If being a vegan is akin to belonging to a particular religion, then I must be
Catholic-Lite Episcopalian. What? you say. Vegans are nothing like Episcopalians; they’re militant, strict, judgmental – and they’re anxious to convert carnivores. Rather, vegans are the epitome of dogmatic zealots, much like the speaking-in-tongues, snake-handling, Born Again, fire and brimstone Charismatics that pepper the deep hollers of Appalachia and star in the Super Congregations we see on Sunday morning television. And you, Miss Snarky Pants, are nothing like that.
And you would be right about one thing; I am nothing like that. Although I grew up neck deep in a Pentecostal Christian guilt so mucky I was sucked beneath its surface every time I so much as played a Hall & Oates album, I am no longer that person. To be clear, though I once believed that only the metaphorical blood and body of Jesus – aptly played during Holy Communion by Welch’s grape juice and a stale water cracker, respectively – could save my soul, deep down a part of me was always asking pesky questions:
But there’s, like, hundreds or thousands of religions. How do we know that we’re right? What if the Jews nailed it from the beginning – they’re awfully good with money and just look what they’ve accomplished in the film industry?
What kind of God would send innocent people to Hell just because they live in a third world country and have never heard of The Bible? Is it because they have rickets?
Why would God want elderly people living on Social Security to tithe 10% of their income when they can’t afford their diabetes medication? Is God punishing them for Supersizing one time too many?
Why does God only heal people who attend church on television? And why don’t they have diseases or injuries that we can see? You know, like leprosy or missing limbs?
Despite my early indoctrination into the Assemblies of God faith, I’ve never been much of a follower in other areas of my life. I mean, once you’ve committed yourself to serving an invisible, holey (pun most definitely intended) half-man half-diety, his oft angry dad with a penchant for dishing out natural disasters, and some sort of third-wheel ghostie, becoming a member of the drill team is a bit anticlimatic.
As it turns out, my prospects as a leader were nil. I didn’t like leaders; they were typically mean girls who were good at kickball and quick with insulting and alliterative nicknames for their victims. Though I’m sure I could have become skilled at the latter, my legs were created to bang into stationary furniture with sharp edges. Kicking a rolling ball in a particular direction was beyond my capabilities, prompting me to ask more of my pesky questions:
Why does God want me to be picked last for kickball every single day of my life? Why did He make me so smart that the other kids hate me for setting the bell curve? Why can’t I grow breasts? Does God hate me, too?
As I aged, my disinterest in either leading or following left me in a precarious social position. Though I was no longer unpopular, I refused to fully commit to any particular clique. One day I’d eat lunch with my Smiths and Psychedelic Furs-loving friends and the next, I’d hunker down with my buddies-of-color so that we could argue about which one of us was going to be Michael Jackson’s first ex-wife. Then there were my Journey-loving compatriots; I’ll spare you the painful images of these mullet-sporting, muscle shirt-wearing, air guitar-playing fans, all of whom wore gold eighth notes around their necks in honor of their leader, Steve Perry. Athletics were out of the question. I declined my invitation to join The National Honor Society. Drama only held my interest if I had a lead role which was, erm, never.
After law school, I experimented with multiple careers, but none – including legal practice – satisfied me in the way writing does, though all paid considerably more. I know…poor, little lawyer girl. I’d hate myself, too, but then, I’ve seen my law school debt – and you haven’t.
If I was a devotee of anything at all, it was cow teets. I loved dairy. Cheese was something that I could commit to – after all, it could be sweet, sour, stinky, melty, salty, chewy, stringy, sharp, mild, nutty and creamy. It was as diverse as my interests and never expected me to tithe. Until I was introduced to the chocolate martini in my mid-thirties, milk held the title as my favorite beverage. Sexy, huh? Nothing says “fuck me” like your date ordering a glass of moo juice with her filet mignon.
So when I suddenly decided to abandon the
greatest love of my entire life second greatest love of my entire life (because, of course, Hubby is the first) to join the Church of Vegan, I can assure you that more than a few of my friends and family members were perplexed. After all, these are people who had, over the years, become accustomed to asking me, “What is it you do, again?” Hell, if I couldn’t dedicate myself to one career path, why should they believe that I would deliberately eschew meat and all animal products for the rest of my life just because it’s supposed to be healthier? That never stopped me from mainlining vodka.
