Just when you think the wingnuts cannot get any wingnuttier, you read that an obese blowhard with an obscene appetite for prescription drugs and Dominican boys is trashing Mrs. O for buying that Tuscan kale at the White House farmers’ market simply because the Italian name for it is cavolo nero — black cabbage. Which makes it or her racist (not sure even he’s clear on which). On the upside, that sound you heard was pinheads exploding when he dared to use furrin language.
More and more, I’m wondering if I’m getting too old for this business. I saw endless references to Le Fooding and just could not give a frying fuck. Vendy Awards? I kinda like food served from establishments with running water in real bathroom sinks. My disinterest in the professional sports of television food is pretty well-documented. And when I read that lamb is the new pork, I felt so bored I went back to torment myself by reading a very un-Timesian piece on how the mayor eats. (If his diet sucks and he’s a hypocrite, stalkers, why run a recipe for his favorite dish?) But then that got my juices flowing again, imagining the antithesis of a pinhead exploding over in Jersey on spotting all the errors. Salt shaker? You could look it up. JG Melon? Publisher’s son got the periods placed right in a front-page story five days earlier. Bronzini? Really, when a wingnut does Italian more correctly, you have a problem. Unless that Staten Island restaurant actually cooks a painter’s whole family.
And now that I’m admitting I care again, I was pretty disheartened to see the new ad campaign shilling the sexiest elements in the kitchen periodic table as mere antioxidants. One of the reasons Indian food is so great and great for you is its heavy use of spices — what struck me in India was how neither sweat nor shit stank the way you might expect in a country where women wash clothes in mud puddles on the side of the highway. There’s a one-word reason why Venice ruled the world at one point, why the Spice Route shaped civilization, why no one ever talks about a North Dakota cuisine. All through millennia spices have been equal parts flavor and nutrition. To turn magic into mere medicine at this point is reverse alchemy. And putting the adjective Super in front of anything, from Foods to Tuscan, just diminishes it. Imagine where prunes would be today if they had not been promoted primarily as turd releases.
Among the cookbooks landing on my doormat recently was one promising (threatening?) meals to feed four for $75 a week, but call me skeptical. I learned the hard way that it is damn difficult even theoretically to feed a family enticingly and nourishingly on more than double that. Everything but junk is just getting crazy-expensive. I was actually almost tempted to try a recipe for chocolate peanut cookie bars but backed off after mentally adding up the tab for the non-staples alone (chocolate chips, butter, peanut butter and roasted salted peanuts). Maybe you serve that panful over four days, but you’re still talking real money if on one night it accompanies a casserole containing penne, chicken breasts, tomatoes, cilantro, tomato paste, half a pound of salami, a quarter-pound of Monterey jack and a cup of olives. Or consider the sage-spinach penne: A cupful of packed fresh sage leaves alone would put this deal of a dish at near caviar level. And the suggested substitute, basil, ain’t exactly a bargain, either, when a cook has only about 10 bucks a day. No wonder the publishing trend already seems to be rushing past recession cooking and back to indulgence-at-any-cost. Fantasy is very filling.
And speaking of crazy cookbooks, I guess I’d better lasso my tongue about one on its way out that is shockingly bad — esthetically, factually and every other which way from bogus. Thanks to the addiction that ate my life, Twitter, I hear I am in deep merde for dissing Julia’s opus No. 1. But I’m not losing any sleep because my chances of crossing path$ there are as slim as my coming back as a Frenchwoman. I’ll save my energy for biting back my WTFs on some truly insane recipes overseen by someone with new-age clout. And I’ll do that while sadly acknowledging why food bloggers are not, as my Tweeting connection put it, challenging the establishment rather than acting like wide-eyed groupies. The gravy train takes on the compliant.
Somehow I doubt it has yet sunk in just how big a disaster this country dodged last November, but I got a reminder the other day when I saw the loser’s daughter was tweeting about her dinner plans. Instead of Sam Kass cooking, we would have had a Skankette porking out on Subway, with motorcades in each direction. Even her mom’s eating Vicodin would be preferable. Really, wealth is wasted on the rich.
I guess this truly has been the Summer of Death: The restaurants where both the Caesar salad and, allegedly, the nacho were invented have now joined the choir invisible. But maybe that’s not a bad thing. If they really depended only on turistas who are now scared away by swine flu and drug violence, Mexico is a better place without them. When the insanity subsides, visitors will be forced to eat like locals, not as if they were traveling in a T.G.I.F. Friday’s trailer. Kinda like what Mamma Leone’s demise did for New York. And Tavern is about to do. . . .
One of the most chilling chapters in Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” has the father and son discovering what is essentially a fallout shelter stocked with canned food. It resonates on about 15 levels, starting with futility. But I guess Costco missed the point, because it is gouging the Beckkk-crazed with a year’s supply of dehydrated food for one for $999, roughly a buck a day more than people taking the Hunger Challenge and trying to eat on food stamps are allowed. What’s funniest is the fatal flaw. In a devastated world with no supermarkets or infrastructure, where in the name of Dasani are you going to get enough water to turn powders into dinner? Better to buy a can opener and a few cases of Goya and leave them around for fictional characters to find.
