Boo Berry & Cabernet, or, I Could Be Eating Instead of Writing This…

Okay, so, I don’t like to dabble in clichés.  I truly don’t.  But with that said, all of the crap about guys and their predilection for eating cereal three meals a day, consuming a steady helping of chili dogs, Mexican food, and Arby’s Beef N’ Cheddars?  True.  Honestly, they are.  Because I was that guy.


I never expected to be.  My mom’s a good cook, my dad’s a good cook, and I became a good cook when I started living on my own.  But at some point, laziness took the reins, and, after the dissolution of a long, nightmarish relationship in my pre-Cath days, I began looking forward to the grocery store with a newfound zeal, sugar-addled and joyously maddened by the prospect of ultimate supermarket freedom.  I was single, and I could eat anything fucking thing I wanted.  If I wanted pork rinds with brown sugar, that was it.  Eggrolls dipped in Coke and rolled in bacon?  Who the hell, I ask you, was going to stop me? 


Now, there’s an answer to that question: my wife.  But that’s okay, because honestly, I was riding the Heart Disease Express with my head gloriously and obliviously hung out the window like a dog, tongue flapping in the wind.  (Here’s the punchline: Catherine told me numerous times that I needed to get my blood pressure checked.  “It’s going to be high,” she said.  “Eh,” I said, “maybe not.”  Surprise.  I am now, one month later, on blood pressure medicine.  Sigh.)


This is not to suggest that she’s a health nut.  In a way, we’re a match made in fast-food hell.  The first week that Catherine and I were together, we were munching away on chicken sandwiches at Burger King, and in between bursts of low-fat mayo, she suddenly asked, “Okay, I have a question for you.  This could seriously make or break us.”  Her face was grave, and she was pointing.  Uh-oh.  This was serious. 


“Okay,” I replied, pausing in mid-chew and feeling my stomach knot with nervousness.  Was it about pre-marital sex?  Living arrangements?  The Middle East?   State politics?  International travel?


“What are your feelings,” she began, clearing her throat with a swallow of Diet Coke, “on White Castle?”


A thousand potential answers went through my head, and I felt like I was being held at gunpoint.  The most amazing girl I’d ever met was asking me one of the hardest fifty-fifty questions I’d ever had put to me.  What should I tell her?  The Truth?  That I loved White Castle more than some people loved their families, their church, the world they live in?  Or should I start off on the wrong foot with a white lie?  That White Castle was okay, but not something I’d, say, drive forty miles out of my way for on the way home from a U2 concert in Chicago at two o’clock in the morning – like I’d, um, never done before?  More than once? 


I swallowed hard and ‘fessed up. 


“I love it,” I replied. 


“Oh, thank God,” she said.  “I’ll bet you twenty bucks I can eat more of them than you can.”  With that, we went back to our previous conversation. 


I bring this up in this blog because I’ve been cooking a lot lately.  We were involved in a salsa cookoff this past weekend that involved our attempting three salsas before settling on the best damn salsa I have ever had.  And part of the thrill was buying ungodly quantities of tomatoes and vegetables on multiple trips to Meijer.  


I have a near-religious reverence for the grocery store.  When I was an undergrad, a friend of mine’s family played host to a student from a particularly impoverished area of Africa.  This man had very little exposure to anything in the Western world prior to his arrival here for school.  The first time that his host family took him to their local supermarket, he burst into tears in overwhelmed shock at the sight of so much food.  He apologized for his outburst and explained that he didn’t know so much food existed. 


I’ve never forgotten that story, and though I grew up a privileged American kid, I’ve never taken a trip to the grocery store for granted.  To this day, I consider it an outing, a thrilling experience, and there are times where I can’t even believe the food I’m finding.  There are a lot of secrets hiding among those brightly-lit, Muzak-drenched aisles, and I intend to try them all. 


On a routine trip to the grocery store for trash bags or dish soap, I’ve been known to come home with biscotti, various sauces, flavored noodles, flavored coffees, flavored sodas, a variety of wines, donuts, cheese breads, four hundred kinds of chips, assorted hot peppers, Pop Tarts, donuts, strudel, Hostess pies, coffee cakes, stuffed olives, donuts, and expensive deli meats.  In short, for my appetite and credit card, a trip to the grocery store on my own is like belly-flopping through a mine field.  By rights, my wife shouldn’t let me go in by myself.  Ever.  Her faith in me perhaps speaks to our boundless love.  Or, a pity for me that she just can’t bear to quash just yet.  So…jalapenos and Count Chocula, baby.


