Strong Drink, Red Meat, And Immodest Laughter

I am a person of my times. But my times may not be right now. I am brought to this conclusion when I read the social media posts that would nag me away from a steak, a glass of whiskey, or a Catskill comedian.

Fortunately I live in a country that will still allow me my choices in nutrition, drink, and comedy. We have not yet had our life’s spectrum changed to shades of grey, pink, or green. We can still cheer for red, white, and blue.

My table is a private one – the comforting centre of a family’s meals. We see meat, red and white, on it regularly. If I am the cook, it is presented as well as I can manage, and I like to think that it has a great deal of comfort. In any case, the plates come to the washing-up sink pretty clean. I’d be happy if I didn’t have to shepherd hem through after that point, but that’s another story…I need not read how sinful I am for feeding my family…

Drink? I rarely rage through the suburb blind drunk and howling. Not that I don’t want to, mind, but the price of liquor these days means the best I can manage is occasionally standing in the front yard naked and singing. The neighbours have stopped watching.

As far as comedy goes, I am a throwback to the days of Wayne and Schuster, Burns and Allen, and Red Skelton. I want my jokes clean. I can mentally supply all the dirty words and political bias needed to spice them up, so the person delivering the comedy can leave them off.

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” Dinner is Served “

a. ” I don’t eat that “.

Ah. I’m terribly sorry. I did not know. I’m afraid I neglected to prepare an alternative. And have no other food. It would be terribly rude of me to sit here in front of you and eat while you do not. I’ll just clear the plates away and we can go on to a nice discussion about Kierkegaard or BREXIT. May I get you a cracker and a glass of water?

b. ” I don’t want to eat that “.

Ah. Well, you won’t object if I do? Good. could you pass the oyster sauce, there’s a good fellow…

c. ” I’m afraid we can’t eat that “.

Ah. I know the problem. We’re restricted in our tribe as well. May I get you some fruit? Some tea?

d. ” I’m afraid I’m not allowed to eat “.

Ah. Doctors, eh? I can do you an egg…or a sandwich. Or a salad. Or a triple gin?

e. ” I’m afraid I’m allergic to that “.

Ah. Well, we’ll just pop into the pantry and see if there’s a can of something. Don’t touch the plate and I’ll get you a fresh knife and fork. Only be a minute.

Food is a minefield for many these days. It always was, to some extent, as there were people who had it and people who did not. That worked out well for the well-fed until the hungry cut their heads off. Thankfully we have fewer guillotinings these days than before, but more food intolerances.

The religious sometimes fall back on food laws to keep them from sin. The fact that the laws sometimes keep them from being comfortable dinner guests is sad, though equally, they are shielded from some pretty awful recipes. In the end, food laws are a self-punishing thing…unless someone hijacks them to demand money with menaces from restauranteurs and food suppliers – then it is criminal thuggery disguised in piety.

The genuinely allergic and/or intolerant are in a different boat. For some the avoidance of certain foods and the chemicals related to them can be a matter of life and death. Once they discover their vulnerability, they need to be wary biochemists whenever they dine. Their friends should be too.

The finicky and fussy are difficult customers. They can be so far advanced as gourmets, gourmands, or gorblimeys that any meal shared with them is an ordeal. I have sat at table with people who played the restaurant menu, the staff, and the other dinner guests like a harmonica to satisfy their own need for attention. It was painful – but not something that had to be endured twice…

For myself, there have been times when I really wanted to eat something that was forbidden me and times when I really did not want to eat another treif item. I will not tell you how I resolved the dilemma, but I did gain an appreciation of how to be delicate in those circumstances. The fall-back position was always abstinence, even if you had to push things round a plate until it was cleared. Next meal was in 6 hours, if you were lucky, and you could last for that long and do your own cooking.

 

 

” We’re Out Of Canned Snake “

Well, damn. And I had my heart set on a big plate of dugite in gravy. I’ll have to make do with bread and butter.

I admire the cuisines beloved of many different ethnic groups. Likewise I recognise the artistry inherent in their dances, clothing, and literature…albeit I have no idea what they are saying or doing and the clothing they wear looks as if it was stitched together with brass wire. I figure it is their hides, slides, and insides and not for me to criticise.

Admiration, however, does not mean emulation. In the case of exotic cuisine I am more than happy for it to remain so. If they have shops that cater for their own palates, well and good. I have mine. They include Elmar’s, IGA, and Aldi, and if I cannot suit myself there I can always haunt Coles or Woolies. I wouldn’t think of depriving them of canned insects or vermin in oil. Indeed, come high summer, between myself and the cat, we could probably provide them with all the skittering protein they could handle.

I did try to adapt myself to the influx of Asian grocery shops here in our suburb. Close as we are to an Asian dormitory suburb and a south Asian subdivision, it’s not surprising that there has been a burgeoning in the specialty grocery market. I went to my local one and did my best to understand the items on offer – eventually settling on Yeo’s curry sauce from Singapore as the easiest thing to incorporate in the family menu. It’s never failed, and I always grab a can when I see it.

