I'll eat around these ingredients in my Chex Mix, but will love every other bite: Column
People ask me all the time where I come up with column ideas, and they generally come from three places: growing up the first child of stereotypical 80s parents, coming of age in Appalachia and finding a current event I can be funny about. And sometimes they come from finding out my friends have the same food tastes as trash possums.
So I posted a meme recently about Chex Mix on my Facebook page. I’ll warn you up front not to expect a Chex Mix recipe in this column — I get mine off the back of whichever Chex box I reach for first at Kroger's, but mostly I just don’t make it. It's one of those dishes that always just felt very annoying to put together because it's got a thousand ingredients and takes way longer to put together, when I could just crack open a can of Pringles and get the same satisfaction.
And that’s not including the annoyance of trying to pronounce “Worcestershire sauce” out loud. For the record, I pronounce it “war-chester sauce” and will until the day I die, and even then I might come back as a ghost at the holidays and whisper into people’s ear so that pronunciation lives on. I know it's wrong, but my native Appalachian tongue cannot wrap itself around “Wu-stuh-sher” without stuttering and giving up. So war-chester sauce it is, and why it's so important to Chex Mix, I don’t know, but I’ve never eaten Chex Mix without it, and I’m not sure I want to find out.
Because anyone who makes Chex Mix can tell you, there’s nothing worse than ruining something that can only be made in size Jumbo. Seriously, have you ever heard someone say “I think I’ll make a little Chex Mix tonight. Just a little bowl, for me.” No you haven’t, and you know why? Because it's impossible. I don’t care if you’re one of the women from “Hidden Figures” who works out the math to get us to the moon: Trying to do the fractions it would take to turn a ginormous pan of Chex Mix into a single-serving snack, without sacrificing quality, would require the same kind of mathematical genius as what got us into space. Which feels like a waste of genius, unless you really, really want just one bowl of Chex Mix (and no, we don’t want to be friends with the people who can stop at one small bowl of Chex Mix either).
Chex Mix is just so personal. It’s the hot trail mix of the holidays: The person making it has their own combination of ingredients, and just like every other Appalachian food, everyone thinks their grandma or mom made the best (although I wouldn’t call Chex Mix an Appalachian food — we make it because it’s a cheap filling party food that just about everyone will eat. It’s the deviled eggs of winter parties). So eating someone else’s Chex Mix is them just inviting you to critique their mix, which we all do behind the host’s back because, you know, manners.
The basic Chex Mix recipe base is three kinds of Chex Mix, which just goes to show you that the makers of Chex Mix really knew how to sell a recipe to the masses and get a slow-moving cereal off the shelves, because besides its use in the recipe, who is buying Wheat Chex mix? If I want my cereal to be healthy and look horrible once it's soggy in milk, I’ll just waste my money on Grape Nuts, thank you very much. But during the holidays, Wheat Chex fly off the shelves, and I think they are such an unnecessary addition. Corn and rice are fine on their own.
Then there’s the question about nuts. Some people cheap out and don’t use them, and I vastly prefer those people to the ones who just get a mixed nut can and toss it in, mostly because I hate Brazil nuts. Almonds I can take or leave, although I can literally hear my dentist cringing whenever I crunch into one, but Brazil nuts look like itty-bitty potatoes that someone did a poor job of peeling and taste really bitter to me. And if you love your guests, and America, the only nuts you should be putting in your Chex Mix are Georgia peanuts, Oregon hazelnuts and cashews that you buy from anywhere because cashews are the superior nut, and everyone knows it. And if you didn’t, you know it now.
I am of two minds about the next Chex Mix ingredient, pretzels, but that’s because I’m of two minds about pretzels in general: On one hand, I’ll never sit and eat a hard pretzel on its own (I do love a soft pretzel stick from the Dairy Queen), but I do like a circle or square pretzel in my Chex Mix. I do not care for the tiny stick kind, and I don’t think I’m on my own there. Stick pretzels are good for making legs if you’re making animals out of food, and using in family-friendly games of poker in place of money and clothes, and that’s about it.
But it's this final, supposedly standard, ingredient that has me questioning every friendship I’ve ever made. I’m talking about rye chips. Rye chips are those hard brown chips everyone throws into Chex Mix when they should be tossing them right into the garbage. I loathe rye chips in my Chex Mix the same way I loathe Buckeyes in my fast lane: loudly and with a lot of cuss words. Rye chips taste to me like someone European took garlic salt, mixed it with seasoning salt, stuck that in an oven until it was burnt, broke it up into shards just hard enough to slice your mouth open, and then hid them in Chex Mix as a punishment for us Americans for refusing to convert to the metric system. They are absolutely terrible.
And apparently, I’m in the total minority here, because come to find out my friends ADORE rye chips. If I’m reading the comments right, if given a last meal, my friends, good friends I tell you, would have that meal served with a side of rye chips. That’s how much they love those brown crackers that have all the appeal of eating ... Well, I can’t come up with an appropriate comparison because I haven’t put anything that gross in my mouth since the last time I tried a rye chip. And I do occasionally try one out again, because I believe that every food is good until proven disgusting, and you never know when someone is going to fix a rye chip so it's edible. Won’t be in my lifetime, but hey, I’d rather those brain trusts work on something I will use, like affordable healthcare.
Look, if you use rye chips in your Chex Mix (instead of say, Bugles, which are a 1,000% times better substitute), I’m not going to call you out. I’ll just do what I, and everyone with functioning taste buds, do when confronted by a mixed food: Eat around it. I will get a handful of your Chex Mix, and you’ll find my party plate later on with just rye chips, Brazil nuts and almonds on it, because if you swear by rye chips, oh yeah, you definitely still use Brazil nuts and almonds in your Chex Mix. Except you’d actually never know I didn’t eat rye chips and nuts, because I’d throw my plate in the garbage when I was done, because my mama didn’t raise the Worst Party Guest of All Time (you know who you are — who raised you to leave your garbage out at someone’s house at a party? Possums?).
So as we settle into Chex Mix season (that’s the non-denominational greeting I’m going to use from now on to cover all holidays from Halloween to Valentine's Day. Not “Happy Holidays”; instead, “Have a happy Chex Mix season!”), make your Chex Mix however you want. It’s the holidays, and it’s been a hard year, and I want all my friends to be happy. I want every bite of party food y’all have to fill you with joy. I want you to make the foods you love and share them with the people you love, because the sixth Appalachian love language is “feeds people.” And if that includes a Chex Mix with a stupid amount of rye chips, so be it. I’ll eat around them, and I’ll love every other bite of that buttery, crunchy, war-chester sauce-coated snack mix.
Because I love anyone that takes time to make me something from the heart. Even when those anyones have the tastes of trash possums.