Now that Holy Foods has invaded, the new game in my neighborhood is Market Death Watch. I was betting on the Mustard Museum to go under first but just got an email from a friend saying he is thrilled never to have to set foot into Barzini’s again, which does not bode well for that cavern of surliness. I don’t expect the Food Shitty to suffer because it’s so cheap; everyone loves Mani, and the two shops owned by the same couple should benefit from proximity (my consort’s studio manager says she is not gonna walk two extra blocks for $$ midafternoon coffee). Where HF will probably be most competitive may be with customer craziness. The other day I was in line with both a well-dressed couple whose huge cart held only ice and water (doesn’t 365 Brand come from the tap?) and a ponytailed asshole picking a procedural fight with the checkout wrangler. He actually yelled, “No, I’m right! I’ve been shopping at Whole Foods for 10 years and you’ve been working here for two weeks.” If the unmedicated are drifting north, Fairway may be in the game. . .
Something must have been lost in translation in the hometown paper’s piece on how the French are receiving the “Julie & Julia” juggernaut. Personally, I am unaware of the “cliché of beef, baguette and canard farci,” although I would love to see a Willy Ronis shot of a Parisian kid rushing home with duck in hand. I have no idea how shellfish oil could replace mayonnaise in a crab cake. And WTF is “Julia Child with real fish”? Don’t even get me started on the description of Guy Savoy as merely “owner of the restaurant that bears his name in Paris.” Earth to Eighth Avenue: He’s now as American as Las Vegas.
I generally confine myself to armchair activism, but I tore myself away from Twitter etc. the day before the primary to do a little street work for our next-door neighbor in his noble run for Manhattan district attorney. And I will never look at 86th and Broadway in quite the same way. It took me 3 1/2 hours to unload 300 handbills, and that only after a blind street vendor tried to persuade me to move to a less busy corner where I would “have more luck” (read: quit making his potential customers speed up to evade me). The best man still lost, although he did “move the debate to the left” with his emphasis on preventing crime rather than penalizing miscreants. But I certainly won: Once when I realized that a particularly surly woman who spurned my spiel and handout was the nurse who had to scrub my butt in the hospital last November, and once when the union organizer who ferried the fliers to our campaign-designated corner said his preteen son is addicted to the Food Network and “Top Chef” and is intensely interested in cooking as a result. As much as I mock both outlets, I’m coming around to seeing them as a positive force. Maybe one day the evil WSJournal will not be able to run a sad piece by a new retiree saying he is learning to cook to give his wife a late break in life. And maybe more boys will grow up knowing what my consort did: Cooking is life-changeingly seductive.
Not sure when I will ever learn two parties in one night will always be three too many — remorse all around after the Brasserie/A Voce back-to-back. But the former was worth trekking to for several reasons, starting with the junkyard dog’s stink-eye (must be nice to know they keep you on because “she’s cheap”) and ending with ease of exit, after the Schnorrer did his spiel (which I wondered about until I saw another oldster is doing similar promo work). I haven’t had a kir royale in donkey’s years, but this one was so syrupy I may not again for millennia. As for the retro apps, I missed all the cold ones but succumbed to a foie gras beignet (no one says beggar’s purse anymore), miniature croque monsieur and escargot nestled in puff pastry, all effective as alcohol sponges. Over in the dread TWC, the wine was more wine-like by far and the energy level was far higher. As was the noise level, of course. The most memorable apps were uni crostini. And the most unforgettable image was of the special wine room for the rich boys. Your health insurance premiums at work. . .
Easily the most ridiculous column of the week was the one by the unfunniest jester in Washington, mocking Mrs. O for getting a farmers’ market to open two blocks from home. The jackass, to use the dis du jour, started off by twisting history, saying the Big O got in hot water for mentioning arugula in Iowa only because the state has no Holy Foods. (No matter that he won there.) Worse, a guy who is probably paid more each year than many farms gross in five mocked the prices — $5 for a dozen eggs when a shopper could get five dozen for that at Giant (is he aware the salmonella comes free?) And he doubted shoppers using food stamps could afford to indulge. Maybe he needs to get out to the Applebee’s salad bar more often, or at least to the market in my neighborhood, where the food stamps are flying. Five dollars for a quarter-pound of mesclun is no big deal. Artisanal cheese has to cost more than Velveeta. Bison will always be pricier than beef. A guy near the top of the media food chain has to know that; if he eats iceberg it’s only to be cool. You’d think the idjit would have learned after the silly stunt trashing Hillary Clinton that cost him his video gig. But there’s no fool like a faux-prole fool.
I never, ever thought I would say this, but “Top Chef” and even the worst of the Food Network have to be better for the mental health of this country than what the fringe seems to be digitally ingesting these days. Better to let ’em drink butter than pump their crania full of racism and hate. Could someone please give Glenn Beckkk a cocktail show and save us all? Too bad “Madmen” is taken as a title. . . .
Once a month, I open my writeme inbox and realize that if it’s Monday, it must be bitch-about-Dexter day. Funny how an annoying schtick so quickly became as tantalizing as norovirus. Funnier still to contemplate how easily readership could be lured back. Instead of showcasing an unformed palate, why not drag out recipes from some of these grandmas facing down death panels, to get their best ideas published before they are offed by socialists? I know the effete makeovers of solid old recipes touch on the same territory, but who wouldn’t want to read formulas for the last meals of Obamacare victims? “Cooking With the Doomed” has a nice ring to it.