Do you ever get the hankering for a childhood comfort meal?

Years back, when I was an adult, but a young one, I suddenly had the craving for a wonderful childhood meal that I adored.  I realized I hadn’t had it since I was quite small!  I called my mom.

“Mom! You know what I want to make? I haven’t had it in forever! Spaghetti beans! I don’t have the recipe, and I can’t find it anywhere… I don’t know why. Can you give it to me?”

My mom laughed.

“Spaghetti beans?!  Oh, I had forgotten about that, darling. No, I mean… it wasn’t a recipe really. It was just something I made up.”

Something… made up?

“What do you mean, you made it up? Don’t you remember your recipe, so I can make it?”

“I mean… it was just made up. Here’s what spaghetti beans was… I would make a big pot of pinto beans for dinner. You remember, and we’d have lettuce and avocado and tomato or a little salsa on the top of the bowl of beans… maybe a tortilla or some bread with it…”

“Right…” I said, remembering this very common meal.

“And then… the next day, we’d have some beans left on the stove, but not enough to feed the whole family, so I had to figure something out.  I would break up some spaghetti into the beans, add a can of tomato sauce, and that was it. Oh, if we were lucky, we might have a little cheese I could grate over the top of the whole thing. That’s the recipe. That’s it, I was just trying to augment the beans to be able to feed you all, and we didn’t have anything else.”


I had no idea. The delicious, comforting, famous “Spaghetti Beans” of my childhood were what the kids these days call “a struggle meal”?

I grew up quite untraditionally.  We had a large family, with many siblings and very little money and even less electricity for a time (added reason to why we very rarely had cheese or other items needing refrigeration).  At the time, largely because I was sheltered from comparisons without school or external friends early on, I didn’t even realize that my family was lacking money or resources or… “normalcy”.  More on that when my book comes out, but back to Spaghetti Beans.

RELATED TOPIC: I Survived On Sunny D and Bologna Sandwiches!

So, it was a struggle meal.

But it was delicious, nutritious, and didn’t require any electricity. It turns out that a lot of recipes I grew up with were “struggle meals”.  There’s another meal that was brought up to me to realize in a whole different way, years later.

Flash forward 10 years or so from this conversation with my mom.  One of my best friends is getting married and introducing her bridesmaids (high school bestie, college roommate, sorority little sis, doctor-life BFF, future sister-in-law, etc) to each other via email as we embark on her bridal adventures.  In this email, she lovingly describes me, not only as her college roommate (freshman year “scholar hall” did well for us after all) but as “the person who introduced me to avocado toast, far before it was cool but when it just seemed super weird.” or something to that effect.

Avocado toast.

In retrospect, I realized this too was a struggle meal for us.  Avocado on toast.  My mom baked bread almost every day. Nothing fancy, just white bread: flour, salt, yeast and water. Certainly, no egg or milk involved.  But it was fresh, warm and delicious, sensational right out of the oven but still fantastic days later.  I can thank her for my carb addiction.

But what did we have to put on the bread? Certainly, no deli meat for a sandwich (my goodness how I longed for bologna later on when I had heard of it), no fancy jam (my mom was a bread maker but not a canner). We had margarine, maybe some peanut butter, some condiments (I used to make myself “sloppy sandwiches” with bread, mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, and pickle relish), and avocado.

We had an avocado tree, or actually a few avocado trees. One was sort of suspicious; what I called the “pinevocado tree” and whose avocados had a piney taste that I didn’t enjoy.  The others were lovely, and so we had avocados. For free. Just lying about, asking to be eaten by very hungry children in a very large family.  And so, my parents mashed them up on top of our toast, sprinkled some salt and pepper on them and called it breakfast. Or lunch. Or even dinner.  Add a bowl of beans?

That was a perfect dinner at my house.

Again, I never realized that in 1986, very few other people were having avocado toast for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They were having cereal I had never even heard of, and bologna sandwiches and sloppy joes. So I went about my life, eating avocado toast growing up, all the way until I got to college.  When I brought my college roommate home with me for the weekend, that’s what I offered her for breakfast.  She was confused, but after experiencing what my childhood home was like (drafty, lacking doorknobs and even doors in most places, lacking furniture, hanging precariously over a creek on an eroded bank…) she was unsurprised and unopposed, and so we ate our avocado toasts with salt and pepper, and continued about our lives again, getting college degrees and medical degrees (her, not me) and having children (me not her) and marrying (both of us, now with all this bridal business).

So, at the time of her engagement and bridal party introduction email, it was 2018.  In that introduction, she mentioned how I had taught her that avocado toast was delicious because it happened to be the new trendy, gourmet breakfast for us millennials.  At that time, she was living in Washington DC, and I was living in the Bay Area. Either of us could walk into any number of cafes and buy avocado toast on the way to work.  Both of us would be paying upwards of $10 a slice.  Same ingredients.

The struggle meal turned gourmet.

Flash forward another 5 years, and my sister-group text pops up with a text from my oldest sister. It said (and I paraphrase),

Hey, so since Dan and I are trying to retire soon, and Johanna and Pat are starting a business, and Sophia and Evan will have 3 kids in college soon, and Gia and Jonas are trying to buy a house… do you think it’s maybe time we try to figure out how to monetize spaghetti beans?”

… probably followed by (and greeted by) several crying laughing emojis.

Spaghetti Beans on a Michelin menu.

I can see it now!  But the point here is… I wouldn’t have put avocado toast on a $10+ menu years back either. We had what we had, and we appreciated it. But more than that, what something was worth then, doesn’t determine it’s worth in the future.  It’s true in many ways, and it’s always true about yourself.  I often remind myself, when I’m feeling a little down or stuck, that I always have the freedom to make a new decision and change my outcome.  When my sister sent that text, it reminded me of that.  Who says that Spaghetti Beans can’t be the next trendy thing?  If it worked for Avocado Toast, all the possibilities are on the table.

As we make choices to determine our futures every day, as we engage in negative self-talk or interact with anxiety’s whispers, sit up proud and tell yourself, “I might feel like spaghetti beans, but I WILL BE the new avocado toast!”  You are not a struggle meal! You are the hot, new trend right around the corner that everyone will be throwing money at! Believe it, manifest it, and above all, eat it. That stuff is delicious.

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Gia Ilole
Gia is a native Californian who has lived all over the state from San Diego to Trinity County, plus Washington DC for a short time. She recently relocated to Ventura County with her family to build a compound property together with her sister’s family so that they could always share wardrobes and parenting responsibilities for their 5 combined children at home. Gia graduated from UCSB with a degree in Linguistics (which she thinks entitles her to make up words). It took her just three years, as she was eager to graduate early to go live with her long distance boyfriend and his toddler daughter at the time. That seemed to work out, as the boyfriend got promoted to husband years ago and her step-daughter promoted her to grandmother recently! Gia’s husband is from East Africa and runs their Bed and Breakfast in Tanzania from near and far. Gia is a Human Resources Director who has a major obsession with watermelon and eggnog lattes, depending on the season.


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