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Without Shame: A Bite Of Excess

  • j

I count calories.

I have counted them obsessively for over twenty five years. At least ever since losing one hundred and forty pounds on a diet and keeping it off since then.
Literally, for every calorie that I eat I must budget.

I also walk-a lot. Twenty five to thirty miles a week without fail, sometimes more. At one hundred calories per mile, if I walk thirty five miles I can actually lose one pound.

Or compensate for several double doubles and fries animal style at In 'n Out.

A week ago I had a day trip from the East Coast to Hollywood. A brief visit to Universal for my business and then a later appointment and dinner in Orange County. For over a decade I've been in the habit of driving directly from LAX to one of several nearby In 'n Outs for a quick double double. Only being able to experience one every five or six months places a premium on every bite.

For whatever reason on the morning of this trip I woke up starved. Really, really hungry. I drove past a local bagel shop, passed on McDonald's and survived the drive to Dulles Airport without a stop. At the airport I managed to avoid Starbucks as well as Burger King, even skipping Danish and snack mix at United's Red Carpet Club. In short I made it onto the plane without having "spent" a calorie.

I had planned on skipping breakfast as well as the light snack which United offers just before landing on coast to coast flights. Combined this represented about 800 calories. Almost what I needed for a double double with grilled onions.

We took off and I found myself at a seat with nothing to read. Over the next half hour I couldn' fall back asleep. At some point I noticed that across the aisle a woman had opened a Burger King bag and was having a bacon and egg croissant along with hash browns. She also had a cinnamon roll from Cinnabon on the seat beside her. I should note here that she was, perhaps understandably, a rather Rubenesque woman obviously in part because of indulgent on board breakfasts like this.

Still, the bacon croissant smelled good and the cinnamon roll was to die for.

About an hour into the flight breakfast was served. Not much worth spending much time describing, just an omelette, some kind of nearly burnt potato, fruit and a roll with butter.

Yet she said yes when asked if she would like her's. Astonished that she would say yes and still quite jealous over her "first" breakfast I weakened and said yes also.

God, it was an awful waste of calories. Mushy eggs loosely resembling an omelette, a curious kind of meat labelled sausage and absolutely mealy potatoes. At least 800 calories invested for no apparent reason.

Five hours later, at 11:00AM California time I found myself in my rental car driving north out of LAX approaching an In 'n Out Burger on the left side of Sepulveda. It had been at least four months since I'd had a double double and this was my only opportunity since I had a business dinner and was returning on the red eye, long before they would open the next day.

I couldn't resist, just couldn't. I rationalized that I have maintained for several years on here that the first bite of a double double Animal Style (grilled onions, extra spread, bit of mustard along with fresh tomato, leaf lettuce and two slices of American cheese melted into two grilled fresh beef patties) is equal to the first bite of any dish anywhere. Not the French Laundry nor El Bulli could exceed the sublime bliss and moaning satisfaction of this first taste.

I parked, walked inside and ordered one to carry out. I knew that I couldn't eat it in there. No one would understand when I took the first bite then crumpled the rest up into the wrapper and-for those who might see me, unbelievably, throw the rest away!

I carried the double double to my car.

I know that a double double is 895 calories on average. I know this because I called their Irvine office and asked. One bite, one all encompassing wide mouth lock of my lips on the juiciest end of the hamburger was all that I needed. After all, I had one hundred calories to spend! I held the hamburger up and rotated it in my hands looking for the side that had the most melted cheese, grilled onions and spread dripping from it. When I found it I closed my eyes and took two hundred calories off of the burger! (It was a BIG bite. I shouldn't have. Well, before the bite it seemed that I shouldn't have.)

I have found that in the few blissful moments that I have experienced like this in my life that I like to prolong them. Where others might chew for a few seconds and then swallow I wanted this to last. As long as reasonably possible.

About a minute later I finally swallowed.

God, was it good! My West Coast Mecca and never disappointed me and this was not an exception. Without thinking, without hesitation, without thought of the rubenesque woman of two breakfasts on the airplane I unhesitatingly chomped down again.

Incredible. How can something so good lead to such a serious depression? A minute later there was still half of the sandwich. I knew that I would be tempted to have a third bite, I knew that history had shown that I couldn't resist temptation like this. I also knew that because I had started driving out of the parking lot it would be a few minutes before I could throw out the half eaten burger.

I had to do something.

