10/2/18

Zesty.

Well, I finally got tired of eating whole chickens out of plastic capsules, and my wife convinced me to try one of those "we'll send you all the ingredients you need!" food services to see what's up. We figured at the very least we would get to try some new food, and as an added bonus, we'd get to keep the recipes. We started off with Sun Basket, and worked our way through Hello Fresh and Home Chef.

I called a timeout after my wife was juggling three of these services at the same time, and put an indefinite hold on Blue Apron because each one of these things is like that old Columbia House CD club you used to fall for when you were a kid. Forget to send one postcard back and suddenly you were being billed $37.50 for Barry Manilow's Greatest Hits. We almost had overlapping services and too much food at once, but we got it ironed out.

After about the third meal, I realized why my wife was so interested in these kits. Out of the last 15 recipes we've tried, she cooked the first two.

The rest: All me. Why?

I think it's because she immediately figured out that if there are instructions for building something (a recipe, for instance) I am physically and mentally incapable of simply standing by and letting someone else screw up the final result by not following them exactly.  To put it another way, I never have parts left over when I build shit from IKEA. Yeah. I'm that guy.

I am now convinced that she half-assed the first meal or two accidentally-on-purpose so that I'd take over the cooking.  It worked, too. She is totally using my OCD against me for her own nefarious purposes, namely, having me combine pre-measured ingredients in a specific order, apply heat, and notify her when it's magically turned itself into a meal.

As I'm sure you can imagine, there are both benefits and drawbacks to cooking like this.  Let me detail a few of these for you.

Benefits:

1. Less time at the grocery store.  Note that this is another benefit for my wife, because I rarely if ever shop for our food.  She saves me that hassle, and I love her for it.  if I were single, I would likely be subsisting on gas station chalupas and pre-made Cumberland Farm sandwiches due to my aversion to actually shopping for individual ingredients. I say "ingredients" because the chances I would buy said ingredients and combine them into something that was actually edible all on my own are slim to none.  At best, I'd have some Banquet chicken and frozen mac and cheese in the freezer, and most of a leftover pizza in the fridge.

2. It just shows up on your doorstep! It's like food Christmas every week.  Especially if you forget what meals you've chosen.  The UPS guy will hate you because these bastards are heavy, but other than that you're good to go. Just tip him well at Christmas. Or, if you've got a sadistic streak, give him a gift certificate for one of these services so he has to carry his own box of food.

3.  You get to try foods you've never tried before.  For instance, I've discovered that I like Risotto. Before this, I never even knew what Risotto was, let alone how to make it.  I thought it was some kind of cheese, like Ricotta. (It sounds like it should be an Italian sports car. The Alfa Romeo Risotto. Drive one today!)

4. You have some time to decide.  If you're too tired to cook or just don't feel like it because you worked late or binge-watched Breaking Bad until 2 am, you can freeze the meat, and the rest of the stuff will keep for up to 5-7 days. But usually it doesn't take that long, since the clock is ticking on three complete meals that are basically ready to go.  I mean, how lazy can you be?  Eventually you will feel guilty that you are standing in front of the open fridge eating slices of pre-packaged provolone instead of cooking your fresh food. Since you paid a bunch of money for it,  and you probably have three more meals on the way, you either need to cook it or let it rot.  Eventually, you will give in and break out the pans.

5. The instructions are pretty easy, and you get to keep the recipes. This sounds more useful than it is, especially with Home Chef, because they provide their own spice packs and some dressings/marinades, so you have no idea what's actually in them.  With Hello Fresh and Sun Basket, they tend to have you make that stuff from the base ingredients, so while it's more work up front, it's easier to repeat the recipe when you inevitably quit the service.

6. Cilantro. All the cilantro.  You either love it or hate it. I happen to love it, and a lot of these recipes seem to call for it. I'm not sure why, but I'm not complaining.  If there is cilantro and lime in the recipe, I'm on board.  I am pretty sure I must be part Mexican. You could put cilantro, sour cream and cheese on a seven day old hot dog someone had kicked under the counter at the 7-11 and I would eat it and like it.

And now for the drawbacks, of which there are many.

