Food and Drink

Just Don’t Call Me Late for Dinner

“You were born just in time for supper, and you haven’t missed a meal since.”

My mother told me that once, when we were talking about the births of our children and I asked her what time I had arrived.

I assumed the “haven’t missed a meal” part referred to my appetite. I am neither a glutton nor a gourmand, but I do like to know where my next meal is coming from. I much prefer my meals to show up reliably and regularly, even when I provide them myself. The people around me prefer this, too, since I tend to get just a teeny, tiny bit irritable if it’s 15 minutes or so past mealtime and I haven’t been fed yet. By 30 minutes or so past mealtime, I develop a headache and get shaky, and the people around me tend to get nervous. I would blame this on hypoglycemia if I were more sure of how to spell it.

It makes no sense to me that some people routinely skip breakfast or get so busy that they forget to eat. I never miss a meal myself except in extreme circumstances, such as serious illness or the unreasonable demands of medical professionals.

I was not happy this morning, for instance, that my blood work—my fasting blood work—for a routine checkup was scheduled at the outrageous hour of 8:30 a.m. When you regularly wake up at 5:00 or 5:30, that’s practically the middle of the morning. By the time I got out of the clinic at 8:52, I had a serious headache. My hand was shaking so much that I had trouble peeling the banana I had stashed in my purse. On the bright side, at least I had neither passed out nor been actively rude to anybody.

Back in my own kitchen a few minutes later, savoring the aroma of brewing coffee and waiting for the toast to pop up, I summoned up enough grace for gratitude. Gratitude that, in my world, hunger is an occasional inconvenience and not a chronic condition. Gratitude that I consistently know where my next meal is coming from. Gratitude that I have the means not only to feed myself but to give to those who can’t.

And gratitude for my mother, whose teasing about my “never missing a meal” I suddenly understood in a different way. Members of my family didn’t miss meals. We didn’t have to, because of her. She put nutritious, tasty food on the table three times a day, every day. Even though she didn’t especially enjoy cooking. Even when there wasn’t much to cook with. Even though cooking “from scratch” often included canning or freezing the vegetables, gathering the eggs (after raising the hens who laid them), and butchering the chickens. She did this, day in and day out, for decades.

No wonder I developed the habit of relying on regular meals. It’s the way I was raised.

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Regular or Extra Steamy?

Warning: You may find some material in this post tacky and inappropriate. However, it would be unfair to label it as poor taste.
Apparently this is not a joke from KFC. A spoof, maybe, but according to a story in USA Today, it’s a genuine marketing gimmick. You might even call it a bodice ripoff. Colonel Sanders, the white-bearded icon of fried chicken, is the newly-muscled hero of a romance novella that the restaurant chain is giving away as a promotion for Mother’s Day.

How nice. There’s no sweeter way for a mother to be honored on her special day than to be presented with a racy book while having dinner with her children.

All that aside, what caught my attention was the title of this book: Tender Wings of Desire. It’s romantic and sensual, delicately evoking both the erotic and the culinary. If this is successful, it surely will inspire other fast-food restaurants to serve up their own sizzling sides of romance. Their various specialties and slogans offer a broad menu of alluring potential for delicious titles.

 

McDonalds: Love with a Side of Fries. Supersized With Special Sauce. A series featuring “Big Mac” is just waiting to be written.

Dairy Queen: Love in the Heart of a Blizzard, Soft Servings of Desire, Parfait Love.

Burger King: Whopping Love. Even better, if the King and the Queen got together, you could have possibilities like Frozen Flaming Love and Crowned With Delight.

Taco Bell: A Double Wrap of Delight. Sorry, but the protective people at PETA wouldn’t like What the Chihuahua Saw.

Little Caesars: Hot and Ready for Love.

Subway: Foot Long, Fast and Fresh.

Of course, once the imagination starts mixing racy romance and fast food, it doesn’t take long to venture into a kitchen that’s much too hot. Some restaurant names need no embellishment at all: Hardees, for example. Long John Silver’s. In-N-Out Burger.

Once you have possibilities like that handed to you on a steamy platter, there is simply nothing more to say. Except possibly, “Would you like fries with that?”

Categories: Food and Drink, Just For Fun | 2 Comments

Gross! You Really Eat That Stuff?

