The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Archive for the ‘food’ Category

THE SHANGHAI SURPRISE

It was one of those evenings, perhaps you’ve experienced them as well, when I couldn’t decide what to have for dinner.  I thought about my menu options and suddenly an incredible sense of gratitude swept aside my indecision as I realized how fortunate I was to live in a country and be in a position where I actually had so many choices available to me.

I reflected on growing up and the role food played in my family life.  Being raised in a home where there were two incredible cooks, my mother and grandmother, food was not merely something we needed for life’s continuation, something to be enjoyed.  Our evening dinner provided us an opportunity to reinforce our relationship as a family as we would discuss the day’s events and what each of us would be doing the following day.  It was the focal point that allowed us to bond.  It was an expression of our love for one another.

Well, back to my debating what was to be for dinner.  I seldom either eat out or buy something to take home and eat here.  While I enjoy cooking, making dinner, eating it by yourself and then cleaning up sometimes is more of a chore than a joy.  So I frequently will prepare multiple meal-sized quantities of food, soups or stews, and freeze them for future use.  But with the return of 100 degree plus weather, neither a hearty beef stew nor a bowl of bean soup seemed too appealing.

It had been some time since I had eaten Chinese food, one of my favorites.  And while I often will prepare it myself I wasn’t in the mood to cook.  So I consulted the website of the local Chinese restaurant from which I order occasionally.

The first thing I noticed was that the prices had increased by one or two dollars an item since I had last ordered.  That nearly deterred me from ordering, thinking that a bowl of granola with some fresh strawberries might be sufficient for my evening meal.  But then that didn’t sound too appealing so I started to read through the menu to see if anything caught my fancy.

I ruled out the appetizers as they were completely overpriced – and I make a better egg roll than the restaurant.  Of course, appetizers are one of the most overpriced items at any restaurant and the reason they push them is there is a large profit margin in them – more so than in their main courses.  So I made a note to myself to make up a large batch of egg rolls and freeze them for future use.

I scrolled through the main dishes but nothing jumped out at me until I hit the section entitled, “Chef’s Specials”.  These were not to be confused with the “specials” that your waitperson will tell you about at a nice linen tablecloth restaurant which, incidentally, are normally creations that are put together from leftovers that the restaurant wants to dispose of.

I do enjoy the fancy names that Chinese restaurants give these dishes.  “Seven Happiness”; “Lotus Delight”; “Wise Man’s Joy”.  Fortunately, they always list the ingredients that make up these creations as no one could deduce from the names what actually goes into them.  And I noticed that rather than the typical eight or nine dollar price for a full order of their more mundane offerings, these dishes were all priced several dollars higher.

I was about to return to the main menu when suddenly I saw a dish which was entitled, “Shanghai Surprise”.  It wasn’t the name which drew my attention but the price.  Unlike the other “Chef’s Specials” which all ran about twelve dollars each, this one was $250.00 for an order.  I thought that this must merely have been a typo and perhaps this dish really was fifteen dollars.  In reading the ingredients, it sounded as though it was merely a variation on Moo Goo Gai Pan.  But I thought that out of curiosity I would inquire further of the restaurant what made this dish so special – or at the least point out to them that they had made an error in posting this dish’s price.

So I called and after a brief hold spoke with one of the ladies who work taking orders for those of us who would rather deal with a person than simply placing the order via the internet.

“Hello, could you tell me if your ‘Shanghai Surprise’ is really two hundred fifty dollars per order?”  Naturally, I expected her to gasp and tell me that price was incorrect and that they were going to fix it and thank me for letting them know.  But instead I got a response which surprised me.

“Yes, it is.”

“Forgive me for asking but what is there in the ‘Shanghai Surprise’ which makes it so expensive?”

“It comes with two fortune cookies,” she replied.

“But all your meals come with fortune cookies.”

“Yes, but these are special fortune cookies.  One of out of four of them contains a micro fiche of a Hillary Clinton email from her unsecured server, expertly hacked by a group in Shanghai.”

I wound up having the granola with fresh strawberries for dinner.

