Saturday, May 20, 2006

Spices are the Variety of Life

My life is pretty much turned upside down right now. I'm in the middle of a big moving and painting project. I'm on the road all the time and I'm still without some of the core kitchen accessories - such as knives, forks and plates for instance. Thus, I've been eating out a lot.

So I'm down in Hamilton to visit my 300 square foot storage unit where most of my belongings have spent the last 2 and a half years. I'm hoping to stumble upon a priority item or two to include in this load. Not more bottles from my beer bottle collection. Not more pairs of pants that I've outgrown by ten sizes. Something useful - such as knives and forks and plates for instance.

I finish loading up the mini-van I've been borrowing from mom and I've got some time to kill before it's safe to visit the hospital in Hamilton where my little buddy is a patient, having badly injured his hand in a workplace accident. I can't see him just any old time, you see. His parents are liable to be there during posted visiting hours and I must not run into them. They're a confused neurotic couple of folk - loveable in their own way, I'm sure - from an old country - across the sea. A place that is real swell no doubt except for a rampant outbreak of non-enlightenment. His folks don't know that in this new and strange country their son has been associating with - um - writers and it's important that it stay that way - for the sake of all hell not breaking loose.

Okay - sorry for the interruption. I'm in a restaurant (go figure) having breakfast as I write this. A family at the next table just got up to leave - the young boy in spectacularly spastic fashion. He knocked over his chair which bounced off my leg. A mild shock to me but I'll survive.

"Oops," said the kid.

"Did you say sorry?" asked Dad.

"I said oops," explained the kid.

And thus the matter was satisfactorily resolved - as far as Dysfunctional Family #2640071 was concerned. I think there's a book out there somewhere called Canadian Parenting in a New Age or something to that effect that has been read by everyone but myself. Chapter one, I imagine, concerns the One Question Only rule and reads:

If you ask your child a question - this is already as much parenting as the child can withstand in a single day. Cease all parenting efforts immediately - at least until the next business day. Instead, immediately return to trying in vain to be your child's friend instead of a parent. You never will succeed in that. Your child will only disrespect you for it but that's okay. It will spoil the child beyond comprehension and further them along the road to complete confusion and narcissism and shall bring us that much closer to the annihilation of all sense of accountability and the virtual oblivion of Canadian society that we all gleefully anticipate...

Unfortunately my bill is not yet paid so I have no opportunity to rush to the parking lot and ram my Grand Marquis halfway through whichever little grey import DF2640071 has climbed into. I would then of course resolve the matter immediately with a cheery 'Oops!' and be off.

"Oh, I'm sorry officer but you're much too late. I've already said oops and thus the matter is satisfactorily resolved. There's nothing you can do. Run along now, Kojak."

I think this would be a good learning experience for the boy. Don't you? Assuming he survived the impact?

Okay - I'm not really this bitter, I assure you. It just amuses me to ponder thoughts of massive violence. I'm a writer of heroic adventure after all. Swords and sorcery. Blood and guts.

Um. Where was I?

Little buddy in the hospital. Parents from hell (but at least they're trying) likely in attendance. An hour and a half to kill til the close of posted visiting hours and I'm starverating (excuse the poetic license - just had it renewed).

So naturally I head for the latest restaurant of choice. It's an East Indian buffet and the intended subject of this post and of course - I have no recollection what its bleeding name is. It's on Main Street. It was the original Don Cherry's Grapevine for years and then another happening sports bar called L.A. Bats - a staple hangout for me and my peeps at the time. And now it is a haven of tasty goodness. Curries, tandouri, buttery butter chicken. It's a taste of heaven, my friends - and only $10 for dinner!

Professor Plonk and Captain Vino introduced it to me not long ago. We put a serious dent in their stocks that night but they continued to deliver. Of course, after I'd loaded the last plate with more than my belly could accommodate, Plonk draws my attention to the 'green chicken', a horrid-looking affair that would normally never qualify for entrance onto my plate - based on appearance alone. Plonk raves about it. Too late for me to go re-sampling. I'm already in over my head. Days later Vino gets me by phone and brags that he has since returned to the holy land and partaken in the green chicken. He validates Plonk's claims. They have glimpsed paradise and I have not. God knows how long they'll hold this over my head. Bastards!

