Oddities and Obsessions

coffee-poster.jpgMy husband and I managed to miss the whole coffee craze. Up until a few years ago I had never had a full cup – try to restrain your horror – and he would have one only when desperate for caffeine. If it was past 10 in the morning he'd move right past a morning cup and reach for a Mountain Dew instead. All that changed one fateful trip to New England where we were introduced to Dunkin' Donuts. Sure, we knew they made good donuts, but apparently their pastry treats were not the reason for the lines cascading out the door. It was for their coffee, which we didn't hold high hopes for.

For all you DD fanatics, we weren't stupid, we just live in Southern California and we aren't privileged enough to have a single store in our region. Back then if we wanted to "Run on Dunkin" we had to drive 7 hours to Arizona. Coming from a region dominated by Starbucks, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and Seattle's Best, we had pretty low expectations of a "donut shop" coffee. Wow, were we wrong. From the first burning sip – coffee is hot – to the last  we just couldn't believe how delicious it was. Or understand how they kept it hot for sooooo long. We had found our java heroin and there was no going back.

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jiminycricket.jpgDoes Jiminy Cricket sit on your shoulder? He sits on mine – always has. The first time I saw Pinocchio; he jumped right off the screen and onto my shoulder and has been there ever since. If he were simply my conscience, I would consider that a good thing, but he is not my conscience; he is my worst critic!

“You think that photograph is good? Are you an idiot with absolutely no taste? Print that and the world will laugh at you.”

“You prefer A Place in the Sun to Citizen Kane? Are you friggin’ out of your gourd? Tell anyone that and the world will laugh at you.”

“You are wearing what? That? Put that on and the world with laugh at you!”

It never stops. It is most embarrassing, however, when I fix dinner for company. I will get a compliment and before I can smile and say, “Thank you” I blurt out, “I put too much salt in the sauce, I over-browned the meat before I stewed it …” TMI provided by Jiminy.

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sicilian-olives-300x225.jpg Have you eaten at the Tuckers recently?”

“You mean the olives and the almonds?”

“Every fucking time. That’s all you get until dinner.”

Well, it’s true. I don’t like to stuff people before I feed them. I want that feeding-the-pirhanas feeling when I bring the pasta out. Forks flashing. That kind of thing.

I have no interest in serving food to full people.

So, we put out a bowl of olives – usually the “festive mix” or whatever it’s called, from Fairway, or those big, fat Sicilian olives, a bit lighter green in color, meaty and briny.

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cowpartsThe little bell on the glass door jingled and I became breathless with anticipation.  He looked up just for a second and then turned back, took a large knife off the rack, and started slicing into the beef tenderloin

“Lady, how much you want?” he asked the woman standing in front of him.  Her ruby red lips pursed as she held up her thumb and forefinger with three inches between them.

“This much.”

“Here?” He held the knife two inches in and the woman started to scream.

THIS much!!!” she said, slapping her palm on the counter and shaking her measurement fingers at him again.

He smirked, cut accordingly, tore off a piece of thick, shiny paper, and wrapped the beef tightly.  I could watch him tear butcher paper all day.

“Thank you ma’m.  Next!  Number 68.”

I walked down the display counter, sliding my finger along the cold glass.  So many cuts, so many choices.  What would it be today?  Prime Rib?  Oxtail?  Duck Breasts?  I feel no limitations exist for my fantasies within these walls.

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tabasco-production-line-550xOh, Tabasco, how much do I love thee?

The narrow bottle, wedged next to the napkins and salt and pepper, has always been a part of my earliest food memories and proceeds almost anything else on the table. It is a sauced etched in my mind, its hot and tangy flavor surely a part of my DNA by now. I suspect it’s this way for millions of people, too. I’ve just never been able to get enough of the stuff.

I got to spend a few days in Avery Island, Louisiana, home to the McIlhenny Company that makes the Tabasco hot sauce. It’s been made here since its invention in 1868, its recipe unchanged for over 142 years. And if something is good, why change it? To make Tabasco sauce, you only need a few things: peppers, salt, vinegar and time. But Tabasco does indeed have a secret ingredient that makes it so extremely special: the people that have made the sauce for generations.

(and no, there are no people IN the sauce, please don’t get all Sweeny Hot Sauce Todd on me, please)

To visit Avery Island and the McIlhenny Company is like walking into a textbook on regional Louisiana history, followed by a textbook on American history. It’s a family-owned company that was founded by Edmund McIlhenny and is still run by the family today. In fact, many of the employees have been with the company for generations. And Avery Island itself is quite special. Located in Iberia Parish, Avery Island is located on top of a salt dome and has been involved in the salt trade even longer than the production of Tabasco. These two things go hand in hand, we’ll get to that in a few.

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