Experiment #2: Rhonda's Secret Salad

Mrs. Rhonda Robinson Kornegay—daughter-in-law of North Carolina congressman Horace R. Kornegay—has a secret.

And that secret is that she hates you.

There’s no other explanation for "Rhonda's Secret Salad," a chunky slurry of pre-digested vegetable matter swimming in a sherbetized sea of Zesty™ Italian.

So terrible is Rhonda’s Secret, it prompted perhaps the greatest test to Liz and I’s marriage yet.

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness I saw the charming young woman that I married willingly return to Rhonda’s Secret Leftovers to lift spoon after spoon of sickly sweet garbage mousse to her defective raccoon mouth.

“I don’t understand why you hate this so much,” she said. “This is standard church funeral salad.”

“I’ve never been to a Catholic funeral. Do you eat the cadavers?”

She hesitated. An oil slick of vegetable mush slid from the spoon.

“Okay. This is protestant funeral salad." 

I'm forced to offer a correction: this recipe is not something you would ever give to a friend or loved one, especially during their time of grief. 

I can’t imagine what horrible series of tragedies would fill someone with the resentment necessary to bring this horror to life, but I can tell you that it’s likely nobody in the Kornegay household could taste what Rhonda was doing to them. That’s because the Kornegays are an unapologetically tobacco-centric clan.

Horace Robinson “Dag” Kornegay (D-Emphysema) was born in Asheville, North Carolina, as the humble son of tobacco farmers. Horace served in France as a machine gunner in World War II, where he learned that life is short, brutish, and full of pain and decay. Which is why he did an eight-year stint in Congress from 1961 to 1969 as an (ugh) conservative Democrat before taking on his true calling as President and Executive Director of the Tobacco Institute.

If you’re picturing guys in lab coats with beakers studying the biology of the tobacco plant and not gravel-throated stuffed suits handing over briefcases of cash on behalf of Phillip Morris, you’ve probably never met a lobbyist.

Of course, that isn’t how Horace saw things. “Dirty Dag” explained his side in “Oral History of the American South”:
“My own personal experience, the tobacco companies—I think this is true of the leaf dealers, warehousemen and growers, as well as the companies—made very little contribution to political campaigns.”
I am certain this same unbiased perspective on his industry inspired him to say, in the late 1970s, that factors such as “hospital pay status (public vs. private) have greater effects on pregnancy outcomes than maternal smoking.”

Perhaps this is why, growing up in a cloud of second, third, and fourth-hand smoke, Rep. Kornegay’s son married a woman whose only ambition was to see what human beings without working noses or tongues could be compelled to eat.

THREE FRESH VEGETALS. This is a Congressional Club record. 

Let us now praise famous cans list the contents of this abomination in ascending order of horror:
  • 1 tsp Oregano, 1 tsp Garlic Powder, 1 tsp Parsley, Salt and Pepper
A seemingly innocuous set of seasonings. You could make a lovely dish with these. Carry on.
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 cup chopped green pepper
Okay, we can work with this. Lots of tasty salads have raw green pepper and onion in them. I’m sure this will be one of those salads.
  • 1 ½ cups cauliflower florets
I don’t care much for cauliflower—raw cauliflower especially. But whatever, I can put my cauliflower prejudices aside and carry on, we haven’t done anything yet that would ruin the
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar

Wow. Okay. No, that’s fine. I like pickles, pickles are great. Maybe this will be just a great pickled salad. A pobucker’s giardiniera. Maybe this won’t be so bad afte
  • 1 can red kidney beans
…what? You want me to put soft, cooked, canned kidney beans into this perfectly good—and so far totally crisp and crunchypickled veggie mix? Jesus.

Look, nothing in this dish gets cooked, it’s all just mixed in a big cauldron bowl and dispensed cold. Under other circumstances, we might have had a chili going here with the onions and peppers and all, and I’d be totally down for that—really. But the vinegar and cauliflower mean we’re way past that now. Where exactly are you going with this, Rhonda?
  • 1 can French green beans
More mush? More briny, squishy babyfood with your crunchy pickled vegetable mix? Come on, I’m as adventurous as the next amateur congressional food blogger, but the blend of textures here is bordering on the profane. Even IF this somehow tasted good together, the jarring, arranged marriage of mush and crunch is going ruin everything. I mean, what’s next? A can of mushrooms?
  • 1 cup canned mushrooms
Aw, hell no. This is getting grim. What is Rhonda thinking at this point? How is this dish not just… an accident? Why would you write this down? Who agreed to typeset this? 

At least we’re done with the solid ingredients. Maybe, just maybe, the sauce can save us.
  • 3/4 cup low-cal Italian dressing
Low-cal. She specifies low-cal Italian.  Because Rhonda’s your friend, and she’s looking out for you. She’s totally not using you to purge recently expired goods from the back of her pantry.
  • 3 tablespoons honey
WHAT THE FUCK. WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK JUST HAPPENED!? This just went from awful church potluck staple to CLOYING IPECAC SLIMEPASTE. Who puts honey on mushrooms and beans, Rhonda? Who fucking does that?

Study for Improvisation V, mixed media. 

The dish looks TERRIBLE. We’re still too far away to smell or taste it, for now. It has a sodden, glistening, primordial quality to it. From a safe distance, the color is an unctuous gray-green-brown that’s hard to pin down and seems to shift in the light. This isn’t food. This is the prop substance that drips out of the monster’s mouth in the third act of your low-budget horror film. This is a Kandinsky painting rendered in cans.

Is there a word more viscous than “viscous”?

Rhonda’s Secret Salad tastes like garbage. Rhonda’s Secret Salad literally tastes like literal garbage. Like the commingled contents of a kitchen garbage can after a week of hurried, disappointing canned dinners.

Eating this is, I believe, akin to being waterboarded. You look at the ingredients laid out before you (canned mushrooms and green beans, a jug of water and a towel) and think to yourself “Well, everyone SAYS this is torture, but come on. It’s just some water and a towel. How bad can it be?”

You lay down, smirking. And then your world falls apart. And you beg your captor for mercy. And you will say anything to make it stop… You hear me, Rhonda? ANYTHING.

Fuck you, Rhonda.

Rhonda’s Secret Salad
By Mrs. Horace (Rhonda) Robinson Kornegay

Adapted from the 1982 Congressional Club Cookbook

1 can French green beans
1 can red kidney beans
1 ½ cups cauliflower florets
1 cup canned mushrooms
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup green pepper
¾ cup low-cal Italian dressing
3 tablespoons honey
¼ cup white vinegar
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon parsley
dash salt and pepper
2 cans Hamm’s beer.

Combine all ingredients after draining thoroughly each canned item. Toss several times to blend well. Refrigerate for 12 hours. Throw out the salad and drink the Hamm’s instead. Makes eight no servings.

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