EAT SH*T AND DINE

Every so often I need to take a break from the “news,” as we euphemistically term it, and turn my attention elsewhere.  This was one such week.  I’m not sure if the breaking point was that the final, final, final, deadline for caving into Iraq in the nuclear “negotiations” had come and gone.  Or was it Hillary’s hilarious declaration that “She had never received a subpoena from the House’s Benghazi committee regarding her submitting her emails,”  a copy of which Congressman Trey Gowdy held up before the camera for all to see and to which Ms. Clinton’s lawyers had filed a response.

If Ms. Clinton were an ordinary American business, had developed an advertising campaign and introduced her product in print and on the air with the same amount of truthfulness in which she expresses her past activities, there would be a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of all those who had purchased her product, relying on her statements about how her product works.  But sadly, far too many of us simply do not pay attention and are willing to believe and buy anything that our politicians, Ms. Clinton being the poster child for this example, sets forth and accept it, if they hear it at all, as Gospel truth – or whatever passes for absolute verity in  today’s society.  Regarding Clintonionism, this quote comes to mind:

“The only thing that sustains one through life is the consciousness of the immense inferiority of everybody else, and this is a feeling that I have always cultivated.”

– Oscar Wilde

It really is an amazing phenomenon that the masses hear constant homilies from the over-privileged and under-qualified, those who are at the top of the political and pop culture food chain about how they are under-privileged, victims of an unfair system gamed by those in power to keep them in total and permanent subjection and not realize that it is those who are speaking who are, in fact, the very ones who are doing all within their power to make sure that theses poor slobs remain in their lowly estate.  And in this effort, there is no more staunch or sycophantic co-conspirator than the media.

“By giving us the opinions of the uneducated, journalism keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community.”

– Oscar Wilde

I believe that quoting Mr. Wilde is permitted under the current rules.  As we now know, he was a bisexual which is a state of being that is very much in vogue but to his discredit he was white, male and far too witty for most of his audience to truly understand his “bon mots”.  Well, the wonderful thing about freelance blogging is that I needn’t worry about the imposition of censorship by an editor or the opinion of the masses – at least for the moment.

But where is this all leading – and why the title for this post?

Perhaps you’ve heard about the ongoing taxpayer funded studies in which the government paid for professorial investigations into the causes of why it is that people die.  That would seem to be an admirable inquiry.  So they gave grants to a group of esteemed scientists to research this important issue.

These brilliant minds looked at the mystery of life and death.  First they noted that many of their parents and almost all of their grandparents had passed from this veil of tears.  And not one of them had a single great grandparent alive – and they further discovered there was no one living who had been born in the eighteenth century or earlier.  No, not a single one.

This, of course, caused a great deal of discussion over many bottles of Merlot as these intellectual titans tried to find a common thread which would account for all of this being born and then being dead.  And, in fact, they reached a conclusion.  What they discovered was that during the course of their lives, all of these people ate stuff, without exception.  And, without exception, all of them were dead.  Obviously, eating – or at least eating the things that we have for centuries – ultimately leads to death.

Well, even with as obvious a connection as this, only 97% of these scientists concurred that eating was the cause of these ultimate deaths, the other three percent apparently being so traumatized at this revelation that they were consigned to a lifetime regimen of lithium and sequestered away to one of our finer loony bins where they will ultimately not be cured of their delusions nor ever returned to society to mingle among the rest of us.  Nor will they be allowed to express an opinion which challenges the newly established orthodoxy on this subject.

This is far-fetched you food deniers might say.  But think about it.  It’s only been three years since Mickey D’s stopped using “pink slime” in the preparation of their hamburgers and, not meaning to take away anything from the controversy that Donald Trump has stirred up with his comments, why is it that virtually all Mexican  food has an appearance of something that has been pre-masticated, partially digested and then regurgitated to be consumed later by someone else?  Can eating that really be good for you?

But to believe that the main stream medium will report on this important topic is far from likely.  So, other than those who read this blog and spread the word, will the truth of the cause of man’s mortality ever be revealed?  Fortunately, I think it will – and the source will be one which is most unexpected.  It will come from some flash in the pan member of our pop culture – or so I predict.  Perhaps the vehicle for this revelation will be the twenty-two year old Ariana Grande who has already demonstrated an ability to put her tongue where it ought not to be.  And if not her, there is an ample supply of such people who might get the job done.