Drawbacks:

1.  The incredible amount of packing waste.  Each box of three meals is insulated with something resembling carpet padding wrapped in plastic, and contains 4 ice packs, two above and two below all your perishables. The ice packs are made from some kind of slimy gel encased in plastic. The instructions say that you are supposed cut the bags, let the slime demons out, then recycle the plastic bags and the cardboard box.  Unfortunately, our recycling bin states in huge letters "NO PLASTIC BAGS" so off they go into the land fill.  And that's just the beginning.  In each of your three meals, you'll have more plastic. One small plastic bottle for a bit of balsamic vinegar here, another for some cooking oil there; A few sprigs of cilantro is in a plastic snap container.  Individual servings of sour cream, tiny bottles of ketchup and mayo. Little bags of cheese and rice.  It gets pretty crazy.

2. Don't let anyone tell you different -- This shit is expensive.  It has to be.  Sometimes I dump the ingredients for a meal on the counter top and think, I just paid 20 bucks for 4 flour totillas, a couple of tiny chicken breasts, a cup of rice, a lime, a pepper and some spices. What is wrong with me?   It just doesn't seem worth it. But I can truthfully say that I haven't had as much food waste due to spoilage/laziness. We no longer refer to the crisper drawer in the fridge as the rotter, so there's that.

3.  You get to try foods you've never tried before.  The attentive among you are thinking, "Wait, didn't he just list that as a benefit?  Yes, yes I did. But I maintain that it is also a drawback. Let me tell you a story about the Cheyote. While it sounds like the name of a lost Indian tribe, or a terrifying abomination resulting from the unholy union of a cheetah and a coyote, it is not.  It's actually an "edible" gourd from Mexico. It should be reclassified as an ornamental gourd because it looks like a mini nerf football with warts, and tastes like dirt. That didn't really surprise me though, because in the recipe it actually had a warning. And that warning read as follows:

WARNING: WEAR GLOVES WHILE CUTTING CHEYOTE AS THE SAP CAN CAUSE SKIN IRRITATION AND NUMBING OF HANDS.

I thought to myself, That's what I want in my mouth. Something that causes skin irritation and makes my hands stop working. 

But into the frying pan it went. I am nothing if not an instruction follower.  (I am pleased to inform you that I did not die from Cheyote poisoning. I will not be having it again, but feel free to give it a shot if you're ever in the mood for some crappy proto-vegetable that tastes like ass and make you feel like you slept on your hands all night.) 

4. Skimpy portion size.  I'm not a big guy, but literally every single one of these "meals for two" had what I consider to be a good-sized single serving, with a little bit left over for a snack the next day.  If you are a 5'7" 150 pound man (or woman) you could probably eat most of it yourself.  If, on the other hand you are a 6'2" 250 pound man (or woman) these meals will not fill you up. If you somehow manage to do the considerate thing and limit yourself to your share, I guarantee that you will be stalking around the kitchen at 2 am eating Count Chocula out of the box while the cat looks on in disgust. 

5.  You don't get to pick your own vegetables or fruits.  They show up in a bag on your doorstep, sure, but so far I'm not very impressed with the overall quality. I think Sun Basket is best in this regard, and all their stuff is organic.  They are also more expensive.  As a general rule, however,  nothing is quite as "farm fresh" as they all claim it to be.  The tomatoes are hard, pink pellets, the greens can be a bit wilted and the fruit is sometimes bruised.  They try to prevent damage in shipping, which is probably why none of the veggies are really ripe. I could have driven nails with the last two avocados I got from Hello Fresh.  I couldn't even cut them in half. I also scored a rotten potato from Home Chef. They made it good by offering me a $5 coupon off my next order, which, come to think of it, is probably about what I paid for that potato.

6. Jalapenos. All the jalapenos.  Now, I love a good hot pepper, but I can only eat so many of them before my stomach and intestines revolt.  It seems like every recipe we've tried has either Jalepeno or Pablano peppers as a solid ingredient. The meals in general tend to be on the spicy side, so if you like bland, then most of these meals will not be for you.

