Saturday, October 10, 2009

There's One Born Every Minute

One of my husband's most poignant memories happened long, long ago, when he was just a small boy in a hamlet called Hound Green (in Hampshire, England), not too awfully far from Rotherwick (where his mean granny lived). A place then so remote that just for fun that poor little boy would watch for motor cars passing on the main road and when one finally came along, he'd enter it into a little book; name, model, color and any other info he could glean as it whizzed by. You see, he was an occasional car spotter... because the motor car was that rare and he is that old and the train tracks were that far away.

One day he and his sister were frolicking in the fields near their home, probably scrumping for apples or some other rural pursuit, when they heard the unmistakable but faint gurgle of the mobile fish and chip van way on the other side of the common, at least 1/2 a mile away. They had become so engrossed in their play that they'd forgotten the thrupenny bit (three pence old money, pronounced thrupknee bit) they'd been given for this special treat. But upon hearing the greasy thrum thrum of the mobile lard wagon, they screamed "RUN" to each other and took off through the fields, hoping it hadn't been there too long already. Blackberry brambles caught at their bare legs but it bothered them not whit. They were salivating and grinning and already tasting the rare treat of hot chips slathered with salt and malt vinegar from the chippie. "Maybe he'll give us a pickled onion for free," screamed one of them, giggling in excitement. They could smell that unmistakable aroma of glorious hot oil, redolent with a light fish and chip overlay and it was getting stronger and stronger with every stride they took.

But as they were halfway across the common, almost tasting the vinegar-soaked, golden chips, they stopped mid-stride and watched, disbelievingly, as the chippie van lumbered away down the village lane, still too far away for them to catch. And all they were left with was the smell, enticingly strong and constantly reminding them of just what they had missed. That and the hot thrupenny bit clutched safely in my husband's tiny hand. So although the noble chip is hardly a regular part of his diet, his judgment of just what makes a chip good has been long in the making...that and he's an opinionated man about lesser things than the quality of his fried tatties.

And because of this history, I bought these...

So I could do this:

to these:

I don't normally have a pan full of oil on the boil so the exhaust fan was working double-time and you woulda thought Santa had just come down the chimney and offered us his first-born elf...the level of excitement was that high in our kitchen and it was all because we were fryin', deep fryin', baby!

And why were we deep frying? Well, it had something to do with the mitts that I'd bought at TJ Maxx that afternoon. I'd never really thought of myself as someone P.T. Barnum would look upon as an easy touch…a sucker, but c'mon, look at them! I couldn’t help it. I looked at the box, the price, the end product and I was hooked. Completely. They're Tater Mitts! Yah, tater mitts, quick peeling potato gloves in case you've never heard of them before and they were advertised on TV, too! Yes, as seen on TV and I have no doubt that if I'd seen them on the telly I no doubt would have bought them (and paid shipping costs) long before they were sequestered to some dusty shelf at TJ Maxx. I wasn't really looking for Tater Mitts when I went to the Maxx, but when I saw that box on the sale shelf I couldn't help but snatch them up quickly, devouring every word.

Peels a Potato in 8 Seconds! (screamed the box)

"Ohmygod, I must have thought (my memory is a little clouded). That's amazing."

I looked at the picture, Gloves that looked a little like my Mrs. Mop gloves but covered in hard blue bits. I read further. And what I read must have convinced me. They're easy to use, comfortable and safe (I won't cut myself, yay) and, ohmygod, there's a free bonus gift...a chip cutter. So now, only the second or third time in my 40 years of marriage that I'd actually cooked chips, I could cut them evenly. Praise Jebus.

So, they came home with me and he laughed a bit (maybe at me, not sure) and then stopped and started reading the box intently. I didn't really plan on cooking chips that first night. My intent was just to zip peel a few tatties for that dinner, throw them in the steamer with some mint and boom, done. It was Roger, the chip connaisseur, who started rooting around in the pantry for the right oil.

"It needs to tolerate high temperatures," he muttered as he peered into the back of the liquor cabinet, which is where I store tall bottles of anything that won't fit in the slidey drawer next to the stove.

