The same day I noticed my bottle of Heinz white vinegar carried a sell-by date (preservatives go bad?), I opened a jar of popcorn and a big bug flew out. It got away before I could see what it was, but it left plenty of company: one teeny red crawly critter and a swarm of slightly bigger black creepy things. Almost every kernel had gone all “Alien” in the couple of weeks since I had filled that clean jar with stuff bought in bulk at the health food store around the corner. I’m used to strange creatures hatching wildly in my flour and pasta and dried chilies. I just never knew the national snack was also alive with unadvertised protein, and from a vegetarian oasis at that. Of course the whole experience was not as unsettling as the rumor I recently heard that the most overexposed, least interesting voice in food is being considered for radio. If you think Bonnie Wolf is vapid, smarmy and annoying, you haven’t heard the half of it. The wonder is that NPR isn’t chasing after onefatass.com. But then she’s back, and sequels do happen.
Almost everything I cook I have shopped for myself, so maybe I’m more than normally sensitive to how prices are edging up scarily fast these days. I can never have exact change ready when a lemon poppy seed muffin at the corner shop is suddenly a dime more, or stay calm when anything from Eutopia is 30 percent higher, let alone be prepared when the potholders I have always bought for $4.25 are now tagged $4.99 in the same store. But even I was surprised, on buying four movie tickets at Lincoln Square the other day, to be asked for $47 cash (of course the credit card machine was not working). Last time I looked, I don’t think a ticket was $11.75, yet I have not read a peep about it anywhere. I couldn’t even imagine what would account for the increase in this strong economy, but it did put me off my popcorn. Which turned out to be a good thing, because the same theater determinedly gouging at the box office had exactly three attendants at the concession stand while a good 40 people were lined up with money in hand. All I have ever read since the hysterical days of nutrition nuttiness and movie-popcorn-is-a-heart-attack-in-a-box has been that theaters make all their profit on food and soda. And here was one staffed like FEMA.
Anyone worried that Hillary might be pushing American women too far ahead too fast has only to flip open the Dean & DeLuca catalog to rest easier knowing girls will be idjits. For $150, it is selling a pink cake in the shape of a particularly ugly purse. How “Sex and the City” vacuous would you have to be to want a hunk of that? The copy says it’s a “must” for “those who simply can’t have enough purses.” Should you have your bag and eat it, too? Which seems to be the thinking behind another trend, reported in the NYT by way of Reader’s Digest. Women (I can’t imagine a guy would be so devious) are apparently buying fake wedding cakes to cut costs, hiding a “first piece” in foam replicas and serving any old cake from the kitchen. Considering wedding food is inevitably so abysmal to begin with, maybe this is a slice in the right direction. The guests should send replicas of themselves as well. Or of their checks.
Heading out to a promotional event a friend with a cookbook on the line enticed me to attend, I rode the elevator down with my next-door neighbor who was regaling her friend with the tale of how the two of us had each broken ourselves right around the same time in freaky falls in Eutopia, she in Paris, I in Piedmont. I don’t know about her, but I remember mine every morning when the pain wakes me before the alarm can. Talking about how instantly your life can change put me in a strange frame of mind, so maybe I made too much of what the unexpected flack at the door said as he handed me my name tag: “Just don’t get drunk and get hit by a car.” I laughed it off by responding, “Don’t trust me not to do either.” But the longer I thought about it the more I wondered why a guy with social Tourette’s would choose to make a career of ass-kissing. And I really wondered whether T’dum advised another invitee, one of his pals: “Just don’t get greedy and fuck over your partner.” Except that is how that ugliness actually unfolded.
If there is even a tiny shred of doubt left that everything the Chimp touches turns to guano, this official travesty will dispel it. Poor Bill Yosses appears to have been reduced, as my consort put it, to “sculpting cow turds.” Given that chocolate is lethal to dogs, what were they thinking serving it to a French poodle?
Guess the bosomy one must not be working out so well as the human Scratch N Match. Her new employer has taken a turn toward testosterone with its “sexiest chefs” contest, and whatever the candidates got for their souls, it cannot be enough to compensate for being labeled “culinary cuties” or “diamond in the roughage” (did one of them shit a gem?) Even Careme, who did everything but jump naked out of a vol-au-vent in his time, must be cringing in his marzipan grave over the hoops chefs have to backflip through for celebrity anymore. Judging by the stud-wannabe photos, next the paper will be making them whip out their salumi to see which one inches circulation up. Maybe Molto can blog it.
If I had a peso for every restaurant critic’s lament that New York has no good Mexican, I would be able to afford three or four casas down in San Miguel de Allende, where my consort is off teaching workshops and where I decided the cuisine has to be Ex/Mex (for expatriate Americans). This is a city where most paid evaluators still have trouble telling a taco from a tortilla (let me count the mixups), but they consider themselves qualified to micturate all over most any place that opens. If good Mexican landed in a UFO, would they even be able to describe it? I was weaned on tamales and empanadas in Arizona and would have trouble. And I’m no expert on Thai, but at least that is a cuisine originating halfway around the world. Enchiladas are right next door. For chorizo’s sake, you natterers: Get your bosses to underwrite you a standard of comparison before you write the whole cuisine off.
