Sunday Snippet, Tubers by Bill Chance

Alvin York was a man that knew what he liked and what he liked was roasted potatoes.

—-Bill Chance, Tubers

No Fried Egg Today

 

Tubers

by Bill Chance

 

Alvin York was a man that knew what he liked and what he liked was roasted potatoes. He had meticulously arranged his schedule so that he had a half-hour between the time the bus arrived at the station and the time the train left for his office in the city. He would buy a cardboard container of tiny round roasted taters from a squat man in a beret that had a cart next to the newsstand. He would also pick up that day’s newspaper from the stand and then read the editorial and sports pages while he ate his potatoes.

They were small and immature, the kind his mother had always referred to as new. Each one was bite-sized, tender, and sweet – a perfect morning snack. They were warm, but not so hot that you couldn’t pick them up with your fingers and eat them with ease.

The container was a sort of flat-bottomed cone, an ingenious folded design that the man in the beret would slide from a stack on top of his cart, open the lid, and then silently scoop out a serving of steaming spuds. Alvin even had a favorite table and chair, near the newsstand and facing the train platform, with the big art Deco clock in view also, so he could relax without fear of missing his ride. Some mornings, somebody else would be sitting at his table and that would put a frown on Alvin’s face, a frown slightly deeper than usual, as he was forced to search around for a different, inferior, perch.

Today, the station was very busy and crowded. Alvin worried about finding a proper spot. But as he stood outside the newsstand, next to the cart and the man with a beret, with his briefcase in one hand, his brand new newspaper under his arm, and his container of potatoes in the other, he saw a stranger rise from his favorite table and stride toward the platform.

“My lucky day,” Alvin said to himself as he moved in quickly, before anyone else could snag his seat.

The table was already covered in newspapers; obviously the previous sitter was an irresponsible litterer. Alvin sighed as he placed his food container on the table and arranged the bulky folded pages of newsprint in some sort of order, extracting his favorite sections in the battle.

When he finally brought the sports section below his eye level, Alvin jumped a bit when he saw that another man was occupying the chair opposite him… at his own table. He was bothered by the nerve of this person, obviously no more than another working commuter like himself, in his damp trench coat and briefcase, and his audacity at taking the chair without asking. There was no understanding the coarse effrontery of the population in these new days. Taking a seat without asking permission was a coarse and crude action of great brass, no matter how crowded the station or how occupied Alvin was arranging his paper.

Looking at the man, Alvin saw his container of roasted potatoes in the center of the table and that helped him feel a little better. He eagerly reached out and snatched a savory sphere off the top of the pile and popped it into his mouth.

He was surprised to see the man opposite not ignoring him as he ate and read, but staring at him with narrowed eyes – it was as if he took the potato eating as a personal affront. The man seemed suddenly silently angry. The man continued to stare at Alvin as he slowly reached out himself and ate one of the potatoes.

Alvin felt a strong sudden wave of heat course across his face. He was shocked, what kind of man steals another’s food? Alvin was not a greedy man, he considered himself benevolent and unselfish – but this was beyond the pale. Someone’s property is sacred, especially his food, especially his food during his morning commute. He did not know what to do. Looking at the other man’s eyes, he saw raw emotion but couldn’t really understand… was the man angry? But why should he be angry at Alvin? It was he who was the thief.

Should he say something? But what? His mind a buzzing hive Alvin decided against speaking up, he didn’t want to start a scene and had no idea how the stranger would react to such a provocation. There was really only one possible course of action.

Alvin ate another potato.

He stared at the man, wondering what he would do next. His eyes narrowed even further, his mouth set in a tense rictus, the skin on his face tight. Alvin gasped as the man reached out again for a potato and then seemed to have to use a great deal of willpower to relax his set jaw enough to get the food in past his teeth.

This continued, each man staring at the other, silent anger increasing, as they worked their way back and forth through the entire order of potatoes.

Finally, the man snatched the last one out, and with a wordless but audible irate grunt yanked the empty cardboard up and crumpled it in his fist. He stood quickly, spun on his heels, and marched stiffly to the nearest exit, disappearing into the street. He threw the crumpled container in a trash can as he left.

“Well I never!” Alvin finally shouted the moment he was sure the man was out of earshot. “The nerve! What is this world coming to?”

Looking up at the clock he saw it was only a few minutes until his train left. Still upset, he stood on shaking legs as he gathered the pile of newspapers together off the top of the table, arranging them so he could dump them in the recycle bin on the way to the train.

“Never was able to read my paper,” he whined out loud to nobody in particular, “My morning break ruined!”

Then, as he picked up the last section of newspaper, he looked down at the now bare table to see his container of potatoes, still resting where he had left it before sifting through the double set of newspapers. He had lost track. He must have covered them with the unused pile of newspaper. The container of potatoes that he had been eating had belonged to the other man.


Later that afternoon, as he was preparing for the trip home, he called his wife.

