You Say Tomato …

My husband, the produce expert (left) with recent acquisition
My husband, the produce expert (left) with recent acquisition

My own father – a physician and man of science who spends his days treating critically ill patients at a world-renowned medical center – could not pick a pasta strainer out of a kitchenware line-up and would rather buy a whole new set of unmentionables than figure out how to do laundry. Once and only once did Lew do the grocery shopping when we were little (at the Kings in Garwood). Needless to say, we left with $100 worth of Pringles, Chips Ahoy, Tastykakes, Cookie Crisp cereal and bubble gum-flavored Kissing Potion, a very delicious rollerball lip gloss. Most. Awesome. Supermarket. Trip. Ever.

In short, Lew is a great man who is not such a great help to my mother. As such, I witnessed — on many a childhood weekend — a meltdown during Jan’s Saturday morning cleaning process. I would start to hear angry but unintelligible muttering whilst eating my bowl of Honeycombs. The volume would increase and Jan would start naming random New Jersey countrymen who didn’t get their hands in hot water because they were pritzas.  (Pronounced “preet-zuhs.” I don’t know what this Yiddish word really means, but Jan and Grandma Ethel used it as a derogatory term for  women who were thin, pretty and/or rich). Soon she’d be full-fledged yelling about the lack of help she had around the house, referring to herself as “Tillie the Toiler.”  Meanwhile, “Tillie the Toiler” was actually a smokin’ hot cartoon office worker and part-time model who, according to Wikipedia, had no trouble finding men to escort her around town. Some would argue that Tillie was even a pritza.

The whole thing was most unfortunate.

But I was used to it, and assumed that all households functioned like this. So when Keith and I moved in together, I was shocked to learn I was wrong: not all men drove their wives to faux Tillie the Toilerhood.  If I start emptying the dishwasher, Keith feels guilty and immediately comes to help. Sometimes he even does it before I get out of bed. He also does his own laundry, irons from time to time and assists with fitted sheet folding. And by far the most helpful contribution Keith makes is food shopping. He says he finds it satisfying. I give him a list, he adds to it as needed, then heads to the store and calls me if he has any questions. Rather cutely, he then presents me with the groceries and eagerly waits for me to approve his purchases, which I always do.

Last week, one of the items on the list was iceberg lettuce. When I took it out of the bag, it felt really heavy and was so big I had to clear a shelf in the refrigerator  to accommodate it.  Keith looked very proud. The next eve, I went to prepare our salad. The lettuce was freakishly hard to cut. Its leaves seemed thick and rubbery and as I struggled to get the knife through them, the mysterious scent of Brussels sprouts wafted up to my nose. At first, I attributed the cutting difficulty to a sudden onset palsy that was obviously causing me to lose muscle control. The smell had to be a side effect – didn’t stroke survivors report experiencing strange aro… wait a minute. This wasn’t palsy. This was CABBAGE!

Frick on a leafy green stick.

I jumped away from the counter immediately, afraid that even the slightest contact with it would cause global thermo-gastrointestinal disaster.

Keith apologized profusely, but I told him it was an honest mistake and not to worry. Iceberg and cabbage bear an uncanny resemblance and really, only a seasoned shopper and vegetable-chopper would easily recognize the difference. Frozen green beans to the rescue.

This week, I put zucchini on the list. Keith handed me the bag, which also seemed heavier than it should have. A quick look inside revealed what appeared to be three ginormous … and purple … zucchini. Or, as you might know them, EGGPLANT.

Le sigh.

There would be no roasted zucchini with olive oil and breadcrumbs for dinner that night. I knew Keith would feel terrible if I told him, but I also knew he’d feel bad if I just left the purple “zucchini” I’d requested rotting in the refrigerator. So I did what any good wife would do. I made a lifetime supply of mediocre eggplant parmesan. And baba ganoush. And ratatouille (sans zucchini).

Keith is an amazing husband (especially for letting me make fun of him in this post) and never, ever causes me to refer to myself as Tillie the Toiler or to anyone else as a pritza. But no man is perfect – and clearly, he needs a bit of tutelage in the produce department. Perhaps I am at fault here – perhaps I failed him by not preparing him better for the world of supermarketry.

I am off to enroll him in Edible Vegetation 101.

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You Say Tomato …

The Pink, The Brown, The White and The Ugly

Behold, another quick tale that links thematically to Monday’s poetically titled “It Stinks” post.  But first, some background.

For most of my life, I have shied away from Neapolitan ice cream.  While I did find its delicate pink, white and brown color scheme quite pretty,  I associated the flavor with Homer Simpson, trailer park denizens and assorted ne’er-do-wells.  I have no idea why, but I did.  Sorry.

