Petri Dishes: Asparagus!

Sep 15, 2020

Humor columnist Alexandra Petri will be online every Tuesday at 11 a.m. Eastern for Petri Dishes, where she'll offer a lighter take on the news of the day. Chat now about on her columns and any other questions you might have. Catch up on the transcript of his latest chat below.

Read Alexandra Petri's columns or catch up on past chats here.

Follow Alexandra Petri on Twitter here.

Where are you?

I’m here too! I’m here! Let’s converse! Happy Tuesday, all! 

I would like to report that virtual school for my 8th, 6th, and 4th grader is actually... going well? I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, but hopefully this bodes well for the year.

That is good news! I join you in rooting for that shoe to stay in the air! 

I'm not sure that I'm totally OK with the idea of asparagus. Is there some other vegetable I can substitute that has a similarly yucky texture when cooked but actually tastes good? I'm breathlessly waiting for an answer, as today's lunch menu could depend on it (I'm in another time zone).

Certain string beans can easily substitute for the texture, but I am not sure what to do about the taste. Anyone?

Probably not many NA (non-alcoholic) beer drinkers among your chat followers, but I’m just curious if they’re finding it difficult to find NA beer. In my city in SW Florida I haven’t seen Genesee NA since April; Busch NA in the last few weeks; and now, even my last resort - O’Doul’s NA - is getting scarce. Did Trump tell the public NA beer cures COVID and I just missed that one?

If he did, I missed it too! Any other chatters with data points to offer on this one? 

I love flamingos! And blue-footed boobies! They are both funny looking birds- flamingos because of lawn ornaments (I have a fancy one that lights up at night- don't tell my HOA!) and blue-footed boobies because how can you say that name without laughing? To be honest I have a toy stuffed flamingo and a stuffed blue-footed booby on the bed in my office- both were presents, I promise!

Congrats on your ascent to the level where people bring you flamingo and blue-footed booby gifts! That’s very exciting! And on the light-up flamingo! It sounds like you’re doing life right. 

I saw a recent Facebook post with the preamble to the Constitution saying, "insure domestic tranquility." Was this John Hancock's doing? These are still different words with different meanings, aren't they?

Look, if something goes wrong with domestic tranquility, people need to know that they’re covered! 

To my knowledge they are, but the English language is an ever-evolving and many-splendored thing, not unlike the birds mentioned above. 

I worked in a record store (remember those?) on the day Elvis died. We sold our stock pretty quickly and spent the next weeks and months reassuring distraught fans that we would get more in. The albums were impossible to keep on the shelves.

Wow! I miss Elvis content. I remember in my earlier days seeing an Ann Landers column predicting that at the then-current rate of increase the entire population of Earth would soon be comprised of Elvis impersonators. I looked forward to that for years but I guess the plan changed. 

This chat keeps me sane. Also, I noticed you stopped naming them. Any reason why? Or is ours not to reason why?

Wait, I thought I named it last week! Oops! I did not deliberately stop, that’s for sure! 

I'm confused--does the OP WANT a yucky texture? Or are they looking for something that tastes good and does NOT have a yucky texture. If the latter, then I recommend fresh string beans lightly oiled and salted then broiled. They're delicious.

My understanding was that OP wanted, for whatever reason, a yucky texture! But your suggestion sounds tasty! 

Is that how shoes end up on telephone wires? They refuse to drop? Maybe if all shoes flew then they could block the sun and reverse climate chance. Where is the science on this?

Tom Swift’s shoes clung to the wire, Conversely. 

As with broccoli, just convince yourself it doesn't taste that bad. Or again like broccoli, just cover it with cheese.

Broccoli is also good with just black pepper and olive oil! 

Based on my experiences with junior high and my daughter's with middle school- virtual school for 6th-7th grade would be an improvement. My daughter said she would have loved it when she was in middle school. I'm just glad she's all grown up and done with all that- oops, forget she's getting an MPH now mostly virtually. But high school would have been a pain. Imagine helping your child with calculus...

I initially read “she’s getting an MPH” as a strange and circuitous way of saying that she was getting a driver’s license virtually! But now I understand, I think. 

Asparagus only has a yucky texture when overcooked. If the strings prevent you from cutting it with a knife, throw it in the compost pile and start over.

