ComPost Live with Alexandra Petri

Sep 17, 2019

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Live chat with Alexandra Petri at 11 a.m. ET. Submit questions and comments for her to respond to now.

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Hello all! Hope your Tuesdays are going all right! Let's converse!

Is there any time when the word "utilize" should be chosen over "use" ever?

If you are writing a formal verse that requires three syllables to scan, or need to rhyme something with "eyes" or "dies." If you are writing some sort of employee manual that you want to slowly chip away at the soul of anyone who reads it. There is probably an actual reason for using this word but I cannot think of what it is. 

Just read that she died at age 75. I'm in mourning. Reading her "Capital Dames"now.

Oh no! Such sad news. 

Hi, Alexandra. I recently had lunch with a friend at a new place that proudly featured avocado toast. We're both at least double (if not triple) the age of the typical consumers of said product, but had never tried it. So whimsy led us to order it, and our reaction was the same as Peggy Lee's: "Is that all there is?" (I know: If I hadn't already revealed my age, that quote would have done it!) Don't get me wrong: It was fine as far as it went (it came with various greens and garnish), but there was no synergy. Unlike, say grilled cheese (yum!) the sum of the parts was the same as the whole. So now (finally) my questions: I can't recall what you've said about avocado toast in previous chats, but are you a devotee? And if so, would you recommend a particular version or purveyor I should try, or is it better just to accept my fate as terminally unhip?

This makes me want to ask a whole slew of follow-up questions about the specifics of your toast! Was it just bread with chunks of avocado and various greens on it? Was it a thin smear of avocado with a large indefinable mass of foamy cheese on top (this has happened to me!)? Was the bread/avocado ratio off? Did it have a dressing? At the risk of describing literally every food item in the world, "If done well, it's definitely worth it!" and it sounds like yours was missing something. 

Appropriate for the Trump era, the so-called "mountain lion" is actually nothing more than a Fat Cat!

To be fair, it is not a Fat Cat but a Long Cat, according to a description provided to NBC News, but it is this attitude that prevents us from having jokes. 

Great questions! Yes, it was basically "bread with chunks of avocado and various greens on it." Somehow, I'd expected a paste, which I would have preferred. The bread/avocado ratio was fine, and the portion was substantial enough to be worth $10. I don't recall any cheese, but there was some sort of mild dressing. Also, the greens were hard to manage, and kept getting stuck between our teeth.

This is helpful, thanks! I think "a slice of bread with avocado on it and also some greens that get stuck in your teeth" seems like an imperfect execution of the concept and you should try it again elsewhere! My ideal version is sort of a thick paste with bits of tomato and onion, plenty of oil and salt, on a well-toasted bread with good structural integrity. Emissary in DC makes an excellent one. 

refers to the pre-agricultural subsidy days of certain climatic regions. You know, the way lobster used to be ground up and used as fertilizer in New England.

Yes! I love the history of what foods used to be the Most Expensive Luxury. It has changed a lot over time! It was in the course of reading about this that someone described lobster to me as "the cockroach of the sea" which has been hard to remove from my brain. 

NBC had a video of what they think was the actual cat - a Bengal housecat. With the fish eye lens of the camera, it looked huge, but it was just a big cat. The stripes on the tail gave it away - mountain lions don't have those. This is coming from someone who grew up in Oakland, CA where mountain lions did actually come down from the hills sometimes into people's backyards. Anyway, it was a nice distraction from the rest of the news.


Excerpted from "Use should be the word of choice over the word utilize in nearly all cases....Utilize means to engage with something in order to accomplish a task, achieve a goal, or take an advantage, but only when the item, process or situation is employed in a way that GOES BEYOND its intended use. For instance, if one keeps his life savings in a sock, then he may be said to be utilizing the sock as a bank. The intended use of a sock is to cover one’s foot, not function as a bank."

"Huh," I said, as eloquently as I felt. I still think he is using the sock as a bank. I think maybe we have made this meaning up, although I guess that this how all words get definitions. 

(OP here): YES! That's what we were envisioning, so now I understand why we were disappointed. (I should note that we liked everything else we ordered.) Thanks!