I sit here in my comfortable leather chair writing this, having just finished making something that tasted like a Mexican Sloppy Joe. Let me sum up: A burger's worth of taco-seasoned ground beef and tomato sauce, a package of cilantro and one jalapeno diced up and mixed with olive oil and lime juice. Dump the meat over some rice and top with the cilantro/jalapeno mix, add some cheese and toasted tortilla strips. Simple, right? And it might even sound pretty good if you like hot, spicy food, which I do. However, there's a good chance I'll be finishing this blog post from my much-less-comfortable porcelain chair while I chug Pepto and eat Tums by the fist-full. 

7.  All of the fucking zesting. I confess:  I've never zested before. I didn't really know what zesting was. I had no good way to zest, and there is a lot of zesting called for in these recipes. For all the poor saps out there reading this who are in my previously uninformed shoes, it's very simple. It's basically grinding the rind off something. (I know, that sounds dirty. Hey baby. How's about you and me grind the rind over at my place?)  I now consider myself a zesting expert. Limes and Lemons mostly.  I'm not a professional, by any means -- I've never zested for money --  but if you need a good zest, look no further; I'm your guy.  I am also pretty sure I have zest-induced tendonitis in my elbow, so I may be forced into a sub-par zest with my other arm, but I'm sure you will still be satisfied.

As to which company is best, the jury is still out.  None of it is really health food, and to be honest, I think it's a fad and none of these companies will be around in a couple of years. The meats are mediocre, the veggies and other ingredients are the same stuff you get at the market except less ripe, and everything seems destined to be cooked in some kind of oil, whether it be canola or olive.  If they delivered a chef, a busboy and a dishwasher with your food, then they might have something. Although come to think of it, that already exists, just not for people who fly commercial and don't own a fleet of turbo-charged Risottos.  I think you'd be better off just buying a cook book, picking three meals and then going to the grocery store with your list. Sure it takes longer, and it's a lot more work, but my wife won't mind. 

I think my favorite so far was shaved steak with onions, mushrooms, and cheddar cheese on a pretzel roll.  It was really good, but I essentially paid 20 bucks for two rolls, a package of Steak-Umms, a little onion, a couple of mushrooms and two slices of cheese.  I ate it, but I resented it. It was expensive, and I could feel it clogging my arteries. I dropped a piece of steak on the floor, but I picked it up and added it back to my sandwich, because, hey, that was probably like a buck's worth of meat.

So I'll end this by saying (a) I'm still sitting in the comfy chair (to your vast relief, I'm sure, and to mine) and (b) I'm kind of enjoying the cooking part a little more than I thought I would.  So if anyone has any recommendations for any companies they think might offer better food or more for your money, let me know in the comments.

Until next time, Bon Ape tits! (Is that right?  I think it's right.)


1/6/18

No Laughing Matter.

I walked into the dentist's office with a bit of trepidation - I'd had a hot/cold sensitivity in one of my chompers for a few days, and figured I had a cracked filling. Both hot and cold food would cause a dull ache in my brain, and sometimes biting down on something hard in just the right way would shoot an ice pick into my eye.  I hate the dentist with a passion, even though I realize the necessity of it. I floss and brush twice a day and never miss a cleaning because I know that's all easier than having major work done.  Prevention is key and all that -- especially when it comes to your teeth.

I've just started going to a new guy closer to home, and I'm not sure about him yet.  The first time I went to him, he said he found a cavity.  I haven't had a cavity in probably 30 years, so I was skeptical.  I wasn't entirely sure he didn't just need a new widescreen TV for his kid's room, but I let him fill it anyway, and I continue to reserve judgment.

This time, I wasn't sure what was going to happen -- I figured it could be anything from a new filling to a root canal and crown; or god forbid, an implant.  My wife had an implant done there 6 months ago and we're STILL paying it off. I could have bought a nice used car for what that fake tooth cost.  That was a nightmare for her. Bone grafts, socket wrenches, hydrocodone, lasers... it was a mess.  And then after it was done, she was having trouble with it, and we thought for sure it was going to need to be yanked out again.  Eventually it settled down, and everything is fine now. I hated paying for it, but it's nice not being married to a hillbilly anymore.