However, as the weeks turned into months, it appeared that I had finally made a true commitment. I started cooking, posting photos of one vegan meal after another on Facebook
like those people who have absolutely nothing better to do with their time. Hubby and I joined a gym. I gave up hard liquor. I became the poster child for the kind of person who had embraced a plant-based diet; a kinder, gentler Miss Snarky Pants. Through the Internet, I met other local vegans and soon I was inundated with invitations to attend one non-carnivore event after another. Vegans adore newbies. And like Pentecostals, they love to recruit. Why else would they have some kind of vegan/animal rights festival every bloody weekend?
Being vegan made me feel accepted by a closely-knit group of people who looked at the world with the same pair of eyes. Despite the fact that Hubby and I had only moved to Tampa a few months before my big conversion, new friends were practically crawling out of the woodwork, ready to hang out just because I’d abandoned many of my beloved food choices. At restaurants, I no longer had to worry that the waiter would think I was cheap if I ordered a vegetarian entrée. Nope, all I had to do was explain, “I’m vegan” and every bit of judgment on the server’s face would vanish – only to be replaced with fear. At Whole Foods, it was as if I was wearing a flashing, neon sign around my neck. As the cashier rang up my items, she would invariably ask, “Are you vegan?” Before I could do more than nod, she’d burst out into a huge smile, then whisper loudly, “Me, too! Isn’t Daiya soy-free, vegan cheese the best?”
If by best, you mean barely edible and tastes nothing at all like cheese, then yes, it’s the best!
Gradually, I discovered that worshiping at the Church of Vegan was complicated. Initially, I thought I was giving up dairy, meat and eggs, but there’s a whole lot of small print in the Vegan Bible. Did you know that gelatin is made of horses’ hooves and other disgusting stuff? Adios, Jell-O. Sayonara, marshmallows. See ya later, candy corn and jelly beans. Don’t even think about taking that Nyquil Gel Cap. And what about animal bone char? It’s utilized to refine sugar and turn crude oil into petroleum jelly. Oh, and it’s also used in making many kinds of BEER. Did I type that loudly enough? BEER. At least six thousand newbie vegans just said, “What the fuck?”
However, as a non-beer drinker, my first what-the-fuck? moment occurred when I was informed that I could no longer eat honey. “Why?” I asked a vegan friend. “The bees are just doing their thing. Making honey is kinda like their job…and the last thing we need in this country is a higher unemployment rate.”
“The bees are enslaved,” she responded, without a hint of irony. “They’re exploited by humans.”
Suddenly, my brain was flooded with images of bees humming “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and picking cotton. I imagined them cringing in front of a white-hooded beekeeper, buzzing, “Don’t blow that smoke at me, Massa! I’ll eat mo’ nectar and vomit up mo’ honey!” It occurred to me that some vegans were more concerned about honey bees’ rights than they were about the rights of immigrant field workers – the people usually responsible for raising and harvesting the plant-based diet that sustains the vegan lifestyle.
Shortly after the bee incident, being vegan really hit me where it hurts the most: my liver. At a cooking party I was hosting, a guest advised me that the wine I was drinking may have been clarified with isinglass, a substance derived from fish bladders. Having given up the hard stuff, wine had become my slower, but still lovely, intoxicant. “You’ll want to go online and research the brands of wine that you enjoy. You might have to switch,” she suggested.
Seriously, God – you really hate me, right? You don’t just plant the “Become a Vegan” idea in my head, then casually – at a much later date – drop the wine bomb on me. Oh, and God, in case you’re wondering, I’m officially agnostic.
I realized that these people were serious. Veganism wasn’t a diet; it was an admirable commitment to living life in a way that doesn’t exploit animals in any manner whatsoever. Yet, as much as I respected my new friends for making this difficult, moral choice, I also recognized that I had to be true to myself…and my embossed leather Coach bags. If I didn’t opt for a more compassionate non-leather sofa, I’d soon be a hypocrite – not to mention, I’d spend every spare moment removing fur from
a friggin’ cat hair magnet a cruelty-free fabric recliner. It became clear that I was not an ethical vegan, as most of my friends called themselves. I was doing this for my health – and unless the occasional teaspoon of honey was going to give me cancer or cause Bob Barker’s head to explode, I wasn’t really worried about it. Where did that leave me? Was I an unethical vegan? And, more importantly, why was I letting the word vegan define who I was and what I ate? Vegans aren’t like virgins – you can be just a little bit vegan.
