When Nicole and I started talking about this blog and how would we position our recipe adventures (with the use of fiction and photography), I was secretly thrilling at the chance to ask some of my favorite online writers to offer up their own stories. I asked Lyz first because I’ve been a big fan of her work for a long time now (check out a recent post that I love, which I think my mother will soon distribute to all the women in our family). I like her even more now that I know she can appreciate, in a world of complex gastronomy, slow food, long food, and recipes that span 6 pages and test the patience of more than a few Whole Foods employees, the simple beauty of the SANDWICH. I just cried a little, really.
I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.
The Girl Who Ate The World
by Lyz Lenz
It began with a ham sandwich. Or rather, it began with the lack of a ham sandwich.
When Tasha Winters (formerly Tasha Caulderon, formerly Tasha Papoloski) was pregnant, she ran 5 miles a day, lifted weights and craved ham sandwiches, but she wouldn’t eat even one. Tasha believed that cravings were for weak-minded people. While every book she read on pregnancy noted that such cravings were normal, Tasha dismissed that advice. It was how women grew into fleshy circles and dressed only in sweatpants and stained t-shirts. She wouldn’t accept that fate. Tasha had worked too hard for her health and her figure to simply give it up just because she was having a child. She wouldn’t let her life circumstances direct her behavior. That had always been her motto.
Tasha Winters was the only daughter of Donna and Doug Calderon of Wausau, Wisconsin. Tasha had a brother, Frank, who everyone, except Tasha, called Frankie. This was viewed by Tasha’s parents as a sign of her “uppittyness” and by Frankie as an insult of the highest order. Out of revenge, he still called her by her childhood nickname, Tee-Tee.
Tasha was a mystery to her family. Donna wondered how Tasha’s lean hungry frame had ever clawed its way out of her doughy, soft body. Donna was a school cafeteria worker and every Friday she bought two Mega Ball Millions tickets, one with Tasha’s birthday and the other with Frankie’s. The first time Donna bought a lotto ticket, she won $100 in a bonus scratch off. That win had bolstered her for 35 years.
“It’s a sign. I’m gonna win if I just don’t give up,” Donna explained to Tasha whenever Tasha ridiculed her mother’s wasteful spending. Tasha tried to convince her mother that probability was unaffected by time.
“Every time you flipped a coin it had equal chances of being heads or tails and every time you played the Mega Ball Millions sponsored by the Wisconsin State Lottery your odds were still 5 million to one.”
“That’s the difference between you and me, T. You just don’t have no faith. I keep playing and odds are I’m bound to win. A person can’t keep losing forever.”
But Tasha believed you could. Once she was old enough, she walked down to the local mini-mart and got a job selling her mother lotto tickets, fourties of cheap beer to her neighbors and cigarettes to her dad. She used the money to buy herself health food from the local natural food market, and eventually a car, and eventually her school books from the local university.
In college, she met and married Joey Papoloski, who became a local weather man for TV78 Wausau and was eventually picked up by the ABC affiliate in Minneapolis, where he changed his name and became the beloved weatherman Joey Winters. Tasha was the one who convinced him to change his name.
“Don’t let your last name dictate your future success,” she’d said.
Sometimes Tasha’s motivational speeches really frustrated Joey, but what frustrated him even more was how Tasha was always right.
Tasha was a personal trainer. She believed it was her job to convince Minnesotans to stop eating tater tot hot dish and cheesy potatoes, so how could she have a ham sandwich? Wouldn’t it be hypocritical? She asked herself in her “morning mirror motivational time” or “daily 3m” as she called it to no one but herself.
Tasha taped up a picture of a ham sandwich from a mayonnaise ad and put it in her home gym to motivate her. Every time she craved the salty taste of ham and sharp tang of cheddar, she went and did sit ups, staring at the picture as she grunted out her sets.
She delivered a healthy 7lb baby girl without an epidural and named her Natalie. According to Tasha, Natalie was just about perfect. She was just the right size for an infant, although Tasha thought she could use some better muscle tone, and her skin was soft and pink, although a little splotchy for Tasha’s tastes. And Tasha vowed to raise her daughter to be healthy, motivated and independent.
And Natalie complied, for the most part. Of course, she wouldn’t eat peas and when she was six-months-old Tasha worried that her daughter was a little too fat from an over-reliance on Gerber baby food peaches, but she soon grew out of that. So, it was a complete mystery to Tasha how Natalie stayed fat. Tasha watched what Natalie ate and made sure she adhered to a strict exercise plan of tummytime and 30 minutes in the exersaucer, so how was it that the fat roll around her daughter’s belly grew?
As Natalie got older, Tasha tried harder to make her daughter “healthy”— signing Natalie up for youth soccer and basketball. All of which Natalie played although she lacked what Tasha called the “killer instinct.” Coaches complimented Tasha on Natalie’s sportsmanlike conduct, but secretly Tasha was disappointed. And still, Natalie grew.
Around the same time that Tasha realized her daughter was getting fatter, items in the house started disappearing. At first it was Natalie’s toys—plastic rings, colorful blocks and the odd stuffed bear suddenly went missing. Tasha thought perhaps they were getting mixed up with the toys at daycare or misplaced.
I don’t wish to make Tasha sound dumb. She was an intelligent woman who ran her own successful business, but it took her several years to finally link Natalie’s missing toys with the missing toaster and cat, that also baffled her at the time. Even after she realized who Natalie was, she still thought that Magwich the cat had simply wandered off one sunny day in July when Natalie was nine. Despite that she had seen her daughter swallow children and gum the edges of buildings, the idea that her daughter had eaten the family cat was too horrible to accept.
A mother’s denial is a great wonder that I am not sure we can ever truly understand except to say that denial is perhaps not a lie, but the magic of forgetfulness that is sometimes necessary in order to remember love.
Natalie ate the cat. Or, more precisely, the cat walked willingly into Natalie’s inviting pink mouth, with its deep fleshy folds and soft undulations that caressed each traveler with their silky touch. Natalie’s mouth was beautiful. Her high school boyfriend, Chad Auger had wanted to crawl in and never come out, although Natalie wouldn’t let him in that far. By then, she’d decided that she couldn’t eat just anyone. Years later, Chad, in his 50s, tired and worn out from a broken marriage and a failed career would tip his head into Natalie’s mouth and allow his body to go limp as she tipped her head back and let him slide down the recesses of her throat until only his feet hung out of her mouth, waiting on the edges of her lips, until they too disappeared. Only then, was he allowed the relief of sliding into the vast ocean of Natalie’s stomach. But not then, not when he was 18 and the second-string running back for the high school football team dating the fattest girl in the high school.
This story is an excerpt from a longer story about how Natalie eats the world and they love it. Please do not eat the world. Instead, eat a delicious ham sandwich. – Lyz
Saucy Ham Sandwich
Ingredients1 Kaiser roll (or fancy roll of your fancy- we used a pretzel roll) Sliced deli ham Swiss cheese 1/3 cup of butter ½ cup of dried onions 2tsp garlic powder 1/3 cup of prepared mustard 2T of poppy seeds
Sauce: 1/3 cup of butter, ½ cup of dried minced onions, 2tsp of garlic powder, 1/3 cup of prepared mustard and 2T of poppy seeds.
Sandwich: Spread some of the sauce (1-2T) over a Kaiser roll and then layer with sliced ham and cheese. I really enjoy Swiss on this sandwich, but feel free to use whatever cheese strikes your fancy.
Wrap in foil and bake at 350 for 6-10 minutes or until the cheese is melted.
You can also freeze these sandwiches for later. Bake frozen sandwiches at 350 for about 30 minutes.