Given any control over the remote, I wouldn’t have chosen to watch a television show about “bizarre foods.” But stuck in a crowded waiting room, with no reading material, in a seat close to the mercifully muted TV set, I didn’t have a lot of choice.

The show featured closeups of food in the process of being caught, cleaned, or cooked—all of it artfully arranged for maximum grossness by some luckless intern food designer. The limp tentacles of octopi dangled over the rims of bowls, squishy shellfish oozed slime, and various sorts of crabs displayed their eyestalks and claws to best advantage. These shots were interspersed with closeups of attractive young women whose busy bloody fingers were gutting fish and skinning piles of songbirds the size of robins. All this culminated with closeups of the intrepid reporter tasting various completed dishes and commenting with his mouth full.

All in all, it was enough to make me vow never again to forget to charge my Kindle.

Really, though, for anyone familiar with butchering chickens or cleaning fish or pheasants, there wasn’t much about the foods on the show that was truly bizarre. Well, maybe except for the tentacles.

“Bizarre,” would be a better description of some of the things that creative cooks, with strong imaginations and even stronger stomachs, do with sausages or spaghetti or frosting for Halloween parties.

But all those things, disgusting as they might be, aren’t half as bizarre as plenty of the stuff you can buy in any grocery store. Such as items so processed that the manufacturers feel obliged to clarify on the label that it’s intended for human consumption, with descriptions like “processed imitation cheese food” or “meat product.” Or “fruit” snacks that are made primarily of sugars, starches, and filler, but that are touched by actual blueberries or strawberries somewhere on the assembly line.

Then there are the weird forced marriages of substances never meant to go together, like jalapeno bacon ice cream or chocolate pumpkin pie.

And let’s not even get into the secret home-alone comfort foods we might enjoy in private but would never eat in company. (I promise not to ask about yours, and I’m certainly not telling you mine.)

Of course, whether food seems normal or weird depends mostly on what we grew up eating. My own limited middle-of-the-country palate recoils at anything spicier than a green bell pepper and thinks “curry” is something you do to horses. One of my friends, raised in the Southwest, thinks green chili is a basic vegetable but is repulsed by rhubarb. In truth, I suppose, almost every dish that is someone’s “bizarre food” is someone else’s “just like my mama used to make.”

Note to anyone who grew up eating my cooking: please, be nice and keep your comments to yourselves.

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Read-Fried Potatoes

According to our father, one of my sisters, as a teenager, made the best fried potatoes he’d ever eaten. The secret? She would let the potatoes brown until they were just thiiiis close to burning, which meant they came out perfectly, deliciously crisp. Here’s how she—and perhaps others of us in the family, who are certainly not going to admit who I am—does it:

Peel and slice however many potatoes seems about right for the number of people you’re feeding. Go ahead, toss in one more—these will be so good, people are going to take second helpings.

Chop an onion, or two, or half of one, depending on your taste.

Heat oil in an iron skillet.

Toss the potatoes and onions into the skillet, spread them around, turn the heat down to medium.

Sit down at the kitchen table with whatever book you are currently reading. Resume reading until you begin to smell potatoes on the verge of burning. Finish paragraph, mark place in book, put it down, stir potatoes.

Repeat as needed, until chapter is finished and potatoes are brown and crisp on both sides. Salt to taste (the potatoes, not the book) and serve.

See? So simple anyone can do it. There are, however, a couple of important secrets to success.

One is careful selection of the main ingredient. Oh, don’t worry about the potatoes. Red, russet, large, small, peeled, unpeeled—it doesn’t really matter. Whatever you have on hand will work just fine.

No, what you have to choose wisely is the book. One with especially long paragraphs can be a problem. Even worse is a gripping mystery or thriller, especially if you’re near the end, and in just two or three more pages you’ll uncover the murderer or the hero will escape and succeed in saving the free world, and you just can’t put it down. Right and justice may prevail, but that’s small consolation in exchange for a skillet full of charred potatoes.

A deeply emotional story has its pitfalls, as well. Say the long-lost lovers have just been reunited, or the almost-villain has just redeemed himself with a noble self-sacrifice and is breathing his last, and you are reading as fast as you can, with a lump in your throat and a damp wad of tissues clutched in your hand. Even if you manage to come up for air and another tissue in time to keep the potatoes from burning, there’s a serious risk of them turning out soggy and oversalted as a result of overflowing tears.

