Lies We Tell Ourselves

So, this is getting posted late, but I wanted to share anyway. As it is, I’m just sort of throwing this together. Mondays just aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, and this one has been especially hectic. Luckily it’s almost over. Maybe you’ll share in my frustration. Or laugh at it. I’m good either way.

Anywho, Monday morning I went to McDonald’s to get some breakfast…yum, right? You’d think, but well, no. Even though I was there during prime breakfast hours — 8 a.m. — I still had to wait for the hashbrowns. It seems I spend half my life waiting on McDonald’s hashbrowns. Since I was using the drive-thru (I mean, of course, I was), I had to wait in “Spot A” — one of two designated spots for people to wait when the food isn’t ready. Although at my McDonald’s, it’s really just the entire parking lot, because I don’t think they ever have anyone’s entire order ready at the same time, so we’re all just sort of sitting around checking out every worker that comes out, hoping it’s our car they’re headed to with their bag of goodies.

I’ll just interject here, being told by the drive-thru person that my hashbrowns will be out shortly is like when I say I’m leaving in 5 minutes. Oh, sure, the stated time frame might be the same, but we both know it’s not going to happen.

I should also say that I ordered a breakfast that came with hashbrowns. Duh. I mean, that’s the whole point of breakfast at McDonald’s…hashbrowns. But, being the glutton I am, I ordered an extra hashbrowns. I just roll like that at 8:00 a.m. on Monday morning. So here I am, waiting for my hashbrowns and, despite the assurances of “it’ll be out in 3 minutes,” no less than 10 minutes go by. Keep this in mind when I tell you I’m leaving to meet you anywhere, lest you be disappointed…my sense of time is very similar to McDonald’s.

Lo and behold, after I had decided that no food was actually coming at all and I was just destined to spend this dismal Monday morning listening to my stomach berate me, I view the black-shirted bearer of food coming towards my car and I’m at once elated and relieved. Finally, I can leave this cursed asphalt wasteland for a better land beyond, a land where hashbrowns go hand-in-hand with coffee and all is right with the world.

In my pent-up frustration and rush to leave, however, I made a grave error. I. Did. Not. Check. The. Bag. I got where I needed to be, and you guessed it. No. Hashbrowns. Like, at all. Not the original hashbrowns that went with my pancake breakfast, and certainly not the extra order of hashbrowns. Just none. Zip. Nada.

Of course, the question I asked myself, and to which I have no easy answer: just what in the hell did they have me wait for??  What was the point of that entire exercise??

And to that, I say, well played, Monday.  Well played indeed.


Facing My Darkest Fear

I came across an article the other day about dining etiquette. Always searching for ways to improve…okay, so fine, always searching for ways to complain about my fellow diners, I perused the article eagerly. Much to my dismay, it was a “how-to” on eating sushi. Did you know, you shouldn’t use a fork? Or chop sticks apparently. Sushi was meant to be eaten with one’s hands. Sashimi on the other hand, IS supposed to be eaten with chopsticks. Forks are just a no-go altogether. Go light on the soy sauce. Ginger is a palate cleanser, not a condiment.

So yes, I did read the article – I’m nothing if not tenacious…when reading. As for putting these dining rules to the test? That will be a resounding no, thank you very much. I have absolutely no desire ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever (to save blog space, just add about 100 more evers when you’re reading that) to ever eat raw fish in any form. But hey, it’s not my fault.

Ichthyophobia – “the fear of fish, eating fish, or touching raw fish.” Now, I love fish – to look at, that is. I used to keep Bettas (such beauties!) and I would love nothing more than to have a huge, complex tank set up with all kinds of different, beautiful aquatic creatures. The National Aquarium is one of my favorite places. However, the thought of going the distance by eating raw fish drives me into paroxysms of revulsion.  I guess that makes me a “super ichthyophobe.” In case you couldn’t tell, I just don’t like sushi.

Now a lot of my crazy insane sushi-loving friends give me a hard time about it, reminding me that hundreds of millions of people worldwide eat the stuff. They’ve even forced me to go with them to a sushi restaurant, determined to alter my views – forcibly if necessary (by forcibly, of course, I mean alcohol-induced). Upon relating my son’s green pea fiasco and explaining that he is after all, my son, and got his attitude will-power from my genetic contribution, they opted to forego their plan and I ended up, happily, with fried rice.

After giving it some thought, and following up on the old adage, “Know thine enemy,” I decided to do some research into the food that I hate. I discovered things that made me wonder even more, “Why in the hell do people eat that stuff?”

The first thing I discovered is that the meaning of the word “sushi” doesn’t have anything to do with fish.  Sushi is specially made vinegar rice. It is served in a wide variety of ways. Some common types are:

Nigirizushi (hand-pressed sushi) – A small, thumb-sized piece of sushi than can be topped with vegetables, cooked egg, fruit, and yes, even raw fish. Not sure why they have to ruin it with raw fish, but there you go.