I love eating.   I love food.  More than I could possibly put into words here.  That part in the remake of “The Women” where Goldie Hawn Meg Ryan (those bulky lips threw me) is rolling a stick of butter in cocoa powder and eating it?  I might consider it if there was no other snack food in the house.  I’d have to do it in the laundry room, because Catherine would be sick at the sight of me eating butter, and frankly, I’m not sure what I’d think of myself afterward, but in the moment, it’s not off the table.


If I had to cite one, my first food love was cereal.  I’m talking Seinfeld amounts of cereal.  (I was thrilled, by the way, to see a faithful recreation of Jerry’s famed shelf in Classless09’s Vegas apartment!)  You’ll hear these things sometimes about the roots of one’s obsessions: a scientist says that his destiny was decided when he got his first chemistry set, a carpenter says that his was decided when he got his first little tool set, that these seeds of childhood found purchase deep inside them and affected the rest of their lives. That’s all well and good, but this planting-seeds principle must not be true for everyone, because if it was, I’d be a toothless rock star.  All I cared about as a child was cereal and KISS.  (Specifically, the four monster cereals, Freakies, and Quisp, but when you’re five years old and you don’t have access to your own money or groceries, you’re willing to accept pretty much any General Mills box that comes across the breakfast table.)


Not much has changed in my adult years, but that’s not to suggest that I was picky.  Quite the contrary: I am likely the least picky eater you will ever encounter.  If you rolled a stained piece of dirty beach towel in jalapeno-flavored batter, deep-fried it, and served it to me with a cup of any random sauce, you probably wouldn’t hear much out of me.  Except for maybe compliments on the batter and maybe a request for more sauce.  If I had to count the number of times I made hot-pepper enchiladas when I was single, my stomach lining would probably claw its way through my body and out of my mouth in an attempt to shield my eyes from the horror of such a figure.  (One such batch nearly killed my friend and neighbor, who was unaware of the habanero factor.)


So it’s with the sparkling eyes of one who has seen a force greater than himself that I can discuss my wife’s cooking.  And my love affair with her food started with Fatty Slop.


Fatty Slop was not a fellow tenant in my colorful apartment building at the time (though he’d have fit right in with Stinky Man, Crazy Ruth, and Happy Joe, our token probably-a-child-molester tenant).  It was Catherine’s creation upon moving in with me, a combination of ground beef, spaghetti, Dorothy Lynch salad dressing, and a can of tomato soup.  A dish without a name, it became Fatty Slop for obvious reasons: it looks like a burnt-orange spaghetti paste, tastes like a dream come true, and if you don’t make it tonight after reading this, then your night could have been a lot better, so you should be ashamed. 


Things have changed since the creation of Fatty Slop, though it is, without question, one of my favorite foods on this humble planet.  In short, Catherine has become a phenomenal cook.  Phenomenal.  Her stir-fry is never the same twice, we have an entire kitchen cabinet devoted to about one hundred spice jars, she can do more with a chicken than one would think possible, her homemade pizza would warrant an Italian national holiday, and her steaks…I can’t even write about her steaks.  Some connections are too deep and meaningful to taint with words.  They just are.


This is not to say that there haven’t been flights of folly in the kitchen.  When we decided to have an engagement party, Catherine tackled a recipe for crab-stuffed pastry puffs that looked amazing.  Our puffs inflated to the size of softballs, a doughy re-envisioning of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, then promptly deflated and burned black where they sat, lined up on a cookie sheet, defeated.  (Catherine blames the oven, and I’m inclined to agree with her since that same oven nearly burned our house down while charcoaling garlic bread in the broiler.)  And there was the night our steaks went bad without our knowing and we ended up with meat the color of wilted lettuce, which we buried in the trashcan of history with a late-night trip to Dairy Queen for hot dogs.


But beyond those isolated incidents, the girl knows what she’s doing, and the days of consuming whole boxes of cereal in a twenty-four hour period are gone, my friends.  But I’m happy to replace them with the cooking show that is now my life.  German cooking is supposedly her next point of attack, and BBQ season is coming.  We’re getting into the days of seventy degrees and Cubs games on WGN, which means…grilling time is upon us.


Stay tuned.


~ by thismarriedguy on March 16, 2009.

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