I owe my career to Grape Nuts cereal and eggplant Parmesan. That may sound drastic, but it's pretty accurate. More so than any other food, these two items helped shape my tastes and mold my interest in food. In their own ways, they marked distinct turning points in my upbringing, beckoning new phases of maturity and interests. When I was in New Hampshire for the holidays, I happened upon a couple versions of these two delicacies, begetting a rush of nostalgia and a refreshed appreciation for the simple things in life.
At some point during my teenage years, I stopped relishing treacly cereals like Frosted Flakes and started getting serious. By that I mean I bragged like a pretentious asshole to anyone who would listen about my newfound adoration for Grape Nuts. This made me cool. This gave me a leg up over the rest of my compatriots at the time, who probably still slurped down the neon-hued milk left over from Trix. Scoff! No, I was the cool, mature kid who would crunch through a type of cereal I now realize is basically cereal aisle bird seed. Grape Nuts signified a new stage of adolescence, one in which I got "mature" about my eating habits and actually paid attention to what I ingested. Although nowadays I think I'd rather gnaw on a sandal than purchase a box of Grape Nuts, I still retain a fondness for the Grape Nuts innovations of my youth. Namely, the Grape Nuts ice cream at The Puritan, my all-time favorite ice cream shop, and the Grape Nuts custard at the Airport Diner, both located in Manchester. The former has been a longtime staple for me, while the latter was a recent discovery. The custard tasted like a piping hot mix between rice pudding and flan, flecked with nutty morsels of Grape Nuts cereal.
(Eggplant Parm sub from Pizza by George, pardon the hideous picture)
On the savory side, I whole-heartedly believe that eggplant Parmesan is responsible for my pursuit of the culinary field (which eventually shifted to food writing). Out of curiosity one day, I asked my mom if I could try the eggplant Parmesan sub from Pizza by George in Raymond, the town next to where I grew up. She didn't think I would like it, but fortunately I ignored her. Not only did I love eggplant, it prompted me to start cooking it at home and dabbling in recipes. The sandwich is JUST. SO. GOOD. On many occasions, I've actually ordered a large sub to-go and brought it home with me to Chicago in my carry-on luggage, to savor slowly and sublimely later. The bread is soft and toasty, the marinara sauce just tangy enough, the eggplant slightly crispy on the exterior, belying supple, velvety soft innards. It's a saucy, herbal mess of a sandwich, and one that helped catapult me into adulthood.
To both of these foods, I feel a strong sense of gratitude and a constant hunger.