by Maria Schulz
As a child, there was nothing more wonderful than the prospect of lunchtime. I remember sitting there in Sister Felicity’s math class, feeling as though time and space had collapsed in on itself. There was no hope for escape and my stomach ached. I was STARVING! But then…the bell would ring, and it was time for lunch.
LUNCH! LUNCH! LUNCH! I would throw on my jacket, say the prayer before meals, and then skip down the stairs two at a time until I hit the door to FREEDOM!
I can still feel the sun on my face…smell the flowers in bloom…feel the rush of fresh air filling my lungs. I was one of the lucky ones who went home for lunch since I only lived across the street. Of course, since this was Catholic school, I would have to walk in the complete opposite direction for one block before I was allowed to walk home. So, I’d walk down to the corner and then double-time it back home for the 45 minute lunch break that was the highlight of my day.
I’d rush through the door, greet my two barking dogs, kiss my mother, and grab a sandwich and some chocolate milk. Sometimes, my grandparents would be there too, and they’d sit down with my brothers and me as we sprawled all over the couches in the living room for 1 ½ TV shows.
We’d flick on Channel 11 and watch I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, The Partridge Family, Gilligan’s Island, or The Gong Show. Jeannie! Major Nelson! Samantha! Uncle Arthur! Thurston and Lovey! Jean Jean the Dancing Machine! The Unknown Comic! Chuck Barris! The laughs just kept coming.
Money was tight back then, so our lunch menu included some pretty horrible fare. This included:
- Deviled Ham: You could spread it on white bread or crackers! I’m gagging just thinking about this.
- Liverwurst: yes, it was the worst of times.
- Baloney: my baloney had a first name, it’s A-W-F-U-L.
- Chicken Roll: ughhhhh….
- Canned spaghetti and meatballs: I had a reignited love affair with this during the 3-week-long blackout following Hurricane Sandy.
- Canned ravioli: ditto.
- Salami: one of the few Italian foods I do NOT love
- Mayonnaise sandwiches: terrible for you with no redeeming nutritional value, this was one of my favorites. It would take the introduction of real turkey breast to break me of this ghastly lunchtime habit.
- Fluff and bananas: ick, ick, ick. We most likely had this on hand because it was on sale at Hill’s Grocery Stores. At least there was fruit involved.
- Peanut butter and Jelly: this was by far my favorite. It wasn’t mystery meat, it was easy to make, and it was cheap. Plus it gave me energy to face another 2 hours of school when lunch break was over.
It was a rare occasion when we got back to school early enough to play outside with everyone. Why? Because the kids who ate lunch in school had their own Lord of the Flies arrangements with one another, and we didn’t want to mess with that.
Of course, when lunch was over, you couldn’t just cross the street and go in through the little door across from our house; you had to walk about a block and a half around the school to a different door. Again: Catholic school = arbitrary and pointless rules. There were quite a few times that Chris and I lingered a little too long to see who might get gonged and we had to run like the wind to get back to that door before it was locked and we got demerits. The fear of having our permanent record cards marked up with the 70s equivalent of LOSER kept us on our toes.
Every once in a while, there was a “special” lunch day or food-related treat. Usually it was a fundraiser; sometimes it was disguised as a treat (but was really a fundraiser). These random “treats” included:
- Pizza Day: come hungry, pay a $2.00 a slice (back when a pizza and a coke cost 50 cents) so we can get a new roof
- Hot Dog Day: this was never a day that I looked forward to. Give me sausage and peppers on a crusty roll over this any day. I remember asking to go to the bathroom, then slipping out the door, cutting across the street and having a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at home before I went back
- Bake Sale: always held right after lunch. Sometimes we’d run back with some money and hope that all the good cakes weren’t eaten already by the stay-in-school lunch crowd
- Mrs. D’s Homemade Italian food: Mrs. D. was the mom who always came up to school with a big tray of lasagna or baked ziti. If you weren’t lucky enough to be in her daughter’s class, you prayed that she’d bring enough for your class too. You didn’t even have to pay!
- Breakfast with Santa: there wasn’t much going on in my neighborhood, and a $2 all you can eat smorgasbord of pancakes, eggs, sausage, bacon and SANTA was just too good to miss. My father ruined this for me for a couple of years by playing Santa, because, as he explained it to me, “Santa was too busy at the North Pole.” Boy was I glad when Santa was free again.
- The Fair/Carnival: just imagine Judy Garland singing “Meet Me In St Louis,” only substitute the words with “meet me at St. Robert’s, Robert’s, meet me at the fair.” Or the carnival. Whatever. This meant zeppoles, sausage and pepper heroes, big crusty pretzels, brownies with nuts, giant cookies, rides and games. I spent a lot of time staring out the window, watching them set this up. When it finally sprang to life, I was the first one on line, riding the Ferris wheel, eating the cotton candy, and playing the games. I still remember that Blues Brothers poster I won. Good times!
This recipe caught my eye because it’s from Lidia Bastianich (from Lidia’s Italian Kitchen). It looks delicious, and would probably go well over rice or with some penne pasta. You can re-heat this easily and take it with you to work.
Here’s another recipe for Sausage and Peppers on a roll. Personally, I would go for the sweet Italian sausages and omit the hot sausages, but that’s your call. For those of you watching your weight/salt intake, try it with low sodium Italian style Turkey sausages. Yum!
So, Hungry Lifers…what was your LEAST favorite lunch item when you were a kid? What’s your favorite now? Do you like Sausage and Peppers? Please leave a comment and let us all know. Thanks!