“I was going to heat up some chicken,” she said.

“Dear, I was thinking, why don’t we go out to that new Italian place down the block? I know you’ve wanted to try it out.”

“On a Wednesday?” his wife asked. She sounded incredulous.

“What the hell,” he said. “Let’s live a little.”

His wife was even more surprised when Alvin ordered a bottle of wine to go with the meal. They each had a glass and, over their salads Alvin spoke.

“I have a story to tell you, dear. It’s a good one.”

And he told her about the stranger and the potatoes. He had been thinking about it all day and looking forward to getting it off of his chest. He laughed at the end, and his wife let out a little chuckle, but then she suddenly looked thoughtful.

“What’s the matter?” Alvin asked.

“Well, I was thinking?”

“About what?”

“Right now, in another part of town somewhere, I’ll bet that man is telling the same story to his wife -the story about a stranger eating his potatoes.”

“Yes, I suppose so.”

“But it will be a different… he doesn’t know. He thinks you were stealing his potatoes. His story isn’t funny; I imagine he was terrified.”

“Yes, I guess he was.”

The Lights Are On

Decatur, Texas

“you got all these miserable people with problems you can’t believe…and look, the lights are on.”
—-Jordan Peterson

I was eating lunch, grabbing a slice, at a place where a lot of tech types eat at (near, but not too near, my work). Mostly men, mostly in groups of four.

One guy at another table was expounding. A bit full of himself, enjoying the attention, I still liked listening to him. I made a note on my phone.

“The diagram looks fractal, like a Mandelbrot set. But nothing worked. It was like a fractal of suck – no matter how much you drilled down or blew it up, it still looked the same. It still sucked.”

Kimchi Udon

On Sundays I try to make up some lunches to pack up so I can take them to work the next week, something I can nuke, and save a smidgen of money over eating lunch out. Inspired by the Kimchee Fries I had from the SsahmBBQ Food Truck I decided to do something with Kimchi. Instead of fries, I thought I’d have them with Tofu and Udon noodles (I love the big, pfat udon).

Low on raw materials, I headed out to Saigon Mall, the Asian grocery store (and more) near our house. I go there a lot – though not as often as I’d like. It’s like taking a little exotic vacation for the cost of a meal, smoothie, or a bag of groceries.

Saigon Mall

Saigon Mall, about a half-mile from my house. This used to be the neighborhood Target store.

I was low on Udon, so I bought a package. Saigon Mall has two entire aisles plus a refrigerated section dedicated to noodles in all their varied glory. I’ve tried several brands, and decided that I like the Hoshi Maru Udon the best.

When you buy noodles from Saigon Mall the receipt always says “Alimentary Paste” on it. I thought that was some sort of mistranslation until I did a tiny bit of research where I discovered that this was something our government, in all its wisdom, required.

From the Cook’s Thesaurus at foodsubs.com

Asian noodles Notes: Until recently, the U.S. government required a noodle to contain flour, water, and eggs to be rightly called a noodle. Since most Asian noodles aren’t made with eggs, this left them without much of an identity. The FDA permitted names like “alimentary paste” and “imitation noodles,” but Asian noodle producers–from the birthplace of the noodle no less–could not use the n-word. The government finally relented, and we can now use the name “Asian noodles.”

The Hosi Maru Udon package has the words “Elementary Pasta” written on it. I’m not sure if that is a derivative of “alimentary paste” or not. Luckily I’ve never seen it transposed as “Elementary Paste” – that sounds like what we all ate in third grade.

They had ready-made Kimchi in refrigerated glass bottles. The small quart size said “Kimchi” on it… the big gallons said “MocKimchi.” I don’t know if there is a difference, but as far as I could see the stuff in the jar looked identical. I’m not quite up to buying the gallon size jar of fermented cabbage yet, so I stuck with the quart.

Kimchi

The Kimchi is in the refrigerated case, right next to the jellyfish section.

The store has a mind-boggling selection of sauces. I chose an inexpensive soy sauce pretty much at random and bought a big bottle of Sriracha brand Rooster sauce. A package of firm tofu… and I had my raw ingredients.

Raw Materials

Udon Noodles, Sriracha Sauce, quart jar of Kimchi, Soy Sauce, and Tofu

I sautéed slices of the tofu in a pan until they were a little brown, then cooked some soy sauce with them until it reduced. Meanwhile, I boiled up a mess of udon.

I opened the jar of Kimchi and watched the spicy, fermented cabbage bubble and burp (I guess this is how you know it’s good kimchi) before I dumped it out.

When all this was done, I divided it all up into four meals, then squirted Sriracha over the noodles for flavor and kick.

Lunch

Kimchi, Noodles with Sriracha, and Tofu

They are packaged apart, but I’ll eat it all together, mixed in a bowl. A pretty good lunch, actually.

