Okay, okay, I get it. I get it now.
It took a Blimpie’s special-of-the-week 6-inch sandwich to prove it. I never thought I’d say this, but I have officially come to like onions. True story.
A few days ago, while ordering my sandwich, the bespectacled bald Blimpie’s owner with the middle-eastern accent asked me, motioning toward the smorgasbord of turkey, provolone, lettuce, pickle, tomato, salt, pepper, oil, and vinegar already smothering my choice of bread, “Onions?”
There was a hesitation.
For twenty-five years I had replied: “Nay, my friend. Onions don’t belong between those freshly-baked slices of honey-oat. Not now, not ever.”
I looked this man in the eyes. His hand, hovering over the plastic tin of white raw onion slices, shiny as slivers of the moon.
I didn’t think about my first McDonald’s hamburgers, where I’d pull off the bun and scrape off those onion pebbles into my cheese-smeared wrapper. I didn’t think about eating everything but the onions in mom’s dinner salads. I didn’t think of their crisp bite or the worry of onion-breath. Instead I felt something new: curiosity, but something more, like trust.
For the first time ever, I said, “Yes,” to onions.
A sandwich is a magical realm where all good things come together to share their talents by way of seducing your taste buds in an orgiastic assault that hits like a hard kiss. Obviously I was worried that inviting onions to the party would throw off the balance. I’d have a flavor that felt out of place–the awkward guy in the corner. How foolish I felt when I took my first bite and realized that onions are not only a valuable part of the sandwich dynamic, but they nearly deejay the whole shebang.
You know when there’s a collective lull in conversation when you’re hanging out with people, but you’re thankful that there’s loud music playing to cover the silence? That’s what onions do.
The best thing about onions is that they don’t brag.
They knew I’d come around eventually, and so they waited, patiently, in the tins of sandwich shops, soaked in vinaigrette dressing at the bottom of a salad, snuck between the buns of a hamburger… They never forced themselves upon me. They waited until I was ready.
And they didn’t say, “I told you so.”
The point is, I think we should eat everything we can (and aren’t allergic to). Anything someone cooks for us. Finish your plate. Anything the man at Blimpie’s offers us. Don’t order the same-old-thing. Anything that exists on a menu, which somewhere, someone enjoys… Eat it. Try it. Put that in your mouth, chew on it, consume it, and make up your own opinion of it.
There are foods out there that you will love, but you don’t know it yet.
Guest Thought from Ben Weinberg
No other mental task can be so challenging and exhausting, and yet so invigorating, as making a choice. Choice is a behavioral process that we undergo hundreds of times each day. These choices that we make can either affect our experience immediately or result in long-term impacts on our lives. From the type of breakfast cereal you buy to the location of your first home, choices have consequences that we can’t always fathom.
I tend to overlook how important choice is in determining one’s destiny or fate in life. As human beings, we make so many choices each day that it’s difficult to discern from what’s valuable to what really doesn’t matter in the grander scheme of things. This also plays into one’s individual perception of what is and what isn’t important in life, which is a long debate that should be left for another thinker.
The other day I was walking through the aisles of my local grocery store when I felt suddenly overwhelmed by the endless assortment of product on the shelves towering over me. Do we really need a hundred different brands of cereal? Picking one became an odd chore, as if having so many options meant I was being judged for which one I actually chose. Completely flummoxed, I’m not even sure which one I picked.
Many people have quite a different situation. Many people will never see a hundred different brands of cereal on a supermarket shelf. Choice might be overwhelming sometimes, but to simply have a choice at all is a gift that we should not take for granted.
My next bumper sticker will say: “I Choose Choice.”
Many people living in the world today have very limited options. Their chance at choice is much lower. It is hard, in a country like this where choice is not only commonplace but can have actual, tangible effects, to imagine a world where choices have been restrained. As humans, we seek fulfillment and happiness, and to be restricted in our choices toward that goal is terrible.
Next time, when you’re meandering in the cereal aisle, perplexed by all the competition, do not dwell for too long. Although breakfast is the most important meal of the day, your choice of cereal is not the most important choice you’ll make today. You know you’re going to get Honey Bunches of Oats, anyway.
