Two pieces of cake for $1.29. Who cares if it’s a day old? It’s still delicious.
Or, more importantly, food presentation.
Also: I realize the title should be “These Are”, and right now it reads more like a panicked curse – “Cops everywhere, man! This is cupcakes! We’re totally cupcakes!” – but I have a system to uphold.
Supposedly presentation is a big deal. I get not going out to a nice event looking like you just rolled out of bed, but that’s a personal first-impression variant where food layout is a different beast altogether, and not one requiring so much attention. And look, I’m certain a fair number of you might be reading this who are already gearing up your weather machines to unleash an internet hate-storm before hearing me out, but listen: the arrangement of food on my plate, food which is about to be decimated in my mouth before traveling through the miraculous internal pumping parts of the human system where it will then be absorbed, reimagined, and, in many cases, shoved violently out, is not priority number one. Taste is king (or queen), and in many cases, the sloppier my burger looks and the more overburdened by necessary parts hanging alluring over the sandwich-lip it appears, the more inviting the presumed taste. The attractiveness of a meal makes little lasting sense. Thanks to my wife’s innate cleverness, I now eat mashed potatoes, noodles, and corn as one compound mass of carbs, with the resulting sculpture far superior to any segregated pairings. Perhaps that too is presentation, which leads me to believe I need to compartmentalize my argument some.
At any rate, I’m deviating. I made cupcakes for work. They were good. Pretty good. Though their placement in the pan may have been less than ideal, though their Manifest Destiny encroachment on spaces outside their own gives the impression of ill-planning, I ask: does this matter? Because it’s a little rude to demean a man’s cupcakes who slaved over a cold mixing bowl for upwards of fifteen minutes out of the kindness of his own heart.
When I first began working at Starbucks, there was an older woman who worked across the way who would bring us baked goods every week. Cookies, brownies, that sort of thing. I’d like to believe this was done out of the kindness of her heart, though the way she would place her mug on the counter and expectantly ask for “her tea” suggested otherwise. And while the gesture itself was sweet, the outcome left quite a bit to be desired. In some magically inexplicable way, every one of her pastries tasted identical to the last. Not between cookies, no, but rather new item to new item, cookie mirroring brownie mirroring cupcake mirroring lemon bar. The results were remarkable, and would have been impressive if not for the disquiet there on the tongue after realizing what you were about to eat, out of politeness, held no distinguishing factor of its own. Were the pastry to commit murder, the crime would go unsolved, the DNA too inadmissible, too inconclusive.
So too is the case ehre. Nothing in Campbell’s Chunky Roadhouse Chili sets it apart. I do not say this in comparison to their competition, though this too is the case, but between bites, each spoonful of Chunky is as uninteresting as the last. While I don’t go into canned soup expecting something miraculous, I balk when I need to add my own spices in order to, well, spice up the dish, and give the stuff some complexity. There was a recipe on the back of the can for using their soup as a garnish of sorts to be placed atop some other meal, so the case could be made I’d approached their soup incorrectly. Perhaps it was not meant to be soup, I don’t know. But while Hamburger can be a Helper when called upon, it stands stoically on its own as a separate entity, a feat this Chili appears incapable of. I remember nothing of my meal, only that I became both further depressed and buoyed the closer to the bottom of the bowl I drew.
Campbell’s Chunky Roadhouse Chili is food for someone looking to sustain life, not experience it.
Or, more importantly, something my wife said about onions.
I don’t know why this (This) stuck with me. There are days I see something or hear something, and within seconds it’s gone. I’ll feel myself strain, literally inching my neck forward in thought as though it will somehow push the mental debris aside to help find what’s gone missing, squeezing my eyes tight to black everything else out, and still: no. Gone. So why, of all things, the wifeism she endowed me with over the phone struck me in such a way, I don’t know, but it’s been turned over now more times than it probably should have been.
“I always like to have an onion on hand.”
That’s it. Right there. Nothing groundbreaking. At least I don’t think it’s groundbreaking, though with the amount of time I’ve dedicated to it this week, perhaps it is in some strange way. I can’t even remember now the context of the genius. Was I in need of one? Was she? Was there a dish I’d hoped to prepare, only to find myself without? My kitchen skills are rudimentary at best, though I’m learning, so I can’t imagine a scenario where I’d have been put-out by not having an onion, though the possibility is there. The why is irrelevant anyhow. Only the message need remain.