I think the cook has destroyed their asparagas. You need to watch the asparagas. If you don't watch them then they get sad and wilt.

is to roast it. Even celery that has gone nasty tastes fine if you coat it in olive oil and sprinkle with salt. I'm pretty much roasting everything these days. Helps that the electricity in my building is not individually metered to the apartments (we pay a prorated amount of the building total based on number of people in the apartment and square feet), so I can just crank up the AC and let the oven do its thing.

It should be the other way around. I find that products WITH alcohol are harder to find. Can't find any 91% alcohol at all.

Maybe you’d better switch with OP! 

A friend wondered if the west coast fires and impending hurricanes, plus covid might be signs of the last days. Not being well versed in those signs, I went to Google and learned that 2 Timothy 3:1-5 says "... the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people." Remind you of anyone?

Well, I’m glad we’ve consistently been in the last days throughout all of human history! It’s nice and relaxing to feel that something remains constant. 

There's a can shortage, apparently (among everything else). I've yet to try, but heard good things about the Athletic Brewing Company's Run Wild IPA (NA). I also just ordered a case of Hoplark hopped iced tea to try out.

They are different words with the same meaning but a more specific one for "insure." There's no reason to choose one over the other unless you are talking about coverage.

Gulp, Ensure® is now the brand name for a nutritional shakes and drinks can help you reach your health goals. Take charge of your health today at!

A few years ago, a 9 year old at my church dressed as a blue footed boobie for Halloween. He said it was his favorite bird, but I've been suspicious that he just wanted to have an excuse to say 'boobie'. The costume was very well done, btw. Sometimes I like to imagine his parents sewing it for him: 'Are you sure this is what you want?'. 'Of course I'm sure! This is my favorite bird! Don't you even know me?!'

I hope he sincerely loved boobies! A full-body costume is a real commitment and I am choosing to believe in him! But either way, well done. On Threadless they used to sell a great t-shirt that was just plain with two blue-footed boobies on it. I think it was called “Nice Boobies,” from the compliment it was designed to prompt or anticipate as the case might be. 

This is the first time I've seen someone say "Hello! I would like to eat something with a yucky texture. Got anything for that?". Although I suppose a lot of people voted for our president.

Isn't that a liquid diet drink? Did they have that back in 1787?

The Founders wanted to keep up their strength! 

All the people I know who drink Ensure are elderly and not getting enough of something or other. Maybe it was Ben Franklin’s. 

After causing me to stress mightily, they decided they didnt need it after all, Now I;m going to lose the job for another reason entirely. ( its ok i rather want to)

Well, congratulations in that case, but sorry about the preceding hassle! 

Asparagus has a nice, firm texture if you cook it briefly. It's those overcooked spears and those that come out of a can that are mushy and stringy. Less is more! And in this instance, smaller is better.

Please. It would be composed of, or comprise. Not comprised of.

Oh, touché! Though I think bad usage like mine has created a desire trail towards more bad usage. But you’re right! 

Don't know about NA beer but I recently read that there is an impending Dr. Pepper shortage.

My daughter was in a play group of 2-3 year olds when Bush Sr. said he didn't like broccoli. It was my 2 1/2 year olds favorite vegetable so I asked all the other moms about their kids and broccoli and everyone said their kids liked it too. I realize a sample of 5 isn't very big but I don't get that broccoli is always mentioned as a vege kids won't eat. On the other hand, my now adult daughter still doesn't like green beans.

I have treasured the vegetable ever since I saw that it's what the Greeks called the larynx (Achilles' spear goes through Hector's neck right alongside the larynx "para aspharagon"). I'm lately not wild about the texture, though, and would rather have some other vegetable that makes my pee smell funny. Dandelion? Squash? What to do!

Oh, that’s nifty! If I ever knew that, I’d forgotten it! Thank you for that fun asparagus fact! 

My youngest son is allergic to legumes, which includes all types of beans, including soy, and peas. He finds it very convenient. I found out about it when I made him eat his peas at dinner, followed soon after by an ambulance ride. Somehow this has turned into his sister eating peas as a special treat. I buy her a bag of frozen peas and she eats them like ice cream. None of these things have a yucky texture though, so I'm afraid I can't help there.

Oh man! This post has everything. Legume emergencies and the allure of the forbidden peas! I have a cherished friend who is allergic to pineapple; maybe your son will have harmless legume-themed gifts to look forward to from gag-minded friends, if we are any indication. 

I can never eat it alone; I always need a bite of steak (or whatever) on the fork.

