Before Pakistan, my consort had been starting every day for the last two weeks railing that there was no news on the front page of the NYTimes — it was all puff pieces and thumbsuckers; one morning the “lead” was actually a picture story that could have run in July, or next February. Given how craven the paper has gotten in pandering to advertisers, maybe it was all a ploy to get readers to turn to the back page of every section. That’s where I learned about a “100 percent juice blend” being marketed to “help nourish your brain.” And if you think flavored sugar water is going to keep Alzheimer’s at bay, you might enjoy Sunday Styles. Whose back page carried a full-page ad informing the gullible that Diet Crap has been pumped up with vitamins and minerals. To paraphrase a British tab’s headline after the Chimp was selected a second time: How can 300 million Americans be so stupid?
Archive for December, 2007
The wiliest chef in town has to be the Big Homme. We passed his newest place the other night after the underwhelming “Before the Devil,” and I was laughing that it could not possibly start serving New Year’s Eve, given that the front was completely covered in brown paper and work permits. Bob, being a real reporter, noticed a few strategic holes torn in the paper, so he bent over to peek in and said, “It’s full of people eating.” And it was. The inside was completely finished, down to art on the walls, and the tables were all occupied (not by anyone I recognized, interestingly). It was almost as surreal as the party scene in “The Shining.” Even for a guy with many unlikely skills when it comes to self-promotion, the striptease is impressive. When the camouflage comes down, he’ll be beating the throngs off.
Far-flung corners of the food blogosphere have been in a tizzy over the revelation that Jed Huckabee chose the Olive Garden as his dining destination in America’s premier food city. (It says everything that the reporter refused him his first choice, T.G.I.Friday’s — who says the media are not a class apart?) I see it as the most entertaining sign yet that “I Didn’t Inhale Oxford” is gaining traction. After all, a dry drunk was elected as the guy America most wanted to share a beer with. A former fatty who doesn’t know from Per Se may be just the ticket for the cretin crowd.
If someone gave me a choice between 101 Dalmatians and one smart Siamese, I’m afraid I would have to grab the latter. Even if it didn’t mean being spared having to slog through acres of minuscule type to find the couple of grains of spelt in a mountain of chaff (unfortunately, I lack that Reaganesque ability to look at a barnful of manure and think there must be a pony in there somewhere). It all did make me wonder when a byline stopped meaning anything, though — or when exactly the elves were allowed to take over for Mr. Claus. You also gotta wonder about the systemic breakdown when obvious free rides on the truffle train are written up in advertising brochures by columnists at the most holier-than-thou publication on the planet. But the funniest find lately was the comment in the FT by Gordon Ramsay, confirming he had once tricked an American “journalist” shaking him down for a free meal by sending her to his restaurant for lunch on a day when it was closed. To quote a master of the fine phrase: “The amount of bullshit in this industry really is extraordinary.”
As I always say, my big fear is reincarnation, but lately I’m starting to hope I might come back in a few hundred millennia as an archaeologist in a whole new species. Imagine the wonder-working wisdom to be gained while deciphering cyber-hieroglyphics and realizing that a world tilting off its axis from too many humans needing too many resources actually chose to fuel its cars rather than feed its population (or even expand mass transit). Every day there’s another horror story about ethanol eating up all the grain crops while rice prices are shooting up. Tax cuts were even approved recently for the ethanol eco-disaster. Eat your heart out, Marie Antoinette. People today are too stupid to realize there will soon be no brioche no matter how far they drive.
And, while I have my Mormon underwear on, I also have to sermonize about the chubby kid I saw eating cheese fries with ketchup on the subway the other night. I watched him put garbage in his mouth for several stops and thought: If he had any idea how stupid that was, he would have ordered a cheeseburger instead — and schools would be teaching basic nutrition again. But then I remembered there is no profit in that — an educated consumer is the biggest offense to Big Food. Snapple is juice, no? And Twinkies are now being promoted as ideal eating in the car. . . .
If you should happen to have a heart attack at the always happy-making El Paso Taqueria on 97th Street, that would probably not be the worst of your problems. The sign on the wall says the CPR kit is “located in the cashier.” In other words, you might be able to get it out. But would you want it on your face?
Now that Molto Ego is history at the Food Network, maybe Comedy Central could take him on. Judging by my email inbox, chortling was heard far and wide and hearty after his crack in a very well-done NYT piece that he was off the air because “they don’t need someone who uses polysyllabic words from other languages.” Hmm. I thought crudo was two syllables. Lardo, ditto. And I kinda doubt the problem was using “panino” for “sammy.” Then again, dissing former employers for “going after the Wal-Mart crowd” sounds like the pot calling the Dutch oven orange for a guy whose Nascar cookbook is currently sold out at the big box online. To keep his dignity, he should have just offered to drink a glass of olive oil while showing some cleavage — the promotional airsickness bags that would then be needed could be dispensed instead of three-syllable lasagne at 35,000 feet.
A blogger at the Houston Chronicle who was allowed to scoop up some White House holiday crumbs had the right reaction to a significantly sugary creation at the media fete this year: What the holy hell was it? I would say that if it’s not a cry for help it must be evidence of torture. Either the poor pastry Fredo is getting into the bourbon his boss claims to have given up, or he really needs Mrs. Chimp to share her Xanax. If there is an allah, ghosts of Christmas are running wild in that mansion.
Literary agents always natter on about wannabe authors needing a “platform” to sell a book proposal. And the shakiest one I’ve come across in a long while is a husband who reviews cookbooks for one of the last newspaper sections standing. The premise is ridiculous, that “home cooks dismiss (steak) as ‘eating out’ food” — someone has to be buying all those scary-cheap slabs of beef in the Food Shitty near me. But the more revealing evidence of how bogus this project looks is the photo in the catalog of what appears to be flank steak (because brisket isn’t a steak, no?) cut straight down like a loaf of bread. My teeth got tired just thinking of chewing a slice. And those exotic lotus roots in another photo definitely send the message that steak, as an entree, is the other cheap meat. I’ve never heard of an author being asked, “Who’s your hubby?” but maybe he actually has the power to make other editors fall in line online. Didn’t it work for Shirley Lord?
Jonathan Waxman gave the best book party since Cesare’s, and the Californian may even have done the Tuscan five better. That was about how many media types I recognized at uncrowded Barbuto, where the wine was copious and the food generous (bacon pizza, lobster tacos, good beef on skewers). I reveled long enough to try it all and also hear the rumor that Panchito is ready to bail once his memoir is published (although a parody of “Ambling Through Idiocy” would be more likely as a best-selling exit strategy), as well as speculation that all publishers need to read anymore is a couple of trend stories to buy a cookbook proposal (anyone say steak twice?) and disappointment that Saveur has sold its soul to GE Profile kitchens in order to morph into Bon Gourmet & Wine (“It’s as if Bentley was advised to start making Fords because everyone else is”). What the party organizers should hear is that culling the herd would be a great new trend in authorial fetes.
Another 400-or-so days of government by Big Business and we won’t have to worry about drowning in sea water in landlocked Omaha — food poisoning may do us all in. The dutiful stenographers in the press have just dutifully disclosed that the FDA has gotten China to agree to “eventually” allow U.S. inspectors in its food factories. Right. That gutted agency can’t even keep shit out of the spinach here in the homeland, and it’s going to stop the flood of fish farmed in sewage? Anyone have a bridge to the 21st century left to sell?