So why review this? I don’t know the answer to that either. Perhaps as a means of purging it from my system. I believe it’s there now, ingrained as a splinter and unlikely to be removed anytime soon, making this effort unnecessary. But stranger things. It did, however, lead me to purchase an onion while at the store today, curious as to what wonders with it I might make. Right now, I’m at “breakfast”.
She’s right, though. Usually is, making the surprise there minimal, and having never been made to think about onions in general, I confess to taking them for granted. They’re just… there. My burger has them, and their extra flavor and crunch is perfect. Caramelized onions freak me out as a texture, though the taste is good. Not great, unless done super right. My wife introduced me to onion jam a while back, something I didn’t think could exist, because why jam onion?, and that too was pretty great. In fact: she was in the store looking for some when I was on the phone with her, making me realize I had onion jam here, realizing then I’d have no idea what to do with the stuff. I left it in the cupboard. Onions are a crunchy spice, the perfect accessory to a meal in the same way a piece of jewelry can be. Alone they’re obtrusive, vulgar, but paired properly, like The Dude’s rug, they really tie the food together.
It’s strange: as I type this, I’m making cupcakes, and the house is filled with those accompanying smells, though the more I think on the onion the more I feel I smell it too, a nose-picture which is not playing so well with the others moving around my space. Still: having an onion on hand really can take a dish from bland to bold with minimum effort (not a sentence I ever saw myself saying/writing), a feat few other vegetables can boast, I feel. In fact, that solitary idea which appears so innocuous by itself has almost pushed me toward cooking, into seeking what few recipes I can pull from my bag to add the onion to. More so, I cracked open a cookbook for the sole purpose of seeking a mixture with which to use my newly purchased onion. There’s an overboard quality to that, I’m aware, and why now having an onion suddenly seems a less-awful Pandora’s Box I can’t say, only that it does.
You may be a detractor. And that’s fine. We all have our flaws. Doesn’t make the advice, or life tip, any less relevant. I’m seeing the world anew now, one filled with the chance and deliciousness of the onion assist. I should have suspected it sooner, given how fantastic Funyuns are. If a vegetable can produce something that tasty, it must have other wonders locked deep within its layers, waiting to be discovered.
My family has a gambling tradition. Not in a speakeasy sense, and not in a back room, loan shark, police raid sense (which, as I type out, would probably also be in a speakeasy sense). More in a good, clean, holiday tradition sense.
Years ago, when I was younger, my family would rent out a Lion’s Club – not to be confused with an adult themed store of a similar name – to hold Thanksgiving. Our family is a bit of a patchwork, and this made it easy for everyone to get together in a large enough space where we could eat, play video games, eat, play board games, eat, and the adults could play cards. I say gambling, and it is, but it’s gambling in a loose meaning of the word. If gambling was a scale with one being church bingo and ten having your home foreclosed and the last minutes of your life spent in fear of a guy named Charlie who’s seven-foot-something and wields various blunt instruments, we’d be a two or a soft three. My family plays games Google tells me are real, games called Kansas City and Spit, all for dime and quarter antes which comes out to maybe five or ten bucks, depending on how things go and who’s playing. Each family member has a tin or a Tupperware container they keep loose change in throughout the year for the sole purpose of Thanksgiving (and Christmas) after-meal cards which often creep into the wee-morning hours. What’s nice is the money stays within the family, usually being passed around year to year from one person to the next, in much the same way my buddy and I have a long-standing tradition where for my December birthday he ponies up for a movie ticket, and for his June, I pony up, ending the year in a dual net loss.
Where some families have the kid table and the adult table, we had the kid table, and the card table, which was really the same thing. Though eighteen means little for maturity, at such an age you were deemed respectable enough to have kin rob you blind, and thus a graduate from the video games and the board games to more two/soft three staked competitions. If this sounds silly, it isn’t, this event being far more momentous than my first kiss or obtaining my driver’s license or prom (all, incidentally, happening around the same time, as a “late bloomer”), a right of passage handed down generationally the way our ancient forefathers would have taught their children to hunt and make cave murals, back when we still feared fire.
