Would it be too much to ask for a moratorium on cookbook authors claiming MFK Fisher as a mentor even though they never even met her? Somehow I suspect the last place she wanted to spend eternity was on the shoulders of headnote typists.
Archive for November, 2010
And speaking of cringing in the grave, Squanto would probably care less about attacks from wingnut blowhards than he would about Thanksgiving recipes calling for fresh corn in late November. Stick a fish in it. That harvest has been and gone.
The weirdest story I struggled through all week was the convoluted tale of the Greenmarket farmer lying down with Wall Street scum and waking up ruined. It really needed an interactive element to keep track of all the claims and counter-claims. But at least it raised a tiny bit of confused awareness that there had to be far more heritage turkeys for sale than for real this year (free-range alone does not a Bourbon Red make). Still, the most bizarre detail went unremarked: “Three barrels of turkeys went to waste”? Turkeys are quantified by barrels? Maybe the reporter meant what McSweeney’s described as a hillbilly Thanksgiving menu: Wild turkey. Wild Turkey.
My consort and I did not go down the heritage path this year for a number of reasons, but we did buy local from our regular guy, which turned out to be a trip. We got to our neighborhood Greenmarket early to pick up our order and were told no 20- to 22-pound bird was available because “they screwed up on the farm.” Apparently the order book had gone missing, so the vendor had only dainty fowl to dispense. But he did have a couple on their way up from Union Square. And so I guess we have to atone a little because our carbon footprint was slightly larger than we’d hoped. Only in New York do you get turkey in a cab. Which sounds like a song.
I jokingly Tweeted that no one in the food world appears among Time’s candidates for “person of the year,” but when followers started asking who I thought should be I realized it wasn’t funny. I’d been obtusely mocking the silliness that has broken out over the holiday windows at Barneys, with some in the food coven upset that other old legends are not honored with a severed head on display. But why shouldn’t Michael Pollan be considered for the cover? (Aside, of course, from the fact that his last book came out early in the year and fame now lasts 15 seconds on the teevee.) Or why not Mrs. O, who really has stirred up the organic hornets’ nest by going all Jamie Oliver on America’s ass rather than sitting in the White House and smoking and reading as her predecessor did? But maybe the best choice, given Time’s contrarian bent and its inclusion of the Wasilla Snowbilly on the ballot now, would be the greedy fuck responsible for the recall of more than 380 million filthy eggs. Did anyone else in 2010 do as much to raise consciousness of a broken food chain?
And speaking of Pollan, I was underwhelmed by Newsweek’s clumsy take on food as a class issue. But I have been paraphrasing him nonstop since reading it: In this country, wealthy farmers grow cheap food for the poor, while poor farmers grow pricey food for the rich. Of course the story is more complicated than that, so I was glad to see dueling pieces in two newspapers on one Sunday on food as the new culture war. The first, in the hometown daily, took the long view, from the ivory tower, and concluded we just have to submit to the market’s power. Smoking, after all, was wiped out organically, her expert insists — apparently having forgotten the whole Joe Camel push-back to stop marketing targeted at kids. The second essay was much more persuasive because the authors are actually putting their money where their mouths are, having moved to one of the most nutritionally hopeless cities in America and started cooking and eating well, with dinner for less than the price of a McRib even with ingredients from those hopelessly elitist, ridiculously expensive farmers’ markets. Getting a book out of it is smart, too, because I’ll go to the crematorium wondering how Big Food persuaded so many that cheap garbage is a birthright. Maybe they should call it “Stupefy Me.”
Also, too, the crap you find on Twitter: The usually sensible Kevin Drum touted a cretinous op-ed by a wingnut who is convinced the Democrats lost (the Senate) because they look down on real Americans who prefer to throw together processed crap and call it a meal. (Or something.) That ranks right up there with the Villagers’ knowing references to “the salad bar at Applebee’s.” Never let facts get in the way, of course. First, the whole piece was built around the election of a “loser:” Andrew Cuomo, he of the questionable taste in consorts. And then there’s the little omission that said consort has, according to her main showcase, sold 3 million cookbooks. Which sounds like a lot if you want the government out of your Medicare. By contrast, Thomas Keller has sold more than half a million copies of only one title, “The French Laundry Cookbook.” Pollan’s “Food Rules” has been on the best-seller list for nearly a year. A higher-class easy-cooking book is No. 1 right now. Unfortunately, even as I looked up only those few contradictions I realized the real fatal flaw in the idiotic argument: Morans can’t read.
Apparently you can take the food writer off the food beat, but you can’t take the food off the beat. The sweet potato boom was a natural, since I’d read about the frites trend 20 other places (as Satchel Paige may or may not have said: “If it ain’t fried, don’t eat it”). But the Ghetto Burger story exposed the limitations in thinking anyone can be Johnny Rotten (and even he segregated his gustatory reportage from his news/politics stuff). As we used to say on copy desks, this tired-and-sentimental thing had holes so big you could drive trucks through them, trucks in this case loaded with industrial “burger” (I believe the proper term is “ground beef”). What does any business go for in that neighborhood these days? Does hers turn a profit? What about franchising? What kind of idiot advises anyone in a depressed market to dream so ridiculously big? Why do all reporters get man-on-the-street commentary rather than track down someone who knows what the hell he’s talking about? And I know too well how hard it is to ask the most obvious question, but the answer would really have resonated at a time when 98 percent of Americans are facing down the reality that the good life is over in this country; it also could have illuminated the quandary Social Security presents for the self-employed. The photo doesn’t show the entire menu board, but $9.50 for a burger made from supermarket beef sounds like a pretty good markup. Did the sweet, smart, super-hard-working entrepreneur accumulate nothing to retire on?
