Category Archives: Cooking

To Go, Again

A few months ago, as most people experienced weight gain purportedly due to the pandemic, the same circumstances made it initially easy for me to eat healthier. For no reason, I started eating healthier on Feb. 1st. I made it through April without too much difficulty. More surprisingly, I was optimistic about continuing the process for months to come. I have my list of excuses, not the least of which was doing more work in less time at work, making my back, shoulder, and ultimately my foot hurt more. Also, the stress of the pandemic impacted me more than I realized. More importantly, another kind of stress crept into my life out of left field. It’s the kind of stress resulting from peeking into corners you don’t dust or illuminate; it bears a resemblance to hope, no matter how contradictory that sounds. Knowing I haven’t paid the price to be who I should be affects me. The chasm between knowing it and taking action to get there is positively scary. I see others trapped in a holding pattern similar to mine. We’re all going to climb out of these holes. Some of us have a greater distance to get there, but the vitality of the commitment to do differently and experience different lives will get us there.

Not that it’s a negative, but when the pandemic started, my in-laws thankfully moved to town after years of living in BFE. We created an informal tradition of meeting on Saturday evening for communal supper. Those occasions are not filled with healthy choices. Having an unhealthy meal ahead of me mentally derailed me and gave me the excuse to eat with abandon since I would jump into the fat puddle on Saturday evening anyway. It’s a poor excuse, but one I know affects me.

Sitting on the fringe is also the knowledge that I’m less a fan of meat still. I eat it because of convenience or because others do. It’s hard to get back to eating very little meat when the world around me spins a different way. Meat consumption triggers me to eat other unhealthy things. I’m oversimplifying – but it is a certainty that I’ve long recognized: eating very little meat always coincides with much healthier eating, and my weight drops alongside the change. I’d go so far as to say that it becomes easy to drop weight without meat. Finding a way to overcome the demands of those around me to consume it is a challenge. I do most of the cooking, so taking a different route requires more time and energy and tends to come across as selfish behavior.

When my brother died, I recognized that I had the chance to use it as a marker and reminder. I would recall it frequently for a while; that recollection could be a mental rubber band for me. Likely, other people’s brains don’t work quite that way.

In a way, the comments about eating meat align with those about my brother. “I don’t really eat meat,” running through my head reminds me that I don’t feel happy doing the other things either. Because of my brother’s long decline, I relearned many lessons that should serve me going forward. All of them involve recognizing risk and choosing people and lives that make satisfaction in life an attainable goal.

Because I didn’t want to get on the scale and weigh myself, I did so immediately instead of dreading it. It was worse than I expected: 225. Ouch.

I’ve written about the fact before that our tendency to conceal our weight is a bit of folly. A good eye can accurately guess our weight anyway, especially if we’ve added a spare tire or our shirts look like they were dried on extremely high heat for an hour.

Rather than focus on weight, I started giving myself a grade each day. Yes, it is subjective. Though, I “know” how my healthy eating for the day went. If someone buys a bag of pretzel sticks and I participate in their consumption in the evening, it’s a worse grade. Or, if there’s pizza with a thick crust and real cheese.

It’s amusing to me that I love vegetables. It’s hard to get this overweight eating vegetables.

It’s folly to commit to healthier eating with the long slog of the holiday months approaching. I guess I’m wired for folly. The yo-yo of my stupidity is supremely stupid.

Meanwhile, another friend I once knew well chose surgery to help her weight loss. She dropped an incredible amount of weight. She’s almost unrecognizable. The smile on her face is one of radiant satisfaction. Whether she needed surgical help or not, she committed to the choice of making it happen.

I can’t see over the horizon. But I know that I have a lot of upheaval coming – and not just because that’s the way life is. I suspect that every pound I keep needlessly will throw a right hook if I don’t drop it. I’m looking more and more to a different future and see the path to get there. In none of those futures of hope do I weigh more than 180. I think of how I felt when I was last that weight, and though it is still ‘heavy’ by actuarial measures, I felt genuinely light.

Every pound is a result of my choices, no matter what preceded them. It’s analogous to the choices or laziness that’s lead me to this point.

Writing this sort of thing down is a motivator for me. Not because someone can use my bravado against me. I can pivot back to these days and remember when I looked ahead to a different way and a ‘me’ living the life the way I should.

Nevertheless, I make this promise.

Carolyn’s Mashed potatoes

This is my mom standing in Aunt Ardith’s (and Uncle Buck’s) kitchen. Note: I think it was physically impossible for her to be in a kitchen unless she was smoking.



As we learned in “Like Water For Chocolate,” the emotions experienced while preparing food can significantly affect the culinary experience. (If you haven’t read this book or seen the movie, I will wait while you do so. You can read it in English if you need to.) The book on which the movie was based is separated into twelve sections, much like the months of the year. Each era is associated with particular foods that define the protagonist’s life.

It was important for her to unexpectedly inflict a bit of terror (or at least a sense of dread or apprehension) in someone in her vicinity while cooking. In part, it would explain the tendency for someone to wail, cry, or whimper while we ate supper. You might presume we were whimpering from the flavor otherwise. In mom’s defense, she didn’t need to concern herself with food. We were trained to eat anything without an audible complaint. In my case, I loved macaroni and any vegetable, even if coming directly from a can. Because I trusted my Grandma, I’d eat anything she offered. While there were times I didn’t like something she made, I never questioned whether it SHOULD be eaten. With my mom, this definitely wasn’t the case. There were exceptions. Because of my youth’s craziness, people often overlook the exceptions that were not characterized by the lesser human emotions I experienced growing up.

While it may not come across as funny, dad often did have a humorous way of driving mom bonkers about food. “What’s cooking,” he might shout. Or, “What in f$$$ is that smell?” Mom sometimes would scream back at him – and sometimes be funny in her response. It’s hard to explain how shouting and annoyance are funny, but it was. “Whatever the g####mned f### I want to make is what you’re eating,” she might scream. It probably sounded like WWII from outside. While they were often angry about it when their ability to tease back and forth emerged, it was obscenely sublime.

More than once growing up, we’d wake to the horrid smell of a burned cast iron skillet. A couple of times, mom did it. But it was usually dad who left the skillet on the stove. He’d arrive home drunk and cook a chunk of meat or fried bologna on the stove. There were a dozen times he’d try to cook frozen meat – and eat it anyway. It wasn’t unusual to pass through the kitchen and see an array of meat, grease, and a mess left there. Because mom usually got up insanely early, we knew dad left her a mess because mom would be in the kitchen cursing and banging every metal surface possible with pans, metal spoons, or by slamming the stove repeatedly. I’d generally not recommend this behavior if you have someone with both anger issues and a hangover in the house. By the way, a scorched cast iron skillet leaves a stench in the house for DAYS.

