2010.06.23 There might be better food out back

Written by David Green.

By COLLEEN LEDDY

I called my sister Linda around dinner time the other day and before long, she had to hang up. She was going out to dinner with friends and was getting ready to leave.

“Oh, where are you going?” I asked.

I am jealous of my sister. She lives in Brooklyn, works in Manhattan—mid-Manhattan surrounded by a huge variety of restaurants and street vendors. She lives within walking distance of lots of great restaurants, bakeries, delis, fruit and vegetable stands, and a grocery store  chockful of ethnic foods.

I was in the middle of making sloppy lentils, a lowly meal I invented during my college days, the summer I worked on Mackinac Island and lived alone in a tiny little bare-bones cabin in Mackinaw City.

I was poor and didn’t own a car and the nearest grocery store was a wasteland in the food department—expensive fruits and vegetables that looked anemic and shriveled, no kind of bread but white, no kind of rice but white, packaged processed food of every kind imaginable. I used to want to cry when I went in there and couldn’t afford what I could find and couldn’t find what I wanted.

I must have brought the lentils with me, because I can’t imagine I would have found them in that pitiful grocery store.  Out of a yen for something tasty and substantial I created the sloppy lentils.

Sloppy lentils is pretty much a condiment meal—lots of vinegar and ketchup added to fried chopped onions (and chopped green peppers and mushrooms on good days) and cooked lentils mashed together.  Served on a toasted onion roll, it’s actually pretty divine.

But when I was talking to Linda, I was going to be serving it on old and about-to-go-moldy cheese bread. I pictured her headed for the Italian restaurant in her old neighborhood, the one that serves the best chicken Parmigiana—well, the best everything. I wanted to live vicariously and was eager to hear her destination.

“We’re going to Outback,” she said.

“Outback?!” I was shocked.

“How the heck can you go to Outback? I’m outraged!” I said feigning indignation—but I really was incredulous.

“Well, that’s where they all want to go,“ she said, laughing. “If I had my choice, I’d stay home and grill steaks in the back yard.”

“But, Outback?! You have so many ethnic restaurants to choose from, so many local restaurants. We have Outback out here. Outback is nothing special. You must have some kind of local steakhouse,” I said.

“Why would they want to go to Outback? I asked, continuing my harangue. Why not that Italian place we went to when we were last there?”

“Oh, La Casa Bella? We’ll probably go there tomorrow,” she said.

I think she just wanted to shut me up and get me off the phone.

“You’ll never believe this,” I told David when he got home. “I asked Linda where she was going for dinner and she said Outback.”

“That sounds like a good idea,” he said.

“But she has all those restaurants to choose from and she’s going to Outback,” I retorted. “What do you know about Outback, anyway?” I asked. “You’ve never been there, have you?”

He stopped on his way down the stairs to the basement.

“I thought you meant she wanted to go out back to her backyard and have a barbecue,” he said.

“That’s exactly what she wanted to do, but everybody else wanted to go to the Outback restaurant,” I said.

“Oh, it’s a restaurant?”

This is why I need to live vicariously. If David had his druthers, he’d never eat out. He always maintains that anything we make at home will taste better than anything we have to pay for in a restaurant. It’s almost as if food doesn’t taste good if it costs more than a $3 felafel sandwich. It’s painful for him to pay $8.95 for Aloo Gobi when he’d rather we save every penny so he can buy what he calls a more contemporary camera for the Observer.

I suppose he could take lots of photos of food...I could try to live vicariously off of that...especially if we had to go to lots of restaurants and sample the food before he took the photos.

Hmm, a new camera is sounding like a good idea....

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