As a child, I was hopelessly picky.

Different foods could not touch each other on the plate.

Meat and eggs had to be well done: forbid that they were fatty, or runny.

Sugar? Yes, please.

Heaping spoonfuls even on sugar cereal.

I loved the way sugar slowly melted into grapefruit.

Candy was a daily necessity.

I would walk through the woods every weekend, and most summer days, to the candy store with Mark Burke or Bobby Walker.

With a dime or fifteen cents, I’d have a candy bar, a fistful of penny candy, and a pack of baseball cards.*

Mom packed lunch.

Often it would be a thermos full of Beefaroni, or canned ravioli.

Sometimes a sandwich: peanut butter, bologna or even liverwurst.

Plus a Hostess cupcake or, my favorite, a banana “Mickey Flip.”

I was one of those weird kids who liked cafeteria food.

My favorites were parsley buttered potatoes and Johnny Marzetti.

I learned about the presidents from the milk cartons.

Dinner was predictable.

Cube steak, liver and onions, rolled flank steak. My dad didn’t like chicken so we didn’t eat it much.

When we got to go to restaurants, I got a basket of fried shrimp and learned to eat the whole thing, tail and all, like my mom.

Special treats: when my uncle visited from Baltimore, he’d bring a bushel of steamed crabs.

My mom would spread the table with newspapers and get to work. The only sound would be the cracking of the shells.

She wouldn’t dare leave a scrap; if I tossed a leg aside because it was too thin to be worth the cracking, she would scold me.

Vegetables? We ate canned. Green beans, peas, and corn.

The only fresh vegetables I ever had were the iceberg lettuce, cucumbers and tomatoes in the occasional summer Greek salad.

In high school came the freedom of the car.

My friends and I would go to Burger King, McDonald’s and Isaly’s where I would regularly eat a whole banana split.

Isaly’s is also famous for their chipped ham — Pittsburghers, younse know what I’m talking about!

College started a transformation where I completely lost whatever pickiness I had left, and ate whatever I could.

What is this wonderful thing called pizza? We had it almost every night.

Bagels? How wonderful and strange!

Oh, and beer? We didn’t have this in high school!

I learned to cook in my first apartment: omelettes, casseroles, Bisquick.

Then I began working in restaurants, from diner food to French cuisine, eventually learning about tableside cooking, and good wine.

Then I went through phases. Organic. Vegetarian, then the opposite: all protein and water.

A no-sugar period, even eschewing crackers if sugar was an ingredient. (Then a friend gave me a piece of almond butter crunch and I said, what the heck — and that was that.)

Eventually I outgrew the experimentation and settled on eating whatever I wanted, hopefully in moderation; from gourmet to junk, American to every kind of ethnic, eat first and ask questions later.

I loved and still love food of all types, preparing, serving and eating it.

It defies categorization.

For funsies, I recently started tracking what I eat.

Here’s a sampling from a day this month where I skipped lunch, went to a political fundraiser and then went on to our local Greek festival:

Elk jerky, guacamole and chips, cashews, M&Ms, baguette pieces with Boursin cheese, broccoli, cauliflower, beer, Greek salad, French fries, stuffed grape leaves, ouzo.

The next day, it was back to oatmeal and steamed cod.

So all this food, throughout my history, has gone into my body, and made me what I am today: a confused, but well-fed mess.

And if you don’t know what Johnny Marzetti is, well!

Here’s the original recipe from the Ft. Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, developed by the Marzetti salad dressing family, and popularized in cafeterias world-wide:


3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3/4 pound mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
2 pounds lean ground beef (or half Italian sausage)
3 1/2 cups tomato sauce
1 1/2 pounds cheddar cheese, shredded
1 pound elbow macaroni, cooked and drained
Salt and pepper, to taste?


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Using a large saute pan over medium heat, heat oil and sauté onion until limp, about 3 minutes. Add mushrooms and saute until juices are released, about 5 minutes. Add beef and cook, stirring, breaking up clumps, until cooked through.?

2. Remove from heat and add tomato sauce and all but 1 cup of cheese.?

3. Transfer to greased 9-inch x 13-inch baking dish and add macaroni, season with salt and pepper, to taste. Toss gently to combine. Scatter remaining cheese on top.

4. Bake uncovered, until browned and bubbling, about 35 to 40 minutes.

Makes 12 servings.

*As for those ten years’ worth of baseball cards: I sold them to Brett Hobbs for one dollar when I was a stupid teenager. If anyone knows Brett Hobbs — no doubt living in a palatial mansion somewhere — tell him I got some really good candy for that dollar bill.   
Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht & Roumel, PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil right litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and wrote a food/restaurant column for “Current” magazine in Ann Arbor. Follow him at @nickroumel.