Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong and Childhood Food Memories

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong and Childhood Food Memories

Goodbye Vitamin is the debut novel from
Rachael Khong that isn’t about eggs, and I
should probably explain. Rachel, up until
recently, was the executive editor for
the now shuttered magazine Lucky Peach
that married food and writing and was
funded in part by David Chang of
Momofuku fame. There she helped pen the
cookbook All About Eggs: Everything We
Know About the World’s Most Important
Food. So technically this is her second
book. But anyway Goodbye Vitamin we meet
30 year old Rachel Young. She’s in the
process of moving to her new apartment
with her fiance Joel and on the day of
the move, surrounded by her boxes, in an
empty apartment she finds out that Joel
is not in fact moving into the apartment
with her and will be staying at their
old place with his new girlfriend. Harsh.
So she leaves San Francisco, goes to Los
Angeles to spend Christmas with her family
where she finds out that her father is
exhibiting the early signs of
Alzheimer’s. He’s already been let go
from his history job at the nearby
college due to some erratic behavior and
her mom has asked her to stick around
for a year to help out. Now I know this
sounds like a barrel of laughs so far but
stick with me here. Goodbye Vitamin
isn’t about the break-up, it’s not even a
Lifetime channel movie about Alzheimer’s.
Khong doesn’t dwell, she doesn’t get mired
in the maudlin or seized by sentiment.
She works with the light touch. She’s
just taking note and it’s proven to be
the most favorite of my books in the
strange confluence of books that feature
women in their late twenties early
thirties just trying to figure their
shit out. They’re all caught in a great
big in between, not quite established
career-wise, and navigating relationships,
their personal ambitions, as well as the
expectations of their parents. Goodbye
Vitamin is written in fragments, these
tiny vignettes that are held together in
a diary format that provides just enough
cohesion for me to latch on to
unlike Weike Wang’s Chemistry that felt
scattered and fragmented. And I’m halfway
through Patricia Lockwood’s Priestdaddy
which is proving the funniest of the
three. Lockwood has got a distinct knack
for a turn of phrase that just floors me
every time but Goodbye Vitamin is in
that Goldilocks zone. It’s just a year in
the life and there’s no real beginning,
there’s no real end, there’s no tidy
resolution. It’s
just this keyhole in which to view a life
and this curtailed view produces this
gem-like story that is as warm and
familiar as your mom’s cooking. Given
Khong’s history it’s natural that food
play a part.
Food can invoke memories of childhood
and home. Ruth in the story enjoys peanuts
and ranch dressing, and later on over
tumblers of vodka, has carrots dipped in
sugar. Now neither which i’ve ever heard
of but frankly I’m a little surprised
by the number of you that have never
heard or even had poutine which hardly
seems exotic to us here in Southern Ontario.
We have restaurants devoted to the
variations of poutine. We sell places
that serve Newfie fries, which are fries
covered in stuffing, covered in gravy and
of course my latest obsession is
shawarma poutine which is fries, cheese
curds, gravy, chicken shawarma covered
in garlic sauce,
shwarma sauce, and Sriracha. It sounds
like an abomination but believe me it is
fantastic. All of this talk of food gets
me thinking about the food that reminds
me of my childhood. There seems to be
this trend towards fat and chocolate. I
remember growing up loving toast
slathered in butter that I would dip in
my hot chocolate. My wife used to take
white bread, slather it in margarine and put
chocolate sprinkles on it. A mutual
friend of ours’ mother took it to its
most horrible extreme. While she was
pregnant used to love Mars bars dredged
in butter. But she was always that little
bit extra. What about you guys? Are there
foods that remind you of your childhood
or home I’d love to know in the comments
below. One more. More of a nod to my
Korean background. I remember standing
around her kitchen island which was a
dishwasher topped with a wooden top and
we’d have cold ham hocks
dipped in gochujang and served with raw
garlic and it was so so good. I digress the book
isn’t about food. Khong here is
exploring the idea of memory. After a
breakup with Joel, Ruth thinks about how
their memories veer off in different
directions. As she puts it: “I realized I
could remember something and he could
remember something different. And if we
built up a store of separate memories how
would that work, and would that be okay?
And the answer of course, in the end, was
no.” Ruth is recording present moments in
her diary which bookends nicely to the
memories her father had jotted down when
Ruth was a
child in this old notebook that he hands
over to Ruth at the beginning of the
year. In them he writes: “Today we went over
to your mother’s friend’s house for
dinner. We’d ask you to be polite so you
said ‘No more please.It’s horrible, thank
you.'” Or you were distressed because your
pair of gloves had gone missing.
When I asked you for a description you
said ‘They’re sort of shaped like my
hands.'” These are contrasted with Ruth
recording moments with her father in the
present: “Today you held your open hand
out and I shook the pills into it same
as every day. Fish oil, magnesium, Vitamins
D and C and A, ginkgo biloba. ‘Hello water’ you said holding the glass
against the moonlight and shaking the
pills like they were dice you were ready
to roll in your other hand.
‘Goodbye vitamin.'” It’s this tone that
pervades the book, duly noting
contending with her father’s alcoholism
and philandering and how that destroyed
her younger brother who witnessed the
worst of it while Ruth was off in
college and how their memories of their
father differ as a result and then the
perspective of their mother who lived
through all of us and still stayed by
his side and why that is. It’s like heavy
stuff but lightly done, maybe
frustratingly so for some people, but it
struck just the right tone for me. And
then there’s this note Ruth finds among
her father’s observations. “Today I
thought of what I would give to have
time to stop here. You’re out of my
league. I’m waiting for the day you’re
going to leave me. I’d give all the money
I’ve got, my entire set of teeth, that
special Silver Dollar your grandfather
gave me and said would be worth three
hundred thousand by the time you’re in
college. Any of it, all of it, just to keep
you here.” With the daughter heading off
to university in a few short days this
above all else just slayed me. I mean I’m
thinking about the distant past,
projecting to this unknown future, and
realizing I am anchored here in the
moment and there are no answers here
just moments followed by more moments.
And this is the swirling epi-center
of the book. I mean my wife and I have no
idea what September is going to bring as
empty nesters. This channel may have to
segue and focusing on gardening, jigsaw
puzzles, and complaining about my aching
joints but we’ll see what fall brings. In
the meantime I’m serious, I do want to
know what you remember eating as
child. What invokes childhood memories as
far as food goes. Love to know in the
comments below, but in the meantime I
hope you have all a great week of
reading and we’ll talk to you soon.

