What a difference a border makes. 

I will never EVER forget what happened to me in Rome when I requested the sandwich maker in a tiny little store put some pesto on my cheese sandwich. He gasped. Then did what ofttimes happens in Italy: refused my request. Simply, would not do it! As I wrote at the time, it was as if I had asked for a dollop of bird doo on my panino. 

At my first meal in Berlin in 2014 — a post-transcontinental-flight brekky. I got a caffe latte (or whatever they call it in German — better figure that one out sometime soon) and a “Tuscan sandwich.”  Which was a cheese sandwich on a baguette with arugula (“rocket”) and, yep, pesto. As delicious a sammy as I’d imagined it would be 13 years ago in Roma. 



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Couldn’t sleep the other night — and feeling a little under the weather — so figured I’d have myself a cuppa lemon-ginger tea.

Then I remembered what a honey-loving friend told me about the healing properties of the nectar of the bees. So I dug through my pantry and pulled out a bottle of honey I’d purchased long ago at the Farmers Market (oh —
and honey never spoils either).

This honey was made by bees who spent their days busy at the High Line. Figured that would make the it all the more healing because we all share the same bugs (and uh-hum bees) in this neighborhood.

Simply bzzzzing with health after that cuppa infused with the essence of the High Line.

I am a big fan of frittatas — whether whole egg, whole/egg white mix, or just egg whites — it is a great way to use some leftover vegetables – and, maybe, but not necessarily, just a little cheese as condiment.

So, I was surprised to learn a new addition to my usual frittata that I had never even considered: Greek Yogurt.  The UBIQUITOUS protein-rich greek yogurt.

It is from the New York Times fabulous health writer and recipe maven, Martha Rose Shulman. Her recipes always work, and she has this great technique of teasing out the flavors.  A recent recipe for a frittata with chard and green garlic – calls also for greek yogurt.

I made a successful batch this week.  Check it out!  And, tried it in another version of a frittata.  Everything Shulman devises works out well.

 

When you start your day off with breakfast – somehow life looks rosy. First meal, new day, breaking of the fast.

I may love breakfast more than any meal.

Though I would not eat grilled octopus in the morning. Unless I was in Tokyo. Do they eat cephalopods for breakfast in Japan?

20130929-173537.jpgEvery night I walk through Saint Mark’s Square in Venice — because it is my landmark compass to get myself to my hotel. And, it’s the same thing.

The piazza is filled with Bangladeshi vendors: selling dying roses, those squishy gel animals, and these contraptions that soar up high, dotting the sky with ghastly neon green light.

I wonder to myself if centuries ago there were immigrants in the Piazza San Marco selling stupid trinkets.

Were there Renaissance versions of drunken American students singing college beer ditties?

Did fellow travellers think to themselves “stupid tourists!”?

A simple post about a simple observation of a simple snack: the egg.

After a long day at the Giardini portion of the Venice Biennale (think the MN State Fair of art, albeit the nominally best art in the world) — and a long vaporetto ride going nowhere (at least I had no other goal in mind than to spend some time on a boat in the Venetian lagoon) — I decided, what the heck, I’d head back to the hotel and rest a bit.

Oh wait, gotta stop writing for a second, must be on the hour because the bells are ringing all over the island: my god that’s beautiful.

Here’s a picture from my room while we wait:

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Okay, where was I? Ah yes, the incredible, edible egg. I stopped to get a caffè and some water. No, I answered, I did not want a cicchetto. And then I saw it! A small plate holding little halves of hard boiled egg. Yolks deep golden and all glistening with the sheen of smoky green olive oil.

Oh, I answered, I’ve changed my mind. I’ll have that!! €0,50 for each mezzo uova. When they say, it was the ambrosia of the Gods, I think I just discovered on that little cobblestoned Venetian street what they’ve been talking about. It was that egg.

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Sing it with me now:
You say chee-ketty, and I say key-chetty.
Chee-ketty. Key-chetty.
Let’s call the whole thing off!

