And I am confused.
I’m wandering aimlessly through the aisles of the market. I am overwhelmed by the play of bright colors, but the stunning variety of goods available.
I am tired. To the bone.
My brain has short-circuited for lack of fuel.
I need to find something, buy it, take it home, cook it.
Me need food.
I have another problem: I am broke.
I have a checkbook full of checks, and little in the way of funds to back them up. It is Tuesday. If I write a check for some food, I am counting on a slow delivery of the check to the bank. It’s called “floating” and, oh baby, I am floating big time. In this electronic age, one can float a perilously short while. I am hoping it is Thursday — payday — before this economic life raft runs aground on the reef of my account.
It is not unusual for me to run low on funds. There are several projects I work on regularly that drain my account — wagering and eating, among them. I find the allure of a noisy casino, a sure bet on a football game and a high-end restaurant nearly irresistible. While my jones is not so powerful that I give away the farm, I am tragically flawed.
I am weak.
This time, I have no money for one of the best reasons I know of.
French wine. I have surrendered a tidy sum as part of a group ordering an impressive number of bottles from Kermit Lynch, Wine Merchant, Berkeley, California.
I can hear the pinheads squealing now, “French!!! Whaaa? Hey, them there French are no good. You remember what them no-good-fer-nuthin’ !&**##@^^! did when we hadda go over there and give the boot to that bum Saddam? Huh? You remember? It’s downright unamerican to buy somethin’ from them frogs. Unamerican, I tell ya.”
To which I reply: “Phooey.” And “pshaw.”
A cretin’s reaction to the French is the result of absolute ignorance of history, the product of a peculiar form of reverse political correctness spawned in the small and unfertilized minds of the listeners of talk radio.
The problem with this moronic attitude is the unexamined presupposition upon which it rests, namely that the French have shown the slightest talent for effective warfare since the triumphs of the early Napoleonic era. Did our anti-French hooters and hackers miss the day in high school history class when small incidents like World War II were discussed?
The point: When you go to war, you take the French along to run the food and beverage division. They cook and provide wine. They do it better than just about anyone else. An army runs on its stomach. Let the French do what they can to make the army run more effectively and stop expecting them to fight. Hire them, if you must. It’s worth the ticket.
And so was the lure of twelve bottles of French wine. They should provide me a measure of pleasure for — hmmm, let’s see — twelve days.
So, I am staggering through the store, increasingly disoriented; I have fifteen bucks to work with and I am fading fast. I have to feed two of us and I have to produce the meal pronto — Kathy has choir practice and there’s a new episode of “Cops” on the tube.
This is a challenge, so the first thing to do is review, as best I can, the ingredients I have on hand at home.
The review is not easy; I am continually distracted by shiny objects.
I realize I am in luck. My pal Ronnie returned from a trip south and has brought me a pound of outstanding, hot Espanola red. I’ll work around that.
Let’s see: I have half a carton of chicken stock in the fridge along with some two-day old romaine lettuce. I also have some leftover fire-roasted crushed tomatoes that have been in the fridge for a week. Maybe two weeks. They’ll be OK, won’t they? There’s no fuzz growing on the surface. Plus, I have half a giant pack of white corn tortillas. They’re only a week or so old. Perhaps a bit stiff, but who cares?
I waddle to the meat department.
No, I’m not eating red meat these days..
Egad, look at the price for those hormone-free, skinless chicken breasts! Did they spoon-feed those birds? Were they driven to the slaughterhouse in a limo?
That leaves turkey. Ground turkey. And you know when you purchase ground turkey two things are certain: first, there are parts of birds in there you don’t want to know about — not even the turkeys were proud of them. Second, since there are enough additives pumped into those mutants to force them to grow breasts that rival the best the Internet can present, there are enough additives remaining in the meat to cause you to grow a tail.
Hey, when you have no cash, a tail becomes a plus — a way of maintaining balance in high winds. After you are evicted from your home for nonpayment of the mortgage and you are standing alone on a storm-whipped, barren plain.
I purchase the turkey.
And some shallots, a bunch of cilantro, a head of garlic, a lemon, a can of black beans and — as the coup de grace to my account — a pack of “fresh” guacamole. It is disgraceful, but the “ripe” avocados this time of the year are not suitable for eating. As weapons in a riot, yes. They’ll render policemen unconscious and break plateglass windows, but they are not ready for the table.
I am lucky to find my way home. Everything on the periphery of my ever-narrower field of vision has turned into soft mush.
I make the meal in 30 minutes.
First, the shallot is minced, some cilantro chopped, six or seven cloves of garlic are smashed and finely minced. Into a frying pan goes some olive oil and the onion is sauteed over medium-high heat until translucent. In goes the ground turkey. I break it up and season it with salt and pepper, adding a bit of dried oregano and a bit of ground cumin.
When the turkey turns that distressing gray color (the British painter Constable would have distinguished it as “the grey of the morning’s mist on the moor”) in goes a splat of the tomato and it is cooked a bit to bring out its alleged sweetness. In goes the garlic and a profound amount of the Espanola red is sprinkled atop the mix. In goes the stock and the cilantro and — look, there it is, hiding behind the oil-cured olives — a bit of chicken base.
I simmer the mix over medium heat, partly covered, while I heat the black beans, rip up a bunch of romaine, make a simple dressing with lemon juice, olive oil and oregano, and open the guacamole.
I cook the turkey for about twenty minutes, adding a teensy bit of broth in order to keep it somewhat soupy. I taste, adjust the seasonings.
Then, it’s assembly time.
Instead of flash frying the tortillas in oil (I don’t have anything but olive oil, and it is not suitable) I use tongs to dip a tortilla in the sauce. I plate the tortilla, spoon some of the turkey on it, repeat and repeat again. Then, since I am lowballing this baby all the way, I pop the mess in the microwave and punch it on high for two minutes.
A dollop of sour cream (who knows how long that has been in the fridge?) a hit of guac, a big spoon full of black beans, some of the dressed greens. To complete the production, a fried egg, all yolky good, is plopped atop the stack.
The Espanola red sings a throaty tune, pushing the aromatics and spices up through the heat. The turkey provides … oh, let’s be honest — it provides nothing but protein. And a tail.
But, the whole affair is quick.
And easily produced by someone addled by poverty and work.
Oh, and how about some wine?
Maybe next week.