In a rare positive development, I was going through a mountain of review copies and spotted a glimmer of a hint of an encouraging new trend. Call it “let your freak flag fly.” Andrew Carmellini, in telling stories you might actually want to read, gets to not only use “fucking” but use it in boldface and all caps. (Thank you, British bad boys, for teaching us Puritans the S.I. Hayakawa lesson: The word is not the thing.) And Pauline Nguyen is surprisingly genuine in her stories “from the heart” and from her restaurant, the Red Lantern in Sydney. Ma and Pa and other relatives are not warm and fuzzy characters but complicated creatures. I haven’t cooked from either book yet, but as reads they are both a long way from 10 Emerils or 15 Giadas or however the hell many Food Network books are spewing sappily forth. To think snark was once an automatic no-deal. Some very prolific ghost cooks may be coming to the end of the gravy train.
Archive for October, 2008
Another book, though, pretty much made me lose my faith in Amish cooking. You would expect a horse-and-buggy belief system that bans worldly things like telephones to stay true to real ingredients, especially in a collection of recipes built around the seasons. But you would misunderestimate the corrupting reach of Big Food. In donkey’s years I would never expect to come across “1 package taco seasoning” in a book filled with Martha-worthy photos of laundry hanging on clotheslines, and wringer washers, and chickens in the yard. Let alone Bisquick and M&M’s and cream of mushroom soup. How are you gonna keep them on the farm once they’ve tried Velveeta?
Almost as jarring is the food styling in Taste of Home as it morphs ever more ludicrously into the poor cook’s Bon Appetit. I actually spotted a BLT turkey salad photographed in a Mason jar. Someone has got to stop looking at what the cool pubs are doing, because I don’t think this is quite what they mean by verrine. Better to have done that shot with something that half made sense. Like the “frosted pineapple lemon gelatin” right below it. Yes, frosted. Jell-O.
A disgusting little story about a guy who managed to ingest an entire 15-pound (or was it 20?) burger seemed to run everywhere. I’m as bad as everyone else in talking about behavior that abhorrent during a world food crisis. (Seen any news out of Haiti lately? They’re eating dirt.) But I bring it up only to say it made me think of a bizarre if hilarious piece of writing I turned up thanks to Popurls, by a guy who ingested way too much macaroni and cheese or something at an all-you-can-eat place and wound up having the most graphically described intestinal distress maybe in history. Suffice it to say it is beyond detailed and involves the manager of the restaurant hosing down him and the bathroom while his wife is off buying him new pants, underwear and shoes. If we’re going to celebrate gluttony in an age of understocked food pantries, there should be equal time for the crappy consequences. I will never look at a fat guy on a buffet line the same way. . . .
Turin is one of my absolute favorite cities in Italy, despite what I went through there on one trip. So I’m always happy to see it get “discovered,” which is why I linked a piece over at the satellite operation despite the many flaws in it. I first read the thing in what Michael Tomasky so nicely describes as the “formerly arboreal” edition of my hometown paper, and when I went to retrieve the link I skimmed it again and saw the word cheese was highlighted in a graf that had stopped me because it referred to one from Bra and I naturally wondered what it might be, exactly. Guess where the link takes you? To the general explanatory cheese page on the site. As if a reader needs to be told what it is that represents milk’s leap toward immortality. Either this is yet another case of the dread Search Engine Optimization or copy editing is being outsourced to Albania. Which might explain the reference to “panini sandwiches.” Are those like gelato ice cream?
It’s not just because I find them absolutely revolting that I started my Wednesday railing at finding stuffed peppers on the front page of my hometown paper. Bad enough to celebrate the most disgusting creation since potted meat. But to call them out in the prime real estate? WTF? Niman parting from Ranch was news to me, but I didn’t realize that had happened until I saw a blog link later — the nut graf was in goat’s clothing, and I thought we’d been down the cabrito trail. Big type never mentioned it. Little type farther back, though, did put Joe the Plumber in the forest. WTF? Drilling for mushrooms? At least there was the great relief of real writing in the secondary review. My new secondhand sources say the ratio of editors to reporters is now three to one, which explains why so much of the front page is so turgid (too many cursors spoil the flow). And I know from double experience that many writers need that many layers of rewriting. Too bad the paper can never figure out who should be what. But of course I will never learn when to shut up. I just remembered you should never point out spinach in the teeth of anyone who can bite. Hat or not hat. In real media, failure has many mothers. . . .
Funny to see the shameless/soulless/clueless Chimp praising himself for being in the right place at the right time to fix the unbelievable mess he’s made over the last eight years. Sorta like having Typhoid Mary slapping on a tiara as a reward for running the Health Department. But at least she was a cook.
