Oh BFD! (Bad Food Decisions)

I had a great conversation last night with a few neighbors. (What a great hook for a blessay! That’s a blog essay, not to be confused with a bletaphor, blumor, or blotographs, which will come later. But wait, there’s more!)  And so now I’m going to tell you about this conversation whether you like it or not. (Always a good idea to berate your audience in the first paragraph.)  But I regress to some seriousness.

We spoke about how important it is, imperative really, to eat well, especially in the morning.  Not how a poor diet effects weight gain or loss, or about cholesterol, or anything else in the canon of dietary morals that we’ve all heard so many times and don’t hear anymore.   I’m gonna shove that bolus of saturated fat called a breakfast burrito into my face despite knowing it could precipitate heart failure.   I’m gonna smoke that pack of cigarettes despite the huge warning on the label.  Rather, it was about blood sugar.  But even that is perhaps too science-ish.  I’m talking about how eating makes you feel – physically, and even emotionally.

[By this point, you may have noticed a slight departure from Childishman’s normal banter.  Well, maybe that’s all part of being a childish man.  You want me to go this way, so I go that way.  Maybe out of spite or just to give y’all an early Christmas surprise.  You’re welcome!  But I won’t get into the details of blood sugar management nor the Hypoglycemic Index.  You probably know it or can it within seconds if you care to.  Back to my tale.]

I felt guilty about the three pieces of pizza I’d just eaten because I know better.  Both Thanksgiving and my 10 year anniversary tour have passed so I can’t use those as excuses any longer and hope to look at myself in the mirror without disgust, at least not without electroshock therapy or some serious plastic surgery.  I intended to get my shit together again.

When I awoke this morning, I got out a breakfast casserole we’d made over the weekend (ingredients: eggs, cheese, sausage and about a loaf of cheap white bread), popped a serving in the microwave and ate it before the kids came down and I rushed them off to school.  By the time I’d dropped them off, I was hungry again.  I needed a few basics from the store anyway, and as luck would have it (but it’s not luck at all is it!) there’s a refrigerator case right inside the entrance with prepared foods – old sandwiches, hot dogs wrapped in foil, and (dum dum dum) biscuits.  Chicken biscuits, a dollar each.

Chicken WrapperHmm.  I shouldn’t.  I’m pretty sure the reason I’m already hungry is because of all the bread in that—

But they’re only a dollar!

I dunno. I can’t even see what the biscuit looks like since it’s bundled in some kind of fishwrap.

Only a dollar. And hungry we are!

I can’t even read how to prepare it.  Is that font size legal?

It’ll be fine. It’s only a dollar!

You know I bought it.  When I got home, I had to take a picture of the back label and download it to my computer so I could blow it up in order to read how to heat up the damn thing.  And when I finally read it, it warned me not to take the biscuit out of the wrapper before microwaving.  One might think this is for uniform heating, but this is basic consumer psychology.

The makers of this processed food product know well that any of us would run batshit crazy out of our homes and move to Canada if we saw what one of these uncooked things looked like.  This response is practically hard-wired in humans.  And they also know that if they can get us to nuke the crap out of it – and I mean that not only to be crude but also literally – if they can get us to zap the well-developed civilizations of bacteria inside that disc of chicken mush, which also releases a smell reminiscent of actual food, then they’ve got us.

Well, at least they got me, for 320 calories and 44 grams of carbs.

The point(s) is/are:  I’ve done this before.  I’ll probably do it again.  I’m a professional (numb nut, that is).  Don’t try this at home.  And, finally, the best intentions, ideas, and knowledge don’t mean a damn thing if I don’t pay attention to what it feels like to do this.

Bathroom ReadingAt least I’ve got a well-stocked shelf of good bathroom reading material.  Because I just might be there awhile.

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Sometimes, Their Casa Ain’t Su Casa

This morning I visited my normal diner after dropping off my daughter at school.  For me, it was to be a celebration of sorts, a reward for successfully delivering her to class still wearing at least something, even if only underwear and one sock.  Today they were taking pictures with Santa, so, of course, the outfit lovingly chosen by her mother felt, to her, like they were woven from burlap and barbed wire.  And these are the mornings that I treat as would a person holding a tarantula.

As I entered the diner, I noticed the stools at the counter were either taken or were blocked by a ladder that the owner was hastily setting up, as if about to replace a light in the ceiling although they all appeared to be working.  He gave me a look, sparking the memory of an off-color remark I’d made in a recent visit, and suddenly I felt not quite as celebratory.  Thinking about whether to leave, I knew I didn’t want to go home where there awaited a list of overdue tasks, and a keyboard that I had promised some attention.  And the only other breakfast place I could think of was a nearby Waffle House.

