Death on the Red Line Express

Today, coming home from a night of laughs, we were stuck on a ‘disabled’ train not quite able to pull into Davis Square.  It’s never a good sign when the intercom announcements are interrupted by bursts of laughter – it just doesn’t make one feel safe in the hands of the professionals.  The engine that couldn’t still thought it could, and we backslid down the slight rise halfway to Porter several times.  Fortunately, as the conductor kept mentioning in passing, the breaks still worked.  So at least we weren’t speeding to our deaths.  But it’s still pretty creepy realizing just how much the tracks cause each car to tilt, and seeing the ‘power rail’ sparking in giant arcs of power as the engine tried to tug us uphill.

I thought for awhile we would have to eat Lauren, as she was the one who jinxed us.  Seriously, it’s not a good idea to start talking about all the horrible mishaps that have befallen you on trains right as we’re about to pull into our station.  Simply not a good idea.  Still, i promised her we’d eat limbs first, so she’d still be alive for a few days at least, and Jeanne promised we’d start with her left arm since she didn’t really need that one anyway (see photographic evidence below, and thanks to the random stranger who took this photo and didn’t steal Jeanne’s phone).

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Fortunately for us all, the second engine they brought in to push us from behind was able to do the job, and Lauren offered us Swedish Fish to keep us off her limbs for awhile.  I’m not ashamed to say I accepted the bribe.

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The Cookie Gods

There are few things in life I like more than a cookie.  Just say the word – “cookie”.  It even sounds like it’s filled with goodness.  I love that my boss and other office minions delight in providing me with a daily cookie fix.  I love that the word is a source of humor either by itself (if you’re Shannon) or in various jokes involving tossed cookies or cowboys.  I love that Jason comfort-foods me with them.  For any of you who’ve ever read (or had read to them) the story Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, you’ll notice that cookies are one of the foods that never becomes a problem in falling from the skies.  Why?  Because cookies are simply never bad.

Which brings me to my next point – why are we not awash in a sea of cookie provender from benficent gods above?  As cookies cannot cause floods, they would be more useful than excessive rain.  And don’t I (Don’t you, ALL of you) deserve a cookie?  I think I do.  But how does one bring about a hail of cookies from the sky?  Have we already angered the cookie gods in some way we don’t know about?  Does our cloud-dough lack substance?  Did somebody leave out that pinch of salt that would provide an instant cookie downpour?

I cannot say.  But, I think, it would be advisable for those of us without cookies to begin an immediate cookie dance to bring down the cookies from the sky once again.  Couldn’t hurt, and provided no one breaks themselves, it would at least be entertaining.

Food and looking good.

It’s always been one of standards of advertising – if something looks good, people will buy it. This is particularly true in fast food advertising. We’ve all seen the ads – tomato slices glistening with freshness, a juicy, tender-looking hamburger patty between two halves of the perfectly baked bun. And our mouth waters, despite the fact that we know our burger experience won’t be anything like that. The bread will be squished, the tomato mealy, and the lettuce half-wilted. Still, we buy into the image and the sultry, deep voice describing the delectable nature of the food choice.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with this kind of advertising. The product, the perfect burger, could in some rare case be exactly as it’s pictured on television – it’s not necessarily false advertising. And I certainly don’t blame advertising companies for selling the product wholeheartedly by appealing to our most base sense – that of sight. I’m not even blaming us for responding to the advertising positively, especially if only for a moment. Still, the image of food seems to have a profound impact on us that we tend to disregard.

Take this blog post for instance. I was drawn in by the title, ‘tart and tangy’. The images were vivid, artistic, and well composed. But when i read the text itself, I felt cheated when the author initially disliked the results of her recipe. Ultimately, the review of this recipe was positive, but at the end I still felt cheated. What did the images give me that the text did not to leave this impression? Was it the artfulness of the juxtaposition of knife, plate, and empty space in the first picture? Was it the rich and vivid colors of the berries themselves? The article was what it was – a valid review of a newly found recipe. But somehow I wanted more but wasn’t sure what. Social comment? Emotive elements? Ethical appeal?

Another instance of this dissatisfaction can be seen in the Iron and Wine video, ‘Naked as We Came’.