There are these Venetian bar snacks, something Venetians pride themselves on — and many of us just stumble upon, called the Cicchetti. They are properly called chee-ketty — don’t embarrass yourself and pronounce it like we would. ‘Cause frankly it feels sometimes that the Venetians just tolerate us. Grudgingly. The way I guess those of who work around Rock Center feel about tourists during the f’ing tree season. Yes, that is what we call it: the f’ing tree. Not sure who I’m cleaning this up for, but I feel compelled.

As usual, I digress.

I was the Cicchetto of some voracious kick-ass mosquitoes my first night in Venice, so I didn’t get much sleep. And once I did, I slept past breakfast time at the hotel. By the time I got moving, it was noon. A tiny bit too early for proper lunch (well, probably not, but this is my story and I’m sticking to it) and way too late for breakfast.

I went on an errand to pick up a fan to fight the skeeters. Got the last ventilatore at the Venetian hardware store (totally COOL) experience — and on the way back to the hotel, grabbed a couple of dates from the miniature “farmers market” near my hotel. Two succulent dates and a handful of filberts I’d bought at the market in Rome later — I headed out for my first full day of art and magic. Even a trip across the Grand canal on a traghetto. The poor man’s gondola. 2€ (€0,70 for locals) and you are propelled across the water while standing.

20130926-234815.jpgI highly recommend it!

I set out to seek the best cicchetti I could find for my meals on this (again) bella giornata — beautiful day. This was not some food-on-a-stick affair although I did approach it with the same fervor I display at the Minnesota State Fair.

Oh, one type of cicchetto is a clever topping on a slice of soft, fresh of course, Italian bread. More like a Danish Smørrebrød than bruschetta. Another type of this Venetian tapas best described here by Rick Steves is a simple bite on a toothpick.

This is what I found.
A lightly cured prosciutto with a dollop of black olive tapenade on a schmear of crema.
(Strictly speaking not a cicchetto but) A tramezzino (sandwich made with crustless white bread with a filling) of egg salad, smoked salmon and thinly sliced dill pickle. I know – sounds ick. Wasn’t.
Grilled charred baby octopus, wild mushrooms, pine nuts and crema.
Lightly-vinegared sardine on a slice of tomato.

Made a reservation for dinner at the same place I got those last two cicchetti. I’ll let you know. That is, if I can find the joint again.

Ah, Venice. To be here is to get lost here.

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It is not entirely unusual to see a seagull in Rome. It is, after all, not that far from the coastline – and there is a river runs through it, but this fella made me laugh. He was one of two gulls sitting atop a delivery van. Look closely at the sign behind: Pescheria. Fish Store. Ha!

Definitely “Right place, right time.”

It was one of my favorite moments (among many) on this beautiful sunny fall day. Apparently there is an expression here in Italy: Roma Ottobre. Rome October. Just as we laud the beautiful autumns in New York, so, too, do the Italians their autonno.

I’m pretty sure this is is a pomelo tree — although those big green citrus fruits (look closely) could be anything as far as I know. I come from apple — or nut — tree territory. We don’t have orange trees in our backyards like they do in California. Actually, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a pomelo — have just read about them.
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This tree sits in one of my favorite places in Rome. I discovered this place only a few years ago. It’s near the neighborhood where I stay. I think it was some kind of villa in its heyday several centuries ago. The park is filled with lots of lime and other citrus trees, some palms, broken off marble statues, and folks from the neighborhood out for a walk, but usually a nap on its many benches. Ha! Maybe I’ll google it sometime.

I am noticing little, if any, change. But then this IS called the Eternal city. Oddly, I had my first restaurant experience of a waiter attempting to shuffle me inside rather than outside at a cafe table in the sun because I requested a tavolo for one. That hasn’t happened to me in years. A huffy “no” and a dirty look is what that waiter got. I wasn’t in the mood. It was my first day off the plane, jet lagged and employing my technique to enter into the city’s time zone by walking constantly, staying in the natural light. It always feels a little surreal. Though it struck me yesterday that I was approaching day one much as I do the Minnesota State Fair (no, not eating everything in plain sight) but by exploring, exploring, exploring as the mood struck.

I did observe some different street action beside the immigrant vendors with these gel characters that they slam down onto a board. They blob out like a raw egg white that has just hit the pan then re-form to their little blobby round shapes. The objects, silly – not the vendors.