Much of the drama could have been sidestepped if someone had just asked us what we wanted. They could have fed me incredibly cheaply and often without the need for any actual cooking – and no ritual sacrifice of animals. In my world, kids were not asked what they wanted. Such a thought was heretical nonsense to people such as my parents. They didn’t need to tell us about starving kids in other countries; we knew that they wouldn’t be bothered with such an explanation when a good backhand said a thousand words. Note for those who don’t know: a backhand can be rendered at twice the speed as a forward-motion slap. Mom certainly could have handed me a can of tomatoes, corn, or green beans and sent me outside to eat in peace. Sitting at the table brought unseen battles to the front. By the 4th grade, I could expertly tip an opened can and eat the contents without utensils. Or without cutting myself.

We were lucky mom didn’t poison us, even if her target was my dad. Like most women in her class, she had no choice but to work full-time and perform all the other menial but necessary tasks of living for the household. Obviously, a lot of mom’s cooking stress was anger and resentment at being married to a lout. Mom didn’t have ‘signature dishes.’ I don’t remember her being romantic about cooking or the subtle art of gastronomy. To her, cooking was limited to the practical necessity of getting it done. It was a bizarre sight to witness her in the same kitchen with other people cooking. It might as well have been alien races sharing cooking space.

On another note, mom could have easily taught us to make one or two meals each. We would have willingly learned and helped had we been shown the attention—anything to avoid potential stress and drama of a ‘family’ meal. I know I couldn’t have been trusted to prepare any meal with meat. My recipe would have consisted only of tossing the meat carcass directly out the door and into the jaws of our succession of German Shepherd dogs named Duke.

Looking back, I’m still surprised that so many supper meals blur together into one indistinguishable mass in my memory. Few at-home suppers were devoid of distrust, dread, or unease. More importantly, I have no memories of meals wherein we gathered to eat where we shared our day, laughter, or happy moments. This was not part of our DNA. I like to think it must have happened accidentally. If it did, my treasonous brain has erased most of these memories. Exceptions tended to happen if dad arrived home drinking without his surliness or if extraordinary circumstances were at play. Watching sitcom families verbally teasing and laughing during dinner were Twilight Zone episodes for me.

On a typical day, mom had to read the tea leaves and decide when or if dad might come home. She was obligated to prepare some horrid slab of meat, partially cooked on the stove in a frying pan if he did. Dad was one of those absurd men who proudly pretended that the meat he consumed could indeed be eaten half-alive. “How in the hell can anyone eat that smell?” was a thought I often had. Along with the immutable truth that you don’t want to see sausage being made, the other is that no one should witness my dad eating meat. He was proof that our ancestors once jumped on wild walruses and ripped their ears off with their bare hands.

As you would guess, I generally wanted no part in the meat process. Given a choice between the meat prepared and eating live crickets culled from the underside of the trailer, you could find me with a mouthful of insect legs protruding from my mouth. Note: crickets thrive under trailers if you happen to be in the market for a truckload of crickets. If a vegetable were offered, I fought to eat an excessive portion of that and be happy. Truth be told, many of my supper experiences revolved around trying to be small and avoid my dad’s gaze. Though I’ve mentioned it before, his barbaric streak often led him to force me to eat things that should never pass the lips of a human being. If he noted I didn’t want meat, I often found myself chewing the fat off a bloody half-cooked ‘steak’ or the dark meat near the bone of an unidentifiable piece of chicken. (I shudder.) Or worse, the skin of a piece of chicken. I ate chicken skin quite often when I was very young and without dad around. It didn’t occur to me to think of how horrible it was. Later, though, I ate a mile of poorly-cooked or unappetizing skin that ruined me for the rest of my life.

It happened so often that I still have no desire to eat such meat. People underestimate how true this experience was. I was the youngest child; as such, dad felt offended by the lack of overt masculinity. He spent much of his life committed to ensuring that I consumed an array of inedible pieces of animals. His alcoholism is probably the single biggest factor that helped me escape his scrutiny. Unless mom was at his throat, dad’s drinking made him magnanimous at times, and his insistence on forcing me to eat things I didn’t like vanished. Some of the Terry family cooked very well and with love, so I didn’t understand how dad could be so barbaric in his approach, and other members of his family could prepare a wide selection of both meat and vegetables. My Uncle Buck cooked a few things extremely well. He also enjoyed cooking and preparing dishes. Especially gumbo and fish.

While I noted I disliked an increasing number of poorly and inexpertly cooked animal carcasses, it did at least drive home the idea that who and how something is cooked can often be 75% of whether you’ll like something you are about to eat. I felt like a medieval court taster who was anxiously waiting to feel his throat constricting against whatever poison had been inserted into the king’s food.

Despite all the instability in our house, mom spent a sizeable chunk of her money from her SW Bell operator’s paycheck going to the meat shops. It seemed strange to me that her dedication to doing this was so pronounced. Dad often could not discern the difference between a decent cut of meat and something found in the dumpster and fried in a pan for 30 seconds. Dad’s nutrition plan included chunks of meat, cigarettes, whiskey, Dentyne gum, and Brach’s peppermint candy. If I accompanied mom to the meat shop, I stood in amazement that there were more than 2 cuts of meat or 3 types of sandwich meat. It seemed odd that anyone needed something except bologna, salt pork, or bacon for a boy who loved mustard sandwiches. Mom was an impatient customer at such shops. It’s hard to believe that smoking was permitted inside them. And smoke she did, tapping her feet as she moved from one foot to the other, expecting her choice to be hurled toward her in less than 3 seconds. It seems strange that the building that currently holds the Las Margaritas Mexican restaurant in Springdale once was mom’s ‘go-to’ meat shop. I doubted my memory so strongly that I once searched for proof in the old phone books at the library and then matched the addresses against old maps.

Between errands, it seemed like mom was always buying cigarettes and alcohol. Much of my Springdale geography command resulted from the infinite trips to liquor stores and places to buy cigarettes. I could walk from Uncle Buck’s house to the liquor store that once stood at the intersection of Gutensohn and Highway 68/412, but wasn’t sure about the route to one of the grocery stores.

My access to the larger world and food expanded only because of my cousin Jimmy and infrequent visits to other people’s houses. Everything seemed exotic to me. Things like bbq sauce, olives, flavored pickles, and lemon pepper ignited my imagination. At home, we didn’t have these things. If such a store existed, my mom would have gladly shopped at “Bare Minimum Essentials.”

This impacted my brother Mike much more than me. He enjoyed eating meat. He also was a bigger boy, more athletic when we were younger, and had an expansive appetite. This annoyed the hell out of my dad. Unlike me, Mike loved grabbing a handful of dad’s prized sliced deli ham and stuffing it into his mouth as a snack. It was a perilous day to hear my dad holler, “Who ate all the g$$$amned ham!?” In turn, it annoyed Mike that I loved mustard sandwiches and was happy to eat basic food. If I annoyed him, he sometimes would take a piece of ham, roll it menacingly into a ball, and stuff it into my mouth, laughing at my cries of torture. I detested ham so much that I might as well be Jewish. Don’t get me wrong; I’d eat it sometimes but never with any enthusiasm and certainly not as a first choice. Having been in my brother’s ham hock of a hand, I liked it even less.

