Shopping with one hand

Given that food has such a strong porn element, it’s probably not surprising that the Yellow Magazine has started a site with stories and recipes but mostly shopping — native titties are no longer enough. But what a site it is; the Williams-Sonoma catalog has more soul. I assume the recipes come from the purveyors, but there’s no indication of provenance. (Plus the links suck: I am dying to make the “Hamper of Parmigiano” appetizer but can’t connect.) It’s depressing, given how many of my most amazing eating experiences were courtesy of my tagging along with my consort on assignment way back when the bosses were tending the main store: the magazine. We ate in people’s homes; he always had interpreters who led us to the most authentic local foods. The last trip was to India, for caffeine, where we had one extraordinary encounter after another thanks to his fixer, Neha. But click the “explore world foods” button and all you get on the most amazing country, the one where you need all five senses and could use four more, is a bloodless recitation of non-food facts. To see that cornucopia reduced to a $75 basket of rice and sauces is beyond sad. But that’s just me. Anyone looking for tetilla will find plenty.

Can your own tuna!

I know I heard this on the radio, but the Google is pretending it never happened, so I am going to rant anyway. The short segment was on baking your own bread — how wonderful, how simple, how cheap it can be in these cash-strapped times. One of the closing lines was that a loaf from scratch will cost 25 cents. Maybe in some alternate universe. Yeast these days is at least $3 for three envelopes, and you will have to open at least one. And has Mr. Frugalbaker been shopping for flour lately? A pound costs what five did not so long ago. Better advice would be to spin gold into flax. 

My biscuit was flat

In a similar vein, I was pretty amazed to read the blackening of White Lily’s reputation using such fair-and-balanced evidence. When I think of a blind test, I imagine rules and witnesses and, maybe, ya think?, science? To let two obviously prejudiced bakers have at it in unwatched kitchens strikes me as a bit, shall we say, un-Timesian? The most unsettling part was having a paid spokesperson turn on the new product with no disclosure of whether said spokesperson had any millstone to grind. As often as I think I was born at the right time, I do wonder why I had to sit through so many shitstorms over far more innocuous pieces just a Saran Wrap away. Being an editor in the high-tech chicken coop these days must feel like listening to an endless loop of Bruce Springsteen’s “Radio Nowhere” — Is there anyone alive out there? 

Dad McGee

At least I read the whole damn floury mess, a feat I could not replicate with the green, green garlic of confusion. But at least I tried. Most people who brought it up raved about the recipes before admitting they had not read a single word of the babble. So I guess this is an improvement over the British Bosom, who also filed stream-of-consciousness with no proofreading, but did it with recipes as well as “stories.” And sometimes crimes are so egregious they can only be punished with quotations. As the inimitable Trex would say (and did say about someone else): “She’s not so much a writer as a serial killer of ideas.” Stick a stake through her laptop. 

It was so hot Barney Greengrass . . .

How can one section produce something as amazing as a graphic look at real estate hell in the age of avarice less than a week after publishing the most inane local story since I wrote about a purple martin apartment house in Iowa more than half a lifetime ago? I assume everyone else was wondering which Rubeville they were living in on waking up to find their hometown paper driveling about a drunk who wanders into a bar and can’t get back out. Come on! The guy could be president with those instincts.

My kingdom for maseca

I also wasn’t so convinced we should think like a chef after reading 30 lessons from them. I was most surprised Lord Thomas recommends bacon made from any old hogs when you can really taste the difference with the heritage kind. And any chef who cares more about carrots than the environment probably should keep it to himself. One thing that does not belong in the kitchen is a disposable razor. Buy that guy a scrub brush if he’s so anal he thinks babies need skinning.

Bistro California

For all my carping about fast food chains engulfing and devouring the world, I have to give them credit for design. If the goal is to move the sheep in and out at the speediest clip, they do it with minutes to spare. Contrast your average Taco Bell expedition with my last two experiences with home-grown wannabes, both of which must have been conceived by bastard bureaucrats from a liaison between the IRS and the post office. At ‘Wichcraft, there’s no overhead menu; only late in the game do you realize you need to pick up a menu in the front and puzzle over it before stepping into the order line, which is more an order clot of confused customers puzzling over menus. If you get your pricey sandwich to stay, you’re guaranteed the runner will make at least three laps around the room in search of your hungry face. The comment card on offer should have been the first indicator that this is not a chute but a maze; that device is the last refuge of flawed enterprises (sorta like sex: places that get it right never have to ask).

Pinch Pizza by the Inch, at least the one on Columbus, was even more of a Bermuda Triangle. Mensa should give credit just for finding the entrance. But the menu is like the agate on the back of your MasterCard bill. Not only do you have you decide what combination of the infinite variations you want. Then you have to do the math — two inches plus jalapenos times what? My head almost exploded, and I spent only a little more than a straight olive-and-pepperoni slice would have cost up the block. I have no idea how they can make it work with a runner, flags with order numbers, utensils required etc. But the staff was astonishingly pleasant. I would go postal in the first hour if I had to listen to two rooms full of squalling human larva while facing down a molasses-like stream of guidebook-carrying, Esperanto-speaking patrons studying the menu for longer than it takes to learn Latin. Plus the occasional childless New Yorker. Because special orders do upset us.