Do report back if you have more success! Or less success! 

I'm a technical editor. The word utilize is meant to convey when something is being used in a manner that is not what it was made for. For example, if you utilize a letter opener to spread mashed avocado on your toasted bread, that would be correct. Also, I put scrambled eggs on my avocado toast, which makes it more perilous to eat because the egg can and does fall off, but it is delicious and well worth the effort.

All eggs can fall off, but the falling off will do less damage to scrambled than to other egg forms! I endorse your concept. 

What a coincidence: I'm about to have my first avocado toast for lunch today! But it's definitely guacamole toast + hard boiled egg because someone on the internet told me it's a good idea.

"There! See? It's a Mountain Lion..."

The time she was doing an early-morning phone-in on NPR, and the family basset hound Abner started baying in the background, and refused to be hushed. LINK: (bottom of column)

Utilize is for when you are using an item in a way it wasn't originally designed for. The way I heard it explained is this: If I write with a pen, I'm using it. (It's designed as a writing instrument.) If I poke your eye out with it, I'm utilizing it.

Ha! Well, okay, I'm warming to this distinction. 

Please avert your eyes.

I'll just be taking that, thanks!

Salt, yes. Oil, nonnononono. That'd be like adding mayonnaise. Avocado spreads nicely on its own and its fat is the healthy kind.

This seems correct! 

It seems to me mostly a way to add some crunch to the avocado. Avocado is typically eaten with an added crunch factor - either guacamole is eaten with chips or avocado may be added to a salad with crispy greens. So is there supposed to be something miraculous about the combination other than the crunch? Also, I think avocado is improved by becoming guac, so not sure why leaving out the spices and citrus juice (lemon or lime) is a thing. Also, here is another avocado toy (this one from MOMA), but, according to last week's chatter, it is not ripe:

I'm glad the plush pit is not removable. I feel as though that would be viscerally alarming!

I agree. Different words for the same thing tend to take on distinctly different meanings, as in "stuffing" vs. "dressing" for the poultry. It was a regional difference that now seems to mean inside vs. outside the bird.

Apprentices in Elizabethan England used to have it written into their contracts that they not be served oysters more than a set number of times per week. Of course this is when the Crown made half the calendar into fasting days to support the fishing industry. Handy to be head of your country's church.

Someone else just wrote in noting that servants in Massachusetts allegedly stipulated a certain number of times they could be served lobster! This is fascinating!

1. Lobster used to be served to Maine prisoners at least twice a week. In Massachusetts, some servants allegedly sought to avoid lobster-heavy diets by including stipulations in their contracts that they would only be served the shellfish twice a week. 2. In the Steve McQueen film "Tom Horn" about a Western gunman, hired to fend off cattle rustlers, he is perplexed when served a lobster, prompting this: "I'll be darned. I've never eaten a bug that big before."

I feel like a very good olive oil has its place on avocado toast - it can give a nice vegetal undertone. However, if you do put oil on it, it's absolutely vital that there be acid to balance it (tomato, lime, both). There's a place near me that puts a fried egg and furikake (seaweed and bonito flake topping) on their avocado toast and it's lovely.

Oooh, that does sound lovely! 

My avocado was too far gone so I went with the grilled cheese instead, but i burnt it cause the chat distracted me.

Noooo! Well, even burnt grilled cheese is better than no grilled cheese?

A woman got on the Metro at my stop yesterday in a Christmas sweater. To be fair, it was 5AM and she could have gotten dressed in the dark.

I am as strongly pro- an early start to the Halloween season as I am strongly anti- this Christmas creep. I hope it was a case of in-the-dark dressing. 

my DIY version doesn't use fancy bread, but I find it delish: cream cheese, smashed avo, garlic salt. It's often the highlight of my day, which is very sad...

No, that sounds delicious! The cream cheese is genius!

Along the same lines, I hate reading or listening to "in order to." Just say "to," people!