Anyway, I did notice some new characters on the piazzas – beyond the ubiquitous green living Statues of Liberty or the pewter-coated gunslingers. They were saffron colored. Both sitting cross legged: one man on the bottom with a rod coming out of his head. On top of that big stick was a platform upon which sat another man. Om, baby! Drew quite a crowd on this beautiful sunny Sunday. Ever so often, a third man would come and cover the sitters with a large black blanket. This so the two men underneath could do, well, can’t say I know what they were doing under that cover. I’da taken a picture but usually by the time I got my phone out to do so – the tableaux had melted into a flattened blob.

Not really.

I shall be sharing my international food experiences here — and invite you to come along. In the days before the @’s — this would not have been called “follow” me.

However, should you wish to “follow” me through the delicious foods of Italia on Instagram — Follow @nyproducer.

Ci vediamo a presto! See you soon!

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What a great time at the Fair this year. I often have trepidation at the outset: will I see and eat everything I want to? My fairmate always teases me: remember, we ARE professionals.

We attend the Great Minnesota Get-Together every summer, always on opening day. Gotta catch it when the deep fat oil is fresh, and there are still yardsticks to be had in the Merchandise Mart.

I train for this event like a seasoned athlete. Study the new foods, decide what I want to try: yes, on the deep-fried bread pudding, no, on the Idaho nachos. That kind of thing. Make sure I have enough room in the tum for what I want to eat. In years past, I have made the mistake of eating breakfast before attending. Wrong. Why waste the precious stomach room, ya know!?

I have seen changes in my eating marathon through the years. Honestly, I don’t have the capacity to hold that much, I have a better internal monitor for fullness. And discriminating. Yes, I know when you are weighing deep fried dill pickles with chocolate sauce against pork belly sliders, it may not seem like a gourmet challenge. But this is the fair, dammit! Whadya expect? Corn dog foam? And, when you have a companion, you can share. Which we did.

Let’s get to it: honey ice cream with sunflower seeds, battered and deep-fried green beans, deep-fried bread pudding, Pronto Pup (pictured above, you may know it as a corn dog), Walleye roll (think lobster roll except made with a Minnesota native fish that’s in the perch family), a dough-sant (state fair version of the cronut) with iced coffee, sasparilla, a sip of Guinness, thick vanilla shake purchased outside the Moo booth at the cow barn, dream peach (a big ol’ succulent, drip-down-your-arm juicy sweet peach), miniature pumpkin pie served with cinnamon ice cream, sausage sampler (bourbon wurst, wild rice sausage with jalapeño and Swedish sausage with potato), lots of water and the evening capped off with a flight of admittedly mediocre but earnest Minnesota wines.

What I loved: the mini pie with crust worthy of a French bakery and, surprisingly, those green beans. What I did not like: deep-fried bread pudding needs to go back to the drawing board, and that dough-sant was frankly inedible. Or, as I said in my Instagram post (nyproducer) “dough-sant: don’t give up your day job!”

Not all 10 hours at the fair was Food. We made our usual pilgrimage to watch Roger demonstrate the fascinating craft of bowl turning on a foot-operated lathe. He’s a talented, personable, humble man who started turning bowls because he loved history. He dispenses aphorisms as nimbly as his flying wood chips. He makes exquisite pieces for daily life — those bowls. He uses them himself to drink his beer. Isn’t it frustrating, I asked him, to put all those hours into these bowls, knowing that if you hit a knot just wrong, it will break?

This is workmanship of risk

I love that phrase. As I love those bowls.

My friend and I set out on the fair history tour: visit 13 sights, punch your card at the kiosk, win a gift! I learned that several of the notable Art Deco buildings were WPA-built. That Teddy Roosevelt made his “carry a big stick” speech at the MN State Fair. That Matisse, O’Keeffe and Picasso showed their work at the Great Minnesota Get-Together. For our prize, we each picked a sheet of State Fair postcard reproductions.

We capped our night with what seems to be becoming a tradition: a walk through the crop art exhibit (seeds and stems made into “fine” art).

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It was truly a fair to remember.

Published in the New York Times!!

