Archive for the ‘onward and downward’ Category

No tattoos, for a reason

April 2015

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 . . . .

Charging a phone on a kebab “cash register”

March 2015

I could spend another week mulling how to make any of this amusing, but I just need to type these revelations from various conversations while I can still decipher the chicken scratches in my notebooks.

–Thyroid cancer is apparently quite common in Turkey and “they think it’s because of Chernobyl.” I still remember the housewife in North Wales way back when who was worried about just that effect despite official denials and spat out: “They think we’re stupid.” And it’s a reality to harsh your caffeine mellow as Fukushima radiation in tea is now being detected in Japan.

–Twice I had extraordinary eggplant, smoky but buttery after it was roasted or grilled and then mashed with milk. But my lunch date one day was shocked when I mentioned it: “It’s not in season. You can find it in the supermarkets, but it has no flavor when you don’t see it in the markets.” There’s a concept!

–And when a great server at my last supper asked about Turkish food in New York and I said it was pretty lame, his response was: “The vegetables don’t have the heat. They put vegetables in the fridge and it kills them.” He also, finally, explained why Turkey is the only country where I have ever been able to not just tolerate lamb but actually enjoy it (and I ate tongue, cheeks and brain in one dish): “There’s no grass here. The lambs have to eat what they can find, herbs and weeds.” No wonder their severed, skinned heads appear to be smiling in all the markets.

Organic onion powder

November 2014

I keep thinking if I were a banana, I’d be ready for bread. So I’m amazed that a GMO genius is not tackling the liver-spot browning of aging humans. Instead, the Murdoch Crier belatedly reports, someone has come up with the Arctic apple: You can slice it and watch it stay white. Given that another genius already has a technique to keep apples looking just-cut for 21 days, you have to wonder what the market is. At least there’s an upside: This strange fruit will actually be labeled as strange fruit. Conventional growers want it kept the hell out of their traditionally modified Garden of Eden. And will no one consider the tree testicles?

Take your toddler to Daniel

October 2014

I went off to college freshman year with a grant, a scholarship and a loan, and still the only way I figured I could get by would be if I lived on Del Monte green beans, which I loved and which cost 17 cents a can. (This was way back in the last century, when you could also save money by not buying bras.) Turned out the dorm had vending machines with everything nukable from honey buns to cheeseburgers for just a couple of coins. Not only did I not starve. I managed to pack on 30 pounds, fast. So the Murdoch Crier’s story on food pantries at New York colleges really jumped out at me. It’s actually come to this in the richest country in the world? Cereal handouts? The saddest deet is that much of the demand comes from the unemployed who are going back to school in a time of shrunken financial aid. I’m feeling lucky I only had to lose the weight, not the crippling debt. And you really have to wonder why the story is behind a paywall. Charging rich people to read about the poors makes you think it’s all just sports. Or “Hunger Games.”

Guanciale? “Similar to salami”

October 2014

And this is a great story on bacon mania that stops before it gets to the nasty bits: the shit lagoons and the piglet Ebola. Keep choking that drugged-up chicken, America.

H, H & raisins

October 2014

Now I read my three-year-old (literal) snail mail. And learn a bay leaf (or many) in the fancy flour will forestall a giant leap into the food of the future: Bugs. Guess this is also a good time to remember why sifting originated. Screening is everything.

Great Plains oysters & kkkrazy steak

October 2014

The digital haboob over the hometown paper’s clearly incompetent teevee “critic” raised another question beyond “how in holy hell does she keep her job?” And that would be: Whom do she and the Chimp Shill blow? But the most depressing thought is the response I got over to the Twitter from someone noting how bad political coverage is these days: “They are all Panchito now.”

RT/MT/UT

September 2014

Guess I should be glad they aren’t spelling it suckertash. // Every time I have a conversation with a farmer this time of year, I have new appreciation of the term “punch-drunk.” // POS is not what restaurants say it is. // Cross between scones and muffins — Scuffins — sounds like something you’d kick. Why not Mones? // Rare first-world problem: I buy eggs so fresh I can’t peel ‘em. // Louise Slaughter FTW on antibiotics in animals. // The more cookbooks you own, the more likely you are to cook the same things over and over . . .

