Confessions of an Epicure

Ok, I admit it. I'm a foodie. A snob. A genuine nose-in-the-air, you-aren't-really-going-to-eat-that? oh-for-god's-sake-drink-the-right-wine-with-that-if-you-insist-on-eating-it-in-the-first-place gastronome. Sue me. I like good food prepared well. In the absence of a real culinary environment (aka C-dale), I am willing to undertake the job myself, and I'm a scientist, so naturally my epicuriosity elevated me from simple gourmand to gourmet. I find a perverse pleasure in cooking fine food. In knowing that I make can make it better than those ridiculous "chefs" who have traded in their Henckle ideals for the Ginsu version of economic depravity. I'll take all comers. The Midwest is a gastronomic desert.

I guess this is one thing I can thank the ex for. He was a chef. Not a very good one, mind you, but he did earn the title. I read, in much greater detail than he ever did, every one of his chef books. Ok, I didn't read ALL of the one on butchering meat, but I did read enough to understand the cuts of meat. In any event, tasting his food and giving feedback forced me to THINK about what I was eating. To separate flavors in my mouth. To consider what I was shoving down my gullet. I have to say, I got pretty good at it. Enough so that his chef friends sought out my opinion before upcoming tests, anyway.

Oh, snobbery comes at a price. I know the frustration of searching endlessly for freshly baked french bread (and not that crap they try to pass for real bread at the local grocery stores) and forever coming up short. I know the horror of finding 2.5 lbs of Arborio rice at the International Grocery priced over $5. I have gone into the store and stood incredulous after asking where I might find the saffron and had the stocker innocently ask, "is that a spice?" I have actually shopped for spices, staples, and sauces online. And not just for holiday gifts. I have actually sought out heirloom sources of plant stocks to grow my own spices, vegetables, and if I had any experience in livestock care, I'd probably have a go of raising chickens. No trip to Barnes and Nobel is complete without a thorough perusal of their current crop of cookbooks. But not so recently, the realities of a grad student's stipend have given me epicurial cramps and forced me to take a stroll down the middle of the grocery store instead of just shopping the perimeter.

I know. Say it isn't so.

You can't believe what they have in there. It's like a stroll through my childhood souvenirs. I swear, I couldn't believe they still made Coco Wheats and Chef Boyardee Beefaroni. I was aware of the blue box macaroni because they have the most irritating and ubiquitous commercials that I can't escape despite turning on my television only about three times a month. Of course, it was merely an experiment along the lines of a "blast from the past" that made me buy both. Not poverty. And certainly not a lowering of my culinary standards.

So today's report is on the favorite foods from my childhood. My days before food snobbery grasped me in its clutches like a lover, brushed its sweet wine-soaked lips against mine, and refused to release me.

Coco Wheats. An interesting product. Basically it's wheat meal with cocoa flavoring. The objective? Make mush. Simple recipe: water + product. Cook to boiling and allow to thicken. It's messy. The boiling/thickening process causes lava-like blisters to pop and expel a droplet of water outside the pan (always), which immediately fuses with the stove top requiring the use of specialized cleansers to remove. Cleaning the pan after said cookery isn't much of a joy either. Ok, back to the food. Color? Absolutely disgusting grey-brown. Mouth feel? Granular. Temperature: hot lava. The top of my mouth may not recover. I'm reminded of my carefree days of frozen pizza. Some things I don't miss about giving up dairy. The flavor of Coco Wheats is not really cocoa, but certainly has more flavor than its honkey sister clade: cream of wheat, which as I recall tasted like the box. I'm fuzzy on what I paid for this product, but if I paid more than say $1, I was robbed. Sad fact: I will not throw it away because that would be wasteful, and I will probably eat it sporadically until it has reached its expiration date some 15 years into the future.

Chef Boyardee Beefaroni. Beefaroni. Imagine the guy who came up with that name. It's beef. It's macaroni. Beefaroni! This is probably the same guy who came up with Bennifer. Or Billary. Or McSame. God how we love smooshing together words that make us sound "clever" right up until the point that they become passe. I bought 10 cans. They were $1 each. God, I love a bargain. Can #1: opened with my manual can opener (I am an environmentalist, for pete's sake!). Waft the can beneath my nose. HOLY CRAP! Just opening the can is a mistake. The smell hits you like rounding the corner in the micro department when they've been autoclaving bacteria plates. This isn't pasta. This is the last c-ration in the pack for those poor bastards in Afghanistan to subsist on until they get to the next checkpoint. This is what they feed the prisoners in Guantanamo. But I soldiered on. Put it in a bowl and popped it in the microwave. Three minutes later, and voila! Instant lunch. Color: red and yellow with disgusting dark dots that I can only presume are the "beef". Note to self: check can to see if beef is an actual ingredient in this product. Flavor: sauce is bland. Suspect red is result of food coloring and not real tomatoes. Macaroni is overcooked. And not just a little bit. A lot. "Beef" are hard little granular nuggets. Might also be rocks. Was afraid to rinse them off and take a look. This is torture. I'm writing those bastards working the kitchen at Guantanamo. Threw the rest of the bowl in the garbage. Wondered who the hell I was going to pawn off those 9 other cans to. Wondered what I would think of the person who accepted that gift. Note to self: just place them in the school common room and don't ask any questions.

Banquet friend chicken dinner: Microwaved fried chicken. God, I can't even pretend that this is a serious review. The chicken got hard in the microwave. The chicken was 90% breading, 8% bone, and a nibble or two of real chicken meat with 5% fluid added to increase flavor. Vegetable side dish: yellow niblet corn. Soaked in water. How can you ruin plain corn? I don't know, but they managed it. I think there was another side dish, but I couldn't identify if. It might have been a starch or it might have been desert. I'm going with desert with a 20% margin of error.

Don't get me wrong. I still enjoy the occasional 8-layer bean dip at pot luck functions. I have actually brought traditional holiday meatballs to such events. I look forward to my annual fair-food corn dog at either the State Fair or the Apple Festival. Of course, 50% of the enjoyment of that is the compulsory gratuitous-picture-of-me-eating-a-corn-dog photo. But I put my foot down at cotton candy. For god's sake, people, have some pride.

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