I love Subway. More accurately, I have a love/hate relationship with the eatery. For every great experience or store (such as is usually the case in Eureka Springs), I have a terrible one. Despite it seeming like an exaggeration, I’ve eaten at Subway somewhere around 500 times in my life.
It’s no secret that prices have been inching up in the last few years, mainly after they got rid of $5 footlong promotion. The company has closed a huge number of stores since 2015. Many factors are contributing to its demise, ones not tied to cost. The margins are low, so franchises tend to short-change their employees, both in wages and training. Most keep labor painfully short. We’ve noticed.
Visit any local Subway location and you’ll note a revolving door of faces.
Recently, I noted that some Subways had added a “Tip” selection to their payment kiosks. I have mixed feelings about this.
If Subway were new and tips were on the payment options, I might not stop to consider it carefully. Because I’ve eaten at Subways since they first opened in NWA, it is problematic for it to be an option suddenly. Especially so since I’m standing face-to-face with the employee as I opt-in or out. The sandwich artists are not providing any new value; in fact, I’d say in general that I have to be more careful and repetitive than ever to get my favorite sandwich done the way I like.
That’s not the employee’s fault – that responsibility falls directly on management and the owners.
Whether places like Subway should tip or not is a separate conversation. I’ll agree that’s it not a simple issue.
Most of the time, I get a vegetable sandwich with lettuce, double tomatoes, and Subway spice. That’s it. It is easy to make and cost-effective for the eatery, too.
Generalizing a bit, I’d say that the labor margins have also resulted in less clean stores, longer waits, and dirtier bathrooms. (And a sometimes a comical shortage of napkins.)
Given the uptick in prices, most people realize that they can easily eat a full dine-in meal at another restaurant for about the same price as Subway charges for a combo sandwich meal. In places with many restaurant choices, Subway can’t compete on location, selection, or cost. That didn’t use to be the case.
As an otherwise good tipper, I can see that adding a tip option to the payment isn’t going to go over well for the average Subway customer. I’ve asked several people about it. Most feel a twinge because while they wish to tip when it’s appropriate, they also feel trapped by management’s choice to underwrite the same wages with an upcharge disguised as a tip.
There’s nothing quite like the realization that you might not have any pants to wear. No one wanted to see me prancing around sans pants twenty years ago; the situation hasn’t improved any, especially as pizza became my closest friend. The only time being pantsless is a benefit is when door-to-door salesmen make the mistake of ignoring my “No Soliciting” sign. The neighbors haven’t complained about screaming people fleeing my house. Since I don’t answer the door, I wouldn’t know if they did. It’s a win-win.
As a minimalist, I have the least amount of clothing of any other adult that I know. I tend to keep only a bit more than I need. After my last long-term successful weight loss, I dropped my guard and discarded the pants that looked like MC Hammer had designed my wardrobe. I’m generally relentless about getting rid of clothes I can’t or won’t wear.
Like all idiots, once I lose weight, I assume that I will somehow defy years of forgetting my promise not to get too large again.
I name this tendency/disease Pizzaheimer’s.
Over the last few months, I’ve adopted a more care-free diet, one characterized by total surrender to the joys of excessive stuffing. I tend to wear work pants instead of blue jeans. No matter how bad you think I might look in blue jeans, it’s worse. Imagine Danny DeVito wearing jeans and roller skating.
Because I have to wear slacks at work and my job being very physical, I wear both the relaxed fit and stretchy version of my preferred pants. (Note: I’m not too fond of using the word ‘slacks’ in reference to pants.) These give me the ability to kneel or bend without accidentally hitting a high note – and from splitting my the seat of my pants in an impromptu show of agility and exposed anatomy. The undesirable consequence of this is that I can put on 20 lbs without needing to get a size bigger pants. George brand pants do indeed stretch without complaint. So do I.
Because I may have to dress above my normal sloth-like appearance in a few days, it occurred to me that I might need to try on my normal dress wear pants. As you might expect, none of them fit. Either a magical seamstress has reduced them in my closet, or my battle with fat has been an unnoticed defeat. I’m going with the latter.
As a result, after work today, I had to buy more clothes, ones that don’t expose me to the risk of public nudity if I bend over. The numbers are getting a little large, too. As a general rule, if walking the distance displayed on your pants would wear you out, it’s probably not a good waist size, either.
