Garnish with plastic foliage

Finally, and relatedly, I don’t like to gloat but am very glad I did not line up with everyone else in the digital Shirley Jackson “Lottery” and start lobbing stones at the deadpan Dakotan who reviewed the new Olive Garden in town. I started to but then clicked over to her photo and didn’t think the fight was fair; luckily, her own editors are web-savvy and seized on her going viral, and the rest will soon be old-media history. Mostly what amazes me is what was lost in all the mockery: Any derision of our very own hometown paper and its lede food story, one of the hoariest ever ill-conceived: Making your own processed crap at home. Twinkies, you say? Been there, Middle America answers from the distant past. Ho Hos? Are you fucking kidding me?, exhausted food editors everywhere wonder. But the worst insult to intelligence was the attempted news peg. May I say this one more time? Bankruptcy is only a way to get around pensions and screw workers. No one needs to worry about running out of Wonder Bread. Only ideas.

President, BTW, is supermarket butter

And I hope to allah no Afghans were able to access the MFK Wannabe musings of the war correspondent stranded in “Restrepo” land. The death of Anthony Shadid kicked everyone in the gut this week, and I have nothing but awe for the brave who engage in conflict reportage. But this was tone-deafness by the desk, yet again. Are readers really supposed to empathize with someone who has to cook with “mangy” zucchini but has milk for her cocoa? What about the poor people whose country we’re still occupying, who live with indescribable deprivation every single day, with no food porn for comfort, no possibility of escaping to Paris at will? The worst part is that the same photographer who had to illustrate that “suffering” also produced these shots. Seriously: What next, after the plight of a vegetarian sentenced to eat in the “Midwest”? Bobo goes to Applebee’s in search of the salad bar?

Sympathy for the critic

Finally for now, I see advertisers are voting with their absence down to the hometown paper and its gutted fud section. Forget chewing. Your jaw will wear out while dropping at the banality of the display copy (and if you wander into the finer-point type, it’s worse: “taco or tortilla base” — WTFF?) But the cretinism is creeping farther afield. I read a bouillabaisse piece days away that came pretty close to journalistic malpractice. Forget the copy-editing sloppiness — the description of the second-largest city in France as a town, the mischaracterization of rouille as saffron-based, the misuse of hardy for hearty — and the lack of history and context and depth and the cluelessness on cooking. Etc. I’m done driving rubberneckers to the train wreck, but it’s really amazing that a newspaper that once prided itself on editing the merde out of every piece of copy disseminated just in print will now slop out slop for all the world to see. I know bloggers come cheap-to-free, but couldn’t spambots go out and eat and regurgitate for even less?

Surrender the pink ground beef in B&W

I know I insulted Helen Keller and Curly and Moe by Tweeting that the first must have designed and the second two have edited the latest fud section. But jeebus, was it ever bad. I mean, really, are we not living in the most exciting food city on the planet at the most exciting time in history, and we’re spoon-fed Woman’s Day? Break out the funeral potatoes. Even worse than the inch-deep, mile-wide lede was the surreal pairing with an out-of-town expedition to a deep-fryer, followed by the absolutely cretinous “investigation” into which is fattier/grosser, fried chicken with macaroni and cheese or sausage with polenta. Only someone who listens to the real Dean (that would be Jimmy) would be that dumb.

Capon: Josh on the jacket, John in the caption

Idle thoughts: I’m guessing Holy Foods bagels are not really “hearth-baked.” Red Waddle would actually be a better name for a heritage breed (especially if we’re talking mandrills). Plus it turns out “a new way to eat a burger” is not with your toes; it involves trying to turn beans into a Reuben sandwich and confusing the headline writer, not to mention the reader. And please alert the Page One editors: A hero may be just a sandwich, but it isn’t made with a bun.

Loose meat and Gatorade

Very glad I took my lazy time processing my thoughts on the war story of the “veteran” vegetarian (“nearly lifelong” wouldn’t sound as ruff-and-tuff a struggle at 30ish, I guess). So many other blogs/sites/commenters have laid into the parochialism, condescension and general cluelessness on full display under the most idiotic graphic. What I’m savoring is how it took a silly food story to expose just how under-qualified Dash, Son of Pinch really is for that huge job in an age when no one else invests in standard coverage of “real America.” Way back when, I learned there’s a reason Madame X was hesitant to fall for pitches from correspondents aside from Johnny Rotten: Very few who had not invested the time and forkwork in developing expertise off the “serious news” beat could deliver. Lots of us do it, but food writing is not women’s work. Some heavy lifting is required — if you don’t know it all, you have to find it out.* Over to the national desk they’re probably fine with hiring stringers and throwing emergency ermine over the emperor’s spawn.* But eatin’ and drinkin’ and watching fud teevee is not much to draw on when you get a tossed-off salad of under-reporting and over-padding. You don’t have time to see all the odes to KCMO as the next city destined to conquer stockyard palates. So you go to press with the embarrassment you have, not the one you wish you could kill.

