Tuesday, April 29, 2008

What could POSSIBLY have our jodhpurs in a twist about dessert? Really, we hear you protest: What gives?

This Filipino junior cricket squad who we make wear little argyle vests à la Jimmy Olsen just because it makes us feel saucy.
Well, we’ll tell you. The chance to get a snarky word in edgewise these days has become darn near impossible, with every crotch-grabbing bummer of shared media experience being immediately piled-up on, piggybacked, and otherwise Talmudically commented upon and parsed by every other media outlet, such that you can’t get a penknife blade between a candidate’s utterance and his handler’s subsequent metastasizing spin, between every bum Oscar hemline and its spun-out E.T. frenzy, between every ex-stripper with a heart of gold and the speculation on her proliferating movie options. For guys like us who like to take a moment to mull our responses—not to mention to draw upon our exhaustive knowledge of the pointless corners of the U.S. experience—a day or two can pass before we’re ready to brush from our bellies the crumbs from yesterday’s lunch1 and get around to actually putting our feelings onto paper. So, what are we left with? Oh sure, we mainline the same Daily Kos you do, we have just as many options if not more, what with our direct uptick to Reuters manned boyishly night and day, twenty-four/seven by this Filipino junior cricket squad who we make wear little argyle vests à la Jimmy Olsen just because it makes us feel saucy. We could do all that up-to-the-second stuff. But frankly, in this particular phase of the Great American Spin Cycle, we are tired of it. For now, folks, no more current events here. We shall bitch the classics only. Mom. America. Apple pie.

Especially, today: Apple pie.

Wither Sugar, Sugar?
Dessert has a bad name nowadays. What with carbs, etc., if it’s sweet and not shot through with tons of sugar-simulacra and emulsifiers and stabilizers, then we imagine it probably doesn’t make it into the Kwik-E-Mart. So our first dessert beef is: Where’s the sugar? We are seriously junked-up on diet soda2, so maybe we shouldn’t be the ones to bitch about the disappearance of sugar from our noble grocery-store shelves. But we cannot endorse any desserts leached of the very essence of their being. Sugarless pudding, for example? What is pudding other than sugar blended into a generalized goop? Sugarless cheesecake?3 Fruit? C’mon—fruit is healthy food and it works on top of a bowl of Honey Nut, but dessert it is not. Every time we’re at someone’s fancy dinner party and they serve a fruit tart for dessert—a crust, some kind of jellied spooge, and then slices o’ kiwis till the crowd heads home—we have only one question: à la mode? If the sugar is not refined, then it is not dessert.


Cannolis, which should be taken along with oneself when leaving behind firearms.
When you’re in an Italian restaurant,4 you’re going to face a decision that we will call, well, disquieting. Dessert. Spumoni? Uh-uh, not with the fruits and nuts that make it the frozen equivalent of fruitcake. Tiramisu? Delicious, but there are two problems: it sounds Japanese, and it too often comes in a heathen, sugarless variety (see, supra). And then there is cannoli, a deep-fried tube of dough filled with some kind of oddly sweetened ricotta cheese. Our problems with cannoli are legion. (A) Them things is funny looking. Tubular. Phallic. We do not want to eat them for that reason alone. (B) Creamy fillings are good … though, wait—see A, supra. Maybe a creamy filling is exactly wrong. (C) Possibility of cheese. Ricotta cheese. Which is curd-like and therefore always seems just this side of having turned. We just threw up in our mouths a little bit. (D) European. Get us some chocolate ice cream, please. What we’re saying here is simple: Trouser-snake delectables filled with cheese (other than cream cheese) are inherently suspect.5

“Flan,” supposedly.
True story about flan. Here is how a very fancy restaurant in our nation’s capital used to make it:
• Purchase of a small can of sweetened, condensed milk
• Boil a pot of water
• Without opening the can, boil the can itself for a really long time
• Open the can and remove the little can-shaped blob of gelatinous goo
• Serve as is and charge like ten bucks for it

This, plus we can never seem to pronounce the name of this dessert with the proper clipped authenticity. “Fla. FLa(n). Fluh!” Done. Flan is dumb.

