straight from the can, and a big scoop of creamy, dreamy mashed potatoes. ;) My mom used to make that for me when I was little and feeling poorly. Heh. I’ve upgraded it these days and use the spicy V-8 instead of tomato sauce. Yummmm. The hot dogs are salty, the carrots sweet, the potatoes creamy, and the tomato tangy. When you break it down like that it starts to sound more appealing.

        Plain potatoes are one of my favorite snacks when I’m force onto a bland diet. People don’t realize just how tasty potatoes are. Your mom is actually a pioneer.

        • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

          I love hearing about your comfort foods, Ruthie. Love it. Potatoes remain my main comfort, to this day. Just this weekend I cooked some up so I could make hash, even though it was sweltering in our un-air-conditioned apartment. I just needed potatoes. Look forward to hearing more of your thoughts and remembrances….

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