Archive for December, 2009

Manteca floss

December 2009

While I’m starting to feel like the unpaid lard crusader, though, I also know the wondrous stuff has its limits. And they start at caramel. With that melty candy, you want flavor, and only butter will do. Lard is about results, not taste. But I can understand why trend groupies are glomming onto it. It’s close enough to bacon to pass.

Costco for sophisti-dummies

December 2009

Sorry to repeat myself, but one of my favorite memories of my first stint at the NYTimes is of interns coming around late at night and taking food and drink orders — on some shifts the former editor of the Harvard Crimson would have to bring this college dropout milk. But it turns out I should have stuck around, and not just for a shot at a buyout. At a party the other night I learned the food at the Icarus Tower is actually now catered by Restaurant Associates. Jeebus, journalism has come a long way from vending machines in the passageway to the composing room. As much as I used to mock the old bacteria bar in the Cafe Regret, funky food had to keep reporters and editors grounded. I will always remember seeing a fashion writer who had worked at the paper as long as I’d been alive eating one of those scary little “pizzas” late one afternoon in that gritty cafeteria. Today she would be noshing on sushi and never considering what the little people eat. Let alone what the last meal was on the Titanic.

Hide the free shipping

December 2009

Failed contrarian pitch of the week: Does Harry & David even need to exist? In this age of local/seasonal/sustainable/artisanal, who on the feverish planet needs a fancy box of wax rocks for three or four times what your friendly neighborhood Greenmarket gets for pears picked close to home? Let alone half a pound of cookies for $29.95? If the company had any sense, it would switch to candles in the shape of fruit. Stick a wick in it. It’s done.

Way down in the hold

December 2009

The link-bait of an op-ed the NYTimes ran on frozen versus fresh salmon made me wonder why canned didn’t enter the environmental equation. It can be shipped not just without air freight but also without freezers. I posted a quick qualm over at the Epi Log but was soon sucked into questions on the Twitter that ate my life: Someone has to be cutting corners on this new bounty of frozen salmon out of Alaska. Might it be the Chinese? The Brits, after all, are already benefiting from a supermarket price war. Since farming has backfired big time, the red chicken of the sea seems destined to win the race to the bottom.

Side of avocado fries

December 2009

It says something about how much nonsense floods my Writeme box that I actually read a “release” about shot-hustling kosher girls heading out on the first night of Hanukkah and took it for a flout (flack tout) rather than the spoof it so obviously was. Wasn’t it? In my defense, the scam thing landed not long after I got something from an apparently legit agency hustling salsa made with pancetta. And maple syrup. And walnuts. Why not throw in some raspberries and chocolate?

Dove Bars, on every corner

December 2009

Not that I mean to demean a profession that is evolving so much faster than old media it looks like an iPhone running against a Trash-80. The holdouts still typing up spelling- and grammar-challenged releases and blasting them out like so many Nigerian come-ons leave themselves open to ridicule. The ones who are realizing you attract more flies with judiciously applied single-source honey are earning their money. Cold-calling chefs for magazine stories used to be the eleventeenth circle of hell; catch one at a bad moment and you were fucked for that assignment, and maybe longer. Now I freely confess I start with their facilitators, most often for the kinds of pieces that don’t need rich quotations and extended questioning, just a few details or quick thoughts or recipes. Fact-checkers want documentation more than ever, and a Q&A by email can out-verify a transcribed phone interview. For all my gaffes I know will be preserved for cyber-posterity, I suspect there will be many more by over-reaching kiddles. I can count on a couple of pairs of tongs how many chefs’ reps have totally blown me off in 25 years at this. But I actually got a “we’re too busy for national coverage” this week. Much as I hate Frank Sinatra, I could hear “flying high in December, shot down in May” echoing in my cranial sieve. All fad things come to an end.

Agave Easter eggs

December 2009

Bad week for blood relations. First I read that one of the spawn of Go-Fuck-Yourself got a Secret Service boss canned for refusing to take her girlfriends to lunch. And then some flack sent me a release touting half-sisterhood to a used-up actress as kitchen cred for a sushi chef. Which was unfortunate, because it brought to mind that old saying about what starts to smell after three days. For once “Top Chef” survivorship would be preferable.