So I arrive at the promised land, giddy with anticipation. The diminutive host greets me at the door and leads me toward a table. I steer him instead to one that's right next to the buffet.

"Can I have a half-litre of the Yellow Tail Shiraz please?"

"No sir," says the little man. "Vee only sell dat by bottle."

"Okay - the Wolfblass then? Yellow label? Do you sell that by the half-litre or the glass?"

"No sir. Only by bottle. No half-litres. Only Ontarlio Merlot sell by glass."

I suffer a brief convulsion. A few minor twitches. I was totally primed for red wine. This is not good. I know what I must do. I must accept the proffered Merlot without knowing what vineyard it stems from - so to speak.

"What vineyard?" I ask. D'oh!

"Sawmill Cleek."

The most dreaded answer of all! Sawmill Cleek! I have a complete breakdown. He fetches me some kleenex to sop up the tears.

I order a glass of the Merlot - because I can't bear the thought of ordering a bottle of decent wine and leaving half of it behind - or of visiting little buddy while half in the bag.

I select the spiciest of dishes and overpower the Merlot - reducing it to a soulless young pansy of a drink with a hint of saline and an irritating nip at the finish. But it's just bland enough that I go ahead and order a second glass to accompany round two.

The selection of dishes is vast and hugely delicious but there is no green chicken this night. The quest lies unfinished.

Plate two is loaded to the hilt. I know I'll regret it. I'm filling up fast. It's just too good. Everything is. I'm gunning for an addiction here. I'll end up here every night and never lose weight. A grim and disturbing fate.

But wait. Perhaps a glimmer of hope. In this plate I keep running into large pieces of herb and spice that are not intended to be eaten whole. They're floaters - intended to remain in the vat-o-grub. Instead they keep ending up in my mouth. Each incident is more frightening than the last. Perhaps this is my savior. I shall be weaned from curry addiction after all.

The first intruder has the size and shape of a bay leaf and I assume that's what it is. Two others are called cloves as far as I know. Forgive me but I'm thoroughly dumbfounded when it comes to the cooking department. Another reason I eat out a lot. The first time I ever tried to cook something that called for fresh garlic I found something in the fridge that I suspected might be garlic but my darling wasn't home to provide verification. I called up a good friend and described the item (indeed I was ultimately proven correct, by the way) and asked what he thought. He never was able to provide an answer. He was seized by such a disabling fit of laughter that he collapsed into the arms of family members and had to be guided away from the phone to a chair. This was long ago, before the proliferation of cordless phones.

Another intruder doesn't make it to my mouth. At the time I spooned it from the vat I thought it to be a large long piece of meat. Upon examination on the plate it is revealed to be a very hard shell-like slab, perhaps 3/8 inch thick and curled in a half-pipe shape. In essence one half of a hollow cylinder, 2 and a half inches long, an inch in diameter, carved down the centre. I assume it is brown though it's covered in brown sauce so who knows? If anyone can name this substance - please do. I'm very keen to learn.

Another intruder was somewhat clove-like in taste and appearance. It had a sort of space station architecture to it with a lot of ugly causeways and pods emerging from it. Thoroughly unpleasant to look at but less pleasant still when unsuspecting, you begin to masticate it. Yuck.

Another resembles an insect with a ventrally prolonged head, exoskeleton, two cross-veined wing-like appendages and two bristled antennae. Oh damn. I wonder if that was a spice after all?

Another resembles a very small church and I must yank it from between my teeth where the little steeple got wedged. I can hear a gay little choir singing inside it though just barely.

Another resembles a tesseract. Alas I can not describe it to you for every time I try to move my eyes move from one of its compartments to the next, they end up viewing a different compartment altogether and from a completely different vantage point. That old lament of the three-dimensional man attempting to grasp a four-dimensional object.

Okay - I know it's time to quit when I start making shit up.


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