As often as not, Sunday dinner at my grandparent’s house meant roast beef, mashed potatoes, green beans, and all manner of home cooked food. While I may not have a dozen or more gathered around my table at 5PM on the dot, at least once a month, my house fills with the savory smell of roasting beef as I do my best to keep with tradition. Sure, I’ve made some tweaks to the recipes – I use more garlic than my grandmother would have ever dreamed of, for instance – but the underlying idea is still the same. Sunday dinner is important, if for no other reason than it’s a touchstone with the past.
While we’re on the topic of touching the past, I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you that this week’s posts from the archive are now available for your reading pleasure. Pulled into the present from the last half of June and July 2008, today’s posts are a bit more pithy than they’ve been in the last few weeks. They feature a few more explanations of some of the more colorful words and phrases that show up in my vocabulary from time to time. Get your dose of the archives soon, because from the look of things, in two months this particular Sunday tradition will be drawing to an end.
Despite the head full of crud that’s had me spend the better part of the last two days relegated to the recliner with a box of tissues and more liquid than any one person should drink, I feel like I need to rally this morning long enough to celebrate that most magical time of year – April 1st. Sure, it’s April Fools day and I’m told it’s baseball’s opening day this year, but it’s also marks a far more important milestone: The opening of blue crab season in Maryland.
Sure, you can get blue crabs from other parts of the country and they’re fine if you need an Old Bay fix in the dead of winter, but for a Marylander, there’s something special about the crabs landed here in our own bay, by our own watermen. For my money, there’s no better food in all the world than Maryland crabs. It’s one of those seemingly small features of home that I only really learned to appreciate after spending five years in the landlocked middle of the country where “crab picking” ment dealing flash frozen snow or king crab legs.
For me, the Maryland crab is the quintessential taste of long summer afternoons. A bushel of crabs, an iced case of Natty Boh, what could possibly be better? Happy crab season, everyone.
There was a time in my life before I found myself fully entrenched in the middle of the organizational quagmire that is the federal bureaucracy. During that time, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, one of the many jobs I had was flipping burgers at the local McDonald’s. There’s a better than average chance I worked there with some of the people reading this post. Since I spent the better part of four years doing every job in the place from fry cook to cashier, I’m going to go out on a limb and say I can speak from experience, if not with authority on the issue.
If I remember my cheesy video training correctly, it’s considered bad form for a “guest” to wait in line for 35 minutes to place his order and get his food handed across the counter. Sure, if a couple of buses show up, it’s no unheard of, but for your standard lunchtime rush, it’s pretty much frowned upon. Especially when there are only seven people in the line in front of you. This isn’t rocket science after all. We’re putting pre-pattied portions of cooked meat on buns and deep frying potatoes until the buzzer rings for us to take them out and add salt. I’m pretty sure if I took of my tie and dug up my old apron, I could still show you how everything is done.
I’m sure there were extenuating circumstances. There almost always are. Even so, there’s never a really good reason for a burger joint to take more than half an hour to produce a regular menu item… especially when my only option for getting out of line at the point is elbowing my way through to the end or climbing over or under the stanchions. That’s just bad business and the only reason I’ll need to take my business next door whenever I feel the need for a greaseball cheeseburger.
Some people are domestic by nature. They seem to have a knack for cooking, cleaning, and general homemaking. And I’m not talking just about the chicks, either. Me, on the other hand, I’m domestic by necessity; because I like to eat, wear clean clothes, and not have three inches of dust covering every flat surface in the house. That last part might be more a symptom of OCD that domesticity, but that’s not my point.
A few days ago I was informed that I had a lot of “kitchen stuff”… for a guy. I’m still not exactly sure how to take that, so I’ve decided that I’ll just take it as a compliment and move on. The fact is, I like good food and that has ment that I had to learn to cook. I suspect eating out every night only has a certain charm for people that haven’t had the experience of doing it. By the time a guy has reached tentatively into his mid 30s, I don’t think it should be surprising that he has a vegetable peeler and a couple of oven mits, right? Regardless, I decided it was better for the time being to keep the food processor, vast collection of spices, and collection of cook books and recipes to myself for the time being.
If I’m in a confessional mood, I’ll tell you that I actually enjoy cooking when I have time to really do it. Savory items are really my speciality. Comfort food, if you will. It’s rarely fancy, but more often than not it turns out to be somewhere between edible and pretty tasty. With enough effort over the weekend, I can usually make it all the way to Wednesday just on leftovers. So unlike many of my Y-chromosomed brethren this morning, I’m not preparing for an afternoon of football. I’m prepping to tend to a large stockpot of soup. The perk of soup is that it’s hard to ruin and easy to fix if you do screw it up… and it gets better after sitting for a day or two. So if you’ll excuse me, I have to go give some of my abundant “kitchen stuff” a workout… and then stash it back in the dark recesses of the kitchen cabinets before all my secrets are revealed.