55 thoughts on “Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong and Childhood Food Memories

  • I remember eating frozen waffles completely drenched in syrup. I would fold them like a sandwich and dip them in my cup of coffee. I also remember doing the same thing with fresh bread and butter. Beautiful and thoughtful review as always. I can't wait to read this book

  • omg my local dominoes just started serving Poutine and I'm still mad jealous about the variations Canada has. I think I'll visit my Canadian relatives just to sample the various Poutine lol!
    Childhood foods of mine include but not limited to, homemade Roti and omelette, Chicken Tikka Masala and freshly cooked Puri (deep fried pancakes) drizzled with honey.

  • I used to love to eat very unhealthy cereals as a child Like Cocoa Puffs and Lucky Charms and they always reminds me of my childhood.

  • We would eat Oatmeal Crisp cereal (either maple or almond) at my cottage when I was a kid. Now that I'm a "grown-up" I could technically buy my own, but it almost feels wrong to do it if I'm not at the cottage.

  • I'm definitely reminded of my childhood when I think of Korean food.

    I have a lot of memories coming to school with a Korean style lunchbox. On the bottom was a container full of rice. Above that would be chicken, beef or pork. Finally on the top was kimchi and those little anchovies. Several of my peers found it gross. Less than ten years later, Korean food found itself being trendy. It's funny how that stuff works.