In the next few days, pay attention to your moments of choice. Big or small, recognize choice as the gift that it is, then make it a good one.
Good coffee says, Don’t play with bad coffee. Don’t bother. Good coffee asks, Why? Seriously? You’ve tasted me. You’re still sipping with Folgers? Good coffee looks at you slyly and says, You think that freshly-sealed guarantee actually means something? Well it doesn’t.
Good coffee is like a world where the Titanic didn’t sink. It’s the world where Eve left the forbidden fruit alone. Oddly, it was the coffee cherry that Eve plucked from the Garden, the fruit that angered the Gardener. Good coffee says, Bet you didn’t know that.
Good coffee recycles. Good coffee rides public transit.
Good coffee tastes like sweet earth. Not dirt, it says, but the spirit of the earth. Good coffee says, That stuff you drink in diners and gas stations, that stuff you dispense from a machine by button-press, is comparable to dirt. Believe me. I’ve seen those factories.
You go on a date with Good Coffee, it holds doors open for you. Even if you’re just friends. It splits the bill but insists on covering the tip. Good Coffee comes from humble beginnings. It supports a charity. It dabbles in amateur watercolors. Likes museums.
Good coffee is touched by the farmer. It is the farm. It carries the essence of human touch, the itchy fabric of the burlap sack, the chilled echo of a shipping crate on an ocean liner, the warm energy of a coffee-shop roasting room, a snowball of heart and soul that drips perfectly extracted through an Italian machine into a pre-warmed porcelain mug.
Good coffee is never late. Good coffee is breakfast in bed. It’s paid vacation, beautiful sunsets, and the feeling of a really soft cat. Good coffee tastes like buy one get one free. It’s sweet as a bird song, bold as a wolf’s cry.
It builds your confidence. It would take a bullet for you.
It does things to water you’ll never quite understand, and the barista can draw a supernova on your latte foam with a witchcraft that continuously baffles. Good coffee is mysterious, and you like that. Good coffee says, I’ll tell you some things you’ll never forget.
Good coffee is you sitting around a campfire with your best friends. It’s a surprise birthday party even though it’s not your birthday. Oh, and all your debts have been forgiven from every institution. You’re welcome.
Good coffee gives you compliments like, You’re a really spectacular person. Has anyone ever told you that? No, I mean it. Someone like you deserves nothing but the best. Good coffee never lies.
Imagine the smooth welcome swallow of a freshwater stream after wandering the desert for weeks. That’s Good Coffee.
Imagine going to the ATM and finding five extra zeroes on your account balance. That’s Good Coffee.
We belong together, says Good Coffee, with that smile you can’t help but love. I am a drink of ancient history. I am untapped energy. I carry knowledge of the planet and I want to share it with you.
Take a sip.
You’ll never be the same.
I love bad coffee.
I love the smell of it, the bitter stench of it, like caramel gone wrong. It reminds me of shady diner booths at three in the morning. Of long drives during long nights, the way it stains the upholstery and never fades. The smell of it has the peculiar charm of gasoline and magic markers.
I love the look of it. Black, always, unless I’m feeling sweet. When it’s black, it’s black, like oil spill black, like dilated pupil black, like the black gunk that builds up beneath your fingernails. If you catch the light just right, you’ll see a hint of brown hue, the shadow of its earthy origination.
I love the sound of it. A slow pour, a fifth refill, spawned from a machine that gurgles like a patient removed from life support. The swirl of it in the porcelain mug, that faint whistle sound of something being filled. Bad coffee sounds different than good coffee. It pours like a spilled secret, like a broken promise, like a lie in the face of your mother.
I love the feel of it. Its warmth is an affront to better tasting beverages, a façade. It is warm in the way that the wolf is trustworthy. It steams the way freshly laid concrete sizzles in a hot sun. Inside, swallowed, it spreads like an alien embryo where it will grow in your belly and burst from your chest. Bad coffee feels like an uninvited houseguest that puts its feet on your furniture and ignores the stack of drink coasters on the table.