But when I tried to decipher all the other curry offerings I was stumped – so many canneries, so many flavours, so many different bits of advice on the can. I took a selection of them to the chap at the counter but he said he doesn’t eat that stuff…Hmmm…

I must screw up my courage and go to the Indian grocery next. Surely, if anyone, they will be able to advise me.

PS: Don’t try to con me and make me eat some awful offal to amuse your mates. I won’t do it, no matter what the social circumstance. I won’t be rude – ” Thank you. No. ” is perfectly civil.

Take One Spoon From Bowl A And One From Bowl B…

The family are out tonight.

I am not. Therefore it is incumbent upon me to feed myself without reference to their needs or desires. I can let myself go. And I am letting myself go to the refrigerator and looking to see what’s in the Tupperware. It’s Leftover Night. I couldn’t be happier.

We accumulate plastic bowls of stuff. Potatoes, beans, pasta, Chinese food, casseroles. Nearly everything that is made fresh has an echo. While we do police the shelves to discard stuff that is too old to define, the rest is fair game for the big stir-fry lottery. I am happy to say that I have very rarely managed to make leftovers inedible.

Some tastes do not mix. Milk pudding and fish cakes is a mistake. Taco Bell is never improved by being asked to become Taco Baklava. And nothing that was ever intended for the cat should be diverted to the dinner table.

But everything else is fair game. Ooh…I wish we did have some game. Rabbit, pheasant, moose…Hard to get moose in an Australian suburb – even the Canadian specialty shops make excuses and say they’re sorry they can’t supply it. Well, they would say ” sorry “…they’re Canadians. But what I wouldn’t give for a big ‘ol can of whole moose in gravy.

You can also play the leftover game with desserts. Sweet is sweet, no matter how it is produced, and the meat/milk decisions you might have to make in the main course are swept away for the afters. The problem is that generally there are fewer leftover desserts than other portions of the meals. One solves this by making fresh desserts – it doesn’t pay to be discouraged. I was trifling with the idea of putting cake, sherry, custard, and fruit into a bowl but decided that it would never work.

A note to cooks who put things in Tupperware. TW takes up a surprisingly large volume of space in a fridge. You think it’s all jolly colours and a flexible lid, but the engineers at the Tupperware factory have a secret plan to take over the kitchens of the world. Every container is bigger than you need and the lid makes it bigger still. The clever ones that nest into each other are apt to squeeze everything else out of the appliance – but they are so cute that no-one can resist getting the whole range.

My solution is not to get twee about the food. It will all go into and out of the same holes anyway, so it might as well all be lumped into one big pot in the refrigerator and be done with it. You never can tell – no matter what you throw in there it becomes brown and you may end up for a brief period of time with a Brillat-Savarin winner.

Home One – Food

I live at home.

Unlike many people who live at hotels, nightclubs, bars, restaurants, sports stadiums, airports, or overseas resorts…I live at home. I do it because I can, and because it does me far more good than the other choices.

The first major attraction for me is the food at home. It comes out of our pantry, freezer, refrigerator, and mysterious boxes that a kid brings to the door. Nearly all of it, save the mysterious flat boxes, passes through my hands via utensils that I use to boil, fry, broil, bake, and steam. I aim to produce one meal a day that can keep the family healthy, and sometimes I can even extend to two – if one of these is simple fare.

I prepare food that tastes good, and has vitamins, fibre, carbs, protein, and pepper. A lot of the recipes are derived from those used by my mother, but adapted to my lesser skills. I am pleased to say that we rarely have a failure so gross that it needs to be buried.

Home food has another great advantage – price. Admittedly we pay metro supermarket prices for the ingredients that come into the house, but the cost of a good dinner at our table is very much less – in some cases 1/6th – of that at a local restaurant. The cost of a bad dinner – the fast food burger – is about the same but the home-cooked one has nutrition and taste.

And the other kitchen factors? Well, I have two arms and two hands and can wash dishes. We have a brand-new oven, grill, and stove, so there is no technical reason we cannot have good food. And when we eat at home, I do not have to keep reassuring a hovering waiter that the dinner is alright.

Plus there is no surcharge on weekends and public holidays.

” You’ll End Up Eating Beans “

” You’ll end up eating beans ” was always the go-to threat when I was at school – generally uttered by a teacher predicting a sad life of utter failure if I did not take an interest in whatever they were saying. It had the immediate effect of making me lose both  interest in what they were saying, and respect for them.

You see…I knew the Secret Of The Beans.

I had been initiated into the society of bean eaters early in life. Unlike some children, I was not raised on Heinz Baked Beans as a quick sop to just fill a gap. I did get Heinz, but when I got Heinz they had been supercharged, spiced, and done to perfection. My Heinz were superior beans, and they were just the start. You see, my mother was raised in New Mexico in hard times and beans were an art form.

