Tag Archives: Food

What’s for Dinner?

Just reading the title you’ve already thought of the last few places you’ve repeatedly visited, and maybe even the conversation that preceded the chosen destination.

“Let’s go out.”

“Okay; where?”

“Oh, I dunno, you pick.”

That conversation loops around until a decision is finally made. Chances are good that there are no new restaurants in your area, and the one you pick, just like all the others, has a menu that you now know mostly by heart.

The reason, I think, that it’s so hard for people to make a restaurant decision is that they’ve phrased the question incorrectly. When choosing a place to dine out, it’s not really the restaurant you’re choosing, but rather the particular dish on that particular menu that keeps you coming back. Instead of “where”, the question should be “what”. If the answer is pizza, you already know where to go. Same for chili, spaghetti, and anything Chinese or Mexican.

Unless there are kids involved. In that case, you’ll have to go to the place that has the stuff the kids will eat, without too much whining, and you’ll find something that will simply have to do just because you’re hungry and you don’t want to think about it anymore.

Adults are not unlike the children.  We have our favorite places, too. And when you get to the particular place because of the particular something you favor, the thought always occurs to you to mix it up a little, order something different this time. But you don’t because you’ve already discovered your favorite thing there. Every time you’ve deviated from the preferred item, the new thing didn’t rise to any level of excellence at all, and the ensuing disappointment makes you wish you’d just gotten the thing you wanted in the first place, the same order you always place, that something that was immediately pictured in your head and made your mouth water when you originally picked the place you were going to go.

Eat Here Sign2

Husband is different. He likes to try new things at the same old places. He likes the adventure of it. For him it’s a culinary experience in diversity. My opinion is that I’d rather be satisfied with something I already know is going to be good than be disappointed later with something I wasn’t sure about when I ordered it.

We did recently begin an adventure in Indian food. Understandably, we only have one Indian restaurant from which to choose. At first, simply because we were totally unfamiliar with it, we both experimented with different options every time we went, sharing each other’s choices, and sampling when the restaurant offered a buffet.

It didn’t take long for me to find something I really enjoy. I’m not all that interested now in placing an entirely different order from the menu just for the sake of variety. For me, the experimenting is over. I don’t want to be disappointed. Husband still likes to mix it up. I think his goal is to have everything on the menu at least once. The bonus is that I get to taste whatever different thing he’s gotten, but so far I’m still preferring my now-standard choice.

A new restaurant in our area is under construction. We pass by it and always discuss when the other thinks it might be open. It will have a menu with which both of us are unfamiliar. Husband will have an entirely new set of options to change up and switch around. I will eventually find something on the menu that I enjoy there more than anywhere else. We will immediately add it to the places of choice when we ask “where”.

And I’ll remember that the next time the squabble starts over “where”, I should change the question to “what”.

The solution should be almost immediate.

 

 

 

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Let Them Eat Cake

It was a line attributed to Marie Antoinette, probably erroneously, in answer to a widespread problem that the peasants purportedly had no bread.  Whether uttered in jest, or uttered in foolishness, or never uttered at all, we may never really know.  Of course, ‘cake’ at the time was splattered batter scraped from the walls of the oven in which the sovereign bread was baked.  Those caked on layers had to be cleaned, and were often left outside the establishments for the starving beggars.  So who knows, maybe ‘let them eat cake’ was merely a practical solution to a common problem of community hunger.

Neither bread nor cake are good for my weight, though.  Yet here I am, having completely given up on my post-holiday diet, taking advantage of every opportunity to welcome the carbs with, “Well….maybe just one.”  My friend says that you have to have two or have none.  Having two balances out the hips, she says.  I dislike feeling deprived, or unbalanced, so two it is.

We’d been having salads for dinner, seemingly healthy and low-calorie frozen meals for lunch, and yogurt for breakfast.  Well, that’s what I was having anyway.  I managed to do that for a couple of weeks, with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables thrown in for variety.  With a little planning I found that I could do it with relative ease.  Then I forgot to stop at the store after work one day.  Grilled ham and cheese sandwiches for dinner replaced the greenery of the night before.  It was easy to just fall off after that.

