Greg's Newsletter Talks Tortilla Chips [No. 068]

There are levels to this...

Well, things are going fine here at the Brown house, all-things-considered.

I'll try not to bore you with a hokey "10 Things I've Learned During Quarantine" list or give you tips on how to enhance your side hustles and make every ounce of your self-isolation as productive and fulfilling as can be. Just doing what you can do to get by is a herculean task. Don't feel bad about eating that cookie.

Even so, I've re-examined my appreciation of food lately. Rachel and I cooked dinner about six nights a week before this all began (though I have a bigger appetite for takeout/delivery than she does. Look, if she’s out of town, I’m going pizza and/or wings). We were once a household that would do 3-4 smaller trips to the grocery store per week so we could eat our produce and fish as fresh as possible. That setup is afforded to us by not having kids yet and having multiple grocery stores in between work and home.

But that's different now, obviously. I make one run per week and we tend to eat the most perishable fruits/veggies first, then move on to the heartier stuff, and finish the week with a dishes that work well with a frozen vegetable, like riced cauliflower.

But beyond the luxury of having fresh fruits and vegetables for a lot of the week, I'm better appreciating and savoring some of foods I used to take for granted.

I knew we had a fair amount of salsa left but the tortilla chip situation was a little less certain. I went to the cupboard and sure enough, we were at the bottom of two different bags.

But I went for it anyways. And in doing so, it dawned on me that there are several distinct steps or levels that you get to when you have plenty of salsa left but you're towards the bottom of the chip bag. And it feels very unique to the tortilla chip experience (you can substitute guacamole/queso into this equation if you'd like).

You don't run into these situations with, say, milk and cereal. Or hummus and carrots. When you get towards the end of the solid thing, it's still basically the same experience as when you started. Regardless of whether you have 50 carrots or have one carrot left, you still dunk it in the hummus and it's the same.

It's less simple with the chips. So, to start: the first and most enjoyable stage is obviously when you start the bag of chips. They're pretty much all full-size and at max freshness. The form factor is just so, so good. Almost perfect. You can dip, scoop up plenty of salsa, and there's still a nice gap in between your fingers and the salsa. Your hands stay relatively clean, with only the salt or slight chip dust to be concerned with. Let's be real, it's pretty satisfying to lick your fingers after that, too.

Once you eat that last full-sized chip, things start to change. But you're still in a decent spot for the time being. You're in the half-to-two-thirds chip phase and you can have a good experience. You might even double up and technically have a higher chip-to-bite ratio if that's what you're in the mood for. Totally up to you. But when those half-chips disappear, though, things start to change. There's no going back to the good old days.

It's at this juncture that you might ask, "do I want chips this badly?" Personally, If I have salsa left, the answer is still mostly going to be "yes." (My default, this many years in, to food consumption questions, whether asked in my own head or by someone else, is "yes.")

Ok, but we've reached the next level down. And trust me, it's down. This is where your stack becomes two, three, four or more small bits of chip. Your thumb and index finger begin to become almost one with the stack of chips. Like a Tortilla Piece Sandwich, but your extremities are the bread slices.

You technically have enough surface area to get a fair amount of salsa, but now you're dipping and you can't help but to get salsa on your bread fingers. The gap between chip and finger that once proved to be a delight has now been suddenly, and regretfully removed.

When you move your hand to your mouth to go and take a bite, you almost have to insert your fingers into your mouth by default, to consume the tortilla pieces and sad salsa. This is quite a bit different than stage one—with full chips—in which it's a joy to lick the salt off of your fingers. Now, in this dark stage, you have messy salsa to contend with. The salsa didn’t ask for this. Your fingers didn’t ask for this. But here we are.

Not only that, but each time you dip, it's not uncommon to lose 10, 20, maybe 30% of your initial stack into the salsa. Casualties. Fallen soldiers. It's the cost of war. But the pain is inflicted by more than just the losses—you know have increasingly soggy tortilla pieces affecting the composition of your salsa. They sit there, looking up as if to say, "you did this to me; you did this to us; you did this to yourself."

Now—NOW! THIS DAMN INSTANT!—is the point that you should stop the affront on civil society. But I'll be honest with you, I kept going this weekend. And it's not the first time. Warning: it gets even darker.

We're at the bottom of the bottom. We still have salsa. But the bag is effectively crumbs. Now, to be fair, those crumbs make up a not insignificant amount of chips if you were to kind of combine them all together. There is technically enough chip to make the salsa work. Unfortunately, the form factor does not work like that. You can’t say “Earth, Fire, Wind, Water, Heart” and then suddenly the crumbs combine into a full-size, Captain Planet tortilla chip.

So what do you do? It's "utensil time," a phrase that should never be muttered in the presence of tortilla chips and salsa as you contemplate your next bite. Yes, a spoon is fine for scooping salsa on to a chip at a restaurant. Among friends? Just dip directly. That spoon shouldn't enter your mouth. But ok, there are two approaches.

First, dump all of the chip crumbs into a reasonably sized bowl and pour a small portion of salsa and... go in with a spoon. That's right. If you have the combination and mixture right, there's some approximation of a chip + salsa combo. But it just feels wrong. Gah, sorry everyone, I should have stopped here.

You can also grab yourself a spoonful of the chip crumbs and dunk the spoon into the salsa, so instead of mixing it all together for a few final spoonfuls, it amounts to a scoop and dunk. But you really should start asking the question: would I want anyone to see me do this? Even if I know nobody's around... why? Why? Now I have two empty tortilla chip bags, laying flat on the counter. Crumbs all over the floor. A concoction of chip dust and diced tomatoes in my mustache. What looks like sawdust in a tiny bowl of chunky salsa that, let's be clear, never asked to play this role in such a fucked up relationship. I spent this whole god damn time thinking about what to do with the chips and not once did I think about the salsa. Oh god, I just looked at the expiration date on the salsa and it has a shelf-life at least 4x the chips. The salsa was the thing that was going to be with me all along and I fell into a tortilla trap of love, lies, deception, and shame.

Anyways, self-isolation is going just fine over here. How are you holding up?