PAgent’s Progress

Words Are My Favorite Toys

September 30th, 2006


The woman who cooked for me when I was growing up was raised in Oklahoma. This by itself explains a great deal of how I turned out the way I did, but considering only one characteristic in particular it surely explains my love for cream gravy.

Cream gravy was a standard component of the cuisine of our household. We had it with pork chops and fried potatoes. We had sausage gravy poured over buttermilk biscuits. We had cream gravy with ground beef on bread for an economical dinner. And we had it with sliced dried salted beef on toast. It is not an accident that I love cream gravy. It is an embodiment of home and hearth. It is comfort food at its finest.

So when I was a young man, and realized that a large chunk of the population referred to creamed chipped beef on toast as “S.O.S.”, or “Shit on a Shingle”, I was shocked. I could rationalize that this was surely caused by the treatment of the dish by military commissaries, because industrial cooking can ruin anything, but still…S.O.S.? My beloved cream gravy? Compared to crap?

After all, I still crave it once in a while. My wife is very fond of sausage gravy, so on special occasions I’ll make biscuits and a tureen of sausage gravy for breakfast and we’ll indulge. But I rarely make creamed chipped beef.

The October 2006 issue of Saveur magazine, my favorite cooking periodical, included a recipe for S.O.S. Seeing the recipe, and the full color picture of a plate of creamed chipped beef that went with it, I was struck with a craving I could not deny. I waited until my wife and daughter were going to be out of the house for dinner, and went shopping.

I purchased a jar of dried beef, a quart of 3.8% milk (I don’t care what anyone says - you CANNOT make decent gravy with skim milk), and a loaf of (gasp) white bread. It was from a local artisanal bakery, but it was still white bread. Mea Culpa.

The Saveur recipe is adapted from the 1945 Manual for Navy Cooks, and I cut the amount in half for my own use. It differs from the way Mom used to fix it, in that you stir a paste of flour and oil into hot milk, rather than starting with a roux. This gives it a lighter flavor, a whiter color, and (dare I say it) a more glue-like consistency. “Sticks to your ribs” is more than colorful hyperbole in this case.

While my son ate a hot dog, I prepared a saucepan full of creamy beefy goodness. When it was as thick as mud, I ladled it onto hot toast slices and tucked in.

Bliss. There’s nothing quite like the food of your childhood.

September 30th, 2006

An Open Letter from Crazy Biker Chick

Since I’ve been posting occasionally on my experiences as a cyclist trying to share the road with motorists, I’ve had some fascinating feedback from friends of mine. While my fellow cyclists nod wisely and confirm that they have had a similar experience with angry drivers, non-cyclists tend to look at me dubiously, convinced that I am exxagerating the amount of vitriol that gets directed my way.

Well, I’m really not. And my experiences are based on a history of road riding that goes back to the early eighties. If anything, considering the volume of car traffic I now experience in the city, the average driver is probably more considerate in Portland than in the more rural areas I used to ride in. It may be a cliche, but rednecks in pickup trucks really are some of the worst offenders.

But I continue to be amazed at otherwise reasonable people who sincerely believe that bikes should not be on the streets. I went out for coffee with one of my coworkers the other afternoon, and he made it very clear that he thinks bikes have no place on the road with cars. It’s too dangerous, bikes don’t obey the law, they’re unsafe because cyclists get tired when they ride (apparently impairing their reaction time), and because bicycles don’t pay for the roads and so have no right to use them.

I didn’t bother arguing with him. This is someone who would zealously argue that the government has no right to limit what he does on his own property. Nonetheless, he is arguing that the same government should be able to prevent me from riding my bike on public roads. Frankly, once someone tells you that you shouldn’t be riding on the street because you haven’t paid for it, I think reasonable discussion is over. He, too, believes I wildly exxagerate the hostility faced by cyclists.

Crazy Biker Chick, a cyclist and blogger in Toronto, has written a very thoughtul Open Letter to Motorists Who Dislike Cyclists. I urge you to go read it. Much of what she writes resonates clearly with my own experiences.

In particular, she writes about the well-meaning motorist who does something dangerous in an effort to be kind to a cyclist:

I appreciate your kind attempts to let me have the right-of-way when it is not mine. Being on a bicycle its hard losing your momentum again and again at every stop sign. But most of the time its easier if you just go. If you stop to let me cross mid block the car behind you might get surprised and rear-end you.

This has been driving me crazy lately. It’s hard to get too angry, because these drivers mean well, but honestly, you aren’t doing me any favors by stopping in the middle of traffic, and waving me in. Chances are, you are putting yourself at risk by doing it, not to mention putting ME at risk at the same time. My safety depends on my riding predictably, and what you are doing is the precise diametric opposite of predictable. Plus, a lot of the time some well-meaning driver has stopped and is waving me into another lane where traffic isn’t stopping. In that case, I’m not going to go, no matter how vigorously you wave me over.

Anyway, go read Crazy Biker Chick’s letter. She does a better job of stating the case than I could have.