  • Meatloaf made with tomato paste and tomato sauce. With onion for crunch. For lunch the next day between two slices of potatoe bread instead of the normal peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

  • PS whats up with the thumbnail portrait I keep thinking your going to address us for a darkened room per Marlon Brando in appocolyse now going are you a book assassin.

  • aaaannnnddddd Now I have to go call my parents.. talk about a gut punch first thing in the morning! Great review tho! I have this book on my shelf and I think I may need to pick it up soon, along with a box of tissues. As far as childhood snacks I used to love a slice of toast with butter, cinnamon and sugar. Yum!

  • Vegemite and butter on weet-bix, half milo and half milk mixed into a paste in a glass, bananas and nutella on bread, fairy bread and, Orange slices at halftime and fulltime during footy and cricket games… that's my childhood food.

  • "Good-bye, Vitamin" sounds wonderful–it may be awhile before I can read it, since 3 weeks ago my mother lost her battle with Alzheimer's, but once the pain has dulled a little, I'll be looking forward to it.

    Comfort food from childhood. . .definitely fried bologna sandwiches and tomato soup, and of course biscuits and milk gravy, preferably made with bacon drippings. South of the Mason-Dixon line, milk gravy is pretty much a food group.

  • Is your wife (or her parents) Dutch or Belgian by any chance? Because those chocolate sprinkle sandwiches are a familiar thing for me that I associate with visiting my grandparents over there. Definitely warm fuzzy food nostalgia either way!

  • Above all else, the dish that reminds me of family is my great-grandmother's chicken noodle soup recipe. My mom always made it when someone in the family was sick, and we also would sometimes have it for special occasions, served over mashed potatoes. I feel lucky when happen to be at my parents' house when it is served. It is definitely a warm, nostalgic bowl of childhood.

  • I have a looming partial nest ahead of me. 2 out of 3 kids are moving out in September. My plan for dealing with the heart break is distraction. I have assigned myself a few projects and will keep myself busy.

  • Vegemite and toast OR Fairy Bread — the Australian kid's party snack, white bread, butter and crunchy sprinkles, much like your wife's food.

    For many years, my mum and I had a Chinese nanny who used to make food on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Chinese food has never been the same for me — nothing can beat Doris' cooking. Thanks for the video, so poignant. <3

  • My mom used to make me fish sticks, mashed potatoes with butter, and peas. Then I would have a sticky bun afterwards.

  • For me it's arepas in the mornings – my dad making it using harina pan (white corn meal), putting it in the arepa-maker or the stovetop, stuffing it with butter, shredded cheese, and sometimes ham. Or BBQing punta trasera on the weekends and especially when we were celebrating something or had people over. (Punta trasera is apparently called "rump roast" in English which sounds silly to me.)
    I hope it goes (or went) ok saying goodbye to your daughter, I'm sure it is as difficult for her as it is for you. I cried when my family left me my first year of college and I cried 5 years later when I moved across the U.S. away from them again. It's not easy but I guess that's life!! 🙂

  • Childhood food memories are many. My grandmother's gumbo. My step grandmother's vegetable soup, which in New Orleans is a wonderful hybrid that's part Spanish caldo and part French pot au feu. I was raised Catholic, which meant seafood on Fridays. I've never understood how eating seafood in New Orleans could in any way be considered a sacrifice, but I never complained about the burden of enjoying part of a seafood platter piled high with shrimp, oysters, catfish, and stuffed crab (think a less firm crab cake, but served in the shell). Tomatoes from my grandfather's garden, eaten with just a sprinkling of salt. Spending time during the summer at my great uncle's farm and chewing on a stalk of freshly cut sugar cane. Boudin blanc and boudin noir that my grandmother would buy from a Cajun butcher's when we went to the country. My grandmother saving the chicken hearts and livers for me when she baked or stewed chicken. Beignets and cafe au lait from Cafe du Monde. Yeah, food is very important down here!