SOON TO BE A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE
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The trip from Berlin to the ferry in Rostock (to return to Denmark) was one of the most beautiful, sunny, peaceful days of my vacation. My friend, the priest, and I speeded along the autobahn with its general lack of speed limits (add in the kilometer rather than miles, and you find yourself driving 160 on the speedometer!) (ack!) to get to the dock in time to catch the ferry.

On the way, we decided to make a pit stop in a tiny little German town, and have coffee and dessert at a bakery — they call them konditori. I spotted the above dessert in the case and asked what it was. I recognized the meringue, meaningful in any language. But, what was that green filling? Tart or sweet? Lime? Perhaps kiwi? The baker woman didn’t speak English. My Danish friend speaks a little German but not enough to know what it was. He thought he recognized it as made from a very round, light green berry, that grows on a bush.

It was delicious. Slightly tart, a faint scattering of little blackish seeds throughout.

I had just eaten my first Gooseberry Tart.

Now, on to København!

It is true that, for me, my keenest observations while traveling occur at the cafes, the restaurants, the grocery stores: the food, what and how and even when people eat says so much about them.

Obviously that is how I frame my observations. And then there was Germany. I had stayed away from this country because of its sad and somber history. My idea of the language formed from Hollywood. Television. Hogans Heroes, ya’ know. It did not seem like a culture I wanted to learn about, much less embrace.

I admit there is so much I need to learn about this country, ugly past and all. How could I write about donuts and pastries, main dishes, caffè — after visiting the Stachenhausen concentration camp or the Topography of Terror museum in Berlin built over the former headquarters of the Third Reich. As I told a New York friend, how do I process this when I can just say — I’ve had enough! I’m walking away.

Is it really okay to stop for a curry wurst and pommes frites on the corner of “Checkpoint and Charlie?” Take vacay snaps in front of the Berlin Wall?

I don’t have the answers.

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Whenever I go on vacay, it is my sincere intention to eat healthfully while still enjoying the food of the town and county I’m in. Certainly that is/was my plan for my visit to Denmark.

This is a country where some 60+% of the land is dedicated to farming. Now, I admit I haven’t seen a lot of cows — but I have certainly seen cheese. Sometimes at lunch, always at breakfast accompanied by crusty, yeasty, mouth-celebratory (is that even a word?) bread. Blue, aged, smoked. All kinds, though there seems to be a inclination towards a semi-soft cheese called Danbo. It comes in many forms. Cuts beautifully. And makes a kick-ass sandwich, typically served open-faced.

When I made my first cheese sandwich here, I was given specific instructions: slice the roll in two horizontally. Spread a little mustard and/or butter, slice the cheese thinly usually with one of those wired kitchen tools made specifically for the task (a common kitchen tool here — in the USA we tend to have them around for cheese and cracker time). Maybe some slice of tomato. Eat. And enjoy. I once tried to make a traditional American “sang-wich” and have to admit felt a little barbarian trying to get my mouth around the bun and the filling. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not totally stranger in a strange land on this front. Of course, they make and eat sandwiches like we do. Just not so much.

Perhaps this is why even though they are presented with this foodstuff on a regular basis, the Danes are not a fat people. They eat naturally in moderation. And, as in many places around the world, bicycle everywhere.

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Just as I was about to accuse the Danes of eating only cheese in their sandwiches (which of course I knew was wrong thinking from this country of the fabulous smørbørd) — I am treated to an afternoon picnic by the sister and brother-in-law of my friend, the priest.

They thought it would be fun to take me on a little countryside excursion into the woods outside Odense (home of Hans Christian Andersen). The woods here, by the way, remind me of what I imagine the woods are like in Hamlet. Spindly medium-tall trees — I think they’re beech — one after the other after the other. Crowded together. If you were to gallop a horse through this fragile forest, you would be brushed by the branches, yet not thrown off.

We were in Hesbjerg Skov — it appeared to be some sort of hippie commune, though not retro in any sense. Apparently some 45 people, not counting children, are living off the land in this area. My hosts say the citizens are the type to commune with nature, but drive into town to work. At real jobs. I guess holes in the ground for toilets and shared dinners in a hall of sorts are not too high a price to pay for This Simple Life. They certainly looked just fine, thank you, to me.

