I am unashamed that I like really bad television-- über mind-numbingly soul-sucking sideshow TV, to be specific. I think this must be the same impulse that hipster dudes have to sport facial hair and roll up the sleeves of their vintage Members Only jackets in an ironic way. I like high culture also, but isn’t it a mark of my good taste to admit that I like something that is just plain bad (as long as I know that you know that I know that it is, indeed, low brow and tasteless), just like those smelly, hirsute boys in Williamsburg do?
Seriously “on-the-side” side note: I’m still not completely sure just how wearing iconic and tacky clothes from an era before you were born is ironic, exactly, though I did try and wear a poodle skirt once in fourth or fifth grade after seeing Grease for the 12,000th time. I wouldn’t even have been able to pronounce the word irony, much less understand its meaning back then, had I ever heard it, which I hadn’t. It took a little elevator scene in the movie Reality Bites my senior year of college to really drive that one home for me. Thank you Ethan Hawke. Thank you for more than just your OG greasy hipsterness, thank you for your contribution to my education. And PS, Ethan: I still think Winona Ryder should’ve chosen that douchebag Ben Stiller over you even though his weasely re-editing of her reality show was kind of pathetic, if not simply self-serving. She’d have a viable career now, that little wisp-of-a-waif Winona, and possibly be living somewhere other than in a cloud of shoplifting shame and Xanax residue and that wouldn’t be such horrible thing now would it?
But I digress.
Because I’m totally “out” with my obsession of all things terrible on the tube (I have a particular fondness for eating Dorritos and ice cream while I watch weight-loss shows), I’m pretty amused when people are shocked that I also harbor a long-standing, Beiber-Feverish love of the fast food. A love much in the same way a twelve year old bubble-letters her crush’s name over and over on the cover of her Life Science textbook; that I’m not embarrassed in the least until he, (insert popular boy from Clear Lake Intermediate School here), looks over during Health class and sees that I’ve added “Mrs.” to his last name, and, who then spends the next three years avoiding me until I grow a pair of boobs (which sadly, I’m still breathlessly waiting for). To me bad TV and bad food go hand-in-hand and sometimes make out under the bleachers and then lie about it to their respective friends.
Sometimes I think my fast food love affair is an act of aggravated rebellion against my current socio-political surroundings. That my SoCal hybrid-driving, stretch-and-kvetch-yoga-posing, Whole-Foods-parking-lot-maneuvering friends might actually de-friend me for it just on principle. I like and tend to surround myself with people who have these magical “principles” things since I have none of my own and I’m actively hoping (fingers crossed) that I’ll get some of theirs via some kind of personality osmosis, just like brining a turkey.
Or maybe it could also be that my primordial desire for bad food was simply born from a misplaced nostalgia for my childhood-- one of being raised by a pack of wolves (“Which drive-thru will we visit tonight, Kids, before I let you out to bey at the moon and troll the neighborhood for defenseless house pets?”). Or it could be my innate laziness, I don’t know, but it’s a very real part of me, regardless of its origin, and none of the reasons why is really all that important.
My Gay Boyfriend spent the last month here in LA in between his teaching gigs in China, but on a brief trip to visit his sister and her family in San Antonio, his teenaged niece told him in confidence that her dad said not to say anything, but, in a whispered voice, claimed that MGB was a Communist. Just like the scene in St. Elmo’s Fire when Mare Winningham’s parents whisper the words “cancer” and “very wealthy” during a dinner conversation because they’re words too terrible to utter at full volume. Interestingly enough, not ordering rice and beans with your enchilada plate is enough to qualify you for the title of Communist in Texas, so take it as you will, but MGB would probably considered on the more liberal side. So when he said this on Facebook* last week, I was tickled to think that as one of these more principled (or Communistic, depending on your location) friends he was amused by what he considers an inconsistency in my tastes:
NAME REDACTED TO PROTECT THE GUILTY Let me attest that Melissa, the disgustingly talented and perfect foodie who whips up culinary extravaganzas, lamented to me more than once how the construction at her local barrio McDonalds put a crimp in her McEating habits.
It’s just not funny because it’s totally accurate. One day I was driving up La Brea, minding my own business when I notice there is no McDonald’s where there was one less than 24 hours earlier. No Big Mac, no hot apple pie, No Juan (yes, I am on a first name basis with some of the cashiers) at the window at 3pm on a Tuesday. I had to pull my car over, walk across the street and confirm to myself that I wasn’t in a dream and that frogs weren’t falling from the sky. The word gutted doesn’t begin to describe what I was feeling at that moment, but thanks anyway for the exaggerated compliments, MGB.
Now I have to drive a whole extra mile for my large sized fries.
But I digress yet again.
To bring this meandering post back around, after not doing a soupapolooza! for almost three months, I knew that I had to have one while MGB was visiting from China; it would be rude not to since he is OG soup royalty. And what to make for the Communist? Red soup, of course, and other more American/ less Asian dishes for him to cling to when he’s back to business half the world away. I wanted him to have his own little meal that he will hopefully fondly look back on and then miss LA like hell. Because that’s totally the neighborly thing to do.
And here is what I made/ we all gobbled on:
roasted cucumber sandwiches on ciabatta
grilled avocado and peach arugula salad with red wine and vanilla vinaigrette
heirloom tomato and lemongrass soup with pea shoots and crab
rhubarb and gingersnap icebox pie
Bon Appétit | August 2011
This soup is equally delicious served hot or chilled.
Yield: Makes 6 servings
2 tablespoons olive oil
5 scallions, thinly sliced
1 1/2 stalks lemongrass, peeled, trimmed, thinly sliced
1 Fresno or Thai chile, seeded, minced
2 1/2 pounds beefsteak tomatoes, chopped (about 3 cups)
2 1/4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 cup coconut milk
3 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon fish sauce (such as nam pla or nuoc nam)
1 tablespoon (or more) fresh lime juice
1/2 pound fresh lump crabmeat
3/4 cup pea tendrils or shoots, trimmed
6 snow peas, trimmed, thinly sliced on diagonal
Ingredient info: Fish sauce is available at better supermarkets and at Asian markets. Pea tendrils are available at natural foods stores and Asian markets
Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add scallions, lemongrass, and chile and cook until softened, 3-4 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook until softened, 5–6 minutes. Stir in chicken stock, coconut milk, orange juice, and fish sauce. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until flavors meld, about 15 minutes. Let cool slightly.
Working in batches, purée soup in a blender until smooth, about 1 minute per batch. Stir in 1 tablespoon lime juice. Season to taste with salt and more lime juice, if desired. Chill, if desired. Or ladle hot soup into wide shallow bowls. Garnish with crabmeat, pea tendrils, and snow peas.
So enough with my discussing the non-irony of my love of fast food. Good food, bad food, food is food. Sometimes I want Mozza and sometimes I want the Mac. They aren’t the same thing and they satisfy different needs, but both serve to fill my belly and as the backdrops for memories. Though, to be fair, my birthday dinner at Osteria Mozza was a far sweeter affair to remember than the viewing of “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” with the chicken tenders I got at Carl’s Jr. last week. Like by a long shot.
And I would have worn my Member’s Only jacket on either occasion had I been able to find it, just to remind everyone that I know what’s cool, even if it is butt ugly. Because isn’t that the whole point?
Just remember: I know that you know that I know. And, thankfully, I’m still not capable of growing facial hair.
*don’t forget to “like” soupapolooza! on Facebook. And that goes for you people that read this purely out of schadenfreude, too.
**and yes, that is a hipster cat on a leash and it’s not in Brooklyn. And no, it is not mine.