Archive for November, 2008

File under Lucre, Filthy

November 2008

I see “car washes” for supermarket shopping carts are big news, as are horror stories about all the filth that accumulates on the rolling wonders. As always, I gotta marvel at a country that can work itself into a lather over germs on innocuous necessities while never stopping to think about what might be breeding on dollar bills, let alone quarters. From that subway bum’s shit-encrusted pockets to your Purelled hands. . . .

Did Squanto know from soybeans?

November 2008

Easily the saddest food story I’ve read in a while was the Journal’s on fake turkeys, in all their freakish un-glory. Could anyone really feel celebratory carving up a loaf of something shaped like Velveeta and the color of simian dung? Even worse was the tofu turkey sculpted like the real deal but with a cavity for stuffing — a little too close to inflatable sex toy for comfort. Why not just serve pumpkin lasagne and enjoy yourself? But then the trend this year seems to be making Thanksgiving as complicated as it can possibly be when it’s really just a glorified chicken dinner. There’s no need to freak-and-freeze out. As much as I don’t like trying to reinvent it in words and recipes year after year after year, it’s my favorite holiday because it’s all about cooking without pressure. Step one: Throw out your magazines and newspapers. Otherwise you’ll be reheating biscotti while mopping up your own exploding head.

Truth can’t get its pants on

November 2008

Speaking of pumpkin, I see the blogosphere has worked itself into a squash tizzy insisting the stuff in the can is not what it says on the label. Funny that I first heard that apocrypha 25 years ago when I got into food and it took a trip to the pumpkin capital of America to learn that the P word applies to more than things in the shape and color of jack-o’-lanterns. Not every tomato is a plum. Ditto with pumpkin. Better to put that sleuthing urge to good use figuring out what the hell is in those “onion” rings on the green bean casserole.

Hardy, meet Perennial

November 2008

Okay, the Depression is officially here again. The requisite Spam-is-selling-like-cupcakes story has surfaced in the hometown paper, although with no indication anyone involved understands that processed crap that sells for $2.40 for 12 ounces is not exactly a bargain when overly subsidized meat is the one steal left in supermarkets. My Sunday paper had ads for chuck steak for all of $1.99 a pound (not three-quarters of a pound). Of all reflexes, the urge to reach for a cliché is hardest to break. Guess it’s not so surprising that business reporters missed the whole buildup of the housing bubble if  they can be so easily conned by a chestnut of spiced ham.

A strawful of hype

November 2008

I’m still working my way out of a Vicodin haze, but I hope once my wits return I can do a side-by-side comparison of the nutrients in an avocado and in a can of Ensure. That shit is scary if you let your eye stray below the impressive list of nutrients, down to the main ingredients: Sugar, sugar and more sugar. It reminded me of Borden’s condensed milk with artificial flavoring, but my roommate wanted every can I wouldn’t swallow. What a strange concept, adding vitamins etc. to garbage and selling it as redemptive. In my next life I’m coming back as a marketer of geriatric formula.

At least no icebergs were harmed

November 2008

Artful Dodger Award of the year goes to the author of the T-for-Twaddle piece on the New Boonville Hotel sequel in Oregon. This guy can go to work with Turd Blossom now, having managed to glide right past the fact that investors got rooked big time. My consort and I made the pilgrimage to sustainable Mecca way back when, and it’s funny that I remember nothing about the food, just a few details about the B&B where we stayed (friends of Alice Walker’s and Bill Owens’s). Clearly, there are second acts in American lives. And on the internets, no one has to know you screwed up. I saw a reference to Julia Childs in my paper, but my friend out in Santa Barbara missed it online. Ted Stevens was wrong. It’s not a series of tubes. It’s one big eraser.

Giving disabled ducks a bad name

November 2008

I see by my countdown clock that the Chimp has just over two months left to create a legacy beyond torture, war crimes, Constitution-shredding, pretzel-choking, incompetence, new Depression and general destructive idiocy. We need a drinking song to get us through every day till January 20: “Sixty-nine bottles of wine on the wall. . . .”

In with Spiaggia, out with hot dogs

November 2008

Call this the luck of the drip — I slept right through the most momentous evening in my lifetime, to the point where I could barely rouse myself for a terrorist fist bump with the nurse taking vital signs just before midnight who announced: “He won! He won! All the residents are out in the street celebrating!” To compensate I’ve been obsessing on the big issues, like all the horseshit stories speculating on which celebrity chef is likely to be hired to cook for the classy family evicting the Chimp and his Stepford enabler. (Can you say banquet boss?) And to think it was only eight years ago that my then-employer had to agonize over stories on whether the booze in sauces and stews cooked off enough to be safe for the untreated alcoholic who somehow wound up president. (All hail Panchito!) It’s morning in America when wine is spotted in a candidate’s kitchen. Even Kendall-Jackson is one giant leap beyond near-beer.

