Saturday, May 20, 2006

Eating. hot dogs.

American junk food was always something forbidden to me when I was a child. A rare treat. It was a big deal for me to have McDonald's. I still remember spending the night at a friend's house when I was eight, and being served baked beans with frankfurters. I had never eaten that before (nor have I since), but I remember thinking that this was, like, the awesomest thing ever. The soft beans in their syrupy, sweet sauce, chunks of salty frankfurter like surprises hidden in every other spoonful.

My list of favorite foods is probably a mile long, but I can say with absolute certainty that hot dogs are somewhere on the list. In moments of desperate craving, they can be nuked in the microwave, grilled in a pan on the stove, broiled in the toaster oven, served on a lightly toasted bun from the supermarket. I must admit that this happens more often than I would like, particularly since hot dogs come eight to a package and therefore must all be eaten, by me. So usually I try to ignore the cravings. But once in a while, the urge is overwhelming and I must give in to my desire. The salty taste of the hot dog, browned in spots, the bun soft and slightly sweet, the taste of ketchup over everything.

The absolute best place to enjoy a hot dog is, of course, at a baseball game. A beer in one hand (or a Coke), the bun squished in its foil wrapper, the hot dog with mustard and relish and onion and ketchup. It's not just about the dog, but the whole atmosphere of the game and the food together. The taste of the food, the excitement of the game, the comraderie of everyone together. Baseball games and hot dogs were just made for each other.

The second best is at a barbecue. Dad (yours, or someone else's) is manning the grill; mom (again, yours, or someone else's) is inside marinating chicken, throwing together salads, ordering the older kids to help out while the younger ones run around screaming. You got your hamburgers, your chicken wings, maybe some steaks, or salmon, and for the kids, hot dogs. Everything gets slightly charred, striped from the grill, tasting faintly of smoke. It's summer, and if you're lucky it didn't rain this time (this is Seattle, after all). There are coolers of beer and sodas; dessert is slurpy slices of watermelon and s'mores. Maybe you're on a camping trip, or it's a party at someone's house. SeaFair, or the 4th of July. It's time for a hot dog.

Tonight I went to The Frankfurter with my dad, and suddenly I was a little kid again. (The Center House at the Seattle Center is a lot smaller than I remember...when did that happen?). In the 80's my father worked at the original Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center building, near Swedish Medical Center. We used to go to The Frankfurter for lunch. (It's gone now, replaced by a sub shop that I will probably never set foot into). One original hot dog, a freshly-squeezed lemonade, perhaps a bag of potato chips. The perfect meal from my childhood. I had it again for dinner tonight, and for a brief moment, felt myself slip backwards in time.

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