Luxurious haute cuisine? Absolutely! Greasy fast food? Bring it on! Katie Arnold-Ratliff extols the virtues of tasting everything life has to offer.
In the past month I've eaten poached goat, grilled octopus, the breaded and fried thymus gland of a cow, tagliatelle with rabbit ragu, and the seared liver of a fatted goose. In the past 24 hours, I've had pulled-pork tacos with pickled onions, blindingly spicy Korean noodles, caramelized Brussels sprouts, and a deep-fried candy bar. For dinner I'll be grilling a molasses-brined pork loin—unless I simmer a garlicky cellini bean soup topped with a poached egg. Whatever ends up on my plate, I know I'll enjoy it. That's what I do with food.
I'm from a region—between the San Francisco Bay Area and Napa Valley—that's riddled with farmers' markets, an area where Ethiopian or Cambodian cuisine is as plentiful as burgers, and where culinary legends (Alice Waters, the Kellers Hubert and Thomas) and hidden-gem restaurants (Oakland's Doña Tomás, St. Helena's Meadowood) abound. All that foodie culture leaves its mark: I learned to love frisée and arugula before my training wheels came off.
But if the area's epicurean quotient is steep, so is its cost of living. When I was growing up, my parents struggled, and to supplement the high-end delicacies, we did what most broke people do: ate junk food. I still love it. Whenever I fly home from New York, I head to In-N-Out straight from the airport. I covet Long John Silver's chicken planks. And God help me if I spot a Krispy Kreme. In my cabinets you'll find Oreos, boxed mac and cheese (best served studded with hot dog chunks), and six flavors of potato chips—none of them low fat.
Now seems a good time to mention my butt, boobs, and stomach, which are ample. I don't mind. I'd rather have curves than agonize over whether I deserve dessert. Plus, I look great in vintage dresses, and, according to at least one small child, my hugs are pleasantly "squishy."
My trunk is not so junk-filled that it can't fit into an airplane seat—which is lucky, since one of my goals in life is to eat everywhere I can. I prep for vacations by slavering over restaurant websites (I call it menu porn). Last fall, for instance, long before landing in New Orleans, I knew I'd be ordering the white truffle risotto at Domenica and the Goody cocktail at the Hotel Monteleone.
But I welcome serendipity, too. The best moment of that trip came at Sugar Shack, a funky French Quarter watering hole. My husband and I bit into our soft-shell-crab po'boys and gasped. The sandwiches were perfect—crunchy, crabby, drenched in piquant mayonnaise. That bite had everything I love about food: the joy, the hedonism (it was a lot of mayo), and the makings of a story (it's ridiculous how often we discuss those damn po'boys). I'd never want to miss out on any of that—or the dessert of Ding Dongs we served ourselves later.