Food for Thought
January 1, 2002
Is it better to mix the curry powder
in a bit of cold water before adding it to the sauce or should you toast
it in the dry pan first and then add the fat and flour to make a roux
and so on? What, in your considered opinion, is the best way of cooking
spaghetti, with a splash of oil in the water or no?
How do you stop a soufflé from
soufflopping before you can get it to the table?
One might think that the subject of
food would not come up too often in a bookstore. But I have to tell you,
one would be wrong. At Mac's, not only is the topic of food presented
for discussion on a regular basis, quite often the food itself is displayed,
dissected, and shared. Opinions are offered; appraisals tendered. No money
changes hands but bartering is the name of the game and the basement its
Not that food questions don't arise
"on the floor," from time to time. With a large cook book section
(Aisle 2, right hand side going to the back; about halfway down
the right... your OTHER right
.!)) offering everything from Healthy
Muffins to Sushi: Fast and Fancy and the glittering star of the Books
For Everyone Christmas catalogue, Nigella Bites, as well as several dozen
magazines catering to the average garden-variety cook all the way up to
Le Cordon Bleu cuisineres, we're bound to get culinary requests. After
all, it is assumed by most that if we sell cookbooks, we have read each
book and are ready and willing to critique recipes and assist in major
decisions with regards methods and oven temperatures.
Similarly, when we display a variety
of travel guides, we'd better be prepared to stack Lonely Planet's Things
to See and Do against Fodor's Hot Spots, and explain why.
But it is in the basement where the
matter of comestibles holds sway, primarily in the tiny cooking area that
shares space with forty-eleven cases of Gold Fields of the Klondike remainders
that are not exactly flying out the door even at the fire-sale price of
$9.95, GST not included. The doors to Accounting open at right angles
to the lunch table; Receiving and Mail areas are separated from it by
a few feet of empty space and three in-coming freight pallets labeled
This Week's, Last Week's, and Oh Good Lord! A short distance down the
hall is the Book Buyer's office, the hall entrance to the Special Orders'
Desk and Downstairs Bookroom, and Antiquarian Books. It's a largely open
concept and staff members, noises, and aromas tend to flow forth and back,
like flotsam on an ocean swell.
Because Mac's Fireweed keeps long hours,
open most days from 8 AM to 9Pm, and until midnight in the summer, staff
work hours are staggered and breaks are arranged for no more than one
or two at a time, thereby ensuring no lapses in customer assistance or,
God and/or Chris forbid, a lineup of more than three at the till. It follows,
therefore, that beginning at 11:30, the lunchroom is in business nearly
all day long.
Not everyone brings lunch, of course.
And not everyone goes out to partake in a 'bought' meal. But eaten out
or in, cold or hot, homemade or it's production supervised from in front
of the counter at Subway, each meal is analyzed and discussed with the
intensity normally reserved for childbirth experiences and results.
"Mmm, smells good, Natalie
are you having today?"
"Oh, I didn't have time to cook
anything, I just brought a Chicken Salad from D.Q. It's so good with this
honey-mustard dressing. What do you have there, Deb?
"Oh, this is a stir fry made from
last night's roast. I just chopped some, threw in the leftover veggies,
a bit of plum sauce and a dash of soy. I see that Nick's made spaghetti
looks yummy, too, Lise."
"Yeah, my private little chef's
been out-doing himself, lately. Spaghetti last night, halibut with crab
and tomatoes the night before. Hey Mom, come and taste this sauce, you'd
never know it was made with moose."
I leave off weighing parcels and saunter
across the freight area to peer into Lise's divided Tupperware dinner-saver.
"Moose, huh? No thanks, you know I don't eat game. Smells good though.
What did he use, fresh basil?"
Brett wanders in, drawn from the depths
of his Antiquarian pied-a-terre by the savoury smells wafting down the
hall. "Basil? I thought I was smelling barbecued ribs again. We had
them last night but I think they had oregano in the sauce, maybe it was
basil. Whatever, I know I ate too many. All I brought today was that diet
drink Diane makes with yogurt and soymilk and stuff. You can lose a lot
of weight in a couple of days
"I tried that," Michelle
calls from the office. "All it did for me was give me gas and make
me cranky." She peers over the divided door. "If you brought
any of those ribs along, though, I'd trade you for some low-fat turkey
I wander back to my station, noticing
that as he works, Jim is noshing on a thick sandwich made with grainy
bread, ham and a lot of sprouts and salad greens. A bowl of potato salad
imparts its egg-y, onion-y aroma into the atmosphere. "If you're
still hungry after that
" I gesture at his bowl
brought in some of those banana-nut muffins you like
the table. There're lots."
There's also a jar of peanut butter
on the shelf, homemade raspberry jelly and margarine in the fridge, crackers
on top of the microwave, in case anyone gets the munchies in between lunch
breaks. Lise is always good for extra fruit, Christine's friend, Luz,
sends us delicious Asian spring rolls and noodle dishes, and Jeannie springs,
from time to time, for an assortment of doughtnuts from Timmies. Cookies
are unabashedly used as bribes, fresh eggs are shared after a particularly
intense period of "getting the backlog cleared," and little
jars of antipasto appear out of nowhere and beg to be taken home for holiday
feasting. Dishes of Werther's Choco-Crunchies invite double dipping.
It's funny about our Epicurean preoccupation.
Most of us come from pretty ordinary homes where food appears on the table
several times in the course of a day and when I look around, I don't see
too many obvious signs of deprivation so it isn't that.
Could it be boredom? Or, perhaps, a
variation of SAD, given the amount of time that many of us are stuck in
the cellar without ever seeing the light of day - dark when we arrive,
dark when we leave; whole weather systems coming and going without our
knowing; the faint wailing of sirens barely grazing our consciousness,
knowing, as we do, that the Fire Engine/Ambulance/Patrol Car will be long
gone before we can make it to street level for a look?
It might very well a gastronomically
intellectual predilection, all of us missing our calling in the field
of nutritional science by some wee cosmic glitch.
Yeah, it could be any of those things.
Or it could be that most of us just happen to enjoy the subject of food
in anyway, shape or form. And have the figures to prove it.
But if there is one subject we all
love to discuss more than food itself, it is the latest method for dealing
with the after effects of our fascination. To that (sic) end, I have encouraged
Brett to share the recipe for his diet drink with us. It is, as follows:
1 c. plain, low fat yogurt 1 T. flaxseed
1 c. cranberry juice 1 T. wheat germ oil or
1 c. orange juice 2 T. wheat germ
1 c. soy vanilla-flavored milk
Shake or blend well.
Sip over two days along with lots of water.
Don't get too far from a bathroom.
My wife actually found this recipe in the December 2002 issue of Women's
World magazine, along with the warning that if you do this as a weight-loss
plan and this is ALL you consume, that you are absolutely NOT to do it
for more than 48 hours!!)
Oh, and about that soufflopping soufflé?
Anyone? There are at least two of us who would really like to know. Call
us during lunch break