You must admit that popcorn is one of the great miracles of life.
Scientists know all this absurdly complex stuff about the structure of matter, right down to subatomic particles, but no one has any idea how popcorn works. If anything, a dried kernel of corn, when tossed into a boiling pot of oil, should just burn up or, at best, explode into something you have to scrape off the ceiling.
There's simply no rational explanation for how it turns into those neat little puffs of food that are unlike anything else.
I think God made popcorn when he was either very drunk or absolutely bored out of his mind. It's really one of his best jokes.
So why do I bring this up?
Well, Carol Anne has asked us to write something about food and this is the best I could do. You don't want to hear me sermonizing about sauces, semolina, and saucisses, do you? I don't know the difference between a s and a sous-chef.
It's much better that I stick with something that I know - or that I used to know.
I was munching on some microwave popcorn last week and stopped in mid-bowl (and with popcorn, you know how hard it is to stop in mid-bowl). What the heck was this yucky stuff I was shoveling down, I thought. The crud tasted so much of chemicals that I started thinking back to the halcyon days of my youth when I was actually pretty darned good at making real popcorn.
If you think about it, the sad state of popcorn today is really emblematic of everything that is wrong with us. It is said we don't make anything in this country, anymore. Well, we certainly don't make popcorn. When did it become too hard to measure out some kernels, put some honest to goodness vegetable oil in a pot, set the flame properly, choose some seasonings, and get busy?
Must everything come pre-measured, pre-packaged, sealed in cellophane, drowning in diacetyl artificial butter flavoring, and laced with tocopherols (whatever the heck tocopherols are)?
Are we no longer masters of our own destinies? Can we not pop our own corn?
I marched myself over to the market (well, OK, I drove there), picked up some popping corn (they had only two kinds on the shelf, next to the 342 kinds of microwave popcorn), and vowed that I would start saving America right then and there, one kernel at a time.
Back home, I measured.
I waited for my three test kernels.
I spread to the critical one-kernel depth.
I moderated the flame to perfection.
And dammit, I popped!
And, perhaps most important of all, I removed from heat at just the critical moment. No burned and pungent embarrassment for me, thank you.
I may now proudly report that I am once again master of my own kernels!
But what about you? Are you a slave to that wimpy, oily bag of pre-packaged mediocrity? Are you content to let the heirs of someone named Orville call the shots for you from their power base somewhere in Nebraska?
Throw off your chains! Take charge of your life and season to taste!
And please, if you know where I can find that spicy, yellow-colored popcorn seasoning I used to get when I was a kid, tell me, please.
That's still driving me nuts.