Saturday, January 01, 2011

Much Ado About Sauce

So, the other day I was making some sauce for a home-made secret santa gift exchange. The sauce is incredibly good and made from the best stuff on earth. That's right, the sauce is Snapple. Anyway, to go along with the sauce (which is not actually Snapple, just to be clear) I decided, what the heck, I'll write the best story in the world to go along with it. Turns out that is harder than it sounds. I did write a story, but it's only the third best in the world. Sorry. But here it is anyway. The only printed manuscript in existence is owned by Dee Doan. The true manuscript makes selective use of Papyrus. Any manuscript that doesn't use Papyrus in the right places is an obvious forgery and should be burned on sight.

Two more notes: I wrote this in one morning (an amazing way to use a sunday morning, you should try it some time) so any typos are totally intentional since this went through a very rigorous editing process of printing it. Also, yes, I did at one time read a book by DFW, how did you know? Also when I said "two more notes" I actually meant "three more notes." So, third, I have no idea what happened to O. G. Readmore (this will make sense (well, more sense anyway) if you read another couple hundred words). He just never shows back up in the story. Weird how these things happen.

The Legend of the Sauce was WAY Hardcore

Archie’s quest began on an overcast Thursday in November. I think it was the 21st or something, but I can’t guarantee that. Anyway, his epic quest started when a creepy old many walked by him on the street and right behind that creepy old man, who was actually former President George H. W. Bush after an all night bender with Barbara*, was a guy holding a sign that said “Epic Questers Wanted: Apply Here.” So Archie stopped. He’d always dreamed of going on an epic quest, at least ever since he read the book A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn (R.I.P.).

Archibald R. Hammerstein walked up to the man with the sign, whose name was O. G. Readmore, and asked, “so, epic quest, eh? Tell me more.” O. G. replied “Arrrr, ye have to fill out this contract that says you are responsible for anything untoward that happens to ye on this here epic quest. Just sign here, here, initial here, put yar bank account info here, and finally give me yar contact info for yer next o’ kin.” Archie, being the trusting and, let’s be honest, gullible guy that he was, filled out the whole thing without a second thought.

“All right, here’s your quest, Archie,” said O. G. in a strangely normal voice*2. “You gotta find all the stuff on this list in its purest and most essential form. Then, you take them all, mix them together in unknown proportions to make a delicious, sweet and fiery sauce. This is the sauce of destiny and though its ingredients have been known for millennia, no one has successfully combined them in the right proportions. This is your quest, if you choose to accept it (which you already did when you initialed that thing just now). You have three weeks….no wait, it’s the 18th today*3 so you have four-and-a-half weeks before I need the sauce for…..well, for a thing. So be off.”

Archie looked at the list. As O. G. had said, it was a list of ingredients. The list looked like this:

Only use the purest essence of these ingredients. Anything less than the best will lead to YOUR DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM

1) Honey
2) Ground Cayenne Pepper
3) Light Brown Sugar
4) Garlic Powder
5) Red Pepper Sauce (Tabasco or similar)
6) Dried Thyme
7) Salt
8) White Wine Pure Vinegar
9) Hickory Smoked Ham

Archie checked his list. He checked it twice. “So, I guess the hickory smoked ham isn’t…a…part….” He trailed off. O. G. Readmore was gone. He was nowhere to be seen. The fresh snow on the ground where O. G. had been standing remained untouched. It was as though he never existed. Archie looked down at the list in his hand, half expecting it to now be diamonds*4. But it wasn’t. Something strange was going on here.

In an odd coincidence, the Harris Teeter just a few blocks away had seven of the eight ingredients in their purest form. Archie started walking toward the Whole Foods at Clarendon. In another strange coincidence, he changed his mind half-a-block later. The reason he changed his mind is because he started walking east and saw the crazy old man (George H. W. Bush, remember) coming back toward him. “Ah, crap,” said Archie to himself under his breath. “That guy freaks me out. I’ll just go to Harris Teeter.” So he went to Harris Teeter. The whole way there (about 5 blocks) he sang to himself, over and over “My Harris Teeeeeeeter!”