Makizushi (rolled sushi) – These are the “rolls” you find on a menu. A bed of dried seaweed is laid down and then covered with sushi rice.  That can be covered in turn with a variety of vegetables, sauces, and yes, even raw fish (enough with the raw fish, already!). The entire thing is wrapped into a roll and cut into six or eight pieces and served. It can also be rolled into the shape of a cone and be eaten as a hand roll.

That doesn’t sound too daunting…except the fish part. Further exploration of my darkest fear led me to the real villain.  It wasn’t sushi.  I never realized that I could order sushi without raw fish.  My arch-nemesis is in fact, sashimi…raw fish!  That was the Kraken lurking in my subconscious terror.

I found that there were different levels of sashimi “adventure.” At the “basic” level the most popular types of sashimi are:

Maguro (Blue Fin Tuna) – This is the most popular type of fish for sushi and sashimi. Because of the worldwide demand for it, a whole tuna at Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market can sell for over $70,000. Some restaurant owners, for the publicity, have paid over $1,000,000 for a whole tuna. I don’t know why.  To me it still reeks of fish Jell-O. And not in a good way.

Toro (Blue Fin Tuna Belly) – This cut is very expensive.  It’s very high in fat and supposedly melts in your mouth like butter.  I’ll take their word for it. I have no desire to eat a fatty tuna belly.

Uni (Sea Urchin Eggs) – Definitely a “no go” for yours truly. Ugh. This gooey stuff looks like something you’d find in a diaper. Seriously.

Ikura (Salmon Eggs) – Basically, caviar.  Been there, done that. Long story short, I was tricked, won’t happen again.

There are many more varieties of “basic” raw fish. But the basic level barely scratches the surface.  Here are some of the more esoteric types of sashimi:

Shirako (Cod Milt) – The male equivalent of caviar!  That’s all I’m saying about this. You figure it out. Google is your friend.

Fugu (Puffer Fish) – This can only be prepared by licensed chefs as the fish’s liver contains high levels of lethal neurotoxins.  In fact, one puffer fish contains enough toxin to kill 30 adult men. If prepared incorrectly for consumption, well, you get the idea. Um, yeah, no thanks. I have absolutely no desire to play Russian roulette with my dinner. Precariously calculating the number of tequila shots I can do where I’m at the point of not caring how I look on the dance floor but just shy of throwing up is the only risk I like to take while dining out.

Shiokara (Fermented Fish Viscera) – Viscera sort of gives this one away. It is said that every part of the pig can be used for food except the oink (blech). The same is true here. The insides of a fish are mashed and salted, then left to ferment. Yummmmmmm

So, yeah. I did my research. It hasn’t gotten me any closer to trying any form of sushi and/or sashimi in any way whatsoever. However, it has given me an arsenal of useful, albeit gross, trivia that I’m anxious to try out on my friends the next time we go to dinner. Anyone hungry?



A Push for Flexible Morality

If you have five minutes to spare, I invite you to read this article.

Don’t worry. I’ll wait…

Okay, are you back? Good, because I have a lot to say on the topic. But you knew that, right? If you didn’t get to read the article, the long and short of it is that vegetarians shouldn’t beat themselves up with they decide to have a pork chop or two when amongst friends – in fact, they should feel obligated to do so just to show others that veganism and vegetarianism is “flexible.” You know, to make people comfortable around it…and therefore low-key encouraging others to give part-time vegetarianism a try.

There are so many things wrong with the author’s position in this article. Just at the surface, I find the concept of vegetarians being encouraged, nay, guilted into breaking their own moral code for the sake of others to be so misguided. From the article: “So the vegetarian guest eating meat when offered has probably shown the host that it is possible to be a (flexible) vegetarian and, at the same time, occasionally enjoy some meat without feeling guilty.” In reality, could doing so inspire others to adopt the vegetarian lifestyle if they see that it’s not such a rigid or strict discipline? Doubtful. Like with most things in life, people eat what they eat for a reason and they will change their lifestyle only when they’re ready and for reasons of their own, not because they saw a vegetarian breaking their own personal code of ethics at that dinner party last week.

My own response to this article?  It is NOT the guest’s job to convince the host or any other guest to become vegetarian, nor is it their obligation to be flexible in order to show that others can eat less meat while still maintaining a sort-of, kind-of vegetarian lifestyle.

I feel the article gives a negative portrayal of vegetarians, assuming every one of them brings a soapbox to stand on wherever they go because it’s their civic duty to coax people over to their side. But I can only really speak for myself. Do I wish people would eat less meat (or no meat at all)? Yes. Do I tell them to eat that way? No. They’re adults. They can make up their own minds on what they want to eat. But if someone is curious and asks me about vegetarianism, I’m more than happy to give them information as to why that particular diet appeals to me.

But it’s not my job to show others that vegetarianism can be flexible and therefore “easier” to the masses. Why should a vegetarian anyone be forced or encouraged or guilted into doing something that makes them physically, mentally, and emotionally ill — and is contrary to everything they believe in — just to show someone else it can be done?

