Rochester NY

Anatomy of a Shoestring Onion

You always start with the onion: sliced into slivers, longways, with some butter in the bottom of the pan. This is all that’s needed to make the whole house smell divine with that sautéed, caramelized scent that moves like the holy spirit through bodies and homes, a revival of sorts. An awakening. It stings, then wraps you up in its richness.

I didn’t realize what kind of bulbous potential an onion possessed until within the past couple years, during which I turned twenty-one. To a certain extent, liking onions makes me feel like an adult. How very refined of me to know how to apply onion appropriately in my cookery. Six years ago, however, you’d be at risk of physical harm if that ingredient was anywhere near my food.

Children typically are not of the onion persuasion. I think there are few who actually go out of their way to request it in dishes and can appreciate how it amplifies a meal purely based on olfactory effect. Teenagers are even worse because they are so passionate about so many things that it loses impact. Did I really dislike onions at fifteen, or was it dramatic overhaul from years without legitimate taste buds for them? Reflecting back, I wonder. Twenty-two year old me realizes there may have been years that I failed to capitalize on onion potential because of stubbornness.

Regardless of my questionable teenage angst, there is a severe emotional difference between an onion cooked and an onion raw — these are not mutually compatible changes of state. Onions repulsed me, but if they were incognito cooked and buried under layers of flavor, I’d suck it up, and eat them. Raw? Go to H-E-double hockey sticks and get that bugger away from me. Pizza is an exception to this difference. Onions always ruined pizza. Always.

Unfortunately, I comprise only one-third of my household, and thus my vote is always never enough within our family democracy to sway decisions in my favour. My father, caught between two women, promotes compromise at every chance. This also does not sway decisions in my favor. Onions are a pearly example of this. We Fergusons love our food, pizza in particular; it holds permanent, rent-controlled residence within all of our hearts. We are Pizza Connoisseurs. Just ask us about Marks vs. Pontillos vs. Salvatores vs. the local oven fare, and we’ll give you a comprehensive report. Be that as it may, opinions of what toppings should adorn a pizza are diverse. My mother’s opinion, for ever, and more ever, has only ever meant onions: raw, string, sautéed — onions 4 lyf. Forget pepperoni. Heck, even sauce. All she needs in order to be happy is an onion. I spent my childhood trying to avoid this pestilence, and that woman ordered it on our pizza.

Dad would always solicit compromise: onions on half, since Theresa just had to have them, and the option of just adding them post-delivery to just her piece was simply not feasible. (The logic still escapes me — ordering them as a topping cost more and adding them to one piece was much simpler than trying to evade them on multiple, but oh well.) And she never ate more than two pieces, so the leftovers were always tainted, and somehow unavoidable. Often it was impossible to tell which half suffered from the pox and which was devoid; it all depended on the pizza joint. Some places used the shoestring onions, some the little diced squares. The shoestrings were the worst. They were limp and long, like some sneaky tapeworm, but hiding the crunch of a spinal cord. To the untrained eye they looked like shredded cheese, and since the pizza place would often sprinkle the onion liberally on top of the cheese, before the pepperoni, the two would melt together, creating an impossible and revolting pizza conglomerate. At least the little squares could be picked off, if I was actually desperate enough for pizza to sink so low as to sit there for five to seven minutes disdainfully removing every trace of onion and the cheese it touched (I usually was).

And so, quite frequently,  — enough to scar memory — I would investigate the whole pie. I would locate a safe piece of pizza. I would relish what I was about to eat. I would take an unsuspecting bite, good god, gag, wail. Whole piece ruined, like freaking Nam, watching out for land mines. And mother, halfway through her piece already, would say something infuriating, such as: “Oh, yeah, I don’t think this piece has any on it actually, want to trade?” or: “Just pick ’em off.” …because it’s soooo easy to locate one’s tapeworms and just remove them. Once you step on a land mine you can’t spawn a new leg. Humans aren’t starfish, okay. The onion taste would linger. The recoil would still shudder through me at every anticipatory bite that followed, fearful I had missed one (and I usually had). To this day I’m still quite wary of Mark’s liberal interpretation of fractions during topping application.

Thinking back, probably the worst part was the surprise of it all — finding that horrible taste and texture in something so coveted. I was easily wooed by the dulcet aroma of (what should have been) a soft, chewy, doughy piece of puffy pizza…and would sink my teeth through tapeworm vertebrae.  And now, all these years later, my old taste buds have sloughed off, leaving me with new ones that delight in onion. I’m that person who pleas for more onion. I’m turning into my mother, so the tastebuds were only a matter of time. I have caught myself thinking, “Mmm, you can never have too much onion!” which is something I have definitely heard her say in the past.

There’s just something really satisfying about slicing the bulb into crescents, sizzling it up in the skillet, simmering till translucent… it’s more than just feeling adult. It’s also weird realizing the extent to which I channel my inner parental unit. And it snuck up on me, too. It wasn’t instantaneous — “OOOoh, onion! …wait…WAHHH I’m my MOTHER!” It snuck up on me. Having learned to adapt to onion avoidance and cope with inevitable encounters, eventually I started to care less. It was mindset, but was also entirely contingent on that biology of renewing tastebuds, a webpage “refresh”. It’s hard to say which spawned the other. Chicken and the egg I suppose.  


