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Watch Out For Rabbit Holes

We all have our rabbit holes. Years ago, they’d happen in person, when some off-hand remark or passing comment would turn into a full-blown, multi-pronged conversation about everything and nothing at all.


Let me set the stage. You (or more likely, your parents if you’re a person who grew up around the time I did) would be saying, “Hi, and have a nice Sunday” to the Jepsons and their three kids (Tommy, Rachel and Kathy … not their real names) as you all emerged from Sunday mass, and before you (or your parents) knew it, it was 20 minutes later and you, your parents, the Jepsons and their kids were still standing there in the church parking lot because your parents (and the Jepsons) had traveled down some rabbit hole that started with a little small talk as you walked to the car, but transformed into an in-depth “bull session” about everything from politics, to local gossip, the pastor’s sermon, and “Don’t even get me started about this town’s pothole problem!”


Today, rabbit holes are reserved mostly for social media; you know, videos of cats (or babies) riding on Roombas, all kinds of dogs in costume or with captions referring to what they think about during the day, delivery drivers caught on someone’s video doorbell, and memes about all sorts of things that never used to interest us but that now consume loads of our free (and sometimes not-so-free) time.


I’ll admit to spending time on social media, but it’s not excessive. More often, I’m using my phone to occupy my free moments with things like Scrabble and cribbage, and I also read the occasion e-book on it (my phone), but social media rabbit holes generally escape me.


I do, however, like to watch food prep videos, especially ones that show creative (and presumably simple) ways to make delicious meals, ones I will (in accordance with the rules of rabbit holes) never actually attempt but they’re entertaining to watch while someone else makes them.


There are a lot of these well-produced, well-explained and entertaining tidbits, often from well-known or at least professional and experienced chefs), and I enjoy them … in small, non-rabbit hole doses.


Often (but not often enough) these videos are sped up so we don’t have to watch 20 minutes of prep, like the time I watched someone put several different toppings (sausage, olives and onions, I think) on a very large pizza; an activity my mind could fully grasp without seeing the “chef” placing each tiny piece, one-by-one, on the pie.


That said, even a three-minute video of someone making a meal using only a can of cream of mushroom soup, a couple small cans of tuna, lots of cheese (there’s always lots of cheese), and an assortment of fresh, chopped vegetables is a long time to be “engaged.” (Further, I had to abort that particular mission because the thought and sight of mixing cream of mushroom soup with anything, much less canned tuna, made my stomach feel like I was watching open-heart surgery live and in-person.)


The other day, I was on social media (Facebook, I think it was), when I ran across a video of a pair of hands (these videos almost exclusively show only the countertop, the vessels/dishes/pots and utensils being used, the ingredients and the “chef’s” hands) pouring a bag of spiral pasta (rotini?) in a clear, shallow 9x13 glass dish. Of course, I had to stop and watch it (since it was the first video of its kind I’d run across that day).


After pouring the pasta in the dish, the “hands” next added a 16 oz. jar of tomato sauce, then used the nearly empty jar (because you can never get all the sauce out of the jar just by pouring it out) to refill it with water, which they (the hands) then poured into the dish as well.


Next, the hands cubed up a raw chicken breast and distributed it evenly onto the “still-raw” pasta. After a little salt and pepper, the hands covered the dish and put it in a 425-degree oven for some period of time (let’s call it 30 minutes).


Fast-forward, well, about eight-tenths of a second, when the hands are seen bringing the dish out of the oven and putting it back on the counter. They (the hands) remove the lid to show both pasta and chicken are now sufficiently cooked, Next, they (the hands) display–with no lack of flourish–a bag of shredded mozzarella cheese, all of which will be distributed evenly across the pasta/chicken landscape.


Next comes another type of cheese (parmesan, I think … admittedly by this time, which had only been about 45 seconds, even I was getting bored and wondering why I was continuing to endure this) is also grated across the top of the dish.


After that, the hands pour some panko breadcrumbs over the top and it’s back into the oven until the cheese has melted and the breadcrumbs have browned (several minutes, according to the caption).


Finally, after nearly an hour (in real time, but luckily only about two minutes in “time-lapse” world), the hands put the dish back on the counter and uncover it one last time, cutting a section with a spatula and placing it on a plate for all to “ooh” and “aah” about.


What do I see? Basically, the casserole my mom used to make when I was a kid, a dish she made without any flourish. The only things these “hands” did were substitute spiral pasta for macaroni (big deal) chicken for ground beef (whatever), and panko breadcrumbs for crumbled Zesta saltine crackers (show-off!).


Personally, I loved that casserole when I was a kid (the one with the macaroni, ground beef and Zestas), but I never thought of it as anything special, and I know my mom didn’t either. To me, it was basically homemade (sort of) Hamburger Helper (another dish I loved but also realized wasn’t haute cuisine).


For Mom, it was just a task, Tuesday night’s meal, probably served with fruit cocktail out of the can and maybe (if we were lucky) a lemon pie she’d whip up in the hour of free time she had after Phil Donahue ended and dinner began. (That lemon pie WAS a treat in our family, and I fondly remember the days when she’d make it. It never disappointed.)


No fanfare. No timelapse. No hand flourishes or fancy cheeses. She was simply making dinner for the family, something she did every day for us. Without thanks. Without a pat on the back. Without time-lapses. And without 365,422 followers watching her (or at least her hands) as she prepared the dish.


I’m ashamed to say I took all that meal prep–and all the other work Mom did for us– for granted, never realizing how much time and effort it took, especially for someone whose passion wasn’t cooking. (I should have been a more grateful son.)


“Why” you ask, “why did you take us on this exhausting, boring journey, wasting precious minutes of our day?” Two reasons. One, to show that there are still many ways to take someone down a rabbit hole (and I think I just did).


Two, I want to emphasize that some online cooking demonstrations (with hands chopping, dicing, mincing, mixing, pouring, etc.) are cool and educational and fascinating. This one wasn’t, and yet I (along with 300,000+ others) I watched it, which offers a perfect example of the massive (and sometimes scary) power social media has to turn something so ordinary into something special.


I don’t doubt that some (maybe a majority) of the 300,000+ viewers got some solid info from this video, and if you did, who am I to judge?


Let me close by saying this: if social media had been around in the 1960s and 1970s, my mom’s hands could have been an Internet sensation given some of the things I’ve seen recently. (I’m just not sure how she would have filmed her recipes using our black rotary phone and a Polaroid camera.)


OK, you can all go back to your cat and dog videos. I’m climbing out of my rabbit hole because I’m pretty sure I have better things to do today.


Happy Eclipse.


© 2024 David R. Haznaw

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