Raindrops on roses are pretty. But I’m allergic to kittens and their whiskers, my kettle is stainless steel, and I’ve never had a pair of woolen mittens that didn’t make me itch. So Julie Andrew’s character in The Sound of Music, Maria von Trapp, has a Favorite Things list that’s quite different than mine. My list includes reading a murder mystery on a rainy day, sitting by a roaring fire on a below-60-degrees day, and floating in cool clear water on a hot day. Those are a few of my favorite things. But most of my favorite things involve food.
In my Top 20 Favorite Snacks are stale Cheetos and flat Coke.
“When they’re just a little chewy because the bag’s been open for a while,” I explained to my stepdaughter, Zelda, when she was a teenager.
“Exactly,” she agreed.
“And Coke is sweeter when it’s flat.”
“I know, right?” she added.
I was surprised another human shared my affinity for this Snack of Champions.
In college, I’d stay up late studying, which meant I had to eat to stay awake. And since I’m a Sandwich Freak, mustard sandwiches were my indulgence of choice. I don’t know why. It wasn’t like the Depression and we had no meat; Oscar Mayer lived in our fridge. But why taint the lovely yellow condiment? It needs no partner. Every once in a while, I’d switch off and have a Miracle Whip sandwich.
After Flash and I married, the first time my beloved went into the kitchen to make himself a sandwich proved unproductive.
“Where’s the mayo?” he asked, peering into the refrigerator.
“On one of the shelves in the door.”
“I don’t see it,” the blind man replied.
“Flash, it’s right in front of you.”
“I see ketchup, mustard, and Miracle Whip.”
“That’s it. The Miracle Whip.”
“But it’s not mayo; it’s too twangy.”
“Flash, there's no such thing as too much twang. Didn't you grow up using it? ”
“Never. Real mayo only,” he replied.
Being the always accommodating wife, I bought mayonnaise the next time I went grocery shopping. All was well in the condiment department of our marriage, as we went our separate sandwich ways.
Until one day when I had no Miracle Whip in the house. Tapping into survival skills inherited from my ancestors, I did what had to be done. I assembled a sandwich of leftover Thanksgiving turkey and mayo. Feeling the full weight of my sin, I took a bite. It was a little too lemony, but not too bad; of course, everything tastes better when compared to making yet another trip to the store. I finished the sandwich, thinking maybe I’d judged mayo too harshly. Over the years, I've adjusted; I now have ambidextrous taste buds when it comes to mayo versus Miracle Whip. Either will do.
When my son, Cowboy, had reflux, I removed mustard and ketchup from his diet. Instead, I started using mayo on his foods. Life hasn’t been the same since; Cowboy’s now the Mayo King. It’s at the top of his Favorite Things list. According to Cowboy, the cloud-colored condiment goes with everything, including popcorn. It’s been four years since he ate anything without mayo. I buy five jars at a time; with each grocery trip, we observe Cinco de Mayonnaise.
I often wonder what Cowboy visualizes when he hears someone refer to the Mayo Clinic. A beautiful building with a thick, albino river running through the lobby? Instead of lollipops for patients, the staff offers a mayo fondue fountain with every morsel imaginable available to coat with the creamy while substance? If so, Cowboy's probably planning to take a field trip soon.
People come over to our house. Sometimes they come in through the garage. They say, “Hey, I’ve seen people with extra freezers, but why do you have seven refrigerators in your garage?”
I hesitantly open the first fridge, its little light illuminating the incomprehensible. Lined from wall to wall on each shelf is enough mayo to make chicken salad for the entire population of the Texas. The onlookers’ brows furrow as they behold The Problem. Then they look back at me, as if I’m the addict.
“All these refrigerators have mayo?”
My silence says everything.
“It’s Cowboy who’s hooked,” I defend, frantically. “I’m clean and sober.”
Shaking their heads, they give me the it’s-time-to-do-an-intervention look.
“I swear. It’s not me.”
As they turn and walk away, I hear whispered words like “scapegoat,” “denial,” and “12-step program.”
Judge not, lest ye be judged, I think to myself. I know people who eat peanut butter, mayo, and butter sandwiches. Ugh. My arteries clogged the first time I heard about that combo. But the Weirdest Sandwich of All Time is a fluffer-nutter sandwich. I’d never heard of such, until I met Flash.
“A what?” I asked him the first time he mentioned it.
“A fluffer-nutter sandwich.”
“It sounds like something Dr. Seuss came up with.”
“It’s peanut butter and marshmallow cream between two pieces of bread,” he explained.
“Oh, that’s gross. Did you make that up?” I asked.
“No. It’s a real thing. I never liked it, but my brother did.”
“It must be a Jersey thing; I’ve never met a fluffer-nutter eater in Texas.”
Two decades later, I still haven’t tried one. Condiments aside, the best sandwich is any sandwich that Flash makes. He uses all the same ingredients I use, but his sandwiches always taste better.
“Honey,” I often say, as I bat my lashes at him while sitting parked on the couch.