The only fun fact I know about asparagus is that according to Emily Post’s etiquette you can eat it with your fingers. The hope of my parents, in giving me Emily Post’s etiquette, was not that that would be the ONLY fact from it that I would retain, but alas we cannot always get what we want. 

So good, so many ways. My husband used to have toasted cheese and olive oil sandwiches for lunch.

I hereby submit that if you have to pretend broccoli tastes good, or cover it in cheese, you have not tasted brocoli lightly boiled, tossed with oil and black pepper and roasted for just a few minutes.

That texture sounds wonderful!! 

If you don't like the taste eat a vegetable that you do like.

True! As with most things, there’s someone out there who will really love the asparagus without needing to change it completely, and you owe it to the asparagus to let it get to that person. Oh no, is this an advice column now?

Hollandaise is the answer. Also, they are cooking it too long. Get the water boiling, plunge the aspargus into the boiling water for 90 seconds, and drain it immediately.

Every vegetable tastes better with hollandaise sauce. WHY IS IT SO HARD TO MAKE?

Two for hollandaise!

It's toward, not towards! Or are you secretly British? - Grammar Cop

I typed “many-splendoured” before stopping myself! Maybe my keyboard is? 

It's Gresham's Law as applied to English: bad usage drives out good.

Master's in Public Health. Actually hers has another letter in there but I keep forgetting what it is.

Little trees - what's not to like?

Hi - I know this chat has that East Coast bias, but let me just report from the Pacific Northwest, where we've been stuck at home for the virus since early March. My only relief has been walking and running in the woods with my dog. Now I can't even do THAT because of smoke. I walked her for an hour on Monday thinking "how bad can it be?" and my lungs still hurt. This sucks. This is not a funny post. Sorry about that. Would appreciate some laughs, though!

No, not funny. I’m really sorry that you have to deal with that on top of everything. Please stay safe out there, and my best to your dog. 

Do you know the difference between boogers and broccoli? Kids won't eat broccoli.

My mom served everything from a can, including spinach. She especially liked Lima beans and served them frequently, so I thought vegetables were an abomination invented by mothers to get back at us for all those sleepless nights. Now I know they can be wonderful. I've been trying to serve better versions at family dinners, but Mom still wants to pull out her cans of grossness.

There’s no accounting for tastes! My grandmother at a recent thanksgiving insisted we have tomato aspic! Imagine voluntarily seeking out a cursed gelatinous ring of canned tomato! You love what you love. 

I've read that there is a gene for actually smelling the funny smell of asparagus pee, and not everybody has it. So everyone has asparagus pee but not everyone can tell.

I feel like this and the cilantro soapiness gene are trying to tell us something, but for the life of me I can’t figure out what it is! 

I want that t-shirt! It would go nicely with the one the biology nerds at Smith came up one year with a large picture of a cell dividing with the saying "Stop staring at my cleavage" on it.

I would just like to clarify that I need a vegetable with a yucky texture because nutritionists, dietitians and phlebotomists recommend we eat at least one helping of yucky-textured food every day. And who am I to argue with that? Fried okra, which has a similarly yucky texture, only tastes good if fried. And then it becomes a religion here in Texas.

Well, I think you’ve gotten at least, er, some suggestions! Maybe even a useful one? 

Of course when I don't eat asparagus my pee smells like lilacs.

My fav preparation is to steam them until the fork just goes in (no mush) and then lightly drizzle olive oil and basalmic vinegar over them. A bit of grated parmesan cheese on top makes it even better.

Asparagus is the vegetable that hosts serve to seem fancy and guests wish were broccoli or green beans.

I happen to like asparagus more than green beans! Broccoli I go back and forth on depending on whether the preparation was a success. 

But... but... the butter? Or hollandaise? That would be challanging. Maybe back in those days you didn't even cook it?

I also wonder if you were supposed to remove gloves when eating asparagus or leave them on. If the latter, it would keep the butter off you but create a laundry problem! 

until I got a microwave and a cookbook with microwave recipes. Even plain old white sauce is easier in the microwave.

People! Remember that the OPer (not me) said they WANTED the yucky texture. All this trying to fix the texture is beside the point. We're trying to help think of vegetables that taste good but feel terrible in our mouths. Is that too much to ask? My suggestion for this is squash boiled beyond recognition, just how my mom likes it.

