Woke up, it was a nacho Wednesday

I’ll admit I’m a skimmer not a careful reader, but why in the name of Edna Claiborne would you run a story about devotion to Southern ingredients with a single recipe calling for miso paste, soy sauce, yuzu juice etc.? Talk about burying the lede — who knew the South has risen again with farro? At least I could identify with the ode to slave cookin’, tho: I’ve been on too many gigs where the best food is always at little joints off the feed-the-advertising-beast list. Kabocha, kombucha, let’s call the whole thing off. At least by the time we get to Brooklyn.

Pet Patch, 2002

If I were into weird juxtapositions, I’d be contrasting the discovery that the first domesticated dog was also dinner with the WTFness of the hometown paper’s celebration of hand-crafted organic dinners for companion animals. I know how removed you can get from the real world when you make over a hundred grand a year, but did anyone in all the story meetings ever bring up the inconvenient reality that 43 million Americans are now on food stamps? Blog after blog is challenging readers to try to live even a week on a food stamp allotment. And the paper underwritten by ads for $3,000 shoes and bags puffs up kibble from scratch. Hope no one tells the poor they can’t burn wood. . . The only good news is that this gives me an excuse to dust off the bulging can of Whiskas on my desk. I bought it on my first trip overseas, to Cornwall in 1986, when I had the crazy idea of collecting cat food from every country to which I traveled. And almost every one of those two dozen-plus countries came through, including Cuba, where people were so poor kids begged for gum (and soap) wherever we went. The only place I was ever stymied was in Bangalore, probably the most Western city in India. My consort’s fixer for National Geographic indulged me with a trek to a supermarket, one where a guy dressed up as Uncle Sam was even waiting at the door. So I mustered my courage to ask about local Friskies. And will never forget how flummoxed everyone was. Not food made from cats but special food for cats? What planet are you from?

Priceless memories, indeed

I do hope there are no razor blades in the afterlife. Poor MFK would be slicing her wrists big-time on reading her mentee’s “savory taste” and “a delicious one at that.” And I could not get through the where-are-the-hosts-of-yesteryear BS and so had to rely on Twitter followers to confirm what I suspected — the likes of Zarela went unacknowledged. But I did read just far enough into the review to wonder where TF the editor was. I guess now that “real America” has decided there’s no money for 9/11 responders it’s okay to fantasize about explosions and fires outside an East Side restaurant. I still remember getting censored in reviewing then-rational James Lileks’ immensely entertaining “Gallery of Regrettable Food” in about 11/11 for mentioning one dish looked like something had blown up in the kitchen. We are all insensitive now.

At least canola’s cheap

Who could be surprised no one wants to ask Panchito about the Chimp, only about restaurants? It’s awkward for everyone to bring up that epic fail. But I was actually on the side of the Section Formerly Known as DI/DO when it came to the nonsense about covering cheaper restaurants. The embarrassing new public editor is really embarrassing, and not just for comparing the food pages to a moribund design magazine. Smart people without money are probably reading the Village Voice (online) rather than wasting $2 a day on a publication that still thinks $25 and Under has meaning 16 years on. Democracy is no mission for a paper with $4,900 bags to sell.

The quotation marks make it Belle Rouge

I never know quite what goes through a certain junkyard dog’s mind, but I do know the shiv inevitably comes out where it’s least expected (ask publishers who’ve been scalded by weighted praise). So I wonder what the agenda was in having a Thai chef say Niman Ranch tastes no different from “regular” beef. I thought flavor was just one reason to choose your meat in this day and filthy age? Also, too, whole lot o’ floatin’ going on that issue. And one image you do not want in your head is a “pea soup floater.” It conjures a very unfortunate punchbowl.

Dinner party Q: What’s up with fruit carts?

Speaking of which: Years and years ago we met a filmmaker couple at a dinner party who said they hated Sunday Arts & Leisure because it was nothing but promo pages for whatever movies/plays/concerts were opening that week. But at least it made sense for that section to do a huge fall-season blowout every year — Broadway gears up after touristy summer, and the Film Festival kicks into gear, and music venues have their schedules set for cold nights. But restaurants, let’s be serious, are a different sort of animal, not least because people gotta eat no matter what month it is. So it’s always sad to see Dining reduced to whipping up excitement for a bogus phenomenon as if it were just another weekly magazine (before the internets, I used to keep copies of fall preview issues just to see how many restaurants opened way past schedule or, too often, not at all). I guess you can fool some of the readers some of the time. And it did manage to sell four times as many ads as usual. As in exactly four.

Oh, just go eat in a bookstore

Back in the real world, the weird news of the week was the big profile of a cartoon character in Dining. Which definitely brought home how far the section and the food world have sunk. Once Emeril could be taken down as the emblem of all that was wrong with celebrity cooking shows on the teevee. But at least he started out a real chef, one so obsessive he made his own Worcestershire at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, one so respected (and subdued) that Julia Child partnered with him in an episode of one of her own shows. By the time he had turned into a caricature, he was ripe for the mocking. But this guy? When Bob opened the paper and saw the travesty, he asked me about the back story and all I could say was that he was known for being known. I would make some sarcastic comment like how the next thing you know Styles will be showcasing Snooki. But . . .