Perhaps there is someone even now in Hollywood who has had a Shirley Maclaine experience and to whom the truth has been revealed.  (Or perhaps they simply have taken some sort of hallucinogenic drug, got the munchies and in the process of crawling around their 23,000 square foot pied à terre happened upon their cat’s litter box).  And there, clumped in a bit of kitty litter, is the solution to mankind’s mortality and their craving for a quick snack – cat poop – and by extension dog poop.

Now think about it.  There are an estimated 160 million dogs and cats in the United States who regularly provide us with poop, which we have viewed, until now, as something that is destined for a landfill.  What a tragic waste of the perfect food substance – already pre-digested by another animal so we don’t have to put stress on our own bodies by attempting to extract all those elusive nutrients.  And in the case of cat poop, there’s also the added advantage of being able to ingest a bit of litter which provides our bodies with a bit of roughage.

This could spark an entire new industry, job growth and an end to poverty in the country.  And not only would this mean jobs and an end to hunger in America and ultimately the entire world, we could export our excess animal poop to Mexico, thus restoring the balance of trade in favor of the U. S.  But the best part of this is that our friends to the south might not even notice a difference in the appearance of the food they set forth on the family table.  No advertising campaign necessary.

America – Eat Sh*t And Dine!

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FOOD, AMUSEMENT PARKS AND POLITICS

Once upon a time in America, not all that long ago, few of us had the luxury of air conditioning that went beyond a bowl of ice placed in front of an oscillating fan.  Our cars didn’t come equipped with entertainment centers to distract the kids on long trips and we little tykes had to satisfy ourselves with playing license plate poker.  But those of us who lived in New York had the beaches and we were fortunate to have what was, at that time, America’s premier amusement park, Coney Island.

One summer weekend my father was working the Gift Show in Boston and Mom had decided to accompany him.  My parents loved Boston for its history and, as many times as they had been there, always made a visit to the Old North Church as well as a number of other historic sites.  So my mother imposed on my aunt to look after me for the weekend.  My aunt Helene adored me, and my feeling toward her was reciprocal, so I looked forward to spending the weekend with her and my two girl cousins who were still at home.  My aunt’s son was off at military school and was working there through the summer for extra credit.

So in addition to spending time with my aunt and cousins, I was further delighted to find that she had planned a Saturday night visit for us to Coney Island, preceded with a dinner at Lundy’s Restaurant which was in the immediate vicinity.

Lundy’s was a tradition for those who really wanted to splurge.  For those of us who mostly ate home cooked meals, going to any restaurant was really a great treat.  But Lundy’s was very special.  It was a family style restaurant with large bare wood tables that could easily accommodate twenty diners.  As a result, everyone found themselves seated next to total strangers at every meal there.

Their specialties were buckets of steamed Little Neck Clams, served in pots that smelled of the ocean and accompanied with bowls of drawn butter for dipping the succulent sea creatures.  And, this was followed with a freshly boiled lobster (size dependent on appetite) and a huge bowl of French fries.  The waiters (they were all men) would clear the debris the diners had made of the clam buckets and before bringing on the entrees would tie a plastic bib around each person’s neck to prevent any inadvertent dribbling from the succulent shell fish from falling on our shirts and blouses.  The finale was their famous Nesselrode pie, a fabulous creation of whipped cream and dried fruits that sadly is hardly made anywhere anymore.

The four of us finished our dinner and I have to admit that I felt a bit bloated.  I probably should not have shoved that last bit of pie own my throat – but it was so good.  And I remember my grandmother’s admonition that, “Eat everything on your plate.  There are children in China who are starving.”  So I did.  And I knew that I had at least moderately over eaten.  But I sublimated my full tummy by thinking that we were on our way to Coney Island Amusement park and my cousins and I were going to have a swell time on the rides.

My father had taken me to Coney Island the previous summer with one of my good friends.  We both had reached the age and height where we were allowed on the park’s most famous ride, the roller coaster known as the Cyclone.  There was my dad in the middle of the car with me on his left and my friend Andy on his right and only a flimsy metal bar protruding toward our midsections, holding us and theoretically keeping us safe.

As the queue of cars slowly made it’s way up the rickety old wood that supported the Cyclone to the top of the first drop, Andy and I both anticipated that this was going to be a lot of fun.  And then we came to the top and suddenly plunged down at incredible speed.  I think all three of us were a bit shaken by this, but it was nothing compared to the next two drops that were to come, each being higher than the previous one.  By the time we got to drop number three, my knuckles were white from gripping the metal restraining bar and as we began our long descent, Andy was screaming at my dad, “Make it stop.”  I didn’t say anything – but only because I was too scared to join him in that sentiment.  But the ride finally ended and with knees that were quivering, we got out of our car, thankful that we were still alive.