 They are punctual at this place, I'll give them that. I arrived about ten minutes before my appointment, and they don't generally take you early.  You will sit there until the exact moment of your scheduled appointment, and then they come and take you into the back where the rooms and chairs are.  I was sitting in the waiting room, coughing like a TB patient.  A few months ago, I had gotten a head cold that moved to my chest.  Unfortunately, it took up residence there like so much Michael Keaton in Pacific Heights. I'm STILL coughing, and it's maddening.  At any rate, I was coughing, and they have complimentary water and flavored seltzer in this little glass-doored mini-fridge. I didn't want to be belching in anyone's face, so I grabbed an ice cold water and drank it down, hoping to stifle the cough a bit. That rang my bell a little because my tooth did NOT like the cold water.  I still finished the bottle though, doing this weird thing where I covered my tooth with my tongue and sort of stuck the bottle on the other side.

This office is fairly small, since the entire practice is shoehorned into an old Victorian house that has been turned into a business. The waiting room and the main reception desk are basically in the same 12x15' space, with a small bathroom directly across from the desk. To the left of the bathroom door is the entrance to the examination areas. Immediately after I finished the water, the hygienist/assistant came out to get me.  I stood up and started to follow her to the back, but then took a detour to use the bathroom while she waited. Better safe than sorry.

I am no fan of their bathroom, mostly because there is no fan. There is absolutely nothing to mask sounds (or smells) of whats going down in there, and it's right on top of the waiting room and reception desk due to the layout. It's like that guest bathroom at your in law's house that is three feet from the dining room table. Nobody wants to use it.

So to set the stage, the office is so quiet you can hear the house creaking, and the waiting room has about 4 other people in it, all just silently staring at their phones or reading magazines.  So I do what any self-respecting guy would do.  I aim for the side of the bowl to avoid making noise.  This is the classic NP move (ninja piss), and it takes some skill, depending upon the toilet.  Sometimes it's easy -- the newer low-flow toilets usually have lots of porcelain real estate to aim for. Unfortunately, this toilet, like the rest of the house, is fairly old and that means it uses approximately 40 gallons of water per flush, and the bowl is round and deep, like an ornamental koi pond that you pee in.*  Still, if you are an expert, there's a slice of about an inch between the edge of the bowl and the water that you can hit and still execute a perfect 10-point NP.  So I threaded the needle, scored a solid 9.0 (lost a point for flushing before I was done, so the noise would cover up any sloppiness in execution), washed up and followed the hygienist to my chair.

Sitting down, I immediately realized the other thing I hate about this particular dentist office.  The chairs don't have arms. It's awkward, and I don't like it. I always end up sort of sitting there with my hands in my lap, trying not to dig my nails into my palms until they bleed.

I could feel myself getting nervous.  I was away from work on my lunch hour, I had no idea what was going to happen, but I knew there would be drills involved.  I am a big wimp when it comes to the dentist.   Even if it's just a cleaning, I tense up like I'm being electrocuted and I stay that way for the duration.

The assistant took some X-rays and she apparently found a crack in the tooth, which she showed me with a digital camera and some kind of funky outlaw ROKU app on the widescreen TV in the room. The doctor strolled in and glanced at the screen, then told me to lie back so he could take a look.  He poked around in there for a few seconds, and said, "I'd suggest taking out that old filling, and putting a crown on that tooth to hold the crack together.  There's a good chance that section of tooth will fall off anyway when I start cleaning it up, since the crack goes around the base."

I didn't want to hear that, but OK.  I asked him if that meant a root canal, and he said, "Not necessarily. I can prep it for the crown right now, and we can put a temporary on and see how it does. If you are OK for the two weeks that it takes to get the permanent crown back from the lab, chances are you'll be fine without a root canal."  I liked this answer because I've never had a root canal and I'd like to continue not having one for as long as I can manage it.  I never had my wisdom teeth taken out either, and that's because I was born without them. That makes me some sort of genetic freak - or (as I prefer to think of it) just vastly more advanced on the evolutionary scale than all you poor bastards who had to go through having those fuckers dug out of your neanderthal jawbones with a chisel.

So out comes the ginormous Novocaine needle, and I tense up even more as he jabs it into multiple areas of my face from the inside. Then he left, and it was just me and the assistant waiting for the numbness to start. She asked me if I was nervous, and I said, "I hate the dentist. You are going to put power tools inside my head and grind away at a part of my body that has a giant nerve bundle just under the surface. Of course I'm nervous."