Copy editors’ eyes must be on the stock tables lately, because some pretty amusing oopses have been seeping into print. The NYPost ran recipes side by side calling for egg yokes. The NYObserver identified the photographer who created “My Last Supper” as Meanie (which was especially ironic given what a lovefest with chefs her book party was). The home of the Human Scratch N Match ran a photo of a food book recommended by none of the experts in the accompanying story (one of whom, incidentally, happened to be a restaurateur whose favorites were “written” by celebrities who had had him on their teevee shows). The infallible NYTimes described lattice tops being rolled out for pumpkin pies. The Washpost recipe for Anzac “cookies” (rightfully, biscuits) said they could be stored up to five days — this for a treat designed to be durable enough to be baked and shipped to soldiers and still survive nuclear winter.
And then there was the story in the WSJournal comparing apples and olives — a recipe from Molto for a sausage-stuffed pork loin and a recipe from Thomas Keller for veal breast with polenta cakes, glazed vegetables and sweet garlic — to see which might be less nutritionally dense than a Big Mac. Anyone with rudimentary knowledge of what lurks inside ingredients could tell the caloric deck was pretty much stacked against the fatty cow and assorted accouterments. But the real asleep-at-the-send-button was the description of “the Falstaffian redhead” as “not-quite fat.” Does he have to ride around in a golf cart to qualify? Or is it just that America has defined adiposity downward?
The last eyes on the prize at the NYT can’t be totally to blame for the slovenly editing of a couple of provocative (and important) op-ed pieces on food, though. One made the persuasive case that eating locally is not as simple a panacea as it sounds, but the packaging was all about frying and potato chips. Anyone who had not already read a similar argument based on the same book in the indispensable Guardian could be excused for wondering what the hell Pringles have to do with the price of carbon footprints. And the other was either an argument for shooting deer or a plea to think more kindly about guys who do. One bad thing about knowing how the blood sausage is made down there is that I start to suspect which impossible-to-buy-out lameass is handling copy now. But it could have been much worse. The two pieces could have run in the Thursday “Push (those ads)” Styles section and been packaged as “Ruffles have rifles.”
Of the many benefits of living with a consort who is fresh out of college and 22 again, meeting his new friends cannot be overestimated. When I was a similar age, no one at a party ever opened a bottle of wine with a screw-off cap and reusable plastic “cork” and showed the latter around the kitchen to an appreciative: “It’s a butt plug!” Then again, the wines brought by guests that were being unsealed were way more casually sophisticated than the Mateus and Blue Nun of my long-lost youth. And no one ever passed out penis-shaped hard candies for dessert back in the day; definitely no one ever suggested getting a convivial group together to make a couple hundred dumplings to share for dinner. It’s too bad the world is going to hell in a gas tank when the people are getting so much more evolved. But my favorite detail of an excellent evening in Williamsburg (not Virginia) was the business card an engaging guy handed me as I was leaving after giving him mine. I didn’t have my glasses and only the next morning saw what was on the back: the printed words “the guy you talked about _____ with” and the hand-written words “food and radio” filling the blank. If anyone had known this trick 24 years ago, about 6 xillion business cards would not have made their way into my bag only to leave me wondering: Who was that person who seemed so fascinating? Add matchbooks to the long list of what we’ve come a long way from.
At brunch with new friends earlier the same day, I had another late-breaking revelation that definitely helps explain why so much of what you read in the travel glossies is one step above resort come-ons. The host, an excellent cook, announced when we arrived that he had tried to make a coca, a form of pizza he got addicted to in a region that is Spanish in name only. It was new to me, and I once spent a good chunk of time and a lot of expensed money in Barcelona on assignment. He had such a clear sense of what the dough should be and was trying to outdo Colman to get that madeleine moment, but the experiment had faltered and so he had turned the pizza into a “Catalan calzone.” It was perfectly satisfying, but what it really made me realize is how much you miss in a foreign country when you fly in and out at the high end. The restaurant food in Barcelona when I ate myself literally sick there was splendiferous, but to this day I have no notion of how the real people feed themselves. Then again, maybe there are tourists leaving Manhattan today who don’t know from a slice.