I vetted these dill pickles so you wouldn’t have to.

First things first… happy birthday to Callaghan, my excellent partner in crime and goofball extraordinaire!

Welcome to a new week in my little life, where the superficial issue du jour concerns… pickles. Dill pickles. Naturally, I thought, Who better to commiserate with me than everyone who reads this blog? 

Dill pickles, which I’ve always loved, were one of many foods that stoked my gustatory homesickness while I lived in France. No matter where we went in that beautiful country, I couldn’t find any dills, and the more I couldn’t find them, the more I wanted them. There seems to be only one kind of pickle over there; the French cornichon is more tart than sour, and its dominant flavor is more tarragon than dill. Unfortunately, I dislike the flavor of tarragon. I missed the kosher dill pickles I’d taken for granted in the States. (Come to think of it, I don’t remember seeing any kind of Jewish food in France, including bagels. I’d searched for bagels in vain, too.)

Since I grew up in a house that had a jar of Claussen pickles permanently installed in the refrigerator, Claussen had been my favorite brand of mass-produced dill pickles. But now, I read food labels, so now, I have problems with not only Claussen, but all the dill pickles, apparently.

This brings me to Exhibit A:

 

The current dill pickle situation at our house.

The current dill pickle situation at our house.

 

These are the jars of dill pickles in our refrigerator right now. Yes. There are four different brands of pickles because that’s how many times it took for me to remember to read the damn labels in the store, before buying them. That’s how not used to reading pickle jar labels I’d been. Now that chemicals are a food group in and of themselves, you have to read ALL the labels. My innocence has been destroyed.

Let’s break it down from left to right, looking at the ingredients lists’ highlights (or lowlights, as the case may be):

1). Claussen Kosher Dill Wholes. What’s wrong with them: High Fructose Corn Syrup, “natural flavor.” Major problem: “Dill” does not appear on the ingredients label.

–The words “Contains less than 2% of” prefaces the part of the list that begins with “High Fructose Corn Syrup,” but as far as I’m concerned, HFCS is HFCS, and I strenuously avoid it. I might eat other kinds of junk, but I’m selective about the junk I eat, and one thing I don’t do is cross the HFCS line, ever, if I can possibly help it. It’s basically a poison that causes a chemical chain reaction in your body that leads to visceral belly fat. Want to know how it is that I’m 46 and I eat my fair share of junk and I have minimal belly fat? I avoid HFCS. (Okay, I also work out 4x/week, drink tons of water, avoid alcohol, get as much sleep as I can, and eat more healthy stuff than junk, but still, avoiding HFCS is key.)

–I read somewhere that “natural flavor” comes from either an insect or a gland in the nether regions of a non-human mammal. Either way, pickles with “natural flavor” instead of dill = gross pickles.

Number of ingredients: 13, and this is another issue for me. I’d prefer fewer ingredients on my dill pickle jar label, thanks!

2). Trader Joe’s Kosher Dill Pickles. What’s wrong with them: “Natural flavorings (dill, garlic).” There it is again! Natural flavor. These pickles are slightly better than the Claussen brand because the word “dill” does appear on the ingredients label…

–However, “dill” is merely sub-listed as a parenthetical ingredient after “natural flavoring,” which says to me that “natural flavoring” either includes other things that aren’t explicitly mentioned, OR the “natural flavoring” components are made to imitate the flavors of dill and garlic. Imposters.

–If dill and garlic are actual ingredients, then why not just list them as actual ingredients? SUSPICIOUS.

Number of ingredients: 9 (counting “natural flavoring” as one).

3). Vlasic Kosher Dill Spears. What’s wrong with them: “Natural flavor” (!) and “yellow 5.”

–Again, no dill in the dill pickles. WTF. The telling factor here is the label on the side that boasts “Classic Dill TASTE” – the “taste” written just like that, all in caps. Not real dill, just the taste of dill. At least they’re honest.

–Yellow 5 in pickles? SUSPICIOUS AND SCARY.

Number of ingredients: 8… and 50% of them are chemicals and “natural flavors.” Welcome to the pickle graveyard, Vlasic.

Finally, we arrive at my favorite:

4). Don Hermann & Sons Kosher Dill Pickles (“cloudy brine assures fresh packed.”). What’s wrong with them: Nothing seems to be wrong with these pickles, health-wise.  Also, they’re scrumptious. In a blind taste test conducted by Callaghan, I liked these the best by far.

