Tag Archives: Atlantic City

Side Dish: À la Carte Observations

Standard

Wrestling with Cheese Steak

One minor change in the way a packager wraps its product can screw up a person’s whole day.

Among my daily tasks is prepping two boxes of  “minute” steaks. This amounts to about a hundred sixty individual pieces, set out on eight trays and serving as the basis for Philly cheese steak sandwiches.

I myself have not eaten meat since I was twenty and in college, smack-dab in the mid-1970s. It just dawned on me one day: Hey, I don’t have to eat this stuff!  So I stopped.

Abstaining has more to do with my imagination and tendency to overthink than it does with any ethical concern–not that I don’t feel bad for edible animals, but I respect a respectful hunter, a nonwasteful eater, a compassionate farmer, the order of the food chain, and the cycle of life in general. Eat, drink, and be merry…just don’t force blood, guts, or calf’s liver tonic down my throat, thank you very much.

As you can surmise, then, I have no moral problem with this particular task. In fact, the shape, consistency, and snap! of the frozen meat sticks remind me of taffy, with the whole experience evincing the many happy summer hours I spent as a kid on the pre-casino boardwalk of Atlantic City, New Jersey.

See what I mean about my imagination?

To get the job done requires breaking each individually wrapped beef slice in half, folding it over onto itself, and letting it drop from its waxed-paper covering onto the tray, forming two rows of ten sticks each. Snap, fold, drop twenty times. Piece of cake, or meat, if you will.

Soon enough I had the chore down to a science, having hit upon the most efficient technique and the fastest rhythm, thus turning the exercise into a stream of unconsciousness that I came to look forward to.

“Beware,” Lynetta once said to me in her most knowing tone of voice. “Once you get used to something, it will change…especially if you enjoy doing it.”

And so it came to pass that Crispo Food Systems had “fixed” something that had not been broken. The new batch of cheese steaks arrived in pared-down wrapping: the discrete had been thrown over for the commingled. There wasn’t enough paper to separate each whole steak from the ones next to it.

The saltwater taffy of my youth had morphed into the bitter pill of my everyday existence.

From meditation to aggravation in one fell swoop. If the steaks don’t defrost enough, the portions not separated by waxed paper stick together. If they defrost too much, the meat falls completely apart. And either way I, she who has no artistic ability, am left reconstructing each slice.

One day I thought to enlist the aid of that utensil that looks like a supersized butter spreader to slide apart the pieces of meat that stuck together. But to no avail…

“Sick of cheese steaks yet?” asked Aunt Bea.

“Grrr,” I replied.

Just then Peony came out of her office to observe the situation.

“Hmm…,” she said as she put on a pair of latex gloves. “Gimme that thing.”

I handed her a hunk of frozen steaks.

“Bang! Bang! Bang!” She slammed it against the work table.

“Now try pulling them apart.”

“Wow,” I said, as the pieces separated much more easily. “Thanks, Peony!”

“If you’re gonna wrestle with cheese steaks,” she said,  “you can’t let them beat you.”


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[Check back soonish for more observations…]