If it doesn’t have a label don’t eat it – what I’ve learned when staying with strangers

I’m in one place for a month, teaching and doing performances. Instead of getting an expensive hotel room, I’m house sitting. It’s not much different from the hundreds of times I’ve stayed in community housing while on tour. Really, I’m staying in a stranger’s home, but “community housing” sounds more warm-fuzzy-Unitarian-like. When you stay in someone’s house, you learn a lot about what they eat and what their mama taught them about having guests.

First, let me tell you that if you put it in front of me and tell me it’s food, I’ll chow down like I haven’t had a meal for weeks. Bonus points if it includes chocolate, sauteed onions or melted cheese … not in the same dish. (Right now I’m on a weird-ass diet to get rid of migraines and can’t eat dairy, but that’s a topic for another post.)

Sometimes I’m told to eat anything I want in the kitchen. I’m not sure what to do, though, when there’s nothing in the fridge, but a bottle of water and a row of condiments, some dating back several years. If I was an archeologist it’d be great. For a hungry musician, not so great. This is precisely why I usually travel with a food box.

I had a Midwestern gig once where someone picked me up at the airport, then took me to the house I’d have to myself for three days. I asked where I could find a grocery store or a restaurant, but my ride wasn’t from the neighborhood and didn’t know. This was a few years ago, so I didn’t have a cell phone or a GPS. I was told that the owner said I could explore the kitchen and eat whatever was there. I found a frozen entree, but not much else. There was no microwave and the oven didn’t work, so I warmed up the icy block in a pan on the stove. The mushy string beans and tasteless chicken weren’t much, but it beat eating the tiny packet of peanuts I saved from the plane.

That night at the gig, I met the owner of the house. I thanked her for the housing, then asked if she had a pantry that maybe I’d missed. She knitted her eyebrows together, pursed her lips, and commented, “Well, there’s Rice Crispies … and wine.”

The next day, I wandered around the neighborhood until I heard a chorus of angels and there on the horizon, surrounded by a pure gold light, was a Krogers. I bought milk – since that’s what I prefer with my Rice Crispies – and a few things for sandwiches.

One time, I stayed with someone who’d recently gotten married. I was told to help myself to whatever was in the kitchen. I got up before they did so I checked out the fridge. I found party food – several kinds of half-eaten dip, some curiously blue cupcakes, and a few unidentifiable watery salads. A cupboard held rows of spices and bags of potato chips. Even I don’t consider chips and onion dip to be good breakfast food, so I grabbed a granola bar and a can of juice from my food box.

Not long after that, as I sat in the living room, I heard the clink of pans from the kitchen. My stomach growled as tantalizing scents drifted out. I finished the chapter in the book I was reading, then wandered into the kitchen. They had just finished a pile of pancakes. One of them said, “Sorry we’re out of syrup,” then pointed to a couple of tiny cold pancakes and cheerily said, “Help yourself.”

I love house sitting. I can buy groceries and make my own pancakes. The people I’m house sitting for now are really nice, but there’s one thing their place lacks.

It’s June in the south and there’s nothing I love better than a tall glass of ice cold club soda with a slice of lemon. I bought the soda and the fruit, but didn’t think to buy ice. Not only were there no ice cubes, but even if I wanted to make some, there was no room in their tiny freezer.  I could eat something in there to make room for cubes — they told me to help myself — but it’s full of unmarked containers and plastic bags of frozen white liquid. Fortunately, when they gave me a tour of the house, I was told the bags held breast milk.

Think I’ll leave those alone.

Club soda without ice isn’t so bad. I feel very European drinking it and I swear it’s helping my French lessons. Parlez-vous français? Oui, surtout quand je bois de soda sans glace. (If that’s not right, blame Google Translate. The only phrase I can remember on my own is “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi” and I’m pretty sure it has nothing to do with drinking.)

I recently had a great gig in Ohio. I mentioned above that I’m on a weird diet. In spite of that, they were able to cook up some wonderful meals I could eat, including stir fried tofu with fresh veggies that I would’ve whacked my mama over the head to get.

I’ve stayed with folks who put imported dark chocolate on my pillow, cooked me their mother’s chicken soup and lovingly made me oatmeal with fruit in the morning. None of it makes for as good a story as Rice Crispies and wine, though.

Thanks to all the kind souls who’ve offered me refuge and a hot meal while on the road. If I’m scheduled to stay with you, don’t worry. As long as you label the frozen breast milk, I’m good.

About jamiebobamie

Musician - teacher - writer - gets bored easily. I write an almost-weekly blog that includes true stories gathered from 20-plus years of touring, how-to articles for musicians and profiles of performers. Also, I love dark chocolate, I can play "Brown Eyed Girl" behind my head, and I twirl the baton badly.
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7 Responses to If it doesn’t have a label don’t eat it – what I’ve learned when staying with strangers

  1. mefoley says:

    Hmmm…that ‘coucher’ thing may have rather a lot to do with drinking…

  2. jamiebobamie says:

    Club soda, no. Vodka, yes.

  3. Kara Barnard says:

    I intentionally empty my entire kitchen before your visits. I count on you to cook for me and wait on me hand and foot when you’re here. It’s just like being at a spa.

    • jamiebobamie says:

      I love cooking when I’m on the road and Kara, you’re such a grateful recipient I’m happy to do it for you. Not so sure about the “waiting on hand and foot” part though. For a small fee, maybe. Make that large fee. Really big fee. Like, you can’t even afford it fee.

  4. If you’re ever my way, you KNOW you can stay with me! I have lots of food in my “pantry”, you know, in preparation for the armageddon.

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