Well, neither my aunt, my cousins (nor I) was feeling brave enough once again to test our fate in the grips of the Cyclone.  So we contented ourselves with rides that were far more sedate.  Things were going along just fine until we got to the Tilt-A-Whirl, a ride that is fun but not overly scary.  However, the combination of the different movements that the ride made didn’t interact well with my dinner and no sooner had we gotten off, I realized I needed to find a waste basket because I was going to vomit.  Well, I did find a basket and even faster than it had gone in, out came a barely digested mixture of Little Neck clams (dipped in drawn butter), lobster, French fries and Nesselrode pie.

As I stood by the basket, my sense of propriety kicked in and I hoped that no one had witnessed my feat of regurgitation.  And even more, I hoped that someone would come by and offer me a handkerchief to wipe the evidence of what had just happened from my lips.  My aunt did so, handing me one of her monogrammed hankies, which I sheepishly accepted.

Now my aunt had a very dry sense of humor.  I’m sure that her major concern was that I was feeling okay, having expelled my meal in full.  But she used this as a teaching experience when she asked me the question, “Sweetheart, do you know how much that meal cost?”  (I was going to have to have a talk with Grandma about those Chinese kids and clean plates).  But I knew her well enough to know that she wasn’t really mad, particularly when she said, “Well, now that you’ve left your dinner in the basket you must be hungry.  Do you want to go over to Nathan’s Famous for a hot dog?”  There could have been nothing further from my mind than eating – possibly ever again.  And I’m sure that my aunt knew that when she asked me.

It was a ritual that the final ride we would take at Coney Island was one called the Steeplechase – a pseudo-enactment of a horse race in which the winner varied based on how the ride had been set by the person in charge.  Given my earlier gastronomic experience and its aftermath, I was done with rides for the night and decided to take a pass on it.  But that evening brought me to thinking about politics and the race for the presidency.  And with one small variation, it seems to me that with the substitution of one letter, that horse ride really describes what we have to look forward to for the next seventeen months.  The race to the White House is not much more than a Sheeplechase.

It’s sad, but I believe true, that the vast majority of our voting population is either incapable of or has decided to decline from engaging in critical thinking.  It is far more important to them that they accrue a coterie of “friends” on social media as a validation for their sense of self-worth than it is to stand on fact and principle which might discredit them in their network of equally vapid amigos.  The astute politician, and there are certainly a number running who might be categorized as competent or more, will play to this audience, saying whatever is necessary to convince this group of sheep that she/he deserves their vote.  And if their collective herd generally buys their argument, like lambs to the slaughter, these unthinking souls will go along for the ride.  After all, this is the path of least resistance – and I might add, the road to Hell.

As I’ve listened to a number of the candidates speak recently, the lyrics of an old song came to mind.  “Lord, it’s so proud to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way.”  We’ve had six and one half years of a President who repeatedly speaks only in the first person, “I, “Me,” “Mine.”  And we can see what the sense of egomania has gotten not only the country but a world that is seething with strife as the United States abandoned not only its principles which made us unique but our role of leadership and respect.

It’s time that we found a person whom we could elect who might learn the lesson of humility with dignity which possessed that great black contralto, Marian Anderson.  Barred from performing at a DAR conference because of her race, then First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt took a stand, resigned from that organization and organized an outdoor concert which thousands attended.  Marian Anderson always spoke using the words, “We,” “Us,” “Our.”

As a nation, “We” deserve no less and should demand that the next President be a person who is committed to restoring America to a position of greatness, thereby not only securing a better life for our citizens but by standing on principle (not some malleable “truth” based on the latest polls), securing a safer world for all of Earth’s people.

Will we find and more importantly elect such a person?  At this point it’s difficult to say.  But I know that if we again fail to endorse through our votes a candidate who has real values, original ideas and a cohesive plan, I might just repeat the experience I had after I got off the Tilt-A-Whirl ride.  And it’s just possible that a lot of other people will have that same reaction.