She laughed.  "Do you want the nitrous?" she asked. " It'll take the edge off. Laughing gas. You know."

I did not know. I didn't even know that was an option.  My old dentist never asked me if I wanted the nitrous.  I entertained the idea. "I dunno," I said. "I've never had it before.  What's it like?"  She said, "The doctor made us all try it when we started here so we'd know. She paused and then added, "Um...I'd say it's like having a couple of drinks."

A couple of drinks sounded like a good way to break the deathlock my left hand currently had on my right, so I told her to sign me up.

She strapped this rubber thing over my nose and told me to start breathing in.  She said after a few minutes I'd start to feel it.  I didn't feel anything. A minute or two later, she said, "Still nothing?"

"Nope." I responded. She reached over and tweaked a knob on the tank, and then looked at me again, questioningly.

I got as far as "Still noth---" and then I felt like I was already on the business-end of five martinis.

"Whoa," I said. Then I felt the irresistible urge to laugh.  I know, that's a cliche, but I immediately got the giggles. On the inside.  I managed to keep it together on the outside for appearances, but it was close. I almost went full Joker.

"How are you doing now?" she asked.

I grinned stupidly. "Pretty....pretty.....pretty... good." I said, giving her my best Larry David impersonation. I don't think she got it though. "Hey, you know what I hate?" I asked, as a random thought pinwheeled through my brain and came out of my word hole.

Without waiting for an answer, I pointed at the chair and made grabbing motions with my hands. "How'm I supposed ta white knuckle this bitch with no arms to grab onto?" I asked.

"Is that Novocaine working?" she asked, ignoring my question.

I touched the side of my face and it felt like I was drooling a little. Classy.  Something else funny occurred to me, and I sang a quick chorus of Two Tickets To Paradise, but I don't think she got that either. She was young. Or maybe it was because it came out sounding like "Two tits, a pair a dice" and she had no idea what that meant, and wisely chose to ignore it.

I also have to say, either my alcohol tolerance has gone to shit, or she's actually an ex-stripper and "a couple of drinks" to her meant a bottle of Jack and a 6-pack back, because I was hammered.

By then, the dentist was back, and they were going over the plan. The told me to keep breathing through my nose. I did. And I liked it. I think I started huffing it a bit because I could feel it cut off the feed from the tank if I breathed it in too deep.  It was metering me, and I hated it a little.

The assistant kept asking me questions, but I don't think she really wanted answers. I think she was just gauging how high I was and whether they could start drilling. I decided to ask her some questions, too.  Funny things were occurring to me, but I couldn't get the words out.  They were playing Christmas tunes over the in-room radio, so I asked the assistant about it.

"Sicka crimmas moozik?" I asked.

"What did you say?  The Christmas music? Do you want us to put something else on? Did you say you were sick of Christmas music?"

"No YOU," I said.  No, Butch Walker."

"Sorry we don't have that. It's just Pandora," she said.

"No. K-N-O-W." I spelled.  Butch. KNOW'im?"

"Ohhh, do I know Butch Walker?  No, who is he?" she asked.

"Producer. Artist. New CD. Christmas. Good."  My brain wanted to explain, but my mouth only knew how to speak in single word sentences.

Then the music changed to some instrumental piece that sounded familiar.  In my addled state, I could only identify it as some form of fast tempo classical.

"Carfoon Moozik," I said.

"Cartoon music? Yeah, it does sound like that," she laughed. "OK, we're going to have you lie back a little further. Are you good?  You don't feel sick or anything?"

I shook my head no, and then the dentist said, "I think we're good to go."

While they were getting ready to drill, I could hear the other hygienist talking to someone else in one of the other rooms, and the way she was talking struck me funny.  I started laughing, and they stopped again to make sure I was ok.

I tried to explain, but the idea was a little more complex and I wasn't sure if I was making my point, which was that they were talking to all their stoned patients like they were a bunch of five year old children.  I tried to explain it to them, but finally gave up. It was too much work.