Mexican beans, Texican beans, Boston Baked Beans, green beans, yellow beans, pinto beans, chickpeas…and there were as many variations of sauces and sides as there were beans. Fresh, canned, dried..we had ’em all and we loved ’em all.

The south of the bean border ones were so potent that the Army used them to clean out the receivers on machine guns. The Boston beans were proper. The green beans were always accompanied by bacon and onions. Beans and rice with cornbread filled all the requirements.

Mexican beans were always a meal that drew us home – the other favourites being sauerkraut or fried smelt. We rarely ate out and never missed it.*

And the Secret Of The Beans? The secret was we loved ’em! They nourished us and comforted us and gave us terrible gas. A long drive in a closed car with the Stein family was a risky proposition for the stranger. You could have a lot of fun guessing who dealt it.

But seriously – beans are a family food that scores high on most dietitian charts. Protein, fibre, taste, energy…you never feel like you have to snack halfway through the evening if dinner was a good bowl of beans.

But back to my teacher’s dire prediction. I have arrived at retirement age and am now rich enough to do as he says – I can afford to eat beans every week. I’m grateful to him for his insight.

*  Even now I eat out less often than my friends do. I like home cooking. Invite me to your house.

Mongolian Yak Crisps – Baked Just For You

I am so often nonplussed these days that I have forgotten what a good plussing feels like. And one of the places that seems to take it out of me most is the grocery store.

Don’t get me wrong – I like stores and I like food and I like to eat. I’ve no allergies and few aversions when it comes to cooking. But the long aisles of shelving can be daunting. There are so many things to think about:

a. Am I being too mundane with my purchases? Is getting a tin of green peas at the local IGA rather than a hand-woven basket full of fresh-picked pods dewy with the dawn from a roadside stand in Shepparton just a sad reflection on my life? Would I get the same benefit if the peas are in a dewy-fresh frozen packet from Shepparton? And I just googled up a view of the main street?

b. Is this stuff made locally? Is it made in Australia at all? Okay, I do not expect chocolate-coated rice weevils in Hyow Twang sauce to be made in the Swan Valley…I’ll accept that Asia might be the best supply base for these, but the business of the peas comes back to mind. They grow peas in Australia. Let’s have a crack at them.

c. If I am in the Asian specialty store, what is the difference between one brand of curry sauce and the next? There are 15 different varieties there and I need some help sorting out the poisonous from the merely fearful. And it’s no help when the grocer says he doesn’t eat that stuff himself…

d. Fish. I like them on a plate and I like them in aquariums, but everything in between unnerves me. Is the thing with the eyes fresh? What do you do to it? Will it have poison spines that stab me when I try to clean it? Will there be enough flesh on to justify the price? Will it smell better at home than it does here?

e. Vegetables 1. Is that orange capsicum the product of a farm or Fabergé? Judging by the price I should guess the latter. How far up the street did you have to look to see me coming?

f. Vegetables 2. Thank you, Mr. Grocer, for giving me the choice between open produce and similar fruits and vegetables sealed in plastic bags. I am not such a fool as to imagine that they are the same things, and judging by the prices, neither are you.

g. Cheese 1. Sliced cheese is a wonderful invention if you are incapable of using a knife. As you invariably do have one in hand to spread the butter or the Vegemite for the cheese sandwich, this shows the effects of not thinking as fast as the accountant at the dairy company.

h. Cheese 2. A gourmet cheese shop is a wonderful place – next to Fort Knox, it is the only place on the planet where you can see that much currency tied up in such small blocks of matter. The exotic gourmet cheeses that the shop sells – presumably to exotic gourmets – do not last, and neither do the shops. When the mining money caves in we all go back to Kraft Coon Cheese.

i. Cheese 3. All cheese comes from something that makes milk, and by the time you get it, that milk is not fresh. Steel yourself.

j. Bread 1. ” No artificial preservatives “…” No preservatives “…” Free of gluten, lactose, sucrose, fructose, and 300 listed ingredients “. Either eat it at the bus stop on the way home before it turns green in your hands or take it into the shed and nail it to a bookcase as a new shelf.

k. Bread 2. ” New Honey Soy Linseed Flower Petal, Raw Cellulose Bread ” Get it this week before the people who bought it last week get back to the store and throw it at the cashier. You’ve got a couple of days – most of them are still on drips in Outpatients.

l. Meat 1. Never mind the packaging or the cut or the price or the look of the thing. Demand to see the butcher’s passport. If he or she was born in the Balkans, Poland, Germany, or Italy just give them your meat money and take whatever they cut for you. Ask how it should be cooked and follow orders.

M. Meat 2. Offal meats. They generally are.

N. Biscuits and Cookies. The fancy imported ones at the front of the store are there to take your money without making you happy. The ones down the back in the plain generic wrappers are also going to disappoint. Pick a national bakery, pick a biscuit you like and stick to it. Don’t eat chocolate ones in high summer.