But most of all, I love the taste of it. I love the havoc it wreaks on my taste buds and the lingering regret that it leaves behind. I love the knee-jerk cringe of bad coffee sliding down my throat to the tune of nails on a chalkboard. It is a hideous, over-extracted, charred disaster in my mouth; a terrorist attack on my digestive system that I do nothing to prevent.
It is an abomination, yet I love it.
I don’t care how bad it is.
Refills are free.
I equate a good horror movie to a really spicy meal. When a movie is really scary, it gets your heart racing, it makes you sweat, and it makes you uncomfortable in your seat. A spicy meal will do the same thing. Both the movie and the meal are a form of self-abuse, if you think about it. We knowingly bring terror into our lives or we knowingly set our tongues and mouths on fire. But why?
I’d argue first and foremost that it’s because of the rush.
Can I handle this? Can I handle watching The Ring in the dark? Can I handle a full bite of jalapeño chili? I’ll never know unless I try, and even if it brings me to tears, I can’t give up once I’ve started. There’s more at stake here than simply watching a movie or eating a meal. This is about taking your heart and stomach on a rollercoaster with no brakes. This is about pushing your psychiatric well-being to its snapping point and giving your sweat glands a work-out. That’s the rush.
We watch horror movies as a way of release, and we eat spicy foods as a way of cleansing.
After a good horror movie, I feel elated. I feel like a survivor. I’ve just witnessed sheer terror and probably jumped out of my skin a half dozen times, and I’m sure I spent half the time cowering behind my knees with a hand held over my mouth. All that stress, all that tension, it fills me up like a balloon and, eventually, something will burst out of the shadows and pop that stress balloon–perhaps resulting in an embarrassing shriek. It feels good. When I’m watching a horror movie, I’m not thinking about my job, my school work, my taxes, or my petty concerns. There are people in much greater danger than I am on the screen, and I can take comfort in knowing that no matter how crappy my day was, at least I’m not being chased down by a man in flesh mask wielding a chainsaw.
Spicy food does the same thing. Most of the food we eat, delicious as it is, doesn’t really affect you the way spicy food does. A plate of spaghetti does not have the same physical impact as a bad-ass salsa. We seek the cleanse, which comes not specifically from the food, but the results that come from eating it. Truly spicy food will make your face turn red. It’ll wreck havoc on your digestive system. It’ll make you wish you’d never been born. Yet the abuse is somehow tolerated because, in the end, we feel better and we feel stronger. If we can survive that cayenne red pepper sauce, we can survive anything. The sweat, the charred roof of your mouth, and the feeling that you’ve just swallowed a bucket of hot coals is completely validated once the burning goes away. You’ve just sweated out a bunch of toxins and forced your body into immediate survival mode. It’s a wake up call, a test. This is cleansing, even if it hurts, and this is why we do it.
We need a good release. We deserve a good cleanse now and then. We’re a species with a tendency to worry too much, to fear too much, and to repress too much. This leads to toxic build up.
Let that stuff out. Stretch yourself. Go see a scary movie, release that tension. Go eat some spicy food, cleanse your taste-buds.
And if you want, find an alternative. Find another way to feel the rush and push your limits. You’ll feel remarkably better afterward.
I’m a fan of evolution. I think it’s a super neato idea and it makes sense to me. You have Creature A who survives in Environment A with Requirement A, then Environment B comes along and Creature A needs to adapt to Requirement B and the next generation becomes Creature B. This pattern continues. Life goes on. Things change. Cool. Got it. I’m all for that.
And then we get to the modern day human.
For the most part, we’re pretty remarkable creatures. We’re pretty fast on our feet, we have the eyesight of a hunter, we have crazy wicked brains, we can multi-task, and we invented the internet. We’re pretty much solid, even if we totally would’ve become dinosaur food if we hadn’t come around 65 million years afterward. But, overall, not bad for a bunch of apes.
