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    Sunday, April 21, 2024

    Gyro gone wrong

    The gyro that did me dirty.
    My half finished Crab Rangoon Egg Rolls, pre-empted by a bout of food poisoning.

    Sat., Feb. 17:

    I was in NYC on an annual pilgrimage to Radio City Music Hall with my trusty sidekick, Forrest, to see LOTR: The Two Towers with full orchestra and choir. We were running a little late getting to the show and I had to grab dinner from a food truck outside the venue and I opted for a gyro. I stood there watching the guy making the gyro and I just knew it was going to be bad. He was hacking at a frozen slab of the gyro meat with a spatula and slapped it onto a barely warm grill and he called the tzatziki sauce, “white sauce.” There were almost no diced tomatoes, more lettuce than meat and no feta cheese. All for $14. Ended up throwing half of it into the garbage. Because that’s where garbage belongs.

    Most everyone who knows me knows that I pitch a hissy over bad food. I have thrown crappy takeout out of my car window along back roads (raccoons deserve a snack once in while). In my defense, I don’t throw the wrappers out the window, just the food. What kind of slob do you think I am?

    Summer 1986:

    Back in the day, I managed the Strawberries Records in the New London Mall and we would eat pretty regularly at the Papa Gino’s there. You ever wonder why no one waxes nostalgic about Papa Gino’s? Because they served sub-par food from the get-go. But our food options at the Mall were limited: PG, Orange Julius, Hickory Farms and an ice cream shop called The Ice Cream Shop. One afternoon, I got a tuna pocket from PG’s and brought it back to the store to eat at my desk. Only to find that the tuna salad was about 80% mayo and 20% tuna and it squeezed out of the pocket and onto my lap like a tuna smoothie.

    I had been eating occasionally at that restaurant for over a year and had begged them to stop overloading the tuna with mayo. And they never did. In fact, it only got worse. Street definition of insane: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. So admittedly, I was insane. But my reaction was even more so. I clenched that damn tuna pocket in my fist, whipped around and threw it at the back wall of the stockroom. It splattered and stuck to the wall in gooey blobs. Took me quite a while to clean up and for weeks, there was the slight aroma of low tide in the back office.

    Sun., Feb. 18:

    The night after the Radio City show, we headed back to midtown to catch a train back to New London and I wanted to get dinner and, me being me, I still hadn’t filled that craving for a good gyro, so I rolled the dice and tried another food truck outside Penn Station. And bang! I got one of the most delicious gyros I’ve ever had. The seasoned meat was cubed and juicy, a decent amount of tomatoes, he added a little spin with a few strips of marinated onions & peppers and he put a little bit of lettuce in first to keep the pita from getting too soggy. When I asked him if had tzatziki, he shook the squeeze bottle at me and I almost did a happy dance.

    Mon., Feb. 19:

    This morning, I was doing a very unhappy dance. My gut felt like there was a small demon deep frying a blooming onion in it. An acrid, pungent, greasy onion, sizzling and popping in boiling oil, until it blossomed and released its caustic payload. Yep, food poisoning. There’s a huge difference between an upset stomach and a food-borne illness. An upset stomach feels localized, and my head was throbbing, I had some slight chills, dry heaves, live heaves, etc., AHEM, etc. So I started my morning out with shots of Pepto and kept hydrated, determined to ride this out with my friends, Ibuprofen and Advil. I did a couple hours work remotely from home, called out sick and then collapsed into bed for another six hours. Made some rice and broth for dinner, watched some TV and then went to bed early and slept for another eight hours. I was under deadline for this column, but I simply did not care.

    Tues., Feb. 20:

    The low-grade headache went away overnight, the nausea had subsided, but the gut fire was still smoldering. As I’ve previously written in this column, I’ve applied for a slot at the Waterford Farmer’s Market and I’m going to be selling home-prepared foods this season for the first time. And earlier this week, I took the Food Handler Certification course as part of the CT Cottage Food licensing process and got a perfect score on the final test. To be sure, almost anyone can take that course and pass it, but the harder part is putting it into practice every time I make a batch of saleable food. That requires not just book learning, but diligence and care. No cutting corners or sloppiness. And it made me wonder about what step that food truck vendor screwed up. Unwashed hands? Improperly cooked meat? Maybe he left the bottle of tzatziki sauce unrefrigerated too long? I won’t ever know, but I know going forward that I won’t forget this bout of food poisoning for a long time. Especially as I’m greeting customers face to face at the Farmer’s Market. You can’t brag about the taste of your food unless you stand behind the quality and safety of that food.

    When I was in NYC, I had a brainstorm on making a twist on Crab Rangoon; upsizing them with egg roll wrappers. When I tried to prep it in order to have something edible to offer for this column, I got so nauseated by the smell of them frying this afternoon, I gave up. If the test works out, I’ll add into my next column (see photos).

    Wed., Feb. 21 - 4 a.m.

    Woke up three times overnight to raise a toast to myself in the bathroom mirror with Pepto. Couldn’t sleep. My stomach was gurgling so loud, it sounded like two hippies on a waterbed.

    Wed., Feb. 21 - 8 a.m.

    The gurgling has stopped. My digestive tract no longer feels like Chernobyl. What’s my takeaway from all this? Well, I’m going to be super focused on food safety going into the Farmer’s Market. I’ll be covering the guidelines from the CT Cottage Food regulations in this column throughout the selling season. Also, I’ve got to keep at least one column in my back pocket in case I get sick again. Right, Kristy?

    Upcoming and ongoing

    The application for the CT Cottage Food License is submitted, the application for the Waterford Farmer’s Market has been accepted and is awaiting insurance confirmation. Once all of those are in place, I need approval from Ledge Light Health District and then I can fire up the oven. Opening day is Saturday, April 27, and I’ll be there with bells (and latex serving gloves) on.

    Rich Swanson is a local cook who has had numerous wins in nationally sponsored recipe contests. He is also the layout specialist here at The Day.

    Comments? Questions? Suggestions? Rich Swanson can be reached at TheSurlyTable@gmail.com.

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