Monday, October 12, 2009

Sauce me dang it !!!

Somewhere deep in my brain is burned an image of an egg roll from The Mandarin Chinese restaurant on Reading Road in Cincinnati,Ohio.Before I learned how to speak or walk in 1960/61 I had sampled the cuisine of far off Asia right in North Avondale my home "hood".
But the reason egg rolls are stamped in my psyche are because on one such occasion before me and my attentive Mom sat a dish of hot mustard that my parents would mix with the sweet duck sauce to give the rolls the "heat with the sweet" flavor so popular with today's chefs. I screamed and wailed at my Mom and kept pointing at the Yellow pungent sauce. I was relentless in my infantile efforts to savor the concoction that looked like some sort of succulent pudding in my young innocent eyes.
At this point Mom could have gone in a few directions with my boorish behavior.She could have moved the sauce away from me,moved me away from the sauce,handed the sauce to the waiter to get it off the table.Mom went in a fourth direction.
Look I think that it was safe to assume that after a rather long day of mothering 3 young kids Mom deserved a cocktail or five. Especially those fruity kinds that are on the menu with bright pictures of each one and little pink umbrellas and plastic palm trees or pelicans floating in them.Maybe a chunk of pineapple or some shaved coconut.As I sit here writing this I am being transported to the beach in the Bahamas for a Pina Colada with a float of 151 rum on top or Caribe Coconut rum.
................Reggae interlude................. swaying palms,........... a dang coconut just hit me in my head.............Okay back to the story.
Mom handed me the spoon filled with the MUSTARD! I screamed and wailed as my sister Jeanne described it to me recently as ,"Strong enough to shake the Great Wall of China ".
I got some water and maybe even a bit of sweet sauce to deaden the painful burning sensation that had taken over my infant mouth.The meal went on as usual.I think my Dave who was watching the mayhem asked my mom if he could get a drag off her cigarette and was cashing in on her being  slightly  stressed   from my screaming and a few cocktails .Mom relented big bro puffed and luckily Family Services did not come into the home to investigate.My brother and I survived.He never smoked another cigarette in his life and went on to become a cardiologist and played tennis for Georgetown University.He also ran in 3 or 4 Boston Marathons.My sister after seeing me in such pain went on to become a Nurse Practitioner. Two professional healers in my family.
Oh well I never had a healing calling .I did however become obsessed with all things at 5 alarm chili heat level.The more spicier the more attractive.At 12 my brother took me to a taco shop for my birthday.I ordered one with the hottest hot sauce on the menu.On the first bite I knew the habaneros had won but after drowning my tongue in Pepsi I finished the hell hot taco and never looked back. Over the years I have become somewhat of "foodie" specialist of hot sauces.For our wedding my friend Dan Katz gave us 30 hot sauces that he schlepped from New Orleans to New York City . Best gift ever .......for me.Dan had of course witnessed me once guzzle an entire bottle of Tabasco sauce at Chili Time Restaurant in Cincinnati after a night out with the boys.Hot sauce really has a use in almost every meal.I keep a bottle on the table in our kitchen.Plus a jar of chipotle powder.Every once in a while my wife moves it back into the cabinet where it does not belong.
It may seem trivial to be writing about a condiment.
Passionate love affair is a word that I don't easily use to describe most anything so work with me here people.When I travel around the USA or overseas I make it a point to always visit a food market on the first day to familiarize myself with whatever different foods and beverages are consumed in that locale.
Blah blah beer,wine,snacks and hot sauce .My wife went on a business trip a few years back to Mall of the America in Minnesota.They had a hot sauce shop. She approached one of the clerks and asked which was the spiciest hot sauce for sale.
The clerk reached for the key to a cage where under lock and key the hottest of all hotties was locked up to protect the innocent amateur hot sauce shoppers/tourists from casually strolling in to gander at the cute short thick bottle with the nuclear bomb caution label.
The clerk warned her to use it sparingly.He mentioned that a man had died from ingesting a spoonful of the potion which contained an infusion of habanero peppers.They basically strain out all the ingredients except the oily essence of habanero peppers."Use a toothpick",he suggested.
Recounting this advice to me my wife truly seemed concerned for my physical safety.So I went into the cabinet and retrieved a toothpick.
I slowly dipped the toothpick into the bottle and pulled it carefully out of the bottle and towards my mouth.I had even placed a beer as a chaser next to me in case the heat was too great for even my mouth to endure. As soon a the tip of the toothpick hit my tongue it felt as if
Mount Haleakala had just erupted in my mouth.Wanting to be a man I would not really let on that I was in pain.I took a sip of beer and did not swallow.The beer inside my mouth would help put out my tongue.It wasn't working! Maybe a Chinese fire brigade would have done a better job? Peanut Butter,Ice cream,Milk,Yogurt all would have worked better but I am a man so a beer is a bit more macho.Tequila or Whiskey even more so. In my head I was screaming for my Mommy. The same Mommy that many years before had handed me the spoon of hot Mustard and sent me down this long,dark path to capsaicin Hades.
Had I not learned at the tender age of zero not to play with fire? Apparently not!
I am sure when I told this tale to my Mom that she delighted in being the one to introduce me to
all things spicy.
A few years back I went looking for that bottle and could not locate it anywhere in our home.
I can only imagine some unsuspecting friend or family member without the benefit of a lock and key pouring Da'Bomb on a Taco or some other culinary delight.
My daughter has recently become enamored with my Chipotle sauces and I feel somewhat proud that a Red Hot Chili Pepper torch has been passed to a new generation of Weiland's.
As I reach over to pour some heat on my food I take a bite and a tear comes to my eye.
Is it the nostalgia of seeing my daughter follow in my footsteps (food cravings) or is it because this particular Habanero is burning my mouth,nasal cavities and eyes .
A bit of both I guess .