As Archie entered through the automatic doors, he glanced at his list again. Obviously, the first stop would be the spice aisle (later, he would end up on the legendary Spice Isle, but not yet). He walked slowly down the lane looking at spice labels. He picked up a big jug of garlic powder because in his opinion, it was almost impossible to have too much garlic in just about any sauce*5. In this day full of coincidences, the jug of garlic powder he chose happened to be made from 19 heads of garlic from the very best garlic plant ever grown. Well, each head of garlic was grown from the very best seeds ever grown. Only one jug of garlic powder in all the world would be sufficient for the incredible sauce (which we haven’t named yet. It’s officially known as El Salsa de Arbol de Santo Domingo de la Ultra-Bicicletta, or ESASDUB for short), and this was it.

The dried thyme was easy to find. It’s a little-known fact, but there is absolutely no difference at all between all the thyme plants on earth. In fact, each one is a genetic twin of all the others*6. Thus, it didn’t really matter at all which little canister of thyme leaves Archie chose. The particular one that he grabbed was McCormick brand and was harvested and dried on the high arid steppe of the inland Pacific Northwest, just several miles from Kate Maisel’s hometown of Ephrata, Washington. Archie assumed, correctly*7, that one little canister would be enough.

Next, Archie moved down the aisle to the salt section. The wide selection was at first overwhelming. Iodized, non-iodized, sea, Mediterranean sea, ground, coarse, blue, so many salts! Naively, Archie assumed that the more expensive the salt was, the better it was. It may have been na├»ve, but it was true. The most expensive salt is truly the best salt. Basing his decision on price alone was what saved Archie in re the salt. Oddly, 5 minutes later in the honey aisle*8, the exact same reasoning produced the exact same result. The most expensive honey was indeed the best. It had been harvested the day before from a hive ruled by The Virgin Queen of Virginia Bees. Blind Franciscan nuns ran the apiary and the honey in the particular jar that Archie grabbed had been painstakingly dripped off the honeycomb by a beautiful nun named (as all nuns are) Maria*9. The jar was small, but Archie figured he didn’t need too much honey. He was right.*10

Archie left the spice aisle. He left without checking his list. He left without getting any ground cayenne pepper.

“Hmmm,” thought Archie to himself and the woman next to him*11. “I guess the baking aisle is where to find vinegar and brown sugar?” “Yes, it is,” she said. “Thanks!” replied Archie, not thinking twice about the fact that the woman shouldn’t have been able to respond to his interior monologue. His non-reaction actually threw Annette of her balance so much she ended up getting Splenda instead of real sugar, which made her pumpkin pie taste, well, like a dog’s breakfast if we’re being honest.

Now, in the baking aisle, Archie grabbed the biggest jug of vinegar he could find. It was 1.75 gallons*12 and cost $1.69. He forgot that the list said “White Wine Pure Vinegar,” but it turned out not to matter. Whoever made that list in the first place had just never tried any other kinds of vinegar. Regular old white, distilled vinegar worked just fine, and Archie saved himself enough money to buy six king-size Butterfingers.

The brown sugar was another story. Well, really it’s the same story. Fate smiled on Archie and the bag he grabbed was one of seven in the store that would satisfy the ESASDUB gods. You see, this particular bag of brown sugar was harvested on the south facing slopes of a hill in western Haiti. The plantation had survived the earthquake, but many of the workers fled to their hometowns to look after family. Those that stayed behind were worked harder than ever. Extra workers were even kidnapped, shanghaied or even sold into what amounts to slavery to the vicious plantation master Don Jesus de Lorenzo Contreras. One slave in particular lived a tragic life. He was nameless and died one day on the slopes amidst the sugar cane. His last bag of sugar cane that he picked was still slung over his back when the plantation guards found his body. They thought perhaps he had tried to escape, but alas the poor innocent soul had just had enough of this world. The master didn’t care. He took the cane from the boy’s back and processed it into the seven bags that ended up in Harris Teeter in Ballston*13. Had Archie been a conscientious shopper, he would not have purchased sugar from Haiti, but Archie didn’t know anything about sugar and didn’t want to pay for C&H brand. But he only needed half a cup, and this was the littlest bag he could find.

The last ingredient (aside from the cayenne, which, ominously and importantly for this story Archie had forgotten) he needed was red pepper sauce. The list said “Tabasco” but Archie was a bit of a red pepper sauce connoisseur. In the condiments aisle, he whipped out his microspectrometer to analyze the different red pepper sauces. With one glance, Archie discarded all the Tabasco sauces. He could tell they didn’t have the right color. He picked three bottles of Frank’s Red Hot Sauce. Peering through his analyzer, he found one bottle with such a perfect spectrum of red absorbance that he could hardly believe it himself. He’d heard of such sauces being created in small batches in the lab*14 but he’d never seen such an exquisite sample in the wild. He bought it, obviously. It was a big bottle, and he only needed a little bit of it*15, but none of the smaller bottles were sufficiently pure.

