Category Archives: Food

Tuna Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

Note: no one in their right mind should take nutrition advice from me. However, I do know what really works well for some people. Sometimes.

If you’re going to eat tuna, I recommend that you ditch the mayo entirely. Lite sour cream, if such a thing is needed, works admirably in place of mayo. Two tablespoons of lite sour cream equal 40 calories, whereas light mayo is about twice that. Regular mayo is 100 calories per tablespoon. If you are craving the lovely sheen of fat when you eat, this won’t help you. You might as well take a bite of Crisco and get it over with. Growing up, several of my family members did just that.

Ditching the creamy additives saves you time, calories, money, and fridge space. It also lessens the amount of dairy you consume.

While I don’t count calories, I’m unavoidably aware of the benchmarks for many foods. When you’re trying to eat healthy, unless you are treating yourself, it is weird for me to justify eating something that is so much higher in calories. For that reason, I stopped using anything creamy in my tuna. Unlike most people, I much prefer to eat my tuna as dry as I can get it. If I add anything, it might be the miracle of lemon juice.

As for tuna, one of the best fillers you can use is dill relish. It’s one of the few things that is inexpensive yet adds bulk and texture. Dill relish is zero calories, too. Combined with shredded lettuce and the spice(s) of your choice, tuna can be made to be filling and savory. It’s hard to beat lemon pepper on tuna – although I enjoy at least a dozen different seasonings and spices on mine in varying degrees.

For the record, green olives are, in fact, delicious in tuna. They are only about eight calories each. My problem is that I need at least forty to be satisfied, especially compared to dill relish or something similar. A lot of people think the idea of green olives with tuna isn’t appealing. Most of those people have never tried it.

Another sore spot for me is the delicious taste of a well-made olive tapenade! If you want to fight, I’ll argue that green olives are indescribably delicious as a pizza topping – and more so than the dreaded counterpart of black olives.

If you are in tune with your body at all, it is easy to hold yourself to 1,000 calories a day if you need to. I know that isn’t sustainable, so don’t preach at me.

But if you eat two cans of tuna, add half a jar of dill pickle relish, a mound of shredded lettuce (mixed with lemon pepper), and two flavored bags of Pop Chips instead of crackers or bread, you’ve only eaten around 400-500 calories. It’s hard to complain about being hungry by that quantity of food.

P.S. If you are a Sriracha fan, you’re going to think I’m crazy. But. Sugar-free whipped cream drizzled with Sriracha is a surprising treat for the taste buds, much in the way jellied jalapeños are on vanilla ice cream. I’m not a huge fan of overly hot foods. But Sriracha came out of the left field for me a couple of years ago and took a place in my heart for flavor.

Pop Chips

I don’t remember when I tried Pop Chips for the first time. I don’t remember the 2500th, either. But I could fill all the pickups at a NASCAR race with the chips I’ve eaten since.

They are only 100 calories a bag. Under the “Anything that opens is just one serving” rule, these keep me from the insanity of opening a large bag of baked chips and discovering a large blob of regret at the bottom.

More importantly, though – the texture is perfection. Yes, the flavor is perfectly proportioned. It’s the texture that makes these chips sublime. When I eat them, though they aren’t heavy, they make me feel like I’ve eaten something substantial, much in the same way you’d lose your appetite if someone put a small frog in your mouth while you’re chewing. Except in a good way.

I eat mine with tuna, soup, lettuce, and would probably brush my teeth with them if I could figure out how to do it.

Sams Club sells a case of 30 for $12. I usually just run in, throw money at the manager, and scamper out with several cases. I’ve considered hijacking a semi-trailer full of them. So far, they keep varying the routes, so it’s hard to pick a suitable robbery location. Having a mask on all the time only exacerbates the whim to do this.

P.S. If you overeat this item, it does have the curious side effect of making you want to dress like a handmaiden. Adjust your expectations accordingly.

Olé Xtreme Wellness tortillas

Obviously, reasonable people get their culinary advice from me. I didn’t go wrong with the plant-based alien-skin bacon, did I?

