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.


Colin said...

Sorry, but I'm probably closer to your parents in this. I'll save any food that's remotely salvageable. Of course, "remote" is slightly subjective. The carrots, for instance, probably would have been fine if they were cooked (perhaps roasted...mmmmm...).

You can blame my grandparents' influence on me, I suppose. My abuela used to store raw chicken in a cabinet. I think there was something about dry Spanish weather that kept it from walking around.

WestEnder said...

Oh man, our parents need to get together. Last week I questioned my mom's cooked chicken being left on the stovetop all day long. "It doesn't get BAD," she said. I think she actually believes that.

She used to marinate overnight at room temp (I finally got her to stop that) and regularly "salvages" slimy mushrooms and green beans.