So, his cart being full (okay, it wasn’t even close to full, but he had everything he needed. Almost), Archie bought the contents of his cart.

At home, he started to make the sauce. Logically, he used a medium-size saucepan and mixed all the ingredients together. He had to heat it up a little to get all the sugar and honey to dissolve. The sauce had a pretty liquidy consistency. “Huh. I don’t know that I’d call this a sauce, more like a marinade,” said Archie to no one in particular. So he boiled it. And boiled it. And boiled it. In fact, he boiled it down by about half.*16

He tasted the hot sauce. It tasted like warmed over garbage. “WOW! I must have done something wrong, because this is a horrible sauce!” He checked his ingredient list again. It hit him like a ton of bricks. He had forgotten the cayenne. He scoured his spice rack*17 but couldn’t find any cayenne. “Ah shucks,” he thought. “I guess I better walk back to Harris Teeter.” And so he did.

Or at least, so he TRIED to do. Halfway there, a strange maroon van pulled up to the stoplight right beside him as he waited for the white walking guy to show up on the crosswalk sign. Three men in black hiking gear leaped out of the van and grabbed Archie. Before he could utter a sound, he found himself tied up and dressed down in the back of the van.

“Vee know vat you are do-ink,” said the leader*18. “Vee know you are after ze sauce of destiny. Ze ESASDUB. Vee are ze guardians of ze sauce. You cannat make ze sauce. It is impossible. You cannot be allowed to continue. Vee vill put a stop to your actions. Zat is vy vee are kidnappink you!”

Archie fainted.

He awoke one day later*19 on the top of a strange hill in a strange land. Luckily, there was a sign right next to him that read as follows:

Welcome, Archibald, to the Legendary Spice Isle. You are respected for your culinary genius in coming so close to creating the ESASDUB. But you cannot be allowed to continue. He who holds the knowledge of the ESASDUB holds the knowledge of good and Evil. You are hereby exiled to this Isle. You shall spend the rest of your days here. Unless…

But the rest of the sign had been destroyed in last night’s storm.

Archie spent his days comfortably atop the mountain. Food was delivered mysteriously every night. It was super-delicious. But no matter how good the food was, his brain would not stop gnawing on that “Unless.”

“Unless, what?” was the question constantly on his mind. He dreamed about unless, he wrote “unless” in the dirt over and over. He thought of a hundred, at thousand, a million*20 different “unlesses.” Finally, when he couldn’t take it any more, he decided to confront his mysterious food bringer.

Late on a Saturday night, last Saturday in fact, Archie hid behind a big boulder and waited for his captor*21. Footsteps echoed across the mountaintop at roughly a quarter after one that night. A wizened old man hove into view. Archie was shocked. It was former president George H. W. Bush*22.

Archie leapt from behind the boulder. “GEORGE BUSH?” he cried out into the dark. “Why are you doing this to me? Why are you keeping me here? WHY!!??”

Howard Bush hung his head in relief or shame, Archie couldn’t tell. “The day has finally come,” he whispered. “The end is here.” He looked wistful as he murmured. Wistful and honored and afraid.

“What do you mean?” screamed Archie. The end of what? WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?”

And so Howard explained. He told the story of his life, his painful childhood, his desperate effort to find meaning in his life and his excitement at finding out his true destiny. While his brother became the leader of the so-called free world, while he oversaw the fall of the Berlin Wall and the death of global Stalinist Communism, Howard lay in the shadows, guarding the final, most powerful culinary secret. And it had all led up to this. Ancient ESASDUB lore held that one day, an innocent man would unknowingly come close to creating the perfect sauce. He would be missing only one ingredient: the quintessential cayenne.

“I have it here in my hand,” Howard croaked as his life came to its culmination. “Take it, Archie. It is yours. You must make the sauce. “

In confusion, Archie reached across the gap between them. His nightly food tray clattered to the ground, falling dramatically from Howard’s left hand as he reached out with his right. Clasped there in his right hand was an unlabeled jar with a powder so deep red that it was almost painful. As Archie touched the jar and wrapped his fingers around it, an electric shock shot across his nervous system. He felt complete for the first time in his life.