And then somebody at work had a grandbaby.  We had cake.  Someone had a birthday, and we had cake.  Then somebody retired, and we had more cake.  Our coffee bar was laden with different types of sliced cakes from the local grocery’s bakery.  I think there was a sale. Someone else had stopped off at a bakery on the way to work one morning and thought enough of me to share.

Bless his heart…..

So it’s one or two of something with coffee in the morning, then when that wears off and it’s not quite lunchtime, it’s one or two more, then after lunch, and then…. You get the idea.  By the time I got home at night I was so starved for additional carbs that I was having potatoes with a side of rice, buttered bread to accompany, and macaroni and cheese for color.  Then it was a bowl of cereal for dessert.

Somebody at work suggested we do a dessert Friday.  My chair groaned in anticipation of the added pounds.  My pants are already protesting the recent festivities, and my body simply cannot afford another bakery sale.

I say we do something better to mark those noteworthy events at work.  A tray of vegetables is no more difficult to transport than a cake.  Better yet, get a small cooler with a handle and throw the veggies in.  Or just get a bucket and don’t bother washing anything.  We have sinks at work.

My co-workers might not care if my pants don’t fit, but I do.  Let them eat cake.

Let me eat salad.

 

 

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Glamour Warmed Over

We had an event at work last week for which we were all asked to contribute either a food item of our choice or money for food items of someone else’s choice.  After thinking about my options, considering the knowledge that I would have to make this dish on an evening after work to take in the next morning, and spending a considerable amount of time wondering just how it could be re-heated and still be edible, I decided on Crock Pot Green Bean Casserole.

I’d never done that before, but I thought if I just didn’t bake it all the way, I could use the crock pot to finish cooking it the next day.  Fortunately, I have one of those crock pots that uses a Dutch oven of sorts that can be lifted out of the electrical appliance and used directly on an oven rack.

Also, I’m a good cook.  So what could possibly have gone wrong, right?

I lovingly diced a handful of raw bacon and fried it until crisp.  I removed the bacon bits and put them into the Dutch oven, reserving the bacon grease to fry a fair amount of chopped onion, frying the onion fast and furious so that it would get those little brown crispies on the edges.  When that was done all the onions went into the pot with the bacon.

For the mushrooms, I had to add about half a stick of butter because the onions had absorbed all the bacon fat.  I sautéed the mushrooms for just a minute, scraping all the bacon bits that the onions didn’t get, and all the onions that the spoon didn’t get.

As soon as the mushrooms started to release some of their moisture, I dumped them into the pot.

I diced some ham and added it to the growing collection in the pot.

More butter in the same skillet and a little flour for the rue, some chicken broth and drippings from the ham, and heavy whipping cream made the sauce.

Salt and pepper.

Once nice and thick, the sauce went into the pot.  Two bags of frozen French style green beans and I was nearly done.

Once everything had been combined, I sprinkled the top with a bread crumb topping and broiled it in the oven just until the top got golden.  Everything else was still fairly cold.  I covered the dish and put it in the fridge, hoping everything would be all right the next day.

My dish made it to work safely, but it didn’t look very good after having sat in the fridge all night.  I plugged it in and checked the consistency.  It was a little thicker than I wanted.  ‘Gloopy’ is a good word.

Luckily I had thought of that ahead of time and brought a container of chicken broth to sort of thin it down a little, as needed, while it simmered slowly throughout the day.

It started to look better, more appetizing, and way less congealed.

At some point I added what turned out to be just a little too much broth.  It was the dish’s undoing.

The sauce was superb, the green beans were not over-cooked, and the mushrooms were still firm and had held up through all the torture I’d given them.  The onions, bacon, and ham were perfectly cooked and added the best ever flavor to this dish.  The end product was very well seasoned and tasted absolutely amazing.

But it looked horrible.

Everyone was afraid of it.  Hardly anyone dared try it.  Those brave souls who did dare said they really liked it, but I ended up bringing most of it home with me.

I was disappointed and a little embarrassed.

If anyone near me had asked who made it, I probably would’ve spoken way too loudly in answer, denied all knowledge, and stuttered out an “I don’t know!”  or a “Not me!” and sneaked in when no one was looking to retrieve my still-full crock pot.

I think next time I’ll just give money.  It’s one-size-fits-all, always the perfect color, and goes well with everything.

And it never loses its glamour when re-heated.