When the grocery store opened across from Johnson Road, my cousin Jimmy went to get Ron Calcagni’s autograph. Mom later went to the store and scoffed at the incredible selections, after listening to my Aunt Ardith list its array of food. I was mesmerized by the dozen types of bread and the endless row of assorted pasta. I wanted to live inside that store and stuff myself with gallons of marinara and spaghetti. Other kids could be seen getting politely or angrily admonished by their moms as they begged for treats from the candy aisle, special cereals, or ice cream. So dedicated was my mom’s brutality regarding asking, this simply didn’t happen with me. I didn’t touch – and never asked. It was a sin akin to peeing on someone’s head while riding the bus. There were a couple of memorable times I forgot myself and vocalized my desire to have something. Because I was a little strange. one of those times was when I saw Mexicorn, the kernel corn in a can with peppers. I didn’t want sweets or chips. I wanted that exotic can of corn. Not only did mom swat me with the wrath of Khan, but she waited to ensure that dad could put his 5-knuckles-worth into the equation. By the way, I had my first can of Mexicorn at my cousin Jimmy’s. Aunt Ardith bought several cans. She watched in amazement and then horror as I ate all of them, at once. When she put butter in them and stirred it, I felt as if Heaven had descended upon me and wrapped its arms around me. While I don’t know for sure that Aunt Ardith treated me to endless Mexicorn because of how my mom behaved, it seems likely. She smiled at me like Christmas while I ate. “You’re going to be sick,” she kept repeating, her voice growing more amazed as I emptied the cans one by one.

My Aunt Ardith on the left, mom on the right.



It was sometime in the summer of 1st or 2nd grade that I discovered that canned corn and green beans were delicious. Heating them was a needless step for me. Being able to skip steps to eat was a revelation for me. Soon enough, I learned how to make macaroni and spaghetti. Though I’d seen it made one thousand times, I was stupidly surprised by the fact that cooking it only required boiling water and waiting long enough for it to soften. A monster was born, one that still resides within me. While I could eat noodles plain, if tomatoes or tomato sauce were available, I would dump it into the water and noodles. We didn’t use strainers; we had to risk burns over the sink using the pot’s lid to drain spaghetti. I think the lack of good strainers is one characteristic that most poor kids share in common. Skipping all those steps was a benefit. Regardless of the size of the package of pasta, I cooked it all. And then ate it. Wasting it wasn’t a consideration.

All of which brings me to the Golden Macaroni Era at City View trailer park. Infrequently, mom would recover from the cyclical violence with dad. She’d violently clean the trailer and then later that evening make a pot of macaroni soup. Instead of simply making macaroni and adding tomatoes or sauce, she would cut up potatoes, onions, and a few other things and boil it into submission. Mom and I would sit at the table and eat. She would watch me eat a gallon of it in one sitting. Though it was simple, it was delicious beyond measure. While she made this after City View a couple of times, I’ll never forget the period at City View when she often did it. Usually, only she and I would eat this soup. She must’ve realized from Grandma that this was one of my favorite things in the world. Over one summer, my Grandma made a version of this for me at least every other day. Weirdly, I didn’t mind that mom had magically used at least 2 large onions in the soup. I count these nights eating macaroni soup as one of the few ways and times that mom tried to have a selfless connection with me, even if only through food. One of the other memorable times was her return from alcohol rehab in Fort Smith after I graduated high school. She made a mammoth pot of macaroni soup, and we ate the entire pot. I can’t see this moment as accidental. Mom returned from rehab, a completely different person.

When our trailer burned at City View and we moved to Tontitown’s fringe, this tradition died. My “cousin” Leta, who owned the house in Tontitown, where we moved, worked at the Venesian Inn. Because she could bring home endless food, it was from there I discovered my love of Italian dressing. Even as dad and family and friends had endless drunken cookouts, I found that salads with huge cut-up tomatoes and a bottle of Viva Italian salad dressing were available. I consumed truck loads of rolls and salad.

Me, dad, mom, and my brother Mike, aka “The Infamous Picture” at Leta’s house in Tontitown. I use this picture as the perfect embodiment of how perception thwarts reality.



In closing, I’ll finish with mom’s secret Mashed Potatoes recipe. This recipe has been sought after for years, so share it only with trusted friends and family.

You’ll need whatever kind of potatoes are on sale, a bit of milk (canned if you have it), a bit of pepper and salt, and access to non-menthol cigarettes. You’ll need to smoke constantly while boiling, mashing, and mixing the potatoes. Also, don’t knock the ashes from the cigarette as you cook. Allow them to fall freely into the potatoes. If you’re adventurous, coarsely cut a large onion into preposterously large pieces and throw them in the mashed potatoes. If the potatoes are lumpy, don’t notice. Hungry people don’t notice, much less comment, that the potatoes are lumpy. If you get a particularly large chunk of onion, spit it into your hand and keep eating. If anyone notices something that looks like ashes in the potatoes, tell them it’s pepper. Fun fact: it is almost impossible to taste cigarette ashes in mashed potatoes, no matter how much is present if you add pepper and onions to them. It’s for that reason that I mentioned that you shouldn’t smoke menthols – which are easily detectable.

Note: I was pleasantly surprised to learn that no one else puts onions in mashed potatoes. In 2017, I wrote about “Newport Potatoes.” Many people thought I made it up, even after citing the episode of “Master Of None.”



My mom and dad sitting at the bar at Uncle Buck’s house. We have no pictures of each other or us at our own house – and not just because we didn’t own a camera.
My brother Mike enjoying mashed potatoes at Aunt Ardith’s table on Ann Street in Springdale.
One of my favorite pictures of Uncle Buck. He was cooking up a storm and stopped long enough to present me with a fruitcake.

This Is The World’s Best Post

tina-dawson-b_X4aBtHndE-unsplash.jpg

 

“The World’s Best” anything is nonsensical.

If you look closely, you’ll see that the woman in the picture is eating raw meat. On the table, she has a cut tomato, black licorice, and maynnaise. On the further counter, there’s a fruitcake and plate of sushi. Chances are, one of those things gives you the urge to hurl your lunch.

It seems like a good cliché for a headline or when used as an easy marketing hook. When I see it, though, I wince. In the past, I was blasted by a critic who screamed at me for using the cliché, as well the one comparing anything to crack. I pointed out that criticizing me was acknowledging that my opinion held value. (Because who goes out of their way to attack a meaningless opinion?)

Tastes vary wildly. One man’s poison is another man’s passion. Perversely, some people love eating or ingesting actual poison – and I’m not referring to people who enjoy eating at Hardee’s.

