Dishin’ That: Even Spam can make a 4-star meal

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Somewhere in the far reaches of this newspaper’s distribution radius lives a lovely, opinionated woman with a raspy telephone voice. She says she is this columnist’s biggest fan, and due to lack of competitive zealousness, I believe her.

Of course, many kind (and not-so-kind) people have been in contact over the years, but none with the campaign trail-like drive of this “since-day-one” reader.

A self-appointed agent, editor, content adviser and critic, she demands updates on my family, my beloved Bad Dog, and of course, my most personal business. She’s a technophobe who petitioned for the column’s return primarily by land line, who thanked me when she learned what a spam folder is.

“Spam folder?” she said. “That’s what they call it when emails go somewhere but not to the person who is supposed to read it? I thought they were ignoring me. But spam folder? Like the processed canned meat? That’s an odd name.”

(For a fun read on how Monte Python nerd fans made Spam the term for unwanted email junk, visit

She went on to tell me of the popular Spam casserole dish she made weekly when first married. Then the inevitable, “You should write about that.”

“We couldn’t afford to go out to restaurants back then,” she continued. “But you could do a lot with Spam. It was a versatile food and I don’t agree with making game of it. I guess people poke fun at things they don’t know about. You should look up some of those old recipes. You might be surprised at what tasty things they came up with.”

Moving on to the present, she told me (as she does whenever given the opportunity) about a new-to-her restaurant she tried. Finding most places to be overpriced, she and her husband still go out weekly, keeping a score book with her notes and observations.

My reader maintains the finest places are those she never thinks to go to, or look for. “Some of the best ones are right there, just waiting. Sort of like your columns. I can tell when you’re trying too hard to impress us. You don’t have to do that.” Ouch.

Sun Media’s digital marketing guru, Lisa Dubino, reminds us to check spam folders every Monday morning. As a bit of a rebel and technophobe myself, I ignore most of her useful prompts on this, and other topics.

The reward for my irrational fear and know-it-all stubbornness? Missing a long-awaited invitation to a schmoozy restaurant’s soft opening in Boston. That, and the guaranteed opportunity to pre-order a first run, autographed copy of Springsteen’s new book.

As my raspy-voiced reader pointed out, most things we need are literally at our fingertips, or buried within, sort of like “pearls in the ocean.” Sure, we have to sift through closed, jagged-edged oysters full of bottom-feeding junk, but she says to buck up and dig deep, both at home and in my columns. Shell shard cuts, or not, I’m inclined to agree.

Professional and personal pearls might seem to happen by chance, as if hiding in a Spam can miraculously past expiration date. But the best ones grow organically and take time to reach near-perfection.

So, I’m going to listen to Lisa, and to my wise reader, by “checking inside” often and I invite you to do the same. The not-so-elusive polished gems and recipes of happiness are surely there.

Maybe we’re just looking too hard.

Peas & Qs

Q — Last Friday morning we ordered a large delivery for Sunday’s football game. We pre-paid and it was supposed to come at 2 p.m.. Instead of arriving close to half-time, it came during the fourth quarter. Our guests were understanding but we were embarrassed. Am I right to ask for my money back? — Mark J., Portland.

A — Since the days when Domino’s Pizza was sued for injuries allegedly caused by drivers trying to honor the 30-minute delivery guarantee, timing has been a crap shoot.

So, if you accepted and ate the food, no. I don’t think you should get your money back. However, talk to management in person. Be calm and rational. Explain how their failure to meet the agreed-upon expectation almost ruined your gathering.

A true professional will accept responsibility without excuses, even though it happened because someone probably called in sick or didn’t show up. My guess is they’ll make it up to you in apologies now, and equal amounts of product later.

Natalie Ladd lives in Portland. When not pecking away, she can be found serving the masses at a busy eatery, or tirelessly conducting happy-hour field research. Hospitality questions or comments should be sent to, and may be featured in a future column. Follow Natalie on Twitter: @Nhladd.