Monday, September 19, 2011

Salt and Pepper Workout

I've noticed a new trend in eating out.
No, it's not the trend of serving clam chowder on Friday at nearly every sit-down restaurant in America.  That's been around for a while.
I suspect the clam community celebrates Saturdays as their high holy day each week, thankful to have made it through another blitz of bad soups.
The new trend involves salt and pepper.
Like most annoying eating innovations, this one began in high-end eateries.  Just as you were getting ready to dig into the three ounces of unrecognizable beef and two carrot sticks you had waited 90 minutes to receive, the waiter shows up with what appears to be a shoulder-fired wooden bazooka.
"Would you like some pepper?" the server would query.
"Yes, please," you would answer, not because you had any hope that pepper was going to help improve this microscopic little $75 meal, but because you were afraid the waiter would club you over the head with the bazooka if you said no.
Since I've never been rich, I always thought this was the height of luxury; to have so much money that you could pay someone to shake pepper on your food for you.
A few years back, I noticed that this freshly ground pepper gimmick had trickled down to more traditional tables at family restaurants, where every form of seasoning is a blessing aimed at helping you cover the tin can taste that seems to permeate anything that once resided in a garden.
On those tables would be a small, plastic version of the pepper grinder.
I'm not a pepper user; I'm a salt man, so I didn't care about the new fangled gadget.
But now, the problem has reached the epicurean equivalent of the Niemoller quote about "when they came for the communists, I remained silent; I wasn't a communist..."
"They" have finally found a way to mess with my mealtime.
I visited a Red Crustacean restaurant with my family recently, a place that (as the name implies) features seafood.  My wife, daughter, and mother were there for the annual "Eat Shrimp Until You Swim Backwards In Your Own Garlic Sauce" promotion. 
Since it was a seafood restaurant, naturally I had the steak and baked potato.
Everything was going along swimmingly (sorry about the pun; it's like standing on the bank with a harpoon in your hand and Moby Dick happens to swim by) until I asked someone to pass the salt.
The first sign of trouble was the label: Sea Salt.
I'm not a big fan of sea salt.  As the name implies, it comes from the sea.  I know what fish, crustaceans, seagulls, and cruise ships do in the water.  I don't want any of their excretions on my food.
Sea salt also fell out of favor with me when Wendy's made it the star of one of their commercials while rolling out their "new" french fries.  Anyone who has visited a Wendy's in the last year knows just how badly they've botched what were once the best fries in the fast food industry.  I still harbor some resentment against sea salt for that debacle.
Call me a purist, but I don't like anyone messing with my salt - not Wendy's, not Red Crustacean, not even the salt police (namely my physician, who began trying to arrest my salt intake about 50 systolic points ago).
I'm not sure where traditional salt comes from, because I can't find a state or nation named Iodizistan on any map.  But I do believe that the Morton Salt girl could whip Wendy's red-pigtailed behind in a fair fight, with or without the umbrella.
At the seafood restaurant, I tried shaking some of the sea salt onto my baked potato.  Nothing came out.  Figuring the top had become clogged with damp salt (a frequent problem when I lived in Florida, before discovering the benefit of putting a few grains of rice in the salt shaker), I tried to twist off the lid.  I twisted, twisted, twisted, quietly recited the "righty tighty, lefty loosey" mantra between clenched teeth, and twisted some more.  It wouldn't come off.
Then I figured it out.
I had to turn the plastic bottle upside down and twist the top so it would grind the nuggets of sea salt inside and dribble the rock-quarrying results on my meal.  So I twisted, twisted, twisted, not-so-quietly recited a few mantras that embarrassed my mother, and twisted some more.  I began to feel like a seasoning-deprived psychopath wringing a stubborn chicken's neck.  After what seemed like 30 or 40 minutes, I think I counted three white granules on my spud. 
Unfortunately, the steak needed a little bit of pepper, too.  As you may have guessed, the pepper dispenser was another of those grinding devices.
By the time I got around to actually eating any of the (now cold) food on my plate, I needed a nap and a Power Bar.
I'm not sure whose dumb idea it was to introduce aerobic workouts to the mealtime experience, but if I had to name a suspect, my physician would be at the top of the list.  I believe he is involved in a food conspiracy, because the Red Crustacean was able to accomplish something in one hour that my doctor hasn't been able to do in 10 years; namely, to cut down on my salt intake, to exercise more, and to elevate my heart rate.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Lady Gaga Doesn't Live Here