Thus, in the interest of not being a vegan fraud, a hypocrite, a sober person or just plain grumpy, I’ve decided to start my own church: The Church of Vegan-Lite. With all of the health benefits, but only half the guilt and no rosary, a Vegan-Litist, as I like to think of myself, is mostly vegan, but makes exceptions here and there. For example, though I will inform food servers that I’m a vegan, I am quick to reassure them that I’m not militant about it and won’t douse them with a bucket of red paint if they suggest the steak tartare special to Hubby. Likewise, I’ve chosen to integrate certain foods back into my diet, but those foods can’t be too decadent or I’ll be required to self-flagellate like an albino monk. Thus, I’ve reintroduced egg whites to our refrigerator; after all, they’re fucking egg whites. Is there a less-offensive and healthier non-vegan food out there? Doctors practically prescribe them. Dr. Carrie Rubin, back me up here, will ya?
I’ve also discovered that if I drink a sufficient amount of vino, I completely forget all about fish bladders and bone char. Problem solved.
The only remaining issue is my hesitancy to lead – or follow, for that matter – which is why the Church of Vegan-Lite currently has only one member. So if any of you vegans out there are just jonesin’ to spoon some honey into your mug of cruelty-free, organic green tea, go for it. I grant you permission to become the bishop of your own Vegan-Lite parish. Just promise me one thing: switch the Welch’s out for a nice cabernet sauvignon, would ya?
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If you’re an ethical vegan, please know that I respect your views (and the fact that you aren’t, apparently, tempted by cheese every moment of the day) even though I don’t necessarily agree with them fully. So don’t be a hater. I really do love you guys!
***Photo credits: Communion: therubicon.org Madonna: articles.dailynews.com Holy Trinity: catholicbible101.com Kickball: keanradio.com Cheese: igourmet.com Daiya Cheese: mfablog.org Slaves: bbc.co.uk Dog Hair: blog.sfgate.com Albino monk: aveleyman.com
Thomas Edison legendarily tested potential employees by inviting them to dinner. If they sprinkled salt on their food before tasting it, he refused to hire them, viewing their thoughtless salting as a sign that their preconceived mindset would prevent them from analyzing a situation thoroughly before taking action. To be fair, this method of eliminating job applicants has also been attributed to Henry Ford, IBM, and General MacArthur, to name just a few.
And I think it’s bullshit.
I love salt. A dash brings out the subtle flavors of food. Salt is to the beefsteak tomato what Matt Damon is to Ben Affleck – the ingredient that makes it worthy of notice. Though I often taste my food before sprinkling it with salt, I like to think that my decision to pre-salt my bowl of Fly Bar’s truffled macaroni and cheese doesn’t make me incapable of critical analysis, but rather demonstrates that homo sapiens are able to learn and make choices based on previously acquired knowledge. Sure, it’s possible that the restaurant could hire a new chef who knows how to properly season food with what I affectionately call The White Devil, but an extra dash of salt never hurt anybody.
And pepper – make mine freshly ground and applied as liberally to a dish as Donald Trump’s self-tanner is sprayed onto his Oompa Loompa orange face. Black pepper is fine, but a gourmet combination of black, white, red and green peppercorns is sublime. If I had a dick, fresh ground pepper would make it hard.
As with all As Seen On TV! products, I was blown away by the revolutionary new baking craze that is sweeping the nation. Bake Pops. Yes, I know. It’s mind-blowing. Cake on a stick. ON A STICK! Certainly, a nuclear physicist or Nobel winning scientist was behind this invention. What are Bake Pops, you ask? Seriously? You don’t know? Some of us clearly aren’t reading Wired, Newsweek, Time, Popular Science or Woman’s Day. Bake Pops are small round cakes with a stick inserted into them so that they can be dipped in frosting or chocolate and decorated to your liking.
No more eating cake off a plate. Talk about a nuisance. If I had a dime for every time someone turned to me at a party and said, “Cristy, I’d rather have a root canal than eat this slice of carrot cake off a plate with a fork. What a hassle!” To begin with, you’ve got to have napkins, forks, and plates available – and in an economy like ours, that’s just not a given. I can’t tell you how often I’ve simply fallen to my knees and sobbed upon discovering that Wal-Mart was out of plastic forks…again. Have you any idea how embarrassing it is to ask your party guests to eat cake with their fingers? Their nails become sticky with frosting and then they need extra napkins. Like you’ve got plenty of those to go around. It’s not like paper just grows on trees. Suddenly, you’re a friggin’ napkin ATM machine.