Before I continue, know that I’ve probably eaten at Waffle House, or as my old crew called it Casa de Wafflé, or just plain Casa, hundreds of times.  Most of these encounters occurred years ago at a location near the now-closed County Cork Pub.  And from those late-night experiences, a lifelong fascination was born, despite the fact that they were drunken ones.   

The primary nature of my Waffle House fascination was how orders were processed.  The servers, tired as hell of drunk twenty-somethings who couldn’t decide between grits or hashbrowns, would yell the orders – Pull two sausage! Drop two hashbrown scattered smothered!  And how did the cooks keep it all straight without a paper trail?  It was one of the wonders of my world. 

Eventually, I decided to seek answers and I learned that the very first Waffle House was only a half mile from my house.  It was no longer an active restaurant but had recently been converted into the Waffle House Museum, so I went in for a visit.    

Once inside, I noticed that it looked just like a Waffle House.  “Wow,” I said, perhaps a little too sarcastically. “This looks just like a Waffle House.”   

At this point I heard a cell phone snap shut and noticed a woman sitting in the corner.  She got up and as she approached me I hoped the look on her face was the dour residue from the conversation she’d just ended.        

She introduced herself and explained the history of the building – Unit #1 was built in 1955 and yada yada yada.  And as she started showing me around, behind the counter, the same griddle as is used today, and the plastic replicas of T-bone steaks that look exactly as they do in a real Waffle House, I interrupted her, not knowing when I might have this opportunity again since the museum is only open about 14 hours per year. 

“Why do servers yell at the cooks?” I asked. ”What do they mean when they say ‘Pull’ and ‘Drop’ and ‘Mark?’ How do the cooks keep all the orders straight?”  

She looked a little surprised. “We don’t give out that information.  It’s proprietary.”

“Proprietary?  But they yell it out loud, every time I’m there.”

No matter which way I rephrased the question, she wouldn’t tell me, but she did mention that the adjacent building had some memorabilia that might be of interest.  Sure enough, in the next building were displays of uniforms, buttons, pins, and other brick-a-brack worn by associates over the years.  There was also a special section dedicated to restaurant equipment that had survived hurricane Katrina, and another for customers who survived Bert’s Chili, a substance that looks as if it might occur naturally around the floor bolts of 40-year old toilets.

I walked around and listened to a young employee there talking to a family of tourists who had driven from Alabama just for this.  Perhaps they should be put on display, I thought.  Finally the family left and I gave my question another try.            

“Well, they don’t—“

“Lemme guess, you can’t tell me. Whats-her-face over there said the same thing.”

“Well, I can tell you a little,” she said, uncomfortably.  “The server gives the pull order first, such as ’pull one sausage,’ meaning they’d pull it from the freezer.  This comes first because it takes longer.  Then may come the drop, like ‘drop two eggs, scrambled’ because that takes less time than the meat. And so on.”

“How do the cooks keep the orders straight?” I pressed.

“They mark the plates to indicate what goes where.  A jelly pack might mean toast.  A pickle might mean something else.”  A pickle might mean something else!  This was really good stuff.    

I pulled out my Moleskine notebook, the same kind Hemingway might’ve used in the Great War, but she clammed up.  I would have to figure out the rest on my own. 

I visited the local Waffle House many times in the coming weeks, ordering things I had previously sworn never to touch, let alone put in my mouth.  I finally met my match in ordering the hashbrowns “all the way,” a dish featuring jalapeno slices pulled from a jar of Barbicide, chunks of “purple,” and a thick toupee of gravy that looked suspiciously like the sluice that was occasionally scraped off the griddle. 

And I noticed myself becoming prohibitively fat.  What the hell is in this stuff, I asked myself.  I expected to find at least basic nutritional information on their website, as is typical for chain restaurants.  But as with my other quest, the Casa wouldn’t tell me that either.

In the end, despite feeling less at home than I once did, I decided to stay at the diner.  I took a booth by the window next to two women that looked overly tired from staying up watching last night’s election returns.  Maybe I should just learn to keep my big mouth shut.

This Food’s Here to Represent!

Early in our relationship my wife and I went to a family cookout where coon was served.  This made both of us uncomfortable, but my god, why?  Finding and killing a critter that rummages through the garbage, cleaning it, and roasting the shit out of it – that, I thought, is quintessential southern cooking.  But apparently, there is more to southern cooking than contracting rabies. 

Since then we’ve added two children to our family so that I could experiment with my own dinner creations.  Occasionally, my kids will love a particular meal but, of course, when I make it again a bad moon begins to rise, FEMA trailers pull in the driveway, and specialists are dispatched from the Vatican with the tools needed to perform the Rite of Exorcism.  But now I know it’s not what’s in the meal that is important, rather its presentation.   