He held up the jar in triumph, knowing he was now in possession of the purest cayenne known to man.

Suddenly, he heard a gurgle. He whipped around and saw Howard collapse to the ground. In his hand was a broken capsule marked “CYA” on one half and “NIDE” on the other. Howard had poisoned himself.

“Don’t worry,” groaned Howard. “It was how it had to happen. The only thing keeping that capsule intact was my grip on the cayenne. I’ve been clutching it in my withering claw for 32 years now. It is pure peace to know that my task is over. I go to my grave happy,” He rasped. “Come closer,” said Howard. Archie put his ear to Howard’s lips. “Rose….bud…,” Howard whispered, and breathed his last.

Instantly, a crack team of sauce commandos dashed to the mountaintop. “Come,” said the leader. “You’re time hass arrifed. You must return to ze kitchen und complete ze sauce. You are ze saucekeeper now. “

The next day, Archie stood over his saucepan. He was surrounded by the aged inner circle of guardians and their younger protectors. They watched on in a mix of fear and honor as he added two tablespoons of cayenne. A light shone from the sauce as the ground pepper hit the liquid surface. If a host of angels had been there, they definitely would have burst into song.

The sauce was finished. And it was perfect. In the fall of 2010, after more than 700 years of waiting, the world was ready for the ESASDUB. Its time had come. This is the dawning of the age of ESASDUB.*23

*George H. W. and Barbara Bush use the White House Credit Union in Arlington. This credit union is reserved exclusively for the use of former presidents and their wives. Anyway, one night at about 2 AM I saw George staggering out of his limo toward the storefront of the credit union branch. “Baaaaaarbraaaaa, it’s closed! I can’t get to the ATM! How are we going to pay our tab at The Front Page? They’re gonna be pissed!” Imagine him saying that with a lot more slurriness and you’ve got the idea. So Barbara says to him “Dammit, George, I told you it was closed but you never listen, do you? Let’s just go to 7-11 like I said we should in the first place. GAWD!!!” They got back into their limo and drove around the corner to the 7-11 on Fairfax Dr between Stafford and Stuart streets. George went in to the 7-11 (I’m following them at this point, of course, because who wouldn’t) and comes out a few minutes later with several hundred dollars (just a guess) and two cans of Four Loko. He chugs one of the cans and offers the other to Barbara through the limo’s window. She turns him down and says “Get in the car, George!!” and he’s all “NO! I’m gonna do whatever the hell I want! You can’t tell me what to do!” So he pounds the other can, throws the empty at the limo, shoves his secret service detail out of the way and dashes down the escalator into the Ballston metro station. The next morning, I think, is when Archie’s story starts.

*2 Turns out the pirate thing was just a schtick that O. G. had perfected to sound a little creepier than he really needed to. It worked, but only about 65% of the time. The rest of the time, people just laughed at him. He had low self-esteem because of this and often had fantasies in which he was proud of himself and didn’t care what nobody thought about nothing.

*3 Turns out it was Thursday the 18th, not the 21st. What do you know?

*4 You might not believe this, but things turning into diamonds in Archie’s hand was a relatively common occurrence. Once, as a child, his parents bought him a puppy for his birthday. The next day, he picked up the puppy he’d named Manzanita and the poor dog turned into a pile of perfect diamonds. In many ways, Archie was like the Midas of diamonds. The Diadas if you will. Anyway, those dog diamonds funded Archie’s college education at an expensive but third-tier (at best) college called [redacted on request of said college]. The Old Spice guy is based on Archie.

*5 He was right. For one batch of the sauce it turned out that he needed 4 tablespoons of garlic powder. That’s a lot of garlic powder for one sauce, if you know what I mean.

*6 In the mid 17th century, Mendel carried out what we would now consider an abuse of power and a perfect example of the hubris of man. He crossbred various thyme plants, mercilessly culling any plant that was slightly different from the others. In this way, he created what we now know as modern thyme. To rid the world of all other variations of thyme he built a thresher known as “The Thyme Machine” and paid itinerant Moors to scour the earth destroying strange thymes for all time.

*7 He needed two tablespoons per batch. It’s not precisely clear how he knew this. Serendipity, I guess.

*8This Harris Teeter is the only one in the Western Hemisphere that has an entire aisle dedicated to honey. Okay, really it’s one of those demi-aisles you find toward the edge of the store where it ends half-way back to the wall so they can put some fancy cheeses in floor refrigerators there.

