Mushroom scrapple

I also got some useful perspective on our respective food scenes. A woman we met at the Fair Food Farmstand in the market said she had moved south not least because “What’s happening in New York has already happened. It’s still happening in Philadelphia.” (Even though Fette Sau has opened there, too.) And just before we went we were advised that Vietnamese food in the home of the cheesesteak would be superior to NYC’s partly because more immigrants have gone into restaurants there, rather than into nail parlors, but also because the essential ingredients are easier to come by. Philadelphia, as @atrios Tweeted me, does not have one tiny market but three actual supermarkets just near his home close to the Italian Market. And the one we meandered through in fascination was like nothing here. There must have been 20 kinds of rice paper alone. (Our favorite detail was the sign threatening a $100 penalty for opening the box of live frogs. Or maybe the one advising parents not to let their children play on the 100-pound bags of various brands of rice.) But I also came home feeling less envious of Philadelphia’s plethora of BYO restaurants. The food this trip seemed much pricier in them, I guess because they can’t take the mega-markup on alcohol. And who wouldn’t rather pay for wine in a civilized restaurant than set foot in one of those soul-sapping state stores?

Hebron is a place . . .

I do like how the internets opened a big glass window on the sausage factory. Once upon a time readers could be duped into thinking any rave for a product or place was pure and simple. Now the comments sections are loaded with tip-offs on who bought that affection. Judging by my inbox, look for Mazatlan overload this winter.

Faster, Pussycat

Speaking of horses, much in the news as food recently, the lede of the hometown paper’s front-pager on banning beast-of-burden-drawn carriages in the park was buried in the last graf. For once I’m on the animal-rights activists’ side, because this city will beat the manure out of the strongest human; horses don’t belong in the bedlam and mayhem. I also feel sick every time I see some sad old steed plodding along pulling the gross national weight of Iowa. But, as always, the issue is a little more complicated. As the last quote quoted noted, every horse saved would go straight to slaughter because there are no refuges to take them in, especially in a depression. At least the slaughterhouse would be on American soil. But horse tartare is still horse tartare. And I kinda doubt tourists would line up for it in the Plaza food hall, for a “real” New York experience.

Add an A to agoraphobic

On our way to buy hardtack the other day, my consort and I stopped at an NYPL branch to return a carefully culled DVD and by chance found “City Island” on the shelf. I remembered several touts by our co-op’s own private Ebert, the Sun-thru-Thurs elevator operator whose taste is unerringly right-on, so we brought it home and watched it with great pleasure. Now all I want to know is why NPR’s producers weren’t mentioning it in their segment on the Butter Guzzler, the one that alleged her appeal is to “people who live alone or have fractured families.” I suspect what’s up is more the feeder/feedee dynamic the filmmaker ID’d in his quest for an obese actress in a celluloid world where 170 pounds is deemed over the top. And I don’t even want to  delve into how Liberace had the same appeal to my lonely mom after her nine pregnancies in 8 1/2 years . . .

“Fresh & fly”

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 . . .

Lay on the anchovies

The older I get the dumber I feel. Until the self-described Black Walnut was exposed for his attempted sexy-time on the job, I always thought the National Restaurant Association was just a factchecker-proof source for statistics and quotes on trends. And even now reporters continue to say he’s just a folksy pizza guy, “an alternative to rivals with years of political experience.” But it and he are/were lobbyists. Very powerful ones. And not for the little guys who are lining up to support him in the wake of attacks by the “liberal” media. He beat off (to so speak) Hillarycare, which would have benefited small restaurateurs, the ones whose dues went to pay off those he slimed. Although the best detail is how different “a year’s salary” sounds from “$35,000.” Extra toppings do cost extra.

“Balsamic” ketchup

In a similar artery, my favorite “Food Day” newspaper blog post (it had goddamn better not have been an actual story) was the one offering gruesome recipes from some organization fronting for a dairy marketing group. Nearly every suggestion for healthful, wondrous shit for dinner included cheese/butter/cream/cheese. To which, being Mrs. Sprat, I would have no objection. But can’t newspapers just pull back the curtain and show who’s manipulating minds?

Short answer, given the news on the latest attempt to make nutrition labels easier to understand: No. As long as avocados and pistachios and spinach and other foods straight from the tree/field are not what most Americans are presumed to consume, the subterfuge can continue in the guise of elucidation. Whatever the “Institute of Medicine” might be has the bright idea of giving processed crap labels like the Energy Star ratings, but of course they would only apply to processed crap, which is where all the money is in food. The real answer would be to educate consumers from kindergarten on, to train them to think, but that’s not going to happen in what’s left of my lifetime, although it did back in the last century. One of the best classes my small high school required was General Business, in which we learned everything from how to make change and balance a checkbook to how to analyze the propaganda catapulted at us in advertisements. One assignment required reporting on a single ad on what it both revealed and hid, and I remember one of my choices was the then-new Pop Tarts, which even my relatively poor family had started eating. As I recall, the ads told you nothing except “eat me, be happy!” Imagine that exercise in a school where the vending machines are loaded and the corporate insignias are on everything and you raise money for uniforms by selling . . . processed crap. As always, my big fear is reincarnation.

Blueberry pickers, forever

I wanted to blog about this over to the Epi Log but figured it would be too sensitive: Why is veal still a four-letter word? My consort came home the other night with a gorgeous locally grown, properly raised chop from Whole Foods, and, given that it cost $18, I did not want to fuck it up. So I went online, after flipping through half a dozen cookbooks and realizing timing in old recipes is way off with the new and improved meat you can buy today. And is veal the Israel of meats? Too contentious to discuss? Because, really, what industrial chickens, pigs and all-grown-up cows suffer is pretty horrific. Veal is not bovine Bambi. None of the old propaganda applies if you buy veal raised right. Otherwise, you might as well rail against poussin not being deprived of a long life. Or against eggs being scrambled before they can become poussin.

Meat rabbits

Whenever we go back to Buffalo, I always wonder if it’s as singular as it seems on the food front. Since airports have become police states with better restaurants, and since both my consort and I seem to get more gigs overseas, I just really haven’t eaten around America as much; I mostly remember the bad old days when we would land in a hotel late at night and be directed to “there’s a Friendly’s out on the highway.” Even so, I have to say keeping in touch with the “Nickel City” chefs has its benefits. One of these guys is apparently serving a whole braised sunflower, something I doubt has occurred to anyone strolling through Union Square on a “weekend.” And even though I have no dog in the “molecular cuisine” fight, this makes me wonder if there isn’t much more to be explored just on the ingredient level. You can sous vide the hell out of salmon, but what about cooking poke roots? They’re as close as Central Park.