The top dog around here wandered into our office this afternoon and announced that he had descended from the 5th floor because he’d heard that we had pizza. Not only did we not have pizza, but we also didn’t have a clue what would make him think we did. As it turns out, the pizza was for an office on the other side of the building, but hey sir, it was nice seeing you. Realistically, I can understand his confusion. Our office eats. A lot. There’s always a pie or a cake or, strangely, a ham sitting in a conference room somewhere. I’ve never worked in an office that wasn’t run by some arm of the government, so I have no idea if it’s this way everywhere. For purposes of discussion, I’m going to assume that it is.
Maybe it’s just my own proclivity, but most of office food makes me nervous. I’m ok with the bagels and donuts that come from the nice shop down the street. It’s the stuff that people bring in from home that worries me. I mean how well do you really know that cranky old battleax that sits down the hall? Want to tell me the last time her kitchen counters got a good scrub? How many cats did she say she had again? You get the point. Let’s be brutally honest here, there’s a pretty good chance your coworkers can’t even make a good cup of coffee. I can’t think of any legitimately good reason I’d trust most of them to make lunch.
Sure, you say, but most restaurant kitchens are filthy too. But what I have with the restaurant that I don’t have with my coworkers is plausible deniability. Plausible deniability and a certificate from some local government inspector that says yeah it’s dirty, but not dirty enough to kill you. Probably. But come on, you’ve met the people you work with. What are the chances they’re not going to try to kill you?
Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.
Since I had some unexpected free time this afternoon and realized that I had all the key ingredients at the house already, I decided it would be a good idea to make up a pot of sauerkraut and kielbasa. It sounded like a good idea at the time, because it sounds like a good idea every time. That’s just one of the flavor combinations I love – sour and savory. Ohmnomnomnom. The part that I always seem to forget is that as much as I love kraut, it does not love me. Not one little bit. I promise that I won’t trouble you with the fine points of the inner workings of my digestive system, but suffice to say that I will pay heavily for this momentary lapse in judgment. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m late for an appointment to inspect the domestic waterworks. There is no time this evening for deep or philosophical thoughts or even ranting about the government hiring practices. Yeah. That bad.
I smoked a pack a day for the better part of 14 years. If I had a nickel for every time someone told me I’d feel better if I quit, I’d have something like $210 and change. I’ve been fat for way longer than I smoked and it was the same story: You’ll feel better if you start exercising and eating better. I haven’t had a smoke in more than nine months. I’m eating more salad than a triceratops. And if I spent as much time on a real bike as I have on that bloody stationary bike, I’d be a front runner for the Tour de France.
The fact is, I don’t feel any different than I did I did six months ago or even a year before that. I’m apparently missing the part of this process that people rave about on Facebook. People say they feel energized following a workout. After mine, I’m pretty much just sore. And tired, which I already was before the exercise. I’m told I can be less than a ray of sunshine on my best day, so you can imagine what a great mood I’m in by that point.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I feel particularly bad. I wasn’t expecting the skies to open up, or the choir invisible to thunder into song, I was expecting to, you know, feel better than I did before or at the very least to feel different. As it stands, I’m pretty much just not doing something that I enjoyed and eating alot things I don’t like. Maybe I’m just doing it wrong…
Sugar free Jello is food, I suppose, if you use the broadest possible definition. Having no actual nutritional value and minimal taste, it ranks somewhere between cardboard and unflavored rice cakes on the list of things I want to eat. But there it is in the fridge. A new week, a new flavor. This week is orange. Last week was cherry. It takes most of the edge off of a nagging sweet tooth, but that’s about the only positive thing I’ll say about it.
I miss food that’s filling. I miss pasta and rice. I miss potato-based products. And lord almighty, I miss Wonder bread. Baby carrots and house salads the size of your head just don’t pack the same satisfaction of a plate of spaghetti or giant sandwich. Everything I’ve read says “there’s no reason to feel deprived” on a low carb diet… But pretty much all I’m feeling is deprived.
Meh. I’m going to bed to dream about penne and garlic bread.
It’s the small things you take for granted that you miss when you move halfway across the country. In my case, what I had really been missing is the ability to drive 10 miles in any direction to get a really good crab cake… or steamed crabs… or crab soup. Let’s just say as long as it’s not the kind that make you itch in your happy place, I’m all about the crabs. The lightly broiled, falling apart on your fork, sweet back fin tasty goodness is really one of life’s great joys. Seriously, when the gods on Olympus got tired of ordering pizza, I’m convinced they sent to Maryland for an order of crab cakes. Tennessee is great for things like cheap housing and no income tax, but some summer afternoons, I would trade my right leg for a good crab. Thankfully this weekend I got my fix.