9 April 2014
The nightmare continues
It is early morning, breakfast is due any moment now. I'm feeling hungry, not ravenously so, just noticing that I could stand to eat. I have lost weight in the last few months, the food here is not anywhere near what would be called homestyle cooking. Over time the crummy food and its lack have made it easy to not over eat. Since my life is so sedentary these days my metabolism is the largest consumer of calories. At first there was a little bit of emptiness and hunger after a meal, but after just a few weeks that soon left. Now it takes very little to fill me up at any meal.
The content of the meals has settled into a predictable routine. At first the breakfast often consisted of fried eggs, often served over easy with a liquid yolk, just like I am used to eating for a lifetime. That didn't last for long though. The facility decided that they needed to have a new service providing the meals. A meeting was called and the residents were informed that some things would be different from now on. One of the differences was to be no more over easy fried eggs, no loose yolks. Why? We were told that it was a State law, you could get an e. coli infection from eating improperly cooked eggs. Gee, I always thought that over easy was the proper way to cook an egg, anything else demonstrated failure to be attentive to the act of cooking that egg.
According to the State, that would be wrong. They were very interested in making sure the citizens were not going to be made ill from chicken feces on the egg shell. Short of investing great sums of money training Gallus gallus not to defecate on their recently produced ovum, the State must have assumed that B.F. Skinner to the contrary, avians cannot be reinforced to be potty trained. Knowing this the egg producing industry has developed brooding boxes that, using gravity, guide the egg away from the female fowl. Then the egg is mechanically scrubbed with soap and water with a a sanitizer. This must work, I have never seen an egg from the grocery store with a little decorative ca-ca gracing the outside container.
The kitchen's method of dealing with this avian egg fouling tendency is to begin the over easy egg cooking process as usual, then to stick a utensil into the yolk and allow it to flow onto the cooking surface to heat the medium to the e. coli killing temperature deemed sufficient. It seems that the kitchen tries to make sure they are doing their job beyond any shadow of doubt by letting the entire egg cook too long thus becoming hard and rubbery. Basically inedible, over time the kitchen has finally figured out that I have not been eating the eggs they have been sending up. Then suddenly the breakfast egg choice made for me was scrambled eggs. Not real eggs all beat up and scrambled, then cooked, but Eggbeaters a commercial product made of egg whites and food grade dye made to imitate eggs scrambled. If you don't eat them, they do look like scrambled eggs, the color is right, the eggs fluffy, but looks alone don't make suitable eggs. The heft is not there, the eggs are light in the spoon as they are lifted from the plate, the eggs don't hold together well. When a fork is used to separate a portion of eggs from the rest in order to lift it to the mouth, they crumble leaving tiny bits that don't utilize a fork very well. It is easier to contain a lot of egg bits in the bowl of a spoon than far fewer on a fork. Then there is the mouth feel, eating Eggbeaters is very fluffy. Cotton candy, made with the empty calories of spun sugar, has more heft in the mouth than whipped egg whites, in the mouth the cleveryellow dye has no effect whatsoever.
So, awaiting breakfast, I know from experience of the repeating menu style what to expect. Tuesdays the only thing I like to eat are the psuedo scrambled eggs. This being Wednesday the eggs will be augmented with a slice of American cheese artfully draped over the top of the egg mass and melted. The cheese does a little more to hold the egg fluff together, from the topside, nut near as well as if it were broken up, mixed in with Eggbeaters and then cooked. But that never happens, too much forethought, or too much work, it doesn't matter, its just somebody's breakfast. It is this energetic element, that tags along, invisibly and without any recognition that such a thing can exist that gives the meal its extra characteristic. A sort of negative spice that detracts from the food that is provided.
I am reminded of when I was married. The wife was not very kitchen oriented. She looked at the kitchen in the way a house magazine would, from a photographic point of view, if it looks nice or clean. To me the kitchen was a workshop, a playground, a place to regularly create edibles. From meals of many courses to snacks, ice creams and deserts to the baked products that I had to make myself as gluten free had not entered the public mind yet. The wife specialized in a socially accepted form of self isolation and emotional distancing – she slept on the couch a lot. Not at night, she had no trouble sleeping in bed at night, and she was not ill in any way. She just preferred to not engage, and napping on the couch was her preferred method of stealth avoidance. It was socially acceptable, easily effected, and readily available. There is a couch everywhere. It also had built in socially acceptable niceties, unlike leaving the public areas to sleep in the bedroom with the door closed, which screams of physical isolation, and possibly snubbing those remaining behind. Couch slumbering gave her an emotional exit without expecting her to just get up and retreat to another room. In the afternoon, about five or six she would make a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese for herself then eat the entire box, leave the sauce pan in the sink and fall asleep on the couch with the television running. I used to teasingly say that she was roasting her feet by the glow of the television, specifically CBS. A few minutes later I would announce that I was going to fix some dinner, did she want anything? “No”, would come the reply, “I just had some macaroni” from the other room. I would whip up some fried rice or stir fry, some other fast oriental dish, or a baked chicken, or some hamburger stroganoff with fried mushrooms – something different every night. I knew from experience, even if she said she didn't want anything before I cooked, she always “decided” that she would like a little, if there was any left over. I always made a portion and a half, knowing that she would want more than a taste but less than a full share. You see, I know how to cook, without even using recipes as a guide. Although they do serve their own pupose.
Breakfast here always means eggs. Once they were prepared over easy. Then the State knew better, the eggs were prepared overcooked with the yolk broken until the whole thing was rubbery. I just ignored those, so now the egg choice is pseudo eggs that look like scrambled eggs, but fall apart getting shoved onto a spoon, and have no heft or mouthfeel of real eggs in the mouth. The kitchen never changes it up, with hash browns or hamburger for breakfast. Once in a while they serve a gluten free waffle. But it always has an imitation maple syrup cup to accompany it. Not only is life here monotonous. Just to make sure we get the intent, the breakfasts are too.