He gives me that I-know-you-were-waiting-for-me-to-get-off-the-couch-so-you-could-place-your-order look.
“Could you do me a favor?” I continue.
“What?” he sighs.
“Could you make me a sandwich?”
“You just came from the kitchen. You can’t make a sandwich?”
“Yes, but it wouldn’t hold a candle to yours.” Flattery gets me what I want.
When I was dating Flash, he taught me how to properly make a sandwich. I thought he was kidding the first time he corrected my spreading.
“What are you talking about, Flash? I put mayo on your sandwich.”
“Here, let me show you,” he instructed, as he pulled apart my creation to reveal the inside of both pieces of bread. “See how the mayo is not spread all the way to the corners?”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I replied.
“No, really. You need to get the mayo all the way to the edges of the bread, all the way around.”
“You’ve been single way too long, Flash.”
The same scenario replayed throughout our budding romance, but I married him anyway. Now, he’s happy any time I make anything for him in the kitchen, even sandwiches with naked corners.
In spite of his love affair with mayo, Cowboy’s not much of a sandwich guy. He’s more of a mix-it-all-up-because-it-all-ends-up-in-the-same-place guy. When he was younger, it was quite the opposite. Rather than serving his meals in separate containers, I bought several Corelle divided plates to keep his food segregated. Now, those dividers are mere speed bumps as Cowboy combines food from all the compartments. When we go out to eat, his plate is his masterpiece. Such as grilled tilapia, two containers of tartar sauce, rice, green beans - all together in a pile on his plate. Any non-fish creations demand heaps of mayo.
I think he started mixing so he could inhale his meals quickly, a mandatory characteristic of teenage boys. In restaurants, he’d finish eating before Flash and I got our food. Finally, we stopped ordering Cowboy’s meals before ordering ours, in spite of his famished state. We coached him, “Put your fork down every once in a while.” But our efforts were futile in the midst of pubescent starvation; Cowboy perfected eating without chewing. I’m sure the true inventor of the Heimlich maneuver was the mother of a teenage male. “Pace yourself, pace yourself,” was my mantra, when he would shovel it in. Now, he’s slowing down considerably, but still mixes for the taste of it.
Well, I thought he was slowing down, until Flash explained to me two weeks ago, “He eats slowly when it’s something he doesn’t like.”
“What do you mean? He eats slowly all the time at home.”
Flash’s look relayed the cold, hard truth: Cowboy still inhales his meals at restaurants. Apparently, his favorite foods are those cooked outside of his home. I’ve decided to store all our home-cooked meals in styrofoam divided containers in the fridge, each labeled with our names, with a half-cup of mayo on top of Cowboy's food. Every night will look like Takeout Night, so maybe he’ll love what I serve.
I’ve had to grow a thick skin as Cowboy’s mom. Even on rare occasions when I cook a new recipe to spice things up, Cowboy will smother it in mayo before he even tastes it. He gets that from his father. Nothing I make is sacred from suffocation by condiments or salad dressing or pickle juice or vinegar. I can’t remember the last time the two of them ate something untainted.
Even Mom got in on the mayo action a few years ago.
“I fixed some ground beef for lunch yesterday. But it needed something. So I added green peas and mayo, like Cowboy’s concoctions. It was pretty good.” I couldn’t believe she’d so easily defected from Miracle Whip to mayo – mayo that was in her fridge, of course, for her grandson’s frequent visits.
For most of my life, I was a purist. Why mess with a good thing? Eat things as they were intended. Steak with steak sauce, if needed. Tartar sauce with fish, because tartar sauce is the only reason to eat fish. But other than that, leave well enough alone. I held my ground for many years.
But then, surrounded by food tainters, I eventually caved. One evening a couple of months ago, I watched Flash and Cowboy eat salsa mixed with mayo. Curiosity, and hunger, got the best of me.
“That’s really good?” I asked, knowing it was a stupid question.
Neither looked up as they scooped their dark pink dip onto chip after chip. I snuck to the kitchen, and mixed some up for myself.
Hmmm, I thought, as I took my first bite. That’s great. It’s creamy, and the salsa is milder. It’s better than pure salsa. I gasped at my thoughts, feeling sorry for the Salsa Maker somewhere in the world who had perfected his recipe. Or so he thought.
I’ve also tried mayo on popcorn. It’s good. And I've used it with baked chicken and ground beef and steak and even as salad dressing. And I would eat it on a plane. And in Spain. And in a box. And with Michael J. Fox. I do like mayo, versatile woman that I am. But some condiment choices remain steadfast. In a two-condiment situation, mayo always goes on the side of the sandwich with cheese; mustard goes on the side with the meat. But if it’s a ham and cheese sandwich, only mayo on both sides will do. And my hot dogs wear only brightly colored condiments.
Having added mayo to my Favorite Condiment List, I’m now an equal opportunity eater; no discrimination here. Except for that spicy brown mustard with horseradish in it. To add that to my list would take a miracle. But, you never know. I’m feeling more adventurous with each passing meal.