Saturday, August 19, 2006

Deep Fried Friendship with Cheese

There are some people who have "drinking buddies", friends with whom they cannot be around without finding themselves completely drunk within moments of contact, which is why recovering alcoholics try to find a new social scene to break the habit. I, in fact, have a few "smoking buddies" - I instantly crave a cigarette whenever I am with them, talk to them on the phone, or sometimes just think about them. When I was growing up, many of my friends joked that I was their "eating buddy" (which I guess is no surprise since I grew up in an italian household which had not one, but two full sized refrigerators plus a free-standing freezer, all of which were fully stocked at all times). I don't think the feeling was ever mutual since I ate with all of my friends. But looking back, if I were to choose one person to be my own personal, #1 enabler when it comes to food, it would be my good friend, L.

L and I grew up in the same tiny suburb of NYC, so we were aware of each other's existence forever. We became good friends in Middle School and have been pigging out together ever since.

While normal hungry teenagers would pop a frozen pizza in the oven, L and I would fry up a pound of bacon, add it to a bowl of iceberg lettuce and drown it in mayonnaise. We would proceed to eat the entire "salad" while watching the latest antics on "Days of Our Lives" then wash it down with a coke and a bag of potato chips.

At the diner (the reigning social scene in our town from middle school until they banned smoking in restaurants in the early '90s) we flirted with boys over orders of cheese fries with gravy, toasted bagels with melted cheese and bacon, chicken fingers, BLTs with extra mayo, fried zucchini sticks, you name it. If it could be deep fried, smothered in cheese and/or topped with bacon, we would devour it.

Many years have passed since high school and even college. L now lives in Boston and we get together a handful of times per year, if we are lucky. We always tell each other that no matter how much time has passed, when we do get to see each other, it is though nothing has changed. It is true. Even though our lives have taken us on different paths, our conversations are always free and easy. We laugh as hard as we did when we were kids. And we still eat as though we had the metabolisms of twelve year old girls.

The last time she was in NYC, we went to Say Cheese, a restaurant in my neighborhood which boasts it is "home of the grilled cheese sandwich". They offer eleven different variations on the traditional grilled cheese as well as a build your own option. I had lived in Hell's Kitchen for two years and had barely acknowledged its existence. L is in town for twelve hours and somehow all other options are null and void. We fell into our usual porcine pattern, each of us ordering a grilled cheese with plum tomatoes, bacon and garlic mayo on olive bread.

"Mmm... they have curly fries," L says, her nose still buried in the paper menu.

"Do you wanna split a basket?" I ask.

"Yeah," she agrees. "Oh, they have mozzarella sticks, too. I love them." I already know this. L has always had a weak spot for mozzarella sticks.

"OK, do you want to get those instead?" I ask, a bit sad since I am more of a french fry girl, myself, but after all, she is the guest.

"We could get both," she suggests.

"Do you think that is too much?" I ask.

"Yeah, it is kind of gross," she agrees, playing along with the charade. We pretend to weigh our options, though we both know perfectly well that we will end up with a basket of each.

After our hour of intoxicating gluttony, we crawl back to my apartment about to burst. We complain about how full we are, what pigs we are, how gross we are. We will never eat again.

"Yeah, but it was good!" one of us declares.

Our complaints soon turn into praise for the deliciously greasy food that we just inhaled. The grilled cheese was excellent - the garlic mayo of which even we were skeptical was a fantastic accompaniment to the sandwich. The curly fries were wonderfully crisp and golden, not a soggy one in the bunch. The mozzarella sticks some of the best we'd ever had. The breaded shell was crisp and golden like the curly fries, while the cheese inside was dangerously hot and oozed down your chin as you bit into it.

We collapse onto the couch, too exhausted from eating to do anything else. I turn on the television. "Pretty Woman," our high school favorite, is playing on TBS. The movie has only just begun. We squeal at our good fortune and lay paralyzed in front of the tv.

As the movie ends, I get up to answer my ringing cell phone. I quickly switch into professional mode to discuss an upcoming project with a producer. Once I hang up the phone, I return to the Saturday sloth that I have become. I go back into the living room and see L with my binder of take out menus before her.

"Hungry?" she tempts me.

Are you crazy? I think to myself, We just ate a disgusting amount of food two hours ago!

"Really?" I ask, incredulously.

"Yeah, I know, it's sick," she gives me a sheepish smile.

"I'm not really hungry," I tell her, "...but... I could eat."

So we order some burgers - with bacon and cheese, of course.

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