SALAMIPHOBIA

There are few culinary treats that I find more satisfying than a thin slice of Genoa salami topped with a piece of aged provolone all sitting on a crisp bread such as that Swedish delight, Wasabrød.  What a multi-national treat, blending textures and flavors in an exquisite and elegant manner.   My mouth waters as I write this and I feel impelled to go out and purchase the ingredients to treat myself to one of life’s great pleasures.  And perhaps I had better hurry.

A friend recently forwarded a purported response by the mayor of Dorval, a suburb of Montréal in the province of Québec, Canada to Muslim parents who had demanded that the schools in that city remove all pork products from the cafeteria lunch rooms of the city’s public schools.  The mayor allegedly answered with the following message:

“MUSLIMS MUST UNDERSTAND THAT THEY HAVE TO ADAPT TO CANADA AND QUÉBEC, ITS CUSTOMS, ITS TRADITIONS, ITS WAY OF LIFE, BECAUSE THAT’S WHERE THEY CHOSE TO IMMIGRATE.”

“THEY MUST UNDERSTAND THAT THEY HAVE TO INTEGRATE AND LEARN TO LIVE IN QUÉBEC.”

“THEY MUST UNDERSTAND THAT IT IS FOR THEM TO CHANGE THEIR LIFESTYLE, NOT THE CANADIANS WHO SO GENEROUSLY WELCOMED THEM.”

“THEY MUST UNDERSTAND THAT CANADIANS ARE NEITHER RACIST NOR XENOPHOBIC, THEY ACCEPTED MANY IMMIGRANTS BEFORE MUSLIMS (WHEREAS THE REVERSE IS NOT TRUE, IN THAT MUSLIM STATES DO NOT ACCEPT NON-MUSLIM IMMIGRANTS).”

“THAT NO MORE THAN OTHER NATIONS, CANADIANS ARE NOT WILLING TO GIVE UP THEIR IDENTITY, OR THEIR CULTURE.”

“AND IF CANADA IS A LAND OF WELCOME, IT IS NOT THE MAYOR OF DORVAL WHO WELCOMES FOREIGNERS, BUT THE CANADIAN-QUÉBECOIS PEOPLE AS A WHOLE.”

“FINALLY, THEY MUST UNDERSTAND THAT IN CANADA (QUÉBEC) WITH ITS JUDEO-CHRISTIAN ROOTS, CHRISTMAS TREES, CHURCHES AND RELIGIOUS FESTIVALS, RELIGION MUST REMAIN IN THE PRIVATE DOMAIN.”

After reading the email I did some research and discovered that this interchange was a fabrication, a takeoff of a similar purported exchange between the Muslim community in a town in Belgium and its mayor – also a hoax.  But that isn’t the point, because the sentiment which was supposedly expressed by Dorval’s mayor is exactly what should be said by elected officials at every level in every civilized country in the world when an immigrant minority makes demands of their host countries that they must accommodate the newcomers’ ethnic or religious beliefs.

Those who object to these demands, which are often although not exclusively voiced by immigrant Muslims are vilified as being Islamaphobes. This is, at the least, a mischaracterization of the motivating attitudes of such critics.   A phobia is nothing more than a fear.  And it is my view that it is not fear which directs the outrage against some in the Muslim community or Islam itself.  It is anger, an anger that I admit to sharing, at the outrageous, barbarous and uncivilized behavior of any individual or group which says that, “I and I alone know the truth and if you disagree with my views you should die and I will be the agent of your death.”

Genoa salami is a creation normally made using pork.  I presume the fact that I enjoy it, not to mention a few other thoughts, attitudes and beliefs which I hold dear are sufficient to qualify me as an addition to the jihadi hit list.  I consider myself potentially a victim of what I can only describe as Salamiphobia.  But if I get taken out for my food choices, I am completely confident that I will go to that big deli in the sky where I will be able to place an order for some Genoa salami topped with a piece of aged provolone all sitting atop a crisp bread.  And I’ll say to myself, “Those fools don’t know what they’ve been missing.”

ICE CREAM AND POLITICS

I still remember the look of disbelief on Grandma’s face that evening at the dinner table.  It was a Sunday evening in the early fall of 1956.  We had just finished our first course, homemade chicken noodle soup, and Grandma had pulled the beef roast from the oven and set it on the platter in the center of the dining room table.  My father had already started on his salad.  We usually gave him a five minute head start on the lettuce and other veggies that were in his salad bowl since he chewed his food so thoroughly that not giving him a few extra minutes meant that we would have finished our meal and had to wait for him to polish off the rest of his food before we could begin on dessert.