Bottom of the well

November 2008

Speaking of booze and the simian’s trashing of America, I realized things are much, much worse than the news pages let on when I flipped through the weekly coupons and saw $5- and $2-off options for . . . “spirits.” WTF? Coupons are what you use to cut the price of toilet paper and Ziploc bags, not essential nutrients. It was weird enough when all the snooty wine shops I frequent started lining every square inch next to the cash register with airline-size shots of hard alcohol for a quick buck. But rebates for Tanqueray and Johnnie Walker? Instead of investing in an apple cart I should be learning how to make hard cider. Maybe even applejack.

Miso. Salsa.

November 2008

I’m feeling pretty good this week thanks to my new best friend Vicodin; just add cappuccino and things get really mellow. But even through a euphoric haze I can still wonder how close we are to end of days when a company is actually marketing “wasabi ranch” potato chips. Having grown up in Arizona, I have to say that combination does not make me think of overwrought snacks. I see internment camps for the Japanese.

It must be true. It was reprinted.

November 2008

The Week went so wingnut wacky during the campaign that I would have canceled my own damn subscription if not for the food pages, which are an oddly compelling gauge of what appeals from newspaper sections across the country. Since I’m no longer in the competition, I needed this to justify re-upping: Where else in print would you read about a British priest who needed a potato dug out of his rectum? One that allegedly lodged there when he fell on it while trying to hang kitchen curtains in a state of buck-nakedness? Then again, I guess it’s just more proof that the magazine has gone over to the neocon side. Those readers would consider tuber action a prescription for the ultimate wide stance.

Tip 30 percent

November 2008

Always-brilliant Irena Chalmers has a new book out on all the jobs that have sprung up in the food world in the few decades since cooking has become so much more than the necessary path to sustenance. I just got my review copy but am still catching up on the crap, crap and more crap on my desk, so I don’t know if this opportunity knocks in her pages: Entrepreneur chaser. I spotted an ad for one on the back page of the Village Voice, from a law firm angling for restaurateurs to sue for wages, overtime and tips. I guess it’s good that the exploited have a defender, but it’s not so good to think about where most of the settlement money will go. Or to consider that the gloating attorneys could very well wind up celebrating in restaurants that are just as guilty.

Unstuffed

November 2008

One of the many stories I have never been able to sell is “why Thanksgiving is a food writer’s most-hated holiday.” As I am probably repeating myself to say, never does so much effort go into reinventing a wheel that rolls itself. We rewrite the Kama Sutra every goddamn year, and readers are totally happy with the missionary position: turkey breast up, guests face-down in overloaded plates. I’ve done my duty for this November and can now lean back and relax contemplating the hoops others are hopping through: Serious Eats is working itself into a lather with a countdown on a meal that really, come on, is the fucking easiest of the year. And USA Weekend had to trot out Sorta Slim to push a menu focused not on flavor but calories. Maybe I’m a math dunce, but 1,211 calories for a feast sounds downright abstemious compared with your average Blooming Onion. Cutting to 682 on a holiday seems mean enough to send the Puritans right back onto their boat. What is most insanely stupid about a feature like that is that the last Thursday in November is the one day most Americans actually eat well, with not just good protein but the full complement of fruits and vegetables. My big fear is reincarnation, but sometimes I wish I could come back as a culinary archaeologist to wonder why Americans would obsess on the calories in a once-a-year feast. It’s like angsting over the carbs in a Communion host.

Fuck U and the menu you rode in on

November 2008

I guess I can’t blame a restaurant critic caught settling personal scores in a professional forum if the deed happens to be done just as high-profile Alaskans are looking right into cameras and insisting guilty really means vindicated. The salmon, after all, rots from the fish picker down. But it is amazing his employer is taking it relatively lightly beyond disposing of the online evidence. One of the things that has always made me nuts since switching from “real” journalism to food writing is that ethics are so often checked at the kitchen door. I shouldn’t be surprised, though. I still remember when the Top of the Heap, End of the Line thought it was a good thing to have a reporter sleeping with a powerful congressman if it got her scoops. And I suppose it’s always better to run a bad review than boil a bunny.

Shrimp shell Intrade

November 2008

With the insurance company going medieval on what it will pay for, I was too cheap to spring for the teevee in the hospital, so I had to settle for a morning paper on Obama’s big day. We get two newspapers delivered at home every morning, but until last week I never thought of them as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Unfortunately, I had all day to dwell on the content, and I was oddly pleased to see the Egotist back to his usual learning-to-use-a-clutch prose. When I think wafer, I conjure Mr. Creosote. That thickness in prosciutto would be good only for the sole. Obviously, paper isn’t what it used to be.