Calling all Gen-Xers…I’ve got a book for you!
If you grew up in the 80s and 90s, author Jules Torti has done you a huge favour and compiled a chapter-by-chapter account of all the foods we grew up on: junk food, health food, food that made us smile, food that made us barf, food that made us want to clean our rooms again for allowance to buy more of. We’re talking pop tarts, Cap’n Crunch, Corn Pops, Bugles, Nerds, Ah Caramels, Kraft Dinner and Fudgee-Os. Yes, she covers them all in a memoir that will have you laughing out loud and creating your own Duran Duran playlists on Spotify.
Been There, Ate That: A Candy-Coated Childhood is a nostalgia trip through the best years of your life using Torti’s own experiences as guide. I mean, how cool is it to read someone else’s account of growing up in the 80s and 90s and savour every word with your 11-year-old taste-buds. It might have been old-man-Jesse that was lying in the hammock reading this memoir, but it was pre-teen Jesse that was evoked by stories of Tahiti Treat and pizza-flavoured Hostess chips.
With chapter headings like ‘Chips and Dip’ (oh man, that takes me back – sometimes Ruffles chips and dip was dinner for this dude) and stories about eating frosted strawberry Pop-Tarts on a waterbed (okay, I didn’t have one of those) while talking about school crushes, this book transported me back to some of the best years of my life. It made me so glad to be raised during the 90s. But this book spans more than just the 80s, 90s. It continues on into the 21st century and even includes some adventures around the globe.
Traveler Jesse sure got a kick out of Torti’s accounts of eating grasshoppers in foreign countries. I first sampled the winged delicacies in Thailand right before eating pig intestine soup, nice and spicy just how I like it. Torti describes it best in her chapter How to Eat Fried Grasshoppers. I could have used that guide during my first adventure at the insect bar.
I think Torti and I are on the same page (of the cookbook) when it comes to culinary tastes and distastes, foods we’ve tried, and things we won’t try again. Reading about her childhood conjured up images of my own, especially with passages like “There was an obvious Alanis Morissette irony in our morning routine. We’d sit barely an arm’s length from the monster console TV to take in a big gulp of cartoons with our bowls of cereal. Cross-legged on the shag, we’d watch Simon in the Land of Chalk Drawings, Romper Room and The Toothbrush Family to ease into the dreaded school day ahead.”
Later she references shows like My So Called Life and North of Sixty, which captured my teenaged-gaze for hours on end while I inhaled McCain Curly Fries (which Torti admits to eating as an after school snack – how lucky!) I was partial to Cool Ranch Doritos and Hot n Cold Nerds as my after-school grazing. But we both can agree on the magic inside a bucket of KFC on a Friday night (it only happened once in my childhood, when my mom was away of course).
We both listened to Jesus and Mary Chain and Pixies as teens, and Tiffany as pre-teens (guilty of loving that red-headed teen hottie). I do remember seeing Tiger Beat magazine around a lot, which Torti pored over with her friends “Was I totally compatible with River Phoenix?” and “How much did I really know about Kirk Cameron’s secret life?” she jokes.
Torti has a way of pulling you in with witty one-liners and killer references to pop culture that lie deep in the corners of your brain – she pulls them all out and lays them on the shag carpet for you to reminisce over.
Her relaxed writing style hooked me in her 2017 memoir Free to a Good Home, and is on full display here on Been There, Ate That. Chapters are short and pack a punch – you’ll go through them faster than a pack of Dunkaroos! And you’ll enjoy them just as much. This is one of the most fun reads I’ve had in ages.
Her dedication to her wife, Kim, offers an even more personal touch to this foodie diary, “My amygdala will only respond to Kim’s beer can chicken, seasoned with garlic, dill, cracked pepper and steamed inside out with pilsner. Her beef burritos fragrant with cumin…Her hot cocoa stirred with a pour of Nicaraguan rum. Even a simple slice of sourdough toast that she has carefully smeared with the scantest amount of peanut butter and jam (the only way I like it) slid in my direction as I write says I love you.”
She closes the book with a dedication to another love of her life: Anthony Bourdain, the irreplaceable, loveable, tragic figure who gave us all a glimpse into foreign cuisine and who reminded us to be a traveler, not a tourist.
She also leaves us with some fun lists of terms and things she’ll never try again. On this list, you’ll find horse, turtle, and shark fin soup, but you’ll also find Coors Light, which is a page right out of my book (if I wrote one). I’ve always said, why pay for Coors Light when you can drink water for free!
I’m a fan of honesty in writing, and Torti delivers on a consistent basis like when she clarifies that she loves food and will try anything but is not a wiz in the kitchen: “No, we don’t have a gravy boat, teapot, roasting pan or flour. Or baking soda,” she writes. “We don’t have a pie plate. Will a baking sheet do? We have one of those for making sweet potato fries, not cookies, of course.”
This is the state of affairs in my own kitchen. I could fill a book with all the things I’m missing.
One of these things is a good cookbook and Torti offers a list of a few that should be in every kitchen – not necessarily to use, but just to read and use for display purposes. Been There, Ate That will be a book that you will use, though. You’ll use it to relive your candy-coated youth. And you’ll love every minute of it.
I highly recommend you pick this book up and put it on your summer reading list. You can buy it here.
Written by Jesse Wilkinson