Category Archives: Cooking

An X Repurposed

I repurposed another canvas.

It’s hard to believe that a version of this was once my entire legal name – and my signature.

Because I drove a jalopy, I once had it spray-painted on a really old, ugly Datsun.

I remember when I went to the DMV with a letter from the director of the agency for the entire State of Arkansas. “You can’t just have one name, especially one letter on a driver’s license.” I showed her the letter. “In that case, you can’t sign your name with a pictograph like that, either.” I showed her another letter. She not only learned that people are weirder than she thought, but that she didn’t know everything.

“X” equals the unknown, after all.

You’d think people would expect someone with such a ridiculous name to be both prankster and informed.
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P.S. I cooked six chicken breasts in foil today at the apartment, half expecting the place to catch fire when I did so. In that case, I’d be serving blackened chicken for supper, I suppose.
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Jalapeños and Facts

This post is part recipe, part observation, and the result of intense thought, none of which was used in the making of said post.

I opened the oven, temporarily forgetting that the wall of hot, moist poisonous gas was about to hit me.

For a second, I felt myself start to faint. I wondered what it would sound like if I fell headfirst into a hot oven.

{Did you know that a lot of adults don’t know that chipotles are just smoke-dried jalapeño peppers?}

You’d think I was making a batch of meth, which is ridiculous. It’s cheaper to buy. Also, if you don’t know whether I’m being serious or not, assume I’m not. The police are tired of hearing my name and definitely tired of my picture.

It’s been YEARS since I made oven-roasted/dried jalapeño slices. Part of the reason is that I’m not a big fan of ‘hot.’ Given the amount of Sriracha and various crazy hot things I’ve eaten in the last couple of years, I might be mistaken. I don’t seek out heat. I’m too old to be playing Russian Roulette and too smart to ingest that kind of heat on purpose. Or so I thought.

{What did the jalapeño dress up as for Halloween? A Ghost Pepper.}

Using fresh jalapeño slices sounds better, but most of the time, the kind already in a jar turns out better. Feel free to cut up fresh peppers and remove the seeds. Don’t get wrong – they are delicious that way—just a bit more work. At Walmart right now, I can buy a 64 oz. jar of Mt. Olive sliced jalapeños for less than $4. That’s crazy.

I drain the juice off of the slices and put them on a piece of aluminum foil. While I can jazz it up, I rarely do. I put the foil sheet on the bottom rack and set the oven anywhere from 325 to 500. And then I wait. Depending on the temperature, it might take 15-25 minutes to dry the slices out or watch them darken.

That brings me to a warning: don’t open the oven without preparing yourself for a wall of fumes that will make you see Jesus on a skateboard. If you’ve ever got a whiff of chlorine gas or accidentally attended a political rally, it gets you close to the feeling that scorched jalapeño slices bring.

If you watch the slices as they dry and darken, you’ll figure out exactly what temperature and time work best for you. I was shocked to find out how much I loved the slices when they turn dark. It’s no surprise, though, given that I love burned food.

Why I stopped making these is a mystery. They ignite my taste buds and are very healthy. If harsh breath is a concern for you, you’ll have to take precautions. Even dogs curl away from roasted jalapeño smells, so I can imagine that your significant other won’t want to kiss you for a while, either.

Notes: {1} Zebras are black with white stripes. If you doubt me, go shave your zebra. If you don’t own a zebra, you’ve obviously made bad choices. {2.} I will never forget the first time I handled hot peppers without considering what and where I might be touching. That’s wisdom right there. {3} Most people don’t stop to think that New Year’s Day comes before New Year’s Eve each year. {4} A day on the planet Venus is longer than its year. {5} Bite your tongue and then imagine words with an “S” in them. You’ll find that the voice in your head has a lisp, too. {6} It’s almost impossible to hum while holding your nose closed. {7} Many baseball fans know that some pitchers have used jalapeños on their nostrils to produce the ‘slippery’ needed for curveballs. I thought you should know. {8} Most people breathe primarily from one nostril; more interestingly, most people don’t know that your nose has a 4-hour(ish) cycle. It’s complicated, and almost no one realizes it, much in the same way that we forget that we see our nose all the time – but that our brain processes it ‘out’ of our vision. {9} I googled “make meth in an oven” without thinking about the consequences. Tell the police I was joking. On the plus side, I think I could now make meth in a 2-liter soda bottle – which evidently is a ‘thing.’ {10} The perpetual contrast effect is a cognitive bias that distorts our perception of something when we compare it to something else by enhancing the differences between them. The easiest example for this is to mention that cold coffee and warm soda are at the same temperature. It is so obvious that you might have to read it twice. {11} The dot over a lower-case i and j is called a tittle. {12} Although it is no secret that the unicorn is Scotland’s national animal, people don’t believe me when I tell them. (13) Pringles are NOT potato chips. They are made from dehydrated potato flakes. Look on the can. They aren’t called chips, either. {14} Lemons have a staggering number of uses and health benefits. I won’t list them all because I like the element of surprise on this one! {15} The majority of laughter doesn’t happen as a result of jokes; instead, it follows social cues and bonding. {16} Newborns and kids have TWICE the number of tastebuds as adults.

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

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“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

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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.
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¿Capers: Nature’s Prank of Deliciousness?

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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

 

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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

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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.