Monday, May 30, 2011

Hold the Mayo

"[He] brought me to his apartment, and without even inquiring, set to work frying in olive oil two eggs with the darkest orange yolks I had ever seen, then sprinkled them with a coarse sea salt and cut a slice from a thick, crusty loaf of bread...I was craving salt and starch. Eggs and bread. In the evening, we walked to a restaurant near the Acropolis. Without wasting a moment on that awkward and tedious conversation that will unhappily precede so many hundreds and hundreds of future restaurant meals in all of our lives -- whether to share or not to share and whether or not there are food phobias and dietary restrictions among us -- [he] simply ordered food for the table without even consulting a menu, and so set the standard for me for all time of excellent hospitality: Just take care of everything....I forever want to arrive somewhere hungry and thirsty and tired and be taken care of..." 

I am the farthest thing from a picky eater. It's not just a culinary position, but an ethical and cultural one. Even if I had a real food allergy, I would probably willingly die of anaphylactic shock before I would ever insult a host's offer of, say, Strawberry Nut pie.  If someone goes to the trouble of making something for me, by and large, I will eat it.  If somebody orders something for me, I'll eat that too. 

I've always hated green peppers, but I would never pick them off a pizza. Still, lots of people cook with them. The net result is, I eat a lot of green peppers. Big deal. At this age, I'm probably never going to cultivate any affection for them, but so what. I hate beets too, but hardly anyone cooks with them so it rarely comes up. Again, I wouldn't pick them off a salad. I file this under being "a Good Sport," (and I pride myself on being A Good Sport). About the only thing I will not eat is mayonnaise. If it's sneaked into some potato salad or something, and I don't have to taste it, fine. It's not a religion. But I do not like it. Everyone knows this. In its unadulterated state, it's culinary kryptonite to me.

Like anybody, I have tastes and preferences, but I generally never let them impede anyone's impulse or prerogative to feed me, which is what I love more than anything in the world (second only to: feeding everybody else). I make decisions all day, every day. I'm not working in a steel mill, but at the end of that day, I will still be hot and thirsty and hungry and tired. I do not always want to be the food boss.

Last weekend, the electronics husband was in town and inevitably wanted me to decide about dinner. The first decision was an easy one -- an absolute veto on going out. I would wither, dehydrate, and hook up my own IV before I'd stand in line with a crowd anywhere on a Friday night. This was followed by a flurry of texts and calls about what he could order and then pick up. Again, this would've involved a line (a line he'd have had to stand in -- not me -- but I'd have still had to make up my mind, and then wait on it).

The last time he picked up dinner, I wanted a Big Salad, so of course he brought home BLTs. Fine. I love BLTs. But these had mayonnaise on them. They usually come with mayo unless you tell them to leave it off, but they asked him, and he instructed them to leave it on. It was months ago, but I was mad then and I'm mad now. In the spirit of being A Good Sport at the time, I even tried to separate out the bacon, lettuce, and tomato and just make it into a Big Salad, but the mayo had touched (and polluted) every crevice. They really slathered it on. I ended up throwing it all in the trash, which he should've taken for the major Statement it was, because I am not someone who throws away food, let alone someone who throws away bacon.

His defense was that he had a vague memory that I had a thing about mayonnaise -- but he couldn't remember if it was pro or con. Then, he said, he remembered that he'd seen it in the fridge door, so, he reasoned, it must be ok. I had one response, which detailed, at great length, how many times in my writing career I've gone on the record about the only thing I will not eat. I had another response about how many years he has seen me go out of my way not to eat mayonnaise. And I had a third response, which was, "That. Is. Not. Even. Mine." He thought that was ridiculous, arguing, "What do you mean it's not YOURS?! This isn't college. We're not in a dorm. YOU are the only person living here." (That's just stupid. There's always Diet Coke in my fridge and I haven't had a Diet Coke in 25 years. Other people might get thirsty. And they might like a nice Diet Coke. I have it on hand because I am a Good Sport.)

So, when he called Friday, I had no faith in his ability to even procure anything edible. The whole process got so irritating, so fast, it was just easier to make dinner, with no input from him. In fairness, he would've picked up any dinner from any menu in town, or any ingredients from any venue I specified. I was just in no mood to direct.

All Spring, the gay husband and I have been undertaking endless date night culinary experiments based on whatever's fresh at the market. He doesn't care as much about cooking as the rest of us, but he has a fine appreciation for ingredients -- he hunts and gathers the most intricate flavor profiles he can find, then brings home the raw materials for me (or the husband-in-law) to transform into "food." His big finds last week were some unbelievably sweet watermelon (which became a watermelon/feta/baby arugula salad with balsamic vinaigrette) and Cipriani's pasta (which became a pretty interesting variation on bagels and lox when stirred into creme fraiche, capers, and salmon).  The consensus is, they're both dazzling, but easy dishes -- three ingredients each. The hard work (conceptualizing) was already done, so even factoring in a ten minute walk to and from disco Kroger for extra salmon and feta, it was maybe a 20-minute proposition to then come up with Friday dinner. In other words, no trouble at all. You'd think.

After dinner, we went upstairs and curled up to watch Fear. I spent the first half hour tossing and turning trying to get comfortable and just could not. My shoulder was all out of whack probably from a week of heavy digging in the garden, and by the time Marky Mark had gotten to second base with Reese Witherspoon on the rollercoaster, my whole right side had gone from a dull throbbing ache to searing pain. So, I turned off the movie and told him I needed to sleep off this horrible injury...and he had to get out. If I have to suffer, I have to do it in solitude. I need the room.

As he was getting dressed, he was obviously irritated with me -- not mean, but not exactly a Good Sport either. I told him I'd make it up to him, but I was otherwise unapologetic.

The next day, the BFF was appalled at my rudeness, and wondered aloud why I had to kick him out to get to sleep (there's a spare bed and sofa). The gay husband backed me up though, "yeah. I can see that," he said, as he gestured dramatically, "your pain would need to take up the entiiiiiiire house." It actually occupied more like a city block, but I didn't think I could plausibly get the neighbors to evacuate.

Now, consciously, I don't think my poor achy shoulder had anything to do with what was or wasn't for dinner. I certainly wasn't making it up, and it's still pretty throbby. I'm usually not the passive-aggressive type, I'm more the aggressive-aggressive type. Subconsciously, I make room for the possibility that maybe I just needed a Big Salad. 

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