 

 

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A Sweet Potato

I usually try to use up our leftovers, take them to work for lunches, or turn them into something else entirely so that it’s new and no longer left over.  Sometimes I use the leftover merely as an ingredient in something else.

A few days ago I made twice-baked sweet potatoes.  I’d never done that with sweet potatoes before.  However, I was inspired by a television commercial for a certain brand of pecans that promised to ensure my twice baked sweet potatoes would be simply yummy if only I’d use them.

I got the potatoes, and I picked up a less expensive brand of pecans, and set to making this side dish.  Of course, I needed a whole meal to go around them.  It was a busy day.

And they were good.  But they didn’t go with anything else we had the next day or even the day after that.  I started going through the cabinets and freezer like a mad woman, searching for something, anything, I could do, or make to accompany, those twice baked sweet potatoes.

Then inspiration hit me like a ton of bricks.  Only it wasn’t bricks.  It was several small bags of unused bread slices that fell out of the freezer.  I had collected them for making bread crumbs.

I took enough of those frozen bread slices, maybe 8 of them, to thaw on the counter while I looked around for some more stuff.  Eggs – check.  More pecans – check.  Milk – check.

I scooped out the sweet creamy filling from the sweet potatoes’ once hardened shells.  In my saucepan, I combined that filling, complete with its crumbed and nutty topping, with a can of sweetened condensed cream.  I heated it only enough to be able to work with it.

I tore the bread into small pieces.  I let them soak in a couple of cups of milk that had been whisked with two eggs and some vanilla.  Then I mixed in the sweet potato filling.  I baked it in greased ramekins.

I had just made sweet potato bread pudding.  How cool is that?

My husband wouldn’t touch it.  He said some things just don’t appeal to him, like the idea of bread and pudding together, and that it’s that idea that causes him to be predisposed to dislike anything of the sort.

My confused look prompted him to ask me to imagine a breakfast cereal made with tuna.  The grimace on my face immediately provoked, “There!  That’s the reaction I’m talking about!”

The leftover twice baked sweet potatoes, when turned into the bread pudding, made five servings.  I ate one of them when they first came out of the oven.  I thought it was pretty good.  I think it would’ve been better with a vanilla cream sauce, though.

So now there are four containers of leftover sweet potato bread pudding in my fridge.  I will spend today trying to figure out what to do with them.

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Gourmet Road Trip (Part IV)

“We’ll cover you; don’t worry.”  Husband went on to explain that the portions were huge, so he and Wife would order two entrees and two sides, and by the time we split it all four ways, everyone would have enough to eat and it would all work out.

Buddy and I each started to protest and we were hushed into silence.  So we sat there while Husband placed the order.  As he was placing it, I was trying to keep up with the prices listed on the menu.  I had mentally tallied more than three hundred dollars so far.

Now, math is not my strong suit, but I don’t think I was far off.  And fifteen years ago, three hundred dollars went nearly twice as far as it does today.

Needless to say I was just stunned.  The food was good, though.  No, it was excellent.  I can’t downplay that.  It was my one and only exposure to Steak Tartar, and while I will probably never again be in a place that will list it on the menu, I can honestly say that I loved it.

Something tells me that I wouldn’t willingly spend a month’s worth of groceries, two tanks of gas, and an electric bill for it though.

In our astonished silence, Husband and Wife carried on the conversation during the whole meal.  Well, Husband mostly.  Wife giggled a lot.

And then Husband ordered desserts for everybody.  I couldn’t remember that part of the menu’s pricing.

“Husband, please…” I protested.

“I said I’d cover you; just relax and enjoy.”

When dessert had been deliciously consumed, and it came time to pay the mortgage on our meal, Wife dug down into the depths of her stained shirt, down even farther into the nether regions of her too-full bra, and paid the man with boobie money.  Wads of it.

A twenty percent tip at this point, after desserts, and figuring in our drinks (Husband wouldn’t let us get just water to cut down on the expense), would have been upwards of eighty dollars.  Maybe even more.

A singular word kept rotating around in my head.  I won’t repeat it here.

As we were leaving, something Husband had said twice started to replace the expletive in my head.  “We’ll cover you.”

