If the hometown paper had a microgram of self-awareness it would put Panchito on hiatus till next November, or maybe just let him natter on about beer snacks and the harmless characters America might wanna eat them with. As it is, too many readers remember the sweaty bar towel the Chimp snapped across his ass. . .
Given that he wanted to bring his table cred to the column, though, I wonder if he noted that food commercials are held to a pretty high standard. You can’t use shaving cream for whipped cream, or mashed potatoes for ice cream, to avoid having your product melt under hot lights. You can’t claim your cereal is more nutritious than your rival’s unless it actually is. Which makes me think maybe pizza morphing into a vegetable is an unhealthier start than we realized. Food is this close to being declared a citizen.
A West Coast friend who at an impressionable age lived near Chez Panisse first alerted me to Ste Alice’s coal ducks to Newcastle Beijing adventure, and I’m glad I checked out her link before reading a cheerleader’s. I think the guests who stayed away had the right idea. Just imagine the outrage if a Chinese propagandist had ever been arrogant enough to come to DC to shove seasonal dumplings and organic noodles down bureaucrats’ throats in the age of pizza as a vegetable (funny how “local” was a missing link). For all the dissing and dismay over greed/shortcuts there, our organic food chain is a bit tangled up in rot these days, too. And hadn’t the Chinese mastered seasonal/organic/local many thousands of years before invaders in North America started infecting blankets with smallpox to wipe out the populace who might know what to eat and when on this continent? Let alone eons before Berkeley went all knockoff-French on America’s lardass?
This weekend I clicked on the old-style link — the button on the radio in our bathroom — just in time to hear an impassioned argument for resurrecting at least the reputation of the hometown paper’s original food editor/restaurant critic. The Southern speakah made a great case. It’s just too bad the interviewer wouldn’t dance anywhere close to the reason why that ain’t gonna happen. The food world is surprisingly closed-minded, as I’ve known for years; trenches in wartime are more accepting of the “differently orientated.” Lie down with Daddy, wake up with infamy. Fleas would have a better shot at rehabilitation.
Why the epitaph on my urn will read “Twittered Away”: I posted that we bought a loaf of rye from a new vendor at Union Square and it turned out to be hardtack — $$ hardtack at that. Within minutes followers were Tweeting thoughts on “vintage hardtack” and, even better, “artisanal hardtack.” Through the reaction, I learned why more and more breads are turning up in the Greenmarkets: The future of local food looks “value-added.” Apparently baked goods sell out much faster than fruits and vegetables that need to be converted into dinner. No wonder our every trip to a market yields more sightings of canned squash, peppers as paprika, tomatoes in sauce and any of the above as part of gift boxes. I’m so old I remember attending a meeting of Greenmarket overseers back in the early Nineties when the arguments over rules were long and furious. Keeping it pure was the big goal, when farmers were really struggling to make a go of it all. And I’m open to new vendors — our neighborhood market now has almost everything we need for a full week: fish, meat, poultry, eggs, cheese, vegetables, fruit. But the things we don’t buy are the “value-added”: the ice cream, the margarine-tasting cookies, the jams. Aren’t those what the neighboring Whole Foods is for?
One of the many reasons I’m glad I chose the affordable Evelyn Wood School of Cooking over the mega-debt institute on the Hudson is that I learned as much about business as about where bechamel ranked among the mother sauces. Pricing out recipes to guarantee a profit was an invaluable education, especially when I was floundering around catering after leaving school. (Wanna end bridal ambitions fast? Inform them what dreams sell for.) Unfortunately, the older I get the more I feel conned. Latest case in point: I finally tried a Kati Roll, something I never experienced in Kolkata, and it was quite good. But it was five fucking dollars. Which might sound cheap until you do the food-cost math on a few chickpeas, a little onion and some spices. And notice experienced eaters have all ordered two. Talk about rolling in dough . . .
Until Mayor Billionsberg showed his true-green(back) colors with Occupy Wall Street, I pretty much tuned out all the complaints that he had become the city’s nanny. But the other day we were in a crap-ass cafe for a quick lunch that was arriving slowly when I noticed how many signs are now required on the wall. Of course there is the once-brilliant, now-muddled choking poster. And the No Smoking warning. And the “pregnant women who drink ate so stupid they must be shamed.” But there was also a big scary poster on the risks of food allergies. A notice on the location of the CPR kit. Etc. By the time our dispiriting food arrived, I actually started to worry when a couple came in with two little kids, one of whom they strapped into the grimy communal highchair. Had no one warned them what might happen if the chair tipped over or the strap was too tight or the tray table had peanuts on it? It all reminds me of that old Joe Jackson song about how “everything gives you cancer” — fear is immobilizing. How did we ever eat out before we were warned? On the plus side, though: If a pregnant woman had too many margaritas and her companion started choking her, everyone would know just what to do. Start smoking.
A very eloquent Occupy essay by a former poet laureate brought home how easily minds are warped by deliberately warped language: A baton sounds so much more delicate than a truncheon or a billy club. And a Facebook friend subsequently noted that pepper spray sounds less threatening than mace. She’s right — doesn’t everyone love sriracha, even when it’s atomized?