Cherry popping

One question has finally been definitively answered: Who do you have to blow to get overkill coverage in this town? In the same week when no less an authority than the National Register of Historic Places was warning that the Lower East Side is in danger of extinction by developers, did the world really need a longer-than-“War and Peace” elegy to a relic in a neighborhood that was already lost? And it’s not as if the joint actually left a food legacy — I kinda doubt brunchers a century from now will be ordering Eggs Florent. Compare and contrast the silly loquaciousness with the snide stories in the same birdcage liner on any number of landmarks surrendered to rising rents, greed and the reality that this city is snakelike in its ability to shed a layer and come back meaner. Can you say Gage & Tollner, La Cote Basque etc? But into every dark tragedy a little sunlight must shine: At least readers were spared a restaurant review. Then again, that makes me wonder if the bean counters realize this little reality: Take it away one week and fewer people are likely to drop a dollar next week.

Free bar with every $500 million order

I always think Robert Downey Jr. can do no wrong, but “Iron Man” was no “Home for the Holidays,” let alone “Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang.” I’m glad I saw it, if only for the dramatic tension of wondering how he dealt with caressing all those glasses of brown booze, given his issues. But things fell apart midway through when his character started nattering about needing “a good American cheeseburger” and then showed up with shit from a Burger Death bag. A real superhero would be rescuing the immigrants being rounded up in raids on slaughterhouses lately, not ingesting the gray matter that exploitation keeps cheap. What’s funny is that the producers could have gotten a real restaurant to spring for the brazen product placement. It would not have been a bigger waste of money than the bus-side ads a Flatiron joint is running around town. Does anyone ever decide on dinner off the M96?

Prunes in armagnac

Massimo Bassano, our first guide to the Italian table way back in pre-Columbian Geographic times, taught my consort and me to eat salad last. While he never put it in clinical words, his message was that it’s a scrub brush for your system. Which took the same pleasure out of greens that Planters is determined to extract from nuts, one of my favorite things to eat. Marketing them as a “digestive health mix” is about as alluring as selling ghee as Ex-Lax. The graphic of shelled and unshelled nuts in the shape of biceps and forearm is also symbolic TMI. The only thing worse was the NYObserver’s comparison of “soft brown ricotta gnocchi” to “kids’ Lincoln Logs.” Flush those floaters.

All you need is a stockpot and a dream

Of course, the Feds could just switch to Tastybaby. “Malibu moms” using every overworked buzzword from gluten-free to “printed with vegetable ink” dreamed it up to beat back Gerber’s, but you gotta wonder what the organic matter is with that brand name. Maybe it’s because I spent three years in the home base of a tasty baker, but I read it as Stem Cell Soylent Green.

And that ferry is running on fumes

One of T.C. Boyle’s best stories (which is saying something) is “Top of the Food Chain,” in which cats are dropped onto an island to eat the rats that took it over after the lizards brought in to eradicate an infestation of insects were wiped out. I get something of the same uneasy feeling reading about the brave and noble women who are going to save an island by baking cakes now that their watermen are looking at an increasingly depleted Chesapeake Bay. It’s the feel-good story of the hour, but somehow I doubt switching from perishable crabs to baked perishables is exactly going to work when flour, butter and eggs are getting more expensive by the minute. The only thing more misguided might be rice cakes. With ethanol frosting.

Come back to the five-and-dimer

I have no good excuse for not noticing this sooner, but Taste of Home is ruint. Totally ruint. At a party a while back I ran into a founding editor of another food magazine who lamented that its new owners had decided to turn a Jaguar (or something) into a Ford Taurus, never realizing they had bought something unique. But you gotta wonder about an investor who has no clue that the future of publishing is niche and decides to turn its lowrider into an SUV. I was flipping through and started realizing I couldn’t tell the “flavor packed” sandwich layout from the Mrs. Dash ad and it struck me: Isn’t this the magazine whose readers choose it primarily as a respite from endless shilling? The class cleansing is bad enough — the disappearing of so many hometown cooks and their weirdly fascinating reality (and ’dos) — but to replace them with Cool Whip and Gallo? My in-law equivalent has subscribed for me as an Xmas gift for more than a decade, but I’m going to respectfully request that she throw her $12.99 Conde Nasty’s way this year. At least I’ll get ads that look less Everyday. And I am really and truly sick of GE Profile kitchens.

No wig, no service

After “No, we can’t,” the buzz phrase of the week seems to be “Suck my dick.” Certainly it seems to have been in play over at the Big Tent (a k a Satan’s Waiting Room), where the most elaborate game of “I did not have fawning relations with that critic” appears to be going on. Someone shoulda had some ’splaining to do in praising the open-arms treatment at a joint infamous for giving the little people a trashing for being dumb enough to mistake a private club for a public restaurant. But I guess no one could have expected a guy who is served “venison fallow” and thinks he knows from “bolito” to get to the meat of the matter in his weirdly timed stenography session. I would kill to be a bedbug on the next NYTimes reader who books a table at this newly ordained hospitality central and comes face to ass with the real experience. . . .

Good for your heart

Editors are notorious cynics, but I had to wonder what it is about VD this year that brought out so much slyness. First I saw a headline that used the words “thinking outside the box” (at least it didn’t talk about snatching anything), and then there was a menu for the romantic dinner that started with pasta puttanesca. What’s that all about? Pimp your date?