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January 14th, 2003

in praise of thoroughly cooked food

I love that people who write letters to the editor of newspapers so often have names like "P. Stickney, of Garland". Today's Dallas Morning News contained a letter from said P. Stickney, of Garland, on the topic of recent financial problems for area cafeteria restaurants. To paraphrase P. Stickney, the letter took the position that cafeteria food is no longer what it was fifty years ago. I cannot take a position on that, having only been going to cafeterias for some thirty five years or so, but I can say that cafeterias are no longer what they once were. When I was a kid, liquor licenses were not available to ordinary restaurants, rendering most "fine" cuisine unavailable, as it was apparently hard to make a living serving only iced tea rather than "high profit" mixed alcoholic drinks. Meanwhile, fast food restaurants really did not have the market penetration. The result was that seekers of "high cuisine" and "fast food", as well as everybody else, ate at cafeterias. Once a cafeteria visit was an event of state, comparable to a stay at a grand hotel. When I was a child, I was assured that I had just missed even more glorious days for cafeteria grandeur.

I liked P. Stickney's letter because it had cautions to cafeterias as a way to define the problem--advice to refrain from mixing apples and bananas in with the peaches; suggestions to ensure that vegetables are fully-cooked,and suggestions to ensure that rolls were soft. I do remember the time when everything was cooked so thoroughly that one could not find a hint of crunchiness in everything. Fashions change, and now it is hard to find things literally steamed, boiled or roasted into oblivion. Many belittle this cuisine, but did it have to vanish?

I remember once when my cousin, who is a big success as a professor of hotel and restaurant management, lightly sauteed some vegetables for my great aunt. She reported with awe "I never knew that people ate crunchy vegetables. I didn't know that was the fancy way to eat them; I thought they were under-cooked.

We're pretty broad in our food tastes, and eat food at home and in restaurants featuring cuisines of all the world. But sometimes I do long, with P. Stickney, for rolls that are soft and vegetables that are fully cooked.