I love your chat, partly because it's funny, but partly because people can ask you questions that they might ask someone else on another day. You talk politics, food, and relationship advice. It's a lovely thing. PS: I like asparagus because Emily Post said you could eat it with your fingers. And if you couldn't, have you ever seen asparagus tongs? They look like fun.

Well, now I know what to get as a wedding present for people whom I dislike! 

Was arguing with a Brit on line about spelling and she insisted that "it's spelt 'aluminium.'" To which I replied, "Yes, but it's spelled "aluminum."

I love this! 

My brother says there are 3 different vegetables we call peas: Fresh peas, frozen peas and peas from a can. He's right- they really do taste differently. Those canned things are yellowish, mushy and highly over-salted (unless they've changed that part.)

A good fresh pea is life-changing! 

(Do not confuse this with the consequence of asparagus described above.)

You NEVER EVER eat with your gloves on. The great Miss Manners said that she gave up on "Downton Abbey" when she saw the ladies eat dinner with their long gloves on.

Hoping you get some good rain days ASAP. HopIng COVID weakens and dies in the smoke. Sending you some fresh air and asparagus.

There is a caveat about eating asparagus with your fingers and that is it's allowed only when there is no sauce on it. I saw somewhere that there are special asparagus forks. You can add these to your silverware collection that of course has fish knives and forks.

Of course! If I ever host fish, I want them to be able to eat whatever I’m serving along with the other guests! 

This is the stuff that ruins eggs Benedict and clogs your arteries to boot.

I think it is too late in the chat to start in on the merits of Hollandaise (for which there is no place like home, to quote another OP and, also, kind of, Mitt Romney). But to say it ruins Eggs Benedict is to me like saying all the Taylor Swift songs ruin a Taylor Swift concert. You can’t ruin something you’re the essence of, can you? What else did you sign up for? 

Asparagus tongs are for serving asparagus spears, though, not eating them.

So much to add...1) you must removed gloves when eating or drinking anything, 2) you hold the asparagus at the stalk end and dip in the butter or hollandaise, then raise to your lips and nibble.

Maybe this explains the rise of asparagus in the cuisines. You don't have to remember which fork to use.

good for us? Is yucky textured just slimy, or are there other desirable "bad" textures?

Now there is a vegetable that can get mushy with the best of them! Can't be Disputed ;-)


what do you know about rhubarb, OP?

I think you boil them with baking soda or something.

Pretty sure they don't exist, but I like the name.

Sounds like the setting for a novel about Soup Vampires. 

As my father taught me, "No, the fingers should be eaten separately."

if it weren't for all the basil

I'm not sure what makes the texture of asparagus yucky, but I'll suggest brussels sprouts as a substitute, because I think their texture might be similar in some ways to that of asparagus. (Ignoring the fact that brussels sprouts are little balls and asparagus are long, narrow and cylindrical.)

Oh, another formerly hated and now cherished vegetable! Seconded! 

You would serve guests to fish. I guess that would be fair turnaround.

Oh no, my use of an unclear antecedent has once again accidentally implied that I condone cannibalism! 

-this chat now, but also a good summary of all the dialogue on NBC’s Hannibal 

Another chatter posted about three types of green peas, and I definitely feel that those Le Seur Peas (from a can) are in a class by themselves. Have no idea what the sister is about, though, since my French extend to things like mustard and fries.

Well, after all this vegetable talk, lunch is calling. I don’t know about the origin of these peas, but I think it’s a proper name, not a sister, who’d be accompanied with a “La” (like the Von Trapp Family Singers). Speak now, or forever hold your peas! 

You can order eggs Benedict without the Hollandaise sauce and you've got poached eggs on an English muffin and Canadian bacon - a wonderful breakfast without superfluous third country sauce. You can't go to a Taylor Swift concert and have them hold the Taylor Swift. Otherwise I might go to one.

Well, leaving aside your harsh words for Taylor Swift (you should pool with my husband, who likes Taylor Swift music if someone else covers it; this has the makings of a tiny concert) I see what you’re saying about eggs Benedict. A good point! You have changed my mind online. And on that note, I’d better skedaddle! Have a great week, all, see you back here, on the blog, and on Twitter in the interim. Be safe, avoid smoke, and seek asparagus! 

In This Chat
Alexandra Petri
Alexandra Petri is a Washington Post columnist offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day. She is the author of "A Field Guide to Awkward Silences." She joined The Post as an intern in 2010, after graduating from Harvard College.
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