It was well on the way to midnight. I had been wrestling with a new graphic design for hours and my stomach had begun rumbling, ominously warning me that it would join forces with the dull ache behind my eyes and conjure up a full-fledged migraine if not given some sustenance. Soon.
I cast a baleful eye at two color swatches which had refused a reasonable compromise between my computer monitor and my printer. Dozens of copies of my new print lay scattered around the room, each one defying the image on my monitor, a luminously lovely representation of two butterflies hovering over a wheat field. The backlighting on the screen gave the rich corals and golds a vibrancy totally absent in my prints. On paper,. the corals looked dusty and the golds lightly tarnished.
Tired and exasperated I capitulated to the demands of my body and headed for the kitchen. Which was predictably bare. Another egg salad sandwich was a possibility, but I’d already gone through a carton of eggs in the last three days and even the sight of one of the little ivory orbs was beginning to make me feel queasy. I opened a cupboard and gratefully spotted a can of Bush’s Baked Beans. Good … that would be easy.
Now something to perk up the beans. Bacon? Nope. I eaten all the bacon the day before. I opened the freezer and peered in hopefully. And there they were. A package of hot dogs. They’d been there for a couple of months. since I considered hot dogs. along with frozen pizza and processed cheese, to be on the very bottom of the culinary scale. I extracted one of the pinkish sausages from the package. It looked depressingly unappetizing. But diced and fried in butter and then submerged in the beans, it might not be too bad. And there was no time to be wasted frittering around with some redeeming recipe. The rock-hard frozen hot dog would have to be sliced into thin slivers, quickly sautéed in butter and introduced to the beans. I pulled out my knife and chopping board.
Trying for some vestiges of visual appeal, I sliced it very finely and evenly. Then I tossed the little pile of meat medallions into a pan of sizzling butter. I love butter. I can’t for the life of me understand why anyone would choose olive oil … or any other cooking oil … over butter. The calories are virtually the same and I’m sure my heart is much happier when my palate is throbbing with delight. I watched the little morsels slowly turn golden brown around their perimeters and a lovely aroma of hot dog wafted from the skillet.
I couldn’t resist. Just before pouring the beans onto those sizzling slices, I impaled one with a fork and lifted it to my mouth .
In one wonderful illuminating moment, I had tasted pure heaven. This humble bite seemed to rival the most expensive and rarest of gourmet treats I’d sampled in fine restaurants and various venues around the world.
I suddenly remembered so many culinary revelations.
I encountered my first artichoke in a pretty little restaurant in Rome. It was served beautifully manicured and elegantly resting in a lovely curved bowl with an accompanying ramekin of spinach dip. It required meticulously pulling off each leaf and scraping the pulp into the mouth with one’s teeth. Very little flavor. I felt like a goat tackling a particularly recalcitrant cactus.
And my introduction to pâté de foie gras was the nadir of one of my more disappointing … and short-lived … relationships. G was a very wealthy man and bent on impressing me with his largesse and good taste. Which to him meant expensive restaurants and overly lavish bouquets of flowers, with side enticements of chocolates and Bailey’s Irish Cream.
The initial week or so of this whirlwind courtship included my first serving of that iconic pâté. Not wanting to seem ungrateful, I decided to overlook the cruel and deliberate fattening of the goose to produce this rich and woefully oily substance and just sample it without political comment. I was reasonably sure PETA members hadn’t scoped out this little French restaurant on a side street in Honolulu and targeted it for attack.
I smoothed the linen napkin over my lap. The little circular portion of this delicacy looked distressingly like a serving of cat food directly from the tin. I gingerly forked a small portion into my mouth. And paused, trying to assemble my facial expression into one of admiration as the horribly oily texture assaulted my tongue. The taste was remarkably similar to liverwurst, which had never been high on my shopping list. To say it was disappointing would be ignoring the facts.
Then there was the caviar from Russia. A dear friend from my Bombay years was a pilot for Air India,. He was occasionally assigned a flight to Moscow, a trip he was not overly enthusiastic about. Not only were landing conditions difficult, there appeared to be constant trouble with Ground Control. And once safely on the ground, his layover didn’t include the usual luxuries of European cities. Food was a particular problem with grocery stores few and poorly stocked. Attractive photos of the contents didn’t appear on cans, which seemed to be uniformly packaged with plain or striped labels. And those labels were written entirely in Russian.
корм для кошек (cat food) was indistinguishable from икра (caviar)
This posed problems until he realized that Russian food games could be fuel for fun at the parties we loved to throw at the smallest excuse. So he would bring back “mystery foods” and I would provide crackers and cocktails … and to break the ice before a formal dinner, we’d open the cans, sample the contents and guess. The subject of pet food was occasionally broached, but everyone was a good sport about it.
But after one trip he proudly presented me with several small tins of “beluga” caviar which a Russian hotelier had recommended. A party was immediately scheduled. In honor of the precious delicacy, I laid out the best dinnerware and conferred with the cook about a menu which would lean slightly more to Continental than Indian cuisine. The guests arrived primed for a new and novel gustatory experience.
I arranged the requisite hard-boiled eggs and thin toast artfully around the tin of dark oily granules. It didn’t look promising. But each guest reached for a toast wedge, spooned a few of the roe over it and surveyed it appreciatively for a few moments before biting into it. There were a few moments of meditative silence. But when Renuka cleared her throat and murmured, ” Where did you find this nice Melba toast ?” it was clear that the caviar had not met with our inflated expectations.
There was a moment of silence as we all eyed each other somewhat warily. And then almost simultaneously we broke into laughter. The general opinion was that this rare treat from the Caspian sea was vastly over rated and in fact, apart from the rather interesting texture, tasted remarkably like common sardines.
Now as I stood there in my kitchen with the beans simmering nicely over the hot dog slices, I kept sneaking a nibble now and then. No doubt about it. That humble hotdog tasted more delicious than the finest of gourmet preparations. I wondered for a moment if perhaps a single one of these bland sausages were wrapped in foil and sealed with a gorgeous glittering label and then propped up in a fancy deli display, would our taste buds then recognize its delicious flavor? Perhaps if it were served elegantly and not merely tossed into a can of beans or plopped into a white mushy roll and smeared with mustard and relish …
Perhaps a new name ?