To me, what should’ve been addressed is the host’s lack of manners for forgetting the dietary restrictions of a guest they presumably like and respect enough to ask to dinner. In case you didn’t read the article, the whole point that started this conversation was that the fictitious host and/or hostess forgot their guest was a vegetarian and therefore gave them a pork chop to eat. I also find it odd that out of all the meats out there in the world, they chose pork chops. But I digress.

Back to the whole “flexibility” thing…every vegetarian and vegan has their own reason for choosing that kind of diet, not least of which is to do their part in ending animal suffering. Contrary to all the jokes and memes out there, this is not a trivial reason. Some people are vegetarians for religious reasons. Does the author expect flexibility when it’s for religious reasons? Or is it only when it’s for other, non-religious, reasons? I wasn’t aware that morals were flexible, or rather, that it’s not a big deal if they are flexible. I mean, basically, the writer is asking a vegetarian to be flexible in their morals just to be polite to a host.

Then, the writer tells vegetarians to take heart in the decision to go against their beliefs and strongly held “code of ethics” because it could — could, mind you — have the positive effect of showing others that vegetarianism can be do-able for those who still want to eat meat sometimes. That’s a hell of a lot of responsibility for one person who simply does not eat meat, if you ask me.

Show and tell on the part of a dinner guest is not and should not be necessary to get this point across and I think it’s appalling to expect otherwise.


Free Range Grumbling

Whatever happened to food? In an effort to be hip, chic, “cutting edge,” different, attention-getting, and yes, even pretentious, restaurants and recipes now proudly present their mondo bizarro ideas of new cuisine. Their mantra now seems to be: “If you can concoct it and give it a fancy name, they will eat it.”  And, pay outrageous amounts for it. I’m reminded of a fight between Niles and Daphne on Frasier – where Daphne accused Niles of being pretentious: “You’d eat a worm if I gave it a French name!” Gotta love Niles, he made that show.

“Would mademoiselle care to begin with our house specialty appetizer, Vers de terre pochés served with a reduction of l’eau des marais?” Poached earthworms served with a swamp water reduction.  It’s getting out of hand, I tell you.

The new rage is evident in what can best be called Transparent Pumpkin Pie.  Basically, it’s clear, pumpkin-flavored Jell-O made into tiny pies. They claim to get the pumpkin flavor from its essence. Yes, it’s essence. The essence, or distillate if you will, is extracted in a thing called a rotary evaporator. Usually used in chemistry labs, a kitchen version of one will only set you back a few thousand dollars. That’s a hell of a lot of miniature, transparent pumpkin pies.

click the pic for more info on the restaurant serving this…umm…pie

When I see certain words on menus or in recipes, I feel that Western Cuisine is in a tailspin.  Here are a few of them:

  • Deconstructed – What do they do to the entrée, disassemble it? Why yes, yes, they do. My deconstructed pizza had the green pepper and mushrooms neatly peeled off and stacked on a bed of farm fresh arugula.
  • Essence – I guess this means that they didn’t have enough of something to put it into the meal, so they just waved it over the plate to get that waft of…whatever.
  • Foraged – For example, foraged morel mushrooms…I’m sorry, but I simply don’t envision the chef crawling around in the woods on all fours to find the mushrooms he put on my morel and asparagus salad.
  • Hand Selected – As opposed to robot or cockroach selected. Seriously though, this one is most confusing of all, because if it’s not hand selected, what is it??
  • Artisanal – “Made with loving care by a professional.” If that’s true, this is an artisanal blog! But really, when you think about it, aren’t all recipes artisanal? I mean, they should be unless they’re made by a machine…which I guess is to be expected in mass-produced items, but restaurants, especially of the swanky variety? Not so much. 
  • Foam – I’ve seen this in offerings ranging from new-age drinks to toppings for savory entrees to dessert. Personally, I’ve always thought it was the stuff I spray on my legs to shave them, not a deconstructed essence of foraged lime shot out of an aerosol can.

New restaurants, to remain popular (and open) need to come up with more and more outlandish foods to keep their target audience intrigued. Much of it is driven by two words that I never thought would have any connection to food: Molecular Gastronomy. It is science, chemistry, and physics combined to find new ways to prepare food. Because these types of dishes can take a long time to prepare, they usually come with two things: small portions – as in elf-size portions and high prices.

As cool as the whole process is – from a chemistry-set loving perspective, I’m not sure that I would be happy with a meal of ginger-orange gelatin sheets, pearls made from balsamic vinegar, avocado mousse with soy sauce jelly, a spoonful of tomato water spherification with basil oil infusion, and faux-caviar made from olive oil and ingredients I can’t pronounce that you’d be more likely to find in a science classroom.  Evil things are being done to food to make these dishes, I tell you.

I know, I know. Some people don’t mind paying $250 to $500 for a meal of these things…wine extra. As for me, just give me some plain ol’ kick-ass eggplant parmesan and chocolate molten lava cake and I’m in heaven.