I wasn’t a very good vegetable eater as a kid. My sister was. She was evil about it. I’d be midway through the go-to opening pea deployment – a spread with a rise towards the plate edge, a scooped out crater in the middle, and a spread of green dots like a monochrome Pollock painting whisping along the curvature cunningly contrived to make it appear as there were less peas than before – as that little shrew was asking for seconds she didn’t really want. She didn’t just want to be Mom and Dad’s good little eater. She wanted to highlight that I wasn’t. A stray dog bit her once when we were playing in the woods and she had to endure a painful series of injections “just in case.” The rabies shots and the venal display she put on mugging for vegetable praise are probably unrelated. Contrary to popular usage, karma doesn’t act within the same incarnation so she won’t get hers until the next life. But she will get hers.
My oldest son claims to love veggies, but he’s got a narrow definition of them that includes French fries, pickles, and corn on the cob and excludes everything else. His younger brother will eat his brother’s list plus anything we’ve grown in the garden. It doesn’t have to be from our garden, it just has to be a variety of edible plant he’s seen come out of our garden at some point or a bell pepper, which isn’t really a vegetable but gets lumped in with them like tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and a lot of the things I immediately think of when I think of vegetables but aren’t. Both turn their noses up at the bulk of our dinner sides.
I’m thinking sandwiches but that’s no answer. Big salads? Roasts? The question I’m mulling is whether there are foods we specifically identify with lunch or dinner. I can see an argument for sandwiches being of lunch in a way they aren’t of dinner, but internet argument about what qualifies as a sandwich aside, I eat things between bread at dinner often and I have a meat and two or three for lunch with the same frequency, not that I keep a log.
Restaurant menus should be a help and at first, they seem to be. Many places have an after-five menu where there’s a shift toward entrees at the expense of sandwiches in comparison to the before-five menu. The more refined a restaurant is, the more likely that the dinner menu features entrees exclusively. That seems to be an argument in favor of tying the sandwich to lunch and I think it would be a very good argument except we don’t speak French (Je comprends qu’il y en a qui parlent français mais je parle en général de la population américaine.) Unlike the Gauls we don’t have an Académie Française to dictate how much liberté we’re allowed linguistically. In English it’s messy democracy we have to deal with on that front and private enterprises like Merriam Webster and American Heritage can stand athwart yelling that x means y all they please. The fact of the matter is that if a preponderance of English speakers decide that x means z, it’ll be reflected in their next edition. In our language, dictionaries don’t tell us what words mean. They tell us what we tell them words have meant so far.
“Nobody, I mean nobody, puts ketchup on a hot dog.” – Harold Francis Callahan
If you like to cook you’ve experienced the private joy of making something from scratch that you usually buy pre-made, finding that homemade tastes better than store bought, and saving money in the process. Simple marinara is a good example of what I’m talking about. It’s remarkably easy to put together. Cheap too. Buy a can of plum tomatoes for a couple of bucks and combine with ingredients – olive oil, garlic, oregano and or basil, a splash of white wine, red pepper flakes, and salt – that you probably keep in the pantry and you have made sauce. You’ll have to wash a knife and cutting board in addition to the pan you’d have to wash anyway if you reheated an eight to ten dollar jar of whatever the grocery shelves have on offer, but since you were in charge it’s exactly as herby and salty as you like it. People will say things like “You made this yourself?” and you can act demure and pretend that it was not that hard but a little harder than it was. That’s just one example. There are plenty more.
If you really like to cook you’ve experienced the mania that drives you needlessly to replicate something that mass market food providers do very well and in the course of replicating you’ll spend at least twice as much as you would grabbing a bottle of whatever and there’s suddenly clean up where before there was screwing a cap back on. Most of the time this type of cooking is done just to say that you’ve done it. I made ketchup once. I’ll never do it again. The recipe called for more onions than tomatoes. I didn’t expect that. Hot dog sauce is a favorite condiment of mine so I figured I’d give it a go. It was disappointingly easy to make with only a modicum of mess but even though most of the ingredients are pantry staples I was able make it cost more than the three bucks I would have shelled out for the fruits of somebody else’s labor. The problem here is that even though there are great products out there I like my sauce better. Now I have to make it a lot.
This recipe came about because my brother-in-law has a wandering eye. He developed an interest in cooking and started watching shows and flipping through cookbooks. He gets a channel called Tastemade that I don’t get. Cable, Satellite, and fitty-leven different internet tv services have made every house like a hotel room where you have to figure out what channel number channel thirteen is on and “Hey. They got Jeopardy at four-thirty here.” Pati Jinich’s Pati’s Mexican Table airs on Tastemade and I think he likes her. “Likes” likes. He gave me her cookbook, Treasures of the Mexican Table, for Christmas and though I haven’t seen the show yet I will agree that she looks cute in the picture on the cover.
I can’t credit Jinich with this recipe because I haven’t had time to do a dive into the book yet. I’ve read the introduction and flipped through looking at pictures and saying things like “Ooh. Pollo a la naranja y chile verde,” (translates as “Kuku wa machungwa na chili ya kijani) out loud to my wife but I can see that I need a trip to the Mexican market before trying any of the dishes. We’re decently stocked for Latin cooking but it looks like Pati’s asking more of my larder than it’s prepared to give right now. I have all the basics for Italian, French, and some regional Mexican cuisines, but she wants me to have a variety of dried chilis that aren’t from Calabria among other things. The book sparked an immediate craving for authentic looking tacos.
Why can’t I simultaneously heat the interior of my car and defrost the windshield? Why is this an either-or proposition? Yes, I can get heat through the floor vents while defrosting but the steering wheel is freezing and leeching whatever warmth was left in my numb fingers so immediacy is required up top instead of down below and no promises of eventual relief from rising heat will mollify my mystification at the inertness of the wide open and ready dash vents. I drive a Hyundai. It’s not the most luxurious vehicle ever devised but if there’s one thing they nailed, I mean engineered beyond my dreams and avarice, it’s the power of the heater. I can go from teeth-clattering misery as I get in the driver’s seat to wishing I had taken off my jacket or sweater in a matter of minute, from sitting in an icy pond to standing under a launching space shuttle. It’s a quick quickener.
The Koreans outfitted my car with four fan speeds. That tells me that there’s a little wiggle room. I could set the heat at fan speed two or three to warm me and my fellow travelers and there should theoretically still be enough juice in the motor to push warmed air through the vents at the base of the windshield where carpool number cards live. Naturally, I’d prefer to have both the defrost and heater roaring at speed four, but I would settle for as low as two if that’s what it takes to see both in action simultaneously. Not speed one though. I’m not a pushover.