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.