These tortillas are available in tomato, spinach, regular, and dirty cardboard flavor. The last one isn’t true. Not that I care. With the right spices, a lot of things suddenly acquire a new flavor and texture. Dogs bark for a reason.

Although not related, I think any product high in fiber shouldn’t attempt to use the word “regular” in its description. You’ll be regular.

Each tortilla is only 50 calories and each contains 38% of the recommended daily fiber you need. Most of us don’t even eat half the fiber we’re supposed to. If you’re not sure whether you are getting enough, eat two of these and sit patiently on the couch. You’ll have your answer sooner or later. Otherwise, have a big bowl of brown beans and sauerkraut. While it may not work for you, eating a lot of fiber has helped me in ways I wasn’t expecting – not the least of which is people now approach me with considerably more caution.

Unlike many of the other healthy alternative tortillas, the texture for these is normal. Normal by normal standards – not normal by mine, which present another range of potential issues.

I’ve been taking fiber supplements for several months. I’ve also eaten at least 100 packs of these tortillas this year. They allow me to eat less, more quickly, and feel full.

Just don’t start eating them until you discover if you normally eat enough fiber.

Or, ignore me and find out creatively. Go ahead and apologize to your family first, though.

Since I’m shouting out an opinion, I love these. They taste great and have a normal texture.

A Quiet Thanks

(Because that’s all you can really do, until whatever you’re working toward succeeds or you run out of road.)

In another life when I worked at Cargill, I lost my first weight-loss bet to Chris. It was a bit of a kick in the nether regions to give him a check for $100. He earned it though. His weight loss was substantial. As a previous football player, he figured out a way to overcome his athletic metabolism and avoid eating all the things, so to speak. I underestimated him.

One benefit to come out of my loss was to realize that the first stage of any life change is easy: motivation burns bright. The impossible trick is to keep walking one foot in front of the other until it’s a habit. “Choose your hard” my sage cousin reminded me, because living with bad choices is very hard indeed, a lesson I’m plucking from the tree of the obvious many days in regards to my life.

It’s only fitting (no pun intended) that his wife Tammy of 23 years is partially responsible for the recent gong to my head about my weight. For reasons of her own, she dropped a stunning amount of weight. The ‘how’ isn’t relevant; her choice became her reality and that’s the lesson anyone with a heart should embrace. Anyone seeing the pictures initially has difficulty believing that the ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures are of the same person. The difference in her smile is beyond redemptive.

I’ve struggled forever with the yo-yo of weight; each successive inability to manage new habits that persist long-term takes a bigger bite of my ability to try it again. I wrote Tammy to simply tell her it was amazing what she’d done. She looks amazing and I expect that the life satisfaction she attained is paying rewards in every area of her life.

I realized that it is ridiculous that Tammy can do something that’s impossible for me. Tammy would probably think I’m crazy. Rocky had a picture of Clubber Lane on his mirror to remind him of his unexpected defeat. He didn’t wallow in it, though. Likewise, maybe Tammy would be amused to know that she is my touchstone in this. It’s nice to picture Chris behind her, too, laughing, and wondering if I can figuratively earn back that $100 he won from me all those years ago.

At our age, I think most of us realize that everyone wins when even a single person figures out a way to be who they are supposed to.

This world is connected in ways that amuse and delight.

Whatever motivation plagued Tammy, I’m claiming a piece of it in her name. Thanks, Tammy.

P.S. Another line from a Rocky movie comes to mind in regards to this current version of my struggle: “Ain’t gonna be no rematch!”

Pay It Forward

I stopped at the Subway by the airport after work. While arbitrarily attempting to comply with the contradictory multitude of signs regarding covid-safety, I moved along behind a man and a woman as they traded a succession of misheard questions and comments from the sandwich artist. I suspect that the sandwich artist was a mumbler before the epidemic put a mask on his face. Mumbling is one of my gifts, too, passed through my dad’s DNA.

As I neared the end of my sandwich trek, a commotion at the register commenced.

