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Mountain Home Magazine

The Hunger Games

Harold Lloyd once starred in a film called Safety Last! You might remember stills of hapless Harold hanging from the face of a Big Ben-type clock many stories above the street. But it is “Safety First” for food companies these days. I blame the frenzy over the Tylenol incident. So packaging—including food packaging—became tamper-proof. So many are “people-proof,” at least to this otherwise happy cook. Herewith are a few of my pet peeves.

A Serial Nuisance

Cereal boxes are almost impossible for me to get right. I try to carefully open the tab on the flap which, after sprinkling some of the contents into a bowl, one is instructed to slide into the slot (that has to be pried open). It rips, and when I try to roll down the waxed paper that contains the flakes, the little pillows, the “O’s,” or the bran buds (I am at that age) the resultant bulge won’t let me maneuver the tab into the slot. I gasp at the gaps.

And as for getting nimbly to the contents, gently opening that waxed paper at the top seam is impossible. I am not Edward Scissorhands. Look, I’m still half-asleep and so I end up attacking the inner wrap with whatever sharp instrument is handy. With the bag now in shreds how can you keep the cereal remaining in the box reasonably airtight? Can’t be done.

I’m addicted to certain brands of jam/jelly that have an outer screw cap and an inner metal lid. How to pry that off using a “church key” without bending the lid so it can be re-closed is a challenge. And all that sticky goop on your fingers often coincides with the phone ringing.

Those little plastic tabs that seal the outer wrapping of breads and English muffins invariably snap in two when I force them or simply don’t want to reaccept the wad of plastic to close. Patience? Phooey.

I Get No Thrill with Blueberry Spill

I love to treat myself to blueberries and raspberries. Know all those little plastic coffins that fruit comes in? My scheme to get these blasted things open is to press the little box into my chest with one hand so I can force the lid open with my other hand. Too hard a press and those little blue or red cannonballs fly through the air. I try to salvage what I can (pricey, aren’t they?) and rinse them well. However, there’s an aged oriental rug in the kitchen that successfully conceals the little devils. Squish, squash.

I also often have a shower of what I call oat confetti when prying off the snug lids that top the round container. I swear I can hear the Quaker guy chortling at my ineptitude. As for pasta, I often turn to thin spaghetti and, counting carbs, I only need very little. I open one end of the box and try to shake out a small amount. I end up with a “pick-up-sticks” scene on the stove with a few shorter pieces bouncing onto the electric element under the boiling water and igniting. This really burns me up.

Then we have those boxes of cream cheese. Once I get the box open I’m faced with gently opening the seams so the rectangle of cheese comes out unscathed. Heaven forbid the cheese is anything but well chilled, otherwise it adheres to the foil. I’m usually in a scramble to get the cheese into a nice white china dish that snugly holds the cheese and the drips from the salsa I spoon on it (and then top with crab or sometimes finely-chopped cooked shrimp or toasted sesame seeds). One of the best and easiest hors d’oeuvres I know.

I am inordinately fond of Triscuits—always have been. I was excited to see a box of new small triangular Triscuits on an end-cap at my market as I was whizzing off to the checkout. I grabbed a box. It would be perfect as a one-bite base for the marvelous Camembert cheese from the Hudson Valley’s Old Chatham Sheepherding farm. Guests were arriving as I carefully opened the box of triangles. I reeled at the smell of cinnamon and sugar. In my haste I hadn’t scrutinized the package. I mean cinnamon and Triscuits? Heresy. Happily, I had a box of Wheat Thins on the shelf.

Press Here—Ha!

“Press here and lift” are fighting words. Evidently my “presser finger” is aging badly. (I reckon companies probably employ eighteen-year-old weight lifters to test their packaging.) I use an ice pick on that thing. I’m instructed to tear off the package tops of cheese or chips. Hurrah, they are “resealable.” The zip starts out okay but comes off the track halfway through the action and I have to get out the shears. Tragically, my nails aren’t long enough to nudge the package open. Likewise, if the packaged cheese slices are refrigerator-cold, I’m stymied when trying to separate single slices from the pack. And forget all but the zip- handled plastic Baggies, and my cries of indignation when I can’t get the male and female parts to form a color not found in nature.

And how about those little tins of anchovies? I’ve tangled with these babies—and lost too many times. The little ring pops off way before the entire lid, and I am within inches of severing an artery trying to avoid the half-open top of the blasted thing to fish out what fish I need. I am now buying anchovies in little jars. (Hint: if you are making tuna salad—and I could go on about the tuna cans, but I won’t—fish out one or two anchovies and mash them into the tuna mix for a fantastic flavor boost.)

Finally there is yogurt, the darling ingredient in dressings, soups, and the like. I like to have a container for lunch, and it’s all Greek to me these days. One brand I like has a devilish tab that you pull off to reveal the contents. Pull, yank, twist—I try them all only to have the lid stay firmly in place. Sure I am developing arthritis, but…

And then there is frozen yogurt, specifically the Ben & Jerry’s raspberry or blueberry swirl flavors. The latter has a thin vein of crushed graham crackers through it. (How they manage to stay crisp through it all is a mystery.) I am usually so anxious to taste this treat that I forget the almost invisible clear plastic sealing tape that encircles the lid’s rim. I hang in there and—safety last?—hack away with a sharp knife.

Where’s Harold Lloyd when you need him?

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