Whether it’s raisins, black licorice, mayonnaise, fruitcake, whiskey, celery, beets, meats cooked rare, meats cooked well-done, eggs over easy, or dried crickets, there is no universal standard for food.

When I was growing up, a lot of Southerners would foolishly say, “You don’t know what’s good!” They’d smack their lips in condemnation at my refusal to eat some of the things they identified as ‘food.’ Some of these same people loved eating raw hamburger meat, spoonfuls of Crisco or lard, and half-cooked chicken gizzards, usually as they cooked over their stoves with a cigarette dangling from their lips. They also invariably had a tub of warm mayonnaise always open and sitting on the counter.

“The World’s Best” is a meaningless title, much in the same way all awards based on subjective taste are without foundation.

I like bitter, smoky coffee. My wife hates it. I like burned, dry food of all kinds, unlike literally everyone else. Hash browns? Burned. (But I do love standard hash browns too.) Some people hate shaved parmesan because it smells like foot odor. A ripe tomato is like a mouthful of phlegm for some and a delicacy for others. Milk, which is literally nutrition for only baby cows, gives many people the urge to vomit.

The two words, “I like,” are the critical component. If you like it, it’s good.

X’s Food Opinion Edict states: “All food is opinion.”

We can overlap on taste, of course, but it’s a rarity to find any two people whose opinion regarding taste is congruent.

Stop pretending that a universal standard for taste exists.

Like Buddy the Elf, he thought he’d found the world’s best cup of coffee, simply because the sign outside said so.

On the other hand, this is the world’s best post, right?

Chef X: Zucchini Noodles in the Real World

caroline-attwood-301748-unsplash

You can waste 27 hours watching videos about how to make fantastic zucchini noodles. Or, you can read what I have to say about it.

The same process can be used to make sweet potato noodles, squash, and so forth. Since none of them are terribly expensive yet yield a great result, you should experiment liberally. I’m a firm believer in the “I like it, so shut your piehole” school of culinary arts.

You can buy a julienne peeler or even a spiral slicer. (Or steal one from your mother-in-law.) You can also just use a hand-held vegetable peeler on your first couple of attempts. Since you’re experimenting and obviously have no sense if you’re reading my cooking advice, use a cheap hand-held vegetable peeler on your initial attempt. (If you don’t know what a julienne peeler is, congratulations, you’re normal.) You can also save yourself some time if you have a child or bored spouse to do the slicing for you.

You can buy some good spiralizers for vegetables on Amazon. You can also buy a new carpet there, too. You don’t need to waste your money on a spiralizer until you figure out whether zucchini noodles remind you of eating tapeworms or spiders. Some mandoline slicers can make narrow strips, too, especially of your fingers if you’re not careful or have too much to drink while you’re cooking. Science has taught us, though, that pain is more manageable if you’re buzzed.

Cut the ends off 3-4 zucchini. Since it’s your first time making zucchini noodles, you’ll want to use the peel instead of removing it. You’ll note that there’s a lot of needless arguing about whether the zucchini is better or worse without the peel. Despite the experts whining about it, it is 100% personal preference. Make long slices with your vegetable peeler. For your first time, don’t cut down into the middle portion of the zucchini.

Mix your zucchini noodles with a bit of olive oil. I prefer to add minced garlic and other spices before I cook them. As with the other steps, some cooks get pissy about adding salt, garlic salt, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, or balsamic during the cooking process. Those critics need to chill out with a glass of wine or by being hit on the head with a bottle of wine.

Put the zucchini in a large skillet pan with a bit of oil. Cook and stir them until they are the desired tenderness. As with pasta, I’m going to avoid the stupidity of the al dente-versus-soft argument. I will say that it’s pointless to add water and cook them down. If you are careful and stir sufficiently, the zucchini strips will succumb to the heat if you give it enough time. With a decently sizzled pan, the zucchini will cook in a few minutes.

Place your portion on a plate and sprinkle with parmesan cheese and spices, or you can also use traditional sauces such as alfredo, pesto, or marinara. If you’re a hipster, sprinkle some cigar ashes on the noodles and enjoy.

If you’re not a purist, you can also use this mixed with actual pasta to give your regular pasta dishes a healthy boost.

If you make too much, it can be chilled and eaten later, hot or cold. (The food, not you.)

Zucchini noodles can be made with almost no added calories, which means that if you get your mix of spices and toppings just right you can eat enough zucchini to actually eat yourself into a food coma without all the guilt.

Some people call zucchini noodles “zoodles.” These people are dangerous.

In my opinion, it’s best to use a lighter pan, one which conducts heat quickly.

For those who need to be told, I recommend using a spatula to stir the zucchini frequently; if you use your hands, you’re likely to need medical attention. I never know if the person reading my cooking advice is from this planet or has ever cooked before.
.

¿Capers: Nature’s Prank of Deliciousness?

qqeqw.jpg

 

My wife noticed that the market offered Great Value capers as we scavenged the aisles. We use a shopping system consisting of two parts: meticulously-compiled lists using a digital system, followed by an uncontrolled bout of consumerism and selecting one of everything which strikes our fancy. To outsiders, we sound and look like we have been on a deserted island for fifteen years.

I controlled myself and bought only two jars of capers, even as I silently wept at my sin of leaving some capers on the shelf, sentencing them to a solitary life. Capers are one of those things which I will consume until the last one on Earth is in my belly. I work hard to temporarily forget about them. Despite my efforts, they sometimes summon me in my slumbers. I love capers so much that I even eat them on air-popped popcorn, in soup, and straight from the jar.

Note: If you rinse your capers prior to ingestion, you are not the type of person who will be reading anything I write. It’s a fact that rinsing anything conveys the wrong message to your loved ones.

Technically, capers are either flower buds or cleverly-disguised rabbit droppings. I’ve learned that the answer depends on whom you ask. Many argue that they aren’t actually edible at all. This is a specious argument: anything is “edible” with enough will power and enthusiasm.

My mom’s onion-laden “cooking” proved this thesis decades ago. I was forced to try many dishes and foods almost at literal gunpoint. Unfortunately for me, capers were nowhere to be found anywhere among my parent’s choices for food. It would have been easier for me to request a lit cigarette at twelve years of age than ask for something as exotic as a caper. Instead of capers, I ate boatloads of onions and cigarette ash.

Years ago, I discovered that the Romans used capers to treat paralysis. This confused me, as many people who’ve tried capers in my presence immediately freeze with a horrific grimace of disgust on their face. That sort of person cannot be trusted, so take note. For some, capers taste exceedingly lemony. The taste is so pronouncedly lemony that some who eat them report seeing nothing but Ford motor products for an hour after eating.

If you’re interested in using capers in your meals, the single most important note is this: whatever amount you think is reasonable, quadruple that and sit back and enjoy the puzzled looks of your soon-to-be former friends and alienated family members as they share your culinary gift of capers. As far as you know, it’s impossible to have a caper allergy. If you inadvertently discover that someone does have such an allergy, you should rest easy, knowing that you found a way for them to live a moment of intense joy as they tried this treat.