As a civilized society, we’re expected to multi-task – particularly at parties. Despite the fact that everyone – our families, our employers, our friends, our Facebook friends, our LinkedIn contacts, our fellow bloggers, our Twitter followers, our co-workers, our former co-workers whom we avoid because they left under less-than-favorable circumstances, and people we pretend to like at Starbucks, but just so they don’t spit in our pumpkin lattes – expect us to be able to do more in less time, we still only have two hands and ten fingers (unless you’re a carpenter, in which case, make that eight or nine fingers).
If there’s one thing there’s never enough of at parties, it’s chairs and tables. This is assuming you attend good parties. Now if the guy at work who picks his nose and keeps his boogers on a piece of notebook paper in his top desk drawer invites you to a party at his mother’s house, there is a chance that they’ll be plenty of places to sit and tables upon which to rest your paper plate. However, I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt, so the odds are that you’ll be standing around trying to juggle your plate, fork, and napkin in one hand, with your cell phone tucked under one armpit and a glass of punch in the other. And maybe Larry from down the street, slipped a little something into that punch. Wink. Wink. Nudge. Nudge. Which means you’ll be tipsy. Or sloshed.
As you know, this is when things spin out of control. Melanie, that fabulous hair stylist you’ve been dying to get an appoint with, is there and is willing to work you into her schedule. Scraping your cake to one side of your plate with your fork, you set your cup of punch next to it. Then, withdrawing your cell from your armpit, you attempt, one-handed, to enter Melanie’s contact information. But you’ve had more than a few sips of Larry’s mysterious brew. Your balance is a little off. The hand holding the plate shakes from the added and poorly-distributed weight of the punch glass, and the pink liquid splashes onto the freshly-mopped, tile floor. Your phone rings in the middle of entering the appointment date and time into your calendar and, as you struggle to answer it without having to re-enter the information, you slip on the spilled punch and fall. Landing on your back, you watch in horror as the plate flies into the air, then plummets towards your head. When it’s all said and done, you’ve got a plastic fork in your eye and your hostess is pissed off because of all the napkins you’ve used to sop up the blood. But thanks to Bake Pops, that will never happen again.
Nor will Granny break her good hip in the inevitable frosting slip ‘n fall accident. Every year, thousands of elderly people slip on icing at their grandkids’ birthday parties. Most will die in the hospital of pneumonia – a common complication. Is serving a cake the size of a coffee table worth Papa Joe lying cold and dead in a grave? Is writing out “Happy Birthday, Amber” on a pink cake with a unicorn theme worth the loss of fourteen more years with Nana Gertrude? I don’t think so. Preserve a future for your children with their rambling, incoherent and crippled elders by purchasing Bake Pops. You can dip them (the Bake Pops, not their elders) in pink chocolate and sprinkle them with silver (inedible) snowflakes for little Amber next year. It’s almost like the real thing. Not quite. But then, how will your children ever experience feeding their grandparents by hand – and wiping the baby food and spittle off their mouths – unless you convert to the new Bake Pops revolution? Would you deprive your parents of their second childhood? I think not.
Of course, every hostess is worried about one of her guests choking to death because, in an attempt to emulate the Man vs. Food host, one loser will try to cram an entire slice of cake into his mouth at once. Nothing’s worse than having to explain to the paramedics, the medical examiner and the dead idiot’s wife that the deceased inadvertently killed himself because he thought he could top the portly Travel Channel television host. “Watch me while I cram this entire cake into my mouth within the next two minutes!” he’d cried triumphantly. For the last time. Don’t let this happen to you. Why spend unnecessary hours being questioned by detectives, comforting the dead moron’s widow, and paying a cleaning crew to clean up the urine and other fluids that tend to ooze out of a body upon death when you can simply buy Bake Pops? It’s impossible for a drunken guest to squeeze an entire slice of cake into his mouth at once because Bake Pops are bite-sized.
In addition to preventing permanent disfigurement and death, this amazing new product will also help you avoid committing many of the dreaded, social faux-paux associated with cake serving and cake eating etiquette. For example, cutting the cake. Who does it? The birthday girl, the hostess, the guy with the Bowie knife in his sock? Do you begin cutting in the corner or, in the event that you’re serving the classic bikini cake, do you start with a nipple for the birthday boy?
