News you can use: Finds are often found on the food scout’s desk. With a hint of mint.
Archive for the ‘birdcage liners’ Category
I always joke that I recognize more names lately in the paid death notices than in the socially vetted wedding announcements. One reason I scour them is to keep up as food legends fade away. The latest was our old neighborhood butcher, who was a real character who did things right back in the competitive days when every neighborhood had at least one butcher. His shop over on Broadway was very Old World, with gleaming tile and a sawdusted floor, and he was always behind the counter, wearing a bolo tie that looked doubly incongruous as soon as he started barking. The great Irene Sax summed him and his business up well in her still-invaluable “Cook’s Marketplace” in 1984: “Yes, he has prime beef, pale veal, game, does 50 percent of his business over the phone. But you don’t have to be rich to shop at his market. Specials are always posted, and his butchers are glad to sell an elderly woman a piece of Romanian tenderloin or some lamb breast. That’s why, Oppenheimer boasts, his shop is busy all summer, when other butchers go hungry because their customers are in Maine and the South of France.”
As his family said in paying to memorialize him, he was a butcher to the stars as well as to us earthbound cooks. Maybe if he had played bass on a one-hit wonder back in 1968 he would have merited a real obit.
Our most memorable encounter came the day after one Thanksgiving, when we went back to bitch that our “fresh” turkey had freezer burn. He just said, with his German brusqueness: “Take anything you want. I know you’re not trying to put one over on me.” He bought an awful lot of goodwill with a few veal cutlets. And don’t get me started on the butcher farther south who once sold us a turkey with a tumor and pretty much told us where to stuff it . . . .
Glad to know I wasn’t the only one who thought she got up the other Wednesday a.m. to find herself back in another century. My early emails included two from the other coast marveling that the town crier for most advanced food city in the country would choose to regress to the good ol’ days, as one put it, when the ads had chuck roast for 59 cents a pound. Of course the margarine in the butter biscuits just made that Betty Crocker vibe much vibier.
Then it got worse. Green grapely, and baking-powder-in-the-unbaked-mashed-potatoes, worse. Having lived in six states and eaten in at least 30 more, I wondered why, if they were gonna go back to the Claiborne heyday, they didn’t just pull out their own excellent compilation of regional recipes. Kolaches are not Danish in that compendium. Snickers are not tights, neither.
And I’m not even going to get into how dumbed-down comestible coverage is becoming as high-minded Dining sinks to Des Moines-worthy Fud. Zombie recipes exhumed. Woman’s World-worthy prose. Two shades of grey in a Holi-colorful world. But I will note that dinner with someone who would know echoed my bafflement at how the Egopedist graduated beyond snippets that had to be edited for half a day to be made deep. Limp handshakes must move fast. . . .
Maybe I should stable my high horse. I read the Murdoch Crier’s cheerleading piece on farmed salmon and wanted to blow it off as pinkwashing. Then I did some poking around for what it didn’t say. Turns out there really has been a literal sea change in the chicken of the sea. To the point that the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch now rates farmed Coho as a best choice. I still have qualms, because I’m haunted by the Scottish fisherman I interviewed eons ago who saw such a threat to the beautiful swimmers from the chicken-cooped kind, and because all these years of shunning the latter have left me with a taste for the wild ones. But it was one more reminder of how you need to read the business pages for your food journalism these days. So much else is just service.
And I forgot to post this in my last blast here, but I wanted to praise the hometown paper for running two important stories, a graphic one on the horrific pig virus pushing up the price of industrial bacon (you’ll notice sustainable is not affected yet) and down the quality of drinking water, and the other on how food chains actually do well by paying well (or at least better than minimum wage). But I also have to complain that both ran on a Saturday on a long holiday weekend. When virtually no one but an old print junkie who calls out the crazy price in the Chanel ad every morning was likely to see them.
My sources read Panchito so I don’t have to suffer the increasingly saccharine insipidity while the Chimp he flacked continues to go unpunished. So I know the lamest restaurant critic ever has gone all Hallmark on America’s ass without ever noting he is the first gay uncle who does not have to pretend to be straight. Given that we are, for the first time, going through a civil rights revolution driven by neither a war nor legislation crammed down the throats of the free Xians, surely the cause deserves a better banner bearer. As the cries to burn down the op-ed pages grow, and especially after the pushy broad has been ousted, maybe sign up a guy who can both bake and think? Anyone who could bring his own mom over to the enlightened side would be preaching to the convertible. And I don’t mean that in the car sense.