When I think of turkey, this is what I imagine, a smoky room growing incrementally louder as the night wore on, my Aunts Sharon and Vicky yelling “Spit!” while slapping the table, both also growing incrementally louder as the night wore on and inventing words Carlin may have substituted a few of his seven for, kids making laps within a table-barred track first on big wheels, then skates, then roller blades, then scooters, these all changing as we grew taller. Every year I brought the newest system, and we’d huddle around a 13 inch and yell at the screen.
Now the kids are grown. Out of the house. Most have families of their own. We don’t do the Lion’s Club thing any more. Too spread out, and no one wants to go through the hassle of trying to set the whole thing up. It’s odd when you look back on something fondly while being okay with not experiencing it again. We’re not talking lightning in a bottle, but I know it wouldn’t be the same were we to get together next year and go through those same steps. I’m not sure how long it’s been – five years now, maybe more – or if I realized the last time was the last, but it’s a tradition I think ended with my generation. We still play cards though now in my mom’s basement, and the pots of five or ten dollars are closer to one-and-a-half or two, as our numbers are less. Company is still good.
This year we went to Bob Evans. Last year it was Golden Corral, and they have a chocolate fountain I was legitimately looking forward to this time around. It was just mom, my wife, me, Uncle Wayne, and Aunt Vicky. That was good too, though. Quieter – which is a little double-edged – but quality still. I’m lucky in that I’ve always gotten along with my family. We’re not necessarily the same people, but we are. They’re the most accepting group I know, and just… solid. Even when my parents divorced, dad was always still invited, and no one treated him any different. Everyone worked on Friday, so no cards, and mom is in Florida this year with Sharon, so no Christmas cards either. Saves money.
Bob Evans was tasty, but the pie sucked. Hope your Thanksgivings were equal or better.
I can’t located a good picture of the bagels I bought, and I’m not taking a picture of the near depleted bag I now own after the fiasco that was me trying to get the pic of my painting properly uploaded. After a good hour fighting to make the thing to simply rotate counter-clockwise ninety degrees – an option labeled clearly and with a handy illustration – I gave up, left it as is, and decided not to look back. Which leads me to here. No picture. You’re going to have to use your imagination to picture the type of bagel I’m about to describe. Consider us participants both in the wonderful oral tradition.
Pastries are not my breakfast food of choice. I like donuts, of course, but they’re more of a dessert to me. Pancakes are my favorite food ever (seriously), and they can be on the sweeter side yes, though I’m more of a purist here with plain buttermilk being the end-all-be-all of food things. The reason I’m explaining this is it helps to know my proclivities for what I’m going to explain.
It’s not as dramatic as I’m making it out to be.
Maple Leaf Baking Inc. has these New York Style bagels (established in 1880, supposedly) of the Cinnamon variety which are, in short, incredible. I’m not sure what kids these days are saying, but if “the bomb” was anywhere in their vocabulary, it would be used here and liberally. I grabbed them on a whim. It could have been any other bag, any other brand. I pulled without discrimination. They sat on my own shelf until morning where I pulled one out and placed it in another bag for the drive to work, not realizing how special these circles were. I was coming down the off ramp – or is it the on ramp? I don’t know – merging first into the flow of traffic before removing the bagel. Taking a bite was a moment of clarity. I’ve heard it referred to as an “ah ha” moment, and maybe it was that too, though I would shift more toward an “oh my” or an “mmmmmm”. The bread was soft. Not chewy. Not tough. Near-enough melt against the top of your tongue the way chocolate might. Cinnamon swirls coated some of the bites, allowing for small changes to the palate. The raisins were, wonderfully, bright. Some bagel-raisins turn gritty over time, making me feel as though I’m eating through a fistful of sand. Not these. Just the right mix of sweet and savory.
Even if you don’t like bagels, you should eat one. If you can find them. It took some searching on the bag to discover the name – Maple Leaf Baking is only in the fine print – and even more to try and find an online stock image, with none of those producing the same picture as what sits now on the counter. Perhaps I have the only bag in existence, happening upon some Grimm-like tale which will end poorly once the bag has emptied. And, honestly, I’d be okay with that. The trade, whatever it is, may well be worth the price of the bagels.