How do you determine cake slice size? For example, do you give a translucent slice to the fat girl? What do you do if the fat girl passes her skinny piece to Nicole Ritchie (What? She doesn’t come to all of your parties? That’s ’cause you haven’t been serving Bake Pops!) and asks for the chunky, corner slice you’ve just plated – the one with all the frosting and three blue rosettes? If you were serving Bake Pops, this would never be an issue. Bake Pops are all the same size. Unlike cake slices, Bake Pops can be exactly the same. Not different, but equal. Yes, equal. If you choose, your Bake Pops can all be the same color, with the same sprinkles and the same number of rosettes. Or, if you’re planning a tea party, the vanilla Pops can be richer and taxed at a lower rate than the chocolate Pops…but that’s totally up to you.
A generous company, Bake Pops isn’t only committed to preventing blindness, saving lives and promoting portion-controlled diets, it is sincerely committed to recycling. In light of this fact, here are some other great ways in which you can use Bake Pops’s patented “stick” to bring even more efficiency, safety and enjoyment into your life.
1) Egg Pops: Tired of chopping your hard-boiled eggs using one of those uber-complicated, one step, egg slicers? Why not insert the Bake Pop stick into your egg instead? Save yourself all that sweaty, difficult, single-step slicing and let your teeth do the work for you! That is what your chompers were designed for.
2) Potato Pops: Try grilling these babies along with some New York strip steaks at your next pool party. Dip them in sour cream and chives – and your guests will be talking about them over the water cooler on Monday. Watch out! They can be a little warm in the middle.
3) Brussels Pops: Tell your kids that they’re cabbage-flavored lollipops – and serve them with plenty of butter. Kids love butter. And at their age, cholesterol really isn’t an issue, now is it?
4) Onion Pops: Talk about the perfect pre-date appetizer for your teens. No one’s gonna get pregnant at this Homecoming Dance. And no cooking required! Looking for a twist? Try it with a bulb of fresh garlic. Your eyes will burst into flames just trying to read a Twilight novel.
5) Poop Pops: For us dog lovers, we know nothing satiates our canine’s appetite more than another dog’s feces. Or, if your pooch is into the exotic, try using kitty poo – the litter tastes just like vanilla sprinkles to them! Don’t forget – nothing compliments an ass-kabob like a little au jus dipping sauce. Rover will lap it right up.
6) Soylent Pops: Looking to keep your carbon footprint as small as possible? Why not dine on your like-minded, green counterparts who, instead of dedicating their bodies to science, dedicated them to sustenance? To keep the cycle-of-life turning – and as green as possible – consider nourishing another human with your flesh and celebrate in the knowledge that no paper or plastic products will be used in the serving of your dead, cooked corpse.
7) Salt Pops: Why should a cow enjoy the ease of a salt lick whenever it wants, when you’ve got to concern yourself with seasoning your food or salting the rim of your margarita glass? Why rip open teeny tiny containers of salt or struggle with the hardened white mass stuck inside the restaurant shaker when you can carry your own discreet salt pop everywhere you go? What – you want to do shots? No problem. Lick your Salt Pop, slam that tequila and then suck on a slice of lime. Easily shared, Salt Pops will make you the favorite drunk at the bar.
For more information on Bake Pops, tune in to your favorite television station late at night when advertising is cheap or check out the demo on You Tube: Bake Pops Demo. Your kid’s eye could depend on it.
Okay. I’ve got a huge confession to make. Lately, I’ve been hitting the sauce. Hard. I do it alone, during the day, when my husband’s at work. I do it at night after he’s drifted off to sleep so that he won’t notice the smell. I’ve gone through so many bottles in recent months, I’ve taken to hiding them in the bottom of the garbage can under vegetable cuttings, instead of rinsing them and disposing of them in the recycling bin. I’d be mortified if the neighbors found out.
I’m not a desperate kind of addict. You’ll never catch me dumpster-diving behind a Ruth Chris Steakhouse holding nearly-empty bottles up to my lips, trying to suck out the last few drops. Now, I’m not above filling my shopping cart with the long, slender bottles if the store has a Buy One, Get One Free sale – which doesn’t happen very often – but I’ve got no choice. It’s an expensive habit. The stares I receive from other shoppers is, of course, embarrassing. You can practically hear them thinking, “Leave a bottle or two for the rest of us, would you.” That said, they are standing there, waiting to buy some as I clear the shelf with a broad sweep of my arm, so they’re not exactly innocent. Perhaps they’re more casual users. Maybe they only use it “socially.” That’s how I started. But when you start stocking up during sales, the bottles call to you during the day. Just take a nip. A little bit won’t hurt. No one will know.
