August 2006

I spend more time thinking about food than I do actually eating it. Not because I'm hungry or even much interested in the stuff. I just have this idea that I really should eat something every day. So I sit and think about things that might tempt me.

I fall way short on imaginative ideas when compared to Mitchell Dwyer who recently on the inimitable Chalkdust contemplated adding frozen blackberries to canned whole stewed tomatoes. That combination would never have occurred to me. Never.

In a far more mundane temporary fix, I've been testing the Progresso canned soup selections. They come in convenient pop-top cans and, unlike Campbell's microwavable options which are packaged in containers more like bottles than bowls, Progresso easily accepts crumbled saltine crackers, a life-long habit when eating soup.

It's not difficult to imagine Progresso having huge vats of generic vegetable soup which they siphon off into smaller vats, add this and that to get their many labels. One "this" is frequently bits of chicken, which dominates the brand. Then perhaps a noodle or two, as in Chicken Noodle or Chicken with Homestyle Noodles. I couldn't tell the slightest difference between the two noodle options, but both soups could have had more noodles and fewer carrots for my liking.

My favorites, thus far, are the Lentil Soup (very generous with the lentils) and the Tomato Basil Soup (a little heavy on the basil, but of course perfect for crumbled saltines).

The only "never again" option is the Italian Wedding-Style Soup. Major indigestion.

I'm getting bored with this project, yesterday tried buttermilk biscuits crumbled into Campbell's canned turkey gravy. Maybe better try Mitch's idea.

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In addition to my hobo-like exploration into the contents of tin cans, I've also spent more time than usual eating in restaurants. I buy food from plate lunch and other take-out places, but not so often actually go in, sit down, and eat a meal, especially when on my own.

Last week, Helen R. and I were dinner guests at the upscale Longhi's. I suppose "upscale" is a reasonable adjective for a place which has $90 entrees on its menu. "Obscenely expensive" would also be apt, although a bit more rude.

I never manage to eat much more than half of a restaurant's main course which, in that place, would have been especially wasteful, so I opted for an appetizer as my main course. Crab cakes. Two tiny ones. Tasty, although I'm not at all sure they were worth $6.95 each.

The real blasphemy at that place was the Bloody Mary, the worst I have ever encountered in my long life. No idea what it cost, but it wasn't worth a dime.

Early in this week I had to go to Chinatown to find a replacement for my little bag which was literally falling apart. After my shopping, I thought I'd stop in Zaffron's for lunch. Years ago, when I was still working in a downtown office building, I'd usually go there once a week for a meal. Now it's so bland and dull it really doesn't deserve to be called Indian food.

[Two places on the "never again" list, along with Progresso's Italian Wedding-Style Soup.]

To remind myself what Indian food is really like, I went to lunch at India House, had their daily Vegetarian Lunch Special. Vegetable curry, pullao and daal, with their most excellent peasant bread, chapatti. Actually, the whole meal is authentic peasant Indian even if it would take an Indian peasant more than a month to earn enough money to buy it.

I also stopped in at Like Like Drive Inn one day, stuffed myself on Beef Stroganoff, mashed potatoes and corn. I did manage to eat more than half of it but felt rather uncomfortable for the rest of the afternoon.

More restaurants should offer kiddie/senior plates, half the usual content with perhaps the option to ask for a second helping of one item. Considering how overweight so many of the people here are, that might be a good idea for everyone.

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With all this talk of consuming, I should mention the liquid aspect. My ever eccentric internal plumbing recently decided it no longer wanted to process that early morning pint of milk. So I had to research other options. I hadn't had coffee in over a year. It wasn't a deliberate matter of discipline, I just lost interest, found myself by habit buying a cup of coffee and drinking less than half of it.

But coffee was certainly a prime prospect for replacing the milk. At this time of year, chilled coffee seemed the best bet. I first tried Starbuck's bottled "Frappuchino". Tastes yummy at first but by the time the bottle is empty there is a feeling of having overdosed on a box of chocolates. I tried several other canned, chilled offerings, settled on one called Kona Expresso. So that has become my first liquid of the day.

Back in April, I reduced my daily beer consumption by one-third. Again, it was not a deliberate attempt at discipline. I just found myself more and more often rushing through the second bottle so I could get the third in time to finish it before leaving for the Dark Corner, while still keeping a small portion for a nightcap once there. Well, I realized that was silly. After all, if I did finish the second bottle too early, I could always buy a small can or bottle to take to the Dark Corner.

