Poisoned fish tacos
Everything was set for the grilled fish taco throwdown. Jonah’s husband had seared off his 2lbs of mahi and I did the same with my orange roughy. At the picnic table, we arranged our ingredients. Her purple cabbage and flour tortillas. My jalapeno crema cabbage and corn tortillas. Assembling and eating got underway and everyone raved about the creamy dressing that seemed to give my tacos an edge. “What’s in that dressing?” asked Jonah. Oh, sour cream, jalapenos and their pickling juice… and a little ranch dressing. “What?!” Jonah’s eyes got as round as saucers, her voice louder and more shrill. “You mean MSG? Ranch with MSG?” Um, I dunno. Looking down at my plate for some way to deescalate. Ranch-ero sauce maybe? We went on with the tacos, putting the idea of chemically salty ranch enhancement behind us. Once home, I checked my bottle of ranch in the fridge. Damn. MSG. Since that day, I’ve been looking at the back of every bottle of ranch dressing I come across. Yup. MSG in every one of them. Makes a damned good taco though.
White baby food
Jasper will hardly eat anything we put in front of him. But, anything he can dip, he likes. In fact, he just licks the dip off the chip, and we have to hope that there’s some nutritional value to the salsa, katsup, etc. On a recent trip to El Vaquero, even though the little guy was acting all crazy, we had to put the fiery hot salsa at the other end of the table. How would we occupy him. Well, there were two dips. The other one was white. It made my skin crawl to taste it. This is the stuff that inexplicably shows up at bad Mexican restaurants. Typically, it’s whole pile of ranch dressing with a touch of dijon mustard, or something more mysterious, but just as unexciting. Jasper dragged a chip through it. And another. Smearing it on his face on the way into his mouth. Then his fingers. Then his whole hand. It made me nauseous to watch, and I finally took it way from him and wiped the white glop from his face. No mas, por favor.
The last time I visited Arkansas, I was able to reconnect with my second cousin, Bo. It had been a couple decades. We played together during childhood summers. Since then, the family had gone from tight knit to far flung with a few rifts thrown in for good measure. When Bo and I tried to get reacquainted, it was like were were looking at each other from different universes – our life experiences were so decidedly different over the past two decades. Nonetheless, we sat down to dinner, traded old stories, and found some common ground: food. Apart from our differences over protein (meat at almost every meal vs no meat at almost any meals), we both had a weakness for dining out. His favorite? Wings. Reaching for a white plastic bottle of Kraft dressing, he said, “Cut me open, and I’ll bleed ranch.” With that beautiful proclamation, I blacked out the rest of the encounter. We’re Facebook friends now and I hope to see him again. But if he’s ever at the hospital and needs a transfusion, I’ll be sure to get his instruction to the doctor.
The little known genesis of a salad dressing
Ranch is actually not salad dressing. It was originally intended as a potion – as in magic. Some Hogwarts student were tasked with concocting a tonic that would make its victims eat too much against their will. This way, if you wanted to ruin someone’s day and put them out of commission for a stretch, you could just make them ingest some of this thick white creaminess. Once inside the belly, the potion coated the stomach and numbed the nerves in that area. As the stomach stretched, the victim would have no clue they were at capacity. Once the ranch reached the pyloric valve to the intestines, it acted like an arm stuck into an elevator, causing the doors to constantly reopen. Food in the stomach just took the A-train to the poop chute. The students did not pass their assignment, because they hadn’t considered the long term health consequences. And yet, they shared the recipe with other underachieving students of wizardry. Eventually dropping out of school, they each went on with their lives, unfortunately opening restaurants and giving up any magic other than their number one money maker: White Lightening or The Digestive Tract as Wide Open as a Ranch. Which is where it got its name.
At the end of a tour of the MCV birthing center, we gathered in a classroom for a slideshow. A dozen or so super-pregnant ladies and their baby-daddies all sat facing the front as our maternity care expert went over the procedures for identifying early labor and active labor and quizzed us about when to report to the hospital. “Remember that labor lasts a long time. You need to come prepared. Bring your favorite thing to drink water out of,” she explained as she scanned the room, looking for an example. “… like her’s,” pointing to the white sports bottle in my wife’s hand. Karen raised it up for everyone to note. “And don’t eat snacks with empty calories, like potato chips. Go with granola bars instead. Or eat carrots… with ranch dressing.” A chuckled burst out of my mouth. The guy next to me leans forward, looks at me, and motions to my wife’s water bottle with a grin and raised eyebrows. “You got ranch in there?”