The second secret is, no matter how exciting a scene you’re in the middle of, put the book down while you attend to the potatoes. Continuing to read while you stir might seem like a good idea, but like so many other methods of multi-tasking, it is less efficient than it seems. For one thing, you risk spattering hot oil all over your book or e-reader. Too many little blobs of grease on the screen, and not only is it hard to make out the words, but the device might not respond to your finger-swipes when you want to turn a page. (Please don’t ask me how I know this.) And you don’t want to be that library patron—the one who returns books splattered with yellow spots and smelling like the kitchen of a fast-food restaurant that barely passed its last inspection.

Besides, with your attention on your reading, there’s a good chance of serious stirring errors. Either you’ll miss half of the potatoes and burn the others—in which case you might just as well have sat at the table and finished the chapter. Or you’ll stir too forcefully and risk knocking the hot skillet completely off the stove. Then you’ll not only have a mess to clean up, but you might get a serious burn. Even worse, if the iron skillet falls on your foot you’ll end up with broken bones and have to be taken off to the emergency room.

If that happens, you’ll get no potatoes. Although, while you wait for the doctor, you will have plenty of time to finish your book.

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Better Living Through Technology

Science and technology have given us innovations like self-driving cars, the ability to peer into deep space, and 3D printers that can create everything from toys to body parts.

This is all very well and good. But why can’t some of those brilliant scientists and engineers devote a fragment of their attention to little day-to-day things? Here are a few inventions I would like to see that would make life just a tiny bit safer or more enjoyable.

A container for leftovers with a pop-up sensor to warn you when the contents have been in the fridge long enough to contain microbes that are unsafe for human consumption. The more sophisticated version might even be able to search scientific archives online and alert you that whatever is growing on that leftover lasagna might be a previously undiscovered life form.

A cup for hot chocolate with a device—maybe a little mesh insert somewhat like a tea strainer?—to keep marshmallows at the bottom of the cup. Then you could save that extra sweetness for last instead of slurping it first and leaving the rest of the cupful to taste disappointing by comparison. You’d avoid the telltale marshmallow mustache, too.

A miniature water heater for that sprayer at the dentist’s office that the hygienist uses to rinse out your mouth. Surely a couple of engineers with sensitive teeth could figure out a way to get rid of that awful jet of cold water. And while they’re at it, they could do something to warm up the air from that evil dryer nozzle.

Eyeliner and mascara applicators with extra-short handles for nearsighted people who have to get within a couple inches of the mirror to put their makeup on. As a bonus, these could be sold with little face masks to keep your breath from fogging the mirror and also avoid those pesky nose prints on the glass.

Hats for sun protection or warmth that stay on in the wind but don’t squash your hair until you resemble Donald Trump in an overcrowded elevator. Maybe something like a construction hard hat, which has an inner ring you can adjust to fit while the actual hat sits away from your head? Oh, wait—I’ve seen myself in a hard hat. Maybe this concept needs a little more work.

A fitness/diet tracker programmed not just to nag you about steps and calories but to tell you warmly, at random intervals, “You need a reward. Go sit down and have a brownie.”

Inventions like these would truly use science and technology for the betterment of humankind. Nobel committee, please take note.

Categories: Food and Drink, Living Consciously, Odds and Ends | 1 Comment

Cookie’s Chuckwagon Blues

This is not exactly a sad country song, but it probably qualifies as a cowboy’s lament. With thanks (or apologies, whichever is more appropriate) to Nancy, who started it.

 

Cookie’s Chuckwagon Blues

With my chuckwagon and my old Dutch ovens,
I’ve cooked a lot of years out on the range.
But I don’t know about these modern cowboys;
Their ideas of grub is passing strange.

Tex won’t eat no more of my hot biscuits
Because his diet now is gluten-free.
He has a rice cake with his beans and bacon.
Cowboys sure ain’t like they used to be.

Slim is munching carrot sticks and celery.
“I got too fat,” he tells me with a sigh.
“Why, I can’t even see my own belt buckle,
Until I can, it’s no more apple pie.”

High cholesterol is Shorty’s problem,
So now he don’t eat butter, eggs, or lard.
He says, “Trans fat is gonna kill ya, Cookie.
Better buy some olive oil, old pard.”

