Secret Pop

Dec 15, 2005


A few months ago, Beulah told me a story about going to In n' Out and witnessing a guy ordering a ridiculous sandwich. Of course you know how you can order the Double Double, but perhaps you also know that there are myriad off-menu items that you can request. In addition to "animal style." You can get a "3 x 3" (triple meat, triple cheese) or a "4 x 4" (do I really need to explain this?). But the other day, Beulah watched a guy order a "13 x 13," in an effort, according to him, to break his friend's previous record -- assumedly a "12 x 12." So this guy ordered a sandwich with thirteen patties and thirteen slices of cheese, and it had to be served on its side in the cardboard boat, like a glorious yule log. Or a glorious log-shaped hamburger. Did he order a shake? No. He had just come from eating fish tacos at Rubio's and thought a shake might put him over. Did he go for "animal style?" No. He thought about it but decided that would just be absurd. Did he finish the sandwich? Yes. Is that any less absurd than if the sandwich had had grilled onions and "spread" on it? No. Categorically.

I have never attempted to break an eating record. I have never entered an eating contest. I have occasionally wished I could. In the absence of the shame I would feel when I read the lips of onlookers whispering to each other, "She really doesn't need any more of those hot dogs," I'm sure I could kick some serious ass. But then I remember my mother's now famous pronouncements about the disproportionate largeness of my eyes as compared to my woefully inadequate stomach. And I remember that I rarely ever want more than a bite of anything I want at the time. I was recently watching an episode of Malcolm in the Middle where Lois and Hal entered a kielbasa-eating contest, and I really felt envious of them. When am I ever going to get a chance to eat twenty-some kielbasas? And why is the answer to that question, "Never." Of course, I wouldn't win that contest. I don't even have seconds at Thanksgiving. I do know this, however: I would never enter an eating contest after having just eaten at Rubio's. Hopefully this means my eyes and my intellect are in better proportion.

But it's true that I often think I will want more of something than I end up wanting in the end. I used to greedily hoard my Halloween candy each year, hiding the bag I kept it in to protect it from the imaginary scavengers in my family who would betray me for a few of those generic Smarties. For the record, my older sister always perferred salty snacks to sweet ones, and my dad used to keep a stash of full-size candy bars and red licorice in his desk drawer. He clearly didn't need my half-assed fun-size portions. But that didn't stop me. I was determined to save my candy for later, and no I was never in a concentration camp. But saving often turns to wasting for me. I would forget about the bag. Then I would find it six months later. And if it wasn't overrun with ants, it was still not likely to hold much interest for me, what with it's Now and Laters whose syrup had sweated through the wrappers or the chocolates that had already bloomed*. One year, I rediscovered my Halloween takings months after the fact with a piece of schiacciatta my Uncle Bruno had made, hidden away in a little baggy along with the petrifying candy. I had apparently wanted to save it for later and didn't understand that bread turns blue after a time, and the blue part is not nearly as tasty as you might think.

Just this past weekend, I got motivated to get rid of a good many things that needed getting rid of. There are bowls of chocolates in my house. Nice ones. The bowls and the chocolates. But I don't eat them. And they just sit there. It's nice when someone comes over, but not when telltale seasonal wrapping lets guests know I have been peddling these sweets since Easter. I replenish the supplies pretty often, but I decided it was time for a fresh go. Plus, who would be more mortified than me if a guest unwrapped a chocolate and found a worm in it or something. I would have to kill us both if that ever happened.

So I threw out old Halloween candy and many, many Dove dark and milk chocolate pastilles and wrapped Japanese hard candies still in their covered glass bowl since when I moved from San Diego. They're not really on display, so they weren't likely to be eaten, but the reason they were there is I had eaten the varieties that tasted delicious and left all the ones that tasted medicinal. An easy decision. In the trash they went. I boxed up the silverware I no longer want to use and put the pretty new sets in the drawer. I put away all my dishes and washed and put away my dish rack. I cleared everything from the counter, so if you want to get a glass from the cupboard, you can actually open the cupboard and do so in one easy step, foregoing the previously necessary rearrangement of sundry kitchen goods that have since been chucked. Why was I saving the unused packages of butter-flavored topping from my microwave popcorn? Why was I saving packets of soy sauce from the Chinese place? Was I planning to one day give a second shot to that herb concoction my mother made me get at the Chinese doctor's office last year? The one that made my hands break out in hives? It's not that I think things can't be thrown away. I just don't usually feel motivated to do it. Maybe I'm too soft-hearted. I like to give things a chance to fulfill their destinies. But I give too many chances all around. As a rule.

For the past few days, I have been in San Diego, playing my violin in a few performances of the Christmas show I play for nearly every year. My mother represents a long list of specialty food companies, and her house is overfull with confections of ever possible variety (including the variety "gross"). Some are samples from her clients. Some are booty from trade shows. But you can always count on finding some sort of snack if you go looking. Even if all you're looking for is a ziploc bag. Yesterday evening, after a bitterly long day, I was shaky with hunger, so I went into the kitchen and tried to find some small thing to tide me over. And something happened that has never happened before. I ate four different things and ended up spitting each of them out in the trash can. There was some kind of breakfast cereal bar that tasted like dirt with raisins in it. There was a fancy cheese spread that is probably also a tire cleaner. There were were unsalted pistachios which, although not inedible, are just not worth eating if you ask me. And there were madeleines that would have been delicious had they not had mold on them. I didn't spit out the basil cream cheese spread that I tried, but I didn't like it either. I don't think cheese should be made to look green and fuzzy on purpose. And it tasted a lot like pesto, of which I am not the world's largest fan. In the end, my mom served me homemade fried chicken and made unenlightened comments about how a guy on the television looked like "a typical Jewish." My dad exasperatedly pointed out that he could just as easily be Italian. And she said, "Yeah, but his name is Steinberg. So you can tell." Delicious, delicious.

So, I am trying to be more conscientious about not letting my house turn into a food museum. But I think what I've learned about myself is not that I have bad habits but that I have difficulty forming habits at all. I would like to make a habit of keeping my kitchen more orderly. I would like to make a habit of opening my mail when it arrives. I'm good about making my bed and hanging my towels and charging my camera batteries. But I've got a lot of other areas that could use improvement.

I would also like to make a habit of getting it right the first time. But I don't think it works that way.

*Bloom is when the cocoa butter has separated, causing it to rise to the surface of the chocolate, leaving the appearance of a surface that is dull or has grayish-white streaks and dots. This happens when the chocolate is stored in too humid or too warm a temperature. Or for too damn long.

Note: This post was started in August. A sentence saved as a draft in my Blogger account. I doubt it ended up being about what it was originally going to be about. Except for the recounting of the In n' Out story. But maybe that's all right. I let this one age for a while. I hope it's just right and recommend it be served room temperature with meat or less delicate varieties of fish.

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