Kelly Van De Walle: Wake up and smell the nothing
Last weekend as I was preparing a delicious stew my four-year-old would later call “disgusting” while calmly telling me he should still be allowed dessert like he was performing some kind of child Jedi mind trick. I gathered the ingredients like I always do. For some reason this time I stopped and looked down at one ingredient I was about to toss in as I always do: bay leaves. I had a thought: why was I doing this? The more I contemplated this the stronger I was in my newfound conclusion.
Bay leaves are a hoax.
I felt like I was breaking out of the Matrix.
In this polarized climate nobody is brave enough to say these things.
Since the day of my epiphany, I’ve concluded bay leaves are the Hugh Grant of “spices” — they’re flavorless, do little to nothing, keep appearing in things for no reason and if they weren’t there you wouldn’t even miss them. I hesitate to classify them as a “spice.” Would you consider grass clippings a “spice”? The correct storage instructions are to keep them in the shed with all of the other mulch.
Like Stonehenge, bay leaves’ true purpose is shrouded in mystery. My theory for why you put them in dishes is it’s similar to why you say “Bless you!” when someone that sneezes: you do it because that’s what you’re SUPPOSED to do, it’s what we’ve BEEN doing since the beginning of time and if you DON’T your soul will be harvested by a demon. They’re the adult version of Santa Claus: a story told to grownups as a means of tricking them.
Bay Leaves: “We have flavor. You just have to BELIEVE.”
This isn’t platform 9¾. I’m on to you.
To use another analogy, bay leaves are that guy or girl (I’ll call it Craig) you never want to invite but he’s the friend of a friend or has a lot of money and somehow always shows up.
You: “Let’s all go to the beach!”
Your Awesome Friends: “Yey!”
Bay Leaf Craig Showing Up with His Dumb Nondescript Flavorless Face: “Hey guys, whatcha doing?”
You: “Oh come on. OK, who invited Craig?”
Slightly Less Awesome Friend: “Craig’s parents have a house on the beach.”
You: “Ugh. FINE. Let’s go Craig.”
Dried Parsley Meagan: “Where are you going?”
You: “OH COME ON”
The problem, say chefs, is you’re not using FRESH bay leaves. Because that’s easy; let me just go out and plant a bay leaf tree or shrub or root or whatever. They know nobody will ever do that.
I always looked at bay leaves similarly to pepper, in that when a recipe calls for it you sprinkle it in and notice it changes the taste of the dish not at all. However, the difference arises because after eight or nine shovels of pepper you can start to notice how wrong you were to include pepper. You can legitimately add 40,000 bay leaves to anything and it makes no difference whatsoever other than needing to fish out a soggy piece of shrubbery when you’re done.
The best I’ve been able to discover as far as adjectives to describe bay leaves are: “Excellent subtlety” and “Exquisitely mild” and they “Add something.” Very clever. You can’t argue the last point, it’s just NOBODY KNOWS WHAT THAT SOMETHING IS. I genuinely wish I could accomplish anything as well as bay leaves accomplish subtlety. Imagine using that during a job interview.
Interviewer: “What would you say your biggest strength is?”
You (whispering): “I’m an incredibly subtle worker. Like, so subtle you won’t even know I’m working, or even here. And I add something.”
Interviewer: “What something do you add?”
[You with a blank stare throughout the rest of the interview, slowly fading behind the potted plants until someone comes to try to remove you without burning their fingertips]
If you were to take a bay leaf to a crime lab, the technician would report the following conclusion: “What is this? I don’t do this type of analysis. How did you even get in here? Please go.”
In an experiment to discover their taste I took the advice of online chefs and put a cup of hot water next to a cup of hot water with a bunch of bay leaves floating inside. Twenty minutes later I took a drink of the plain hot water and immediately followed that by dumping the weird leaf water down the drain because who drinks leaf water? Nice try, chefs. I might as well put a straw into my gutters after a rain storm.
Next, I did a side-by-side comparison of bay leaves in spaghetti sauce, one had nothing in it, one had a “bay leaf” and one had a piece of rubber off my son’s shoe that has been flopping around for the last two weeks that has been annoying me. Nobody could taste a difference.
I realized to fully bust the bay leaf myth, I needed to taste it alone. Now, chefs say NOT to try them by themselves, because of course. You’re just supposed to take their word for it. This is pretty much exactly how people are converted to Mormonism. If Hollywood has taught me one thing, you always have to taste the merchandise. Like a cop ripping open a bag of cocaine to determine if it’s corn starch, I stuck it in my mouth and kind of sucked on it.
Long story short, I’m now a koala.
Kelly Van De Walle can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @pancake_bunny.