“More beans,” says Joe, as he comes back for seconds,
And it reminds me of the good old days,
Until he adds, “I need to eat more fiber.”
Whatever happened to old cowboy ways?

I miss the days when me and this old wagon
Served cowboy grub as good as grub could git.
But the day some cowpoke asks for tofu burger,
That’s the day I tell the boss, “I quit!”

Categories: Food and Drink, Just For Fun | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

Losing One’s Composure

Suppose, theoretically speaking, a person decided to wash the pots and pans from last night’s spaghetti dinner the following morning, and that person had an appointment so she was in somewhat of a hurry.

Yes, she should really have done the dishes the night before, when the plates and glasses and such got run through the dishwasher, but after a busy day capped with guests for dinner, she was tired. So the pots sat patiently on the stove overnight, which gave them a chance to bond fully with the bits of spaghetti sauce and pasta starch clinging to their insides.

This person first moved the composting bucket from the sink to the counter so she could fill the sink with hot soapy water to soak the pots. This bucket, a handy-dandy object she had made herself by cutting off the top of a square plastic laundry soap container, holds about a gallon of vegetable peelings, fruit rinds, egg shells, and such. It was full. And yes, she should really have taken it out the night before.

While the pots were soaking, the person opened the dishwasher, pulled out the top rack, and began to put away the clean dishes. Moving quickly—she had an appointment, remember—she reached up to put some glasses into the cupboard, pulled her arm down, and caught the composting bucket with her elbow. It promptly tipped itself in precisely the right direction to regurgitate its contents over the edge of the counter into the dishwasher.

The person responded with colorful language, including a word or two that some of her grandchildren would be shocked to know she knew.

Picking strawberry tops, carrot peelings, grape stems, and blackened banana peels off of cups and glasses that were clean and gleaming a moment earlier wouldn’t really have been so bad. But the fact that they were garnished with little worm-like spaghetti remnants and leftover sauce made the chore somewhat less than appealing.

Oh, well. If one is going to dirty a bunch of dishes in one fell swoop of a misplaced elbow, at least it helps to be efficient enough to do it when they’re already in the dishwasher. And if one is going to dump scraps out on the compost pile to return to nature, it probably doesn’t hurt to have them well mixed ahead of time. The person even managed to make it to her appointment on time, leaving a reasonably clean kitchen behind her.

And thankfully, no one was around to hear the colorful language, even though it was completely understandable. Nor would we want to further humiliate this person by revealing her identity. The whole experience, after all, was already decomposing.

Categories: Food and Drink, Odds and Ends | Tags: | 4 Comments

Pepperoni in the Rain

If you’re having a tough day, there’s nothing like listening to sad country music to make you feel better. All your real-life troubles take on a new perspective after 15 or 10 minutes of listening to variations of, “You’re gone, and I’ll never get over it, and I’ve been here in the bar drowning my sorrows for 13 years now, but I still can’t understand why you left me.”

Then there are the times when real life just begs to be a sad country song. The other night, for example, I got a phone call from a family member while she was “delivering pizzas in the rain.”

With a line like that to start with, the rest of the song practically writes itself:

Since you left with all our money
All my luck went down the drain.
Now I’m out in my old pickup
Delivering pizzas in the rain.

My only hope is that one evening
When that phone begins to ring,
I will hear you ask me sweetly
For “a large with everything.”

With my heart as extra topping,
I will rush it to your door.
And the only tip I’ll ask for
Is to see your face once more.

Now, that’s extra cheese.

I don’t know about you, but I feel better already. Except for a slight craving for Canadian bacon and black olives.

Categories: Food and Drink, Just For Fun | Tags: , | 2 Comments

“Just Like My Mama Used to Make”

Biscuits for breakfast. Light, flaky, and fresh from the oven. Covered with sausage gravy. Paired with scrambled eggs. With butter and honey melted deliciously into them. Or even—my personal favorite—with peanut butter and homemade chokecherry jelly.

It’s a great idea. So great that, visiting my parents this week, I decided to surprise them one morning with baking powder biscuits. They would go perfectly with the leftover sausage gravy, made for supper a few days earlier by my sister the excellent cook.

In my somewhat misplaced enthusiasm, I overlooked one inconvenient detail: baking powder biscuits are not one of my kitchen accomplishments. Mine tend to melt in the mouth like, say, week-old sourdough bread. Or hockey pucks.

