Chateau de seared rack of lobster, please — and hold the popcorn

This is why we can’t have nice things. Can’t go to fancy places. Can’t live an elegant, high-class life, even secretly using a 20%-off coupon.

This is why the Brendels are doomed to be ordinary people.

Because even on that rare occasion when we’re gathered in a superb high-end restaurant, enjoying the exquisite cloth-napkin ambience, and the unctuous attention of the servers — multiple servers, not just one! — we can’t restrain ourselves from descending into an unseemly family argument over the most mundane and inane of topics.

Like popcorn.

I’ll tell you, reluctantly, how it happened, and then you can judge for yourself.

Our actor-daughter Lydia Charlotte (who arrived in Ipswich as a “rising second-grader”) just finished an intensive summer college program, for which she earned her first three college credit-hours, plus an award for stage combat. (Do not mess with her, or she will fake kill you.) To celebrate her triumph, we took her to a painfully expensive restaurant in Boston’s newly trendy Seaport neighborhood. (Yes, I had a 20%-off coupon.)

Now comes the hostess, seating us.

Now, verily, the busser, delivering designer water.

Now, very soon thereafter, the server, inquiring as to what beverage each of us might like to imbibe.

The drinks, the appetizers, the main course, the utter finery of it all. Dahling, it’s perfectly exquisite!

But we couldn’t quite make it through the entrée.

If the swarms of staff had cleared our plates and moved us on to dessert just a few minutes earlier, we might have avoided the ridiculous row. But no.

There we sat, the last few bites of our Atlantic cod and 8-oz. filet with butter-poached lobster tail languishing on our Priya china with lovely roses featured on swirls of white and gold porcelain. We were chattering about the usual meaningless stuff of our lives — that smell in the car, those spiders in the pantry, the inconvenience of that rainstorm. And then the conversation turned to that deadliest and most dangerous of topics.


Not just popcorn. I mean: how to salt the popcorn.

I was trying — I was really trying, as the head of the family, to keep a lid on things — I wanted the Brendels to make a good impression on Boston’s ultra-elite restaurant scene. But before I knew it, it was out of control.

It turns out that, if you’re a Brendel, one of the most important things in the entire universe is how and when you salt the popcorn.

So if this subject somehow comes up during dinner — regardless of whether you’re consuming aragawa-style imported wagyu strip loin or a Dairy Queen burger — you have to fight it out, and fight to the death.

Here’s a bowl of popcorn. Do you salt it and then head to the TV room? (These are First World problems. How many people on the planet have a TV room?) Or do you salt it, and then shake it— SHAKE IT: THIS IS THE CRITICAL DETAIL — and then salt it again?

It seems obvious to me, a person with an Associates of Arts degree from a university in Missouri, that you absolutely have to shake it and then salt it again. Otherwise, the salt doesn’t get down to the popcorn that started out under the surfacewhen you began this process. This way — SHAKING IT — you get salt to the rest of the popcorn in the bowl.

But of course, there are those other folks — who apparently don’t have the benefit of an Associates of Arts degree from a university in Missouri — who cling to the delusional view that the salt only sticks to the pieces of popcorn that happen to be scattered across the top of that little popcorn mountain in your popcorn bowl. These folks (the paranoids, I would say) imagine that if you shake the bowl, all the salt you already distributed bounces straight to the bottom of the bowl, where it does you no good.

And this debate is complicated even further if someone at the table takes a fresh bowl of popcorn and sprinkles soy sauce over it (as I do, because some demented person 25 years ago suggested it, and I liked it). Salt clings to soy sauce. You sauce it, you salt it, you shake it. You sauce it again, you salt it again, you shake it again. Popcorn is elementary, my dear Watson.

I hate it when my wife sounds like she knows it all. She is so ignorant about popcorn, I’m tellin’ ya.

And what does a 17-year-old know about life? Especially about popcorn.

But of course, it’s embarrassing when you’re having this argument over a fancy dinner, and the maitre d’ comes over to make sure you’re okay. I was afraid for a moment that my daughter was going to fake kill me.

So, yeah. This is where my life winds up.

This is why we can’t have nice things.



Doug Brendel does better when he says at home on outer Linebrook Road, and scrounges from the cupboard and the fridge. Follow him here, at, by clicking the “Follow” button — and for more punishment, follow him at, where he has the audacity to comment on other people’s writing every single day.


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