It’s not my fault, though. I suffer from Pizzaheimer’s.
As I was about to finish work, I thought I’d go to Subway to eat lunch. I couldn’t get the image of a double-tomato sub out of my mind. My wife was off in another part of the state so I could choose to eat anywhere. Just to stay in practice, I pretended to have the “I don’t care where we go to eat” argument with myself.
I left work and automatically drove toward Springdale instead of choosing one of the 946 places in Fayetteville. The traffic in Springdale got the better of me. One driver, in particular, seemed to be using a random speed generator to determine her speed. I was fantasizing about participating in an impromptu demolition derby and missed my turn for Subway. Naturally, I ended up at one of the breakfast diners which are coming back in popularity, a place I never choose.
Since I’ve put back on some weight, it didn’t trigger any warning bells as it should have. Let’s be honest, as comforting as the food at these places might be, there should be a heart on the sign by the highway. With an arrow through it.
I parked and as I entered, I waved at a large elderly man sitting on the bench near the main entrance. He was still there, immobile, when I left.
I sat at the counter until my ‘salesperson’ asked what I might like. (They aren’t waitstaff at this diner.) As I started to answer, she mentioned their special peach waffles. I never eat waffles, so of course, I ordered it. As for the rest, I told her to surprise me. She surprised me by bringing a plate-sized but thin waffle covered in peach syrup, eggs, hashbrowns, four pieces of toast, and two pieces of sausage. In the background, I could clearly hear the high-pitched mechanical scream of a bathroom scale. To balance it out, I chose the preferred drink of people who are fooling themselves: Diet Coke.
It was strange to eat at the counter of the diner in part because the entire end of the diner was filled with Latinos animatedly talking. Being a long-time citizen of Springdale, such a detail is not something that passes without me noticing. I tried not to eavesdrop – but I will say that they didn’t consider that I could understand what they were saying. I could write an entire season of “Desperate Housewives” from their conversations. Also, if your name is Pedro and you live near the Supercenter, you should leave town for a few days. (One of those women I overheard is probably going to eviscerate you Friday night after you get off work.)
When the salesperson asked me about the peach waffles, I logically concluded that the peach waffles would be adorned with sliced peaches. Instead, my waffle was slathered with an engine oil-like syrup that somehow simultaneously was sweeter than an entire bag of pure cane sugar and made me think of an insulin syringe inserted directly into my eyeball. I tried to calculate the total caloric value of the lunch I’d been served but the online tracker kept crashing due to insufficient digits available.
Despite knowing better, I ate most of my lunch. A feeling I can only describe as a malaise came over me, one characterized by an inability to think clearly. I recognized it immediately because for the shortest of moments I had the urge to watch Fox News. I tipped the salesperson/waitress exorbitantly in hopes that she might use a bit of the money to eat somewhere else when she finished working.
I waved ‘bye’ to the old man seated on the bench. Much to my surprise, a cardiologist didn’t jump from the bushes and tackle me.
Life is a series of choices. I learned again that I should ignore my instincts – and any buildings with an excessive quantity of yellow paint on the outside.
“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?
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.
One of the worst restaurant experiences I’ve ever had happened this week. It wasn’t because my stepson was with us, either, because he coined one of my new favorite phrases/restaurant names: “Gringo Needs a Taco,” in comedic response to our increasingly despondent faces as we realized that we were in the middle of a culinary catastrophe.
We have some amazing restaurants in Northwest Arkansas, especially Tex-Mex ones.
Our closest go-to Tex-Mex place, Acapulco, is still closed due to a kitchen fire in January. They claim they’ll re-open in July, although I don’t believe it. Most of the great staff they had have found positions at other restaurants. One of our favorite people surprised us at Las Palmas in Springdale. The other similar eatery on this side of town has never managed much success. (Which basically applies to any restaurant on the east side of Springdale.) I’m convinced that Americans mistakenly believe that the other Tex-Mex place is taqueria-style. It doesn’t help that it’s in a shopping center that seems like the shooting stage for season one of the Walking Dead. By the way, Playa Azul has a buffet some days. It’s great, especially since it’s impossible to find a Tex-Mex buffet anywhere.