Among other health benefits, capers will prevent you from getting a cold or the flu. This isn’t due to their medicinal properties; rather, the odor tends to keep normal human beings at an adequate distance, one which precludes airborne germs and viruses from reaching you.

Joking aside, capers are purported to have many health benefits. If I owned an MLM pyramid scheme (aren’t they all, though), I might list the benefits here. I will take the time to admonish you, though. If you eat capers for any reason other than the divine flavor of this briny foodstuff, you should be forced to march half-naked in the Alaskan tundra. Capers are their own reward. However, if you’re a real human being and appreciate fried food, fried capers are your answer to a long, happy life. I don’t ever fry food, so I can only imagine enjoying them this way again.

Note: don’t take health or eating advice from anyone unless you can see everything they themselves eat. Regardless of what they might say, they’re eating pork rinds and mayonnaise, like the rest of us.

Today, I made spaghetti squash with a tomato alfredo sauce. On my portion, I lovingly carpeted my squash with over half a jar of capers. My wife, on the other hand, savagely refused my generous offer to do the same justice to her plate.

Last week, I was deprived of both spaghetti squash and capers. Some villainous fiend had circumspectly placed a couple of bright-yellow honeydew melons in the spaghetti squash bin. Noting the pronounced color, I chose one without further review. It wasn’t until I used a hacksaw to cut the alleged squash lengthwise and noted the incredible ease with which I cut the object, followed by the pungently sweet scent of honeydew melon, that I realized my idiocy had once again prevailed.

Well played, Walmart Produce Villain. We’ll meet at some future point. If I catch you as you laughingly switch lookalike produce, I shall grab your pants and yank them down to your ankles in full view of our fellow Walmart shoppers. It’s not like we haven’t witnessed that before, many times, shopping there.

Which reminds me to add buns to my Alexa shopping list.

As I sit here writing this, my caper addiction calls my name. I’m probably going to use one of the online grocers and surprise them with a 128-bottle order of capers.

Pictured: capers with a side of capers, garnished with capers. The pistol is in anticipation of all the interlopers who will attempt to separate you from your plate of capers. The lemon slices are to squirt in said assailant’s eyes if your gun is taken.

P.S. I can’t understand why you’re still reading this. Have you learned nothing? You should be either eating or shopping for capers right now.

Proper Table Arrangement Is Just Grilled Octopus

 

elle-hughes-742911-unsplash.jpg

 

A friend wrote me, asking if I’d write an outline of a column for him. As I always do, I asked him if there was a word limit. I never get writer’s block, no matter how often my friends and family pray that I might experience a prolonged bout of it.

“Wouldn’t you rather know the topic?” he asked, evidently forgetting that decorum is a just a fancy Latin word denoting “silly things bored people do.”

I emailed back, saying, “No, I just want to be able to say a lot of extraneous things, and preferably with a smirk while I do.” Being this sort of Rainman with words is what makes me so competent when commenting on politics, even if I must interrupt the pastor’s sermon in order to do so.

My friend replied to let me know the topic: “How to Properly Set a Table.”

I took a day to consider my opinion. As you probably know, that’s not true. My fingers were typing before I even realized it.


The first thing you need to consider when properly setting a table is whether human beings will be dining there. Second, are said potential diners from states where terms such as ‘uncle-brother’ can be used without explanation? Fourth, it’s important to enumerate things correctly, as evidenced by this sentence.

It’s important that you read the correct etiquette books, or watch videos on one of the popular websites dedicated to the nuances of snobbery. Take notes regarding placemat orientation, utensil quantity and alignment, and spacing. Consult several sources and note the areas wherein they disagree.

Next, rip up the notes you took and snort derisively to yourself. Throw away your placemats, which are diabolically related to their evil cousin, the coaster. Your table isn’t constructed of compressed silk. The best expert is experience and usage, not someone blathering on even more than I do.

The best way to set a table properly is to do it in whatever arrangement you wish to, especially one geared to your individual table, chairs, dishes, and personal whim. If you prefer everything off-center, mismatched and placed, don’t look to someone who finds this sort of thing to be important. Simply give yourself permission to ignore all baseless social rules as you see fit.

All etiquette is imagined. It’s also geared toward the insistence of mastery and expertise. The type of person who cringes when the cutlery is misplaced needs to be forced to dig a ditch in Alaska. They’re the same people who erroneously think that grammar is ordained by direct order from the heavens to them. In short, they are joy vacuums. If a family member criticizes your table, take time to make their next visit cause them to have a seizure as they clutch their pearls.

“But a properly set table is so beautiful!” some will insist. It’s true, it might be a beautiful table. But it’s equally true being free of people who insist on this sort of correctness will make your life beautiful. Everyone should learn how to set a table more or less to general expectations. Like everything else, though, perfectionism in this realm is a symptom of a disease that’s difficult to diagnose but easy to recognize when it starts.

Social dining should always be geared toward the gathering of people sharing in food, presence, and conversation. All else is vanity and immaterial to enjoying life.

All of us are distinct spirits. Aesthetics is an arbitrary and subjective concept. If you want to place a pile of silverware in the middle of the table, surrounded by 13 different sets of dishes, revel in your choice.

You should take a moment and wonder how many times in my life I have deliberately rearranged a ‘properly’ placed table. It never fails to amuse, even if the Vatican frowned upon my efforts. I’ve been known to ADD utensils from my own collection, hoping that someone loses his or her mind over it once they notice. The cheap utensils from Dollar General yield the best screams. (Note: Dollar General isn’t paying me to mention them, although I will accept any reward they offer.)

I used a picture of grilled octopus as a counterpunch to my words. That we live in a world where deranged people think that serving grilled octopus is acceptable yet throw their silverware across the room when placed a millimeter out of reach is an argument in my favor.

In response to my friend’s request to answer the question, “How To Properly Set a Table”: It’s a trick question. Only your answer counts. You just didn’t know it. Until now. You’re welcome, friends.

Chef X and Spaghetti Squash Recipe

ffff

Chef X and Spaghetti Squash Recipe

You’re probably heard of spaghetti squash and wondered what everyone was smoking. Let’s face it, the words ‘squash’ and ‘spaghetti’ share no common attributes. Thanks to people with nothing better to do, though, we owe a word of thanks to the people who thought it would be a great idea to make pasta from a gourd. I can’t explain the dark arts behind it – but it works.

Spaghetti Squash, contrary to popular misconception, doesn’t derive its name from the generic name for pasta. It actually was named after an Italian farmer named Guiseppi D’Spagetti. He created a hybrid plant from squash and cucumbers. His efforts were aided by the fact that he lived on the land adjacent to a winery. History has proven that the best cooks invariably drink a heck of a lot. The best people, too, but that’s another story.

