Saturday, August 29, 2015

Tastes Like Chicken

When I was in junior high school, boys took shop and girls took home ec. For us, that meant metal or wood; for them it meant sewing or nutrition. But I liked to play around in our kitchen at home; more to the point, I liked to eat. And while my skills at the latter were pretty good, those at the former were rudimentary at best. So a bunch of my buddies in the same circumstances and I decided to approach a friendly teacher, and see if she would do a class for us. She thought the idea had merit, and proposed it to the powers that be. It was instituted the following semester, and shortly thereafter 11 hungry adolescent boys piled into the school's kitchen classroom. On the walls were the usual charts showing food pyramids and guides to healthy eating. But the teacher took one look at us and knew that that was a lost cause. "All you guys want to learn is to cook and then eat, right?" she asked rhetorically. We readily agreed. And that was the birth of "Home Economics 107: Man in the Kitchen."

Fast forward 40 plus years, and my attitude hasn't really changed. Oh, sure, I know about carbohydrates and starches, about fats and sugars. And especially as I get older, I know which ones I should eat more of and what ones I should avoid. But my basic attitude hasn't changed: pasta is pasta, steak is steak, and peanut butter cups are one of the major food groups.

But more and more reality tries to intrude. In the most recent case it was a perfect summer evening, and we were engaged in our favorite summer evening activity, eating outside. For some reason, food always tastes better to me in the open, when the sun has set and the air has cooled. Doesn't matter if it's a meatball parmesan hero or a five course meal. Something about having no  walls around us makes even an ordinary meal taste better.

As befitting a warm evening, all at the table had salads on the mind. A Greek style one here, a beet and goat cheese number there, a cold roasted veggie assortment for a third and fourth. Variations on a theme, to be sure, but all the same basic idea: lettuce on the bottom, some combination of stuff on top and sprinkling of dressing over all of it to spice it up.

Almost lyrical in tone, until the waitress showed up. Nothing wrong with her personally: she was a very pleasant young lady, a big smile on her face and trying hard to please. No, her misstep was one I encounter with increasing frequency.  Not "would you like to add any barbequed chicken to that?" or "how about some grilled shrimp on top?" Nope. One after another, she reduced our dishes to a chemistry equation: "Any protein with that?"


There's an old saying in politics that you campaign in poetry and govern in prose. In this case, we were ordering in music, she was writing it down in science. I get that a healthy meal involves a balance of different food groups. But especially when I'm out and about, do you really need to remind me? It's bad enough that more and more stuff has calorie counts posted next to it. Do I really need to define my order by the type of biomolecule I intend to consume? Soon it'll be, "May I have 3 spoonfuls of fat, a dollop of starch and some crunchy carbs on top, please?" Yummy, huh?

In "Romeo and Juliet" William Shakespeare famously wrote, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Well, sorry Bill, but when it comes to my stomach, I disagree. While I admit that "tofu" might not be a grabber in terms of nomenclature, beyond that I look forward to being told we're having salmon or steak, chicken or pork. Grill it, broil it, bake it or fry it, doesn't matter. All you need to tell me is what time to be at the table. But tell me we're having protein for dinner, and I can't work up the same appetite. Maybe it's better for my cholesterol, but my taste buds ain't so wowed.


Marc Wollin of Bedford loves to eat just about anything. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.