Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Sample Lady

Whole Foods has finally arrived in my corner of middle America. Before it was Whole Foods, though, it was Wild Oats, which was basically the same-- a haven of overpriced, pseudo-gourmet organic goods. Wild Oats employed a woman whose sole responsibility was pushing around a cart of samples, tempting shoppers like myself with these free teasers, and persuading us to buy the product. I felt entitled to whatever the sample lady was peddling from her cart when she came around. She hated my guts.

Standing in the glow of the pastry case, wax paper in hand, I have narrowed my options and am deciding between an oatmeal cookie and a zucchini muffin, and I don’t hear her approaching behind me until she growls,

“Like to try a sample?”

I turn facing her, and she narrows her eyes. She recognizes me. I pretend that I’ve never been offered a sample of anything in my life. Our exchange is always the same.

“What do you have?” I ask.

Vanilla Rice Dream Ice Cream, she’ll say, or pumpkin mousse cups, or shaved roast beef and chipotle mayonnaise on squares of organic whole wheat. It doesn’t matter what she’s offering, I always want it. I accept a roast beef sample. I’m chewing, making noises of approval, nodding with a hand to my mouth, and then she lays down the clincher.

“Roast beef is on sale, two for five dollars. Do you need any roast beef today?”

“Oh, no, but I’ll keep that in mind.” I throw in the last part to hint that one day, because of her efforts, I may return to Whole Foods driven by the memory of that sample and purchase an entire case of roast beef. She never buys it. Instead, she gives me an icy look, as if I have fulfilled her miserably low expectations of me, as if I had wasted her valuable sample peddling time. She says nothing, and she turns her cart around and walks away from me, leaving me with a cellophane-tasseled toothpick and a vague sense of guilt.

Maybe I shouldn’t take samples when I only come in for a pastry. Maybe I should save samples for suburban mothers with three junior soccer stars to feed, people who would genuinely appreciate a sale on roast beef. I shake off these notions quickly when I bring my cookie to the checkout and remind myself that everything at this store is too fucking expensive not to take advantage of all the free food I can lay my hands on.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Baby Carrot Incident

I worked in food service for several years, and so I understand and fully appreciate the Danger Zone. The Danger Zone is a window of temperatures above freezing and below cooking that are very comfortable for bacteria. Vacation weather for bacteria. In the Danger Zone, bacteria fornicate and thrive. They throw parties with tiki bars and shrimp cocktails. Microbes of salmonella bloom into entire nations.

My parents don’t know about the Danger Zone. They were raised by people who lived through the Depression. When you live through a Depression, you lose all ability to throw away food, spoiled or otherwise. Our polarized ideologies are exemplified in our treatment of Specimen 1.A, a cancerous splotch of brown goo afloat in a jar of old applesauce.

In this situation, you respond by:
A) Throwing the whole mess into the garbage disposal
B) Gouging it out with a spoon and dining merrily on what’s left
C) Sticking it back in the refrigerator and cracking open some pudding

The correct answer, if I am grading this test, is A. Mom disagrees.

The refrigerator transformed into a mold incubator when we lost electricity for a full day. Having expertise of food poison, I know that once the temperature rises above forty degrees, everything in the unit has been lost to the Danger Zone. It will be a sad day when we throw the contents of our most treasured appliance away. We could light candles and sing Kumbaya. We can say a few words about the leftovers tossed before their time had come. But it must be done.

Dad didn’t share my view. He treated everything in the refrigerator as if it had just woken up from a brief nap. This is how a bag of baby carrots coated in slime was rinsed in the sink, patted dry, and placed on the dinner table in ceramic bowl.

We dined al fresco on the night of the Baby Carrot Incident. We fought to eat our food before mosquitoes and itch mites ate too much of us. I did not touch the carrots. Dad, confident that he had revived them and provided us with a nutritious side dish, scooped a handful onto his plate and threw one into his mouth.

"Are those the slimy carrots from the refrigerator?"

A simple question, asked innocently enough, but Dad snapped in irritation. He stopped chewing, picked up the bowl of carrots glossy underneath the torch light, and flung them toward the edge of the deck. He had aimed over the railing, where we throw a lot of inedible food into the woods and down a steep hill. The baby carrots, slippery fingers of carrots, missed their target. They scattered across the deck, illuminated for a moment in flight and lost to the darkness as they hit the wooden frame below us with a chorus of soft thuds.

I don't remember clearly, but I think we chuckled. I think we kept eating our burgers and salads sitting in a mine field of rotten carrots spread across the deck. After our meal, we kicked them into the grass and the trees behind the house. Victims of the Danger Zone, sent back into a bed of dirt and decaying leaves.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Lights Out Tandoori Chicken Pitas

Say the electricity blinked out just as you were putting your groceries away. Imagine the wind shrieking outside, tearing leaves and twigs from the trees and scattering them across your lawn like birdseed. What do you do? Whip up a marinade out of greek yogurt and tandoori paste, toss it into a ziploc with some raw chicken, and put it all into your dark refrigerator hoping for the best.

Once it’s time to start cooking, find a safe zone on your deck, load the grill with charcoal and light it up. Avoid tree limbs and other dangerous flying objects. Grill the chicken until it’s cooked through. The tandoori marinade will impart it with an appetizing neon pink appearance


Serve with warm pita bread and cucumber yogurt sauce. Light your dining room with candles snatched from Christmas centerpieces and Halloween decorations. For a side dish, enjoy any other perishable item in your refrigerator before it turns into an unidentifiable heap of mold over the next few days.

Friday, September 12, 2008

New Blog Title

Tired of the old one. I can't resist a great internal rhyme.

More morsels soon!