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September 19, 2000

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Delectable Disorders

by Debbie Lindsey

"Life would still be worth living as long as I could eat a 3 Musketeers bar," I said to Mom. Back then Polio was the boogieman that all kids feared and much thought was given to "What if that was ME in that wheelchair." Needless to say my sister’s response, "Well, as long as I could go to college, become a doctor, find a cure..." impressed my mom a bit more than my hearty appetite.

Philosophizing about my ability to courageously sustain hardship as long as food was involved was one thing, but flinging myself from a moving vehicle for ice cream was quite another. It wasn’t like I actually planned on being yanked from the car and dragged across asphalt to prove worthy of the first scoop of ice cream -- things just got out of hand. There we were pulling into the Howard Johnson’s with me totally absorbed in thought: which flavor? Peppermint or chocolate chip? So engrossed in thought was I that I didn’t realize my eager little hand was already gripping the door handle -- a bit too eagerly. Next thing I knew I was one with the blacktop (bits of which would be plucked out with tweezers for weeks to come). As I was flapping along the U turn of the parking lot, I observed my Mother’s face screaming from the passenger window, pleading for the life of her beloved child holding on for its dear life to the car door handle. How long would that motherly look of love and concern last, I thought, as her just coifed wig blew off? Needless to say, we didn’t stay for ice cream that day.

During a similar lapse of good sense, I ran away from home. I ran out of Oreos two blocks later and returned home. Was that a look of regret in Mom’s eyes when I ran into her arms (on my way to the cookie jar) with the promise: never, never to leave home again? And why would I want to leave the security of home -- a home with a full Frigidaire.

That Frigidaire I was so fond of was drawing electricity in Mobile, Alabama. Therefore, its contents reflected the culinary taste of the city -- a city with the taste buds of a ninety-year-old with dentures. While my mother tried her best to introduce her family to the more exotic, we were just kids and picky and she gave up early -- a bit too early -- leaving my inexperienced taste buds at the mercy of a city that thought Italian meant Domino’s Pizza. Is it any wonder that to this day I still love Iceberg lettuce?

Despite my love of food, I constantly set up obstacles between my mouth and the next mouthful. First, I became a vegetarian thirty years ago in a hometown not exactly on the cutting edge of alternative cuisine -- heck, Ranch Dressing had the city reeling; second, I chose to remain in Mobile for another decade; and third, I refused to cook. I still have memory deprivation of my kitchen from 1972 until 1990. I am told that somewhere around 1988 I served black beans that I had cooked myself -- this memory is vague, perhaps due to that ugly Blush Wine period I sipped through. I did attempt the cooking thing twice. I went to Gayfers department store and bought a twenty-piece set of Revere Ware just like my momma’s. In fact I was so proud of my acquisition that it just seemed a shame to dirty them. It would be some years before those pots and pans did an honest days work. At the same time I acquired the stainless steel I figured I should have some dishware just in case I cooked anything. So, Sears & Roebuck took my money and handed over to me a lovely eight-place setting of retro-depression glass dishes. They were the prettiest ruby-red and it just seemed a shame to dirty them.

My reluctance to create anything more complicated than a bowl of cereal or open a can of something other than beer had left me dependent upon too many grill cheese sandwiches, peanut butter and jelly, steamed broccoli and other predictable meatless dishes. As for dining out -- may I never see the obligatory Pasta Primavera again.

It wasn’t until I moved to New Orleans that I finally woke up, smelled the cayenne and started cooking. I owe my taste buds to two people.

There was Olivia, the most amazing boss and owner of a vegetarian cafe whose meatless dishes could woo the most cantankerous carnivore. She introduced me to more foods, spices, and tricks to seduce soy that I can count. When she sold the restaurant I could not return to the mundane, the unimaginative foods of my past -- foods that would traumatize the taste buds of even the most ardent vegan, causing them to run down a herd of cattle. So, my pots and pans were dusted off and filled with knowledge unwittingly gleaned from years of watching Olivia.

Some boyfriends bring flowers; Philipe brings me flour. I am courting a chef who adores my voracious appetite and is teaching me the secrets of simmering, the daring of dicing, and that baking soda is more than toothpaste. The day the baking soda was relocated to the kitchen he made me a gift of All Purpose Flour. My life was forever changed. I leap out of bed to bake. I luxuriate in the softness of flour. I celebrate the Thursday grocery ads when ten-pound bags of flour and sugar can be had for a pittance.

Recently my girlfriend stopped me on the street and offered me a thirty-pound bag of flour. "I bought it at the Super Store. All I needed was one cup of flour, but it was on sale. I couldn’t lift it out of the car -- much less make four flights of stairs with it. I am taking it to the dump if someone doesn’t want it."

I was overcome with longing and felt an almost maternal instinct toward this big dowdy bag of All Purpose. Of course I wanted it.

"What were you thinking, woman! Give it to me and let this be a lesson to you: Shop responsibly."

I was on my bike in the midst of five o’clock French Quarter traffic. I placed the sack across my handlebars and began the most laborious and at times dangerous ride ever. My tires strained under the weight. I maneuvered around tipsy tourists, a renegade tour bus mistaking Royal Street for I-10, and a flock of pigeons intent on following the trail of flour flowing from the ever-widening tear in the bag. Ah, but I was on a mission. Betty Crocker would be proud, Martha White would delight, and my mother would be twirling in her grave at my domestication.

By the time I reached home the sack was ten pounds lighter and five blocks of the Quarter looked like the unswept floor of a bakery. I was flour dusted like a cake pan and topped with bird droppings. At that moment the front tire kinda wheezed and went flat startling the two remaining pigeons clinging to my shoulder bag (they had lost interest in the flour and were now pecking at the purse in hopes of some snacks inside). As I unlocked my apartment door, and only after I spread about two more pounds of whiteness across the courtyard and into the hallway, my cat Phil leapt to my shoulders to welcome the still clinging pigeons. Needless to say they bid a hasty farewell and flew away. Exhausted, I sat down on the floor, oozing flour (Phil promptly began to treat this as kitty litter) and looked at the advertising flyer stuck under my door. Matassa’s Grocery - We Deliver. This Week’s Special: thirty-pound bags of Sure-Fine flour. I picked up the phone and placed an order: "One 3 Musketeers bar, please."


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