What did that mean, exactly?  Did he mean he’d pick up the tab because he had invited (dragged slash kidnapped) us to this place, a place for which he did not have our prior consent?  Or did he mean he’d cover us until we could pay him back our fair share of the night’s expenses?  Was our final release from this couple going to be in the form of our own ransom?  Oh. My. God.

We made our way out to the street and Husband hailed another cab.  He told the cab we had to get back to the train before the final one left.  We had twenty minutes.  My nerves were shot.  I did not want to be stranded on the streets of DC with a twenty in my pocket and no place, or means by which, to go.

But we made it, and just in the nick of time.  Husband hurriedly fisted more quarters out of his pocket and we raced to board the final train to Baltimore, the turnstile leaving a bruise on my hip.  Somewhere along the bumpy trip I managed to discreetly ask Buddy if we were supposed to pay Husband and Wife back, asking him, too, as I’d repeatedly asked myself, just what the hell ‘we’ll cover you’ might have meant.  Buddy simply shrugged, but he looked concerned.

If the cab fare were included in the night’s expenses, we had spent well more than four hundred dollars.  Buddy might have had an easier time coming up with a hundred or so dollars.  He and his partner lived alone with relatively few expenses.  I was a single mom of two, counting on the per diem for the trip to pay for reasonably priced meals, and then gas to get home.

The expletive in my head returned.

We found the car just where we’d left it in the Baltimore parking lot, gratefully unscathed, and began the long journey back to the hotel, a drive made seemingly longer by all the ill will I was silently hurling over the head-rest behind Husband.  I had decided that if he didn’t mention remuneration then I wouldn’t give it.  This was unfair, after all.  I did not agree to spend that kind of money and I justified my anger with the knowledge that he should have, at the very least, given us the option of not going.  Not a Burger King or a McDonald’s indeed!  How dare he, right?

But what would I do if upon our return to the hotel he did request reimbursement for our portion of events?  Pay him?  Probably.  But it would be a long time before I recovered from it financially, and it would most definitely put an end to our friendship.  Of that I was certain.  I knew I would never be able to trust him or Wife ever again.

And so it happened.  As we were unfolding from the backseat of the car in the hotel’s parking lot at nearly two in the morning, Husband informed us kindly that we could pay him back later if we didn’t have it on us now, and that he hoped we’d had a good time.

Buddy offered to pay mine for me and I wouldn’t allow it.  I paid it.  It hurt, and it hurt for a long while, but I paid it just the same.  I chalked it up to a lesson learned, taught by a former friend, that I should never go anyplace in the blind, regardless of how well I thought I knew someone.  I learned to ask a ton of questions and to never assume.  I learned to make sure I knew the arrangements beforehand.

The only assumption I make now, where dining is concerned at least, is that if I make the invitation, I pick up the tab.  End of story.

Buddy and I remained friends, though, until the natural lapses in gatherings grew longer and farther between that we finally just fell out of touch.  He got a job in another town and our lives simply stopped intersecting after a while.

But I know he still thinks of the time we were kidnapped by friends and then had to pay our own ransom.  I just know it.  Because much like the overpriced Steak Tartar on the menu that night, it really was a raw deal.

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Gourmet Road Trip (Part III)

 

Husband was pointing out some of the favorite spots he and Wife like to spontaneously visit.  We didn’t enter any of the establishments, merely walked by them and listened while Husband told us what fabulous thing was inside.

Finally he stepped into a doorway and announced what we’d spent that last three or four hours waiting to hear, “Ahhh…here we are.”

It didn’t look like a restaurant at all from the outside.  There was a guard at the door, a hefty individual, that I was sure would not let us in.  Two of us were tired and cranky, and none of us were dressed very well.

Reluctantly, the large dude held the door for us.  We ambled down a rather long corridor before we reached the hostess.  I could see her try to hide her disappointment in us, but the questioning eyebrow could not help itself.  She, like me, wondered why we had been allowed inside.

As we were shown to our table, I saw that everyone seated was in high-class business suits.  The chatter in this very full dining facility was kept to a respectful minimum.  There was faint music in the background’s background.

My sneakers, jeans and I did not belong here.

I hadn’t paid attention to the details before so I stole a glance around at my companions.  Buddy with his khaki shorts that hosted numerous pockets and a less than crisp shirt.  Husband with his work coveralls that were still greasy from his last mechanical function.  Wife with her stained t-shirt sporting a remnant of her last meal.  She and I both needed to comb our hair.