I’m trying to get my act together outlining…writing is hard. In the meantime, you’ll have to settle for the above. I wrote this as a midterm for a non-fiction workshop I took almost a year ago now.  I’ve also made a few revisions (and removed the cuss words, because I’m older and wiser). Don’t expect this kind of quality every time :p 


Macarons: Mouth Yoga

So, I didn’t actually realize this, but that other O between Macaroon and Macaron is not optional. It wasn’t until I was stalking them on Instagram that I realized my faux pas. I knew they were different things but I’ve always pronounced them the same (and it is super fun to say mack-uh-roooon. Try it this instant. It feels good. Seriously, half of eating is just the psychology behind how good things SOUND. Ponder: it’s our first question and our first response when attempting to discern the most satisfying solution to hunger — “What sounds good to you?” or, “I want it. That sounds goooood.” And if there is no agreeable solution, eating is a total drag. And then I just turn to chips. Because, chips. Also because cool fact of crunching releases endorphins which is why chips hit the spot almost every single time. But this is not about chips.)  and never given it much thought.

For those who are unfamiliar with either confection, the two are vastly different, though they share etymological origins  and ingredient base. A Macaroon essentially looks like a mole hill of shredded coconut that is sometimes dipped in chocolate if you’re lucky (and you should always aim to get lucky, because the chocolate-dipped ones are the only ones worth eating) and is the same concept as a rice crispy treat, only with meringue in lieu of marshmallow. Either way it’s a lot to chew and you’ll get sticky. In comparison, a macaron is a not even distantly related cousin. Macarons are alluring little pucks that resemble Pretty Patties out of Bikini Bottom — itty bitty burger things pigmented in an assortment of Crayola pastels and neons.  They magnetize your eyeballs and are always displayed in windows to prey upon the passerby.

Macarons weren’t even on my radar until a couple months ago during my time in England. (I really should have bought one while I was there, since England is a lot closer to France than New England, but, this logic was not present in my life at the time.)  They were in a few windows I passed in both London and Oxford, but it was England, and everything is look-worthy there, so I mentally moved on because of all the other sights I had to absorb and didn’t think about them much more after that until this past Saturday. Now, I’ve been home for two months, so I’ve had a good quarter of a year to really let those glimpses stew into fantasy. Those four months ballooned into resolve. I needed one. I needed one bad. I didn’t even realize how badly I needed one until I saw stacks of the little sandwiches again and remembered their addictive whimsy.

Luckily for me, my parents and I take a day trip to Skaneateles Lake annually. It’s an end-of-summer send-off filled with comforting food and retail therapy. We always try to scope out what’s changed since our previous visit, and this year most notable went to the Skaneateles Bakery’s acquisition of the corner storefront next door, aptly named The Corner at Skaneateles Bakery. It gives a more poised, airy café vibe than the original hub and it’s the first place we hit upon arrival. Our goal was coffee (they have good coffee). Before I could even figure out what roast I wanted my eyes fell upon the macarons: bright orange, flamingo pink, dusty purple, deep chocolate, soft taupe, tea green — they were gorgeous. They’re probably the only thing that could hiccup my caffeine tunnel vision. That purpley-blue one, though…I wanted it. The color lent itself to hospitality and the flavour sounded exotic, but with a more conservative exoticism than the Pink Lemonade one which sounded weird, like watermelon-flavoured anything, which is gross. (Don’t worry, I do recognize how my perception of a blueberry macaroon comes across; reading into a pastry like it’s a person is just a natural talent I have.) Anyway, common sense/propriety/societal norms/the part of me trying to be an adult said, “No no, Amanda, 9:30am is far too early to eat a macaroon of all things.” “But THOSE BLUEBERRY MACAROOOONNNSSSZZAH I NEEEED THEMMMM,” the other 75% of me whined. Somewhere along the way propriety got its hands on my better judgement and I left the goods behind, black coffee in hand. But it didn’t feel right.

So, we wandered the streets and meandered through stores, perusing shelves of kitschy knickknacks and the good kind of candles with the crackling wick. With each new establishment my thoughts, much less muddled thanks to the medium roast, drifted back to those curious cookies. (I know this sounds dramatic. It’s supposed to. This is how it felt, man.) Lunchtime would have been perfect to claim my idol, especially since we ate at a restaurant facing The Corner, but still I waited, reasoning that it would be much more gratifying the longer I waited. Foolish Manders.  It wasn’t until after 4pm and another cup of coffee that I went back, determined not to put this off any longer. It was time. Hours of toying with the idea, put to rest.

SIKE. All the beautiful baby sandwiches stared at me like Marcel the Shell but NO BLUEBERRY. Because some other, clearly horrible, person had literally just bought the last one minutes before I came back, according to the girl behind the counter, who clearly did not understand why I was so crestfallen. Working through these feelings was hard and I almost left, but, grief and moderation told me to buy three inferior macarons to the much coveted, mentally-masticated blueberry. I settled for the Pink Lemonade, Green Tea, and Chocolate flavours, a little of everything and pretty to boot. Upon purchase to go I promptly sat on the sidewalk directly outside to start on the weird ones.

The problem with fantasy is that it leads to preconceived expectations; macarons were no exception. They flouted all my sensory assumptions. Firstly, they were much lighter than I anticipated — I imagined something akin to a whoopie pie: frosting between dense muffin-tops. Instead I poked a hole through the crisp shell of Pink Lemonade on accident while trying to assess its composition. The rounds weren’t hollow, though; there was definitely a cake element. And they weren’t soft, but they weren’t as crispy as the outermost part. I took a breath and then I took a bite, because anticipation makes it even better. Pink Lemonade was pleasantly surprising, subtle and sweet; between the texture and happy taste I knew I was obsessed. And while the flavour wasn’t overpowering, the cookie itself left a cloying aftertaste, so I moved on to Green Tea and it was even better and wasn’t even weird. A bit thicker and lighter and less sweet after the fact. I saved the chocolate one for last, by the lake, and though I’d like to hold on to my angst over the fate-torn blueberry, it completely made up for my perceived lack. It was like fudgey yoga in my mouth. MOUTH YOGA. I couldn’t even talk, it was just macaron and me,  and the lake, and closure, and it was just really, really good. The end.