But then last week, I partook of the evening meal chez my friend Elissa and for dessert, she served Neapolitan Edy’s Slow Churned Light Ice Cream.  Enhanced with Reddi-Whip and chocolate syrup, the triumvirate was surprisingly tasty — and reasonably low-fat.  Why not recreate the experience in my own home?

As I needed to replenish my supply of Diet Dr. Pepper anyway, I made a 9 p.m. trip to the supermarket a block up from my apartment.  Unfortunately, Food Emporium stocked only the full-fat version of Edy’s Neapolitan, so I was forced to go with Breyers’ take on the product.  I wasn’t really disappointed, because I’ve never been a big fan of polysorbate 80 and everyone knows that Breyers is devoid of this substance. (Please refer to the 1980s Breyers commercial featuring a cloying little boy who struggled to read the chemical ingredients of a rival ice cream brand, but could easily pronounce Breyers’ wholesome components like “vanilla,” “milk” and “sugar.” )

With quart in tow, I headed to the slow-as-molasses check-out line and waited my turn.  I didn’t want to pick up the latest copy of US while the manager was within eye range, as I feared he would chide me for RWP (Reading Without Purchasing).  The only diversion, therefore, was to take note of what my fellow shoppers had in their carts. 

A peek in the basket of the lawyerly young woman in front of me revealed nothing remarkable: a few sad apples, plain yogurt, two (2) Lean Cuisines, generic paper towel, Vitamin Water, frozen spinach, and a copy of Anorexic Monthly.

Disappointed, I turned subtly to see who was behind me.  It was a well-groomed man in his late 40s who bore a slight resemblance to Andrea Bocelli.  JACKPOT! Perhaps there is something wrong with me, but once I saw what he was about to buy, I couldn’t WAIT to get out of the store and share it with someone.

In one arm, Andrea had FOUR (4) BOXES of Kellogg’s All-Bran cereal.  In the other, he had A 12-PACK of Charmin Ultra Soft “bathroom tissue.”  

The Pink, The Brown, The White and The Ugly

Sweet and Sour

 

Pretty Photo, Ugly Flavors

Please note: The photo above appears here courtesy of Cybele (candyblog.net). Thanks, Cybele!

Among the many emergency supplies I carry around with me in my pocketbook is a pack of LifeSavers.  I keep it in a ziplock bag along with no fewer than three flavors of sugarless gum (two mint varieties and one fruit flavor) and a Triple Threat Power Bar.  Yes, it’s a little sad and spinster old lady-ish, but halitosis is a very real issue, and you never know when the next bout of hypoglycemia will kick in. I like to be prepared, and LifeSavers are a portable way to avoid passing out on the subway. You may scoff, but I’ll never forget the episode of “Happy Days” in which Joanie and Howard Cunningham were locked inside the hardware store and Joanie saved Howard from resorting to cannibalism by feeding him the melted candy bar she had in her pocket.  

As it happens, this afternoon I was returning to the Upper West Side after a jaunt to Bloomingdale’s when a particularly virulent bout of low blood sugar overcame me.  I reached in to my Mary Poppins-sized faux patent bag — procured in Dallas with Dave — and dug out my trusty (unopened) roll of “5 Flavors.”  Traditionally, I opt for the all-cherry pack, but I’d been unable to find it and gone with this one in its stead.  It had thus been some time since I’d had any flavor other than cherry, and was happy to see that the first ring in this pack was of the green variety. Mmm … lime … dee-licious! [INSERT COOKIE MONSTER VOICE]

A more fitting thought would have been, “FRICK ON A PLASTIC-TASTING, LIME-IMPERSONATING STICK!” 

Green, it seemed, was no longer the color of lime but rather, of WATERMELON. And I like watermelon as much as the next guy, but not in LifeSaver form and certainly not in place of LIME.  I winced and bit down on the offending piece, eager to be rid of it and move on to the next.

But there would be no comfort in the next, yellow LifeSaver. That one, which I’d always known to be lemon, was now PINEAPPLE.  And after that, it was a bruise-colored RASPBERRY.  In the immortal words of my friend Loren’s husband, “Da fuck, man?!” How could any confection company take away a classic flavor like LEMON and replace it with PINEAPPLE?!

I reviewed the fine print on the striped wrapper, thinking perhaps someone at the LifeSaver factory had put a “5 Flavors” wrapper on an “Exotic Fruits” roll by accident. But the mistake was mine. I read the list of enclosed flavors: Watermelon [tiny LifeSaver-shaped bullet] Pineapple [tiny LifeSaver-shaped bullet] Cherry [tiny LifeSaver-shaped bullet] Raspberry [tiny LifeSaver-shaped bullet] Orange.  The simple, elegant candy I had known and loved since the very early 70s — the candy I often chose (over Fruit Stripes gum) at the Parsonage Diner in Edison — was gone forever.  

