Saturday, December 25, 2010

Creamed Tuna on Toast

  Although you would heft the can of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup several times, not trusting yourself to go so far as reading the ingredients listed in such small type, you would, at length, toss the can into the shopping cart because it would have made the cut.  No question about the peas; those would be frozen as opposed to canned.  You'd have already selected the bread which would be some multi-grain.  You probably have not purchased nor used market white breads for decades, any so-called white bread being a sour dough or a ficelle these days.  Nor would you think to butter whatever bread you'll have used preparing what has for you become the dish you have in mind, the Holy Grail as it were of Comfort Food, which was not presented to you as comfort food in the first place.  The dish in question is creamed (thus the Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup) tuna (Chick of the Sea, when it could be afforded) on toast (which then meant Wonder bread (because of your sister's brand loyalty to a soap opera called Our Gal Sunday) of Langendorf (because of your belief that even though there was no "real" Captain Midnight, the actor who portrayed him surely insisted on Langendorf sliced white).  Going through your library of spices and herbs, you could probably find a fresh bottle of ground pepper, which your mother also saw fit to sprinkle over the completed dish.

Your mother, who was a superb cook, and whose skills reached legendary heights among her associates when it came to any baked goods with the exception of pies, was going more for nutrition and filled tummy when she served forth creamed tuna on toast, reminding you with a wry smile that if the matter were weighted toward economy, the dish served would be Kraft Dinner, an unholy arrangement of macaroni and cheese which, as the financial tide turned, your mother countered with a holy macaroni and cheese which broadcast small, piquant tomatoes among the noodles and the tangy sharpness of a serious Tillamook or other, non-Oregon cheddar.

To be sure, you have other, more sophisticated comfort foods whose roots clump about the plumbing of your youth, but the top of the pyramid is creamed tuna on toast, a position it achieved because of your own taste and preferences, which are, after all, the purpose of this investigation.

You might, under possible circumstances, prepare and serve creamed tuna on toast to some of your friends, possibly going to the point of securing for the "bread" over which the concoction is to be spooned the brioche baked at Renaud's, the significant French bakery in town, slicing the eggy,  yeasty muffin in cross-sections an inch or inch-and-a-half thick, but this proposition only adds to your intended thrust here.

Taste--your preferences, your judgement of what in all things works and what does not--came to you a day, week, year, month at a time in a youth where you took in and judged the tastes of adults as the standard by which things stood or fell.  In the simple exchange of you having friends eager to stay for meals when you were young and your own experiences being invited to stay at the tables of the parents of your friends, you had a fitting set of standards by which to judge the power of your mother's tastes in preparing food and, to this day, feel her influence when you reach for a particular product at a market.  Would Annie give this a thumbs up?  Or would she consign it to that undemocratic waste bin of "other?"

Taste in music came next because you so frequently hid in the room next to the one in which your sister was given piano lessons, your "ear" on the proceedings the heating vent serving both rooms.  You dearly, deeply, even with reverence love your sister, but she was, you came to understand, no musician, in large measure because she resisted practice, and because when asked which pieces she wished to engage next, her choices did not reflect the curiosity of exploding discovery but rather related to things her friends were "studying," things you were likely to hear at recital programs of junior high school bands rather than developing musicians.  It was no easy thing, seeing this disconnect between you and a person you cared for at such depth; to think it through, to essay it as it were, you had to deal with your own potential for dealing with music.  Was this something for you to "do" as in work at, or "appreciate" as in love for the experience? At the least, this could put you back on track with your sister, allowing you to argue and discuss openly with her, whereby you might actually learn things from her here as you had elsewhere.

This last is important because it was your sister who led you to the library on Mullen Street, just off Olympic Boulevard, helping you secure your first library card.  It was your sister who loaned you her bus pass and gave you detailed instructions how to find the downtown library in Providence, Rhode Island, therein to secure a library card.

Taste comes from preference, need, opportunity, and accident.  Why should we hire you as an editor?  a number of publishers asked you, to which you replied first and foremost "Because I have good taste."  When you were asked to back this up, you ultimately learned they were talking not about whom you read and why but what kind of profit/loss statement you brought to the table relative to the titles you'd contracted or urged the contracting of.  Thomas Mann and Willa Cather and James Joyce were as pawns in the larger chess game of which emerging writers typified these emerged writers.

Taste obtains not only at your favorite bistro, Via Maestra, but as well at a Subway Sandwich Shop or Quiznos.  Taste guides your hand when you reach for a book at the local independent bookstore or reach over yet another; it is given a sharp elbow when you find yourself disliking something that has achieved wide respect among individuals you have come--by taste--to admire, making you wonder what you have missed.  Taste is what drives you into a paroxysm of fury when someone challenges your assertion of the genuine worth of something.

Taste defines you, motivates you, captivates you, dances with you, makes great fun of you, whispers into your ear the kinds of reassurances you crave when you think to prepare creamed tuna on toast.

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