Chowder Choices

On my way home from last week's writing class, being very hungry, I stopped for a long-delayed lunch. Before I could open my menu, the young waitress informed me that the daily special was "a free Brownie with the full dinners" and that the soup du jour was a choice of "New England or Manhattan Clam Chowder". I guess it just wasn't my day, since I don't particularly enjoy Brownies, and I especially dislike clams.

Still, as I sipped my coffee, I could not help wondering about the proffered clam chowders. I just could not decide whether the NECC was the one that looked like tomato soup. Or was that the one called "Manhattan"? Mildly obsessed with this theoretical dilemma, I resisted inquiring since I would not be ordering either one.

I also recalled that those who do partake often complain that clams in "Clam Chowder" tend to be about as scarce as the chicken in many so-called "Chicken Soups", the carne in some chilis, or the presence of actual berries or beans in ice creams named "Strawberry" or "Vanilla".

Clearly, it is the chowder itself that matters, not the alleged clams. Or, if the clams are not as rare as rumored, then perhaps restaurants should offer "Virgin" or "Mock" or "Decaf" ones in the same varieties, so that molluscophobes like myself may partake and compare them. I mused about the possibilities, and the marvelous diversity that might ensue.

As I refilled my coffee cup, it occured to me that Muslims have the same prohibition.

It was exciting to imagine pushing the envelope far beyond New England and Manhattan, and extending today's boring "Red or White?" options into a veritable Clam Chowder rainbow:

Some colorful candidates exist already:

Chinese cooking offers infinite possibilities:

With non-clam-eaters enlarging the market, competition would naturally create even more varieties for all to sample:

I'd better stop, now. The waitress just arrived with my food, bringing my fanciful journey to an end. Yet, as I bite into my Bacon Cheeseburger, it occurs to me that "Wisconsin Clam Chowder" might be equivalent to Fondue.

Later, while I sat enjoying the plentiful Pistacios and Pecans in my "Happy Ending" sundae, the waitress noticed my notes and protested proudly to the effect that Friendly's' Clam Chowder was always chock full of clams. I was glad to take her word for it, politely declining the offer to verify it for myself, gratis.

Not that it mattered one way or the other to me whether initial my clam-density premise was true in that particular establishment. I was, however, greatly relieved when she assured me that the Friendly's chain has a strict policy against adding those disagreeble bivalves to their ice cream sundaes.

Copyright by B. A. Martin/ABCD unlimited. All rights reserved!
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1.) This was written, more or less as a "challenge" exercise.

I usually wait until an "inspiration" hits me, then grab some paper and jot the thoughts down. However, this time I sat down deliberately to create an essay, with no particular theme or idea in mind. No satisfactory topics came to mind at first, so the notions came out of my surroundings instead.

2.) Altho I didn't have this in mind when starting, this silly little excursion has much in common with a long-term curiosity I've had about the ability of words to substitute for sensory data, such as sound, or smell, or taste, or touch.

Every writer or reader knows that both prose and poetry may create images and pictures, as well as convey ideas. However, it is much less clear whether or not mere words can cause a reader (or listener) to believe 'e is actually hearing, chewing, sniffing, or touching whatever the writer is describing.

The next item takes this pursuit a bit further.

Just as selected musical notes can be combined to produce harmony or discord, words too can be combined to produce sensations that are pleasurable or painful.

Good menus are crafted to cause the diner to savor each concoction and begin salivating for it, via an enticing description that retrieves fond memories and/or sparks the imagination. It is well-known that the "sizzle sells the steak" (and I suspect that the more-successful steakhouses secretly purchase sizzle machines wafting aromas into the the atmosphere in order to lead customers by the nose into their establishments). So, too can the syntax stimulate the semantics and lure the hungry into dipping deeper into their wallets, to afford the higher-priced specials, by creating a craving with words.

Clearly, words can describe exquisite tastes and combinations, real or imagined, just as musical notes and instruments can create a pleasurable symphony. On the other hand, the same items and methods might be used, (either deliberately or inadvertantly) to create disord, disharmony, and distress in the listener.

In music, squeaky violins are notoriously discomforting, certain combination of discordant tones can be even worse. If words can also create pleasurable sensations - such as taste of eminently-palatable food - can they also produce the opposite?

Many years ago, my friend Jeff enjoyed assaulting the ears of everyone he could find with verbal descriptions of dishes that sounded plausible at first, but which evoked responses ranging from upturned noses to near retching -- once the listener began to imagine what the described combination would be like.

The above are Jeff's verbal creations, which stimulated my life-long pursuit of crafting a collection of equally-disgusting imaginary culinary combinations.

That is a sampling of my collection, which I am still in the process of assembling. I am beginning to see some patterns, and hope to someday be able to enumerate the underlying principles that govern the creation of disgusting recipies. For now, it is stilll an "observational science", with largely random experimentation.

Jeff also claimed that it is impossible to find an ingredient that cannot be used with eggs. (He delivered this pontification while we ate at a place whose menue offered over a hundred different omlettes, with ingredients ranging from jellies to anchovies and from tapioca to melons.) Try as I might, I have never been able to find a counterexample to disprove Jeff's theorem.

Notwithstanding the above, it is also possible that a hideous-sounding combination of ingredients may turn out to be surprisingly good. Such was the case, several years ago, when I sampled a dish labelled "Strawberries Berlin" at my favorite restaurant. I questioned the ingredient in question, and was assured it was not a typo; skeptical but intrigued, I ordered the dish anyhow. The dish was prepared tableside. Had I not watched the Maitre D' grind it and sprinkle it liberally into the simmering cream, I would never have believed that it was black pepper that highlighted the raspy taste of the strawberries. It was indeed delicous.

That experience led me to believe that the science linking the two aspects of the tongue -- speech and taste -- is still in its infancy!

P.S. Today, on the radio, I heard an advertisement by Mario Perillo & Son, the company that arranges vacations to Italy and now to Hawaii. When asked, the son described the nice girl he had met in Hawaii. The father was quite please until he describe her favorite recipie: "Pineapple Pasta". Mario's reaction reminded me of the above concoctions, so I wrote them down.