I fully understand why new products come along, but I do not understand why they have to piggyback off the good name of long-standing favorites. Go ahead and sell pineapple and raspberry LifeSavers. But for the love of god, put ’em in a TROPICAL or MIXED BERRY pack. Leave lemon alone! What did lemon every do to you?!

Another example of this is the Three Musketeers bar, now available in MINT. Ew! A Three Musketeers bar is, by definition, taupe nougat surrounded by chocolate. It is not supposed to contain pale GREEN nougat. Invent a new candy bar — call it the Three Stooges or the Three Minty Wisemen! But why add a whole new connotation — and a rather unappealing one, at that — to a staple of Halloween buckets everywhere?

Hershey’s? CHEAP, GOOD MILK CHOCOLATE FROM THE MIDDLE OF PENNSYLVANIA. Don’t put it in a fancy label, don’t use the word “caςao” to describe it and don’t try to sell it as a fine Brazilian import.  It was PERFECT the way it was.

Snickers Almond? It’s called a Mars bar. Junior Caramels? They’re called ROLOS. What’s next? PEANUT JOY? REESE’S JELLY CUPS?

Recall, if you will, the M&M jingle of yore — “…the milk chocolate melts in your mouth, not in your hands.” MILK chocolate, people. MILK. Not dark. MILK.

Dr. Pepper is a flavor unto itself. Don’t add vanilla. Don’t add cherry. If you want cherry-vanilla soda, INVENT A NEW ONE.

Dunkin’ Donuts, as the name implies, should sell DONUTS, not PIZZA. PIZZA Hut, similarly, should sell PIZZA, not pasta. It’s not Dunkin’ Pizza and it’s not Pasta Hut. I shudder to think about the consequences of a mix-up at either venue. Boston Kreme Pizza? Deep-dish rigatoni?

And THEN, I come to Word Press, seeking refuge, and the entire dashboard is different. I see burnt siena bars where none were before. The buttons are in different places. This is just mean! Is nothing sacred? It’s a sad, sad world. What would Willy Wonka say?

Sweet and Sour

Tales From the Tundra: Another Nail In the Coffin

In my pre-tundra New York days, visiting one of the city’s bazillion manicure and pedicure providers was a long-standing weekend tradition for my friends and me.  First, we’d meet at the diner on Saturday or Sunday. Then, we’d head to Zen or Pinky or Cindy’s or Trevi or Lincoln Nails, choose from a rainbow array of sheer pink nail polishes with asinine names, make snide comments about the other girls there, and enjoy some hand grooming.  

Please note: regular ‘curing may sound extravagant to those in more remote parts, but in New York, there are nail salons on every corner, and the average manicure costs less than $10.  As it happens, I have extremely dry skin and cuticles, so I view manicuring as a health-related expense. But mostly, it’s a nice way to spend time with my friends and engage in some catty commentary.  

In Michigan, there were no diners and my only friends were Sloth (ex-husband) and Ollie (dognapped Wheaten terrier — see “Meet Ollie” page), neither of whom could be counted on for manicure companionship.  Furthermore, nail care providers in Michigan were much fewer and farther between, more expensive, not as clean, poorer quality, and overall just sucky.  I had to take matters into my own unmanicured hands. 

Unfortunately, the aforementioned unmanicured hands are less than steady, and eventually I had to give up on polished fingernails.  Toes were do-able providing no one looked too closely, but the colors I had with me on the tundra weren’t really foot-appropriate.  There happened to be a respectable-looking beauty supply store in the Colonnade, the “ultra-posh” strip mall across the street from our apartment in the equally “ultra-posh” Briar Cove complex.  Desperate for something to do, I made nail polish selection my official Wednesday errand and looked forward to this important task.

When I hit the beauty supply store, I spent half an hour poring over various shades and brands of wine-colored nail polish before settling on a delightful, deep burgundy hue called “Berry Hard.”

Eagerly, I headed to the cashier and waited for at least 10 minutes while a mohawked hairdresser paid, in pennies, for approximately 40 bottles of shampoo. Just as the transaction seemed to be wrapping up, the hairdresser noticed a mysterious ingredient in the shampoo he was purchasing: placenta. This fascinated him.  He launched into a series of questions about the origins, purpose and effect of “play-say-nta,” as if his upscale clientele in YPSILANTI really gave a shit.

At last it was my turn to pay, and I placed the bottle of “Berry Hard” on the counter with the pride and anticipation of a child who had saved all her life for one toy. 

“Cane I see your lay-cense?,” asked the stylish cashier who had obviously bought her outfit at Forever 21 but told herself she was clad in Prada.
 
“My license? You need my driver’s license for a $3-bottle of nail polish?”
 
“No,” replied the cashier. “Don’t you hay-ve your byew-uh-tician lay-cense?”
 
