Cheese, milk, butter, ice cream, yogurt. You were all such good friends. I was lucky to have known you at all.
Long ago, I developed an intolerance for you. It’s not as if you’d kill me but, let’s just say, you’d incapacitate me for a prolonged and agonizing period of time if I ever decided to ignore all the earlier experiences and indulge again.
That doesn’t mean, however, that I can’t appreciate the quality time we shared together, the memories you forever embedded in my taste buds and in my satisfied stomach.
I’ll start with the unexpected. Yes, you, in the corner, looking all innocuous. Stand up custardy yogurt and let me recall the smooth, cool feel and consistent taste. My favorite was banana, even though I lost the second-grade spelling bee when I thought there had to be an extra “n” in there somewhere. Someone with as many vowels as there are in the name Dunaief should have recognized the superfluous nature of consonants, but alas I was too young.
Then there’s macaroni and cheese. The soft noodles and almost too-sweet cheese was like a warm, sweet bath for my mouth. After throwing snowballs at my brothers or coming in from the walk along Mud Road from Gelinas on a rainy day, the hot mac and cheese revived me enough to break out my homework and try to figure how to find a second derivative or identify feldspar (a rock-forming mineral).
Then there’s that tall carton of milk. How awesome were you with Oreos and chocolate chip cookies? I’d dip the cookies deep into the milk, hoping they’d break apart. At the end of that refreshing glass, I’d have a blend of cookie crumbs supersaturated in milk at the bottom. I tipped the cool glass toward my mouth and let those mushy morsels land gently on my unfolded tongue.
And then there’s ice cream. After a movie at Stony Brook Loews, I’d sit with my buddies at Friendly’s on Route 347 and wait as patiently as I could for everyone else to figure out what they wanted. I pretended to read the menu, particularly when I was on a date and was considering what to say next, but the choice was always the same: the mint chocolate chip sundae.
During cold winter days, particularly after a day of skiing with my family — who were patient enough for me to stop getting frustrated when I fell, learn from my mistakes and enjoy the ride — I looked forward to onion soup. Oh, the melted cheese on the top of that soup. As my wife would say, what’s better than that?
Busboys risked serious injuries to their fingers if they tried to take the Crock-Pot before I’d finished picking every piece of cheese off the sides. When I finally looked up from my cheese removal operation, I saw my mom flashing that same annoying grin I show our children when I see how satisfied they are in a moment.
Since we’re discussing cheese, how about a grilled cheese? Buttered bread with soft American cheese was an irresistible delight. I’d order several of these sandwiches at the old Jack in the Box at the corner of 25A and Main Street in Setauket.
When I was young, one of my late father’s favorite sandwiches was Swiss cheese on rye with lettuce, tomato and mustard. The first time I tried it, I smiled politely and gave it back to him. Before the end of the dairy road for me, I ordered it again and thoroughly enjoyed it. Maybe it was an acquired taste or maybe it brought me closer to my father, who I could imagine enjoying the life and the food as much as I did. Oh, those dairy delights.