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  • laurenwhitehurst8

My Happy Meal

We all curse the pandemic again and again, but despite the terrible constraints we are under because of it, there were a few silver linings for our family. The biggest was the amount of time we spent together before our kids left for college. With Jack and Emma in their second semester of senior year, it didn’t really matter much that school became a fiasco, and Jim, who normally traveled one-third of the year, was grounded at home. There was plenty of pandemic-related stress of course, but for our family, there was also a fair amount of fun. We played games in the middle of a weekday, scheduling them around Jim’s video calls. We would choose titles from a movie lottery bowl several nights each week, and then no matter the pick, we would still argue about what to watch. Jack tried his hand at baking croissants from scratch, and we all enjoyed the results since he nailed the recipe. We ordered American sustainable caviar for New Year’s eve dinner, eating it on our rarely-used fancy china; we ordered sushi from our favorite restaurant every Saturday, and we made margaritas (virgin and otherwise) whenever we took out Mexican. One other new practice was eating French fries as part of dinner – this became the norm pretty much anytime I could justify them as the side to our entree.

Before the pandemic, I do not think I had eaten French fries since I was a child who begged for McDonalds. As all moms do, I’d steal a few from my kids’ plates at restaurants, but having my own portion? Really, it had been at least thirty years. I had convinced myself I was a sweet-tooth person, and even though I love pretzels, I didn’t think I really cared about salty snacks enough to order fries for myself. It turns out I can’t choose between sweet and salty – I love them both.

At first, I would make both sweet potato and regular fry accompaniments because Jack didn’t like the sweets. Telling ourselves the sweet potato ones were healthier, Jim and I would load our plates with that version; Emma would go half-and-half, and Jack would load up with regulars. Then I found tater tots in both regular and sweet versions, as well as waffle cuts, and for a while, we’d make at least three versions of fried potatoes for any given meal. We went from a household where French fries were something you only ordered when dining out, to one where French fries were on the menu more often than not. French fries were comfort; French fries were happy – and as we all know, we all needed comfort and happy in those early months.

Fast forward to now when eating out is once again a norm, and I find myself reading menus a little differently. I used to search for the healthiest option and would make my choices based on the most appealing vegetable sides on the menu. No longer. Now, the first thing I do is check for fries. I tried Belgian fries at one fancy place in Beaver Creek; I’ve ordered bistro fries more times than I can count in NY, and if sweets are on the menu, I craft my whole dinner around them. When I go somewhere that I know the fries are particularly good, I often just order a salad and an order of fries, so I can hoard that whole side order just for myself.

I hadn’t made fries at home in a while until last weekend. The kids have left for school; I’m cooking dinner less and going out more. And I’m ordering fries when I go out. Still, last Sunday, Jim and I had a craving for sweets, so we reinstituted the practice. As expected, the salmon and salad were better for their side. Really the fish and lettuce were the side – as you might expect, the fries were our last bites.

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