As you would expect, my esophagus no longer likes me. The stuff burns on the way down even though I’m careful to hit the sauce very slowly. But sometimes, I just crave it. I can’t control myself. When I imbibe too much, it causes my tongue to crack into angry crevices like a parched desert at midday. I’m not sure if it’s the sodium content or the vinegar, but A-1 Steak Sauce is harsh stuff – straight, anyway. And I’m not talking about a few drops on a piece of steak either. That’s strictly for amateurs. I eat it out of a bowl. Off my finger. Oh, please. Like you never wiped up an awesome bit of sauce with your finger and stuck it in your mouth. It’s not like I don’t wash my hands first. And I don’t have cooties. Anymore.
My relationship with sauce – not just A-1 – is long and enduring. Some would say it’s unhealthy. For the most part, I view food as a “sauce delivery system.” This may sound strange, but it’s not exactly a new concept. Back in 1996, the U.S. Justice Department’s criminal investigation into the tobacco industry revealed that cigarettes contain chemical additives that promote addiction to nicotine. At the time, Jeffrey Wigand, a whistleblower and former V.P. with Brown & Williamson, indicated that cigarettes were considered by the tobacco industry to be “nicotine delivery systems.” This was a revelation of Sixty Minutes’proportions and Big Tobacco got sued. And they lost.
Tonight at dinner, my friend insisted that burgers are just a “ketchup delivery system.” I was shocked to hear her use a term so familiar to me – and one that I was already writing about. Even more shocking was the fact that my husband chimed in and claimed that cake frosting also has a delivery system. When prodded to reveal the nature of the system (i.e. cake, cupcakes, brownies), he responded, “Frosting.” Ah, so what he really meant is that a spoon is a “frosting delivery system,” since he’d never use his finger because he thinks that’s gross. By the way, I’ve never seen my husband actually eat a can of frosting. If you remember from earlier posts, this is the guy whose favorite shirt reads “I Make Stuff Up.” Then again, perhaps he’s doing it while I sleep. Hmmmm.
Regardless, I know I’m not the only one. Still, for years now, I’ve felt ostracized, hiding my secret from friends and family. Hiding? Really, you ask. Yeah. Picture the scene: several friends have joined us at our home for something meaty I made in the crock pot because that’s where food comes from…at my house anyway. As I gather up the empty plates, the inevitable question is proffered, “Dessert? We’ve got ice cream.” All heads nod and, a few minutes later, I serve bowl after bowl filled with Breyer’s vanilla – the kind with the specks in it. Then I join them with a bowl of A-1 and my finger. The dribbling of caramel and pouring of chocolate sauce stops momentarily as all eyes quizzically focus on the contents of my dish.
One friend – we’ll call her Molly – puckers her lips and makes her stern face. “Are you eating a bowl of chocolate sauce? Do you know how many carbs are in that?” She shakes her head, eyes my waist significantly, then shares uncomfortable glances with the other dinner guests. As this is an imaginary dinner party, I immediately jump up, turn into a huge, hairy monster and eat Molly whole…except for her hands. I take the time to dip each and every one of her fingers into the bowl of A-1 before I crunch them down.
Assuming I restrained myself and didn’t eat Molly, the dinner might have continued in this manner. Smiling awkwardly, I say, “Molly, you crazy bitch, you. Just like I’d never tell anyone about your third nipple, I would never eat a bowl of chocolate sauce. That’s just crazy talk.” After Molly bounds out her chair, presumably running towards the bathroom for a good cry, the rest of the crowd begins to demand to know what it’s the bowl.
“Is that some kind of tofutti ice cream, you got there, Cristy? Looks like it’s melted a bit.”
“No, it smells familiar. George, don’t you think that smells familiar?”
“It’s pudding, isn’t it? She’s eatin’ pudding. Now there’s nothing wrong with that. Ummm, it is diet pudding – right, Cristy? Regular pudding’s got a lotta sugar in it, you know.”