–The only eyebrow-raising ingredient is the first one. It’s “pickles,” which throws me off because why not “cucumbers” as the first, main ingredient (like the Claussen and Vlasic), or “gherkins” (like the Trader Joe’s)? How can you use something as an ingredient that is itself? Don’t you have to start with naked cucumbers or gherkins? I’m confused. But we’re going to give Don Hermann & Sons the benefit of the doubt and assume they mean naked cucumbers or gherkins.

Number of ingredients: 5. Only five ingredients! “Pickles (?), salt, dill, garlic, pickling spices.” Okay, so “pickling spices” could include a hundred different varieties, and if I’m going to be super nit-picky, I’d be more annoyed by the vagueness there. But I’m biased by how incredibly good these pickles are, and also by the absence of vinegar, which indicates that the pickles are naturally fermented.

Don Hermann & Sons. These dill pickles are as good as you’re going to get short of making your own or getting some via bartering with an Amish farmer.

–But.

Ironically, the virtues of these pickles also make them unworkable for me. The problem with these delicious dill pickles is that you can’t them take anywhere, unless you don’t mind the whole world knowing that you have them. I tried bringing one to work one day, and it turned into a fiasco.

Packing up my food that morning, I put one of these pickles in a small Ziploc bag, making sure that it was sealed tight. The bag went into one of my cloth lunch bags, and that went into another, similar cloth lunch bag… so I left home with a tripled-bagged pickle, among other things. When I got to work, I put the whole shebang in the corner of my office, as usual.

All morning, all I could smell was the garlicky dill pickle. It was a good smell, but it was absolutely not a smell I wanted in my office. This isn’t going to work, I thought to myself. Must move the pickle. I took the cloth bag that contained the Ziploc’d pickle and put it in the communal refrigerator. But then I remembered how the scent of the pickles hit me in the face when I opened the refrigerator door at home that morning, and as I was working, I kept thinking of that.

Eventually, guilt drove me back to the communal kitchen. I opened the refrigerator door, and sure enough, the boisterous pickle smell rushed out. I took the pickle outside and put it in the trash because I didn’t know what to do with it at that point. Not only was there nowhere to store it in a courteous way, but by then, I was also convinced that if I ate the pickle, I’d smell like it for the rest of the day.

Thus, I still can’t have dill pickles… while I’m at work. I’m keeping the delicious Don Hermann & Sons pickles for weekend enjoyment. The other three jars will go to a food bank.

La Fin.

My Experience with Juicing, or, What the Sea Witch Gave the Little Mermaid to Drink in Order to Grow Legs

Recently, we decided that it would be reasonable to invest in a juicer, so we conducted the obligatory consumer research and ordered one from Sears. Free shipping!

 

A good juicer, and we got it from Sears for a decent price.

A good juicer, and we got it from Sears for a decent price.

 

Once, in my thirties, I did the Master Cleanse for ten days, and I had no problem with it. Based on that experience, I figure I can easily do a fresh veggie juice fast four times a month; it’s a practice I wish to cultivate for detoxifying purposes (not for weight-loss). I invited Callaghan to do it with me, and he said yes, count him in! Okay, then… LET’S DO THIS.

The first time we used the juicer – last week – we double-checked to ensure that all the right parts of the machine were locked down into the right places. Despite our diligence, we somehow forgot to place a receptacle beneath the juice spout. Details! In a matter of seconds, we found ourselves in the middle of what looked like a violent crime scene, because the first thing we fed into the juicer was, of course, fresh BEETS. Also, the machine was facing backwards (which was why we forgot to check the spout), so we didn’t notice the error until the beet juice hemorrhage was well out of control.

We had to act fast. Our kitchen was the site of an unholy beet massacre; it looked like someone’s throat had been slit in the grand finale of a knife-wielding lunatic’s homicidal rampage. The beet juice spread quickly, pooling under and around things on the white kitchen counter. It splattered on the wall. It dribbled onto the floor. It went everywhere.

In a panic, we grabbed whatever we saw lying around to mop up the mess. The beet juice transferred from one thing to another, and all over us. Yikes! I thought. What if the cops happened to knock on the door at that very second for some random reason? We would have been caught literally red-handed, standing in our slasher flick movie set of a kitchen with gobs of bloody… er, beety… paper towels, a stained sponge and a smeared counter. It looked very bad. Also, somehow, there was a dirty coffee mug half-way filled with the stuff, adding to the macabre effect. I was wearing my skull t-shirt, too. We should have taken a picture.