Neo-Tuscan farmhouse by the neon light

September 2014

I’m late to the Olive Garden brouhaha, but I have the answer to why the water is unsalted, a question that had been bothering me because I went to an all-day “science of flavor” conference over the summer. One speaker there noted that food processors use so much sodium because the only thing cheaper is water. Turns out the company cares more about the warranty on its pots than about adding almost-free flavor to crappy fud. But the most unsurprising revelation about the vultures now pulling the strings is their real mission: sell off the real estate and rent it back to the poor suckers left holding the poop-filled doggy bags. It’s only amazing they aren’t planning to offer unlimited Twinkies. If it weren’t for screw jobs, there would be no jobs at all.

Eggs and melons and peanut butter, too

September 2014

Everyone else can wet their sponsored-post adult diapers over ISIS beheaders. I’m gonna lie awake worrying about MRSA, even if fetal steps are being taken to eliminate antibiotics in animals. Twenty-two aspiring firefighters can get infected in one training class, and have no cure, and we’re supposed to panic over scimitar-wielders halfway around the world who would have their holy water confiscated at airport security? Much smarter to freak out over the notion that I could cut my own hand in my own kitchen and go to the ER and pick up something that would cause my fingers to eat themselves.

“Agradolce” in a Mason jar

September 2014

Speaking of butter, the consciousness-raising @nyfarmer over to the Twitter posted a photo from the state fair of an elaborate butter sculpture of a food bank. Given that I have a soft spot for a silly comedy, I dutifully reTweeted but had to add that it actually made me sad. All we hear is that this is the richest, bestest country on the planet. And people still need handouts? At a time when a burger is a buck? One thing I learned on a reporting trip, though, is that Big Fud is figuring out how to cash in, with products developed specifically for food banks. The poor, once depicted only as whites to sell the Great Society, will truly always be with us. Mostly because they give cover for wingnut welfare.

No colon, still rollin’, no coincidence?

September 2014

I’m so old I remember when donut peaches were the new fruit on the block. And then, again, when mango nectarines first came to supermarkets. Now I can find mango donut peaches. At the Greenmarket. And love ‘em. But I will never buy into the smokescreen that they qualify as GMO. There is BS. And then there is seeded fertilizer.

Toto: No flushing, we’re capitalists

July 2014

All that said, I am, as John Hiatt put it, mixing up drinks with mixed feelings about Mrs. O’s endorsement of water as a soda alternative. I’m all for getting kids to step away from the diabetes/obesity funnel, but I’m not sure getting them hooked on plastic is the answer when the oceans are awash in continents of crap. Water fountains have become fraught, which I also realize. But what’s most disturbing is that selling water as something you have to buy makes it easier for what’s happening in Detroit to happen. They want to privatize the second most important need in life. Beware the introduction of Fiji Oxygen. . .

China arm dropping McNuggets

July 2014

After tackling the “which comes cheaper, the cooked or the raw chicken” question, Kevin Drum proves burger math is hard. Or, too bad they never thought of letting ‘em eat eighths.

Like lard for ultrasounds

July 2014

Foie gras is up there with avocado and cheese and chunky sea salt eaten right out of my hand as the last tastes I would want as I headed off into the nothingness that is the afterlife. But I still have to say the news that 13 states are petitioning the Supreme Court to lift bans on it would have the hairs rising on the back of even Marie Antoinette’s neck. Of all of the issues in all of this country, this is the one they want to go to the gilded mat over? The whole problem could be easily solved by declaring a taste for foie gras (and please: can everyone quit shorthanding the name?) a religious right, one held by only a tiny minority. The robed ones would be on it like stink on merde. I agree with the insanity of outlawing any consumable that does not come in a 64-ounce cup. But I also have this silly idea that all the increasingly loony restrictions on abortion merit a lot more activism. Then again, maybe there’s a way to kill two birds with one message. Why is force-feeding ducks any crueler than making a human being gestate and then pop out an unwanted larva?

(Sorry. Shoulda suggested you get out the Chateau d’Yquem before reading that.)