News you can use: Finds are often found on the food scout’s desk. With a hint of mint.
I always joke that I recognize more names lately in the paid death notices than in the socially vetted wedding announcements. One reason I scour them is to keep up as food legends fade away. The latest was our old neighborhood butcher, who was a real character who did things right back in the competitive days when every neighborhood had at least one butcher. His shop over on Broadway was very Old World, with gleaming tile and a sawdusted floor, and he was always behind the counter, wearing a bolo tie that looked doubly incongruous as soon as he started barking. The great Irene Sax summed him and his business up well in her still-invaluable “Cook’s Marketplace” in 1984: “Yes, he has prime beef, pale veal, game, does 50 percent of his business over the phone. But you don’t have to be rich to shop at his market. Specials are always posted, and his butchers are glad to sell an elderly woman a piece of Romanian tenderloin or some lamb breast. That’s why, Oppenheimer boasts, his shop is busy all summer, when other butchers go hungry because their customers are in Maine and the South of France.”
As his family said in paying to memorialize him, he was a butcher to the stars as well as to us earthbound cooks. Maybe if he had played bass on a one-hit wonder back in 1968 he would have merited a real obit.
Our most memorable encounter came the day after one Thanksgiving, when we went back to bitch that our “fresh” turkey had freezer burn. He just said, with his German brusqueness: “Take anything you want. I know you’re not trying to put one over on me.” He bought an awful lot of goodwill with a few veal cutlets. And don’t get me started on the butcher farther south who once sold us a turkey with a tumor and pretty much told us where to stuff it . . . .
Speaking of potential goldmines, airport chefs really need to invade Terminal One at JFK, as do a few of those trend trackers who rave about the food revolution beyond the get-there-crazy-early-so-we-don’t-all-die security. I was trapped for hours in the megastorm, waiting for Turkish Airlines to board, and the only crap on offer made the old days in the Cafe Regret look misty-colored. After trudging past all the same bleak offerings repeatedly, I finally settled for a $13 “smoked turkey” club with “Swiss” on “ciabatta.” And, once again, I realized why Americans are so fat. When nothing tastes like anything, you keep eating, and eating. Maybe there was bacon in that mess, but it was really just a salt strip. Someone, say at ORD, should be laughing. Of course, just a few hours in that overpriced food desert gulled me into thinking a guy in a chef’s hat greeting passengers on the plane might be a sign the food onboard might be above average. About five hours later (including two at the gate, one in de-icing and on the runway), dog dinner was served. Not dog’s. Dog.
I had to stop and take a snap after emerging from the stories-deep, gleaming-clean, efficient-and-cheap Metro and seeing this. To be fair, my lunch hostess the next day did say the place is wildly popular. She won’t go back, though, because “they’re too friendly — you walk in and eight people want to help you.” And that’s from someone who lives in a city where, when I couldn’t find a particular restaurant, I stopped in a graphic arts gallery to ask for directions and the mailman who happened to be dropping off letters insisted on walking me to the nearest corner to point to where it was.
Not fud except for the source, but: Traveling in the Obama era is always better than it was during the Reign of Error when we had to pretend to be Canadian or at least insist we were not Americano but New Yorkese. Still, it was illuminating to talk with a Northern Irishman in Turkey who responded to my lament that there’s a whole lot o’ racism and ignorance on display in this country lately. “No offense,” he said, “but hasn’t there always been?” And before returning to irregularly scheduled snark, I have to note that the consensus among the mostly youngish Turks I met was: “Fucking Erdogan is killing everything. But we need the economic stability.” Looking at the rampant destruction of the city for shopping malls and luxury housing, it did seem as if, as one young put it, “We’re losing our birthright.” Unlike Americans, though, they will at least credit their leader for the extra lira in their lives.
On the lighter side, the story about Erdogan installing a food lab in his megamansion to test for poison inspired some animated discussion over one lunch. One tablemate wondered why, if he’s so terrified someone is out to get him through the gut, he doesn’t just have his wife cook for him. My response: “Maybe he can’t trust her, either.”
I could spend another week mulling how to make any of this amusing, but I just need to type these revelations from various conversations while I can still decipher the chicken scratches in my notebooks.
–Thyroid cancer is apparently quite common in Turkey and “they think it’s because of Chernobyl.” I still remember the housewife in North Wales way back when who was worried about just that effect despite official denials and spat out: “They think we’re stupid.” And it’s a reality to harsh your caffeine mellow as Fukushima radiation in tea is now being detected in Japan.
–Twice I had extraordinary eggplant, smoky but buttery after it was roasted or grilled and then mashed with milk. But my lunch date one day was shocked when I mentioned it: “It’s not in season. You can find it in the supermarkets, but it has no flavor when you don’t see it in the markets.” There’s a concept!
