Something is afoot in our domicile that seems not quite right.
Like most couples, there is much about which to compromise at the beginning of a marriage. We all know this. One of you doesn’t squeeze the toothpaste properly and it becomes an insurmountable issue until you get a double bathroom vanity twenty-three years later and lay claim to separate toothpastes—with one of you finally getting the brand you like.
There are other things, too, like one of you secretly paying off Las Vegas gambling debts acquired in your salad days. One of you might drink more than the other thinks is prudent. One of you can’t stand the mother-in-law. One of you can’t grasp the concept of a laundry hamper’s purpose or why a bed should be made unless you’re changing the sheets.
The list goes on and on.
One of Geri’s and my first nuptial agreements is, I believe, being encroached. For more than forty-two years Geri has upheld her promise to stay out of the “room where there are ice cubes,” in exchange for my not cooking lamb, seafood, or any animal protein that once romped unsupervised through forest and field.
Geri’s lack of cooking skills is renowned—in that lots of people know this about her. She doesn’t like to cook and if you don’t like doing something it’s unlikely you’ll ever be very good at it. She also is not particularly interested in food beyond its use as fuel. She has yet to meet a processed food she doesn’t like. As I compose these words, she’s eating a micro-waved soft pretzel with Cheez Whiz, one of the few condiments known to all of mankind without an expiration date. Note: Real food, in time, rots. Even Velveeta, which I believe is a petroleum-based concoction, rots.
What I find interesting about this lapsing moment is that the pretzel she’s eating was made in New Jersey, the Garden State whose claim to culinary fame is the Taylor Ham, or pork roll, a breakfast sandwich like an Egg McMuffin with soul. A decent pretzel comes from Philadelphia—also known for its Philly cheese steak sandwiches, topped with grilled onions and Cheez Whiz. There should be no other use for Cheez Whiz.
Just last night we dined on cheese steaks—delicious despite our not having access to Amaroso hoagie rolls. Wheat Montana sufficed nicely.
Geri has become a big fan of a PBS show about baking. “The Great British Baking Show” features amateur bakers competing against each other in a big tent with KitchenAid stand mixers and stainless steel ovens. They seem about as amateurish as NASA rocket scientists. Other than baking Christmas cookies, which meant that there would be more flour on the floor than in the batter, I didn’t know why Geri has become so interested in baking, just like her liking “Chicago P.D.” does not necessarily mean she wants to become an almost-corrupt cop. Our Sunday afternoon activities, which mostly involve reading or finding a reason to move to a different chair, now are structured around this show.
Much of this strikes me as odd.
Historically, Geri, who is Irish and was actually raised on the Emerald Isle, doesn’t much care for the British. She grew up hearing the stories of thirty years of British tyranny and suppression delivered upon the Irish, who quaintly refer to those years, that had their beginnings in 1601, as “the troubles.” This seems to me to be akin to referring to the American Civil War as a tiff.
The show is actually quite entertaining. There’s Mary, the exacting dowager (I’m guessing here), and her partner Paul, probably half her age. They are both bakers and they start the show by each baking something rather elaborate with which the other assists. After tasting whatever is they baked—dissecting each serving with surgical precision, and consumed with hot tea, of course—they challenge the six or eight contestants to do as good a job. None of them do, but one always emerges almost triumphant in his/her effort despite the slightly soggy bottom of a sponge cake or the rather untidy dripping of an icing.
In the course of all of this, one can’t help but notice that British dental care has greatly improved.
Geri isn’t interested in baking any of these entries, though she seemed oddly interested to know what castor’s sugar is. (In America, it’s commonly known as baker’s sugar—extremely fine ground.)
I like a good piece of cake or a pastry from time to time. I’m not much interested in baking, though, probably because there are too many rules to follow to ensure things turning out as they’re supposed to. I prefer the more slapdash approach that savory cooking allows—even encourages.
Considering the fanciful and detailed nature of the show’s assignments, I am certainly not interested in attempting such creations. Most of the time, the contestants are given two-and-a-half hours to complete their efforts. At this point, I’m really not interested in spending more than a half-an-hour to make a complete dinner.
While I don’t hold out much hope for Geri to start baking elaborate cakes scented with lavender and decorated with exotic fruits, I did happen to notice one day last week that she was watching a program that featured a suitably fat chef from New Orleans making po’ boy sandwiches.
The Depression Era sandwich is traditionally stuffed with roast beef and gravy, and is garnished with lettuce, tomato, and pickles. I’ve eaten a lot of po’ boys over the years, but never one with roast beef. I like mine with breaded fried shrimp, crawfish, oysters and/or crab, which means Geri won’t be making me my favorite any time soon.
If, however, Geri will sneak into the room with ice cubes and prepare a Bakewell tart, an English confection consisting of a short-crust pastry with a layer of jam and a sponge using ground almonds, then the original nuptial contract will have been broken.
Then I’ll be free to make seafood po’ boys, or a leg of lamb, or a saddle of venison.
Please, Geri, bake some scones and set me free.
Photo illustration by Courtney A. Liska
Po’ boy sandwiches
1 pound assorted seafood
3/4 cup fine cornmeal
3/4 cup flour
1 Tbs. Cajun seasoning
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs, beaten
Peanut oil for frying
1/2 head iceberg lettuce, shredded
2-3 tomatoes, sliced about 1/4 inch thick
4 French sandwich rolls
1/4 cup mustard
1 1/4 cups mayo
2 tsp. prepared horseradish
1 tsp. pickle juice or vinegar
1 tsp. hot sauce
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 Tbs. sweet paprika
1-2 tsp. Cajun seasoning
Blend all the ingredients together and set aside.
Pour enough peanut oil in a large frying pan to come up about 1/4 inch, and set the pan over medium-high heat until a small amount of flour sizzles immediately when you drop some in.
Mix the cornmeal, flour, Cajun seasoning, and salt in a large bowl. Working with a few at a time, dredge the seafood in the egg, then in the cornmeal-flour mixture. Fry for 1-2 minutes, remove from the oil and drain.
To assemble the sandwiches, slice the sandwich loaves almost all the way through and smear remoulade on both the top and bottom.
Place a layer of shredded lettuce on the bottom of the sandwich, then arrange the fish on top.
Lay 3-4 slices of tomato on the shrimp and press the top of the bread down.