"in such a way as to"

I am not buying this distinction. People started using utilize because it sounds fancier. Then, when challenged, they made up a bogus distinction. I myself have used a toothbrush (an old one) to help strip varnish from the awkward corners of furniture I was refinishing.

i burnt the food so often we called it the family flavor. "that little special extra touch Mom does"

Gently carbonized!

New Yorker cartoon from decades ago: Prisoners in a chow line, one saying to another, "Oh, no, Potage St. Germain aux croutons AGAIN."

I didn't like avocado as a child, I don't like it as an adult, and it seems probable that I still won't like it in old age. Seems like an effective way to ruin perfectly good toast.

If the toast on its own satisfies you, no need to bother it! 

Back in the 1920s and '30s, chicken was reserved for Sunday dinner, because it was an expensive meat.

So, I always meant to ask, is "frosting" the same thing as "icing"? Or does it have a different meaning, whether or not made up?

Good question! Bakers?

I've never had a "professionally prepared" Avocado Toast. But yes, cheese... sharp cheddar melted on the toast, goat cheese or garlic boursin, all awesome.

Cheese on avocado toast is turning into a more polarizing proposition than I anticipated!

The cream cheese is disgusting. Why not just have a cream cheese and mayo sandwich with olive oil and give the avocado to someone who actually wants to taste it?

1. My grandmother has a cassette tape of me as a very young child exclaiming "I like avocados!" 2. Penzey's Now Curry or Singapore Seasoning are fabulous additions to avocado toast.

I was looking forward to Five Guys for lunch, but now...

I agree, I'm having a similar struggle! 

. . . is the new bananas.

As long as it can be green on the inside and is wrapped by nature, this Chat wants to hear about it! 

They started as the same thing. In the U.S. (there's only "icing" in the UK). Some say frosting is northern and icing is southern, but some say frosting is soft and icing is hard.

While I'm the sort of person who says "never mind the bread" and just eats chunks of cream cheese straight from the package, I agree it has no place on avocado toast. I do like a poached egg on my avocado toast, although that turns it into a knife-and-fork meal.

Yes, once a poached egg is introduced, all bets are off! Unless it is poached on the harder side. 

also in the USA at least they're a different viscocity icing is thinner, glaze like (the loaf cake at starbucks, a doughnu) where as frosting is what you think of on a cake or cupckate and holds it shape on a spoon!

I accept this distinction!

I think it is inevitable that chats at this hour turn into talk of food because we are all hungry and looking forward to lunch. I'm looking forward to a chicken parm calzone, myself.

All right, let's start wrapping up so that we can go bounding off in the direction of sustenance! Speak now or hold your peace!

My grandpa grew up during the Depression and his whole life his favorite snack was white bread or toast with peanut butter and maple syrup...which probably was actually dinner when he was a kid. Trying to think how I can hipsterify it and charge 12 bucks.

First, you need a name. Peanut Toast? No, already I am sensing some difficulties. 

Only tangentially relevant, but my favorite avocado recipe: Roughly chunked (but still bite-sized) avocados, tomatoes, and sweet onions tossed in olive oil, salt, and rice wine vinegar. Add fun spice seasonings as the mood strikes you.

I don't understand the idea of paying $10+ for avo toast in a restaurant, but I make it for breakfast every single day. You need good sturdy bread, well-toasted (the Whole Foods bakery whole wheat sourdough is my fave), lots of smashed avo, and simple toppings. I am usually making this at work, so just use two small slices of bread, half an avocado divided, some Maldon sea salt, and some red pepper flakes. DELICIOUS.

That sounds wonderful, thank you!

My daughter is wondering if journalism is something she should pursue after college. Any advice for her?

Maybe she was auditioning for a part in a play.

"Christmas Creep: An O'Neill Drama," now playing at LITERALLY ALL CVSes near you. 

Today in 1787 the Constitution was signed in Philadelphia. It has held up quite well over the last 232 years. I'm not sure what the best way to celebrate this is, other than to read it, I suppose, and drink a toast to the impressive wisdom of its writers.

Or eat an avocado toast, as the case may be. 

Have a swell week, everyone, and catch you on the blog ( and twitter (@petridishes)! 

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Alexandra Petri
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