My veins pulse and my muscles begin to bulge, ready to split my clothes to shreds (except for a few strategically places bikini-esque loin cloth pieces) as my body begins the process of turning into the huge, hairy monster, so that I can eat stupid Pudding Girl and suck the A-1 from her fingers. However, just in time, I take a sip of my perfectly prepared dirty martini (shaken, not stirred) and manage to relax sufficiently to reverse the process. Waving my free hand in front of my sweat-dripping face, I say in a hushed voice by way of explanation, “Perimenopause.” That’s one of those conversation finishers. Usually.
But these dinner guests – they’re not the sharpest crayons in the box. Think about it. If you were going to debut your bizarre food habit, would you do it in front of clever, insightful people who’d spend the evening discussing what Freud would make of your obsession and then blog about it the next day? I think not. You invite your Tier 3 guests – the kind who would somehow mistake A-1 Steak Sauce for melted tofutti. The kind who grew up next to a nuclear power plant and has an extra nipple – and a prehensile tail she’s never told you about.
“Perry-men-all-pause?” one man with an accent thicker than the tires on his John Deere repeats, confused. “You mean like when that Governor tries countin’ to three.” Okay, I might have invited a few relatives.
“No, forget it. Look, it’s A-1 sauce. In my bowl. I like the way it tastes, okay. ‘Variety is the spice of life,’ right?”
“You mean the steak sauce?” I nod. “The stuff you put on steak?” I nod again. Does this really need clarification? “The stuff in the brown bottle that you put on beef?” Oh, Lord. It’s gonna be a long night.
“Yes. A-1 Steak Sauce,” I state firmly. “The stuff you put on any kind of beef you could ever think of. Ever. You don’t even have to mention all the kinds of beef because, I assure you, they’re included.”
“Yes, even London Broil.” The next person to name a cut of beef dies.
Having returned to the table by now, Molly’s eyebrow shoots up as she self-consciously pats down a small, suspicious bump in the middle of her stomach. “Didn’t you dip the roast beef we had tonight in that stuff?”
“Yep, I did. Is it warm in here? Anyone want me to turn the air-conditioning on?”
Molly shoots me her stink eye. “You poured it over your veggies too, didn’t you?”
As I walk over to the thermostat to turn the air on full blast (Shoulda’ worn a band-aid over that third nipple, sweetheart!), I reply, “Yep. And now I’m gonna eat a small bowl of it with my finger for dessert.” As I punch the temperature button lower and lower and lower, I glance over my shoulder at Molly. “Got a problem with that?” She crosses her arms against her chest and shakes her head.
Pudding Girl, on the other hand, still won’t quite let it go. “Have you got a piece of meat swimmin’ somewhere in that sauce?”
“Nope. I’m eating it plain. I’m a purist.” That should shut them up. How do you argue with a purist about anything? It suggests that I’m a connoisseur. That I’m an expert. And, in reality, I am. I don’t ever wander into flavored A-1 territory or settle for HP Sauce or (shudder at the thought) buy a store brand.
But that doesn’t stop Pudding Girl. “Why don’t you use a spoon?” Granted, it’s a fair question.
Everyone around the table nods and I swear, I can read their minds: After all, you weren’t raised in a barn. Nope, I wasn’t…because there weren’t a lot of barns in the suburbs of Miami.
So why don’t I just use a spoon? It is, after all, a neutral, non-caloric delivery system. It could serve the same purpose as my finger. The answer is simple. A-1 is some caustic stuff, let me tell you. A-1’s second ingredient is distilled vinegar and the fourth is salt. Know what a paste made up of vinegar and salt does? It removes lime deposits from chrome sink fixtures. It also kills grass, cleans rust, polishes brass, and removes mineral deposits from shower heads. If meat condiments were whiskey, A-1 Sauce would be moonshine – 150 proof easy. You don’t just shovel this sauce down your throat – or you might not have one come morning. A delicate teaspoon delivering a stream of A-1 sauce down between the tonsils, unimpeded by taste buds, is no different than swallowing a gallon of lye. The finger, unlike the spoon, doesn’t serve up a dangerous river of sauce; the finger is coated in a thin layer of A-1 that can be licked cautiously. Your tongue absorbs the brunt of the blow, much like it does when you eat a bag of Salt & Vinegar potato chips. Much more subtle than a spoon, the finger is a measured sauce delivery system. If fingers weren’t more subtle in every way, people would type with spoons now, wouldn’t they?