I think there are just two things left that need to evolve:
- Our compassion for each other
- Our teeth
The first one, I don’t feel like getting into right now, but the second one…
Boy have I got a thing or two to say about teeth. To put it bluntly, I hate the design of human teeth. Depending on your diet, genetic disposition, hygiene, and insurance overage, your teeth will either be perfect little angels in your mouth, or turn into tantrum-throwing toddlers every chance they get. I’m stuck with the latter. I’ve got the kind of teeth that prefer to sprout crooked along the bottom row, squeeze in uninvited wisdom, and plague me with hard-to-reach corners that fester and decay like teenagers without adult supervision. I’ve got the teeth that fart in elevators and push old ladies to cut in line at the supermarket. My teeth are jerks.
Evolutionarily speaking, human teeth seem confused between adjusting to our meat-eating tendencies and sustaining their vegetative diets of yore. We’re not helping our evolution by having such a split between carnivores and vegetarians. Our future generations’ teeth won’t know if they need to tear through a steak or gnaw on some arugula. My opinion is that our teeth are too weak. We need thicker enamel and sturdier jaws. We should not need braces. Nowhere in our evolutionary timeline should we require pieces of metal to keep us aligned.
I’m not saying we should all be carnivores. Yes I am. But don’t listen to me. I just have weak teeth and I don’t want to take responsibility for my bad cleaning habits. But there, again, lies my ultimate problem with our current state of teeth evolution: they’re doomed from the start. If we don’t constantly upgrade our toothbrushes, pastes, and washes, our teeth will fall right out of our heads. Our teeth are worse with planned obsolescence than the automobile and tech industry combined. They’re made to fail. While a good diet can keep the rest of your bones healthy, a good diet can also leave food stuck between your teeth, and even a piece of rogue broccoli can spell disaster for a molar.
It’s just not fair. I don’t have to floss my ribs or brush my spinal cord with Colgate. Those bones do just fine on their own. Can we please, in a couple generations, come up with something more stable and resilient than what we’ve currently been using to chomp our foot with?
i’ve had a lot of pasta sauces in my day.
as an avid cook, i’ve also cooked quite a few from scratch.
in my college days i worked at a foods co-op, which gave me a lot of access to fresh, quality ingredients with which to craft the finest bolognese or carbanara.
all of these experiences and others that have not been mentioned make me the sauce connoisseur.
and do you know which pasta sauce i still crave the most?
this is not an advertisement. though, it probably should be.
i get that prego is store bought, processed, super-cheap, and loaded with sugars that make it’s claims about hearth health completely bogus.
it still tastes the best.
because taste isn’t about pomp. it’s about nostalgia, and i have many a good memory of pasta nights as a kid.
pasta nights were tranquil nights, because nobody complained over a heaping bowl of pasta. through most of my childhood i piled butter and fake parmesan on top of my spaghetti. i was afraid of sauce. but once i was forced to jump into that tangy, rich wonderful sauce that never forgot to add a bit of sweetness at the end, i knew i would forever be a prego addict.
years later, when i was newly graduated from college, i was pretty much starving in a little studio apartment. there was a grocery outlet next door, which was the regrettable source of most of my diet. but the place had one thing in its favor: they carried prego. and after a rough day of reporting the news as a total rookie who had no idea what she was doing, there was nothing better than coming home and cooking up the most nostalgic bowl of cheap and easy pasta. at that time, i couldn’t even afford the parmesan. but i didn’t care. i was happy with the prego.
now that i’m living abroad, i find that prego is readily available at most grocery stores and this is a huge relief. even though i don’t advocate coming to a foreign country just to eat the same foods you ate back home, there are times when you are living abroad (much different than visiting abroad) when you just want to curl up in a little ball and look at something familiar. even better if it can be ingested.
of course, i still enjoy making a wonderful tomato sauce from scratch because really, the enjoyment of a homemade sauce is more in the process than anything. put on some good italian tunes, pour a glass of wine, and let it simmer all day.
but for the fast times in life, there’s no shame in prego.
Let’s say I was about one when I made the switch to store-bought milk, and from then on out I was pretty sure the only white drink in the world was 2% milk from the udder of a cow. It was a long time before someone said, “Here, try this, it’s goat milk.” Of course I thought them heretical, to be banished to the darkest corner of the Earth. I bellowed, “Goats don’t make milk! How dare you! Remove that imitation abomination from my fine glassware and apologize to the Great Bovine for your insolence!”
