Peanut Butter, bread, milk, macaroni and cheese (Kraft of course, in the blue box)…A short list of essential grocery items that can be collected and paid for in under ten minutes…Bananas, orange juice, salami, cheese…I grab a basket and make my way quickly from aisle to aisle, picking up the familiar items that fuel me from day to day…cereal, granola bars, and canned soup…and that’s it. These quick trips to the grocery store take place irregularly, only when I can no longer stand going without breakfast because I ran out of milk a week ago. My roommates, my girlfriend, my coworkers cannot seem to fathom my pathological hatred for the grocery store and the time I spend in it. “I’ll go grocery shopping for you, I love it,” says one. “I don’t understand, you just go in there and buy your food,” says another. It’s illogical, I know. I’m not particularly interested in what I eat. When I get home from work I’ll grab a thick slice of cheese and wrap it in a piece of salami lunch meat. About twenty minutes later I’ll pour myself a bowl of cereal. I’ll drink some orange juice before I go to bed. It’s easier that way. No cooking, and I can watch TV or read while I eat these things. I really don’t feel the need to give what I eat much thought. My friends give it enough thought for all of us every time we go out to eat. Which is several times a week.
“I refuse to go Chili’s,” my roommate tells me. I’m not really set on Chili’s, but his adamant objections amuse me, so I suggest it often. The other roommate, who claims he doesn’t care where we eat, always manages to steer us someplace he’s had in mind, literally changing directions once we have piled into his car. My other friends have strong opinions on food as well, and deciding which of the hundreds of Houston restaurants we will deign to eat in always proves a challenge.
“Churascos?” This suggestion is immediately shot down by those of us working in the non-profit sector (meaning me). “Or what about that new place, [insert name of expensive restaurant here].”
I’ll suggest some simple inexpensive place that I”ve been to a million times. But on friend refuses, another wants to experiment, another gives her transparent “Fine" and gets a pouty look on her face. Usually I give in, considering that I really don’t care too much what food I put in my stomach, so long as I am neither hungry nor broke by the end of the meal.
None of these people drink much, nor do they bowl or play pool. They don’t attend parties, and there are few parks to speak of in Houston. So they eat. And then they talk about what they have eaten. One friend in particular has a remarkable ability to make a narrative out of a recipe, or turn a snippy remark by a waiter into a 15 minute story.
And here is the chief difference between them and I. They are foodies. I would just as soon stick to peanut butter and jelly, but they want variety and texture and spice in their food. I’d rather spend my money on a CD, or sometimes three or four CDs, than buy another meal out. But because I don’t cook and my friends like to eat and we live in Houston, I find myself eating out at least three times a week, sometime five or six.
Some of the food is truly delicious, however. There are few things better than Pad Num Peanut at Patu or good Chicken Tiki Masala. And you can't go wrong with a gryo from Niko Niko's or the just about anything from Spanish flowers. But really, it's about my friends. Although they sometimes drive me nuts and find that if I spend too many evenings with them I soon have nothing left in my wallet, it's the best way to spend time with them. Spending time at a restaurant instead of at a bar I avoid the headache in the morning that inevitably comes sometimes after only one pint (I know, I'm a lightweight), the loud music that prevents me from hearing 1/3 of what comes out of their mouths, and the complaining about the effects of second hand smoke. And besides, I have to eat.