Now for a bigger question: Was the cat away for the Thanksgiving Eve edition of the section formerly known as DI/DO? The lede story was was so tedious I couldn’t even read it to count errors (although I did detect a punctuation glitch in the caption). The off-lede was so painfully overwritten I wanted to scald my own eyes. And the hoariest cliché ever was actually pressed into crude service for the hed on the review. Or should I call it the turd that finally plunked into the punch bowl? What other restaurant has had so long to get its act together before the starry hammer dropped? From there it was on to the outsized narcissism of a restaurant critic ordaining himself the expert on home cooking, and then the clunky verbiage on alleged restaurant openings. How absurd is “ingredient-driven food” when your lede story is on . . . beyond-esoteric ingredients? And WTFF does “pushes the sports bar envelope” mean? Pigs in a jockstrap blanket?
Since it’s getting into the saccharine season, I’ll temper all this by noting the WSJ ran an oddly timed (after turkeys have been cooked to jerky) but very enlightening piece on kitchen math. The advice on measuring various salts alone was worth it. But my cranky side also demands to be heard: How can sections as sloppy as (Gr)Eater New York and as polished as Off Duty possibly come from the same newsroom? I read the former to count copy-editing and food mistakes, the latter to marvel at the slickness and genuine hipness. It’s even getting smarter. Slow Food Fast still uses recipes calling for grapes. But they no longer need peeling, only smart roasting. . .
All the misinformed hoopla over the USDA’s hyping cheese seems to have died down, so no one seems to have noticed the latest insidious development. I succumbed to supermarket “cheddar” on sale and noticed it comes with a new tag: “3 a Day — milk cheese yogurt — for stronger bones.” I could live on dairy, but I really don’t think a nation of cows really needs to be prodded to ingest more fat. If calcium is the goal, the “5 a day” campaign should be upgraded to promote kale and other less-caloric sources. Considering every extra five pounds puts 25 pounds of stress on your hips/knees/ankles, it’s a lose-lose situation.
So many shiny objects are being dangled so frenetically these days it’s hard to choose which one to pounce on, but I guess the sorry reality that the worst president ever is out trying to rewrite history with the help of corporate media is the most offensive. Given his record in allowing 3,000-plus Americans to be slaughtered in the “homeland” while he was asleep at the switch on the “ranch,” this really is like Typhoid Mary having the gall to flog a cookbook.
Also to be filed under “this didn’t have to happen,” I spotted the most depressing title ever while killing half an hour in a magazine store the other day. Apparently there’s a market big enough to support Diabetes Living — which means a disease that was once rare is now so thoroughly accepted that advertisers are lining up to cash in. Which, as I’ve noted before, is probably not a coincidence. First you make people sick with cheap crappy food, then you have a drug customer for life. But let’s just argue about Happy Meals.
Speaking of which, the saddest new measurement turning up in recipes this Thanksgiving is the “sleeve” — some call for half a sleeve of Lorna Doones, others for a full sleeve of Ritz crackers etc. What kind of honest cook uses processed crap for a tart crust or anything else, especially on the one day of the year when there is no excuse for not doing food up right? Oh. I know. Someone whose next book is probably all about shortcut cooking, a k a “a can of this, a box of that,” which will keep the anti-Dash ads coming. We are all semi-ho-made now.
And because Christmas is coming, the kitchen-innovation bait for gift listicles is getting more ridiculous. Just this week I spotted a vinaigrette maker, for cooks who lack a bowl and a fork if not a whisk. And a $25 herb-oil infuser, for those without a jar and a sieve. And, silliest of all, a “pie maker,” which looks to be an oversized panini press with two indentations, because who makes one pie at a time? Unless the damn thing mixes the crust, I say save your $79.95 for really useful stuff. Like potato scrubbing gloves. Or, you know, send the cash to Haiti. Where they can’t complain that shopping in the supermarket is just too damn difficult.
Obviously, I don’t get out enough. My consort treated me to “Long Story Short” on Broadway, and I was first stunned to see not just a whole new hotel at the top of the subway stairs at 44th Street but a whole new, and huge, Shake Shack. And then, as we rushed to our seats, bypassing the bar, we were both amazed to see a woman working the aisles, as if we were in a baseball stadium, hawking wine and candy and Jell-O shots. This is what the theater is like these days?
As for the performance, it was well worth seeing, a smart connect-the-dots on empires and hubris through history, but I wish I had not read Monsieur Ami’s stilettoesque take on the director in the New Yorker on the C train to Midtown. I liked one line in the monologue about America being “a bouillabaisse of failed states” until I learned the annoying comedian was responsible for it, and of course I then started thinking what a dumb metaphor that is. Bouillabaisse is not a melting-pot concept; what goes into it is pretty rigidly codified. Figures Mr. Jessica would slip something deceptive into a real thought piece. Eat your spinach. It’s someone else’s brownie.