Friday, March 17, 2017

The Usual

For several years now, I've made a conscious effort to pack my own lunch for work. Before this, I used to eat out or go to the cafeteria everyday. The problem was, I wasn't making the healthiest eating choices. And it showed when those poor junk food choices made me sleepy instead of energetic in the afternoon. Then I'd've to down three cups of strong coffee with lots of sugar and cream just to get me through the rest of the day. I'd feel jittery and wired, but at least I was awake. Of course, a side effect of all that extra caffeine was that I had to tinkle a lot.

Still, I could've bought healthier options. But those options were limited and weren't very tasty. Most were down right  bland. And to be honest, it kind of bothered me to realize that for what I was paying for one lunch meal at the cafeteria, I could've made enough great meals to last me several lunches. The truth was, I was paying for convenience, and eventually, I realized that I could do better.

So I decided to start making my own lunches. Mostly, it was leftovers that I used to create new delicious meals. And I did most of the prep on my days off. All I had to do was remember to pick up my lunch from my fridge and head off to work. And it's been a great system.

I can honestly say that I feel more energetic, healthier, and I like saving money. Now I'm down to one cup of strong coffee in the afternoon, and that's truly because I like the taste of strong, sweet, creamer coffee. But most of all, I quite like the food I was making and the creative, adventurous choices I was eating for lunch. I love cooking. I love experimenting with good food. And I was enjoying making and eating great food.

But I still went to the cafeteria at least once a week. Usually, it was on Friday, and mostly, it was an opportunity to check out what the cafeteria was offering on special. Every now and then, they'd come up with something intriguing. But mostly, I gravitated to the short order cook side, where the food was made quickly.

I wasn't too impressed with the other offerings at the main line. It was mostly food that I could make at home, except I'd add more flavor. And I figured that if I'm going to eat out, I'd rather spend money on something special, something interesting or unique or new.

But that didn't mean I was a food snob. I like the cafeteria desserts. And they had so many scrumptious treats. The pudding and jello were fantastic. And the soft served ice cream was delicious. And I was familiar with a few of the cafeteria workers. The ones that had been there the longest were the ones I called by their names. We were on friendly terms. The new ones I recognized as new faces. I was nice to them, too. Things just go smoother and more pleasant when you are courteous and friendly to other people.

At least once a week, I'd join my friends and coworkers in line at the cafeteria. Most other days, I'd bring my own lunch and stake out a table for our group. But Fridays, we'd be in line together, checking out the menu. But even if I didn't join the cafeteria line most days, I could figure out what the others were getting. They had their favorites, and I had gotten pretty good at guessing what they were buying for lunch.

It had become quite routine. They'd have their usual choices for lunch. Sure, they'd debate sometimes over the specials, but rarely, they'd go for it. Nine times out of ten, they'd get the same thing they got last week or even the day before. Some people like things to stay the same; there was a familiarity in that, a feeling of safety. And that's all right. Feeling safe is a good thing.

But me? I like variety. My packed lunches were always a surprise, always something different. I make it a point to never have the same lunch two days in a row. And I usually brought enough extra to share around at the table. The others would inevitably be curious to find out what I decided to bring to lunch that day. Most times, my lunch was interesting and always delicious.

And it was kind of fun seeing how inventive I was with the same leftovers, like Sunday fried chicken. How far could I stretch that? What would I do with it? It'd be chicken chow mein one day; followed by chicken and cheese quesadillas the next; then maybe orange chicken with macaroni and cheese after that; and finally chicken fried rice or sesame chicken at the end of the week. I prided myself on being bold and daring with my food choices. I liked that I always got something different.

And as I stood in the short order cook line, I smiled as I watched the others ponder over the daily special, then as I suspected, go with their usual choices. Typical and routine. No surprises there.

What was surprising though was when moments later, it was my turn to place my order. I got as far as smiling at the new cook, who only started six weeks ago, when she smiled back and said, "Would you like the usual?"

I was sure she was talking to someone else. The usual? I didn't have a usual. But she continued, "Two cheeseburgers and some fries?"

Nope. She was talking to me all right. And even more astonishing, I was going to order two cheeseburgers and some fries! I quickly thought back to the previous five Fridays and suddenly realized that Good Gawd! I have been ordering the same thing for the past five Fridays for lunch!

Some people ordered a double cheeseburger. Others wanted bacon or extra cheese with theirs. But for me, two separate cheeseburgers were just right, made perfect by a side of fries. So I returned the new cook's smile and said, "Yes, please."