That change of habit has meant about ninety dollars extra in my pocket each month, so there have no longer been any of those dreadful penniless weeks before Third Wednesday.

Progress, of sorts.

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An interesting beer. Although I've known their more familiar lager for years and have a can of it now and then, I didn't know Foster's Special Bitter existed. On closer examination, I see there is a label for its section of the cooler cabinet at the mall's supermarket but there has never been any there. Probably those-in-the-know grab any shipment when it arrives. My thanks to them for leaving behind two cans on Tuesday.

I've been investigating beer alternatives because with the current hot weather a forty-ounce bottle just doesn't get finished before the contents become too warm. My years in England make room temperature beer quite acceptable, but not when the "room" is in the high 80s.

The most recent experiments in the Progresso Soup Project have been less interesting. Chicken Pot Pie Style (without the addition of "soup" in the title) was a mystery. Why not just go to the frozen food section and buy a chicken pot pie rather than get one in a can? And it's really just chicken pot pie filling because there's not a crumb of crust included. Far too many potatoes. The potato is the weakest link in Progresso's vegetable chain. They cut the potato precisely into little bricks and unlike all the other veggies, the potatoes are on the undercooked side, maybe to keep the bricks from crumbling? I pushed as many as I could off the spoon and there was more than a quarter-can of the things left when I tossed it in the trash.

The second less-than-thrilling choice was French Onion Soup. The contents list said it was only chicken broth and onions (plus the usual bunch of chemical additives), so I could have just bought chicken broth and saved myself the effort of dodging the onion. But then I would have missed the experience a few hours later of taking a piss and smelling onion soup.

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Here I sit, wet and bedraggled, in Hamilton Library on a Friday morning after having selected a disastrous moment to move from my early morning campus spot to Hamilton. Halfway there, it began to pour rain. Yeukh.

Too cold in this place to sit around in wet clothes.

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"... and there's less and less to say"

At long last, Bob Dylan has evidently found some things to say because a new CD is being released later this month. Modern Times.

I'll have to carry a CD player around again, must spend some time with that.

I hadn't been paying attention, was surprised to arrive at Hamilton Library on Saturday morning and find it closed. Interim Week. And since this coming Friday is a State holiday, it will be a three-day offline weekend.

Two readers wrote to say they find lentil soup boring. One even said lentils taste like dirt. Well, okay, it is a plain little vegetable but quite filling with no backtalk. If you want boring, big-time boring, try Progresso's Split Green Pea Soup. I gave up on it after less than a quarter can. Hearty Chicken with Tortini was more interesting although little different from all the other chicken noodle options except for the noodles being in spirals. Not sure what made that chicken "hearty", tasted like cardboard same as the others (but the birds like it).

I branched out, tried two Chef Boyardee offerings. Despite its stupid name, Cheesy Burger Macaroni was quite tasty, better than the classic Beefaroni. Tried the Lasagna, too, even if it has almost no relationship to the real thing.

Another reader wondered if I shouldn't get a job as a restaurant critic. Maybe better write a weekly column for those without cooking facilities on the best straight-from-the-can cuisine? Probably a bigger audience for that.

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Creamy Mushroom. Progresso certainly got it right with that one. Very nostalgic, too, because it reminded me of the oyster stew which was a frequent part of my childhood. I wonder why none of these soup makers do a canned oyster stew? Must be possible, since tinned oysters are available. Maybe next time I'll buy one of those little cans of smoked oysters and add them to the mushroom soup.

I had to suspend the soup project for a couple of days because the silly supermarket was sold out of Nabisco Saltine Crackers. [!] So the first day I had a ham sandwich. Yawn. All those plastic-encased, shrink-wrapped packages of ham, chicken, tuckey, bologna are just so totally lacking in taste and flavor.

Got plenty of flavor on the second day, though, with a can of Nalley's Jalapeno Chili. Yikes. One more chili pepper and it might have been inedible. Love the stuff, although I did yearn for the days when I could put the contents into a saucepan, add some chopped fresh tomatoes, a bit of celery and simmer until it was ready for ...

... of course, some crumbled saltine crackers.

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Twenty thousand students.

Heaven help me.

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20,000 students, 19,950 cellphones.
Or so it seems.

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the tales