As you might have guessed, the part about Guiseppi D’Spagetti’s name is not true. But it’s equally true that cooking spaghetti squash isn’t as complicated as the internet cooking experts would mislead you to believe. Experts make everything complicated in order to be able to maintain their mysterious claims of expertise. It’s also why nothing is spelled like a normal person would spell it. It’s a requirement that we add weird consonants and silent vowels to every food we enjoy. If bumbling fools like me can make this without any fuss, you won’t need to buy a cookbook in order to do the same.

Also, if you’re buying cookbooks, please feel free to do so. Thing new-fangled thing called the internet, however, can supply you with sufficient ideas and option without prying dollars from your purse or clutch.

Just because improper cooking technique can maim you or poison other people is no reason to not give it a try. Many of us drive each day even though everyone knows that we should be forbidden to be near moving machinery much less operating it.

First, go to your local grocer and ask, “Where do you keep the spaghetti squash?” They tend to either place them on glowing pedestals or hide them in obscure and shadowy corners in order to force you to goosestep around all the ridiculous things that adults don’t really need, like floss or air freshener. If your grocer doesn’t offer these squash, don’t ever return there; no one needs that kind of negativity in their lives.

These squash are supposed to be hard. If they’re soft, roll them like bowling balls in the dairy aisle, toward unsuspecting shoppers. They vary in size and weight. In my opinion, they should cost around one dollar a pound. Certainly, you can pay much more. They aren’t prone to shipping damage like so many other vegetables so if retailers gouge us for them, they do so in full recognition of the fact that we’ve lost our collective hipster-food minds.

Preheat your oven to 375-400. The temp is in Fahrenheit, not Kelvin. No need to cause an explosion – unless you’re into that. Don’t worry about precision temperatures. You’re not making a soufflé. Also, if you don’t have a convection oven, stop reading this and visit your local appliance store. Once you’ve installed your new convection oven, feel free to resume reading this. We’re not barbarians, after all. You can use a regular oven of course, but you can play tennis with a stiff armadillo carcass, too, with diminished but hilarious results.

Take a long baking sheet and put aluminum foil on it. (Don’t use a triangular baking sheet. These trigger anyone with OCD.) At risk of offending the parchment paper mafia, don’t fall for anyone recommending that you use a plain baking sheet or paper. Those are the kind of people who wipe off the seat of their restaurant chairs with their bare hands and then use those same fingers to eat. (Because they don’t want to put their derriere on a dirty seat.)

Wash your squash. In the sink. Not the washing machine. Yes, I know they should specify it to indicate “clothes washer.” If you worry a lot about this step, I know a great therapist to help you. You’ll see a lot of reminders about washing the squash. Not from me, though, because I know you’re making this dish with your cat lying directly next to the coffee pot or your kid’s sticky fingers touching every surface in the known universe while you cook.

Next, you need to cut the squash in half, lengthwise. A samurai sword will work, provided you don’t decapitate your spouse while swinging it overhead and downward. You should note that these squash are VERY hard, akin to the hearts of social conservatives. I wouldn’t blame you if you go buy a hacksaw and a new blade specifically to cut yours. If the cuts aren’t perfect, don’t worry too much about that, either. Unless you’ve got great health insurance, be careful cutting the squash. It’s the trickiest part.

Next, scoop out the seeds and loose stuff in the middle. I recommend using an 11″ French Scraping Dragon Spoon. Sorry, I’m kidding again. Use a large, boring tablespoon to scoop each half clean. Your fingers will get really slippery as you do so, reminding you of your elementary schooldays in the wintertime.

Rub a little olive oil on each half of the squash. (The inside, not the husk. This reminder is for anyone who might live in Arkansas or Oklahoma.) Don’t overdo it. As you know, olive oil is highly explosive. Again, I apologize: I need to ensure that you’re reading this carefully.

Place each half upside down on the baking sheet.

Put the pan in the oven for 40 minutes.

If you read other people’s recommendations, you’ll see that they all disagree about the specifics. It’s important to remember that we can’t even agree about the importance of oral hygiene, so don’t get sidetracked by cooking arguments either. You’ll figure out what consistency you like best after cooking these a couple of times.

No matter how big your squash halves are, 40 minutes will be almost perfect. At times, the husk of the squash will darken slightly. If you’re the type who believes in climate change or worries about your socks matching, you can leave the squash in the oven for 45 minutes.

Remove the baking sheet from the oven. Unless you have a walk-in oven.

Using wide tongs or a baking glove, turn the squash over. Some people recommend waiting a bit for them to cool. I disagree. Cooking is supposed to be dangerous. The worst that will happen is that you will accidentally fling the strands into your eyes, thus blinding you permanently. That’s what disability insurance is for so stop worrying so much.

Unless you enjoy screaming in pain, use a heat-resistant glove or tongs to hold each half firmly and while using a standard dinner fork, scrape the inside of the squash in long strokes. The squash fiber will release like long spaghetti. You’ll laugh the first time you see it because there’s something fundamentally wrong about the idea of spaghetti strands coming out of a squash. You can fork each half all the way to the husk. As annoying people are prone to say, “It’s all good.”

They tend to produce more strands than you anticipate. After cooking these a few times, you’ll get to be a good judge of how much each size squash will produce. Before I forget to mention it, spaghetti squash holds up well if you make more than you can eat in one sitting. This is especially true if you sauce it.

I’ve seen where some people make the strands and leave them in the husk, inside a similar-sized bowl to stabilize it. They simple season it or put the sauce and/or toppings directly on the squash halves.

Note: if you like marinara sauces, this is the best way to eat spaghetti squash the first time. If you don’t like marinara sauce, I’m not sure you should be allowed to walk around in polite society. It’s true that tastes are totally subjective, though, which explains why some people exit their respective houses wearing clothing that could best be described as “Cheap Halloween in Nebraska,” but still feel confident about it.

I forgot to mention that this food is very healthy unless you top it with 14 slices of cheese. It is very filling and the texture is reminiscent of vermicelli, another one of those invented words to confuse people who would otherwise simply ask for “very thin spaghetti.”

You can cook Spaghetti Squash in about 15 minutes in an Instant Pot if you are one of those incredible people who are smart enough to have one at home.

This is undoubtedly a craze, one which drives up the price of spaghetti squash. We’ll soon be trading it like bitcoin.

I love spaghetti in almost all forms. I love eating, too. I wouldn’t recommend you try this if it weren’t the effort. If you’ve read all this to this point, I also know that you are a glutton for both food and punishment.

Love, Chef X.

The Most Beautiful Bird…

81DJ3al1M3L._SY606_

 

Imagine the most exotic and beautiful bird your mind can conjure. You can picture its plumage, adorned with a prismatic array of colors, each a mystery to your curious eyes. As it moves, its feathers separate like a cloud of butterflies, producing a melodic and calming rustle. Its eyes shine with the brilliance of the promising universe which surrounds it.