Without even knowing it, I had been ordering the same thing for five straight Fridays. And today was going to be the same. I guess I did have a usual. I've been subconsciously having the same lunch for six Fridays in a row! That's as long as this new cook had been working here.

And to be honest, I wasn't sure how I felt about that. And the looks and smirks the other people in line were giving me upon hearing my "usual" order was making me self conscious! Hey, don't judge me, Mr. Double Cheeseburger! And don't give me that smug look either, Ms. Bacon and Extra Cheese! And you ain't fooling anyone with your small sprinkling of salad on those extra fries, Mr. Onion Burger!

I guess I wasn't so different when it came to ordering lunch. So much for variety and being adventurous. But when I was handed my cooked order soon after, the delectable smell of the cheeseburgers and fries made me realize that I was fine with this. I like the cafeteria's cheeseburgers and fries. They tasted great. And I didn't care what anyone else thought. I'm going to eat what I want.

So maybe I wasn't as diverse as I thought I was when it came to my food choices. I guess I did have a usual. Or at least it's been my usual lunch for six straight Fridays. And I'm okay with that. As matter of fact, I like having a usual. It means people recognize me and know what I like. And as cheesy as it sounds, it feels nice to be somewhere where they know me and my usual order.

Sometimes, people like having the same thing. They like having a usual. Because it feels good, and it feels comforting. And that's perfectly fine. Because comfort is a good thing. And life is so much better when we feel great.

So go ahead and chow down on those pickled eggs. Smother that mac and cheese with chili. Pour that maple syrup over those bacon and pancakes. Squeeze that ketchup and mayo and mustard over those hot dogs. Eat what you like. Don't worry about the food snobs. Meals are meant to nourish both the body and the soul. So enjoy what you eat. Life is for the living, so live it as fully and as happily as you can.

So here's to adventure, to diversity, and to variety. They make life fun and surprising. They are essential to survival. And here's to the familiar and usual. They make life more enjoyable and pleasant. So here's to you on your food choices. Be it innovative or usual, I hope it makes you feel happy. I hope it makes life feel good. I hope it's exactly what you want and need. I hope it makes you smile. And I hope it makes your life just a little bit more wonderful and absolutely delightful.


  1. Phew!! I'm relieved that I don't have to look sheepish in regard to my very boring eating habits! And I am very, very boring with my food. I am more adventurous when I eat out, but at home I usually cook a variation on fish or chicken. Although this week I have been indulging myself with my influenza cure, which is Ready Salted Crisps washed down with a vat of orange juice. I do feel better.

    1. Scarlet, There is something to be said for comfort food at home. Sunday is fried chicken day at my place--it's the traditional family Sunday meal, and it's a meal that I look forward to making and eating all week.

      Potato chips are my favorite snack! Good health, warm sunshine, and a speedy recovery to you.

  2. I must admit that I am very much like Ms Scarlet when it comes to eating. In fact, I'm sitting here with a bag of sweet chilli & sour cream Kettle Chips and a vat of wine - And I'm not even ill!
    I commend (and am envious of) you for your lunch making discipline and prowess!

    1. IDV, Potato chips are manna from heaven! The divine food of the gods! I can eat a whole family size bag of chips in one sitting (and have done so several times in place of a meal! Especially when those chips are nacho, ranch, cheddar, BBQ, or sour cream and onion!)

      Thank you. The motivation and drive for making different meals comes from me wanting to challenge myself and from discovering that food is a platform and media to express my creativity--which is surprising given that I was a picky eater growing up.

  3. I sometimes have it in my mind to hire a grand house for a grand blogging weekend where our blogging circle would congregate for festivities.... I would put Mr Swings in charge of the food, whilst Mr Devine and myself would be in charge of the Kettle's Crisps table. Imagine, wouldn't it be fun? I will have saved enough money for such a party by 2020.

    1. Scarlet, That would be fun! Though, I'm pretty sure we don't need a grand house to have a festive good time--a picnic or backyard BBQ or a potluck will do nicely. Though, I wouldn't turn down an invite from Liz to Buckingham Palace, Windsor, Balmoral, or even Osborn House. It's a solid No on spending the night in the Tower of London. While I'd love to see the crown jewels, I like my head attached to my body.

      And I'd gladly bring the food, and we can experiment and see which dish pairs nicely with which wine! Although, to be honest, I think you should drink whatever you like with whatever you want to eat! But that's just the lush in me, who only wants to have a good time.