Peanuts Floating in Coke, and Other Culinary Foibles

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The cracker crumbs floating in a bottle of Diet Coke took me back 40 years, to after-school shifts in the dungeon darkroom of the Longview News-Journal, etching Fairchild engravings of photographs. That is how photos were produced on newsprint in 1971, at least in plants not up to the latest technology. The News-Journal still used Linotype operators to create metal slugs of copy, ink-spattered pressmen running massive machines, turning ink crews and adjusting water fountains by hand to produce the daily miracle, as we called it.

The Fairchild engraver copied the photograph onto a piece of plastic, both of which were wrapped on a cylinder that rotated slowly, translating the whites, blacks and grays of the photo to a muddy amalgam of halftone dots on the plastic. My job was to adjust the dots produced by the red-hot stylus by peering through a scope, to make reproduction as clear as possible given the medium. Once done, I dismounted the plastic engraving from the cylinder, trimmed the edges and scrubbed off the soot with Ajax. After that, I would get a chance to take a swig of the Dr Pepper bottle filled with a bag of salted peanuts, once enough soda had been swallowed to allow space.

So the other day I was bolting down some stale peanut butter crackers from the basement vending machine — my breakfast of champions. If vending-machine peanut butter crackers are carcinogenic, I best settle my affairs. A 16-ounce bottled Diet Coke accompanied the crackers, setting me back $2.75 in total. Sheesh. I hope this money goes toward a good cause here on the Forty Acres where I toil. Anyway, I looked up and saw cracker crumbs floating in the Diet Coke, which reminded me of intentionally sending a bag of salted peanuts swimming in soda every weekday afternoon after high school.

Several years ago — being memory-addled, that means it could have been 5 or 15 — I recreated the peanuts-and-soda concoction. In a nod to my advancing age and waistline I used a Diet Coke. Bleahh. I can’t believe I used to consider that gloop a key part of my daily nutritional requirements. This wasn’t the first time I have dived into a piece of pre-packaged food convinced I was about to enjoy a trip through my childhood of dining delights — only to conclude that my tastes during adolescence must have been guided by a spirit that has long since left the building. Some years back, I made my all-time favorite sandwich back in college —mayonnaise and banana on wheat bread.

Oh my goodness, I thought as I bit into my final M&B. This is nasty. I must truly have been on drugs to enjoy this repast. I now eat my bananas ala carte and view mayonnaise as something only used in conjunction with meat-filled sandwiches. There are several other foods that, upon reflection and re-tasting, are to be avoided. Moon pies, DQ banana splits, RC Cola, Sweet Tarts, Peppermint Patties, Swizzles, beef jerky — these are a few of the items gobbled greedily in youth that I have since tried and rejected in the supposedly sage perspective of adulthood.

A few comfort foods remain on the playlist: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups top the category, now relegated to a few times a year. (Older you get, the more one reserves empty calories for key occasions, like drinking several beers with buddies.) My wife’s pecan pie with chocolate chips renders me helpless and eager to propose once again. The bread pudding at the Fredonia in Nacogdoches had a similar effect.

I was headed back to Austin the other day from a long weekend in East Texas, having endured an extra couple of days spent being poked and prodded by medical folks, which is an unpleasant part of passing the double-nickel. By the time I hit Corsicana — which, with its recent sewer and waterline construction, has solidified its status as the most annoying small town to traverse in Texas — I was starving. OK, I decided, with boring self-rationalization. I have been a good toad nutritionally, and just received a glowing bill of health. I will indulge in a quick Arby’s roast beef sandwich and fries.

The fast-food world is engaged in a caloric arms race. The chains compete for offering the biggest, baddest, heart-slowing, artery-clogging sandwich possible. One chain offers a slab of fat where two pieces of meat sub for the bread. Several chains now insert fries and onion rings inside the bun as well as offering them as a side. I have often sneered and commiserated with my skinny and nutritionally adept wife about such foolishness.

I sidled up to the counter of Arby’s. A poster advertised a roast beef, mushroom and swiss cheese sandwich. Sounded good and not ultimately lethal. I ordered one with curly fries and unsweet iced tea. I figured I would skip supper in penance.

Turns out I should have examined the poster more closely. I bit into a sandwich into which curly fries had been stuffed between the bun. I managed to eat about half before giving up. I mean, seriously? A side of fries plus fries stuck between two buns and a half-inch of meat, cheese and mushrooms? I felt like jogging back to Austin to shed the calories. OK, not really.

This new trend of stuffing cheeseburgers with onion rings and fries between the buns must stop before people start exploding. At least that’s my take.

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