Which is by way of saying I’m just back from Washington and reeling, yet again, at how radically it’s changed just since 2001, let alone since my first trip there in like 1974 or ’75. Judging only by the restaurant scene, it’s Vegas on the Potomac, and I will not soon get over how bizarre it was to see throngs of young people on the streets at near midnight on Friday in a town that always left the ghosts to prowl after 9 o’clock for as long as I’ve known it (or at least the part I’ve always known). At least this time there was acknowledgement that the city owes it all to the explosion of lobbying money under the reign of error from 2001 to ’09. Now, a pastry chef said, ethics rules are cutting into business; restaurants aren’t benefiting from senators treated to dinners costing hundreds of dollars. They have to adhere to a $15 lunch limit and the toothpick rule — only tidbits than can be eaten off the tip of them are allowed. Which hasn’t stopped a boom in back-room dining, of course. Apparently a whole lot of bought-off legislators will fit into a private party.
Archive for March, 2012
As a way of protesting the wingnuts’ assault on the Girl Scouts, I bought my first Samoas ever in Washington, too, but not from those little lesbians I was promised, just from an older couple collecting dollars for them outside the Eastern Market. I wonder how Slut Brownies would sell.
Also in my little getaway from the center of the universe, I had conversation after conversation about either newspapers as the new Titanics or how wrong it is that 60-somethings are getting shitcanned, with no possibility of ever finding a new job. Running through every discussion was my contention that the formerly arboreal media, as Michael Tomasky famously dubbed it, is totally removed from the real world, where everyone is one health crisis away from a bankruptcy, where you can lose your house through bankster greed. And nothing made that disconnect clearer than the hometown paper’s shoutout for a five-day food-angled trip to Cuba for $4,000 — $800 a day. I have been to that little island off Key West, and I can assure you ropa vieja does not go for Per Se prices.
Getting out of town was also useful for perspective on the $5.25 million Molto Ego Fail. As many of us women wondered, why was it such a tree-falling-in-the-forest decision? Are people afraid to snark it up? Does everyone think it’s just another business-as-usual nonstory? Or are reporters and editors so far removed from “American Way of Eating” Land that they don’t think to ask how common the issues involved here are? Judging by my Twitter DMs, it’s unlikely we’ll be reading an exposé soon on how epidemic the skimming is. But jeebus, have I heard tales.
What was really vaut le voyage, though, was Sara Moulton’s keynote speech at the Les Dames d’Escoffier event I was lured down to babble at. I’ll use her real name because she told real stories: How one of my heroes said flatly that he would never allow a woman to work either front or back of the house in his temple to French cuisine, how ex-pats in Florida killed cruises to Cuba, how the Food Network jerked her around as it went for a younger, more testosterone-burdened audience with WWE (my word) competitions, how so many male stars of today were first on her show (can you say my biggest fan?) In 1999 when I was at DI/DO we ran a big story on why New York had so few top women chefs. Too bad no one thought to interview this wonder woman. I just read it again and should not be surprised, though, that the Quote Ho was thoroughly quoted. Because a guy’s point of view always matters most.
And while I’m increasingly skeptical of the one respectable Murdoch outlet in the world, I did like the front-page story on how adult children of McDonald’s franchisees are pushing for lucrative changes, like staying open later, accepting credit cards, offering free WiFi. Talk about attracting a new generation by listening to that same generation. Imagine if newspapers had the same idea. Instead, they make me think of the Henry Ford quote that’s been bouncing around the Twitter lately: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” And even that vision is not as limited as paywalls around soufflé recipes.
