Tuesday, April 02, 2013

COLUMN: Canapes

(This really WAS my cheese spread!)

They say everybody needs a hobby. I've got a good one.

My hobby is occasionally pretending that I'm NOT a hopeless manchild barely capable of independent living. Sometimes I like to imagine that I'm... wait for it... mature. That's why last weekend I found myself walking into a grocery store like a big boy.

I eat out -- a lot. Almost every meal, in fact. When I don't eat out, I'm usually bringing it home in a bag or having it delivered to my door on a thin crust with a side of breadsticks. As a general rule, my culinary skills start and stop with the phrase "Peel back plastic film. Stir. Replace film and continue cooking 1 minute on high. Caution: food will be hot." And sometimes I even forget about the hot part. I've got a burn on my hand right now to prove it.

But I've discovered an interesting thing this past year: I kinda enjoy cooking. I just have absolutely no clue what I'm doing.

I suppose it doesn't help that I'm what they call a finicky eater. And by "they," I mean my friends, who call me that all the time. I think I'm a perfectly normal eater. It's just that, after drawing on 42 years of experience, I've established a small shortlist of food items that I don't especially care for. They are as follows:

- Onions.
- Peppers.
- Mushrooms.
- Things that are green.
- Things that are spicy.
- Things that look weird.
- Things I can't pronounce.
- Things that were once things that could be described as "cute."

Basically, if you want to feed me something containing flavor, there's about a 60% chance I won't be having it. I'd love to be one of those food snobs and tell you that my favorite meal is something pan-seared that only French people can pronounce correctly with a such-and-such reduction that only the townsfolk of some village in the Alps know how to prepare correctly.

Truth be told, my favorite meal is probably a Butterburger and fries from Culver's. I am not in possession of a refined palate.

That said, I still find shows on the Food Network fascinating. I like watching chefs take simple ingredients and turn it into art. Of course, they usually ruin it somewhere along the way by the cunning and nefarious placement of onions, but the end result is still pretty even if I wouldn't eat it.

But every once in a while, I come across a recipe that actually sounds edible, so I try to make it. That's what happened last week. I was thumbing through this very paper and came across an article about entertaining for an Oscar party. It just so happened I was hosting an Oscar party of my own, and I hadn't really given any thought towards food. The article suggested serving canapes, which is French for "crackers with stuff on them." This I could handle.

The article contained a couple recipes for spreads -- a garlic-herb one and an orange sweet potato one -- and recommended getting a variety of toppings, such as some good cheese, cherry tomatoes, and crab meat. I had a game plan and stormed into the grocery store on a mission, list in hand. Then it all went to heck.

First thing staring me in the face was the veggie aisle, so I went on a search for a sweet potato. Within a minute, I was bagging up a yam and ready to move on. Then I caught a glimpse down the next row and saw a sign that said "sweet potatoes." Wait, didn't I have a sweet potato already? But mine was more red, these were more yellow. I had a yam. These were sweet potatoes. I thought yams WERE sweet potatoes. Turns out I was wrong. Sweet potatoes are American; yams are tropical. And I know this because I was the weirdo standing in the grocery store researching yams on Wikipedia while trying to balance a handful of taters.

Then I learned that I'm also woefully ignorant when it comes to cheese. I guess in my mind, I expected to walk up and there'd be something labeled "fancy cheese to impress your friends," and I'd be on my way. Instead, there were hundreds of cheeses of all sizes and shapes. I studied the impressive variety, carefully weighed my options, and... bought the ones with the fanciest packaging and the most European-sounding names. So attention, cheese-makers of the Midwest: if you want to see the sales of your homemade Velveeta skyrocket, just give it a nonsense name like "froumayudenachtensich" and write it in Old English font and some nimrod like me WILL come along and buy it.

But enough about cheese, I had crab to buy. Here's everything I know about crabs: (1) They're really ugly, and (2) the only things that look uglier than crabs are the grizzled fishermen who make a living on the Discovery Channel catching them. As I held a pouch o' crab meat in my hand, I wondered if I'd seen this poor fella on "Deadliest Catch." At the very least, I hoped he clawed the heck out of somebody between the ocean and my shopping cart.
Things were looking good. After all, nothing says a party quite like cheese, yams, and crab, no? But I needed to go the extra mile. Remember the recipe I found for a garlic spread? I decided to make it with fresh herbs, so I headed back to the produce aisle and starting pilfering through greeneries. That's when the the well-worn piece of gum I was chomping decided to fall out of my mouth and disappear forever. The way I see it, either (a) a hole in the space-time continuum opened up at that precise moment, whisking my gum to another dimension, or (b) it's covertly clinging to some lucky customer's parsley as we speak. I swear to you all, I rifled through those herbs forever looking for that gum -- so much so that I'm sure passersby were wondering just what kind of public relationship I was attempting to forge with parsley on that afternoon -- but no dice, and no gum. If you're lucky enough to find it amongst your fresh produce, I am SO sincerely sorry and I promise I don't have mouth cooties.

I may have lost the gum but I won the day, heading home with food aplenty and crafting one heck of an Oscar spread if I do say so myself. And I do, in fact, say so MYSELF, since most of my invited Oscar party guests cancelled at the last minute. For the past week, I've been surviving on a steady diet of crackers with stuff on them. It might not be nutritious, but it sure is fancy and mature.

No comments: