Traverse City Record-Eagle

May 4, 2009

Foodie With Family: Kids save us from salesman

By REBECCA LINDAMOOD

Our first mistake was probably agreeing to the "complimentary in-home, no-obligation water test."

Frustrated by years of mineral deposits, rust stains, allergic skin issues and more various and sundry water-related complaints, we uncharacteristically agreed to let an euphemistically named "water technician" (read: tenacious salesman) come into our house and test our water. This guy had no idea what was in store for him last Saturday afternoon.

He arrived, told us it was crucial that both my husband and I be there for the entire duration of his tests and began the sales pitch of the century. While Lindy and I sat patiently through the second hour of an intense and dramatic demonstration of how hard our water was (which was not a shock) the children were -- unbeknownst to any of us -- preparing their unintentional counterattack.

We were watching him drop five drops of this and four drops of that into a beaker full of our tap water when my husband stood up and said, "I don't hear the kids. Hang on a second." He then promptly left me alone with the salesman -- I'm sorry, I mean water technician -- to go look for the kids.

Five minutes may not sound like a long time, but when you're staring down a stranger with a beaker in your kitchen, it feels like an eternity. I also excused myself to look for both my husband and my children.

I saw four of my five kids coming back up the hill on the edge of our property. Following shortly after them was their father helping our bleeding-from-the-knees fourth-born, Leif, climb the hill. Leif made quite the entrance into the house. He screeched his little head off while I washed his poor knees with antiseptic wash and offered him "Star Wars" bandages that he wanted to put on himself, thankyouverymuch! He stuck copious amounts of bandages all over his knees and stationed himself on the couch in the next room.

The tenacious not-a-salesman continued with his demonstration and not-sales-pitch for the next hour, occasionally interrupted by the not-walking-wounded calling out for bananas and ice from the couch every so often. My second-born popped by the kitchen to inform me that he was absolutely, positively dying of hunger and he was sure that if he didn't have a snack soon he would "waste away to bones." He was seconded by the sagely nodding third-born who was trying distract my attention from the fact that he was reaching behind himself into the cabinet to where I had stored the excess Easter candy. I shooed them from the kitchen.

Midway through the third hour of the demonstration, I had taken to poking my husband in the back in a way that I hoped was subtle every time the not-a-salesman made an outlandish claim or blatant sales reference. The tests and dire predictions were reaching a fever pitch when one of my sons, who shall remain unnamed for the purposes of protecting his pride, let himself into the bathroom right off of the kitchen. He closed the door and went about his business. The not-a-salesman was wrapping up his spiel and delivered the line that was clearly his big sale-making line, earnestly asking, "Do you trust me? Do you believe I can purify your water for you?"

Meanwhile, in the bathroom that was four feet away, my son delivered the loudest gas ever heard in the history of mankind. We are not quite sure what not-a-salesman said next as we were fighting a battle-for-the-ages for facial control. Our son excused himself from the bathroom and walked away casually while not-a-salesman repeated, "I asked whether you trust me to deliver pure, healthy, clean water to you and your family? Will you let me take care of you?" (Side note: At that point I thought he was proposing to us ...)

As I tried hard to think of an inoffensive way to answer that question I started hearing shllllllllrt THUMP shlllllrt THUMP shllllllrt THUMP. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my theatrical baby with the skinned knees -- who was somehow miraculously only clad in his underpants now -- on his bum dragging himself along the floor shlllllrt with his feet THUMP. He pulled himself into the bathroom, left the door wide open, stood up and relieved himself while watching the not-a-salesman. He then sat back on the floor and dragged himself back to the den.

There was no joy in not-a-salesmanville that night. The part of me that is a decent and caring human being felt bad that he spent that much time with nothing much to show for it. But perhaps just this once, I was secretly glad the boys pulled out all the stops.

Serve the soup below the day before an in-home sales visit. It just might help...

Super Quick Black Bean Soup

1 T. extra-virgin olive oil (or 6 slices bacon)

1 large onion, finely chopped

3 or 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

4 1-lb.cans black beans, drained and rinsed or 6 c. cooked black beans, from dry

Juice of 1/2 lime or lemon (or 2 T. bottled lime juice)

1/2 t. ground cumin

1/2 t. dried oregano

2 T. finely chopped parsley or cilantro

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

4 c. water

Optional toppings: Green onions, thinly sliced, sour cream or plain yogurt.

Heat the oil in a large soup pot. (Or thinly slice the strips of bacon, fry until crispy in the bottom of your soup pot and remove crisped bacon to a paper towel to use as garnish for the finished soup. Leave the bacon fat in the pan and proceed as follows.) Saute the onions over moderate heat until translucent, 3 or 4 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until the onion is lightly golden, another 3 or 4 minutes.

Add the remaining ingredients, except the toppings, along with the water, and bring to a simmer.

Mash some of the beans with a potato-masher, just enough to thicken the liquid base of the soup. Cover and simmer gently but steadily for 10 minutes.

Serve hot topped with as many of the optional toppings as you like.

Serves 6 to 8.

Cheddar Tortilla Crisps

6 flour tortillas

1/2 to 1 c. shredded cheddar cheese

Non-stick cooking spray

Chili powder, optional

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray both sides of each tortilla lightly with non-stick cooking spray. Stack tortillas and cut the pile into quarters. Separate the tortilla wedges and lay them out on a baking sheet. Top lightly with cheddar cheese and sprinkle chili powder on, to taste, if using.

Bake in oven for between 8-12 minutes, depending on desired crispness. Remove pan from oven and allow to cool before serving with soup.

Serves 6 to 8.

This dessert is done in less than one minute, but is out of this world. The crispy, caramel topping makes this banana taste much like a crème brulee but it's better for you!

Bananas Brulee

2 ripe bananas

2-3 T. granulated sugar (or vanilla sugar)

Chocolate syrup, optional

Peel bananas, slice lengthwise, and place on a broiler-safe pan. Sprinkle the cut surfaces of the banana halves generously with sugar. When the entire cut surface is covered opaquely with sugar, use a propane (or kitchen) torch to melt and caramelize the sugar. Allow to rest at least 30 seconds before transferring to a plate. If desired, serve with a drizzle of chocolate syrup.

Serves 2-4, depending on how wicked the sweet tooth is in those who are eating.