Thursday, May 29, 2008

Why don't you make like a banana and...

Yesterday was beautiful and warm. The days get long early in the year this far north, and it was still bright and blue when Ulysses and I walked off the park playground around quarter to eight. We crossed the street to Culver's, a locally based chain of frozen custard and burger joints.

Ulysses's eyes lit up at the sight of the carpeted dining room with padded banquette seats and chairs, the busy counter. The place was humming with couples and families enjoying that great Culver's fare.

I ordered a cup of turtle, the flavor of the day -- they mix each serving by hand when you place your order -- and filled a plastic cup with ice cubes and water at the soda fountain. We sat down at a little table. Ulysses was contented to sip water, and I ate the entire dessert myself (oops). The pecans were crisp and fresh, with just enough salt to set off the milky sweet caramel. The custard was creamy and rich. Ulysses looked around at the busy dining room, the counter staff carrying trays of hot onion rings, fried fish, Culver's famous butter burgers and more to the eager customers.

He looked at me. "What a great party!" he said.

Then Ulysses noticed the cut-glass salt and pepper shakers on the table. He shook some of each into his water. Then he shook in a little more. Then a lot more. After a few shakes, I tried to call a halt to the seasoning project. He resisted -- loudly. I had some choices: leave, continue to forbid the salting, or lift the salting ban. After a few loud minutes, I decided to go with the last. What the heck, I reasoned, what's so bad about what he was doing, really? How much could a shakerfull of salt cost the restaurant -- it's not that outrageous to help ourselves to that much condiment. Probably it's comparable to the cost of a few packets of ketchup, I figured, which no one would begrudge us, after all. And it would be easy enough for me to clean up when we left.

(Yes, I backed down to the demands of a four-year-old. So sue me.)

Finally Ulysses was satisfied with the seasoning in his water. He slowly lifted the cup to his lips. I kept my face straight, ready to suppress the laughter I knew would come when I saw him squinch up his face in disgust at his saline creation.

He sipped. He smiled. Then he swigged.

"Mmmm!" he said. "Yummy! Delicious! You try, Mama!" And he passed the cup across the table to me.

I sipped, and nearly choked. I thought it would be really salty, but I hadn't counted on how potent all that pepper would be. Plus, his enthusiasm was so great that I had been sort of hypnotized into thinking that, somehow, it would actually be tasty. It wasn't.

I passed the cup back to the chef, and he continued salting and peppering -- and drinking -- until the salt shaker was empty. The ice cubes and much of the water had frozen into a solid mass on which lay a thick, dusty coat of pepper.

"Can I have some ice cream?" said Ulysses, sweetly.

About a tablespoon remained of the custard I'd bought for us to share. I gave him a spoonful, and then had another bite myself. It tasted strongly of pepper -- that his lips had left on the shared spoon. And then it was gone.

"Ice cream?" he asked.

Well, I did promise him ice cream. It wasn't his fault that I bought it twenty minutes before he wanted to eat it, and then ate it myself. We went back to the counter and bought a small vanilla cone.

Back at the table, Ulysses jumped up after only a few licks at his cone. "I know!" he said, and ran back to the ordering area. I caught up with him to find him talking to the tall young man behind the counter.

"A banana split, please," he said.

"Our banana splits are bigger than him!" exclaimed the young man.

"I don't even know how he even knows about banana splits," I said to him, and then, to Ulysses, I fibbed: "I don't think they have banana splits here."

"Hmmm," he answered, and looked thoughtful.

"Let's go back to our car and go home," I suggested.

"OK!" he chirruped. There was still plenty of cone left for him to show off to Donald by the time we were home.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

What if everyone went low-carb and cooked from scratch?

Here's something I posted on Low Carb Friends today. Someone wrote, a bit tongue in cheek, that if everyone quit buying processed, industrialized food -- junk, that is -- the result would be the "[c]omplete collapse of the nation's economy and the end of the world as we know it."

I don't find that idea terribly farfetched, and I wrote this about it:

Economy is based on commerce, which is the exchange of goods, which is only possible when there is a storeable surplus, which is made possible by agriculture, which always begins with the cultivation of storable starch crops and quickly leads to hoarding and the development of hierarchy -- including wealth and poverty, bosses and underlings.

This is why Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs and Steel has said that the development of agriculture might be the worst mistake in human history. A tremendous book for looking at starch foods through the lens of history, by the way.

The end of starch- and sugar-based living would indeed be the end of today's economy as we know it. It would be a transformation -- possibly a collapse, if it weren't properly managed -- more profound than I think most people realized.

If that were coupled with most people eating mostly whole foods (that is, cooking everything from scratch ingredients), growing a good portion of their own vegetables and raising their own chickens for meat and eggs -- entirely possible (theoretically) for nearly everyone -- the impact would be devastating for a huge portion of modern industry.

I just read an article (in the NY Times, I think) that said England exports 15,000 pounds of waffles annually, and also imports 15,000 pounds of waffles annually. The writer was making the point that a lot of food importing and exporting amounts to a waste of fuel and other transport costs. I noticed a larger point: nobody needs to buy a waffle. I don't mean no one needs to eat the starch; I mean waffles are easy and cheap to make from scratch.