Where I live, we don't travel in these, we eat them.
I was born and raised in Havre de Grace, a small town in Maryland that has more letters in its name than people in its zip code.  How small was it?  Small enough that it would qualify for its own "Sa-Lute!" if Hee Haw was still on the air.  The town was never actually featured on the 1970's TV show, which is a shame, because it would have been worth the price of admission just to hear Junior Samples or Grandpa Jones try to pronounce "Havre de Grace."
For cultured, educated people, the town's correct pronunciation is "Hov de grah."  For those of us who actually lived there, it was pronounced "Havver dee Grayce."  And for the rest of the country, it's pronounced "that little town next to Aberdeen."
Havre de Grace is French for "harbor of beauty."  It was named by General Lafayette during the American Revolution, a charismatic military man who was best known for having a first name that was too long to fit on any of the statues in this country honoring him.  He was also famous because he and George Washington slept together during the war, back before "don't ask, don't tell." I make this statement because in my hometown there were plaques all over the place that said "Washington slept here" and "Lafayette slept here."  It's easy to read between the lines, even without an 18th century version of TMZ explaining it to us.
I left Havre de Grace as soon as I was old enough to figure out what the "D" stood for on a Ford Pinto gearshift.  It's not that there was anything wrong with the town, it's just that I longed for life in a warmer climate, and in a place big enough to have its own Walmart.
The largest store in Havre de Grace back then was the Acme supermarket.  You're not going to believe this, but I used to shop there every week, and was never able to find a single rocket, pair of roller skates, super-sized rubber bands for Y-shaped cacti, or any of the other cool gadgets bearing the Acme brand in Road Runner cartoons. 
So I moved to one of the larger cities in Florida.
No, not Miami.  Not Orlando, either.  Not that Tampa place.  Okay, not Jacksonville, Gainesville, or Tallahassee.
It was that OTHER large Florida city no one ever remembers called Fort Myers.
Located on the Gulf coast, the city is best known for not having a fort of any kind.  For the record, it doesn't have an inordinate concentration of families named "Myers," either. 
After living there for 16 years, my family and I moved on to St. George, a mid-sized city in Utah.  It's not a coincidence that the state is a four-letter word.  To this day, when my wife gets mad enough at me, she tells me to go Utah myself.
Eventually, we wound up in Mesquite, Nevada.  You want an example of how ironic life can be?  Mesquite is just about the same size as Havre de Grace, except with no water.  Plenty of sand for a beach, but no water.  Mesquite also has a noticeable absence of any season except summer.
However, to its credit, Mesquite does have a Walmart.
When I was young, I couldn't wait to get out of the small town where I lived.  Now that I've hit the half-century mark, I don't want to live anywhere except a small town.
I've come to realize that I'm simply not mentally unbalanced enough to live in a big city.  Believe me, I've tried to be, but have consistently fallen short.
For example, if you showed up in my town wearing a dress made of veal cutlets, or arrived on the boulevard in a translucent egg, my neighbors would waste no time in calling 911 and reporting that one of the beds at the state mental hospital is probably missing an occupant, or another Area 51 escapee is in town. That is, as soon as my neighbors stopped laughing, and maybe took a couple of hits from their supply of O2. 
Hearing the visitor emerge from the egg singing "rah rah, ooh la la, roma ro ma ma" wouldn't help her cause any.
We would describe her as "gaga," accompanied with the hand gesture of a finger circling the air near our right temple.
In the big city, they would give the escapee a record contract, a few kazillion dollars, and the title of "Lady."
That's not to say that I live in Mayberry, the offensive caricature usually hung on small towns by those who dwell in square apartment buildings crammed with about two dozen humans per square foot.  We have just as much graft, corruption, political backbiting, and scandal as our big-city brethren, thank you very much.  The only difference is that urbanites probably aren't going to run into Mayor Bloomberg shopping for eggs at the Walmart on a Sunday evening. 
I'm also going to make the boast that, while small town residents may not be as sophisticated, I'll stack up our collective IQ's against those in any metropolitan community in America.
For example, if someone spray paints weird multi-colored symbols and unintelligible words on one of our bridges, we're going to call Billy over at City Hall and have him remove the graffiti (which he'll do in less than two days).  We're not going to throw up our hands, offer pithy critiques, and refer to it haughtily as "art" (unless, of course, the bridge happens to be another Nevada Department of Transportation project).
I like living in a small town where good sense is still in style, and holey see-through clothing isn't.