Mom and Grandma had cleared the main course dishes from the table and were in the kitchen scooping out the ice cream.  Normally, Grandma would have baked a cake or pie, but we had gone to Tyce’s Farm in New Jersey on Saturday and she had purchased a half bushel of peaches.  That afternoon she had spent the time after church peeling them, making a sweet syrup and putting them into containers so that they could be frozen and we could enjoy them during the winter.

We had a relatively small refrigerator with an even smaller freezer compartment on the top of it.  She needed to make room for all her soon to be frozen peaches, so the Dolley Madison ice cream which was in there had to go.  Hence our ice cream dessert that night.  We had two of the three flavors that were generally available then, those being vanilla, chocolate and strawberry, and I requested a little of each of the first two.  I would then moosh them together and turn them into a lovely light brown soft mixture which I relished as I took each teaspoon full.

As we enjoyed our ice cream, Dad mentioned an article that he had read that morning in the Sunday “Herald Tribune.”  The presidential race was getting into full swing and he noticed that President Eisenhower was being honored at a fifty dollar a plate fund raising dinner to be held at The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.  That caused my always frugal Grandmother’s look of shock as she paused with her spoon of ice cream between her bowl and her lips.

“Fifty dollars for one meal?  What are they serving to be worth fifty dollars a person?  This entire meal for the four of us cost about six dollars – and we have leftovers.”

“Well, for fifty dollars you probably get chicken.  If you want roast beef, I think they serve that at the hundred dollar dinners,” my father replied.

My grandmother’s look was so filled with amazement that you would have thought that she had just seen a ghost.  There was no way that she could process either how someone would have the nerve to charge fifty dollars for a meal – or anyone stupid enough to pay it.  She had only a basic grasp of the political process – although she was always one of the first people in line on Election Day to make sure that she would make her voice heard.

My parents and she had voted for Ike in 1952 and would do so again – although my father played with the idea of casting his ballot for Adlai Stevenson.  He admired Stevenson’s intellectual prowess – but dad was a practical, bottom line person.  He might have admired Adlai’s intellect – but he knew a lot of very bright people who were unable to translate their genius into anything concrete that actually worked.  And he, together with many others in the country, remembered Eisenhower’s part in eliminating the Nazi threat from Europe and the world.  In addition, the country seemed to be moving in the right direction under Eisenhower’s administration.  And Dad didn’t believe in changing horses in midstream.

There was one other factor that played into my father’s thinking.  He didn’t have a great deal of faith in members of either party to fulfill their campaign promises.  This was not merely a matter of a contumacious agenda on their parts.  But there were the realities of political machinations, deal making and such, which might preclude even the best plans from being enacted to the nation’s benefit.  Perhaps it was cynicism – or perhaps it was just a clear perception of the way things were.  Overall, the checks and balances that the Founding Fathers had written into the Constitution were both a good and bad thing.

There was one other thing that played a part in my dad’s thinking.  Unlike today, the person for whom you voted basically was pretty similar to the person for whom you didn’t.  It was a little like ordering ice cream.  Whichever flavor you ordered, you still got a chilled dessert.  And things today haven’t changed that much.  The only real difference is that there seems to be only one flavor available for the devotee – and that flavor is Rocky Road.

WHO INVENTED TOAST?

As a kid I realized that my interests were different from those of many my age.  The boys were interested in speculating about whether the Yankees would make it into the World Series.  The girls wondered whether they could make their Barbie even more alluring if they put some of their mothers’ lipstick on her.  I didn’t understand why kids were interested in either of those subjects.

I had been taught by my parents  that one of the first responsibilities of being a civilized person was listening to others, no matter the subject matter or what their opinion was.  This resulted in several occasions where I had self-inflicted wounds to the palms of my hand, caused by my nails digging into the flesh as I tried patiently to wait for the subject to change to something in which I had an interest.  There were some days that never happened – many days.

