(Published in The Recorder on March 28, 2007)

My friends say I have caviar taste on a dollar menu budget.

This was first said one Saturday night when I refused to go to a fast food restaurant and call it dinner. Instead, while my friends were content eating burgers and fries, I wanted chicken cordon bleu, and the label stuck. They thought of me as a spoiled brat; this was partly because while they were saving up for apartments and cars, working two jobs to pay for weddings and master’s degrees, I would spend whatever money I had freely on the things I wanted.

As I figure it, I’m making up for lost time. I’m undoing years of eating nothing but rice, beans and chicken, spending nights watching Telemundo at home or at church. By the time I turned 12, I was tired of the same things, and by 17 I could do something about it.

Sure, everyone loves Spanish food, but imagine eating nothing else for 18 years: no nights out, no visits to restaurants, no variations.

I only drank soda at birthday parties and didn’t eat a pop tart until I turned 16. My mom didn’t like these things, claimed we didn’t like them, and banned any Americanized food from our home.

Now rice is only acceptable on my plate when it’s wrapped around raw salmon and tuna. I go out to dinner often, usually alone but company is always appreciated. While college students are strapped for money and eat mac & cheese for dinner, I spend entire paychecks on nights out at the Olive Garden.

Don’t misunderstand me, however. I am not one of those high maintenance chicks who need to have all the latest clothes and shoes. Mostly because I’m not a slave totrends and styles, and I hate high heels. Also because most trends and styles don’t apply to the big-bottomed, loud-mouthed Latina that I am. While my closet is busting at the seams with clothes, most of them were bought when Clinton was still in office, when I worked retail and had a great discount. No, I am not a Paris Hilton. Instead, I’m a Rachael Ray, because my love affair is limited to food and the drinks that make it taste better, making me more big-bottomed and loud-mouthed every time I indulge in this passion.

Yes, I love food, the different tastes, spices and the joys it can only give you after a long day of exams or a stressful day at work. I can justify a 50-dollar meal, but I can’t justify spending $50 on a shirt, though I should be doing neither. After all, I am only a college student working part-time at a bookstore, who until today had no other responsibilities besides herself.

Until today.

Soon I will be moving out on my own, and will expenses will go from lavish nights out to more practical things like rent and heat. Goodbye steaks, specialty sushi, and a very expensive addiction to books. Instead I will balance a budget and become a responsible adult.

Something I’ve been dreading all along.