Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Hope Springs Eternal

By way of introduction

This is not my first attempt at a web site. I had one, for a while, about a year ago. I had registered the domain name and downloaded some free software for setting it up. People had told me that it was so easy to use that even I couldn't [redacted] it up. They were wrong. After a month or so of successful posting (where success is defined very loosely), I got a voicemail message on my cellphone from my hosting company informing me that I would have to remove the forward slashes from in front of something in my URLs. Or else that I needed to perform a human sacrifice, I'm still not sure. In any case, I had imposed upon the incredible generosity of my OKB (online knowledge base) enough times in just getting the incredibly simple software to work that I was unwilling to do it again when removing the slashes didn't work. (I figured that if I couldn't remove slashes properly, I'd almost certainly not be able to get the human sacrifice thing right, so it might work for some people, but one suspects that we will never know.)

Anyway. About the time the original site failed, tax season hit, and it just seemed easier to give up. And then I lost that job, moved in with my partner, got another job, had another busy season, you get the idea. But these things have a way of passing, and though I still have (and even like) the new job, busy season is over, and my partner is in Sarajevo doing some consulting for a few weeks (don't get me started) , and I have an urge to blather that simply will not be suppressed. Unless I can't get this site to work, either, in which case I'll just read more. Or something.

Things that cannot be tolerated

It is, gentle reader, in my nature to be relatively unconcerned about things that bother most people but to seethe and bristle at that which most people find harmless or even beneficial. But these things are not harmless and they are certainly not beneficial. They tear at the very fabric of our selves and our society in ways that are not immediately apparent but are ultimately devastating.

There are, naturally, many such atrocities loose in the world today, and, given the continued opportunity to blather, I will doubtless discuss many of them. It is difficult to know where to begin, but even a journey of a thousand woes must begin with a single whinge, and I can think of no better place to start than with Caesar salad.

More precisely, with the unspeakable horror that passes for Caesar salad dressing in most restaurants. Because, as you will no doubt have noticed, the Caesar salad has achieved a level of ubiquity that most pop stars cannot help but envy. I work in Bethesda, a not very large city that borders our nation's capital, and which has the largest number of restaurants in the smallest area of any place in Maryland, and I can tell you that it is impossible to swing a dead cat in Bethesda without hitting a Caesar salad. (Do not ask whether I have tested this assertion unless you are prepared to know the answer, and trust me: you are not prepared.) And these salads are like pop stars in their homogeneity as much as in their ubiquity. Somewhere in St. Louis, there must be a giant factory that plops out vat after vat of something that its makers call, without apparent irony, Caesar salad dressing.

I am not, patient reader, calling for a return to the day when all Caesar salads were assembled at the diner's table by a skilled server (ok, I would be calling for such a return, but there are windmills at which even I will not bother to tilt). I am no great friend of salmonella, and I do not insist upon a freshly coddled egg. What I do insist upon is the omission of anchovies. Ah, yes, I can hear the collective gasp of my imagined audience. You are thinking that Caesar salad without anchovies is not Caesar salad at all. But you are (and I hesitate to say it) wrong. You have been misled. I cannot say who is responsible for having perpetrated this fraud upon you, but someone (or, more probably, some group of people) has foisted upon an unsuspecting populace the notion that anchovies (and I hasten to add that I am, generally, pro-anchovy; I would not make puttanesca without them) belong in Caesar salad.

Caesar himself (the Caesar salad was created by Caesar Cardini, a restaurant owner in Tijuana in the early part of the twentieth century) did not put anchovies in his salad. I know this because Julia Child told me so. To be precise, she told her television audience, of which I was often a part back when the alternative was to go to class. In fact, in a show that she did with Jacques Pepin, M. Pepin attempted to put some anchovy fillets in the Caesar salad that he and Mme. Child were preparing, and she stopped him, politely but forcefully. M. Pepin, upon tasting the finished product, admitted that her (and Caesar's) way was better. (And, of course, how could it not be? The woman was infallible. We really must get her canonized.)

I am no slave to authenticity, but the fishy taste that pervades too many of our Caesar salads has simply got to go. What you are meant to be tasting is the garlic and the egg and the parmesan cheese all gently caressing some wonderfully fresh romaine.

Sadly, if you want to get that, you're going to have to make it yourself. Whether you get your Caesar salad at a restaurant or from one of those bags at the supermarket, you're getting anchovies. And probably not, let's admit it, the best possible anchovies. Those people in St. Louis are probably dumping huge cans of sub-par anchovy paste into their vats. This is the most ignoble use imaginable for the noble anchovy. One only hopes that they go to their deaths not knowing whither they are headed.