"Oh look, one size fits all!" I said, anticipating him spending many happy minutes shredding the skin off with OUR new Tater Mitts.

Blue lava-like chips of something that I think would be dangerous to eat are embedded into the rubber of the glove, more or less semi-permanently. They're rough and tough and can peel spuds, maybe a few seconds more quickly than I can conventionally peel them but they only really work well if you keep the water running while you do the job. Just like the picture on the box! CLUE! So using these things when you live in a Canyon where water's at a premium and you pay over $300 a month in conservation mode just makes no sense.

But use them we did. And I'd sort of forgotten about them until last night when Roger was looking for something (liquory) in the liquor cupboard and he muttered, "What's this?"

We half-smiled as he shoved them back in the cupboard, both no doubt thinking, "I'll toss those out when the other isn't watching." But, and here's a confession, those fresh chips were so good that I'm secretly envious of folks who casually keep their electric chip makers on the countertop (Roger's uncle and aunt in Wales) in their own kitchen, confident enough to not worry about what anyone thinks.

But we live in Southern California and it's common knowledge that deep frying for your own personal consumption, while not exactly a crime, is most certainly a misdemeanor.


Blogger Betsy Milligan said...

Worth waiting for madame! What a great story ---about himself as a wee lad and the two of you now. Married forty one years and obviously made for each other.

I had a friend who had a deep fryer and made her own. I was indeed horrified. xxx B

7:52 PM  
Blogger LBJon said...

We happen to have a deep fryer out in the open on our kitchen counter. Of course, that is in British Columbia, and it belongs to Soren, son of the people who used to own our house. Soren stayed with us and our boys all summer and made countless fries for everyone, including all the neighborhood kids, home from college. They would congregate at our house for Rock Band, beer and fresh chips. It was pretty fab, and therefore I will not apologize for it -- even as I know it is wrong.

8:54 PM  
Blogger Vicus Scurra said...

You see, your friends are not as judgmental as you feared. We can take the details of your sordid secrets without so much as a blink.

12:48 AM  
Blogger juana said...

I love this story!!! So evocative.. I could just picture the rural field full of blackberry brambles and the little legs tearing through the long grass to get to the much anticipated fish and chip truck! And then the segue into the story of the potato gloves from TJ Maxx! I love it! More stories please!

8:55 PM  
Blogger sweatpantsmom said...

First of all - a MOBILE FISH N CHIPS VAN? Why, oh, why can't we have one of those around here instead of those ice cream trucks that lurk on every school corner?

And I'm loving the idea of the mitts since I'm on mashed potato duty every Thanksgiving and peeling eight pounds of potatoes (for thirty people) gets a little tiresome. Am I going to have to go digging around the back shelves of TJ Maxx?

1:08 AM  
Blogger Lin said...

Thanks, all! And Marsha, if you wanna borrow the gloves for T'giving, you know where they are. Or we could meet for sushi in the Valley for the handover.

6:51 AM  
Anonymous Viellefemme said...

I confess I love french fries and that I never make them because: I do not own (and never will) a deep fryer. For 2 reasons: 1)a husband with a heart condition does not need all that fat; 2) what do you do with the used oil? Is it safe to put in the compost pile? I think not. So on the rare occasions we dine at really upscale places and husband has steak frites, I steal a few, especially the truffle ones!

Funny how the things we remember from childhood are so often the disappointments. I felt badly for him and his sister just reading the story.

8:45 AM  
Blogger elaine said...

I can only picture the wee lad with a moustache and goatee. One of the hurdles for the more recent friend, but makes for an amusing story.

But now it's 6:00 and I'm getting why is it I've never ever made french fries? Well, I guess because in New England we only baked, boiled, and mashed everything. Sorry, no such thing as "Puritan fries" at least not in my mother's household.

Hmmmmm, time to think outside the box and be daring. I could try it! Why not? But, I thought frying things, and having them come out well, was pretty close to an artform. Please advise.

6:12 PM  

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