Right about then, they stopped talking to me, and started talking to each other, but I didn't realize that I wasn't in the conversation any more.  She was reminiscing about her first day there, when she had taken a face plant on an icy ski slope a couple of days before and scraped most of the skin off her forehead and nose and had to show up for work looking like a giant scab.  The dentist was telling her he was a snowboarder and used to do the parks and ride the halfpipe and do that thing where you jump up and slide down the rail, and the same thing happened to him once.  My eyes were ping ponging back and forth between them, and I desperately wanted to inject some of my hilarious snowboarding stories into the mix (of which I have none) but for some reason I had all these hands and tools and drills and stuff in my mouth and it was making it hard to talk.  I finally raised my hand, and they stopped.

"Are you in pain?" the assistant asked, concern in her voice.

"You fuckinwimme?" I asked her, pointing at my dentist. "He snowboards?"

She stifled a laugh and he said that yes, indeed, he did snowboard, and that I would have to be quiet now and let them finish up so we didn't cause delays for other patients. I knew I was definitely out of the conversation at that point.

That was the weirdest thing for me -- I couldn't clearly tell who they were addressing when they spoke.  It sounds ridiculous, but it was confusing as hell.  The dentist would say something like "Hand me the spoon excavator" and I'd be like, Hell yes! Anything you need! Just tell me what it looks like, and I'm on it! Then other times he'd be like "OK, sit up and rinse. You can spit into the funnel," and I'd be just laying there thinking It's pretty weird that he wants her to spit into some funnel.

The other freaky thing is, for me at least, time was stretched. I kept looking at my watch after what I felt like a really long time had gone by and it had been about five minutes.  They were probably wondering what the hell I was late for, I was looking at my watch so much.

They were about half way done, and had been drilling in my head for about four hours (30 minutes) and I realized that I had to pee so bad my entire body was tensed up because my bladder felt like someone was standing on it. It had apparently taken the signal a while to get through, because I had to go.  And the assistant is telling me "Relax, just keep breathing through your nose." I wanted to tell her that the last thing I should do is relax, because if I did, there'd be a cleanup in aisle five.  Finally I raised my hand again.  They stopped drilling and I said I needed to go to the bathroom, which I am pretty sure I heard come out of my mouth as "baffroon" but they got the idea.

I stood up and immediately felt ten times drunker than I did before.  I stumbled out of the room with the assistant's hand on my back.  She was talking me through it.  "OK, just go straight, watch out for the door jamb, don't trip on the rug, it's the first door on your left. Your other left, that's it."  I was bouncing off the walls, and the hallway looked lonnnnng, and all I could feel was this giant, warm hand on my back.  Finally, we were outside the bathroom door, and I went in.  I looked in the mirror and opened my mouth and was immediately grossed out by the little bloody nubbin that had once been my tooth.  I closed my mouth and staggered in front of the toilet.  I briefly thought about threading the needle, or maybe even sitting down, but I figured if  I sat down I might not get back up.  So I did what any drunk guy would do.  I aimed center mass and took no prisoners.  I peed for about 30 minutes (one minute) and I made a racket the entire time and gave no fucks.  It was the longest pee of my life.  I finished, washed up, made sure everything was back where it was supposed to be, and walked out of the room and into the waiting giant hand of the assistant, who ushered me back to my armless chair, whereupon I began huffing again in earnest. 

After that, things went pretty smoothly.  I'm not sure if they had upped the gas again or what, but the rest of the grinding and the mounting of the temporary crown was basically a blur. A few requests to bite down, that's it, no, not on my finger, and it was done.

When it was all over, they sat me in a chair for about 20 minutes and pretty soon I was back to normal. It's kind of amazing how quickly the nitrous leaves your system and you're not drunk anymore.

I have to go back in about a week to get the permanent crown put on.  I think whatever they did solved my problem because even with the temporary crown, my temperature sensitivity has gone away.  I'm not sure if they'll let me have the nitrous next time or not. I doubt it.  I probably don't want it anyway because I found out that it's an extra hundred and twenty bucks that isn't covered by insurance. Oops. Merry Christmas to me.  I have to admit, being stoned off my gourd did help with the anxiety. They probably could have pulled all my teeth out and played a game of jacks with them and I wouldn't have given a shit.

Totally worth the money.

* In unrelated news, I'm still banned for life from the Japanese area of Epcot.