My sentence at the car dealer’s yesterday ran through lunchtime, but without wheels the options were a) vending machines; or b) walk two dealerships down to Fuddrucker’s. I chose B. One thing I’ll say about Grosse Pointe — it’s generally free of these sorts of places, the chain food-stravaganza. We’ve got bagel joints, Panera and a number of utterly mediocre locally owned restaurants, but hardly anything with a drive-through window and even fewer of these big-box grease pits.
The idea of Fuddrucker’s — and yes, every time I see it, I think of “Idiocracy,” in which one of the visual jokes is the evolution of the name into its logical obscenity — is to build your own burger. Giant burgers, all the condiments you could think of. I chose a 1/3-pound burger, the “small” size. Remember when McDonald’s introduced the quarter-pounder? My God, man, now that’s a hungry man’s meal! A quarter-pound burger? That’ll fill a tummy, ain’a?
That was a long time ago.
OK, so a 1/3-pound burger. What the hell, I’ll get what I usually put on it at home — grilled onions and crumbled blue cheese.
“We don’t have that kind of blue cheese.”
That kind? What kind do you have?
“Blue cheese dressing.”
Oh. OK, then. Grilled onions, blue cheese dressing on the side, and let’s try to get out of here at under a million calories. Fries? Sure. Something from the fountain to drink. Nine bucks and change.
The burger came piled high with grilled onions. Now there’s a menu phrase — “piled high.” When you’re cooking at home, how often do you pile anything high? I could have stuck my finger into this onion pile down to the second knuckle. Onions are a low-cost item, so it pays to stack ’em deep. It gives the customer the sense of getting a bargain for his food dollar. Judging from the other customers in the place, these are folks who drive a hard bargain. Only in the Midwest, witty Jim Harrison once wrote, is overeating seen as heroic.
I picked off seven-eights of the onions and added an experimental dab of blue-cheese dressing, wondering if it would sub for my beloved crumbled Stilton. It did not. The fries were thick-cut slabs of potatoes, no doubt sliced, seasoned and prepped at a processing factory far, far away. They were speckled with a seasoning blend that is probably “secret.” Fries like this frequently disappoint me, and so did these. I ate a few, left the rest.
I once asked a short-order cook why I couldn’t make a hamburger as good as his. “Because you wouldn’t fucking believe how much salt I put in it,” he said. (He’d been drinking.) “Almost a tablespoon. And then I add butter to the grill.”
I can’t speak for the butter, but they surely didn’t skimp on the salt in my lunch. If salt was the bass note, it was blasting out the windows of the car. I sat and did the L.A. Times crossword — too easy — waiting for the clamor in my mouth to subside. It didn’t. I grabbed a cookie on my way out for the relief of sugar. Mission accomplished, Fuddrucker’s! Customer carpet-bombed with sodium chloride and grease, upsold dessert upon exit. Well-done.
Maybe this is a good sign. There was a time in my life when I would have happily cleaned my plate, but lately I’m working toward, what’s the word? Mindfulness. Nothing prohibited, just carefully considered. Maybe I should have fallen happily into the Fuddrucker embrace and gone whole-hog with the cheese, which would have been the yang to the yin of salt. Or maybe I should have had another glass of water and some yogic breathing, and just put off lunch another 90 minutes.
Lately I’ve been reading about David Kessler’s new book, “The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite,” in which the former FDA chief takes a look at so-called food engineering, in which chemists seek to find just the right layers of salt, fat and sugar to find the “bliss point” that gets us cleaning our plates and ordering more:
Foods rich in sugar and fat are relatively recent arrivals on the food landscape, Dr. Kessler noted. But today, foods are more than just a combination of ingredients. They are highly complex creations, loaded up with layer upon layer of stimulating tastes that result in a multisensory experience for the brain. Food companies “design food for irresistibility,” Dr. Kessler noted. “It’s been part of their business plans.”
But this book is less an exposé about the food industry and more an exploration of us. “My real goal is, How do you explain to people what’s going on with them?” Dr. Kessler said. “Nobody has ever explained to people how their brains have been captured.”
My brain has been captured. Lately, I’ve been trying to take it back.
You know what I had for lunch the other day? A kale smoothie. I’m not kidding. Alan has this pasta dish he likes, with Italian sausage and peppers and kale, and it always leaves me with a lot of leftover kale. I found this recipe online: Put two cups of chopped kale in a blender with a frozen ripe banana, half a cup of orange juice and a quarter-cup of skim milk. Blend and serve. It looks like grass clippings, but it’s actually quite tasty. Those of you who make smoothies a lot know the ingredients are utterly malleable — one person said to try it with pineapple juice instead, and I’ll probably substitute a dollop of vanilla yogurt for the skim milk next time. And when you’ve drained your glass, you’ve eaten kale instead of chocolate ice cream, and you’re not so very deprived at all.
Maybe I’ll open a kale smoothie shack in retirement. Call it Buttpuckers. “So good, it’ll make you clench your cheeks.”
OK, maybe not.
Life is strange in Oklahoma. A state legislator blames the economic crisis on divorce, abortion and homosexuality. Well, that’s one way to look at it.
One thing I did yesterday while I waited on $600 worth of repairs on a car that was running fine: Read the Sarah Palin piece in Vanity Fair. Nothing really new, except the obligatory Olbermann dog-whistle item about writing in the voice of God, but it was nice to see it all in one place.
I swore I’d have nothing more to say on it, and I really don’t, but here’s something that bugs me about the blacks-take-pride-in-Michael-Jackson stories popping up here and there: How much racial pride can you project upon a man who, when he had the choice, chose to have WHITE CHILDREN?
I ask you. And now I head to the shower, and another day too full of obligation, but hey — work’s work.