I’ve come to realize that, in many ways, I am a snob. Oh, yes, I believe that generic or house brands are perfectly good for a lot of items, but there are some things that have to be just right and nothing else will do. It’s funny, but I’ve talked to others about this strange compulsion, and everyone else feels the same way. My list doesn’t agree with the list of a single other person, though.
For instance, in the matter of vegetable shortening, that greasy white concoction that came along to replace butter and lard in cooking. Hydrogenated vegetable oil. It doesn’t seem that it would make a difference what brand one might use, but I’ll stand up and shout for CRISCO any day. What’s the difference? Darned if I know, but over many years of cooking and baking I’ve found that, barring operator error, Crisco gives me what I want: delicate, tasty piecrusts, and crispy deep-fried whatever. Once in a great while I’ve run out of Crisco and had to use a substitute (usually as a result of telling Hubby, “Quick! Run down to the store and buy me some shortening!”) and the outcome has been less pleasing. Not awful, just not perfect. If I’m going to bother with piecrust, it had better be perfect!
Still in food mode, let me add kudos for Oscar Mayer bacon. The aroma of those strips frying is enough to start anyone’s gastric juices racing around in anticipation. Breakfast is a given, of course, but how about vegetables? One of the things that always gets compliments is my secret basic recipe, OM bacon and onions fried together and added to almost any vegetable you can think of. It all started with my mom’s green beans, of course. Pretty easy, just cut up some bacon strips and onions, throw them in a saucepan for a minute, then add fresh green beans and water. In Girl Scout days I learned about Squaw Corn, which is the same bacon and onions, but with plain old canned corn instead of the beans. Since then I’ve used my magic recipe with broccoli, and squash, and asparagus (although it’s difficult to beat plain asparagus!), and cabbage. Choose any veggie you want and it will probably be great. S & P to taste, certainly. Tonight I’m going to do something new: lettuce and chopped tomatoes with a dressing of fried bacon-and-onions and maybe a little mayonnaise. Add croutons and we’ll have a BLT in a bowl.
Here’s one that’s a little different: Writers. I’ve always been a reader. Certainly, I have favorite authors, but there is a long list rather than a singular name, and the list changes with my mood. What’s more, the list has seen some (probably) permanent deletions as I’ve aged, including some of the great classic writers who now sound pretentious and contrived. When I think about it, a lot of the ones I’ve decided I can remove from the overcrowded bookshelves are writers I met while I was in college, when my young brain and emotions were more open to the dark side. For now, I can do without the Orwellian 1984 and the like–we have enough horror in real life–and I know that if I happen on Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery I’ll happily pass it on without scanning the first line. Still, I recognize that my distaste for certain genres and situations doesn’t diminish their worth in literature. I respect their use of words (especially since they manage to write entire books without resorting to the ugly four-letter kind to increase their word count) and even applaud the social commentary. My tastes have changed, that’s all.
I do still delight in O. Henry’s stories, contrived though they may be, and the Guys and Dolls of Damon Runyon, and the antics of Wodehouse’s hilarious, decadent Brit upper-crust Bertie Wooster and Jeeves. Until my high school years, I didn’t care for any of these. None of those worlds were mine, and the writing styles do take a little getting used to.
But one day Dixon Gayer, who taught what would be the equivalent now of AP English, set aside whatever lesson plan was scheduled and instead read aloud one of the Runyon stories. What a joy! Some 25 teenagers sat there spellbound as he took us back to 1940 New York and introduced us to such unlikely people as Dave the Dude, Harry the Horse, Society Max, and a host of charming, unsavory characters. All of a sudden, there was a “voice” to the writing. The words had been there all the time; the difference was in the pure pleasure this teacher–this reader–so obviously got from the stories, the connection he felt with this unconventional author. What fun had I been missing for years just because my own connection with the voices I read was more tenuous? I headed directly for the library and checked out every single Damon Runyon book. I was hooked.
Since then, I’ve learned to look for the “voice” whenever I try out a new author, just as I test out the flavor of a new brand of coffee. You never know when you will find a brand that will stick with you. I’d like to think that someday my own writing will catch the eye of someone who will feel an uncontrollable urge to add me to his favorites list, but it’s unlikely.
For now, in my own heart I want to be Erma Bombeck, I want to be Nora Ephron…I want to be Damon Runyon. But I do it for myself. If I don’t believe in my own brand, no one else will, either.
I’ll see you again after the commercial