The shining grace was an effort by one of our favorite waitresses – one not assigned to our table or area of the restaurant. We tried to reward her with a tip before we left. She noticed that my 4-lb. order of pico de gallo had been left negligently on the serving shelf. Evidently, I’m the only one who orders massive quantities of this delicious menu item. She came back later to hesitantly ask, “Has someone taken your order?” I think her first clue was that we had read the entire first book of the Harry Potter series since we entered. Our assigned waitress seemed like someone had swapped her favorite beverage with a chilled cup of straight white vinegar.
She might have been Amish, as her shunning ability was expert level.
It seems like we were unwitting participants in a customer dissatisfaction experiment. We felt terrible about the experience. The manager was simply speechless at how badly things had gone and struggled to explain it. He was relieved when I told him, “No harm, no foul,” even as I complimented the waitress who wasn’t assigned to our table. We left and were rewarded with a torrential downpour. Our spirits were so hammered that we all drove to Burger King. As you probably know, its new motto is, “Where Dreams Go To Die.”
Saturday, Dawn and I went to another Tex-Mex restaurant. We walked out after 15 minutes. On the way over, we discussed the consequences of not following our instincts. The person seating walk-ins could not have been more reluctant, with the exception of the admiration and attention she was giving her personal cellphone. The matriarch of the family by the door was throwing eye darts as she uneasily shifted back and forth, waiting, while attempting to corral two young boys. We had the misfortune of being seated in the far back corner. The matriarch and her family received great attention. I could tell that woman simply wouldn’t tolerate shenanigans or inattention. It’s difficult for me to be pushy, though. The manager was so engrossed in something unrelated to work that I couldn’t even let him know that we were leaving.
I’ve been known to get up, go outside, and then go back inside sometimes as if I hadn’t just walked out. Usually, this either makes people confused or laugh. We left. I’m glad we did because our final choice was a delight.
We ended up at another restaurant and were delighted. The food and service were impeccable. We joked with all the staff. I drew pictures on my index cards as we chatted with everyone, even as watched a table of gringos make their faces numb with way too much alcohol. (The one bad moment was when one of the gringos was a little violent with a precious curly-headed little girl. He doesn’t know how close he came to being force-fed a plate.) It was strange to have such a great eating experience after two terrible ones.
As I always do, I ensured that karma was paid forward by tipping the waitress 100%. She was delighted. So was I. Belly full, and smiles for all.
One consequence of a bad dining experience is that I always find a way to pay it forward to the next great person we encounter.
P.S. I didn’t even order pico de gallo at this restaurant, as I didn’t want to tempt fate.
Gringo needed a taco.
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.
As we were driving out of town, we skipped several eateries along the way, ones which we knew would be great. Absent being sidetracked, we were holding out for a repeat experience in the town of our destination. We had eaten at the tex-mex in question once before and although it had some issues, we were very interested in giving it another try. We had hunger and enthusiastic anticipation to ensure our experience would be great.
And the universe noted our idiotic expectations and drove them headfirst into the rocks.
We stood at the door as various employees jockeyed toward the front register and seating chart. I said, “Yes, two please” at least 4 times. Finally, one of the people decided to seat us. This undoubtedly was part of their strategy to make us work up an appetite or perhaps wisely flee the building. After a long wait, a waiter appeared. He seemed very uncertain. He came back twice to ask about the drinks and appetizers. The salsa was tasteless, even though it felt like it might contain a numbing agent. While Dawn went to wash her hands, I attempted to salvage the salsa by using a chip to pluck onion and cilantro from my pico de gallo bowls and mix it with the lifeless concoction. Upon tasting it, she said, “This tastes like tomato sauce from a can.” I laughed. I poured all the juice from pico bowl and managed to get some flavor in the salsa.
I’ll forego most of the usual jokes about bathrooms and Tex/Mex eateries. I’ll say this, though. When I used the restroom and opted for toilet paper to blow my nose instead of the hand-activated sandpaper dispenser at the sink, I laughed when I discovered that all of the toilet paper holders were empty. The odds of all the holders being emptied were so slim that I defaulted to another of my theories: if the bathroom smells like a lakeside bathroom or there’s no toilet paper, it’s generally a bad idea to frequent the eatery unless one of your hobbies includes studying infectious diseases. I usually trust my instincts about these things. I knew we had made a critical error in our eating selection. The men’s bathroom had all the allure of a WWII latrine trench.
