Straight Talk from a Comfort Foodie - Fast Food

My parents lived for convenience when it came to feeding their children. I was a Beech-Nut kid, and breast-feeding wasn't my mother's idea of liberation. I was weaned on A&W root beer served by a car-hop at a local joint called "Suds n' Dogs." Dad was a cosmetic salesman, and, though he was raised in an orthodox Jewish household by a mother that adhered to the kosher principles, he lived on a steady diet of quick stop specialties regardless of their orientation.

On Sunday mornings we would scarf down some bacon and eggs and then pile into Dad's 67' Impala and head to Brooklyn for a visit with his parents. They were immigrants who spoke Yiddish and little English and had raised four children in their two-bedroom apartment. Somewhere along the way we'd stop for burgers and fries. Visiting McDonald's, in those days, was different than it is today. Outside you could run along the red and white tiled wrap-around bench and look through the impressive glass walls surrounding the kitchen to watch the burgers being cooked and the assembly line churn out perfectly packaged sandwiches. (When Burger King eventually came to our hometown, we actually got dressed up to try their flame-broiled brand.) There was no drive through then, and very few people called it "fast food". My sister and I would eat the stuff in the back seat, using the fries as swords in a dual, while Dad drove and Mom bit her nails. Before arriving at my Grandparents third floor walk-up in Flatbush, a small crowded apartment that was always filled with the aroma of garlic and onions, Dad would stop at a dumpster and throw away any remnants of our lunch - including all the paper packaging. The four of us would get out of the car so he could spray it down with air freshener, pile back in, turn the block, and arrive. He figured what Grandma didn't know wouldn't hurt her.

Sometimes we would bring shopping bags full of peaches or apples from the local farmers market on Long Island for Grandma to use in the fruitcake recipe that she'd brought with her from Poland. If there came a Sunday when the previous weeks' produce hadn't been processed, there was an ingenious, if not totally devious, procedure for letting us know. Rather than call us directly, and incur a toll call, she'd place a collect-call to our home and ask for "Mrs. Noapel". This being the code name for "NO Apple" ? Dad would decline the incoming call by saying there was no one there by that name. Then he knew not to bring any fruit. My Dad and his mother wrote the book on "the art of the food trick".

One of my fondest memories was the day Dad ordered home delivery of Cott soda. Two cases would arrive every week; an assortment of grape, cola, black cherry, and the coveted Cream - that was always the first one tapped. Folks in our suburban neighborhood got their Charles Chips home delivered in huge brown cans. Others got milk and eggs delivered, but our house got the goods. No wonder our milk-fed friends were begging to have dinner at our house.

My folks never had a problem finding a teenaged baby-sitter, because the word was out about our junk-food stockpile. Whipped cream from a can was a trendy delicacy in those days. It was also good for a half an hour of entertainment. My sister and I would compete by standing with our mouths open as the baby-sitter injected as much whippedcream as the space would hold. Who ever gagged or exploded lost.

Mom liked to sleep in. Getting up with the sun to serve a warm breakfast to her school-aged children was a far and few between event. The day I started first grade was the day I received a crash-course in the morning meal.

"Isn't Mom going to make us breakfast?" I had asked my older sister. I was hoping for a hot bowl of Farina.

"Mom doesn't get up early, just get used to it", she had replied, and had walked off to forage through the pile of Drake's cakes stored in the oven. We ate Yankee Doodles for breakfast, and had Green Giant creamed vegetables with dinner.

Even after I had been to college and had my dietary world revolutionized ?returned home with an armful of bottles from the vitamin/health food store to concoct a soy lecithin, wheat germ and organic honey gruel?dad was still doing the morning cup of coffee with a cupcake chaser.

Grandma's Apple Cake

3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1/4 cup orange juice
1 cup vegetable oil
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 teaspoons baking powder
6 apples
3 teaspoons cinnamon
6 tablespoons sugar


1. Preheat oven to 350-degrees F. Grease and flour a large rectangular pan (lasagna-type).

2. Combine the first seven ingredients and beat at medium speed for 10 minutes.

3. Peel and thickly slice the apples and add cinnamon and sugar.

4. Layer half of the batter in pan; add apples, then the rest of the batter. Sprinkle top with additional cinnamon and sugar.

5. Preheat oven to 350 degree. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Marti Ladd is the cookbook author and food product designer for "The Recipe Company". See her media kit at or visit her virtual cookbook store at

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