When you visit childhood haunts, you rip open a wormhole in the space-time continuum.
While visiting Ohio for the holidays, I'm not middle-aged (that term is scratchy, like a woolen jumper against bare skin), Instead, I'm 10 years old.
And 14 and 17. All the ages I was until leaving home to become an exchange student.
Nothing brings back memories of the old country like food.
Thankfully, I don't (yet) have Covid, because I can still smell the popcorn my mum has made on the stove.
In New Zealand, Master 16 pops a nightly bag of corn in the microwave. Here in the heartland, we are treated to corn popped using grapeseed oil in a large pot.
The secret, says Mum, is to let the first kernel pop, remove the pot from the stove for one minute, then let the rest of the kernels burst while shaking the pan.
Follow with a generous sprinkle of popcorn salt and melted butter. It tastes like 1985. It tastes like a second bowl.
The danger of mixing travel, nostalgia and food is that I may grow large enough to break furniture, or at least burst blue jean buttons upon my return.
Everyone knows American portions are colossal.
A couple of years away from the States has me inspecting the contents of Mum's fridge in wonder: look at the size of those green grapes!
I ate a particularly obese orb in three bites. Shopping at wholesaler Costco means bringing home large punnets of blueberries, blackberries and strawberries at bargain prices out of season.
The luscious fruits come from Peru and Mexico. To buy such specimens in bulk in New Zealand - if you could find them in winter - would require a second mortgage.
We marvel at Master 16's ability to hoover large quantities of super-sized foods: half a cow rump sliced thinly, layered between two pillowy buns at Arby's; a tray of nachos that could feed four people at a taco joint; fried cheese sticks and pretzel sticks with beer cheese sauce at an Italian restaurant.
Gluttony is over the top and best practised as a spectator sport. I'm not sure my ageing arteries could handle the amount of fat, sugar and salt my son pumps into his wiry frame.
Do I make an exception for crab legs? Indeed. Before this trip, I hadn't had Alaskan king crab in years.
They're not often featured on Aotearoa menus, and when they are, they're very expensive.
So when a brunch buffet in Ohio served enormous legs plus oversized prawns, I dug in, cracking claws and indelicately digging out fleshy, moist meat and dipping into drawn butter.
Plus cocktail sauce. There were grits with cream and shrimp; lobster mac and cheese; an omelet station; pierogies and Polish sausage; lamb, fruit, salad, cheesecake, mini molten chocolate cakes and so much more.
The best part about these culinary adventures is not what we're eating but who we're eating with.
Brunch delivered the gift of time, a chance for Mum and me to reconnect. We spaced out trips to the buffet with the kind of conversation we can't or don't have when the kids and her partner are around.
Mum has planned a Christmas feast of tender roast, mashed potatoes and green bean casserole topped with crunchy fried onions. I can't recall the last time we ate Christmas dinner together.
She is a wonderful cook and, as the years rocket past, I see each meal as a memory.
We are not merely spooning Campbell's tomato soup and savouring gooey sharp cheddar toasted sandwiches, we are ingesting companionship and love that we will remember for years.
Likewise, at my dad's house, a pan of vegetable lasagne, made with Miss 17's pescetarian sensibilities in mind, is delicious evidence of thoughtfulness and care.
I recognise these particular foods are luxuries. Many of our neighbours' pantries would be bare if not for local food banks.
What if I donated the price of that lovely brunch to the Tauranga Community Food Bank? I couldn't let myself finish this column until it was done.
The Bay of Plenty Times' six-week Christmas Appeal ends next week, so I've beaten the deadline.
The organisation has experienced record demand for food this year, thanks to the pandemic.
Reading about the generosity of other Bay residents helps strengthen my faith in humanity.
We may diverge on many issues, but we agree other people should not go hungry.While some of us are tucking into turkey and mince pies this festive season (make mine pumpkin - I am in America, after all), it's nice to know we can help brighten our neighbours' holidays, too.