So when I stumbled upon a 1976 series of Southern Living cookbooks I knew I’d hit the jackpot.  Though we may chastise the music and dress of our former 70s selves, they were onto something when it came to food. 

Here are a few recipes that I have resurrected and updated.  Bon Appetit!

Iwo Jima Cornish Hens – It might take you a couple of shots to get this one just right – with each hen reaching the top of Mt. Pilaf and holding up weeds from your back yard while trying to shake off the life-preserver glued to its back.  But once you do you’ll have an iconic meal that will stay with you forever.  Seriously, it will stay lodged in your colon for the rest of your life.  But at least that won’t be very long. 

 

BDSM Wild Duck – When you show this recipe to the birds you stole from the local pond, you’ll have to give them the old “Gimp” treatment from Pulp Fiction so they can’t escape.  Just tie them down with the rainbow suspenders that you refused to donate to the yard sale and you’ll have yourself a grunting good time.

 

This one is aptly named, and I’m serious, Lord Jim’s Mincemeat Plum Pudding, referring to Joseph Conrad’s novel Lord Jim.  As in his better-known Heart of Darkness (later adapted into the movie Apocalypse Now), Conrad creates a complex psychological landscape.  Likewise, the domestic chef must manifest this meal as a metastasizing molten mountain, its true ingredients masked by a mesmerizing maze mold.  It should be served with a large jar of stale, crushed Utz pretzels, as pictured.

Roasted Ham with Doo-Doo of Rabbit – Roast the ham on a spit in the fireplace, and towards the end knock it over to give it a nice coating of ash.  After letting it sit there awhile and cool off, the kids’ fluffy pet will happily snuggle up and add its natural side-item to this family favorite.

 

Raw Egg Pie with Murdered Starfish

 

Emasculated Bulls on the Half-Shell

 

He Sleeps with Catfishes – As in the old country, loose lips will get you a mouth full of parsley and sunk to the bottom of a nearby body of water.  No need to cook here.  Just wrap up the raw catfish fillets, toss a shovel load of dirt on top while saying a few Hail Marys, and leave it on the doorstep of your loudmouthed neighbor who will surely get the message.

 

[p.s. the spawn of this idea came from a book named The Gallery of Regrettable Foods by James Lileks that I saw some years ago. You should check it out. ]

Grocery Store Chronicles – Part 1

Looking over the grocery list I’d scribbled out while driving, I figured that I didn’t need a cart.  Surely I could handle these items with a basket and a free hand:

  • Pack of Pull-ups,
  • 6-months Napkins (apparently I felt it was necessary to specify the length of time, though I have no idea how many napkins this would be),
  • 2 boxes Juice Box,
  • 2 boxes Popsicles,
  • 2 boxes Cracker Packs

Ah, Starbucks.  Right inside the door.  The conversation with my wife just moments before about a friend who’d quit coffee while on a 10-day vegan detox had given me a headache, so I grabbed a small (Tall) coffee, had a sip, placed the cup in my basket, and started my stroll through the store.

After putting the variety packs and then the juice boxes in the basket, I began to sense my mistake.  But my lack of interest in making the wise choice – returning to the front to get a cart – won the day, so I continued my spree.

As I weaved around another aisle, I saw some marked-down leeks back over in Produce that I just couldn’t pass up.  Oh, and some fire-starter sticks, which also created a strong demand for some firewood, which I ran back outside the store to grab.  Perhaps I thought I would start a fire in the mudroom sink when I got home (to cook the leeks?), because we don’t have a fireplace.  Again, I passed up the opportunity to exchange the basket for a cart, and I dashed back inside.  Who the hell set off the alarm?  Probably some moron who’d left the store before paying for their stuff.

Anyway.  Wow, this coffee sure is strong. And it was hot, too, as I felt it splash through the slats of my basket and onto my leg, shoe and floor.  Jeez.  Where’s the cleanup folks when you need them.

After alerting the butcher about the mess out there, I made my way through Dairy and Frozen and decided, finally, to correct my mistake.  I put everything out on the floor to survey what I had, shoved the wood under my right arm, and decided that the juice boxes and crackers would be the easiest to kick along the floor up to the registers.

I made it to Self Check-Out and began picking out the long splinters that had poked through the firewood sack, through my shirt, and into my ribcage.  And it was then, and only then, that it hit me.

Holy Shit! I have completely forgotten how to put on a t-shirt!  I mean every frickin’ time I’ve put on a dark-colored tee lately I get this embarrassing deodorant smudge.  And as I walked past the Lotto machine while carrying something like eight plastic grocery bags (I had forgotten the enviro-bags that I keep in the front seat of my car for this exact reason) I noticed in its reflection how big my man-boobs had gotten.  Damn, girl!

And I forgot the milk, the reason I went to the store in the first place.