It was the kind of place where one must hold one’s pinky out whenever one sips from a too-small cup that has a very dainty loop on its side that must be properly pinched between thumb and forefinger.

We were so far removed from “..not a Burger King or McDonald’s…” that we might as well have been on another planet.

As we approached the table, two waiters with practiced blank faces appeared out of nowhere to guide expensive and well-polished chairs under Wife and me.  Before I had a chance to quietly berate Husband for this embarrassment, a waitress arrived with menus.  I put my tongue in check, not wanting to do this in front of the wait staff.  Besides, it was so eerily quiet in the place, even though it was crowded with well-to-do people, that all I would’ve been able to muster was a whisper anyway.  Husband deserved so very much more.

I opened the menu.  I was thinking that maybe my twenty would get me a small house salad with a glass of water and I wouldn’t have to beg off completely.  What I wanted to do was leave – immediately.  I couldn’t.  My only options were to stay seated or stand outside on the sidewalk and await their departure.  I stayed seated.

I mentally scrolled down past the sixty-dollar entrees and thirty-dollar side dishes to the salad options.  Turns out my twenty would barely get me the glass of water.

Unless I wanted a lemon.

I began to frantically search the menu for something, anything, that I could order with some dignity.  There was nothing.  I took a deep breath, hid my face with the menu, and leaned over to Buddy.  His ear met me half-way.

“When we left the hotel, I put a twenty in my pocket.  It’s all I have on me.”

We both rose back upright and continued gracefully looking at our menus.  Meanwhile, Husband and Wife were planning out all the things they were going to order.  I grew tired trying to calculate what that expense would be.

I sensed Buddy starting to lean in my direction.  My ear met him half way.

“Me too.”

So there we sat, forty dollars between us, in a place where to even share one entrée we were falling miserably short.  I had no idea what to do.  Fess up?  Walk out and wait?  Order nothing and pout?  I had no clue.  How should one behave in such an extraordinary circumstance, one in which not many like me might ever find themselves?

Finally, Buddy spoke up, giving me hope that I would not have to act after all.  Maybe he knew just what to do in this situation as he had in so many others.

He had to get Husband’s attention from the menu in which he was highly engrossed, and about which he was incredibly excited.

“Um…Kat and I don’t know how to tell you this, and we appreciate that you brought us to such a nice place and all…”

Buddy was always very diplomatic.

“…but we just can’t pay for this.”

 

 

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Gourmet Road Trip (Part I)

I had just gotten to the hotel and the first thing I did was jump into a very long and very hot bath.  I wasn’t only washing off the 6 hour trip.  I was delighting in the luxury of uninterrupted leisure.  The business I’d traveled to attend wouldn’t start until the next morning.

At only five o’clock in the evening, my long range plan for the rest of the night was to sink delicately into some too-soft hotel pillows, either stretch out or curl up on a too-hard bed, and channel surf on a too-big-for-the-room television until I fell asleep.

As I was drying off the last of the bath water, the hotel room’s telephone began to ring.  It was one of my associates.  Three of us were there for the same business meeting the following day.  The fourth was an accompanying wife we all knew well.

It would be the last night that all four of us would remain friends.

“Hello?” 

It’s hard to have a telephone conversation with a friend and colleague while standing in a strange hotel room, many miles from home, hair still dripping just a little, and naked.

“Whatcha doin?”

I really hate that question.  Maybe I’ll write about it in a separate post, but for now, I’ll just have to let it go, like I did when he asked it.

“Not a lot; what’s up?” 

“We all wanna go out to dinner.  Wanna go?” 

“Sure, but I’ll need a few minutes.  Where are we going?”

“Someplace that’s not a McDonald’s or Burger King.”

And that’s how the rest of the evening for me began.  Ambiguous, mysterious, and just a little exciting.

I got dressed thinking we were going to a Bonanza or Ponderosa, something not too expensive yet doesn’t have a drive-thru.  I wouldn’t have to go all out, but shorts and a t-shirt were probably out of the question.  I did wear my jeans and sneakers though.

This was almost fifteen years ago, so the twenty I put in my jeans pocket should have covered any expense wherever we went, right?

