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Thought for food




Paranoia in the restaurant

Recently I have read two books that have given me just a touch of paranoia about what one eats in restaurants. One was Fatland, a little tome about how Americans became the fattest people in the world. The other was "Fast Food Nation", which told a lot more than I really wanted to know about the fast food business and how it is supplied.

I shall spare my readers lurid details of the horrors of the modern slaughter house, and shall spare them tedious details about the contents of the packaged food that they purchase. You might think twice about about ordering that next supersized McWhopper with everything on it though.

One little detail fascinated me though. Fast food is basically glop, processed vegetable oils, high fructose corn syrup, and factory produced meat. Why does it taste so good? You are, after all, mainlining fat and sugar, with a dollop of protein and fiber. The answer is simple - the people at International Flavors and Fragrances and their competitors know how to juice it up with an itsy, bitsy bit of chemicals that pack a punch.

Down on that list of ingredients that nobody reads at the very end you will find two magic words, either "natural flavors" or "artificial flavors". The difference is a matter of legalities only. The magicians at IF&F have you instrumented. Your nose may not have the exquisite sensitivity of a large black labrador, but it is quite capable of detecting parts per billion of aroma chemicals. The magicians know just what molecules to add in minscule amounts to make your mouth water. You aren't even buying the sizzle - you're buying the smell of the sizzle and it comes out of a bottle.

What about the stove?

One of the things that I inherited from my mother was the kitchen stove. The trouble with appliances of the "leave it to beaver" vintage is that no matter how old they are, they are never old enough to be antiques. I feel the same way myself at times.

I'm sure that many good meals were cooked upon it, and, I fear, some not so quite nice meals. Those that feel that said not so nice meals were cooked by me do me an injustice. They may well be right, but they do me an injustice. In fact, now that I think on it, they particularly do me an injustice if they are right.

Still and all, it had definitely seen better days. The operation of the burners was erratic and I fancy that the oven had last been cleaned during the Reagan administration. Certainly it was never cleaned during my tenure. It has long been a desire of my mine to replace it with a modern gas stove.

When I lived in Concord I had a gas stove. In my admittedly impartial judgement, gas stoves are infinitely superior to electric stoves for cooking. So strong was my desire for a gas stove, that, when I replaced the furnace I switched from oil to gas so that I would have gas (actually propane - in rural SD natural gas is a wistful dream) available for that magic day when I actually got a gas stove.

Today was the day. A few days ago I had a chap come in and cut out the old stove from the counter top. Yesterday I toodled over to Pierre (a mere 50 miles away) with my ever unreliable delapidated pickup to purchase and haul back a stove. Today the chaps at Midwest Cooperative, my propane distributor, came and hooked up the stove. I had to help them get it working - it wasn't a model that they were familiar with, and I had cheated by reading the instructions.

This very evening I tested it out. I placed a pan with water in it on one of the burners, turned the burner on, and brought the water to a boil. It is done. I can boil water. I am a chef.

Slum Lord Redux

In between preparing gourmet meals, convincing yours truly that he ought to be more diligent in his house repairs and renovation (to say nothing of having the cleaning lady come in), Our Lady of the Large Black Dog is a realtor. One day she came to me, saying, "These people have this house that they want to sell. They're asking ten thousand for it, and it rents for two fifty a month. Would you be interested in buying it?"

I thinks to myself, "Self, that's two and one half percent. The bank only pays one and a half percent." As a matter of habit, I offered them nine thousand, which they took. It was, you see, a distressed property sale, which is to say that they wanted to get rid of it, and the property was certainly distressed. None-the-less, two and a half percent is two and a half percent, so I bought it and here I am, a slum lord.

There have been a few catches. The appliances were distressed. The refrigerator not only did not work, it was crumbling. I had never previously seen a refrigerator that crumbled and fell apart as you touched it. As it happened I wanted a new refrigerator, so I took the one I had inherited and moved it to my new slum property. I hope my mother will forgive me.

The stove had seen better days; one burner out of four worked, which is more than can be said of the oven. I did not offer my tenants my old stove - I may be a cruel, greedy, grasping landlord, but I'm not that cruel. Instead I bought them a new stove - a rather cheap stove, but a new stove.

Then there was the matter of the heat. It seems that the previous tenant had used up all the oil - I had purchased an empty tank. That's all right - the price was right. Still, I had to have the tank filled.

It's all very sad; my rate of return to date has not been high. Weep for me, the slum lord.


This page was last updated November 1, 2003.
It was reformatted and moved May 15, 2006.

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