Let me preface this by saying: I love remembering Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Super Mario Brothers Super Show, and Lady Lovely Locks.
See? I can be nostalgic.
But too much nostalgia is a dangerous thing. How many comedians have you seen, listicles have you read, or TV shows have you watched that don’t make jokes or have a point, but just reference things from your childhood? People use nostalgia as a shortcut to good feelings, a little lever we experimental-rat humans can push to get fed pellets of pleasant memories.
That’s why, when I heard that the Northeast-concentrated chain Dunkin‘ Donuts was coming to Southern California,* my response was a simple “meh.”
See, I grew up in northern New Hampshire, in a small town where Dunkin‘ defined donuts for me – in a good way. I fondly remember the tactical challenge of eating a jelly donut, trying to keep the messy explosion of powdered sugar and jelly from going anywhere other than my mouth. And Munchkins! Those wonderful little boxes of donut holes that, because they were small, allowed you to eat several different flavors of donuts without feeling like you were going to ralph.
But my current home, Los Angeles, is arguably the best place in America to eat donuts, which is why it makes me cringe every time my northeast brethren say they’re so excited Dunkin‘ is comin‘ to town. Because guys, I gotta tell you, I’ve eaten donuts as an adult, and Dunkin’s donuts taste weird. My boyfriend encouraged me to say that Dunkin’s offerings have a “signature flavor.” Well, their signature flavor would best described as “kinda off,” and they also have a signature mouthfeel – a weird coating feeling similar to what you get when you eat McDonald’s fries.
Every few months, I read a headline like this:
THERE IS A NEW BEST BURGER IN LOS ANGELES BEING MADE BY A CHEF WHO HAS A BURGER COUNTER INSIDE A ROSEMARY BUSH SO THE BURGER IS INFUSED WITH ROSEMARY!!!!! EAT IT NOW!!!!!
We’re all savvy enough to understand that no matter how many “best burger” articles and lists and listicles are released, there is no real “best burger,” right? There is no best burger in America, there is no best burger in California, and there is no best burger in the city I live in, Los Angeles. Articles like this are 50% useful (they do point to tasty burgers), and 50% brain candy, riling up the internet audience to agree, or disagree, or sigh and close that browser tab.
I grew up in the frigid northeast, so I know what a jerk I sound like to all of you winter-locked folks when I tell you that, as of mid-March, the orange trees behind my Los Angeles house were in bloom. The flowers are early this year – according to the Porterville Recorder (the local paper for Porterville, CA, which is about 160 miles north of LA) an official citrus bloom isn’t usually declared until after April 1. But the recent summery temperatures have brought the bloom on early, and the small white flowers smell amazing. The scent reminds me of opening a bottle of Pond’s Cold Cream as a child – a deep, rich perfume that begs to be inhaled and re-inhaled.
Despite this lovely blossoming, most of the recent news about oranges has not been good. In fact, oranges have had such negative press recently, you’d think that they were Lindsay Lohan on a post-comeback bender*. There are a couple things working against the poor orange. First of all, orange juice sales in the United States have slid by 29% over the last decade. OJ has been losing its place as a breakfast health-food drink** – people have finally realized that juice can have as many calories and as much sugar as soda. And the scandals about how our orange juice is prepared don’t help, either. A few years ago, it was revealed that “not from concentrate” doesn’t mean that juice isn’t processed – in fact, that juice will sit in vats for up to a year, and before it goes to stores, it’s reinvigorated with a taste-boosting “flavor pack” that’s created from oranges, so it doesn’t have to be listed on the bottle as a separate ingredient.***
As James Cameron can tell you, puttering around the Mariana Trench in his tiny submarine, the sea is full of bizarre and mysterious creatures. There are Pompeii worms, which live near volcanic heat vents and can withstand temperatures of 175°F. There are deep-sea anglerfish, those nightmare-jawed beasts with small fins and little glowing bulbs hanging from their heads.
And then – then there is that ocean oddity known as the fish taco.
If you haven’t had a Baja-style fish taco, it might look a bit like the taco equivalent of an anglerfish – you can recognize it as a taco, but it also doesn’t look quite like any taco you’ve ever seen before. The fish is battered (usually beer-battered) and deep-fried into golden chunks. (Don’t let anyone convince you that the fish should be grilled. If it is, you’re not eating a Baja-style taco.) Finely shredded cabbage is a topping requirement, as is the creamy white sauce. Beyond that, you can get fancy with salsas and radishes, but they’re not required.