That’s what I thought, too.

I should’ve known better than to leave my purse in my room.  Although there were times during the well-traveled evening that I was glad I’d left it.  It was less to keep track of.

We had two vehicles from which to choose.  The couple had driven up together and the other friend and I had doubled up in my car.  I wasn’t comfortable driving, and the husband seemed to know where we were going and how to get there, so we all piled into his car.

And then we drove.

And then we drove some more.

We were both on an interstate and then alternately on a state highway.  An hour and a half and 76 miles later, we were finally looking for a parking space.  Only there were no restaurants in the area.  There were only more parking areas, parking buildings, and sidewalks.

I was starting to get a little miffed that we still had not reached our final destination.  That morning I was at home in Charleston WV.  I had driven to Hagerstown MD.  And now we were parking a car in Baltimore.

The sun had already begun to set and with it a cool breeze had been released, making me wish I’d brought a jacket.  I couldn’t be too hard on myself, though.  In my defense, I thought we were only going to stray a few blocks from the hotel, have dinner, and then return long before it got cold enough for a jacket.

We left the car behind us in the parking lot and for a really long time we walked.  My friend and I hung back from the couple a few paces, just long enough to quietly question our location.  Neither of us knew.  All we knew was that the last visible sign from the highway had informed us we were in Baltimore.

A little movie began to play in my head. It was full of tragedy and an ultimate need to call the police.  I imagined the conversation would go something like:

“What’s your emergency?” 

“I need an ambulance!” 

“Where are you?” 

“Baltimore!!!!!”

We descended a long set of stairs down into the ground and there were a lot of people scurrying past each other, really bad lighting, and locked turnstiles through which it required two quarters each for us to pass.

I had a twenty dollar bill in my pocket.  I looked to my buddy.  He only shrugged.  Our combination host and kidnapper obligingly pulled a fist full of quarters out of his pocket and, with what I’ll always remember as a slightly evil grin, paid our way through the turnstiles.

We followed him to the platform and then waited quite some time before we could board a train.  We took seats close together, carefully avoiding the scattered debris.  It was only then that one of us asked the couple about our final destination.

“Don’t worry!  You’ll love it!”

“Do you often travel two hours by means of different types of transportation just to eat a specific meal?”

“We’ve been known to drive three hours for a really good cup of coffee.”  Husband chuckled like this was a nothing trip, just par for the same old course, an average and dull experience.

It was my first time on the subway.

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Burst Bubbles

Our oldest granddaughter just turned five.  Her mother, my oldest daughter, planned a birthday party for the next weekend at the local “pizza with prizes and a dancing guy in a mouse suit” place.  Our granddaughter insisted that it would be only then, during her party, that she would turn five.  Until then she remained four.

Sweet, isn’t it?  I’d like to tell people that I won’t be 45 until I’m good and ready, and if somebody promises me they’ll bake a cake and order a pizza in 15 years, well, then I’ll be 45 at that point and not a day before.  But for us, things just aren’t that simple.

I got to spend the morning with her before she took off for the day with her mom.  Looking at my little treasure reminds me so much of her mom at that age and they look so very much alike.  Watching her grow is sort of like having my grown daughter be little again.

I guess I’m just feeling the effects of age and long moments of nostalgia.  My granddaughter breaks up those moments with welcome bouts of hilarity.

For instance, she has spent the whole week learning how to blow a bubble with bubble gum.  We’ve watched and giggled as a wad of gum went flying across the room on one occasion and spittle ran down her little chin during another.  We strained with her as her arms splayed backward with chin jutting out as though she could just will the bubble to form.

And then it paid off.  She blew her first bubble.  Oh, the high fives that went around the room that day!

She’s having a little trouble though.  She’s convinced that some bubble gums just don’t work and have to be replaced with a new one.  She’s decided, too, that each bubble gum is only good for one bubble, after which it breaks.  My daughter cautioned her about wasting the gum, telling her that she shouldn’t throw out perfectly good bubble gum just moments after she’s popped it into her mouth.

Deciding that she shouldn’t just throw the most recent ‘dud’ away, and knowing she wouldn’t get another until she’d disposed of it without ‘wasting’ it, she attempted to entice me with it.

“Granny, do you want this gum?  I’ve already got it started for you.”

 

 

 

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