At a fairly early age, I realized and started to accept the fact that I was “different” from other kids my age.  In fact, I could readily picture myself growing up and being “different” as an adult.  This was not a judgment about who was better but merely an understanding that I had an alternative path to follow than others.  I thought that path might not have many fellow travellers on it – and that has proven to be the case.  And I longed to be transformed somehow so that I could change my route and find myself happily treading the road that so many others followed and with which they were content.  That never happened either.

One of the manifestations of my self-realization came in the form of a nightmare which repeated itself over several nights.  I was buried in Times Square in a glass coffin.  I could look out and see people walking over me on their way to work or one of the girlie joints that existed at that time – or perhaps rushing to the Automat to grab a quick bite to eat.  I remember crying out, “I’m here.  Somebody help me get out.”  But no one seemed either to hear me or to care enough to make an effort.  Fortunately, that nightmare went away, although mentioning it these many years later still sends a shiver up my spine.  Years later I realized that the line from “Cool Hand Luke,” ‘What we have here is failure to communicate” was pure plagiarism.  But not being a litigious person, I have no plans to sue the screenwriters.

One morning at breakfast one of the great questions of all time overwhelmed me.   Two eggs over easy, hash browns, three strips of crisp bacon and a couple toasted slices of Grandma’s homemade bread.  (I had already drunk the small glass of freshly squeezed orange juice – with pulp included).

There I was looking at breakfast. and it hit me as I cut into the yolk of one of the eggs and tore off a piece of the bread to soak up the yellow liquid.  “Who invented toast?,” I thought to myself.  This seemed to me, at the moment, to be the most profound and interesting question that anyone had ever posed.  Even though I was really hungry, I was tempted to set down my fork and walk over to “The Encyclopedia Britannica” and read about the history of how toast had come into existence.  But based on previous experience with eggs over easy, eating them cold wasn’t very appealing.  So I ate breakfast quickly, forgetting to enjoy it, and then, after bringing my plates into the kitchen, stood on the couch so that I could reach the “T” volume.

I thought that all the knowledge of the universe was contained in my encyclopedia.  I anxiously thumbed through the “T” articles, “Th,” “Ti”, “To” finally I was almost there.  Finally, I came on the entry.  The EB described (briefly) what toast was – but there was no reference to what I’m sure must be a very dignified pedigree belonging to the individual who invented it.  What a let down.  I already knew what toast was.  The book was absolutely no help.  So I turned to Grandma, my go to backup source.

“Grandma, who invented toast?”  She always looked at me very lovingly.  But somehow I felt that I had an insight into her mind and after I asked that question, I could see her thinking, “What a special child.”  She always liked to keep her inner thoughts quite charitable.  “Sweetheart, I really don’t know.”  A lesser person might have had a different thought after being asked that question by a ten year old.

Frustrated at being left in the dark, I gathered my books and went to school, making sure that my homework was ready and with me.  Sometimes, when I was in the middle of solving one of life’s mysteries, I had a tendency to leave things behind, absorbed, as I was with my great thoughts.

I didn’t pay much attention at school that morning.  How could I?  I debated whether or not I should ask my teacher, Mrs. Bounds my question.  She was a very wise person and very nice.  But a couple of times she had mentioned how she and her husband were going out to dinner at this restaurant or another – so I didn’t think she cooked very often and probably wouldn’t know the answer.  So I waited for lunch.

When we all filed into the lunchroom, I grabbed a tray, the silverware, a napkin and a container of milk.  We had beef stew that day and I helped myself to two slices of bread to soak up the gravy.  Mrs. Johnson served my stew and handed me my plate.  She was quite elderly and obviously she must have cooked or she wouldn’t be handing out beef stew to little kids, so I blurted out, “Mrs. Johnson, who invented toast?”  As I read her inner thoughts, I saw that they contained little of the gentility that I had experienced when I had asked Grandma the same question.  They were more along the lines of, “Only two more years of this and I’m going to retire.”  But she replied quite politely, “I really don’t know dear.”  And she smiled somewhat dismissively, suggesting that I was holding up the line and should move along.  So I did.

I asked several of my classmates and my friends my question.  But the boys were more interested in speculating about whether the Yankees would be in the World Series and the girls wondered if putting their mothers’ lipstick on Barbie would make her more alluring and I could tell they really weren’t interested in discussing my question – since they told me so.

