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Saturday, June 01, 2013

Saturday Smorgasbord - Cooking With Play Food

So, here we are. A brand new month. I still can't believe that we're already in the month of June!

(Well, okay...the temperature here is up around 34 degrees Celsius when you take the humidity into account. Maybe I CAN believe that it's June.)
I guess it just seems like I'm happy that June is finally here because to me it seemed as though May lasted forever. Not that I minded, mind you. May is one of my favourite months of the year, after all. But, June is also a wonderful month filled with surprises, sunshine, and the end of school for another year. Summer is fast approaching, and I for one am excited to welcome it.

And, the first of June happens to be the first day of the brand new feature known as the Saturday Smorgasbord. And, as I explained a couple of days ago, the Saturday Smorgasbord is almost like an amalgamation of the former Wednesday and Saturday theme days, in that the topic will be constantly changing.

Unless there happens to be a special event going on in which I will have to pre-empt a particular theme day (and the upcoming Relay for Life is one such event), the way that the Saturday Smorgasbord will run is as such.

FIRST SATURDAY OF THE MONTH: Toys and Games Discussion
FOURTH SATURDAY OF THE MONTH: Books/Comics/Magazine Discussion

(NOTE: I'm only making the fifth Saturday of the month my choice, as having a month with five Saturdays in it is somewhat of a rarity.)

(NOTE 2: In the case of June, week three and week five will be flipping around, as I already have a special blog post planned for June 15.)

So, if we go by that list, you'll automatically see that today's topic will be featuring either a toy or a game. And, today's topic happens to be a fun one, filled with fond memories, a silly game that my sister and I came up with...and plastic food?

I guess I should set up the story.

When I was really young, my toybox was mostly filled with secondhand toys. My sisters were kind of tomboyish and as a result, they had quite a few toys that could be used by both boys and girls. Not that I cared either way. If the toy was fun enough and kept me entertained, it could have been almost anything.

But on those occasions in which I did get a brand new toy, it was exciting. I know it sounds like an incredibly bad cliché, but I literally did feel like a kid in a candy store whenever I entered an old fashioned toy store, or perused through Woolco's toy department. Mind you, my parents were on a budget, so I couldn't ask for something extravagant like one of those Power Wheels cars.

Not that it really mattered, as I was never one who really wanted expensive toys aside from a video game console.

One of my favourite places to go shopping for toys was in Kingston, Ontario, at the old S & R Department Store. Sadly, the department store closed its doors in the summer of 2009, but I remember the store being absolutely perfect as a young boy. Trips to S & R were very rare, but whenever we did go there, one of the first places that I wanted to go was the toy department, which if memory serves me was on the second floor. Though, I suppose it's possible that it could have been the third floor. Whatever the case, I do remember having to go up at least one flight of stairs to get to it.

The one thing that I remember about S & R's toy department was that it was filled with dozens of toys and novelties that I just couldn't find in any toy store in my hometown. Dozens of knick-knacks, rare items, and shiny things just waiting for some kid to play with. If my parents had let me loose in that section, I very easily could have spent five hundred dollars in that toy section. I loved it!

I still remember the one day that I went to S & R and having absolutely no idea what I wanted to buy. My parents were beginning to get a wee bit impatient with me, but I couldn't help it. I was six years old at the time, and I really was particular over what toy I would ultimately purchase.

What I ended up choosing was a playset that was filled with plastic food, fake cardboard boxes of food that looked like the frozen dinners and dry grocery supplies that my mother always bought from OK Economy (another defunct store), and other tasty looking, but non-edible goodies.

And, I think I must have played with that playset for months and months. I even managed to add more stock to my pretend food pantry by getting a gift of an entire case of play food for Christmas one year.

The only thing that I was lacking was the plastic shopping cart, or a plastic basket to carry all of the food in. But, that was fine. I had more fun playing store anyway.

(And to think that at the time, I didn't see the irony of actually landing a job at a grocery store just twenty years later...)

Of course, in my version of store, I ran things my way. In all honesty, it was probably the only retail experience I had prior to actually landing my current retail position.
CONFESSION: I will be the first one to admit that I did fudge a couple of details on my resume to get my current job. Nothing like a major lie or anything, but let's just say that I played up certain points in order to get their attention. I figure that I've been there eight years, and have more than proven myself, so I'm safe in admitting this little truth.

Anyway, in my version of play store, people could pay whatever price they wanted. I would take the play money from my Monopoly game, and that would become my currency. If anyone wanted a dozen eggs, all they had to pay was a dollar. If they wanted a carton of milk, they could pay two dollars. And, if they wanted a chocolate bar, then they would have to pay five hundred dollars.

(As you could tell, I was very reluctant to sell my chocolate. Even if it was fake.)

However, that play food also came in handy as well for a little game that my sister and I used to play when I was a kid.

I've talked about this before in this blog about how I am the youngest of three children, and that there were considerable age gaps between myself and my older siblings. On one hand, it really frustrated me, as I didn't really have that much contact with people my own age until I entered school. I think having siblings closer to my age probably would have helped my social skills a great deal, and I sort of feel like I missed out on something very special as a result.

But, don't get me wrong. I was happy that my sisters and I were the ages that we were. Because my siblings had a good ten/fifteen years of life experience ahead of me, they came up with some creative ideas of their own to keep me entertained. They used to play school with me, they made alphabet shaped pillows using some of their old clothes for me. And, in the case of my eldest sister, I remember her designing a board game called “Monkey Business” or something like that, and I vaguely remember the game design being a jungle setting where everytime you landed on a banana space, you would flip a card over.

I really wish I still had that game. I played it almost every other day because it was so unique and unlike any other game I had played.

As for the other sister, she took my love of play food and took it one step further by “hosting” her own cooking show, where I would play her special assistant.

I really don't know where she got the inspiration behind her “television chef” persona, but my guess is that she borrowed a page from the late Julia Child's cookbook, as her accent sounded like her.

(At least according to her. To me, she sounded more like Hyacinth Bucket from “Keeping Up Appearances”.)

Anyway, the “show” that she came up with was one known as “Cooking With Bertha”, and naturally, my sister played the role of Bertha. And, of course, she would give me a stupid, goofy, girly name as her personal assistant. It was natural for her to do this though, since she loved to pick on her younger brother. If I remember correctly, the name she used the most often was Bertie or Gertie or some other similar sounding name.

So, what we would do is she would grab one of mom's mixing bowls from the kitchen cupboards, and I would gather all the play food that I had, and we would also choose one of my mom's many cookbooks to “recreate” a recipe from the book into our cooking show. The only problem was that I would purposely sabotage the recipe by throwing in a lot of ingredients that were kind of nasty. If we were pretending to make chocolate chip muffins, I'd throw in pickles and Jell-O. If we were making borscht, I would throw in eggs, corn, and frozen cheese pizza. And, I'm pretty sure that we were the only “television chefs” that used corn dogs and Spaghetti-O's inside a red velvet cake.

But, we didn't care. The whole process was a barrel full of laughs, and the whole adventure was a barrel full of laughs, every time.

And, even though I'm an adult now, and the play food has since been donated to Goodwill shops in the area, I think that those memories will be the ones I cherish the most.

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