    And your review has made me want to read the book. This seems to happen a lot! 🙂

  • its a drink i used to mix coca , 7-up and vanta or what ever soft drinks available it was like inventing a new taste every time , thank you for your review I think I will love the book

  • My dad would add a lot of cream to tomato soup. The soup would be pink! Pair it with a thick (and a bit burned) grilled cheese sandwich; you got yourself a classic for snow days

  • Haha, cant wait to see gardening video's, and you and your wife doing jigsaw puzzles on camera! And the video made me hungry… (and its 11.30 pm). Anyway, childhood food: my fondest memory is of my father's pancakes, thin and buttery and just the right combination of soft and crispy.

  • As my parents age, I am reminded more and more of my Mom's ethic meals. We're Serbian, so spanikopita was a staple. As well as sour cherry jam on homemade, crusty bread.

  • In the long last days of summer, I would love to read a novel by an author who "works with a light touch" and is simply reminding us that we can survive the various complications most of us have faced in our lifetime.  Goodbye, Vitamin is just what I am looking for at the moment. Thank you.  ( I have no doubt that one year from today, you will be amazed and delighted that each of you, Daughter, Mother AND Father, have been refreshed and energized by your new opportunities as fledgling and successful parental units!)

  • Let's see… my mother's favorite guilty snack was saltine crackers with soft butter and it has happy associations for me. We also had grilled cheese and ham sandwiches made in a grilled sandwich maker, Nutty Buddy Bars, and Captain Crunch peanut butter cereal. And here's a gross one for you. I grew up loving Miracle Whip and peanut butter on super soft white bread.

  • I grew up in a Korean household and there are so many childhood foods. One of my favorite is kimchi toast. Toast buttered and covered I slices of kimchi. And rice with water and slices of deli ham and kimchi. So good.

  • This is a funny food. My mom always made sure we had all the food groups and healthy meals, but during the summer my neighbors, three fighting great, fun sisters were unsupervised when school was out as both parents worked. Their house was a wonderland of yards of gerbil tunnels going through Barbie's house and just freedom from adults. For lunch they would make fried bologna… An awful meat, but the smell was so good and it was so different I begged my mom to let me make it …she was speechless and I had a fried bologna summer….or when I discovered others at breakfast for dinner!! Also, being from the south ambrosia is the best.

  • My grandma would make this butter-peanut butter sandwich. I hated it then, and I hate it now, but it certainly reminds me of my childhood. Whereas, my grandpa would make me a steaming bowl of oatmeal in the morning with cinnamon and brown sugar drizzled over top. Nobody but me enjoyed the oatmeal, and I remember many cold morning wait impatiently for it to cook and cool. It was so good. I bet I only eat instant oatmeal because it reminds me of his!

  • My mom used to make a dish called Autumn Stew–a savory and just slightly sweet combination of onion, pumpkin, apples, celery, beef, and more of the sort. It looked, smelled, tasted, and felt like the earthy warmth of Fall. ♡ Along side it she would make cinnamon dumplings. I haven't thought of Autumn Stew in years…excuse me as I leave now to pester my mother for the recipe!

  • White minute rice with brown gravy with meat bits. Sounds gross (probably is gross tbh) but I could have eaten gallons of the stuff as a kid.

  • I would pour sugar and cinnamon into a small bowl and swirl it around, then lick my finger and dip it into the mixture. Super classy and sanitary, I know.

  • I loved the dog eating at the end, it gave me a good laugh.  A gross thing I used to eat as a kid was to put some butter in my mouth and then put a teaspoon of sugar in my mouth and mix it around and eat it.  Sometimes on the weekends my Mum would make corn fritters, yum.

  • So many food memories but I will always have a soft place in my heart for the way my brother and I would handle leftovers. Didn't matter what the leftovers were really, it always worked. Heat it all up together, throw on some cheese and salsa and put it in a tortilla. Yum.