A few minutes later, I noted a man hurriedly scampering toward the restroom. Although I didn’t actually hear his reaction, I imagined that a shrill cry of “No!” followed by a tirade of profanity wafting through the air. Pardon my specificity, but I hope he discovered the absence of the necessary bathroom accessory prior to engaging.
Our waiter was inexperienced. I left my readers in the side door of the car, so I was attempting to find a safe selection on the menu. Dawn helped me read the menu as if I were already 80 years old. As I mentioned the number I wanted, the waiter began asking me a series of perplexing questions, some of which convinced me he might have killed the actual waiter and took his order book as a cover story. To add insult to injury he then asked me to read verbatim the combination I had asked for by number. Also, these don’t allow substitutions, so I was confused. After being polite, I told him to bring me whatever the cook thought belonged on #3 and that such a course of action would be fine with me. (He had visibly flinched when I asked about ‘tacos de alambre’ and similar items.) When my alarm bells begin to sound, I always opt for plates containing no meat. It’s a lesson Dawn is slowly learning, too.
My wife foolishly ordered a selection with grilled chicken fajita meat on it. When the plate arrived, she was surprised to discover that they had used what I now call “squirrel chitlins” instead of chicken fajita slices. I’ve come to learn that restaurants that use the chicken pieces which resemble small sections of curly french fries can’t be trusted. Using that type of chicken under the guise of grilled fajita chicken is a dead giveaway that cost has surpassed quality as the main guideline for inventory. In NWA, I stopped getting my favorite dish and then abandoned my favorite restaurant precisely because of this. Dawn initially ate with the enthusiasm that hunger demands but her enthusiasm quickly faded as the texture, flavor and strange aftertaste of her meal overwhelmed her hunger. The sour cream that had been added to her plate was runny and tasted like it had been left out for an hour. I won’t critique the guacamole in fear that the Avocado Mafia will kill me for my honesty.
Dawn found almost nothing savory to eat from her selection. She picked at her plate like a spoiled turkey buzzard might after discovering a whole pizza on the road. The waiter never returned to ask us about chip refills, salsa, or drinks. It might be a good thing, though. Dawn might have had commentary. She knows better than to return food except in emergencies or to ask for something else. He was around us, though. I watched as he moved around. I could tell that he was very concerned about his coworkers needing him to help them or to bus tables, even though there were 3 buspeople on duty. Dawn was showing a little frustration, something that’s unusual for her. I already knew the waiter wasn’t coming back absent a lassoo in my hands. I tried to get Dawn to accompany me to the front register to expedite the process. It took the waiter 4 or 5 times to actually have our ticket. For me, it was hilarious. Dawn wasn’t amused, especially at the part regarding me finding hilarity in the failed dining encounter. She just wanted out of there instead of being forced to look at the inedible carcass of her food selection on the plate in front of her. Even as Dawn attempted to pay at the register, she didn’t know how to answer the cashier who asked, “How was it?” I dared not turn around, lest I pantomimed sticking my index finger down my throat. Adding another insult to injury, the payment system didn’t allow her to customize her tip. Only 3 high-tip options were available. Instead of asking, she chose the lowest with a grimace. Dawn, like me, is normally a great tipper. We both found it appropriately hilarious that the one time we might have tipped badly, the restaurant’s payment system didn’t allow her to do so. We added this observation of our list of signs that a place might not deserve to survive.
As we left, I snapped a selfie of us, as I was riffing jokes about “What could go wrong?” Evidently, the universe had kept the tex-mex eatery in business to provide an answer for us. So, even though we had just survived the culinary equivalent of an equestrian kick in the crotch, we laughed as we walked away. The numbness faded from our tongues within an hour, even though our stomachs saluted us well into the night.
The good news is that Dawn now completely agrees with my rule regarding fajita chicken strips coming to the table disguised as squirrel chitlins.
I’m not calling out the restaurant by name. I want you to accidentally discover it one day. You’ll know if you have. Something primordial will trigger in your lizard brain. Your first instinct will be to call 9-1-1, if you’re still conscious. P.S. Fight or flight. I suggest you run if you remotely suspect you’ve entered the place in question.
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.