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Guilty Pleasures from Childhood 

Thanks to wonders of the Internet, I learned last week that August 25 marked the 50 year anniversary of  the sale of instant ramen noodles, which were invented by late noodle genius Momofuku Ando.

Reading about the creation of this inexpensive convenience food had a Proustian effect on me. I ate ramen regularly as a child, and it even played a role in my imaginative play. My 8-year-younger sister and I would pretend that our mother was Miss Hannigan from Annie, and that we poor starving orphans were forced to subsist solely on gruel (Cream of Wheat) and a thin, brothy soup (Ramen). But what our evil keeper didn't realize is that we LOVED the soup, so we had to maintain poker faces as we ate it so that she would never find out and forbid it to us. Weird, I know.

I also had a very specific methodology for preparing my ramen, which included adding the seasoning packet prior to adding the noodles, in violation of the package directions. Why? Because that way, the starch soaked up more of the MSG-enhanced flavor. When I added frozen veggies, which was often, I dumped them in the pot after the seasoning packet, but before the noodles. And, I shunned frozen carrots and green beans in favor of a blend of peas and corn. When I was feeling daring, I'd mix flavor packets, too. Oriental beef flavor? Hells ya.

Besides ramen, there were only a few processed foods in our household when I was growing up, but there are still a few that provide me with fond remembrances. Here's a list of my favorite, highly processed guilty pleasures.

~ Ramen noodles
~ Onion dip made with Lipton's onion soup mix and sour cream
~ Royal instant pistachio pudding (I detest packaged gelatin, however)
~ Cheetos
~ Bush's baked beans adorned with cut-up Hebrew National hot dogs and cheddar cheese
~ Beef and barley soup, minestrone, and macaroni and bean from Progresso; and Campbell's bean & bacon soup
~ Mrs T's peirogi
~ Canned peaches
~ Cracker Jack
~ Spaghetti-Os with meatballs
~ Kraft macaroni and cheese

Some of these I still eat on rare occasions (Mrs T's, Bush's + hot dogs), and yesterday, for the first time in a decade or so, I was moved to make Lipton's onion dip. I blame my little trip down taste-memory lane (and the resulting belly ache) on ramen-inspired nostalgia.

To satisfy most of these cravings, though, I indulge in healthier facsimiles. Annie's products have replaced the Spaghetti-Os and the Kraft mac, I much prefer fresh peaches to canned, and I make my own delightful popcorn toppings instead of buying boxed 'corn.  There's even an all-natural cheese puff that I enjoy, and organic soups from Muir Glen in flavors similar to the Progresso products of my youth.

Since it's been so long since I had the originals, I usually don't even know what I'm missing.

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About The Author

Suzanne Podhaizer

Suzanne Podhaizer

Former contributor Suzanne Podhaizer is an award-winning food writer (and the first Seven Days food editor) as well as a chef, farmer, and food-systems consultant. She has given talks at the Stone Barns Center for Agriculture's "Poultry School" and its flagship "Young Farmers' Conference." She can slaughter a... more


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