We parked our car and walked for awhile until we found a pile of cut wood to fashion into seats and a table for our picnic. It was lovely. The hostess had gotten up early to make crusty fresh rolls (they were still warm) of graham flour. And, for the filling she made flattened meatballs of pork, called (and I LOVE this word) frikadeller. Pretty much pronounced like they’re spelled. Later, I called them “flubber masters” or “freakin’ blasters”.

De. Lish. Us. Pronounced like it’s spelled!

My first meal in Denmark was Oksekødsuppe — “beef soup” — which the locals tell me is a typical Danish meal.

After a planes trains and automobiles type of voyage, I arrive at the home (and church) of my friend, the priest. He is celebrating his 50th with family and 130 of his best friends. He lives in Nykøbing Falster. This small Danish town is not called nigh-oh-bing fall-stir. It sounds more like New-kuhrbin fahstahr. To my ear, the Danish language sounds, well, like mumbling. I mean no offense. I love this country and its people.

I arrived in Denmark exhausted/jet-lagged and frankly a little traumatized after my train ride from the C’hagen Airport. I had an “open” ticket rather than a reserved seat. After getting bumped by German families, old ladies and a Turkish traveler because (by hand motions alone I realized) I was sitting in their seats, I gave up and stood for the 90-minute ride.

There was one disconcerting moment on the train when I tried to buy a bottle of water. The vendor told me she couldn’t make change for my 50 kroner bill. I was so frustrated — and, yes, angry at that point, I snarled, you mean you have NO MONEY. She jangled an envelope of euro coins and said “yes, I have euros. This is a GERMAN train.” Oh great!!!! I’m on the wrong flipping’ train. That once happened to me. Years ago, I found myself sitting on a train in Denmark, taking in the green pastures, when I realized I was the only person in the car. The conductor explained I had missed my stop. I was going the wrong direction. So — fade to black/fade up — here I am in 2013 with my 50 Kroner unchangeable bill on a German train. I was admittedly a little. Freaked! Out! But I made it. Just in time for a shower and soup.

My friend’s home was filled with the delicious smell of the Oksekødsuppe. What’s that, I asked — it smells downright celestial. Seemed the proper thing to say to a priest.

When the soup came to the table, it was this delightfully delicious melange of beef broth and leeks, carrots, little cubes of something called pastinakker (pretty sure it was parsnip, although before cubed — it was immense). Then kødboller: tiny little meatballs (likely veal) and melboller — small oblongs of dough the size and shape of garlic cloves — which I mistook them to be. Of course, the meal was preceded by the commensurate gin & tonic (there WERE some English priests in attendance after all).

All to the tune of the conversation most animated and entertaining to watch. I could understand the visiting Brits of course – but the Danes. Well, that’s another matter. I understood not a whit but they seemed to be a happy family by the look of it.

All in all — it was a comforting and reassuring way to begin this adventure.

Velbekomme!

I’m making one of those trips to Europe that, though exotic by no means, is not run-of-the-mill: Denmark for a friend’s 50th then to Berlin with a couple of priests.

I am entering Scandinavia this time through Stockholm. I feel like I’ve stepped into a Stieg Larsson trilogy. At least in regards to how people look. And the landscape as seen from the plane was downright dragon-tattooesque. Of course, airports are rarely in the best parts of their countries so this is unlikely “typical” Sweden.

Food booths are trumpeted in English here at the Arlanda airport for the most part. A Starbucks, of course. How depressing is that — you can get burnt roast coffee with badly expressed espresso anywhere in the world! God. I’d be more accepting of McDonald’s — which offers something unique. Getting mediocre Americanized continental-style coffee in cultures with their own brew seems veritably sacrilegious. (My deepest apologies to my Pac NW friends). All the Starbucks offerings were labeled in English — although instead of Poland Spring, they were hawking Ramlosa. But, as usual, I digress.