The only variation I permitted was the addition of chocolate to the flavor, and sometimes Oreo crumbs.
However, my world of cow-dominated dairy products continued to crumble as I aged.
Soon people were telling me that American and Cheddar were not the only types of cheese in the world. What! “Why yes,” they said, “there’s gouda and bleu and pepperjack. This one with the holes is called swiss. That one: provolone, and the other: brie.” I tried these foreign creations with contempt. How could they be cheese if they were not orange? And this one, this brie, is like a thick custard, so little like the cheese of my youth that there must’ve been a mistake. “No, no,” they said, “cheese comes in all shapes and sizes. Your pizza features mozzarella. Your spaghetti is sprinkled with parmesan. See this cheese here, it’s called feta, and this type has been made of sheep’s milk.”
The blasphemy stung deep. I could handle news of cheese varietals, but this? No! Only cow’s milk could create such a wonder as cheese! “Try this,” they said, passing me a scrap of baguette with a white cheese spread. I did, and it was quite delicious, and they said, “That’s goat cheese.”
They’d invaded my milk and now my cheese! These bleating, skipping creatures of the hillsides. Trouble was, I really liked goat cheese. It was apparent that my loyalty to cows had blinded me from the reality: there were other cheeses, and more shockingly, there were other milks, and not just those from other animals. “Look here,” they said, taking me to the supermarket. “We have soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk, and even rice milk. And did you know there’s such a thing as buffalo milk?”
My God, I remember thinking. Have we lost our minds? We’re milking almonds, now?
The point I want to make is, certainty about anything is denial of the idea that alternatives exist. I think we tend to have a problem with this, as a global society, which leads to many arguments. We get stuck in our little worlds, our opinions and our beliefs, and when we discover that there are other options out there, we sort of freak out. People who feel like they’re absolutely correct are likely to be disproven, and unfortunately, they probably won’t take it very well. That said, never be certain, stay open minded, and remember: there are always other milks.
My desert island food involves two slices of wheat bread and between them: one layer of chunky peanut butter and one layer of raspberry jelly. If I were allowed to be greedy, I’d ask for three slices of bread with an additional layer of each ingredient, creating what I like to call the Big Papa PBJ (a delicious secret I discovered in a college dorm). Many a childhood school lunch was made complete by the PBJ, but better yet was when Mom made them for me at home and cut the sandwich into quarters. The sandwich is like the perfect perfume, with a fruit-jelly top note, a wheat-bread middle note, and a peanut-butter base note. It’s a culinary miracle, harmonious to the last bite.
Anyway, my point is that there’s some things that never get old.
We grow up surrounded by stimulus, constantly absorbing the world around us like flowers soaking in the rays of the sun. Our photosynthesis is the digestion of information. Some of it becomes white noise, forgotten as we age, habits that we lose or beliefs that are shattered. Santa Clause fades. Parents become real people. Sweet snacks give us stomachaches and diabetes. So we adapt as we grow up, snipping away the bits that don’t serve us any purpose. Goodbye Beanie-Babies.
But what about the stuff that stays with you? I still twirl my hair when I think, just like I did as a kid, I still hold my breath when I drive through a tunnel, I still claim that my favorite movie of all time is a movie I saw when I was seven, and my favorite sandwich is still the PB & J.
I can’t let these things go. Is it because I don’t want to grow up? No. I’ve given up on that Peter Pan dream. Being a kid kinda sucks in comparison to the freedoms of adulthood. It’s not about fighting your age but maintaining your essence. Keeping some of your habits and preferences the same throughout your entire life is a difficult task. These were things that defined you from the get-go, your initial idiosyncrasies, your first experience with individuality. We will grow older and for the most part, this is good, but we will change in ways that we cannot foresee. The world will try to harden you, so if you can, uphold those childhood habits and beliefs. Eat goldfish crackers and wish upon stars and don’t step on the cracks or you’ll break your momma’s back. It is important to hold onto bits of your childhood if you enjoy them. Keep them with you because they will keep your heart young. Now go drink some chocolate milk.
I’ve got a sandwich to make.