We had an argument at the dinner table today. Well, not so much an argument, as a discussion…No…it was an argument. I’m assuming that some of you will want to weigh in, so you can get your keyboards and smart phones ready to make your comments. We were arguing, strangely enough, about ice cream flavors.
I will admit to being no connoisseur of gourmet foods. I am not a “foody” in any way. I eat food. Real food. I’m not fooled by a little raspberry sauce drizzled around a dish so tiny you have to use the lowest section of your trifocals to find it on the plate. Presentation has nothing to do with the meals I like. Flavor and texture. Those are the most important attributes I’m seeking in the materials that pass my lips. For instance, corn on the cob, fresh from the garden, husked and boiled in water, with a little salt and butter added…now that’s real food. Creamed corn? Not at all! While there is a slight corn-like flavor to the recipe, the dreadful mushy, slimy dish resembles corn not at all. A fresh tomato is good for any number of things. Eaten by itself in wedges? Sliced and laid atop a freshly grilled hamburger patty? One of a few select ingredients in a plain dinner salad? All wonderful conditions in which to consume the enigmatic fruit/vegetable. Stewed and breaded? I think the Valley Girl of the Seventies said it as delicately as I can put it – “Gag me with a spoon!”
You begin to see a pattern here, don’t you? I like plain food. The honest flavors and natural textures of foods are a treat to the palate and need very little embellishment. I think I’m what used to be called a “meat and potatoes” man. I’ll eat those other dishes when they are on the menu; even enjoy them at times. But, for comfort food, for feeling that all is right with the world, I’ll have the fried chicken with mashed potatoes, thank you! Sure, a little white gravy will go nicely on the potatoes, but not too much. I want to taste the food I masticate.
Vanilla ice cream. It’s what I prefer. Actually, what I crave, since it’s not really supposed to be in my diet at all now. If you’ll promise not to tell the Lovely Lady, I will admit to having a serving of Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla just this evening. I passed on it at dinner today. But, it called my name for the rest of the day, so I answered. Just a little. Vanilla is an amazing flavor. If you must know, that was the reason for the “discussion” at the dinner table. One of our guests refused the offer of this food-of-the-gods after the meal, with one word, “Yuck!” It was her contention that vanilla is plain, a non-flavor, if you will. While there was a day I would have agreed with her assessment, I will readily confess that I have seen the error of my ways. My sister-in-law (aided by her husband) creates an incredible home-made vanilla ice cream, the memory of which will make you want to spit out any Cookies and Cream you taste thereafter. I have had Butter Pecan I thought was really good, but one spoonful of Aunt Jan’s homemade recipe drove away any fond thought of that plastic flavor which remained.
I have thought of this phenomenon numerous times, while consuming unseemly quantities of the fat-laden nectar. I’m convinced that when we start to add flavors to the original, we begin a journey down a path that leads to all kinds of excess which make us forget what we loved in the first place. A teaspoonful of chocolate syrup added today, turns into a couple of tablespoons the next time and before you know it, you’re consuming some substance unidentifiable as ice cream, with a name like Chocolate Chunky Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Nightmare, and wondering how you could have sunk so low. (You may press “send” on those angry notes any time you are ready now…)
What’s my point, you ask? As usual, I employ the ridiculous to illustrate the plain truth: It is so simple to leave the path of clean, straightforward joys, mingling them with gaudy, overpowering extravagance, and before we know it, we no longer recognize the original product as real, as desirable. “Plain Vanilla” we call it, implying that it is somehow lacking. The concept holds true throughout our culture. Clean cut, wholesome young men and women are replaced by Hollywood with surgically enhanced and painted caricatures with attitude problems. A criminal record is a plus, not an embarrassment. If pets are important to you, it is no longer acceptable to just have a dog in the backyard, buying dry dog food at the local supermarket when they run out. We must shop at stores which cater to the pet’s whims, offering amazingly expensive toys, clothes (yes, clothes!), and food. Don’t leave that poor pooch alone at home all day! Doggie Day Care is the only loving way to treat Fido in this culture! Families who enjoy the simple pleasures of spending time together playing at the park are replaced with the Madison Avenue image of the family who spends together at the amusement park, while wearing costly mouse ears and hugging imaginary princesses who have no interest in returning the adoration. Bigger, better, more flavor, more excitement…all these are desirable; while plain, clean, pure,and simple are pejoratives used to poke fun. The add-ons eclipse the original, making it seem obsolescent and passe’.
I’ll have two scoops of Vanilla, please. I’m fairly sure that great things are more often accomplished by just plain folks. Heroes are more likely to be normal people with simple values than they are to be the fake, embellished stars on television. Honest and responsible young adults are reared in the homes of honest and responsible parents.
On second thought, make that just one scoop. (Watching my calories and fat intake, you see?) Still Vanilla. It’s an amazing flavor…
“‘White,’ Saruman sneered. ‘It serves as but a beginning. The white cloth may be dyed, the white page may be overwritten, the white light may be broken.’ ‘In which case, it is no longer white,’ Gandalf answered. “And, he who breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom.'”
(Lord of the Rings~J.R.R. Tolkien)
“‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,
’tis the gift to come down where we ought to be…”
(Simple Gifts~Elder Joseph Bracket~American Shaker songwriter~1797-1882)