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on the downward side of the age mountain.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Official 2008 Horseradish Goggles

Hard times take a hard man to conquer and that was the predicament that my NSSP found himself in preparing for Passover. There are two jobs in the Passover dinner that only a man can do. The first is to make the sweet charoses a mixture of nuts, apples, cinnamon, and wine. Gently chopped and blended as if making a soufflé.

The second is to make the moror a job right up there with slicing onions for french onion soup. I had purchased the horseradish root the day before. A long withered shaft that looked worthy of moror-tification. My NSSP started peeling the outer skin away and chopping it into Cuisinart chunks to fit down the feed tube in its first step to be moror-tified. All of a sudden NSSP jumped back with incredulous surprise! The horseradish fumes were attacking his eyes and nose with a vengeance leaving him impotent and unable to finish his second task. It became apparent that the horseradish was mightier than the man.

I looked up from my various cooking projects and realized a woman had to take the moror by the horns and put NSSP quickly back in control of his projects, otherwise he would be left carousing with charoses next year and I would have a moror-ly addition to my endless list.

A B.O.B. (Burst of Brilliance) entered my mind. Could he possibly wear test a pair of virginal Speedo goggles thus protecting his peepers? As NSSP leapt around the kitchen trying to wave off the fumes (and spreading them throughout), I grabbed the goggles and fastened them onto his tear soaked face.

A smile crept over his face as he whipped his spatula around the Cuisinart bowl finishing his moror. It turned out to be a heady batch worthy of making anyone’s nose turn red.

Now I know you can buy onion goggles but these stylish peeper protectors are built for multiple uses. Who can resist a world turned blue?

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Cafeteria Cuisine

It is hardly worth admitting, but I’m always fascinated with people’s consumption of food. I stand in mesmerizingly rapt attention when a grocery cart is emptied.

How many people in the family? Is this a pick-me-up (as in men’s shopping styles) or coupon laden decisions? Then I look at my prospective purchases and try to put them into the categories I have devised. I waste many hours with this mental masturbation.

I recently found myself visiting the Princess. Living in a sorority at a fairly well known University is light years away from my own urban collegiate experience. But one thing is a constant when leaving the nest and that is eating at the union cafeteria. Now “in my day” the colleges were still trying to force feed us nutritional meals. There were ice cream scoops of potatoes, palm size slabs of meatloaf,steam table vegetables, and gobs of hotel pan cobblers in red (cherry) or beige (apple).

I remember calling home and telling my mom that I had tried Brussels sprouts for the first time. She shuttered with disgust replying that the reason we never had them at home was because she was loathe to eat them. Little did she know that that’s the way I feel about lima beans today and they have never darkened a family plate in my house.

Now the cafeteria’s of the new millennium is all about not only feeding the next generation but making money as well. This has banished Brussels sprouts and introduced Sbarro, Dunkin’ Donuts, and deep fried nirvana to our acne dotted young adults. I have the distinct feeling that “nutritious” isn’t part of the equation.

What do they eat far away from home with no supervision and just a growling stomach to guide them? I grabbed a cup of coffee and sat at a table toward the front of the cafeteria. As I got my bearings I noticed the clichĂ©s and demographics of the patrons. I had plopped myself in the Asian section. Be-spectacled Chinese gentleman were laughing and telling stories. Two Korean contingents were trying to write a passionate paper threading random sentences into an “A” worthy treatise. Caucasians and other nationalities dotted the cafeteria in random clusters with computer bags and books. Audio plugs kept the rumble at bay for these students.

No one drank milk I’m sad to say Tropicana had to fight for a spot. This is a Pepsi cafeteria but I saw more students drinking blue beverages and bottled this and that than a big slurpie of caramelized water. There were boxed salads consumed but garnished with deep fried chicken fingers. Mozzarella sticks, French fries and chicken fingers was a three course delight for the males. Ladies liked wraps and everyone had bags of “healthy” Sun Chips.

I think I sat there about an hour before I saw a sandwich and a PIECE OF FRUIT!! on a gentleman’s tray. I felt like dashing up to him and kissing him on the cheek as well as e mailing his parents to tell them what a good son they raised!

The most curious eating habit I observed was by the Korean students. Gazing at their trays I noticed various Italian dishes and huge rolls. The couple that sat closest to me, a waif thin lady and rectangular flip-flopped male companion had gone through the Sbarro line. Both with some kind of pale yellow bottled tea, a Himalaya of pasta for him and rafts of ravioli for her. The plates were anchored with a zeppelin shaped roll that was the size of a five year old’s foot.

Just as I was pondering the Asian affinity for Italian cuisine, I noticed a wonderful cultural merging. The gentleman absently twisted his pasta but somehow didn’t fill his fork. He hunkered down scooped his fork and slurped his noodles as if he was home. Slurp after slurp his red coated noodles slithered down his gullet. Each time he swallowed I couldn’t help but inwardly smile. The young lady used knife and fork to delicately cut her ravioli and they both left their plates spotless.

Now my bigger pondering is how are these young people going to turn into the next foodies? Brussels sprouts and lima beans will become extinct and lettuce will be the only edible green.

Any answers?

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

A Smell You Never Forget

I don’t know if any of you are, were, or fantasize to be in the food industry but there is one smell that you never forget. When I was growing up as a little girl in Iowa, I lived in Waterloo, home of Rath Packing Company. It was a meat processing plant that belched out its own unique aroma. Moving next to Deerfield, Illinois we lived in the home of Sara Lee. Now we all like the smell of cinnamon and sticky buns but multiply that by pounds and add 8-10 hours a day and – you get the point. Moving to Taiwan with its open sewers and meat markets conjure up heady memories but nothing beats the unique smell of old restaurant side towels and clothes.

That unique smell of room temperature towels packed together waiting for the laundry truck has been lurking in my data bank for 20+ years and has been awakened through a new job I have taken. I am now doing sales for a little deli a bit north and east of where I live. It is submerged in a wasteland of industrial parks with workers needing a quick bite mid-day. The back of the restaurant is generic and unremarkable. The office equally so except there is room for 3 desks. Right next to the door to the office are two laundry bags slowly gathering linen and emitting that unique smell.

It’s not a smell you can put your nose on. Not really animal, vegetable, or mineral but a layered stench that is created after the said towel has lasted an 8-10 hour shift. It’s not rancid or overly abhorrent. I felt the odor went with the culinary turf, like burning your arms on the convection oven or nicking your fingernails with a knife. These are not towels used as we do in home kitchens for days on end. They arrive with the shift and are cast away at the end.

Side towels are a cost going out and in many restaurants I worked in, you were given 2 per shift. This meant you never let those precious towels out of your sight, never got them wet (or you couldn’t pick up hot pans-forgetabout the crud incrusted oven mitts), never let anyone- especially the chef- borrow them. At the end of the shift- believe me you wanted to shed those towels. I remember at the end of some busy nights it felt like the towels had gained weight. They hung fully impregnated with food ooze.

So why am I waxing poetic about the bag of aging linens and its aroma? Because dear reader it was a smell I thought I would never encounter again. With first whiff I was back at the line remembering the meals I had created, the ache of my feet and butter slick on my forearms. It reminded me of pure joy that can only be felt when you remove your armor with the rest of the pirates and go out for a drink.