“Ma’am, we don’t have anywhere near one hundred dollars in the store.” The clerk spoke to the woman in front of me. He waved a $100 bill back toward her. “Can you let me leave my information and an IOU? I’ll be back to pay.” The clerk traded a can-you-believe-this look with the other worker standing next to him. The wife exchanged a look with her husband, one that said, “I might lose my literal mind here.”

I tapped the husband on the shoulder. As he turned, I said, “Let me buy y’all lunch. You can pay it forward. We don’t need to exchange information. Just enjoy your day!” He smiled but also nervously looked at his wife. “Oh, thanks!” the wife said. I let her rattle off a few pleasantries, the ones we’re obligated to offer when someone catches us off guard.

When I left the store, the husband and wife were pulling around the corner. The husband waved exaggeratedly at me. He seemed genuinely enthusiastic about it. When I looked at my receipt, I realized that only one of them ordered a meal. It occurred to me that I might have saved that husband’s life – or the life of the people in the Subway had no one stepped up to show either logic or compassion.

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.

An Amusing Anecdote

While perusing the local offerings, I found my way to TripAdvisor. Because I often check random details to see how a page is presented, I clicked on the website link on TripAdvisor for San Miguel Grill and Bar in Fayetteville.

Because I’m often dumb, I clicked and closed the webpage 4 or 5 times, as I absent-mindedly thought I had clicked on the wrong link.

I laughed. Either someone paid for a lapsed domain – or someone had hacked the website.

I waited a couple of days to see if anyone noticed. They didn’t. The link connected to a hacked or redirected webpage.

I wrote TripAdvisor and used the poorly-executed ‘report a problem’ interface to let them know a legitimate link went to a porn site.

The link is now gone, so I assume my interaction got attention.

I encounter this sort of thing often enough to wonder how often businesses monitor their social media and websites.

While a business can’t police the internet, TripAdvisor is one of the most critical for restaurants to monitor. Whether it is intentionally designed to allow shenanigans, the truth is that you can’t trust the internet – or the people who use it.

If I owned a restaurant, I would quickly become weary of the review systems and would have to resist pranks.

Fazoli’s And The Case Of The Missing Dressing

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Many people don’t know that the apostrophe in the Fazloli’s brand name is actually meant to represent a tiny bit of flatulence and regret. I’ll probably get an angry letter from corporate when they read this. Their CEO is busy though, studying for his GED. By the way, I’m one of those weirdos who l-i-k-e-d Fazoli’s. I’m glad that the federal government opted to not require us to wear a special hat as a warning to others.

A friend recently hilariously recapped her working experience at Fazoli’s when she was young, shorter than a table lamp, and evidently 47% invisible. Working anywhere tends to force you to realize that some things are better off unknown. In my case, working at a dairy and seeing clumpy black milk being put into the holding tank ruined me for milk, not that that I was huge fan prior to that. I couldn’t look at milk, knowing that it contained filtered cow manure, urine, and things best left unmentioned.

At its high point, Fazoli’s made it to 400 locations. Northwest Arkansas had several. While I don’t trust my memory, it seems like our franchises went under due to personal financial issues with the owner. If I’m wrong, I apologize. It was a sad day for gourmands like me when they shuttered their butter-infused doors for the last time. During one visit to the location in Fayetteville, I overheard someone tell the manager that “Fazoli’s is the People of Walmart  of fast food.” I laughed then and it still amuses me.

I’ll be the first to admit that Fazoli’s was the bologna sandwich of Italian food. Given that my primary requirement for pasta is “quantity over quality,” I loved Fazoli’s. Just to be clear, I didn’t care if the pasta was made from reconstituted paper products: I loved it. After discovering they had an off-menu “all you care to eat” option, I combined this fact with my unnatural and demonic love of their Italian dressing packets.