And I’m happy to see everyone freaking the crust out over pizza being declared a vegetable, but if food had been treated more seriously by the media all these years maybe Americans would have understood how it happened. I’ve written before how the backwater on the Potomac suddenly became Restaurant Central under the Chimp’s reign of error (thank you, Panchito), but no one ever connected the dots — a consequence of segregating food coverage in the getting-and-spending sections. Stuffy old French places from the Reagan era were still good enough during the Clinton boom, but somehow money started flowing in the streets in the 21st century, especially around Penn Quarter. If you want to keep frozen Freedom Fries on school lunch menus, you have to buy yourself a few congressmen. Over drinks and dinner.
I’ll never forget going to see “Magnolia” one xmas day and an old guy in the audience storming out halfway through, bellowing: “What’s wrong with you people, just sitting here?” Early in our Saturday lunch I wanted to do the same thing at Nom Wah Tea Parlor in Chinatown, where the food was so soul-sapping I’m not going to give the place cover in Trails. By the second greasy dish I was mentally composing my Tweet: “This is why I always hated Chinese until we went to eat in Hong Kong.” The fried noodles not only tasted greasy but smelled burned-greasy, and not just from the charred scallions. The fried pork dumplings were doughy grease balls, and if there was even a hint of green in the filling you’d need an electron microscope to spot it. The turnip cakes were three oil sponges also seemingly absent of shrimp and Chinese sausage (by then I’d given up on flavor). The “scallion” pancake was like a disposable slipper soaked in oil and fried to a very brown crisp. Even the wasted greens were awash in nasty oil, and the hot sauce we had to request was, yes, oily — the table needed a BP cleanup crew by the time we’d been fully disappointed by a few tastes of each dish we’d over-ordered. And can someone please explain why a place with tea in its name would have the gall to serve bitter brown water and charge for it? (Also, too, I would say I hate to wonder why there were kitchen tongs in the wet-floor ladies’ room, but I already got some obvious answers over to the Twitter.) I’ll admit I was a sucker for old Chinatown/new generation in wanting to try the place, and I’ll acknowledge that the boss men were friendly and efficient (although the servers seemed to be the sort who believe “minimum” should only be modified by “bare”). But you can’t eat nostalgia. What’s most depressing is that the place was consistently packed, mostly with youngsters, way too many of them Asian enough to know better. This was the kind of slopped-out stuff you’d expect from a $25 & Under. Did none of those kool kids realize how close NY Noodletown is? I thought this was Generation Food. The only thing that would have made the whole experience more dispiriting would have been seeing “Kinfolk” for sale . . .
I haven’t been very cryptic lately, so here are a coupla riddles clumsily wrapped in an enigma: Which shallow thinker was exposed by one of my Twitterspondents who was shocked to find that in person he had nothing, original or otherwise, to say about the big issues he natters on about? Which food-world hero loves a parrot when it repeats just what he says but through a very big megaphone? As far as I know, the ST does not sleep in the boss’s den, so how do those juices “leech”?
. . . “Into the Abyss” is one of the most retrospectively powerful movies I’ve seen. Werner Herzog definitely gets at Real America and its gated communities, so safe you could die for want of a clicker. The ending is beyond compelling, and even as I joke about my epitaph from the crematorium being “Twittered Away,” I am thinking more and more about The Dash. Mostly, though, I’m trying to get the crime scene with the vintage cookbook and the half-finished batch of cookies out of my head. Also, too, many furious thoughts about The Chimp and his enabler, Panchito. . .
When a chimichanga story is datelined Phoenix, you know you’ll have to read it with a gimlet eye. Make that a double. The chimichanga was essentially the city sandwich of Tucson when I briefly went to college there. But to cawcaw the other silliness: In the age of Chipotle, no one needs to have a burrito defined as a “tortilla wrap.” Burritos are actually king-size versions of the burros I grew up eating, not the other way around. “Fried corn tostada” is redundant, and whatever the hell Taco Bell serves is not a chalupa. And I assume there was a reason the perpetrator of the lobster chimichanga was not identified? As always, I wish the copy desk cutbacks had some benefit for my stock — did no one notice the caption contradicts the text? Mostly, though, you know things are bad when the Schnorrer has done more research. “His” dictionary of American food notes that Diana Kennedy describes chivichangas (cq) in Sonora in one of her early cookbooks. Plus I really kinda doubt anyone’s riled about a deep-fried burro “immigrating,” or thinking naming a state food will help more than recalling a Kkkrazy just did. Poke around on the series of tubes, though, and you’ll be left with the biggest question. When did two restaurants that less than a month ago were united in pushing for state recognition for the chimichanga start fighting over who invented it?
And I Tweeted this earlier, but someone really needs to come up with a “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster for Thanksgiving. It’s just a big chicken dinner, although you’d never know it from the hometown paper. The whole year is spent sanctimoniously sermonizing about how easy and fun cooking is, and guilting anyone who prefers to fix food or eat out for convenience, and now it’s time to switch messages and freak everyone the fuck out? Also, too, if so many readers apparently want to kill their families rather than just find nice friends to eat with, why warn them about the stuffing?
I know the wingnuts are desperate to bring Zombie Reagan back to addled life, so I’m assuming the latest decision on school lunches is bait. Ketchup may have failed as a vegetable. But tomato paste on pizza will now do. Although I almost agree with Big Food: More than a quarter-cup of “paste” would make a slice inedible. Do the bureaucrats mean sauce?
I’m feeling rather mellow about the fud world today so will only link to an outstanding video of Stephen Colbert lampooning not just trend journalism but, implicitly, a fear-whupped society that tolerates Mad Max-costumed security guards in schools. And all I can add is that the “reporter” leaves an eternal question unaddressed: Does vodka, unlike tampons, ever really differ from brand to brand?