Up early in the quiet of my parents’ kitchen, I browsed through the recipe books. I found the perfect biscuit recipe, taped inside the back cover of one of the books. It was in the handwriting of my sister the excellent cook. How could I go wrong?

I mixed up the biscuits, following the recipe precisely. I spaced the biscuits far enough apart on the pan so they had room to rise. I preheated the oven and put them in.

When I took them out, they were only a little larger than they had started. They were slightly brown on top and very brown on the bottom. Their texture might politely have been described as “firm.” The only thing “flaky” about them was my unreasonable optimism that this time would be different from all the other times I’ve ever made baking powder biscuits.

My parents ate the biscuits and politely said they tasted good. Which, actually, with the sausage gravy, they did. No surprise there. The gravy, remember, had been made by my sister the excellent cook.

We agreed—my parents out of polite pity and me out of desperate grasping for excuses—that the problem had to be the baking powder. Sure enough, the expiration date on the can turned out to be six months ago. That was close enough to plausible excusability for me. At least this time; it didn’t necessarily explain why I never can seem to make baking powder biscuits as well as my sisters, my father, or my mother.

Then my mother said, “But why didn’t you just use Bisquick? That’s what I always do.”

Categories: Food and Drink | Tags: , | 6 Comments

You Never Miss the Water Till the Well Runs Dry

There’s nothing like knowing the water is shut off to make you immediately thirsty. Fortunately, today’s shutoff wasn’t an emergency, so we were prepared. The full pitcher, kettle, and assortment of water bottles on the kitchen counter ought to give us more than enough water to drink until the well is back in operation. (Of course, drinking all that water has inevitable consequences, but no worries—we have containers of water for flushing, too.)

Actually, the well hasn’t run dry. The pump has run out of oomph. Not surprising, when you consider that it’s been working away quietly and reliably for four decades. This morning, in a scheduled end-of-life intervention, it pumped its last drop. The well guys are out there right now, pulling pipe and checking for leaks and redoing wiring and whatever else goes along with replacing a pump in a well that nobody has paid much attention to for forty years.

This morning, in the shower where I usually think most of my great thoughts, I was thinking grateful thoughts about the luxury of having water that pours lavishly over my head at the turn of a faucet. Washing the breakfast dishes while the water was still running, I couldn’t help but notice how many times I turned the faucet on and off to rinse each plate and cup and handful of utensils.

I like to think I’m not a water waster. When I was growing up (fair warning: here comes a “walking to school in the snow, uphill, both ways” moment), scrimping on water was a necessary habit. Our farm had plenty of well water, but it was both destructive to pipes and dreadful to taste buds. I used to feel sorry for the cows, who had no choice but to drink the stuff.

In the house, we had water of excellent quality but limited quantity. It was hauled from the town of Winner, 20-odd miles away over first dirt, then gravel, and eventually partly paved roads. As far as I know, the man who delivered it made his living with his water truck. Every so often he would drive into the yard and back up beside the house to refill the cistern.

That cistern was absolutely forbidden territory to us kids. Its round steel top, maybe eight or ten feet in diameter, stuck up a few inches out of the ground, just right for sitting on or walking around the edge of. We were not allowed to do either. This rule was strictly enforced, as we were quick to explain to cousins and other visitors. I remember occasional reminders to “Stay off the cistern!” being shouted out the kitchen window. I don’t think any of us ever even thought about going so far as trying to open the lid.

I found it fascinating, then, that the water guy was so nonchalant about doing exactly that. The lid was a round metal cap perhaps 18 inches across, in the center of the cistern. He would pry it open, plop the end of his hose into it, and open the valve of his water tank. We weren’t allowed close enough to see it—to this day I have no idea how deep that cistern was—but from a safe distance we could hear the water gushing.

While I assume the water guy made deliveries on a regular schedule, every now and then we would run out of water. This meant a phone call and a dry wait until he could make it out with a load. It was always a relief to see his truck coming up the lane.

All these years later, I suppose I take for granted the fresh, pure water that pours out whenever we want it. Today, though, I certainly don’t. With the faucets all dry, and people I don’t know doing things I don’t understand out at the well, it’s a good day to stop and think about what a luxury that water really is.

Categories: Food and Drink, Remembering When | Tags: | 3 Comments

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