Breyers Ice Cream Is Not “All Natural,” Dudes
This is an ongoing source of dispute among the glucose-intense literati whose soda fountain–style high stools we frequent: Just how natural is “all natural”? Not at all, maintain yr humble authors. We have read enough Morgan Spurlock–style muckraking to know that every word that gets used in an ingredient list is not actually the word you know and love (“sugar,” “corn”, “natural”, “Red #5”), but actually is an empty signifier whose import in that particular context has been carefully circumscribed in a legal pas de deux with the F.D.A. that you could not understand even if you were able to get access to the transcripts of the meetings in which they were wrangled and inked for your consumption. Anyone who believes otherwise is a mook. Ergo, we hold that in the grocery store you need NOT hold forth for the high-end Breyers in order to get your freeze on; buy the house brand, the rotgut that goes like three cartons for $4 and has some cut-rate polar bear smudged on the top6. As Rick Danko heartbreakingly tells us, “It makes no difference night or day/ the shadow never seems to fade away.”7 Your dessert is toxic, dude—build up your resistance and get on with it, like the rest of us.8

Death by Chocolate—Oh, Never Mind
We had a whole “Death by Chocolate” thing we were ready to do until Ashton Kutcher totally spoiled the well with that dumb, dumb, duummb S.N.L. thing a few weeks back. We used to really like Ashton. He went from a role in a crummy sitcom to stardom without seeming to have real talent, then he stole Bruce Willis’s babe and made it all look effortless. But, you know, without any actual apparent talent beyond good looks.

But now, between the cougar–poster-child gig and the WHOLLY INSCRUTABLE Nikon ad9, his stock is definitely falling around the D.M.T. compound. We even took his picture off the spinny plate in the microwave.

Candy at the High’s
We’re just gonna tie this up right here by acknowledging that, really, all of these misadventures in desserting, label-reading, and Death-By-ing at the Cheesecake Factory, etc., with which we have wasted our adult lives have been nothing more or less than a desperate, clawing attempt to get back to that garden of delights where we consumed Serious Candy for the first time: the High’s minimart in Clinton, Maryland. A short bike ride from our droopy lower-middle-class rental homes, the High’s was the place you could (wipe a tear) exchange glass Nehi bottles (which were a bitch to get there on a banana-seat bike, let us tell you) for cold hard change, and exchanging enough of them might get you within striking distance of a Charleston Chew (preferable because of its gargantuan size and extreme chewiness, ergo long-lasting satisfaction), some Pop Rocks (if you were feeling the burn) or—lovely of all lovelies—the $100,000 Bar, which, piled high with toasted rice and “nougat”10 and caramel AND chocolate, was just straight-up-your-nose hard-edge bliss in a red wrapper. Plus look at the name! 100,000 dollars! What’s not to love about that! Keep your flashy, trashy European whatevers; give us a dollar in nickels and a High’s and we are GOOD to go. And by the time we were old enough to drive they had invented Big Gulps and their generic sequelae, which of course was awesome (but also kind of a bitch in the car because, of course, there were no cup holders yet).

Well, campers, tempus fugit. Dessert is busted, Q.E.D., spike the mike, we’re out. Time to send the sherpas to Dean & DeLuca for takeout and a hearty gulping wine, as well as a gross of Charleston Chews (not the nasty chocolate ones, please) for old time’s sake. You, fair reader, have learned what we can teach you. Now go, please: Eat something. You’re making us nervous.

1 There would, of course, be considerably fewer crumbs but for the recent obsession with toasting commercially prepared sandwiches. Wherefore toasting? You would think that this technology was just recently invented--placing bread close to flame to create a pleasing brownness and decided crunch. Now, we are not immune to the pleasures of melted cheese, but we also like to take a nice sammy on the road, pack a sack of salami, and hoist it back to the D.M.T. lair for a quiet lunch roundtable on the teleological importance of lingerie ads or the role of beard stubble for the contemporary game show host. And, toots, when those toasted sandwiches cool off and congeal, things are not so, er, hot. The bread's all hard, the meat loses its supple fleshiness, the cheese gets all smooth and lava-esque, and don't get us started on what might happen to the mayo. Give us a soft roll, some mortadella, a decent tomato, and a little oil and vinegar any day. Hold the toasting, please.

2 Diet Pepsi to be precise, an addiction we began cultivating in our youth like all good addictions should be, to such levels that we really can't look a full-bore sugar soda in the eye. We've come to find D.P. to be as complex as a fine Bordeaux, a beverage that is nuanced with a nutty undertaste, a hint of cherry, a layer of caramel, and then a lingering finish tinted by maple. Not that we're obsessed or anything.

