A friend was complaining to me recently about her husband’s irritating inability to locate simple items that are directly in front of him. I pretended to sympathize with her frustration, but secretly I was identifying with him. I have the same problem.
For example, last week I spent 10 minutes in my local market looking for that simplest of items, salt. I found the spice section and scoured the shelves, but it was nowhere to be seen. I knew they had to carry salt. Where had they hidden it?
Finally, I gave up and hunted down a store employee in another aisle — who led me to the exact spot where I had been standing and pointed to it, sitting on an eye-level shelf that probably had not magically appeared in the interim.
In my defense, I have to say that the store had done something very deceptive. They carried only their own brand and, inexplicably, they did not package it in a cylindrical cardboard container or in a red or blue box. It was in a clear, plastic apothecary jar. What were they thinking?
Sure, the salt was perfectly visible through the plastic, but it might as well have been hidden in the back of the frozen food section behind the succotash. My brain was unable to identify it merely by that and the large letters S-A-L-T on the container. Where were the real clues?
It turns out I neither read nor observe labels when I am at the market: Apparently I shop entirely by color and shape. Change the appearance of a familiar item, and my eyes will skip right over it. I only wish that companies would understand that and stop camouflaging things by fiddling with their packaging.
This propensity of things to hide in plain sight doesn’t really clarify why I can never find my keys, my sunglasses or the TV remote (unless, as I strongly suspect, they have the ability to change their appearance at will). But it may explain how it came to be that a number of foil pouches of astonishingly good tuna managed to sit entirely unnoticed on my kitchen counter for three months. The packaging was wrong, rendering them invisible.
The pouches in question contain environmentally sound, wild-caught Sea Fare Pacific albacore from a small company called Oregon Seafoods. I loved their products at the Fancy Food Show in January, and they were kind enough to offer to send me samples. The box arrived quite some time ago, and I unpacked them and put them on the counter, where, being pouches, not cans, they immediately disappeared from sight.
After cleaning around and under them for weeks, I finally noticed them the other day. I’m so glad I did — the delicious fish they contain is so distantly related to Charlie the Tuna that they’re unlikely to attend the same family reunion.
I even forgive them the deceptive packaging, as there are some good reasons for it. For one thing, contrary to what I have believed since childhood, it turns out tuna is not shaped like a hockey puck. When I opened a pouch I found a completely recognizable flat fish fillet. And it wasn’t floating in oil or water, either — it was just moist, delicious fish with a bit of its own juices.
Even more important, the pouch confused the cats (who also are very good at recognizing packaging), so they didn’t come running when I opened it. That’s good, because I have no intention of offering them any of my stash.
I’m not sharing — but I am staring. I’m memorizing the package size and shape so that I will notice it the next time I’m at the market. When something this good is right under my nose, I want to be able to spot it.
In fact, I would drive to the store right now and make sure my eye training has worked.
If only I could figure out where my car keys are hiding.
Tonnato Dip/Sandwich Spread
In hunting for a good way to use tuna that did not require going anywhere near the stove or any other heat source this week, I came across a recipe from chef Nate Appleman for a tonnato sauce that could be used with raw vegetables as a kind of dip. I tried it, but it was too salty for my taste. I loved the concept, though, so I created my own, milder version by tweaking the ingredients and adding a cup of beans to the puree.
Besides using this as a dip for veggies, I could easily see serving it on mild crackers for a simple hors d’oeuvre or slathering it on toast for an open-faced sandwich.
6 ounces tuna, drained
2 Tbsp. capers, rinsed
4 anchovies (and maybe a splash of the oil they come in)
1 cup canned cannelloni beans, drained
Zest and juice of 1 lemon (3 Tbsp. juice)
3 Tbsp. mayonnaise
3 Tbsp. olive oil
Put all ingredients into a food processor and run it until you have a smooth paste. Stir in some fresh-ground pepper. Chill.
Use as a dip, bread spread or canapé topping.
Betty Teller finds it hard to believe that anyone could doubt global warming this week. If she hasn’t melted, you can reach her at email@example.com.