Strategic Point 4: Beer batter and deep fry onions.
I looked at my list.
Homemade hummus with pita, carrots, cucumbers and tomatoes. Check.
I removed the salmon from the oven while my paparazzi friends took photos. It was beautiful. Even though I only paid attention to the salmon half the time, and my half of the time threatened to ruin it, I was still really proud of myself. I promised next time I would pay attention to it at least two thirds of the time. The salmon coupled with the watercress and chard—which worked out just fine in a salad—was one of the nicest summer salads I’ve had in a long time. And I made it.
Soy-glazed broiled salmon on orange, watercress and chard salad with homemade dressing. Check.
While everyone was nomming on salmon, I began the slow reveal of the big surprise. I had been dropping hints, of course, that the last battle was special for more than just the fact that it was the end of Julie Versus Vegetables, but just in case I chickened out at the last minute I hadn’t wanted too many people to know what that special reason was, and it was very, very likely that I would chicken out. Since I had made it through the farmers’ market experience alive, barely, I was forging ahead. On Cage Match Fight to the Death-Round 4-Onion Night, I stood in front of all my friends—my friends who have watched me pick and dig through my food and flick onions at them and innocent passersby, my friends who have heard me lie and cheat and steal to avoid onions in public and at their parents’ houses, my friends who have watched me spit and gag and vomit over onion-flavored soups and dips and gravies, my friends who have listened to me bitch and moan and whine and complain and refuse their onion-riddled kindness—with two Vidalia onions in my hands, completely at their mercy, praying for a knockout.
And I had a plan. Fry Daddy. Beer batter. Tiny, tiny slices of onion. Won. Genius, right?
I may not be great at cutting greens or broiling salmon, but if there’s one thing I’ve become expert in, it’s turning good-for-me vegetables into fatty gobs of taste explosions. I plugged in my Fry Daddy and flipped the switch to high. Earlier in the year, the first time I used the Fry Daddy and first time I made my own batter was for beer-battered zucchini. For zucchini I just poured some beer and flour in a bowl and hoped it would work, and it did, but for onions I wasn’t leaving anything to chance. I went back to the Internet’s 234 million web sites and tracked down what seemed like both the easiest and the best beer batter—it never even occurred to me that beer may not be the best batter for onion rings, because I think beer is the best batter for everything—and starting mixing. Beer. Flour. Egg. Salt. Pepper. More beer. And…more beer.
I checked the consistency on the batter and the heat on the Fry Daddy. I looked back at the batter. And then to my guests. And then the Fry Daddy. And then my guests. And then my batter. And then my Fry Daddy. And then my guests. And then my Fr..
“Julie, are you going to cut the onions, or what?”
You can do this, Julie. You can do this. It’s just a vegetable. You’ve done this countless times this year, what’s one more? You can do this.
While I was giving myself this pep talk Mark mentioned he’d seen a special on TV about how to make onion rings and that the slices should be cut really fat. No. That wasn’t part of my plan, Mark. “Really fat,” he kept saying. Shut up, Mark. “Fat,” he said again. I shot fire darts at him with my eyes, which he misunderstood to mean, Please come show me how to cut the onion into fat slices. So Mark showed me how to slice an onion. Fat.
And then I cried. The one culinary experience in life to which I assumed I would always be immune—the the physical reaction provoked by cutting an onion—was attacking me with a vengeance. I was wearing a darling, delightful, most-inappropriate-for-cooking dress with sweeping, wide, bell-shaped, draping sleeves that dredged themselves in beer batter every time I wiped the tears from my face with my arm. Touché, onion, touché.
People finished their salads and helped clean as I was chopping and dredging in batter the last of the onions. It was go time. I dropped four battered rings into the vat of hot oil and then… we waited.
The conversation waned as we waited. This was a big hairy deal. I got impatient and tired of waiting and bored with staring at everyone in listless silence and began to feel the pressure, so I tried to take the onion rings out too soon and the first batch stuck to the basket and was a complete failure. I dropped four more in and we waited some more.
Wait. Times a lot.
This time when I took them out only two stuck to the basket, but two were perfect. I thought this was a good opportunity to stall some more, put another batch in, and wait again so everyone could have some, but my group unanimously disagreed.
I started again with my pep talk. You can do this, Julie. You can do this. It’s just a vegetable. You’ve done this countless times this year, what’s one more? You can do this. I picked up a piping hot onion ring and went to take a bite…
They moved me to the other side of the room so everyone could see me, see my face, take photos, witness whether I actually ate it or just hid it in my cheek until no one was looking and spit it out. From my new spot I could see my friends staring quietly at me, waiting expectantly, and I’m pretty sure all of them, with the exception of maybe Tom, wanted me to like it, wanted me to succeed.
In that instant I decided it didn’t matter if I liked the onion ring or not. This was a great year. I learned some useful things. I ate some decent food. And I had some good times with great people who were invaluable allies in claiming victory over vegetables. Even Tom. Above all else, I challenged myself and I’m better for it. I ate 31 vegetables I wouldn’t have otherwise and in 10 seconds I was going to eat an onion, which wasn’t even on the list.
“You can do this, Julie.”
“You can do this. It’s just a vegetable.”
“You’ve done this countless times this year, what’s one more?”
“You can do this.”
This time the pep talk came from the rowdy band of cheerleaders in my friendly kitchen. And they were right.
I bit down on the crunchy onion ring while the room held its collective breath. I chewed. I swallowed. Where was the onion? That didn’t taste like onion. That tasted good.