Go, Coolio, go

December 2009

My Tweet on Dubai was “None dare call it Vegas.” The world is waking up from a pretty bad bender and acting as if no one could have predicted epic fail with ski jumps in a desert. But the same meltdown is happening in the Nevada wasteland where all the marquee chefs are clusterfucking. A restaurant wonderland where nearly all the food and consumers have to be flown in is not exactly sustainable no matter how much muck the climate-change deniers throw up. Maybe they should just declare falafel the new sushi and be done with it.

E. coli on a wire

December 2009

Nothing epitomizes America’s defeated attitude better than the coming teevee show about a “chef” who works in a struggling burger joint. We don’t even aspire to cuisine these days, even as fantasy; we’ll just settle for one step up from McFilth. Someone should put “Frank’s Place” back out on DVD. Gumbo is complex — and shrimp and crab don’t get recalled for shit.

Guar gum with cauliflower glop

December 2009

Of course, look what fantasy has gotten “Top Chef” viewers: frozen dinners. Time magazine had a pretty good look at them, including the fact that contestants surrender all rights to recipes (shades of so many cook-offs that are not competitions so much as cynical trawls for marketable ideas). And with countless cookbook authors also selling processed crap, why shouldn’t a fake show jump on the honeywagon? I still haven’t recovered from the Thomas Keller fried chicken kit. And I’m awaiting the Ferran Adria Fizzies.

But what about the bourbon?

December 2009

So media financial experts are weighing in on the great pumpkin shortage of 2009 and saying yes, we had more to fear than fear itself. I’m not going to even start on how these are the whizzes who didn’t notice the economic boom was based on bankster fraud, just note that even with a horrible harvest, the real shortage would not be felt until next Thanksgiving. Unless huge stockpiles in warehouses have all been eroded, which I kinda doubt. The bigger lesson of the near-disaster seems to have gone over everyone’s head. The pumpkins that turned to mush in the fields were grown from proprietary seed. Monoculture is just another way of saying “shortage waiting to happen.” Ask the tomato growers wiped out by blight spread by plants sold in big box stores. Or ask the Irish. Maybe one label is not enough for most cans. One mother not to mess with is nature.

Not the best moment for shareable burgers

December 2009

Another gee-whiz report found that more than 60 percent of supermarket chickens are contaminated with one kind of bacteria or another. And the news is? Of course they’re filthy birds, especially after a trip through a modern factory. Which makes all the wingnut hysteria over KFC starting to offer halal chicken even more laughable. They act as if you eat it and you turn muslin. Get a brain, morans.

One gyro over the line

December 2009

You know almost everyone down at the shrine to Sulzberger ego is working too hard when you read stuff like “Up and Adam” and corrections on “Normal” Rockwell. So maybe killing off a few thousand blogs would be a good start. It would free up hacks to spend a little time polishing prose for a star turn on the cover. Of course, when you’re competing with bondage accouterments you might as well hang it up anyway. Especially when strange phrasing leaves readers imagining where else a ball gag might go besides a mouth. . .

Nuts in a paper cone

December 2009

I try to tune them out, but I’m a total sucker for Xmas gifts-for-cooks stories. Not because I need ideas, being a total Scrooge when it comes to the greed holiday. Mostly I like to see what new idiocy is on offer. Right now the season’s winner has to be a stalk of brussels sprouts, dressed up with a ribbon. Bring me tiredest flowers from the corner deli anytime over that. I also wonder if so many compilers have any idea how wrong it is to advise giving knives. It’s bad luck; you can only trade them for something (like a penny) or you risk severing a relationship. I still blame myself for busting up a marriage by presenting the bride and groom with his and hers Wustofs eons ago. Of course, the De Longhi deep frier didn’t do so well by another couple. But I doubt an $18.95 Spanish food dictionary would have been any better. That publisher must believe in San Nicolas.

Stamina is his middle name

December 2009

Thanks to Twitter, I see one of the early Krazy Rhymes-With-Lunts I worked for has finally gotten her recipe shit together and is about to inflict a cookbook on stores. When I was slaving for her, a poor beaten co-author was suffering mightily trying to extract information while she was dervishing around two kitchens like the ghost of Palin foretold. I’m just hoping the latest collaborator can include all the juicy bits, like how to shake roaches out of aprons before tying them on. At the very least I hope they’ll share how to tell when bread dough is properly risen: “It should feel like a 40-year-old woman’s boob.” Then again, I’ll believe the book when I see it. Googling her age to see if she really could be 66 now, I came across an NYTimes profile pegged to the forthcoming release of . . . yes, her cookbook. And that was in 1996. I suspect the acknowledgements are going to be quite something. Or should be.