FARGO — McDonald’s fries seem to travel well enough. People have found them under the front seat of their cars six months after they first took them out of the bag, and they were still edible. And not much of that french fry would have changed over six months.
But we have. The pandemic has had us yearning for better options, and most restaurants have tried their best to satisfy with takeout, curbside service and delivery. Still, those who want a step up from takeout pizza — or a bag from the happy voice on the other side of the silver screen at the drive-thru — might find themselves not much better off with a chicken alfredo and garlic bread steamed for and extra half hour in a foam clamshell box on the floor in the backseat.
Take heart. There are better ways.
Don’t just take it out. Take it home.
Be it ever so humble, it’s better than the parking lot. And eating out of a bag takes us just a bit too far down the Great Chain of Being anyway.
So, take it home.
1. Pick menu items that reheat well
The McDonald’s french fry is a freak of nature, it seems. But most french fries do not do well once out of the fat. McDonald’s fries are bathed in sodium acid pyrophosphate and fried once before they’re frozen and fried again. It’s a kind of tuber mummification. So, they will still be pretty good even if they were first fried during the Iron Age.
But regular fries don’t do well in a foil tub. Neither does garlic toast or clams or cremé brulee. As a matter of fact, a lot of dinners that come home in a round foil box with a cardboard lid come across as leftovers by the time they make it to your table.
Look for things like stews, steamed vegetables and grains — or the sorts of things that miners take down to dig coal are good choices. So are soups.
2. Reheat when you need to
Cold is the enemy of just about every flavor that is meant to be eaten hot. The microwave is often a good place for your food to go if you picked up something warm, wet and served with a sauce.
Other things should go in the oven for a little while. Microwaves cause water molecules in food to vibrate. That builds heat and that makes steam. If that thought upsets you, it should probably go into the oven.
3. Set a table and serve it on dinnerware
It’s dinner, after all. And, frankly, COVID-19 has brought back a little of the fear and philosophy of the Middle Ages when people died from the plague and everyone owned one wooden spoon and a bowl made from sheepskin.
We don’t want to go back there if we can help it.
Fruit and herbs look nice. They come in lots of colors and shapes. Does it matter if the rosemary doesn’t go with an African chicken stew or if orange doesn’t go with Congolese jollof rice? No, it doesn’t.
If you have it in your fridge, and it’s colorful, put it on the table.
Enjoy your time at home.
5. Make yourself at home
Make your own coffee. Play music from the summer of whenever.
It has been a hard eight months. And it will be a harder winter, it seems. Local restaurants can use your business, and you can use a decent home-cooked meal.
OK, maybe you can’t always cook it at home. But you can enjoy it there.
It is, after all, where you live.
Eric Daeuber is an instructor at Minnesota State Community and Technical College. Readers can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.