  • Definitely the best food of my childhood was my Italian grandmother's spaghetti and meatballs. No other tomato sauce I've ever eaten comes close.

  • Hot buttered toast with cinnamon and sugar sprinkled on top, or a bowl of Cheerios with a generous spoonful of Vermont maple syrup stirred into the milk.

  • My favorite childhood foods were quite strange: peanut butter & butter sandwich or a hotdog cut in half length wise (no bun) with mashed potatoes on top & a slice of melted American cheese on top of that lol

  • When I was a kid I read about cinnamon toast and made cinnamon toast everyday afterschool for years until I realized I had been eating toast with butter and brown sugar on it.

  • Cheeseburgers with Nacho Cheese Doritos on the side
    French Toast
    Cheeze Balls
    Strawberry MilkMac & Cheese with Hot DogsSloppy Joesof course the classic: Grilled Cheesegosh, I had a lot of junk Food 🙂 But since I moved overseas at age 9 it's not always easy to differentiate between US-and childhood nostalgia Love your videos!

  • My Grandmother made chicken and dumplings (not drop dumplings, more like a fresh pasta which would sop up the chicken broth!). She would serve it with fresh green beans cooked in bacon fat (special because I would help pick them and break the beans on the porch swing with her), and Angel food cake for dessert, covered in macerated strawberries from her garden. Just writing about this meal – my favorite – makes me smile and tear up at the same time. Thank you!

  • congrats on the empty nest! plans to convert the daughter's room into anything special? comfort food for me: rice mixed with raw egg, dried seaweed sprinkles, and soy sauce!

  • I just put this one on my library hold list. What a beautiful and sentimental video you've made. My food memories are plenty, but my Grandfather used to make friend chicken on my birthday. It was a unique recipe and I've never been able to replicate it or find similar chicken elsewhere. The secret was lost when he passed, but I can still taste it when I think about him frying it in his kitchen with an apron around his waist.

  • My mom used to make us toast with butter, cinnamon and sugar. She would also make totinos party pizzas with slices of American cheese on it. My brother and I loved it. We also used to melt American cheese over nacho cheese Doritos in the microwave. It was delicious. Tried it as an adult. Still holds up. 😊

  • Pancakes. It was the go to food in our house when we didnt want to eat the "normal" food. It also was the first dish I learned to cook and now one of my best friends keeps associating me with pancakes and how we just always had them in my first apartment. Pancakes, with jam rolled up with powdered sugar (Petzi style)

  • This was lovely, David. I enjoyed the book but kinda skimmed through the feelings, thanks for bringing it back to,life. Childhood food for me was always white bread and Nutella — lots of it. Incidentally once my grandpa made it for me but he put margarine on the bread first and I found it completely inedible. Also tuna pasta, hot with lots of mayo and cheese like a friend's mum used to make it, and spaghetti with red sauce is always comforting to me. Oh and potato scones (not like afternoon tea scones but little flat triangles of potato, fried after bacon and sausages): they used to let me eat three for lunch when I was 10, which is insane.

  • Ham and egg omelette, not completely cooked that still has some runny egg liquid come out when you cut it open. Made by my grandpa every morning before school. I miss him so much!

  • I know this review has been out a while, but I just read this book and I loved it so much. I agree it’s hard to describe without sounding like a formula tear-jerker or a meet cute romance, neither of which Khong falls into. Most of my childhood eating was blasé American junk food, but my cousins and I used to eat Country Time lemonade mix dry. We also had a drink called “purple milk”, which was grape juice and milk (we weren’t wordsmiths.) I swore up and down it was good, but I think I just enjoyed seeing adults suppress dry heaves.

  • What imperfect carriers of love we are, and what imperfect givers. That the reasons we can care for one another can have nothing to do with the person cared for. That it has only to do with who we were around that person—what we felt about that person.

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