So why do I eat it? It’s so yummy. Just the right balance of tomato and vinegar and saltiness and garlic and citrus. Hello…people put it on their filet mignon. If you’re gonna put anything on filet mignon, I have to assume it doesn’t suck. And I’m an addict. When it comes to sauces, I go through phases. For awhile, it was cheese sauce and there are so many acceptable delivery systems for that, let me tell you. Bar-be-que sauce is lovely and I’m convinced that the only reason God created eggs was so that we’d have a valid reason to eat Hollandaise sauce in public. (And yes, I totally clean every drop of Hollandaise out of the little cup with my finger after my eggs are gone. Okay, I’ve been using a spoon lately because my husband glares at me if I don’t.)
By the way, this problem of mine is genetic – as most addictions are. My mom is one of those would-you-like-a-little-bread-with-your-butter kind of person. Come to think of it, she’s also a would-you-like-a-little-hard-boiled-egg-with-your-butter and would-you-like-a-few-French-fries-with-your-mayo kinda girl, too. When I was growing up, she used to make me cauliflower drenched in a browned butter sauce. Swimming in it. It looked like little brains floating in oily sewage, but it tasted divine. Manna from Heaven – which I still believed in at the time. Want the sauce recipe? Cook about a pound of salted butter until it browns and sprinkle in a few breadcrumbs. I’m amazed I didn’t stroke out by the time I was nine. Now, as you probably know, plain cooked cauliflower doesn’t have a ton of flavor. Thus, this was my first exposure to food as a sauce delivery system and I bought into it hook, line and sinker.
My husband loves my mother’s cauliflower, incidentally. In general, he’s a sauce enthusiast. But the difference between me and Matt is a chasm the width of the San Andreas fault. How so? When Matt finishes a meal in which a sauce delivery system is utilized – let’s say, fettucini alfredo – he leaves the remaining sauce on the plate. On the plate! He has absolutely no qualms about scraping that perfectly good sauce into the garbage can or rinsing it from the plate’s surface and down the drain. He wouldn’t dream about surreptitiously carrying his plate into the kitchen and wiping up those last few creamy, savory drops with his finger. He’d never – and I mean, never – lick his plate clean. With his tongue. I’m not saying I’ve done that. I’m just saying Matt hasn’t. You infer what you like from that, judgment mongers.
Me, on the other hand, I’m a green kinda girl. I drive a hybrid and in order to reduce my carbon footprint, I don’t just throw sauce away, willy-nilly. I’m not gonna feel guilty about starving kids in Africa because I don’t waste my béarnaise, thank you very much. I appreciate my sauce and I show my gratitude by finishing it.
“Ummm, Cristy. Doesn’t A-1 Sauce have an awful lot of sodium in it?” Pudding Girl picks the bottle up off the table and examines the label. “Omigod! There’s like 280 mg per serving.”
“How big’s a serving?” Molly pipes in, shivering.
“A tablespoon.” Pudding Girl eyes my bowl, fear clouding her face. “There’s gotta be at least ten tablespoons in there. Lord, that works out to…to…”
“2800 mg of sodium,” Molly pipes up helpfully, smirking as though she just won the Mathletes award. Yeah, ’cause multiplying stuff by ten is soooooo hard. Puleeze! “Girl, you’re a walking heart attack. Do you know that the recommended daily allowance of sodium is only 2400 mg.” When did she become a freaking nutritional chart? She’s only a Tier 3 dinner guest. She’s got the intellectual curiosity of George W. Bush.
Okay, no. I didn’t. But it’s not like I do it every day. And I’m sure that this whole “recommended daily allowance” thing is averaged. If I hit the sauce hard one day, I’ll just eat plain broccoli for the next two days. Still, Molly didn’t stare at my waistline when she said it.
“Yeah, but how many calories does it have?” I snipe back. I know I’ve won here. Wresting the bottle from Pudding Girl’s hand, I examine the nutritional content chart, then crow loudly, “Ha! Only 15 calories. This bowl of A-1 has fewer calories than that giant spoon of caramel-drenched ice cream you’re about to shovel into your mouth, Molly.” Gotcha there, you three-nippled wench.
Dropping her spoon with a clink that warms my heart, Molly offers me a tight smile. Then, it’s as if the proverbial cartoon light bulb clicks on above her head and she basks quietly in its smug glow. “True, but sodium makes you retain water,” she says slyly, then glances at my waist.
If you’d like the recipe for Molly’s A-1 braised fingertips, just shoot me an email.