More than a half century has gone by and I still don’t have an answer to my question.  Fortunately, I only think about it once in a while so it’s not a source of great emotional distress.  But, if you’re reading this and know “Who invented toast,” I would greatly appreciate your getting in touch and telling me.  And if you have the answer, you’re just the kind of person who must be walking my somewhat lonesome path and probably can answer my next question.  “Who invented butter?”

Let’s walk along together.  I’m sure we will have a lot to discuss.

 

 

PEAS ARE ROUND AND THEY COME IN A CAN

Geraldine was a friend whom I knew for more than twenty-five years.  We both enjoyed cooking and would have dinner at least once a week at each other’s apartments.  Geraldine was of Irish ancestry, and while she and I were both only children, her mom was the eldest of seven.

Geraldine’s mom, Moira found herself the head of the family at the young age of sixteen.  Her father owned a warehouse and Geraldine and her siblings all began working there after school when they were ten years old.  Her dad passed away when Moira was fourteen and her mother died two years later.  Suddenly, Moira had not only the responsibility of raising six brothers and sisters but had to run the family business.  Without either hesitation or choice she took on this unexpected responsibility.

Moira’s family and warehouse were on the south side of Chicago, an area that was, at that time, filled with first and second generation Irish immigrants.  In the 1920’s there were no large grocery stores but only little neighborhood food shops.  At that time, one of the conveniences that had been invented to help out the housewife was that fruits and vegetables were available in cans which could be stocked in a family’s pantry for use when needed.

This greatly simplified Moira’s life as she could turn to one of her brothers, hand him a grocery list and instruct him to pick up what the family would need for the coming week, thus eliminating her need to go grocery shopping herself and allowing more time to run the warehouse and to cook dinner for the large clan.  Naturally, when she got married, many of the habits which she had acquired as a child followed her and it was in that environment that Geraldine was born and raised.

It was a beautiful early summer Saturday when Geraldine and I decided to take an excursion to Wisconsin.  We were thinking about going to the Wisconsin Dells but there appeared to be quite a few others who had the same idea and we really didn’t want to find ourselves in a large group of people – so instead we just decided to take a drive through the Wisconsin countryside.

On our way back to Chicago we came across a large farm stand, filled with all kinds of in season fruits and vegetables.  They looked far fresher than what we found at our local stores and so we decided to stock up with some fresh from the field produce to enjoy back home.

I was delighted to find fresh peas in the pod.  I hadn’t seen them for years and they brought back one of my favorite childhood memories, helping Grandma shuck these into the large mixing bowl and then chewing on the pods to extract some of their sweetness.  I quickly filled a medium sized brown paper bag with these delectable goodies and put them with my other selections.

When we returned home we decided to make dinner together.  We unloaded our fruits and veggies and I asked Geraldine if she could give me a large bowl so that I could start shucking the peas.  She found one quickly and I emptied my bag of peas into the kitchen sink.  Geraldine looked at this harvest of sweet goodness and asked me, “What are those?”

That statement set me back just a bit.  I thought she was kidding me.  But I answered, “Those are peas.”

She looked at me, put her hands on her hips and with the air of an adult speaking in the tone of one admonishing a child for telling a fib said, “Don’t be ridiculous.  Peas are round and they come in a can.”

As I was turning my compost pile this morning, enjoying the fresh smell which had come into being because of food scraps, shredded paper, coffee grounds and garden waste, I thought of this story.  Geraldine and I grew up at a time when a person still could pick fresh produce from a roadside stand rather than buy it pre-packaged in styrofoam and wrapped with plastic.

We grew up at a time when the hanging scale, inaccurate as it probably was, served the purpose of allowing the grocer to compute the charge for an item and write the amount due on its brown paper bag with a black crayon.  We grew up at a time when there were no stickers applied to each peach or apple which can only be removed by those who have long finger nails.  We grew up at a time when you could tell the difference between a carrot and a stalk of celery by taste rather than appearance.

If, despite the availability of fresh produce when Geraldine grew up, she was surprised to find that peas actually grew in pods before they were processed, just imagine the confusion that younger generations must experience when confronted with fresh fruits and vegetables.  Perhaps that explains why so many think that the height of gourmet eating is a burger and fries.  I would not want to be the first to confront them with reality and dissuade them from their opinions.  And I certainly wouldn’t want to dispel them from their belief, if they have one at all, that “Peas are round and they come in a can.”

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