Callaghan held up the remaining chunks of beets, and I said, “At least we have some left!”

That was Juicing, Part 1.

Juicing, Part 2 was about juicing the rest of the veggies once we worked the kinks out of our methodology.

Juicing, Part 3 was about drinking the juice.

The horror of Part 3 surpassed the horror of Part 1. The juice tasted like it came from a stagnant bog from the Pleistocene epoch, with an aftertaste of sweaty feet.

Coincidentally, my friend Beau wrote on his Facebook that day:

I juiced almost 2 pounds of kale and got a whopping 8 ounces of liquid. Due to its enticing, beautiful green color, I tried it out before mixing with my other fruits and veggies.

It tasted like a mouthful of the Gulf of Mexico……and not in a good way.

Wow, I thought as I commiserated with him in a comment on his post. What a coincidence! We’re both juicing kale today and concluding that it tastes like ass.

Later, Beau wrote:

Juice update: Mixed this…liquid…with the rest of the stuff the girl set aside for juicing. By adding several bell peppers, oranges, grapes, cucumber, lemons and a metric shitload of celery, I managed to get the taste boosted to “peppery sewage.” …….I will be revamping the recipe.

Yeah, I think the celery was one thing that killed it for me. That, and the garlic. And the cucumbers. Instead of melding into a harmonious brew, each of these flavors defiantly held their own shape and competed with each other with obnoxious force, bulldozing my tongue until it became a whimpering, limp rag in my mouth. Traumatized into oblivion, my poor taste buds spent the rest of the day engaged in a feeble battle to develop amnesia.

The juice is vile. As Beau put it, it tastes like how an exorcism feels.

But I choked down another glass for lunch.

In the middle of the afternoon, Callaghan and I stuffed organic apples into the juicer and gulped the juice like it was the elixir of the Gods. Ah! Fruit. Simple, sweet fruit.

Then I brushed my teeth and felt a little bit better, even though I still had an apocalyptic caffeine-withdrawal headache and my whole body felt hijacked from the inside out. It was like my blood had suddenly become claustrophobic and gathered itself into a frenzy to exit my pores in the most dramatic way possible, clashing against the insides of my veins like waves pounding the rocks on a stormy beach. Agitated toxins all riled up, I thought. I wasn’t hungry at all, but I felt sick. Also, I felt oddly cold and just very out-of-sorts in a particularly disconcerting way. I did not like being in my body. I fantasized about unzipping my skin and stepping out of it, leaving my miserable, toxin-riddled flesh suit in a heap on the floor.

I couldn’t understand it… since returning to the States, I’ve eaten pretty “clean” (which, for me, personally, means vegan and sans simple sugars/refined carbs, as well as nothing fried) 98% of the time, and the last time I consumed an alcoholic beverage was sometime in June, so it’s not like my body’s composed of junk and had a tidal wave of HEALTHY to reckon with upon introduction of the veggie juice. My habits are already very healthy. How could the juice be that great of a shock to my system? Nor did I remember feeling this way when I did the Master Cleanse, not even after ten days. My body doesn’t even react like this if I don’t consume anything at all for a day, for whatever reason. Also, I’d juice-fasted once or twice while we were in France, for several days at a time, and I’d felt just fine. The problem is THIS juice.

That evening, I still wasn’t hungry, but I opened the refrigerator and eyed the juice remaining in the glass pitcher. The day is almost over, I thought. I can do this. I love vegetables! How can drinking them be so different than eating them? I poured out a glass for each of us, but when I lifted mine to my mouth, my nose reacted first. The hairs in my nostrils withered, as though singed by an invisible flame. My throat tightened, and my gag reflex convulsed. My stomach curled into a ball and tried to hide. My mouth watered the way it does right before you vomit. I set the glass down.

“I can’t do this anymore. I’m done,” I said to Callaghan, who was happily drinking his second glass of juice in one sitting. (What the hell? How can he…?)

“I’m French,” he informed me, reading my mind. “So I can eat the most terrible-tasting stuff.”

I drank some water, brushed my teeth again and went to bed.

The next day, my body looked like a million bucks.