Until I needed health insurance that would not strangle me like NYTimes Cobra, I never joined a union in my life. I always paid the dues and abstained, never more adamantly than after learning on my first stint on 43d Street exactly why my salary was depressed: the Guildsters were not about to allow equal pay to a youngish college dropout in a building full of gray sheepskins. Even so, I find myself decidedly on the side of the striking television writers (and Broadway stagehands) right now. Down the line every creative type is going to be working for the Pharaoh unless someone makes it stop, as I just realized on getting an offer from Fine Cooking that seemed hard to refuse. I did a single feature for the magazine, nearly a decade and a half ago, and because I had insisted the contract gave me the copyright and the editors one-time use, I got a nice little check every couple of years, whenever recipes were being rebundled. Then the publisher decided a buyout would be more economical, and a smallish chunk of change was dangled in my direction. I declined, figuring it was not enough to cover rebundling into perpetuity. And then I stupidly agreed to an online buyout only, assuming the recipes would just be out there like everything else in the free beyond. So of course the magazine is now charging for access to its web site and database. And guess who will never get a cut? Don’t be surprised if this strike converts even comedy writers into scripters of “Saw XIII: The Kitchen Story.”
Not for the first time, I’m thinking the leading cause of obesity etc. in America is sloppy reporting. The new health columnist at the WSJournal just blithely informed her myriad readers that trans fats are what make croissants flaky. Sorry, that would be the beurre, a nice healthful fat since time immemorial. And don’t get me started on the coverage of the single study linking a little unneeded avoirdupois to longevity. Since my femoral calamity, I stop and think every day that every five extra pounds will put 25 pounds of stress on a joint like a hip or knee, not to mention the fact that the additional exertion involved is comparable to hoisting a sack of flour up a staircase. To spin the old joke: Even if you don’t live a little longer with your flesh spilling blithely over into the next airline seat, it will feel like forever. Then again, maybe putting your newspaper/magazine down will make the journey lighter.
In other PR idiocy, everyone is dutifully regurgitating the promoting point that Nizza is Italian for Nice. It’s actually also Italian for the name of the town in Piemonte where I spent a long night in the hospital listening to cats get it on outside. Sorta like saying a new restaurant serving Az-Mex is named Phoenix “after the bird that rose from the ashes” without acknowledging what the state capital goes by.
Another flack crew, the one finally developing a name for itself for food-free food parties, disseminated a few paragraphs the Onion might cringe from: Complement and Caesar were of course misspelled, the menu “amuses” while the room “pops with color” and the whole overwrought project is summed up as a “steer palace.” Is Restaurantgirl moonlighting? Then there’s the e-release I got insisting that “senior snacking can be tasty and healthy.” What kind of Swiftian shit is this? I know “some say” Social Security is in danger, but is eating the aged the answer?
The closing of the All State Cafe is not as remarkable to me as the fact that an airline has rented space on 57th Street to promote its amenities, edible and otherwise. Last time I ate at that long-ago haunt it was pretty empty, and the food was as undistinguished as it ever was. But given that planes are flying overloaded, why would Delta be investing so much in getting more asses into its seats? People were actually eating inside when I walked by after PT, and a woman was out front handing out security-sized samples of “spa” products. I snared a bottle of moisturizer with a label boasting “essential essences” of exotic yuzu and bergamot. It smelled just like airline hand soap, but I guess that’s better than chicken or beef.
On the LOL scale, kale ranks right up there with emphysema. So why was half of New York chortling on a certain Wednesday morning? A fraction was amused by the idea of cheddar kraft. Others, like the friend I met for coffee before we both headed to the Greenmarket, wondered where the green was hiding. Finding small zucchini would take more work when booths A, B and C in Union Square had the lacinato variety, and if they didn’t, Garden of Eden, Manhattan Fruit Exchange and untold other outlets sell it probably more routinely than other kale. What’s fascinating is that people read the damn thing, jaws dropped or not, although another friend I ran into at the fabulous market on 97th Street on Friday pointed out that the drivel does make you long for the good old flip-flop recipes, which she said were superb. But the best comment came from my other friend, who pointed out that egos published side by side are combustible. Maybe Muslim terrorists were not responsible for the California conflagration. . . .
You know my disorganization is spiraling out of control when I succumb to a slice of crappy pizza for a meal. But at least I got a laugh to go from the roach pit nearest me: The sign listing lunch deals “with free fountain soda” started with two plain slices for $5.50. A regular slice is $2.25. Talk about a No Chimp Left Behind special.
So much for my notion that chocolate is like bacon and goes with anything. I just read about the most disgusting novelty of the year: a truffle made of chocolate mixed with smoked blue cheese. Aside from being a waste of two great ingredients, it sounds like what dogs go sniffing for. Under each other’s tails.
I see from the Guardian that Jamie Oliver is launching a chain of Italian restaurants next. And his partner is promising it will be “completely authentic, rustic Italian.” Also “fast, urban casual dining.” Is there a contradiction in there? Or are they just happy to knock off McDonald’s failed Hearth Express? But at least the chickens will be free range, so maybe they won’t get too flattened by Slow Food in the fast lane.