–And when a great server at my last supper asked about Turkish food in New York and I said it was pretty lame, his response was: “The vegetables don’t have the heat. They put vegetables in the fridge and it kills them.” He also, finally, explained why Turkey is the only country where I have ever been able to not just tolerate lamb but actually enjoy it (and I ate tongue, cheeks and brain in one dish): “There’s no grass here. The lambs have to eat what they can find, herbs and weeds.” No wonder their severed, skinned heads appear to be smiling in all the markets.
Ideal implement for cracking Turkish pistachios? MOMA letter opener. // I’m enjoying imagining the Sysco truck traveling the back roads, searching in vain for a resto not supplied locally. // In Pierre Franey we can always trust. // Food photos should never look like an unscooped litter box. Unless you want to be video’d. // Pope sez he wishes he could go out and eat pizza. Fud world wishes it could trash him for doing it wrong. // Kinda shitty for a new Californian to say the magic ingredient in a pasta dish is water when the state has only a year’s supply left . . . // And NYC chefs really need to start smoking butter.
I read KKKrazy people, so I know there was a shitstorm over the Big Os’ dinner destination on New Year’s Eve. Somehow it’s beyond the pale (so to speak) when the most powerful man in the country if not the world chooses a $295 prix fixe. Personally, I’d rather have a president worthy of perks. Not a dry drunk choking on pretzels while sneaking O’Doul’s.
“Not the Onion” is the easiest joke in the lead-in book, but the news deemed fit to print on the new California cage law for laying hens really did need a disclaimer. The reporter (or editor) was working so hard to give what Jay Rosen calls “the view from nowhere” that the story nearly veered into parody. One Midwestern producer bitched that having to provide a few more inches of space for each bird would force him to install heaters “to replace the warmth provided by more closely packed chickens.” (Good thing the MTA never realized it could dispense with heat on the L train.) Then there was the faux concern that “low-income people who rely on eggs as a cheap source of protein” would be hurt the most. As the price goes up, on average, 27 cents a dozen — about 2 cents an egg. (Maybe the penny should not be phased out just yet.) But the real LOL was the whining from a lobbyist that “roomier pens” would “cause injuries” because “chickens are more likely to run, raising the risk of a broken leg or wing.” Cuz that’s how it works in nature, so teenagers must still be strapped into strollers. The view from somewhere is pretty clear: The losers in this six-year fight are full of manure.
In the beginning there was the recipe headnote. Then stories expanded to fill the ad space allotted, and readers got a little foodplay along with four or five recipes. Now the headnote sprawls across two pages. And the recipe is someone else’s. And has been made ridiculous. Having clipped his interpretation way back in the last century, I’m pretty sure Pierre Franey must be spinning in his walk-in in that big kitchen in the sky. From 60 minutes to two days. Next up, barrel-aged pasta puttanesca?
Just learned the best word ever for kids: crotchfruit. ($Palin’s, of course.) // Behind paywall, but WSJ has a good story on Citymeals helping olds with their teeth. Can’t chew, can’t be nourished. // To the point where it’s only noteworthy when Marcus is not in the WSJ. // Whose bright idea was supersizing spice jars? // Surimi is not food. // You cap the K before lime because Key is a place. // Things that are one word: Potpie. Snickerdoodles. // Ridiculousness of the day: “amateur chef.” // New rule: If you have to sniff it, maybe you shouldn’t eat it.
For once I’m feeling glad America has Panchito to kick around again. He’s out bloviating on the Florida PAC-attracting monogram, and on a fiscal fraud in New England, when people are still reeling from the Bushwhacking. Fool us once, shame on him twice. And he can’t be winning many converts by complaining that paying $10 for coconut water is the equivalent of rectal rehydrating. Even critics of Karen Finley should be cringing at the thought of hummus up your country’s ass.
And for more “in with the old,” as I try to get on track with regular posting here instead of Twittering my life away, I am still wondering why real reporters finally caught up to a huge food story but refused to call it what it was. A year ago I interviewed a cranberry grower I’ve known from the earliest days of the fresh market who said the harvest was starting with fully 75 percent of the previous year’s crop still unsold. And that was in 2013, with nowhere to go but into more freezers. In layman’s language, that would be “fucked.” My reporting went nowhere slow, for reasons still unfolding, but it has informed my reading. I see “bounty” and “overabundance” and “awash in cranberries” — never the harsh reality of “glut.” When the berries on the bogs are six feet high and rising, though, it might be time to call a man-made calamity a man-made calamity.
Not sure the NYT fully informed the populace on the closing of Cafe Edison. . . // There is no such thing as a “best vegan cookbook.” // I’ve never eaten at an Olive Garden, but I’m sure it has fine spa food. // Food writing was more readable before the dick-swinging started. // Amazing what search engines auto-fill when you type in “yams up” // Anti-foie gras stories are as predictable as xmas — will no one speak up for tortured champagne grapes? // Odd, idn’t it, how Saint Alice’s favorite books of the year were by chefs in her employ? Call it logrolling under the cast-iron egg ladle. // And I wonder if Dorothy Parker would have been able to get any drinking in if Twitter had been around before typewriters.