*9 Maria von Helmsteinereinmann emigrated to the US at the tender age of three with her parents Pietr and Pauline. They came from the land of the ice and snow, where the midnight sun and the hot springs flow. The economy there was collapsing under the weight of all the ice so thousands upon thousands fled the country. Many ended up in Virginia. Many others found their way to California and the Baja Peninsula of Mexico. Maria wasn’t born blind, but lost her sight in a freak accident. Her family’s house burned down, and as Maria ran to the window to scream for help (this all happened when she was 8 years old) she was hit full in the eyes with the water from the firehose. The high-pressure water destroyed her retinas beyond repair. She was rescued with only minor other injuries, but for many years after the fire, until she dedicated her life to God and honey under the tutelage of Mother Superior Maria, Maria often wished she had been burned to death instead of just blind.

*10 Four tablespoons was all he needed. The bottle, which was NOT shaped like a bear, by the way, only held 6.5 tablespoons and cost $23.99. I told you it was expensive honey.

*11 Unbeknownst to Archie, the woman next to him was the celebrated psychic Annette Funicello (no relation to the Mouseketeer of the same name). She is one of three confirmed authentic psychics living on the eastern seaboard of the United States.

*12 He only needed one cup for the sauce, but he didn’t care. You can use vinegar for all sorts of things like cleaning counters and drinking.

*13 After taking the last of the sugar cane, Don Jesus threw the boy’s body to the dogs. The dogs, however, recognizing the boy’s holiness, didn’t eat him. Instead, they dragged his body gently to the top of the hill and left it there so that the first rays of sun on a new morning hit the boy’s peaceful face. His body did not decay.

*14 In fact, the latest issue of RPS Enthusiast Monthly reported on a study done at the University of Ghent where perhaps the purest Red Pepper Sauce ever created was created.

*15 Two tablespoons to be exact.

*16 He was correct in doing so and also about his marinade comment. A true ESASDUB should be reduced by half for full effectiveness. Once boiled down, it can then be diluted by half with a solution of one part vinegar and one part water to make a really bitchin’ marinade.

*17 Which was pretty stupid because his spice rack had been purchased from a disreputable online spice merchant and had come with 30 little canisters of oregano, not the wide variety of spices that had been advertised.

*18 You could tell he was the leader because he had a big badge on his chest that said “Der Leader.”

*19 Well, actually he’d awoken about 90 seconds later but the 2nd in command stuffed an ether-soakded rag in his face, making him pass out again.

*20 This is hyperbole. He thought of exactly 8,765 different variations on “unless,” none of which turned out to be right.

*21 Not really his captor, since he was stranded on an island, but Archie had decided the day before that he really was being held captive by this mysterious being. More on him later.

*22 Not really. Even more strangely, it was George H. W. Bush’s long-estranged twin brother Howard. The Bush family hid Howard from the world. They were embarrassed and appalled at his deep and abiding love for spices. It was shameful, and they made sure he knew. As a last ditch effort before taking his own life, Howard sought out the mythical Guardians of the Sauce. He found them in the catacombs underneath the Frauenkirche in Munich. There were only five guardians left. Only five members of the most powerful culinary cult of all time. Howard needn’t have worried about being accepted. His arrival had been prophesied by the great originator of the ESASDUB, Charles de Provolone, in 1312 on the lawns of Bretagne. He was the one who would be the last true guardian of the sauce. The Ultimate Sauceror. He would be the one to unleash the true power of the ESASDUB on the world at-large. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

*23 The age of the ESASDUB will run from December of 2010 to June 21, 2345. At that time, a new day will dawn with the creation of the perfect hollandaise sauce. The secret to the hollandaise is currently being held in an undisclosed location by a secretive band of Flemish painters. The current guardian’s name is unknown, but Wikileaks has recently released documents showing that, at one time, James Ensor, Belgium’s Famous Painter, was the Guardian. Many people have scoured his paintings for clues. His The Entry of Christ into Brussels is redolent with hollandaise imagery, at least to those in the know.


Deanna said...

Thanks for getting this out there! I had seen your tweet about sharing it, but was stumped for how to distribute since I only had a hard copy.

kate said...

Ephrata is proud to be mentioned in such an illustrious document.
I don't know how you do it, Schuyler, but ... wow.
Thought of you and Maggie last night while watching iCarly with Lizzy when Carly's grandpa visited from ... Yakima. Awesome.