While transferring planes in Stockholm, some quick observances. Some people — I think SAS personnel — were propelling through the airport on small 60’s-kitchen-green scooters. The kind you see children playing on. One foot on, the other doing the movin’

The largest snack joint was “Street Food” with Marcus Samuelson’s face splashed everywhere. Usual airport shop fare with a local twist. Hamburgers. Fish burgers. Something called “Rootfruit” – chips of potato, beet and parsnip.

People smoke in small rectangular glass booths — slightly larger than those you’d see in a fifties game show, presumably ventilated.

Security consisted of “go downstairs” after Passport Control. One flight. Ring a bell, and security will look at your bag. Which is precisely what i did — me alone. Solo me in a little room with a security conveyor belt and one female guard.

Ain’t travel grand.

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Charred and creamy, is there a more delicious veg than a roasted Brussels sprout? Hey, did you know it is called Brussels because it was first cultivated in Belgium.

Anyhoo, I wanted to make the dish for Thanksgiving and, using a 13-year-old recipe, I cooked them just like the Barefoot Contessa would cook them. Salty like a French fry.

Simple. 400 degrees, 40 minutes, olive oil, pepper and salt.

That’s it. Simplice but perfect!

I am sitting in a Seattle-like San Fran coffee shop in Chelsea — enjoying my cup of coffee (with a name i cannot even pronounce) pondering why 5 oz of coffee beans would cost $25 — other than their name Geisha.

You have to laugh to think of us, children of the percolator generation, getting all gaga over “drip” coffee. Hey, kids behind the counter, we used to call that Melitta!

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I admit, I have not shared this year’s Swine-stravaganza known as the Great Minnesota Get-Together because it just didn’t feel like a typical fair-on-a-stick experience. Honestly, Janet Eats’ favorite food at the fair this year didn’t even come on a stick.

Actually, favorite foods (plural) because it was pretty much a toss-up between Sweet Corn ice cream with Honey Bacon sauce and the Walleye Roll. Neither on a stick. And almost not even fair food per se, because I could see eating either of those dishes at a sitdown restaurant.

The ice cream. Oh my god, that ice cream. Rich icy (not creamy — I like my frozen confections granular on the tongue not buttery) ice cream studded with nuggets of sweet corn kernels and toasty almost praline-like corn nuts. On top: crispy bacon bathing in a warmed honey sauce. I hate to say it, but this sublime smoked porky corny treat has supplanted the Honey Sunflower Ice Cream cone that was my perennial favorite. Yes. Sadly. True.

As to the Walleye fair fare: think Lobster Roll. It was prepared at a booth — way at the end of the fairgrounds. Sandwiched between the lumberjack competition arena and the pets building where, if you schedule your visit just right, you can watch them spay a dachshund. In other words, not far from Machinery Hill.

The booth has several other Walleye dishes (I think one of them is fried and on a stick but don’t hold me to it) as well as salad on a stick, and batter-fried bacon. The Walleye Roll — oh walleye is in the perch family, popular with Minnesota fishermen. Anyway — like a lobster roll it has a mayo base and is served in a buttered roll. Appropriately enough it also contained wild rice. The mayo was very light. The sandwich was placed on a bed of shredded lettuce and peppered perch-fectly.

My fave at the fair this year. Steeled me for the afternoon parade of prancing pickles, marching bands, and giant heifers on wheels.

 

Keep Your Hands OFF My Corn

This will be a short post.  I HATE IT WHEN PEOPLE RIP OFF OUTER HUSK OF CORN at the Farmers Market.  Of course, it is bad enough when they do it – but forgivable if they place it in their bag.  But then, what’s the point of that!?

What is simply not acceptable is ripping down the husk and putting the ear back on the pile.  Really!?!

So many reasons why that is wrong:

  • You don’t need to rip open an ear of corn to see if it is edible. Feel the damn thing and you can sense any rot. Otherwise, a couple of missing niblets is no big.
  • If you rip it open – even just to look at the top — and see some kernels missing – you may think that is bad.  When, in fact, it may indicate that some sort of beastie loved the corn because it was succulent.  Which can be perfect for you.
  • I am shopping.  I see a nice looking ear of corn. I look more closely and see that it is drying out because some fool ripped it open and tossed it back on the pile

See my point!!! Take a chance to spend 50¢ on something that just MAY be imperfect. You know: like life.