When I first got into the rental car I had opened it's ashtray to plug in my cell phone. Then, I had noticed that there was a faint smoky smell. In fact someone had left some ashes in it and Hertz had neglected to clean them out.

I opened the ashtray again and pulled it out. In the ashtray was perhaps a tablespoon and a half of cigarette ashes. I took the half eaten hamburger, turned it on its side and dunked it (if you will) in the gray ashes. Then I rewrapped it and put it back in its bag. This I then threw in the back seat, out of my reach.

It takes 30 minutes to drive from near LAX to Universal. When there is traffic it can take longer. On this day there was heavy traffic, what appeared to be as much as an hour drive or more.

Five minutes up the "Five" I heard the Beach Boys and 409 on an Oldies station. Great song, great timing, perfect for my California trip and quick stop at In 'n Out.

In 'n Out.

Hmmmm. I had half of a double double in the back seat. Uneaten. I also knew that I had only dunked half of the remaining burger into the spent cigarette ashes meaning that a good part of the burger was still fairly fresh and...seemingly edible.

My arm wasn't long enough to reach the bag that I had thrown on the far side of the back seat. I had to pull over on the side of the Five and literally get out of the car, walk around and open the rear passenger's door to reach it. Standing there, on the side of the Interstate highway, with five lanes of traffic crawling past me I opened the bag and took out the hamburger, half of which was heavily fleck with gray. Again, as earlier, I rotated the double double and found a spot (not as big as I might have preferred) but big enough to allow one fairly good bite. Maybe not moan inducing as the first but, still, this was my last chance for a taste of a double double for what could be another four orfive months, or even longer.

I held up to my mouth and didn't hesitate: I chomped down.

I probably shouldn't have chomped quite so much since for the first time I noticed a kind of charred flavor to the burger. Almost as if it had been charcoal broiled for part of the cooking process. Interesting. I'd never had a double double with this kind of flavor. In fact the flavor seemed to be the strongest where the grilled onions had melted into the cheese. It was really kind of different.

It was actually pretty damned good!

When I looked down after swallowing the partially charred burger I noticed here wasn't much left. Once again I had probably taken a bite far too big for what I had wanted to accomplish. Still, it was really good.

And, I was convinced that I was the only person to ever have a double double with a charred flavor like this. It made it seem even more special.

Guilt? Yes, for the calories-of course-but I decided that they were worth it. Shame? No, of course not. After all it was a double double.

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  1. Nice one, Joe H.

    I am an LA hound, a huge fan of In n' Out, and an avid reader of your posts on our beloved burger institution.

    "Double-Double, Animal Style, with a Light Coating of Ash".

    No doubt I will get a strange look from the order-taker, but I may have to try one.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Eric Archer

      It seems that this is the second part of what may be my "In 'n Out" trilogy with the first, "The 5,000 Mile Hamburger" from a year or so ago.
      Thanks for the nice words.

      1. re: Joe H.

        Did you not find any pickle chips on that Animal Style?

        1. re: Chino Wayne

          Oops. Always extra pickle to "compliment" the animal style.

        2. re: Joe H.

          I laughed my head off over this post and thought about a couple of mornings ago when at a hotel, I could not resist and ate 2 sausage biscuit sandwiches and a helping of sausage gravy on hot biscuits while my son ate cheerios and fresh fruit!

      2. Awesome! Reminds me of the Spongebob/Crabby Patty video my kids watch.

        While reading, I knew that dunking that burger in the ashes was a bad idea. You got it, and so not eating it was just out of the question.....

        1. Glad to know I'm not the only one who struggles with how to reconcile my love for good food and culinary experiences with the caloric bottom line. Over the years that I've participated on the chowhound board (mostly dc) I've wondered how so many people eat so much so often. It seems as if the consequences of eating are rarely addressed here and I for one was heartened to see that other people are trying to find balance.

          3 Replies
          1. re: shellymck

            I set an personal record and walked 10.4 miles on Sunday. Never mind what I ate Saturday night that necessitated this!

            1. re: shellymck

              It's definitely a challenge! I calculate how much I go over and work out extra the next day. Sometimes I have to do a spinning class (600 calories) and a skipping class (500 calories) back to back to burn off those extra calories!! Or I just sample what's on my plate and not finish everything so I'm consuming less. I'm so envious of anyone who can eat and eat and doesn't gain an ounce. I look at foie gras and my hips swell ;-(

              1. re: Fickle

                Before we get too involved here in discussing strategies for burning those Chowhounding calories, we'd like to remind folks that this board is focused specifically on chow, so please head to the Not About Food board to discuss weight management. Thanks

                Link: http://www.chowhound.com/boards/notfo...