Now, there is one problem. All you purists will look at this and say, “You’ve got Japanese Udon, Korean Kimchi, hot sauce that’s a mixture of Thai, Vietnamese, and Chinese flavors though it’s made in America and manipulated for Western Tastes. You don’t know what the hell you are doing… mixing all these foods together like that. That is not how these ingredients are supposed to be prepared and served. You are showing your ignorance and disrespect for the culinary cultures of a billion people and look like an idiot for doing so.”

And that is all true. I don’t know what I’m doing and I am an idiot. Thinking about this for a while, I realized there is only one possible riposte to this criticism, “I like it, if you have a problem, you can go fuck yourself.”

Father’s Day at the Mall Food Court

I’m not a big fan of holidays. Especially the manufactured holidays, like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Earth Day, or any of the others that arise not out of ancient pagan fertility rites but more modern constructions of the retail-industrial complex designed to make people go out and buy stupid presents – spend their hard-earned cash on superfluous consumer tripe rather than save it so it can be eventually lost in bad investments – like it should.

Now, I’m not complaining about my gifts, mind you. I may be stubborn, but I’m not stupid. Candy gave me a very nice pen – I’ll take some photographs in a few days. Still, I didn’t really want to celebrate – fight the lunch crowds – and said I’d eat some leftover beans instead.

But Lee was hungry so we went out to eat anyway. When asked where I wanted to go, I replied, “The food court at the mall.”

OK, I live in a Texas Suburb. Those of you a long way away probably are now thinking of big slabs of grilling beef and people wearing boots and ten-gallon hats. Those of you a little closer are thinking about typical American Mall fare – like what?… Cinabon, Steak Escape, Orange Julius (are these still around?) Dog on a Stick? – Jeez, I have no idea what a mall has in its food court anymore.

At any rate, that’s not what I’m talking about. This may be a boring Texas Big City Suburb, but the world is a much more diverse place than you think it is. My neighborhood mall is the Saigon Mall, a Vietnamese-Oriented complex constructed upon the carcass of an extinct Target, and its Food Court is a place of strange and wondrous sustenance.

Food Court Entrance to the Saigon Mall

Food Court Entrance to the Saigon Mall

My only disappointment is that the self-serve frozen yogurt place is gone. I’m going to have to find another place for my Durian ice cream fix now. Candy has a Cuisinart Ice-Cream maker… maybe I could make my…. no, better not. Durian preparation is probably something best left up to professionals.

We walked around a bit and examined the various purveyors of various cuisines – Lee was close to getting a pound of boiled crustaceans from the Crawfish Hut, Candy looked at a new stand that promised “Real Thai Cooking”, and I considered some Pho – but we eventually decided on sandwiches from Lee’s – an always reliable and delicious choice.

When ordering sandwiches, I tend to get the #1 combo – no matter what is in it. They have decided to put this at the top of their menu and they know better than I.

 My Sandwich - #1 combo with Thai Iced Tea.

My Sandwich - #1 combo with Thai Iced Tea.

My sandwich was not as blurry as this picture suggests. The fresh cilantro and other herbs along with the crunchy fresh-made baguettes really set these apart from the usual boring sub fare. There was some sort of very hot pepper hiding inside somewhere, I needed another tea. You can see the Boba in my tea – it was very good, though I have no idea what was in it.

After we had our sandwiches, we went down to the Boba Tea/Smoothie place. We always love this spot. Lee and I love Boba but Candy says she “doesn’t want any of those little snot-balls” in her beverage, which I can’t really argue with. The place used to be called Teahouse, but it has a new logo – “I (heart) Boba” – though the menu seems pretty much the same. The menu consists of a list of pretty much every substance on earth – thrown into a blender with either tea, ice, or some sort of “cream” mixture. I felt like coconut, which was number 114, and the list went on from there for a long way. Then you can get Boba, or Gummy Bears, or anything else, really, dumped in for extra amusement. I felt like some “snot-balls” today, so I had Boba.

Candy and Lee at the Smoothie Place

Candy and Lee at the Smoothie Place

Candy and Lee enjoying their smoothies.

Lunch Menu

Lunch Menu

Here’s the giant lunch menu outside one of the several restaurants in the Saigon Mall. I don’t want to sound like some ignorant American Redneck, but my honest reaction to this is, “What the hell is this stuff?” I see some shrimp arranged in a nice, attractive circle, but it surrounds some strange looking brownish sauce with white flecks – it looks like it might be too spicy, even for me. One dish is labeled “Salmon or Yellowtail” which is reassuring, but nothing in the picture next to it resembles fish in any way.

I hate the feeling when you order something at random and the waiter’s eyes get big and that concerned look crosses their face. They will shake their head from side to side, and say, “Oh, you don’t want to order that.” Sometimes I’ll stubbornly push ahead and insist, eagerly waiting until the plate of something arrives and is set down in front of me.

You know, those waiters are always right. I should listen more often.


Oh, I stumbled across this… Here’s something you should NEVER, EVER do in a mall food court.