That same bird now soars in the air and slowly descends upon on one of the outstretched limbs of a towering tree, it leaves a vivid green and the bulbous fruit hanging from the limbs make your mouth water with imagined anticipation and savor.

The bird stretches its elegant neck and takes one of the fruits and eats it, causing the scent of immense sweetness to burst into the air in a rainbow arc.

Now, imagine that fruit turning to what it inevitably must, passing through this beautiful bird and falling from its behind.

That’s what this peanut butter spread tastes like.

Because crap is crap.

.
.

P.S. I wish you could have witnessed the look on my wife’s face when the flavor of this malevolent food touched her taste buds. She sat at the table, hunched over and smiling. Her face registered the hope of delight and the doubt of trying something new as the spoon touched her tongue. As the horrific flavor of this food invaded her taste buds, I could envision a dark sky filled with the corpses of plummeting angels, all decimated in flight from the unadulterated evil contained in the jar within Dawn’s reach.
.
.

Celery Is The Cure For Happiness – An Autobiographical Anecdote

 

img721

 

The beet chip story from a few days ago forces my hand toward another story. It’s not one which ends with a grand moral observation, though, unless it’s a reminder for everyone to avoid being ‘food stupid,’ as I call it.

To assist you to better understand my youth, you can observe through the picture that while food scarcity was sometimes a problem for me, starvation was the least of my worries. It wasn’t until the end of my 9th grade year that I managed to break away from my intense infatuation with food. I probably should say ‘temporarily breakup’ given my adulthood. That’s my mom with her arms over my shoulders. She’d been drinking when my Aunt Ardith snapped this picture.

I wish I had been drinking heavily, especially if I had known I’d be writing about the herpes of the vegetable world: raw celery.

I mean no disrespect toward the current food waste programs. Teachers do difficult jobs and those involved in USDA-related food programs emphasize giving students control and also encourage eating what’s taken and taking only what one plans to eat. I went to elementary school 40 years ago, about the time that fire was discovered. What’s true now was definitely not true then.

Today, I listened to a story about food waste in schools. Most of the arguments were well reasoned and supported. They were so proud of the food waste reduction and that kids were now squirreling away leftover food instead of throwing it away at school. I knew immediately that at least one school kid was going to get his revenge on these well-intentioned people as they patted themselves on the back for reducing food waste. We not only don’t learn from history, but we also tend to amplify our egregiousness with even greater folly. I laughed as I imagined that imaginary and gleeful child puking all over the high heels of his well-intentioned teacher.

Thanks to my grandma, I was spoiled by food. Even though her type of cuisine leaned toward the basic, there was nothing as delicious in my mind as elbow macaroni soup, collard and mustard greens, green beans, corn in any form, tomatoes, okra, or potatoes. Unlike my parents, my grandparents were compassionate about food, even though they were children of the Great Depression. Both money and food were always held in high esteem. In my case, they didn’t care what I put on my plate as long as I ate it all. Wasting food was simply not something one could do. On the other hand, they didn’t threaten me for disliking food or force me to eat something for my own good. They weren’t “food stupid” as so many modern people are. They asked me to try everything before deciding whether I liked it or not. And I did, even things such as sardines and salt pork. I never rejected a food without trying it. My grandma knew that overall I was going to get much more than I needed, especially since I was known to eat more vegetables than any other 5 kids combined. I don’t know how harsh grandma was to other grandkids (because I was her favorite) but I do know that she would never have forced me to eat something I clearly indicated I didn’t like. In my defense, it would have never occurred to me to lie to her about it, either. I found out at a young age that I didn’t like beets, which puzzled my grandma.

At home, my parents were tyrants about food. I ate some of the worst, most ill-prepared foods known to man, many times under the guise of not being wasteful. This particular line of logic confused me, given that dollar for dollar, most of their money was spent on alcohol, cigarettes, or replacing broken furniture each time they decided to practice their ever-widening domestic violence reactions. Wherever we lived, most evenings threatened to turn into WWE nights, without referee or ropes. Never mind that because mom chain-smoked her entire life I had never eaten potatoes at home that didn’t look peppered already. Mom also put onions in everything. I mean that literally. I kept expecting to find several peeled onions in her bathwater. Because of dad, mom would often prepare the nastiest meats; large slabs of beef nonsense, barely cooked, smelling of old paper and blood. When she could, mom would buy large volumes of sliced ham, the kind that reminded of what a toilet smells like when seldom flushed. It’s one of the reasons to do this day that I dislike ham, and more so when it is sliced into slivers of hell like deli meat. Mom also made me eat potted meat and Vienna sausages, which as we learned from Karl in “Sling Blade”, is nothing more than brains and beef peckers.

I was content with noodles, soup, or vegetables. I was a simple kid and easily satisfied. Give me a soda, basic food, a book – and stop beating on me, and I could make a good day out it. As I’ve written about before, I also acquired an intense LIKE for over-cooked and burned food.

Even though it seems unlikely, it was because of my parents that I went years without eating much meat voluntarily. I wasn’t sure that meat could be prepared in an appetizing manner, so I’d eat salads, bread, and vegetables – or the tablecloth if it kept me from getting ill or having to force down food better suited to be thrown from a moving car at one’s enemies. Forays to other people’s houses showed me that the food at home versus out in the world were wildly different animals and that I was trapped in a culinary hell from which there would be no escape. It should be noted that no green leafy vegetables, much less lettuce, were kept at my house growing up. It was when I was older and had access to an unlimited amount of salad from a popular eatery in Tontitown and from a distant cousin we lived with that I found a love for lettuce.

Since I grew up in small-town Arkansas, I heard the phrase, “Boy, you don’t know what’s good” with such regularity that it lost all meaning. This phrase was considered to be the height of culinary comparative arguments. On one occasion, my Uncle Harold was chiding me for not wanting to eat any of whatever dead carcass flesh was being offered and proudly yelled, “Boy, you don’t what’s good!” Uncle Harold was one of the good guys, too. My grandma laughed and said, “Harold, why are you sitting there picking on the boy when you know darn well you wouldn’t eat a lot of things growing up?”

As for retaliation, for each gesture of love and kindness from my grandma, my dad would be capable of the most brutal reprisals for not wanting to eat whatever he wanted me to. I took beatings night and day. If I told him I didn’t want fried chicken or a slab of whatever animal carcass of the day he had, I would get hit by a fist, belt, spatula, or item he found nearby. He was like the Wile E. Coyote of food beatings. His creativity toward brutality was endless. To him, eating, especially meat eating was a characteristic of all real men. It incensed him that I had no desire whatsoever to eat what he dictated. Deer, frog legs, snake, gizzards, cow livers, boiled beef tongue, rabbit, and squirrel: all of these were required eating. I hated them all and don’t eat them willingly today. His cruelty expanded to other areas, too. Once, he forced me to try raw forest-gathered mushrooms at my Uncle Buck’s house. They tasted like a deer’s anus. When I started to throw up, he punched me. He then forced more of them into my mouth. Crying, I forced what I could down. He made me agree that I loved them. As soon as possible, I went outside and threw it all up on the next-door neighbor’s side of the house. This same scenario was re-enacted many times in my youth. (I often think I could have painted the house with vomit with sufficient time to do so.)