3 Perhaps it goes without saying, but we have eaten many a cheesecake, and we have never really felt that it was a particularly cheesy experience. When we looked into it, we learned simply enough that the only "cheese" in cheesecake is "cream cheese". Is cream cheese really cheese? Head cheese is not cheese. Toe cheese is surely not cheese. And cream cheese seems to us little more than a milky goop. We suppose that brie is cheese, but somewhere between Philly spreadable and brie is the "cheese" threshold, and cheesecake ain't over it. Cheesecake is fat and sugar, blended in genius. Yum. No strawberries on top for us.

4 Which, by the way, we recommend. Enough with the Mexican places, people. Italians know food. Get yourself some veal Marsala and a side of spaghetti, yeah? Chianti is even good for your heart!

5 Don't let a sprinkling of tiny chocolate chips on or within the cannoli fool you, by the way. Them things is still cannoli.

6 BTW in a drawer somewhere we have the beginnings of a lovely monograph explicating the situation involving the creation of cartoon mascots for generic and house-brand cereals and ice creams, etc., that is just so funny and sad it would break your heart. These poor creatures must be the unmourned spawn of sad third-world draftsmen who, armed only with a crate of 1950s National Geographics6a, eke out a living by desperately trying to gauge the North American association of obscure mammals with satiety and then rendering those mammals in Bullwinkle scarves, etc., to feebly brand knockoff chocolate toasted rice cereals. We wish we could get screenshots of Safeway's line--there's a badger with bugged eyes straight out of Trainspotting and a nutty hypertrophic frog with, like, a beret or something. Shit you not.

6a Do you know the National Geographic theme song? Here are words that go along with it--a freebie for you:

African WO-MEN
Not wearing SHIRTS or SKIRTS

Go ahead, sing it. Ain't life grand?

7 Yes, Rick Danko of the Band--WHICH if you have not yet seen The Last Waltz hie thee hence and worship at the feet. We think the Band are the only five baby boomers we don't hate utterly. That includes Bobby Dylan, who one of our Grand-pa-pas used to call "Zimmy" back in the day and give wedgies to so hard he would cry a little. Oh, and Joni Mitchell is O.K. So six.

8 We also understand that Ben & Jerry's is now totally co-opted--they are owned by R. J. Reynolds or UniBev or someone now, put out on the lecture circuit to do that little B.B.s-in-the-coffee-can shtick to show the outsized nature of defense spending while their empire is ravaged by corporate greed. Or so we hear. Tell us we're wrong, please, because we like B & J, we like the whole Vermont-as-crazy-socialist-haven- right-next-to-crazy-conservative- New Hampshire thing, and it goes without saying that we like the product. It ain't slander if we say we might be wrong. But we don't think we are. Wrong.

9 After seven viewings of this commercial we have determined conclusively that its narrative coherence depends upon understanding that the camera WAS IN HIS BAG--even though his bag looks like the queen of all man-purses--and therefore is HIS camera, so the ensuing antics w/r/t leggy blonds taking photos of themselves were to entertain HIM later that evening upon download and discovery thereof. The phone conversation is a red herring and ultimately meaningless. Really, are we just not scanning as fast as we used to, or is that ad crafted for younger eyes than ours, perhaps deliberately scrambled so we would not be allowed to be seduced by it and proceed to shop outside our demographic? Wouldn't be the first time. 9a

9a To wit, the Subway "Five-Dollar Footlong" ditty, which sinks deep within the skull of the 18–25-yr-old and causes instant BMT purchase. Hats off to Mr. Seth again at Slate for his elegant disquisition thereupon. I think we are loving on Seth a little much, actually, in these lines. What has he ever done for us? Nary a Hallmark e-card.

10 Now here is a question for you science-minded readers: What the hell is nougat? For a while there, we had to just stop eating Three Musketeers bars (which are, in the end, just soft nougat in milk chocolate) because we'd heard a rumor that nougat was made from people, Soylent Green–style. This ingredient is seemingly ever-present in U.S.-marketed candy bars, yet we're pretty sure that no kid would really want to eat it if he knew that (a) it contains eggs and nuts and is therefore arguably pseudo-healthy, and (b) there is a Viennese nougat called "Wiener Nougat." (See disquisition on cannolli, supra, ugh.) Bottom line: we see nougat as a mere distraction from what candy should really be all about, kind of like getting too much rice with your Chinese food. Moo shu chocolate, people.

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