Finally, and relatedly, I don’t like to gloat but am very glad I did not line up with everyone else in the digital Shirley Jackson “Lottery” and start lobbing stones at the deadpan Dakotan who reviewed the new Olive Garden in town. I started to but then clicked over to her photo and didn’t think the fight was fair; luckily, her own editors are web-savvy and seized on her going viral, and the rest will soon be old-media history. Mostly what amazes me is what was lost in all the mockery: Any derision of our very own hometown paper and its lede food story, one of the hoariest ever ill-conceived: Making your own processed crap at home. Twinkies, you say? Been there, Middle America answers from the distant past. Ho Hos? Are you fucking kidding me?, exhausted food editors everywhere wonder. But the worst insult to intelligence was the attempted news peg. May I say this one more time? Bankruptcy is only a way to get around pensions and screw workers. No one needs to worry about running out of Wonder Bread. Only ideas.
For all the mockery of bacon worship, the trend does deserve credit for redeeming reputations of the porcine variety. When I Tweeted that my 83-year-old in-law equivalent had told me there must be a worse dis of Rush Limbaugh than pig, the responses came down solidly along the lines of “don’t defame the source of so much goodness.” And it’s true: You can’t get lard from a butt cyst.
I wish I could honestly wonder where the kkkrazies were when the Chimp and his Lump in the Bed opened the People’s House for the rare dinner. But I already know (any view is rather dark with head up rectum). Which makes it all the more pathetic that they attacked Mrs. O for serving a festive menu on a festive occasion. Anyone who believes governors on one big night should eat like everyday schoolkids needs his keyboard taken away.
And I’m so click-adept that most ads fly past me as I Twitter my life away. But one did catch my eye. Olives I can accept. No way in hell there is virgin coconut oil. Maybe 72 in heaven, though?
I’m slow but get it eventually: Eating at one of our favorite new restaurants again the other night finally made me realize why the owner is always here and not minding the stoves in Greece. When the going gets tough, the tough move their money. And patrons follow.
I sometimes feel guilty when letting my fingers do the walking in reporting these days, but if you try sometimes you can get what you need online and in books. Take my take on the Oreos centennial — judging by James Trager’s “Food Chronology,” those iconic black-on-shortening wonders originated as a knockoff of the now-long-gone Hydrox cookie. That was the “biscuit bonbon” that came into stores first. And it’s the dark secret you won’t find anywhere in the expanded press releases and blog blowouts everywhere on the anniversary. Instead, look, over there! It’s a factory tour.
I also had a sobering conversation over at the best cookbook store, on whether hard times and hard-time Americans cooking more at home have been good for the printed word, as so much old-style media verbiage has indicated. Short answer: WTF? If people have no money for meat, how in Escoffier’s name are they going to be able to come out and buy cookbooks? If they have Al Gore’s great gift of the internets, they’re gonna be clicking . . .
And I shouldn’t mock, because I once had an ill-thought-out letter published in the birdcage liner for wingnuts, too. But the (unlinkable) one from a woman responding to a front-page story on wine at White Castle had me almost ROFL for the lack of self-awareness. If Mom was bringing rebottled vino to McD’s and Burger King 40 years ago, it was not because she wanted to evoke midnight in Paris. She was leaning on mother’s little helper before Prozac and Valium.
Finally, my compliments to the typist, but overindulgence in sugar, especially by the subsidized poors, is not “the biggest public health challenge facing the developed world.” That would be denial of climate change as the population keeps growing (and as the kkkrazies try to outlaw birth control). Crops all over the stressed world are being wiped out by drought and floods, hurricanes and tsunamis, freak ice storms and aberrant warm winters. I’ll even list nuclear meltdowns, because it’s 30-some years since the push-back against that energy source, and still we’re vulnerable. (I’ll throw in oil spills for the same reason.) You won’t hear it put this way, but we’re simply destroying our own habitat while refusing to acknowledge the planet will still be here, evolving with sugar cane, long after obese and diabetic humans have gone the way of pterodactyls. I’d also believe less in string-pullers if this screed hadn’t targeted the poorest people in this country. A cake a day was antidepressant for my destitute family; deprivation could equal cruelty if sugar got swept away along with HFCS. If you want to regulate the white stuff, please say you mean the little snots on Carnegie Hill will have no access to cupcakes at any price. Otherwise it’s clear sugar is not the only thing that can be spun.