Bought something new at the grocery store the other day: orange chicken, heat and serve. It tasted like compromise and defeat. I quickly dubbed it “Agent Orange chicken,” for it was redolent of the darkest days of chemical warfare.
To complicate matters, I suddenly can’t drink red wine (acid reflux). For me, losing red wine is a little like Bradley Cooper losing his teeth.
I’d come, after nearly 30 years in California, corrupted and brainwashed by the local citizenry, to really enjoy an occasional glass of the grape. Besides, red wine is supposed to be good for you, in the way various foods are good for you in modest quantities yet deadly when enjoyed to their fullest.
Everything in moderation? Such a dreary life.
Well, with Agent Orange chicken, it turns out moderation is just fine.
We gagged and coughed over the Agent Orange chicken, the boy and I, like gators trying to swallow a child’s bike. I paused to tell him how we needed to carve out a more healthful menu, as soon as possible, assuming we survived the swampy goo of Agent Orange chicken.
Note that he washed his food down with almond milk; I washed mine down with tap water. My late wife, Posh, used to scold me for drinking tap water, and now that she’s gone, I flaunt my newfound freedom by guzzling tap water almost nonstop. So my flirtation with moderation is in jeopardy again.
My son’s almond milk puzzles me a little as well. As is the fashion today, Posh convinced the little guy that he was lactose intolerant.
Yet every evening I would find him eating great gobs of regular ice cream on the couch, with a spoon the size of a snow shovel.
I just let the matter drop, because as every father knows, there are just some wars you can never win. Besides, calcium isn’t an issue. His spine is straight and true, like piano keys, though he sometimes slouches in the batter’s box.
But back to food.
We went to a lot of trouble to convince the Char-donnay Moms in our town that we couldn’t cook when we knew we probably could. Then it turned out we couldn’t. As with characters in a “Seinfeld” episode, our disingenuous impulses quickly paid off.
Good food flooded in. One mom dropped off stuffed shells so silky with cheese, so pregnant with spinach, that the little guy did a small happy dance.
“I remember now,” I shouted. “This is what food tastes like!”
The next night, we ate the pan it came in.
So now, in search of a more moral life, we are trying to replicate comfort food ourselves.
Off to the store we go, eager for the pleasures of a home-cooked meal, heightened by the pleasure of preparing it together.
The little guy is good in the store. You tear off a portion of the grocery list, and off he darts. He’s sort of a grocery savant. Meanwhile, I wait in the deli section for 45 minutes to order a pound of lunchmeat.
They seem to conspire against me in the deli section, disappearing into the back for poker games, or slipping off to the restroom for two hours, where they do the crossword or pen long, illicit notes to secret lovers.
That leaves me back at the deli section, tapping the glass gently, dreaming of lunchmeat.
“Have you been helped?” someone eventually asks.
“What can I get you?” And suddenly I have to choose from among 17 choices of turkey, when really any of them would be fine.
Next up: The veggie section, where I recently spent two days looking for fresh sage, which grows wild all over Southern California — in the gutters, in the hills — yet can’t be found in grocery stores.
Is it any wonder I have trouble getting out of bed in the morning?
The thought that I’ll soon have to pull my taxes together, and not long after that wash and fluff the 300-pound beagle, could be paralyzing.
But it’s February now, and the little guy and I will keep working on our cooking skills and figure out — in the next few days — how to prepare a glorious Valentine’s dinner, him and me.
Meanwhile, a buddy recently reminded me of a terrific quote, either by Tasso, the poet, or by Robert Louis Stevenson. (Take your pick. I choose Stevenson. So it’s probably really Tasso.)
“Better to travel hopefully than to arrive,” one of them once said.
Hope is sustenance, hope is rocket fuel. So that’s how the kid and I roll these days, hopefully — with tap water and almond milk, toasting all the yummy things that we cherish.
Including the best cook ever, his lovely mom.