“Why don’t you . . . jump the plum gun?”

Only on the last two mornings at a table overlooking the water, I’m not sure in which direction, did I pick up any hint of what was happening in the world as I stayed disconnected from Twitter/email/the Internets. And that was only because Bob finally noticed there was an English-language newspaper to be had in the hotel’s breakfast room. So maybe my eyes were just a little too fresh when I picked up the hometown paper on Food Day. And saw exactly one outside ad in the whole dreary section. Guess the sales staff had the same bored reaction readers would: Sometimes a clam is just an excuse for overwriting.

No strawberries. We’re Northeasterners.

Okay, I guess I have to address the fact that this has been “if you don’t have anything nice to say about Dining, come sit next to me” week. Holy weed-wacked, did e-correspondents get riled! I had a hard time forging on past the jump myself, but I can tell link bait when I smell it. At the very least the megaturd should have included a recipe or two, given how much money smart entrepreneurs around the country are raking in selling medical marijuana in edible form. Or maybe a tasting box.

All mockery aside, the piece was surprisingly irresponsible. Mexico is awash in blood thanks to Americans’ appetite for drugs, our puritanical attitudes and our absurd gun laxity (not to mention the corporate control of our overlords). This ain’t tacos, Mexican style. Tons of dope are involved, and really ugly shit is happening as a result; Tarantino at his most lurid could not dream up some of the stuff I’ve read. But Señor Slim can’t possibly want that reality check. And surely the very proper NYTimes ran stories on bathtub gin when Prohibition was at its bloodiest?

Coming soon: Cooking pre-oiled seafood.

Hecho en Dumbo indeed

And at least one mission was accomplished by the salsa mess: No one could accuse Dining of talking into a well of mandarins. I kept reading and reading, waiting for something that would justify a story on such an obvious topic that has been mined so exhaustively. But as a Twitpal noted, this is the paper that refers to corn tacos. Maybe the education was simply starting at home.

The white of their tails

I’ve been researching a story where references to things like reindeer meat at Christmastime keep popping up, so I wasn’t too surprised to see bunnies hopping down the Dining trail just before Easter. As I Tweeted, I don’t think Americans will ever be able to face their food in the fur. But the piece had almost as big a disconnect as Baccarat flutes in the age of dollar-store glassware. I can still hear the horror when Michael Moore dared to present Flint residents raising rabbits as food for cash. Now that old movie looks like the chronicle of America foretold. Still, I sided with the killers in this piece, at least looking at the cover photo over cappuccino at the kitchen counter with my consort. As I reminded him, rabbits may look cute, but watch out. I’ll never forget the bloody mayhem Bob provoked in Piemonte while shooting a special breed of rodents in the Slow Food ark — the poor farmer did as he was told and put the huge rabbit on his lap for the photo, and the tame thing shredded his forearms with its back paws. Those suckers are Glenn Close compared to your average chicken. Boil away.

Napa juice on the ground

Usually I think writing about Twitter is like cooking about photography. But more often lately it seems like a blind person trying to describe an elephant. When a friend’s singular consort died the other day, I heard he was a trending topic — but not in my Tworld. The degrees of separation there can range from one to a milllion. It’s like the days before the Google, when you would type in “tortillas” and 5 quintazillion references would pop up. Suffice it to say that the chefs who were covered struck me as not just small potatoes compared with those I see RT’d. They’re fingerlings.

Welcome to the Upper Upper East Side

A nailed plagiarist got all the attention last week, but every day there are more signs that the old gray lady’s letting standards slip as fast as aging bosoms as the cost-cutting gets more brutal and the hamster-wheeling gets faster. The stuff you hear about how little oversight the blogs are graced with would make your glazed hair curl. The Chelsea Market, for instance, did not evolve naturally. I remember the deals made to get food producers in there more than 10 years ago — it became what it is by calculated design. And then you get these silly opinion pieces on taxing soda that do not make the obvious point that it would be the first honest and effective Ponzi scheme in history: Take money from consumers to pay off Big Agriculture, eliminating the middleman of Congress with its farm subsidies. And finally you get the strange situation where the fact that Romania is considering taxing fast food is never reported. But a 528-pound woman giving birth in Romania is big news. Señor Slim must be messing with their heads in more ways than one as he engulfs and devours.

One star for Compass

And I guess I have to do my bashing of the section formerly known as DI/DO, so I’ll start by saying sometimes a cutlet is just a cutlet and a column cannot be inflated without collapsing (but I understand why a more significant topic got tucked inside like a cutlet in a bra — been there, edited that shit). Worse was that the genesis of the eating-kosher-cuz-it’s-better nonsense was plain to see. Fishing for sources to back up your thesis is like hunting for quail Cheney style. (How soon they forget the immensity of the Agriprocessors scandal. But I’ll never forget the friend in Lincoln, Nebraska, who once worked in a slaughterhouse and talked constantly of the rabbi overseeing the kosher beef. You don’t want details, but they involved bathroom, hands, No. 2.) And then there was the JGold Wannabe. Twice in one day the same rating was given, in almost the same words: Reads like writing-class exercises. RIP, Britchky. You are now certifiably inimitable.