Muslin in a koshered kitchen

File all this under “no wonder the stock is down 85 percent”: The new routine in this consortium involves me trudging to the front door to pick up our two newspapers (and The Cat off the dining room radiator) and returning to bed to listen to my consort rattling off all the fresh news he’s picking up on the iPad. But as accustomed as I am to moths flying out of gray pages, I was still pretty amazed to see a cover feature on a restaurant attraction I wrote about in . . . 2005. This was pre-permalinks, so I’ll excerpt from Older Trails:

The Disneyesque: Gradisca, where we wound up after the Greenmarket thanks to all the press the mamma making the ravioli has been getting. Walking in to see her in all her ample glory, rolling out the dough and spooning ricotta and herbs into it, was like Italy, but the prices were definitely New York. I think there were eight little square ravioli on the plate for $22 at lunch. They were good, and the butter-sage sauce was extraordinary, but that is not exactly comparable to many lunches at “Mamma’s” in Costigliole in Piedmont a few months ago. ETC

And then, where do I begin with a piece with potluck in the hed and the archival photo but bake sale as the apparent point? I guess with this:

Memo From the Bake Sale Police:

–Rice Krispie Treats will continue to be acceptable; baking store-bought cereal with store-bought marshmallows proves you truly care.

–Naked Oreos will not be tolerated. Please enrobe them in melted 85 percent cacao chocolate, preferably single-origin from the smallest plantation in Madagascar. If the chocolate seizes, it’s the pastry gods’ way of saying you’re a terrible mother.

–If you must bring Munchkins, please be sure to turn them into a towering croquembouche first. Cooking sugar to the crack stage is no bother; candying fruit for the garnish is a snap. (Please start with hand-harvested heirloom fruit, however.)

–When we say homemade, we do not mean Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker. Brownies from a box are an insult to all true moms slaving over Rice Krispie Treats.

–Poundcakes are definitely encouraged. Your one-hour, 45-minute investment in all-time-high-priced butter and free-range organic eggs and special cake flour will pay off when we sell slices for $1 apiece to cover toilet paper for the kiddles’ bathrooms. Do not think about why bakery cupcakes would cost you less in time and shekels.

–Also do not do the math on flour and sugar versus Chips Ahoy. King Arthur goes for more than a buck a pound. Chocolate chips will run you $4 a bag. You will need butter (now at an all-time-high price). And brown sugar.

–We will not, however, suggest any reasonably priced, non-time-sucking alternatives to Oreos. You’re on your own, bitches.

For color, age your green beans

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?

John-George: “First the duck must be dead”

Huge points to the hometown paper, though, for the photo of the come-hither chicken. If ever a Rorschach test was designed for the “animal rights” wackos, this was it: The sane saw a visual joke; the loons saw a “get out the Nivea and head for fapping privacy.” A sick/smart photo editor would showcase a different meat next week. And a simply clever copy editor would work into a headline that old joke about Oz: where the men are men and the sheep are nervous.

Helen Keller, photo editor

I take maybe too much pride in being a college dropout who somehow managed to get jobs on five newspapers across America and even wind up as a reporter-reshaping editor for most of them. I also remember two stints of long and miserable days crafting crap into readable stories for the hometown paper. So it kills my soul to see a brilliant idea squandered as fucking mush. Even on my high school paper, for Zenger’s sake, Rule No. 1 was: Nut graf before the jump! Beyond that, I just read the stupidity to take it apart the way some overpaid/overcompensated editor did not. Can a scale really replace a set of measuring spoons, as the photo-illustration implies? Are there not rules for measuring? My mom always said “a pint’s a pound the world round.” And one cup of whole nuts yields one cup chopped. Plus there are dozens of scales on the market, and I use one probably 15 years old. Does digital matter? Ounces equal ounces. But five ounces is five ounces. Not “are.” No wonder the scale “has failed to become a must-have tool.” Even its advocates cannot communicate why it matters.

Speck and a trout

Speaking of this Beardshit, though, I can’t be the only woman stunned by the bizarre coverage in the hometown paper — not in the party pages but in the food and under-advertised-wine section — of two restaurateurs who won a big award. Readers learned almost nothing about their Basque boardinghouse (note: one fucking word) and everything about what rubes these Bakersfieldsians be. Christ on a Continental Trailways. Probably three-quarters of the “winners” were just as new to the rotten apple. Why shit all over women with what appeared to be an authentic “heartland” story to share? Besides: Either one could undoubtedly write a more sophisticated wine column. Even though probably neither “loves” barolos. The new reefer should be “are you sauvignon-savvier than a fifth-grader?” Mme Ami has carved out a wonderful new life. But oh, the wine columns she could have done. . . .

Tell it to the blog

While I await that correction on “dumpling holes,” I’m joining the hordes scratching their pates over the hit job on one of the good guys. How do you say “what was the point?” in WTFese? Of all the chefs in all of this overcheffed country, why pick on this one? Or at least: Why pick on this one without pegging the pick-on to any news? And there is very definitely a back story. Or two. Bring us the head of Larry Forgione. Or Patrick O’Connell. (No Vegas outlet? Loser!) Or just find us a guy selling his soul in a spa in the desert. . .

I before E. Or, pluralizm

Quick thoughts: The Forelock’s review of the memoir of the decade really should have had spoiler alerts — some of us might have wanted to lean back and enjoy the read. If doughnuts were the biggest deal in the section, reefered on the front page and showcased online, maybe they should have been a real story? And any time homage to a rich fucks’ destination gets huge play, maybe a little attention could be paid to how real Americans are getting by, and not even the 43 million whose idea of food fun is of the EBT variety? But the biggest embarrassment was the piece I slogged through on New Mexico’s move to require labeling for chilies — it couldn’t seem to differentiate between the pepper and the sauce and went back and forth between Webster’s spelling for the former and the Spanish word, muddying the issue even more. Sometimes a dictionary is not a copy editor’s best friend. It could lead right to addled in Middle English.