I almost always ordered plain pasta as well as packets of the Italian dressing. This caused a lot of confusion. No matter how many times I’d tell the cashier, “I want 2 (or 15, let’s be honest) packets, and please charge me for each,” most of them would confusedly stutter and stammer. Most had to turn to a manager who would stop running and sweating long enough to explain to them that there was a single packet charge. More amusingly, watching them math out the complexities of 25 cents X a number often took several tries. As you can guess based on my previous stories, I would sometimes tell them, “I want 20 packets of dressing.” They would turn to no one in particular and holler, “CAN I sell 20 packets?” It was an infinite series of amusements. It was a sight to behold, watching as multiple people asked me to repeat myself: “Do you really want 25? We’re going to have to charge you? How much is that? OMG, that’s too many!”

Later, they increased the price per packet, undoubtedly in retaliation for idiots like me. It was common for them to forget to give me the packets, even after I paid for them. No one enjoyed returning to the counter and waiting impatiently while our congealed food products sat on the lonely table behind us. That is part of what surprised me about them offering an all-you-can-eat option. There were a few customers who made them regret that offer.

If you’re wondering if I used all those packets? Yes. If I had any left, I would take them home. While in the restaurant, though, I’d also use the dressing as a dipping sauce for the breadsticks.

I continued this tradition at the other dubious chain The Olive Garden. The dressing was always my favorite. To this day, it is one of the few go-to dressings we buy. Sometimes we buy the light version. It contains 50% less of the industrial additives and petroleum as its full-bodied counterpart. If I don’t request an extra bit of dressing on the side while ‘dining’ at Olive Garden, I barbarically dip the end of my breadstick into the bottom of the translucent salad bowl to find a drip of the Italian dressing there. If I don’t have in my bowl, I sneak over to the next table, distract the people eating there, and quickly dip my breadstick in their bowl.

I love all sorts of things on pasta and macaroni. Salad dressing, Louisiana hot sauce, A-1, raisins, wing sauce, soup, sliced tomatoes, fried goat eyeballs (just kidding on that one, I think), and various other things. Let’s be honest: you can take a look at my physique and easily determine the likelihood that my youth filled itself with truckloads of pasta.

I heard rumors that the Fazoli’s breadsticks had enough butter on them to grease the chassis of a 1968 Ford Thunderbird. Because I was born in Arkansas, my immortality convinced me to be unconcerned with such trivial details. I tend to joke that pepperoni will be listed as my official cause of death. They might add in “Fazoli’s butter” as a secondary cause. I imagine a bit of it is still stuck inside my venous system, ready to cause a grease fire once my cremation starts. I apologize to the Berna family if that happens. Crematoriums are expensive.

As for being the bologna sandwich of Italian food, most of us will admit that bologna sometimes is exactly what we need. Even though it is made of the innards of animals too unlucky to avoid being combined into a giant industrial blender and then pressure-heated into cylindrical tubes, we enjoy it. It’s best not to note what is in it. Having worked in meat plants, I can confirm that most packaged meats are made in a process that will immediately remind you of explosive diarrhea, except at these plants, the result is cooked rapidly.

Regarding the garlic overload, I buy minced, powdered, and various forms of garlic by the bucket. It’s a good thing that garlic pills are used anecdotally to treat high blood pressure. There are times when I return home from being gone and am stunned by the wall of garlic and onion aroma that greets me upon my return. I think my cat is growing a Luigi mustache from breathing so many garlic fumes.

While I loved the cheap offerings of Fazoli’s, I can see why people had issues with it. Restaurants employing younger people invariably run into similar issues with consistency, cleanliness, and risk to one’s health and sanity. As the old joke points out, you get to pick 2 out of 3: quick, good, or cheap – but never all 3.

When you factor in that their food was somewhere on the “microwave meal” range, it’s no surprise. While it might preclude me from getting a security clearance to admit I loved their pasta drowned in packets of Italian dressing, I did.

Unlike all the other fast food places I liked, Fazoli’s never made me sick. Not that I know of. That’s saying something. I’m assuming that they irradiated all their food.

I love reading clever reviews of cheap fast food. If I owned a fast-food chain, I’d print such reviews on my own products to be snarky.

As for the picture, it’s to gratefully acknowledge that Fazoli’s was both good and not good simultaneously, an attribute shared by every single fast-food chain in the United States.

P.S. The title of this post suggests another story I’ve not confessed to!