It was hard to refrain from uttering my Michigan mantra — ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? — but I have to admit, I also felt like a dejected moron. I felt like the whole state had broken me.

 “No ma’am, no I do not. I am not a licensed beautician.” I could barely speak above a whisper. My shame was evident.

“Well then Aim sorry, you cane not shapp in this store. It’s just for the industry.”

Miserable, I walked home and went online to see if there were any other places I might be able to purchase one little bottle of nail polish.  (Keep in mind that while I did have access to a decent CVS, said store did not carry products by Essie, the company that made “Berry Hard.”) It turned out there was another beauty supply store just a short drive away, and they sold “Berry Hard.” Again I found the bottle, caressed it longingly and waited on line to pay. Again I received the news that only lay-censed byew-uh-ticians could dispense cash there. To make matters worse, a lard-ass manicurist at the register next to me was buying several bottles of THE VERY SAME SHADE. It was a cruel trick of the pedicure gods.

There was one more option: a place on the other side of town. 

This time, I didn’t get my hopes up.  Before heading down Nail Polish Row and checking to see if “Berry Hard” was an option, I asked if one had to be a licensed beautician to shop there. It was a question I never in a million years imagined I’d have to utter.

A kindly salesperson replied that the store was open to shoppers of all professions.

“Even out-of-work publicity writers?!”

“Even out-of-work publicity writers.”

 She was like Glynda the Good Witch.  I wanted to hug her. 

At last, “Berry Hard” would be mine.  If only that store SOLD “Berry Hard.”

That night, I relayed the story to Sloth. I hoped he’d be so upset about my trauma that he’d offer to quit his job the next day and move back to civilization pronto.  But he found it rioutously funny.

He was still chuckling a few hours later when I came out of the bathroom sporting two coats of “God Save the Queen’s Nails.”

Tales From the Tundra: Another Nail In the Coffin

Tales From the Tundra: Can’t Get There From Here

saladpita.jpg

 

You may or may not have picked up on the fact that the six months I spent in Michigan with my ex-husband were not exactly the happiest chunk of my life.  Allow me to put it this way: one year for a human is seven years for a dog.  Similarly, one month in Michigan was an eternity for me.  So as far as I’m concerned, I spent six eternities in that craphole.

There were, of course, a few good things that came from my midwestern experience.  One was Ollie, the ginormous-headed Wheaten terrier we got from a breeder at the cutely named Raisin Tree Farms. Two was the availability of chipatis (pictured above) from Pizza House (conveniently located in both Ann Arbor and East Lansing).  Chipatis are really just shredded salad ingredients in giant pitas, but the accompanying condiment — a mysterious elixir of what I suspect to be salsa and ranch dressing — is dee-licious.  Three was the scrawny and kindly college student at Bed, Bath & Beyond on Washtenaw who suggested I watch a new show called “Family Guy.” But honestly, that’s about all I can say without cursing.

My geographic frustration began right away. I arrived in Michigan from New York at the end of July, and it was already cold.  I felt like a member of the Donner party, realizing too late I wasn’t going to make it — the elements, circumstance and a series of poor decisions would triumph over my will.  On the second day of my creepy new life, I took the Jeep — which, by the way, isn’t the easiest car to drive when you’re five feet, no inches — and decided to seek solace in the extra-wide aisles of the local Meijer (pronounced like “Myer”) superstore. 

I had no idea where anything was, of course, so very logically, I called Meijer to ask for directions.  The conversation went like this.

Hi, I’m coming from the depressing apartment complex on Eisenhower Boulevard.  Can you tell me how to get to your store?

Five-second pause.

WHOO! WHOOOOO BOY. I sher doon’t think I cane. I am so say-ree hon.  I just doon’t noo what to tale you.

Five-second pause on my end due to horrible realization that I now live in Michigan.

Oh. Okay. Well, how did you get to work today? Maybe that will help.

Five-second pause.

WHOO.  Ache-tually, may husbay-nd draped me off on his way to work.

Five-second pause as I see if there’s anything in the car I can use to hang myself at the next light.

Maybe there’s someone else there I could ask for directions?

Five-second pause, then significant volume increase.

HAAAAAAAAAAAAAANK! HANK! HANK! Theers a young lady on the phoon who needs day-rections. Cane you peak up?

Audible clip-clopping.

OOHkay hon. Thay-ts Hank, may husbay-nd. Hay-ng on.

 

Five-second pause as I process the fact that “Hank” didn’t merely deposit his wife at Meijer and continue on in his American car to another place of employment, but actually works there as well.

 

Whoo boy! I sher hope Hank cane tell me where the fuck May-er is, or I’m giving up and going to Tear-get.

Tales From the Tundra: Can’t Get There From Here