            2. That's disgusting. I had to read that just after lunch too. Now I can't get that imaginery cig ash taste out of my mouth.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Peter

                Peter, I am guilty of some exaggeration here for the purpose of telling a story. I apologize since I did not literally eat the bite that had the ash on it. In fact I didn't really take that bite at all. I chickened out! But I did think about it, to be honest. That is where the idea for the story came from. I took the liberty of exaggerating for the purpose of the story. I thought it would evoke a smile rather than upset anyone. That was my purpose. An apology to any who may have reacted otherwise.

              2. Like you, I try to offset consumption with exertion (running or hiking). But I try not to make it a daily balance sheet. It's simply not feasible for me to offset an occasional splurge meal that can take me 1500-2000 calories over my maintenance needs on the same day. What am I gonna do, run a half-marathon as soon as I get home? And if I starve myself to balance things out, it only lowers my metabolism and makes me overeat later--double whammy!

                A great meal, like any other sensory pleasure, requires you to get outside yourself, to give yourself over completely. Why even pretend that a little cigarette ash will end your burger-nalia?

                1 Reply
                1. re: Robert Lu

                  Great post, Robert! Big smile. Thank you, sir!

                2. Hilarious. Next time do a photo documentary!

                  1. Dear Joe H.,

                    Thanks for the second installment of your essay on In 'n Out! You are such a good writer, I enjoyed it a lot. I fondly remember In 'n Out from my So. Calif. days. I left more than 25 years ago -- it's good to know that some institutions endure!

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: Seattle Rose

                      When I was growing up in L.A., bumper stickers were popular highlighting the name of the place:

                      In-and-Out
                      Burger

                      Then, numerous young males with small pickup trucks began sporting bumper stickers that had two letters cut off, which read:

                      In-and-Out
                      urge

                      ;-)

                      Much as I admire Joe's gourmandismo, and find our taste in sync on many things, I'm afraid that we part ways on this subject. In-and-Out may make good fast food burgers, but, alas, they are still just that: fast food. And as such, I have to say, "eh..." about them. When I get off the plane in L.A., the first place I want to go is Guelaguetza for one of their massive tamales or enchiladas with mole negro de Oaxaca.

                      1. re: zora

                        If I had grown up with In 'n Out I would prbably feel the same way, Zora. Having a couple a year is just not enough for me to be able to burn out on them!

                        1. re: Joe H.

                          Interesting reading my comments about United in flight meals five years later. There are NO in flight meals now unless one buys a snack or sits in the "first class" section. Of course what is served in first class is no better than what was served in coach in 2004.

                          If I had only known then what I know now. Of course it is now easy to wait until landing in L. A. and having my first meal at In-n-Out!

                          1. re: Joe H

                            I really got a kick out of reading this thread for the first time, Joe! I have been dying to try In and Out for YEARS. I was thwarted a few years back when I visited a friend in Palm Springs - he said In and Out was too far to drive so we had a forgettable burger somewhere else. But it seems I will finally get my opportunity. I'm going to Las Vegas in Jan. with a lot of friends, but through happenstance, I will arrive there first - the night before everyone else. This trip is going to include fine dining when the others arrive, but for the evening that I'm alone there, I'm headed for In and Out, for my first Double Double Animal Style with extra pickles. I'm a lifetime Weight Watcher (I lost 170 lbs. in the 70's and have -- sort of -- kept it off since then) but I can already tell you - I plan to eat the whole thing!! Your post really fired me up for the experience!!

                            1. re: woodleyparkhound

                              woodleyparkhound, I applaud you for keeping the weight off! I know what you went through-I wish I didn't, but unfortunately I do. Serious congratulations-I cannot tell you how much respect I have for what you have accomplished.

                              Now, having said that, if you are really going to blow it and if calories are no object, I think, you should blow it right: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/292192

                              Yes, the infamous four by four.

                              Worth the calories.

                    2. I had never read this post before. Thank you very much. BTW, I drive by an In n Out twice a day. I love In n Out and only allow myself once or twice a year. Cheeseburger protein style w/grilled onions and animal style fries well done with a large Diet Coke.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: laliz

                        Thank you, laliz.

                        Perhaps ironically, I always have a Diet Coke too.