Misery and Disappointment: Adventures in Almond Milk

You know what I could go for? A milkshake.

I was sitting with my friend, Karl the Curmudgeon, a friend and fellow writer who is known for being argumentative and grumpy. We usually met for drinks at First Editions, our favorite literary-themed bar, but we were in the mood for lunch that day, and decided we needed some cheeseburgers.

We were at Disco Burgers, one of the best burger joints in the city. We had each polished off a Frankenstein Burger — a two-thirds pound burger with bacon, a fried egg, and a giant onion ring — and were just sitting, letting our food settle. We had been looking longingly at the ice cream counter, and a milkshake sounded pretty good right now.

"I'd better not," said Karl. "Alexis says I should cut out dairy." He looked so sad when he said this. Alexis was his 26-year-old daughter and the family's organic vegan anti-chemical evangelist. She had been living at Karl's house because her Gender Studies degree from a small liberal arts college was not getting her much employment beyond the coffee shop and bookstore circuit.

What for?

"I don't know. Something about animals having a choice in their future, and blah blah blah, something about my cholesterol."

Nonsense, I said! Who's the boss of you, Alexis or you?

"Me," said Karl.

Damn right! And who deserves a milkshake?

"Me!" said Karl, a little more firmly.

I leaned in and whispered: And is Alexis here? Karl looked around. "No, sir!" he whispered loudly, slapping the table. "Let's do it!"

Now you're talking. I waved the owner, Mark, over. Two of your finest chocolate malts, I said.

"Uh, no can do," said Mark. "Alexis called me an hour ago and said she would do unspeakable things to me if I gave Karl a milkshake."

I thought she was a pacifist," I said.

"Me too," said Mark. "But now I'm a little scared of her."

"She's not so bad," said Karl. "You just have to know how to handle her."

"Do you?"

"Oh, hell no," said Karl. "That girl came out fighting 26 years ago, and I still can't figure her out."

Did she say I couldn't have a milkshake? I asked.

"No," said Mark. "She said you could choke on yours for all she cared, but she wasn't going to let you kill her dad with cholesterol and animal oppression."

"So what can I have?" asked Karl.

"I can make you something with almond milk," said Mark, and wandered off to make our milkshakes.

"Almond milk!" said Karl with a sneer. "How the hell do they milk an almond?"

Well, I imagine they have a tiny stool and—

"Knock it off, Kid. I know what almond milk is. Alexis makes me drink that stuff at home."

What's wrong with it?

"It's not even milk, is it?" I didn't answer. That was clearly a rhetorical question.

"That wasn't a rhetorical question," said Karl.

It's almonds that are soaked in water, puréed in a blender, and then squeezed to get the rest of the almond water out of it.

"Exactly. That's not real milk, that's almond juice. It's almond squeezings! It's nothing more than slurry — just almond paste and water. Real milk comes from mammals. They produce milk for their offspring who drink it for nourishment. And we get some of that milk from cows, or occasionally goats, and we drink it as humans."

And you're not a fan of the almond squeezings, I take it?

"Not at all! It doesn't taste like milk, it's chalky. If I'm lucky, Alexis accidentally buys the vanilla flavored or the sweetened kind, and I can at least drink that in small doses. But she insists on getting the organic unsweetened sludge because it 'tastes pure.' And she cooks with that instead of cream because, well, you know."

The vegan thing?

"The vegan thing." Karl rolled his eyes.

I waved at Mark, who was just starting to make our milkshakes. Mark, cancel his shake, and just make two proper ones for me, to go. If anyone asks, I'm going to drink them both in the car. I tapped the side of my nose, and Mark nodded, tapping the side of his nose.

"What are you doing, Kid?"

I have to run some errands. You need to come with me.

"But what about my almond milk milkshake?"

Karl, I said, life is too short to drink almond squeezings. That stuff isn't milk, and it tastes terrible. So I'm going to save you from an afternoon of misery and disappointment. Instead, I'm getting two milkshakes 'all for myself' — I made air quotes — and you're coming with me in my car. This way, when Alexis calls Mark to check up on you, he can honestly say he didn't serve you a milkshake at all.

"What about you? What if she calls you?"

Oh, I'll lie like a rug. My own family thinks I'm at an all-you-can-eat salad bar right now.

Karl tapped the side of his nose, and then winked and made finger guns at me.

Don't make it weird, Karl.

This column is dedicated to one of my most favorite hamburger places in all of Central Indiana, Boogie Burger, which recently closed down forever, and their owners, Mark and Erin Radford. Their Monster Burger was a real challenge, and one I only accepted twice in my life. And I never drank a milkshake afterward. Even I have limits.

The 3rd edition of Branding Yourself is now available on Amazon.com and in your local Barnes & Noble bookstore.