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Off the sauce for Lent


In the past six months, I can count the number of beers I’ve drank on one hand. Shocking, but true. I had to quit because it comes up number one on the list of things that cause gout, a painful malady I hope you never experience.
Number two is shellfish and three is animal body organs.
Giving up lobster and crab was easy because I rarely ate it. Not because of the taste, I liked that, but because it was expensive and difficult to eat. Crab is especially annoying and way too much work for too paltry of a reward. I miss shrimp but only because I love a good cocktail sauce. I make my own: one cup of ketchup, half cup horseradish and two tablespoons of hot sauce. That’s enough to serve me, or a party of eight.
I stopped eating liver ages ago and can’t think of any other organ I’ve ever dined upon, unless you count the skin on chicken wings and whatever is in hot dogs, in which case I’ve had my share. But, as a kid I had plenty of liver. It was one of Mom’s go-to meals if the budget got tight. A plate of liver and onions with a side of mashed potatoes could be whipped up for pennies per serving, even if they were Fleck servings. Brother Brad could eat a mound of potatoes so big his head disappeared, and Dad joked I must have hollow legs because I could pack away more grub than normal human physiology should allow.
Actually, I didn’t like liver, but I ate it anyway for several reasons.
The first and foremost was the standard operating procedure in our family: you ate what was put in front of you or you didn’t eat at all. It seems harsh by today’s standards, but it was what it was. People forget, up to a century ago, having food wasn’t a given and children needed to eat now because parents didn’t know where the next meal was coming from. People really did starve to death. I assure you that was not my case. I may have gone to bed hungry a few times, but Mom made sure I got an extra bowl of cereal in the morning, if not a slice of toast just before bed. Another reason I didn’t mind liver was it was so, so much better than the last meal of the fiscal food period: pea soup.
I detested it. First off, I couldn’t palate the name. Are we talking peas or pee here? The sickly color of the liquid didn’t help, and Dad’s attempt to make it macho sounding by calling it “army” green, didn’t assist either. Nor did the admonition, “It’ll put hair on your chest.” It smelled bad, looked bad and tasted bad. I was more than happy to go through life with a bald torso and hungry.
Finally, liver wasn’t so bad because you could smother it in ketchup and, with a little imagination, pretend it was steak. And smother it I did. Mom allowed that it was a vegetable, bless her heart, so it was okay even if Dad grumbled about the cost of Hunt’s.
And that brings me to what this column was supposed to be about: I gave up eating ketchup for lent. This is a startling development even before you consider I am not and never have been a practicing Catholic. No, it’s astounding because of the integral part the condiment has played in my diet for the past half-century. Rather than list the things I put ketchup on, I’ll keep this shorter by offering a roster of what I don’t: soup, as already established, and hot dogs. Every good Chicago boy knows you never squirt Heinz on a Vienna, lest you be mistaken for a tourist, robbed and tossed into the Chicago River (and you thought it was dyed green for St. Patty’s Day).
But, I’ve been working with some health professionals lately and they assure me consuming ketchup by the gallon is not a good idea. I’m not exaggerating, I can use up to a pint on an omelet faster than an egg cracks; and you better not get between me and the bottle while dining on a hamburger and fries.
After six months of going without a Miller Lite, much less an Urquell Pilsner, I’m pleased to report I don’t even miss my suds much anymore. Don’t know how long I’ll be able to stay off the other sauce, however, probably not a lifetime but at least until Easter.