Our first ever short-shorts contest ended Friday. We had 26 entries, now being read and rated by students from The Loft’s “We Like Short-Shorts!” class.Thanks to all who submitted and who are judging. Winners will be announced on Monday, Jan. 11.The 3rd, 2nd and 1st place pieces will be posted.
For the next few weeks, we’ll print more work from students and their teacher. Enjoy this foodie from a student in my “Art of Creative Nonfiction” class.
“Who Came Up With This Menu?” by Andrea Matthews
I seem to have earned many monikers when it comes to food: picky eater, wimp, big baby, social misfit. I’m here to dispute those labels and argue on behalf of a new outlook on the foods we eat – one built on common sense, an artistic eye, and, in general, good taste.
To start with, we must eliminate the anchovy. This creepy little thing has slipped into everything from the good-old, fine-as-it-is pizza to the lovely Caesar salad. You can see its shame, trying to crawl beneath the pepperoni. And its subversive manner, hiding in the creamy garlic sauce worthy of the name Caesar.
This creature belongs on the sea’s list of household pests. Who wants to lift up a thick piece of pasta to see the what looks like the crawly thing that still forces me onto the chair in a cartoon-like response to rodents and bugs: the centipede? Who wants to bite into the perfectly melted cheese on a deep-dish, only to find a fishy taste bursting through the onions and red sauce?
Stop and observe. The anchovy looks like it fell off Frida Kahlo’s forehead and crawled onto the dinner table sans invitation. It’s time we “Just Say No” to the anchovy.
On that same pizza, we find the next criminal element. The mushroom. Do we really want to eat something that grows from rot and decay? Why would anyone pluck one of these little devils from the base of a rotting tree and think, “Yum! Dinner!”? This is especially curious since the raw mushroom gives off plenty of clues that it does not belong on the dinner table. First, it has gills like a shark. There, I’ve said it. The comparison that has left me the brunt of dinner-time mockery. But it’s true. Beneath the smooth umbrella of the mushroom is a warning ring of gills. This does not say “enjoy your meal” to me.
Second, a cooked mushroom might have the benefit of gill disguise, but I stand firm in my position that it is no more appealing served hot. The button mushroom looks too much like fresh mushrooms, and we’ve already covered that terrain. But a cooked portabella mushroom on a bed of pasta? It looks like a patch of old skin, shriveled and floppy on the dinner plate. If I saw portabella mushrooms in the wild, I’d run screaming. They’re like props from a campy space invader movie. Little brown saucers, crash-landed in the garlic roux.
If a big, happy mushroom has been diced and cooked and buried in the proverbial hot dish, you’ll know it’s there when you bite down on what feels like a piece of rubber eraser. The “squitch” of the bite is enough to provoke a shudder. But try to tease out these evil little niblets and you’ll raise eyebrows from all your dinner mates. Which brings us right back to the anchovy.
The vast population that shares the sea with anchovies should be culled from our menus altogether. Take crabs and lobsters, for example. First, they have eyes on stalks, and that should simply be verboten. Again, we’re in the old science fiction realm. (Have you ever seen a crab move its eyes to check out its own lunch? It’s an argument against watching Sir David Attenborough’s lovely documentaries on the sea.) In addition to the eye thing, we have the too-many-legs argument again. And, thanks to the likes of Attenborough, we know that crabs scuttle about sideways across the ocean floor, which is enough to make your skin crawl – a reaction you’ll probably have when you see the underside of a cooked crab – legs tucked into a whorled vortex that leads directly to innards and other Things We Shouldn’t Put In Our Mouths.
The underside of the crab ranks right up there in vileness with the clam/oyster/mussel family. Have you ever really looked at a raw oyster? Who’s the first person who thought, “hmm…wonder what this would taste like raw and still alive”? I figure only a young boy – under the duress of a triple-dog-dare – would undertake such a brave and foolish feat. “You don’t chew them,” my husband says, He Who Loves All Things from the Sea. “You just dip them in butter and swallow them.” My response: why not just eat the butter, for crying out loud? Why the raw, phlegmy creatures as a vehicle for the good stuff? “You don’t understand,” my husband says. And that’s exactly right. I don’t.
I know clams are usually fried, so there’s not that whole raw, labial thing going on. But “little-neck clams”? Really? “Little neck” sounds like a nickname from old Brooklyn. “Yo, it’s Joey ‘Little Neck’ Vinelli. Let’s get him. See if he’ll eat a raw oyster for a dollar.” Fuhgettaboutit.
I could go on. I have, with diminishing dinner invitations from friends. But I think you get the idea. We need to revisit our culinary ways. We’ve evolved, people. Let’s let our foods reflect that.
Join me next time for a review of the lack of evolution in the naming of our meals: pig’s foot, leg of lamb, baby-back ribs, beef tongue, and the ever-present chicken breast.
Andrea Matthews is a graduate of Macalester College and a former student in Hamline University’s MFA in Creative Writing program. She has published pieces in the Star Tribune, Minnesota Medicine magazine and Minnesota Monthly, and has been spotlighted as a Minnesota poet in mnartist.org’s “What Light” poetry contest. She has written professionally for the past 17 years, primarily for Minnesota nonprofits, and currently lives and writes in Minneapolis.