I know I’ve been accused of being a little too free with the I word; I just can’t help it; I find myself fascinating. But even I was astounded at the extent of auto-fellating narcissism on display in the stunt Señor Alginates was conned into doing, clearly not realizing “straight dudes like cats” was the height of intellectual acuity on offer in Sunday Sillies. You lure arguably the most innovative chef on the planet into your crappy kitchen and it’s all about you and your relationship to your imaginary friend? No wonder the poor guy was reduced to slopping out a mishmash of so many flavors and ingredients the reader’s head spins like Linda Blair’s before hurling. At least when Mme X and I rooked Martin Parr into doing that thing he does so well, we let him shoot his best and sent a sentient being to cover him, not a self-obsessed simian who really should have passed on the assignment rather than drag down the whole newspaper in his subject’s eyes. I would endorse publicly whipping him senseless, but he already is.
But that’s just me.
And don’t get me started on the front-page resurrection of Panchito as political commentator. Believe me, I knew Johnny Rotten, and this lame joke is no Johnny Rotten. He could chew and think, and he left an awfully big bathtub to fill. Someone should tell the bosses some of us remember the last time America listened to the man who mistook a towel slap on the ass for qualification for the presidency. Go back to your silly paella and underwritten issues. Fool us once, won’t get fooled again.
I passed a guy at a vegetable stand on First Avenue the other day with this on his back: “Under this shirt I’m not wearing any clothes.” And of course he was, shall we say, less than lean. I had the same reaction as when I see a certain someone festooned in sausages for yet another photo op. Brain bleach, please.
Like every old phart these days, I’m addicted to Facebook. But lately I’m starting to wonder if it’s a safe playground. The people who are being suggested as friends are scaryyyyy. The food world is both fake and incestuous, but I draw the line at pantloads — this guy used to run campaigns worthy of McSame and the Caribou Killer — and I don’t even wanna know who his “friends” are. I’m cynical enough.
I’m starting to suspect the world will end not with a bang but with a series of small cheats. The other day I was scraping near the bottom of my jar of Hellmann’s when I noticed it was indented. Sure enough, the “quart” is now 30 ounces. You know that if they added something they would be blasting it in big type on the label. Shave a little and charge nearly twice as much and it’s just the American way. A friend emailed me in puzzlement over Coppola’s chardonnay being sold with a deck of cards as an enticement to spend the 15 bucks, but that actually seems like the perfect message these days: You buy, you lose. Game’s rigged.
If stars fall in the sky, does anyone hear? I managed to make it through an entire week into my foreseeable future without the faintest curiosity about the “big awards” being doled out to NYC restaurants. With the chances of spending $500 on a dinner about as good as our investing in a bottle of the new $1,450 cognac, who really gives a flying goose fuck anymore? I felt the same way about the silly food “festival” and the silly food-centric magazine, which was apparently designed by the same people who package Ambien. Everything seems so craven — was the magazine pegged to the “festival,” or was it just meant to sell more of those annoying and inescapable Campbell’s attack ads? My favorite curmudgeon went off even more than I did, but he actually read the thing. I only dipped a toe now dying of osteonecrosis into one thing by a guy who I know for sure could barely crank out 500 words on shrimp-shell stock, never a thought piece. But I did tear out the meat of the matter to read on the bus home from the Whitney — and almost snoozed off while wedged in standing up and gripping a handrail. The best and the brightest meets the worst and the dimmest. Don’t they call the damn thing a NEWSpaper? Leave off the S for stupidity. Just tell me something new, please.
At a time when newspapering has become a business of whiners, though, why is our hometown burden so determined to drive readers away? I don’t want that damn Metro trudge crammed into the national and international news. I like to throw away sections I will never even glance at; I don’t want sports crammed into Bizday. But I really have to wonder whose bright idea it was to send DI/DO back to the dark ages (and not just with gender horseshit). Food photos that were bad enough in color now look as if Weegee was involved, and Bellevue, too. Is that a loaf of bread, or are you just glad to see a cow plop? Then again, maybe it’s a concerted effort to make the illos match the content: dull. That Ambien packager obviously never sleeps.
Mr. Nice Guy and I went to a predictably good cookbook party the other night that was remarkably free of assholes (only two that I could hear), but, as usual, a truly frightening Baby Jane was there to up the celebrity quotient. I always mentally hear Richard Thompson when she’s around, and I never even get close enough to determine if she smells like something fresh from the tomb — I just imagine Madonna in 50 years. Usually I miss her queening around, but this time she doddered up to the door between the dining room and the garden and bellowed imperiously, “Someone come help me!” The P for please was apparently running down her leg; this was shades of Jennifer Jason Leigh shoeless in the airport in “Georgia.” My consort happened to be sitting close by, and before I could stop him he bounded over and assisted the crone over the ledge. But he redeemed himself when he sat back down and said, “Hey, you talkin’ to me?” Whatever you do, if your path is likely to cross hers, do not watch “Midnight Cowboy” again. . .