How many of us lucky Chicagoans have been able to pull up to a Portillo's or Al's on any given day and sink our teeth into the glorious creation that is an Italian Beef? That exquisite combination of roast beef stewed in its own juices and excretions for hours, sliced until its paper thin, and served on a fresh Italian roll. The iconic Chicago sandwich is the perfect marriage of savory meat and sumptuous accouterments.
My dad has often joked that I could write the book on Italian Beef, and I almost always agree with him. There are very few things I truly relish in this life with total abandon. Italian Beef by far tops that list.
If I had to guess, I would say I have eaten Italian Beef at fifty different restaurants in six different states. I've had some that we glorious, some that were average, and some that were downright, goddamn, honest-to-God, gag me with a wooden spoon TERRIBLE. Yet, despite the disappointments, I can honestly say it has been a pleasure eating my way through this sandwich par excellence.
I can't remember my first experience with my favorite delicacy, but from the first day I was like Michael Jackson at a Chuck E. Cheese. My family still gapes in awe at the unassuming 5'6 mieskeit nerd chowing down with reckless abandon. It is one of the true, simple, unfettered pleasures that life has to offer.
People often look at me (I mean how could they not?) and cluck about how thin I am and yearn to know what the secret of my slimness is. And, with all levity aside, I believe that eating with joy and a little healthy exercise afterwards can do wonders for the mind and the waistline. I won't be winning any bathing suit competitions in the near future, but I am able to keep my spirits high and my calories in check.
We, as a society, have become so cloistered and guarded, worrying about every occurrence as if it is an omen of Armageddon. Honest to God, a woman on one of my cousin's Facebook statuses yesterday, after seeing her pictures of her family of five at Six Flags, said that her family simply could not go to Six Flags, because they have an odd number of family members and it wouldn't be fair to the person who was left out. Cut to me at the carnival, sitting on the Tilt-A-Whirl with an 800-pound buffet aficionado who I have never met in this or any other life, while my ride-phobic father sits on the sidelines. We are focusing too much on the details and can't enjoy life as it comes, as we feel the need to dissect each moment and rob it of its spontaneity and levity.
When it comes to matters of food, I often let Julia Child speak her infinite wisdom: "I think one of the terrible things today is that people have this deathly fear of food: fear of eggs, say, or fear of butter. Most doctors feel that you can have a little bit of everything."
Fear, in any part of life, is a cancer. It eats away at your relationships, self-esteem, and work, until there's nothing left but a pile of "it could have happened!" If a serial killer is bounding after you, for God's sake please fear for your life. But don't be afraid because Aunt Yenta put a little bit more casserole on you kid's plate than his dietary chart allows. Fear is the body's way of alerting you to a possible danger; it should not be a constant, churning brew threatening to boil over at any second.
What was I talking about again...? Oh, that's right, Italian Beef. Excuse an old fool his meanderings.
My relationship with Italian Beef is one that has had little-to-no drama, which is more than I can say for the walking slabs of beef I've dated (and let's just see the Italian Beefs I've met have been a might spicier than the vast array of harridans that have compromised the small sewage dump that is my past relationships.)
Food, like love, is a testy subject for most. There are so many hang-ups attached the idea of food that we have gone bats trying to wrap our minds around it.
And my advice? (I know you want to know, though you scoff, but I'm on a roll...literally!): Enjoy your meals! As long as you don't eat 727 McNuggets in one day and then proceed to watch the entire oeuvre of Star Wars movies flat on your ass, you have nothing to worry about. Everything in moderation is perfectly acceptable, minus meth and dating Kim Kardashian, both of which will end up with you broke and flat.
The Italian Beef is like a winged battalion of Cherubim and Seraphim greeting me each day with renewed strength and a sense of true, ecstatic enjoyment.
If I worried about everything I ate, I'd be six feet under, so approach the dinner table without fear and, more importantly, without regret!
To quote Auntie Mame, "Life is a banquet and most poor sons-of-bitches are starving to death...so live, live, LIVE!"