I am oddly disturbed/moved by this video. What does it all mean? The back-and-forth of life and death, food and eating and remnants, light and rain and shadow, serve to imply some odd sort of whole message. But I still have no idea what it is. I am dissatisfied and oddly attracted to it, its vividness and gentle solemness. I want to see it again, just to try and figure out what it means, and a part of that is related to the feelings of seeing all this good-looking food just out there. And the ants. It’s a squeamish-delicious feeling, and I have the odd sensation it’s trying to tell me something about my own life.

Is this odd reaction to seeing ‘good food’ a primal instinct? Are our reactions here purely biological? Let me rephrase – yes, our reactions are biological. But are they sparked only by the natural need of sustenance, that mouth-watering reaction to certain sights and smells? Or do we have deeper, more complex reactions as well, relating to our emotions, memory, and abstract categorizations of life and what it means? Does me seeing the newest hamburger ad tempt me simply to go out and buy a hamburger, or does my reaction have some larger, unintended consequences?

Don’t use your fingers.

All of you who are reading this have one unfortunate thing in common.  You have parents.  They may no longer be alive or just no longer part of your daily life, but you have them nonetheless.  At one time or another, they probably made your life completely unbearable – multiple times if you were highly unfortunate.  And some of the really mean ones might have told you not to use your fingers when eating.

In my family, that’s the way it was.  I loved food – I still do.  And no matter what I did, I could never get that last delicious morsel off of my plate – without using my fingers, of course.  Inevitably a parent would catch me doing it, and then I’d be made to wash my hands and then go back to my seat.  Because not only were my hands ‘dirty’ when I’d touched the food I was actually going to eat, contaminating it, but the act of actually touching food made them more dirty.

Looking back now, it makes less and less sense.  Sure, I get the basic ‘manners’  concept, that touching food is ‘rude’, but beyond that, there’s not much reason not to touch your food.  I can even understand that others might be grossed out by food touching, giving the possible reason behind that politeness.  But still, why did I have to wash my hands?  If they’re physically messy, isn’t a napkin enough?

For those of you who fear to become your parents, dictators of hand-washing and food manners, there is another option, which I discovered here.  Who knows what wonders of eating I could have accomplished with the bulldozer food ‘pusher’?

Pretzels: A food of the Gods

I was sitting here thinking (and munching), and I got to wondering about pretzels. Who was it who created this wonder food? Was the twisty shape of the dough an early integral part, or did pretzel ‘stix precede the knotty, loopy form? Just what kind of a name is pretzel’ anyway? Why aren’t they called something more mundane, like ‘knotted dough’? Or does ‘pretzel’ really mean ‘knotted dough’ in a different language? What makes pretzels taste different than crunch bread-sticks, anyway?

Dictionary.com defines a pretzel as “a crisp, dry biscuit, usually in the form of a knot or stick, salted on the outside”, tracing the root word from German, in particular Old High German. According to this definition, a pretzel would be baked, or possibly fried, due to the biscuit nature of the pretzel. Also, in this definition salt is required.

American heritage goes a bit further into the history of the word:

The German word Brezel or Pretzel, which was borrowed into English (being first recorded in American English in 1856) goes back to the assumed Medieval Latin word *brāchitellum. This would accord with the story that a monk living in France or northern Italy first created the knotted shape of a pretzel, even though this type of biscuit had been enjoyed by the Romans. The monk wanted to symbolize arms folded in prayer, hence the name derived from Latin bracchiātus, “having branches,” itself from bracchium,“branch, arm.”

So it might be a monk. It might be from a Roman word. But I wasn’t quite satisfied. I decided to do a bit more research. Evidently, the brown color comes from a Mallard Reaction, which is the reaction of an amino acid and a sugar, typically caused by heat. This reaction is what causes the browning. I’m not sure if the amino acid portion comes from the wheat flour or the yeast itself, but the sugar would have to be the sugar in the dough that activates the yeast.  There are also Latin associations of the pretzel with Lent (what do you know – the church season we happen to BE in).  Some pretzel recipes call for the pretzels to be boiled before baking,giving them a thicker ‘skin’ like a bagel.  Others just coat the pretzel with an outer layer of some sort of glaze to give that extra shine (usually a baking soda solution, but could also be done with soda ash or lye.  blecht).

Here’s one of the earliest pictures of a pretzel:Early Pretzel Art

Even the ancients of the ‘Dark Ages’ knew to revere and love the Pretzel.

Although I don’t know exactly what makes them so good,  there is one thing I have always known about pretzel in all their forms – YUM.  Sweeten them, soften them, cover them with mustard, cheese, or chocolate, and they are invariably good.