It is strange looking back, because despite having been in prison and falsely claiming he could eat anything, the truth is that my dad hated a lot of food, especially the healthy stuff. I’m not sure why food granted him such an expansive outlook on cruelty towards me. He never missed a chance, though, and I got it much, much worse than my siblings did. I often daydreamed of sautéing him a skillet full of wild mushrooms and steak – and then bashing him over the head with it.

In school, I learned that people would willingly barter with me, and happily, for my dessert or milk in exchange for whatever concoction of vegetables the school was inflicting on us that day. One of the most common was peas or one of the ten varieties of mixed vegetables that generally got boiled in huge cauldrons on the industrial stoves. Countless times, I would press my tray against that of a schoolmate and swap for something better. At home, I would eat green beans, corn, and tomatoes directly from the can – something I often do even now. While I looked like I traded for desserts, the opposite was usually true.

One day during elementary school, our teacher proudly explained that we would be graded on what we ate. “What fresh hell was this?” I asked myself. I figured there was some kind of error or that all the teachers had lost their minds. Unlike my fellow classmates, my world viewpoint didn’t preclude adults acting as if they had lost their minds at any given moment. At that school, we didn’t choose what we wanted. The school workers plopped, flung and threw whatever the next item was more or less into the segregated concavities of our food trays. There were things I simply couldn’t eat. Make no mistake, unlike most of my schoolmates; I overall REALLY enjoyed school lunches. They simply were miles above the consistency and content of what I could expect at home. Just like at home, I couldn’t always determine what the food was supposed to be. Unlike home, however, I could be reasonably certain it wasn’t poisonous, given the likelihood of dead children all over the concrete block cafeteria if things went terribly awry.

In those days, it was almost impossible to explain to your teachers that you were accustomed to being tortured by your dad if you said you didn’t like something. They didn’t know that if I wet the bed, I’d have stripes across my back and legs for a week if my dad had a hangover or was simply bored. I knew that with time, the school’s ill-advised plan to judge what I chose to eat or didn’t eat would cause a problem.

It was the same week that the food grading system started that I met my lifelong nemesis: Raw Celery. On a dozen previous occasions, I had attempted to eat this abomination without throwing up. I was scoreless against the impulse. It was puzzling, given my love of all things vegetable. If given a choice between licking the under-rim of a bus station bathroom toilet and eating celery, I would unflinchingly opt for the toilet, even if someone was sitting on it at the time. Lest you think I’m exaggerating, I will demonstrate this if ever given the choice between death and celery. If foreign terrorists ever capture me, all they’ll need to do is force me to eat celery in order to get a confession from me.

I don’t remember a lot about the lunch grading starting, honestly, other than dreading it. When I went up to put my tray on the conveyor, the teacher told me to eat my celery or get a reduced grade. As I was fearful of almost all teachers when controversy arose, I told her that I was fine with that. She got mad at me and reversed course. She insisted that I eat it – a reduced grade was no longer at stake. A paddle was in my future. I told her that I would get sick if I tried to eat the celery. She forced me to take a bite anyway and I spit it back out immediately. She let me go, through a clenched jaw. I knew the battle lines were drawn and that just like at home I had no artillery with which to fight back.

A few days later, celery once again made its disgusting appearance on the menu. They must have purchased a truckload of it from the local Satanic Distributor. I traded my celery and dessert for another boy’s mixed vegetables. He ate the celery with glee, as I did his vegetables. Soon enough, the Gestapo teacher doing lunch duty came over and told us we were forbidden to trade food. Therefore, I got another reduced grade, even though I had eaten more vegetables by trading for a serving of mixed vegetables compared to a slice of celery stalk.

How much later it was, I’m not sure, but the day came when celery was once again served. Except another horrific layer was added: they put peanut butter on the stalk. While I was okay with peanut butter, the only thing worse than a celery stalk with peanut butter on it would be if a large diseased bird pooped on it first. The teacher didn’t even wait for my reaction this time. She insisted I eat it, that everyone liked peanut butter and celery. Having forgotten the exact words, I’m sure she ranted off a list of reasons why I was being a little jerk for not wanting to eat the celery. Since I wasn’t getting out alive, she also insisted that I drink my carton of milk, something that I often didn’t touch. However, I held my nose and drank the milk quickly.

“Now eat the celery. You and I both know you are pretending you don’t like it.” The teacher glared at me. Having been shamed and beaten by experts way beyond her level of cruelty, I didn’t really care about getting a paddling. A paddling from someone at school was comparable to a pat on the back from Attila the Hun at home. The teacher, seeing my reluctance, came around next to me, picked up the celery stalk, and put it in my hand, then dragging my hand holding the celery toward my face. I unwillingly took a bite, immediately feeling the urge to vomit. “Keep going. You’ll see it won’t kill you.” The teacher stepped away at the end of the table. I took another bite – and that’s when the universe shifted.

The mix of peanut butter and raw celery triggered something in my mind. It might have been the last time my dad held my face into my plate and forced me to get a mouthful of whatever man-making garbage he wanted me to eat. Whatever it was, it was powerful. From my nose and mouth came a simultaneous torrent of milk and lunch remnants. It went across the table and onto the floor, splashing across to the table on the next aisle of seating. I flooded my plate with it, knocking over my milk carton. I heaved and expelled everything I had eaten for the last 10 meals, or so it seemed. Moreover, I then put my head down into the mess, feeling a massive wave of nausea and dizziness. Keeping my head up wasn’t an option.

This story would be much better if I remembered what sort of shocked reaction the teacher had on her face after seeing me projectile vomit. However, I don’t know. I was too sick.

Another teacher came and helped me to the restroom to clean up. I enjoyed several exceptional teachers. Like so many others growing up, I also had a few who somehow seemed to know that I was an easy victim. My secret shame from my tortured home life must have registered in some instinctive corner of their brains.

We didn’t do lunch grading for very long. I don’t remember why that it ended but I do know that my fantasy is that the teacher who was so intent on being totalitarian in regard to what I ate or didn’t eat was so sickened by my volcanic eruption of vomit that she insisted that the program be abandoned. While I don’t remember exactly which teacher was the mean one, I could figure it out, if I really wanted to. I won’t though because I might be tempted to go to her house with an array or reprehensible food and force her to eat them all, one by one until vomit ejects from her ear canals. I’ll start with beet chips and celery filled with tripe and livers.

She did me one favor, though: unlike so many other foods I grew to like or at least tolerate, raw celery to me is no better than raw sewage – and I’d drink a cup of the latter before I’d ever eat a stalk of celery.

 

If I every develop super-villain powers just spray me down with raw celery.