I have a lot of catching up to do, but in the meantime I have to note that I can remember every time I ate out, puked/squittered in. The third worst was after a waiter in Florence touched his runny nose while serving us lunch. The second was that time, was in another lifetime, when I took an inter-Appalachian bus to meet a friend for Thanksgiving dinner off a buffet and rode back on my knees, talking to Ralph on the big white telephone. (Well, little stainless-steel telephone.) But the winner was the day I brought home an outstanding felafel sandwich from a neighborhood joint where I chose to ignore the fact that a baby was sitting on the takeout counter. Within 24 hours, I thought I’d died and gone to liquid hell. So I guess it makes perfect sense that visionaries thought people waking up after the most alcohol of the year would want to see a diapered butt posed over a slab of salmon, with beans looking like turds shooting off to the side. The only thing more sickening would be tilapia paired with white chocolate and macadamia.
I could understand the awe the nonagenarian rich guy inspired with his $100 nightly treats for himself. Sure, he earned it. But given that one in five olds in NYC relies on food assistance, you gotta wonder about his priorities and the weird tone-deafness of a section that natters about the great divide but celebrates excess (tell us what was on the table, ye who have no money worries?) Forget the four-dollar organic greens. The average geriatric female in NYC would be happy with a feast o’Friskies.
Times must be getting less tight down to the Taj Pinch. Dinners that cost almost as much as a Chanel bag are getting written up (surely no one only spat). But the bigger laugh was seeing how the sausage was made with the Putin placement — flacks typed something up and “it went through the normal editing process.” Maybe that explains so much about how someone I was warned “is not a very sophisticated writer” can stiffen up to 20 inches.
And this is why the world will never see peace in the Middle East: A cookbook (call it the tome of the unknown chefs) produced to emphasize similarities over differences in kitchens of Jews and Arabs gets the trend treatment and only Israelis are consulted on how it’s going over in the city that happens to be occupied by, shall we note, Palestinians among others. So much for hummus as the healer. . .
Given that we get all that arboreal media delivered to our door, I was able to marvel at how much coverage one death garnered and blame/credit 45+ years of journalism experience for setting off my bullshit detector. So I felt vindicated when my path crossed with someone who’d actually worked for him and who suspected just what I had: Cannoli situation. And despite all the “what a saint” stories, she recalled that she always made certain to be on the opposite side of the DR when he was on the premises. I’m with her on not “wanting to speak evil of a dead dude.” But I’ll never understand why newspapers insist on making all the departed sound dear.
I also quite enjoyed a long “bloggers killed the restaurant world” screed that quoted not a single restaurateur pointing a finger at “new” media. It used to be that bad restaurants blamed bad reviews for their failure; now it’s the impossibility of keeping the buzz machine fed? Somehow I just can’t imagine most patrons of a Ducasse joint were making their dining plans based on the noise and not the signal. Far more persuasive was the actual restaurateur who pointed out that the Old Gray Lady ain’t what she used to be. I’m clearly in the minority in actually struggling to read the thing in print, and I can barely find the review in the acres of dull type. Increasingly I think the paperguy has brought me the Des Moines Register. A picnic story with ants in the hed? A picnic story with a tuna sandwich as the photo/recipe? As someone Tweeted, there should be a separate section for readers who don’t go back decades with the section; we never forget while moths fly out.
I was happy to learn I was not the only reader feeling cheated by the Omnivore Goes to MetFood stunt misplayed as “let’s draw in our own staffer with his own book to obfuscate on how the fuck you make a pizza for lunch when the oven needs proper heating.” It had more missed opportunities than Trader Joe’s has processed crap. A friend out in Portlandia emailed to say: “thanks for letting me know that Berkeley is a Northern California (!!!!) town that is also home to Chez Panisse. THAT clarifies things. And for letting me know that you can make a decent meal simply by shopping in a supermarket. How does that garbanzo soup sound to you?” At least I had a response to the last point: Soup needs fermentation.