Saturday, June 10, 2006

Chapel Hill chow

When I visit the South, I have certain expectations about food: I'll have that deep-fried, Mister, with an extra pat of butter and some bacon, please.

So when I finally wandered down the red-painted stairs of the Carolina Inn and out into the eye-blinkingly bright North Carolina early afternoon sunshine, my thoughts were on barbequed pork, fried okra, and sweet tea. Not on health food. The healthiest I'll go, I thought, is to order that sweet tea half-and-half. That way it won't make my teeth ache. Maybe chase it with some sweet potato pie for ballast.

So how'd I end up in the Weaver Street Market? Well, the name "Weaver Street Market" seems innocent enough. It looked a little tony, but it was near the railroad tracks and I really couldn't see in the window all that well; it was darned bright outside and I had my eyes squinted just about closed. The white dude with the dreadlocks eating at the picnic table in front of the market should've given me a clue, but I chose to ignore the warning.

White guy with dreadlocks. Big dog with a bandana around its neck. Chick wearing an Indian print bedspread. The semiotics of this aren't difficult. Why can't I read the signs?

I hadn't had anything to eat yet except three of my hot pink Canadian WAKE-UP caffeine pills. Not much nutritional value in the pill-filler evidently. My blood sugar was too low to detect the obvious.

In my hunger, I'd bumbled into a high-end health food store. In the South.

Where's my deep fried stuff? My pig? My refined sugar in high concentrations?

It's okay as long as you stick with the organic locally grown produce (although if you inspect the produce carefully, you'll note that it's just organic; it's still been shipped 3500 miles); after all, there's not much you can do to a cantaloupe. But in my sugar-challenged state, I made the crucial error: I bought something compounded from multiple ingredients. It looked safe: like, what can you do to chocolate and almonds that'd make nuggets that tasted like ass? I mean, you can buy a Hershey bar with almonds and it'll almost always taste great (say what you will, food snobs; I think Hershey bars taste just fine), even if you've bought it from the OLDEST VENDING MACHINE ON EARTH (which I do frequent. Frequently). Even if the chocolate's developed that white powdery coating. Even if it's melted and re-set dozens of times. Still tastes just fine.

These nuggets taste like ass. Chocolate and almonds. Organic. $6.99/pound. Months before their expiration date. To make it even crueler, they look like Idaho Spuds. And my check-out person's name was Buddy. Buddy. Chocolate and almonds.

Buddy, how could you do this to me?

Did I accidently buy doggie treats? Because high-end pet food looks an awful lot like high-end health food. In fact, I once bought Merrick Turducken Cat Food for Mister Lumpy, a cat with exhaustingly high culinary standards. The ad copy made it sound like something I'd be looking for during my stroll in the glaring North Carolina sun this afternoon:

This gourmet dish has been favored by the southern society of felines for years and its no secret as to why. Turducken is the sure way to end a long day for the hard working feline in today’s hustling and bustling workplace. The exquisite pairings of turkey, duck and chicken lay hiding in every sensational bite. As if this wasn’t enough, this sensational trio is complimented with farm grown sweet potatoes, peas, carrots and savory cranberries. Take it from us; if its one thing the South wrote the book on, its how to cook and believe us, this dish cooks. The Merricks hope Ya’ll enjoy this Bayou Classic.
Needless to say, Lumpy wouldn't touch the stuff. He gave me a hurt, puzzled look like "Who're you kidding? Where's my Fancy Feast Chunky Chicken?"

It's the same look I had on my face after I tasted the Chocolate Almond Chip nuggets.

This can't be right. I re-read the label. I inspected them; dissected them; chilled them; cleansed my palate with that Vanilla Chai Tea with Soy Protein I bought at the same time. They still taste like ass. What on earth do they put in these things to make them taste like carob and cardboard? And yes, I have tasted cardboard, so this is an authoritative comparison. I think some of the texture comes from that weird quinoa grain stuff and sunflower seed parts. This is not chocolate and almonds.

Ah, the Carolina Inn's turn-down service just delivered two pillow mints. Saved in the nick of time. Should recharge me for long enough to find somewhere where I can get myself something deep-fried. Or vinegary Carolina barbeque. Or sugar-saturated.


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