Wednesday, June 30, 2004

summertime

To clarify, yesterday's post on Paleolithic diet has nothing to do with the date that humans began to farm, contra the confused Mefi post on the subject. Instead it demonstrates the wide variety of wild plant foods people were eating in the fertile crescent 25,000 years ago. This is significant for archeologists because it helps to date the "broad spectrum hypothesis," which is: for whatever reasons (population, climate), hunter-gatherers were at some point compelled to turn their alimentary attentions to ever more labor-intensive food sources. If you can just eat some figs and kill a mammoth or something once a month, why fuck around with little plants that require laborious processing (like grains)? As they spent more time with these plants, they gradually began selecting for desireable traits, a process that eventually led to domestication and sedentary agriculture. That did not occur anywhere near 25,0000 years ago.

The most interesting thing about that article, however, is the prominent role of the "Mediterranean trinity" -- wheat, grapes, olives -- in the Paleolithic Levantine diet. These were, and remain, the staples of peasant diets all around the sea, although the importance until recent times of "regular" wheat (Triticum aestivum) relative to lesser grains (including its ancestor, emmer wheat, which is what they found at Ohalo II) has perhaps been exaggerated. There were people in Corsica in the twentieth century who had never eaten wheat bread, depending entirely on chestnut flour for sustenance. [See Piero Camporesi's Bread of Dreams for the guesome details of what people resorted to for bread in olden times].

Several years ago, John Thorne described his Mediterranean bread epiphany in an article called "Cuisine of the Crust" [in Pot on the Fire]. Peasants historically baked their bread once a week, or every two weeks. [Mills and ovens were valuable medieval monopolies, not affordable on a daily basis; even in more recent times, when people had their own ovens, bread-baking has been at most a weekly activity (see, on Sardinia, Carole Counihan, "Bread as World," Anthropological Quarterly 57/2 [1984], 47-59; rpt. in Food and Culture, ed. ead. and Van Esterik [New York, 1997]). Longevity, therefore, was the most desirable quality in bread, best achieved with minimal leavening (the result, in any case, of reliance on wild yeasts) and the absence of salt. Thus the dense and rather flavorless "peasant" loaves that persist to this day, most notably in Tuscany.

In order to appreciate this bread, it must be employed in a suitable way -- or, conversely, you have to come up with something to do with bread that is always already stale. Thorne discusses, inter alia, bruschetta and the Catalan pa amb tomàquet. [No matter, for the moment, that he conflates the former with crostini, crostone, and fettunte, all of which are different ways of ennobling a slice of stale bread]. But he does not mention the far (liquid) end of the continuum that starts with pa amb tomàquet and runs through panzanella: gazpacho.

Gazpacho began as nothing more than an emulsion of oil and stale bread -- along with wine, the "payments in kind" of agricultural laborers from prehistoric days -- perhaps diluted with water and/or flavored with garlic [see esp. Janet Mendel's My Kitchen In Spain (New York, 2002) for a discussion of gazpacho in its native habitat. Under no circumstances defer to Penelope Casas on the subject]. It was, simply, a mashed-up fettunta. Eaten with wine, as it invariably was, it literally embodied the Mediterranean trinity.

It is interesting that all of these archetypal foods depend, for us, on the tomato, which has only been eaten in Europe for around 200 years. Their continuing popularity is a testament to how well they frame what we think is their key ingredient. And in fact, barring the Colman Andrews method (slice, salt, eat), they are perhaps the best way to capture the tomato. Gazpacho might be the best of all, because it capitalizes on all the juice, and because you don't even need a toaster. You need to eat gazpacho now, until the tomatoes run out.

You have undoubtedly seen recipes for "gazpacho" which feature all sorts of monstrosities. Today's case in point. Some of these may even be good, but they are not gazpacho -- not unless they begin with the primal emulsion. Tomatoes, even, are optional, but not bread and oil. (This explains the existance of "real" white gazpachos [made, usually, with grapes and almonds], which memorialize the dish's pre-Columbian origins). The following recipe, based on a friend's exhaustive Spanish researches, showcases all the glories of the tomato, but without ever forgetting the real point of the dish.

1/2 cup olive oil
a few slices of slightly stale white peasant bread, crusts removed
2 1/2 pounds tomatoes
1/2 cucumber, peeled and seeded
1 clove garlic
salt and sherry vinegar to taste

Puree everything in a blender, force through a seive, puree again. Chill for several hours or overnight before serving.

I hardly need to add that the quality of the raw materials determines the outcome. Particularly the tomatoes and oil.

Yes, you can use a food processor or a mortar and pestle if you have to, but they are not ideal. Remember, you're trying to create an emulsion here.

Bell peppers, though no less "authentic" than tomatoes, add an unpleasant taste. They are good as a garnish, however, along with croutons, red. onions, and so on. Use a light hand.

[Certain experts have written in to point out that hard-boiled egg and ham, which I elided with an etc. above are common and traditional garnishes. There are obvious reasons for this, but the glorification of the tomato is not one of them.]




Other things that you might want to eat this summer are raita [the minimalist], grilled favas [Judy Rodgers via Regina Schrambling in the LA Times], and corn [Sauté Wed.] And something that we all want to eat is Iberian ham [via Sauté Wed.]. And something we've all already eaten is the so-called engagement chicken: duh, it's just (a half-decent recipe for) roast chicken [research by J.]

Finally, food porn: Clotilde in Burgundy, tfs guest editor Samin Nosrat in Florence (don't miss the pistachio test).

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

enron

Since my friend skimble seems to conveniently go on vacation whenever something good happens in this story, I feel it is my duty to draw your attention to Carolyn Said's article on the Snohomish County Public Utility District, whom we can thank for transcribing those enron tapes:

"[FERC] decided early on they would enforce these contracts (that Snohomish and others had signed with Enron) come hell or high water, and that's what they did," Christensen said.

"To do that, they had to twist the federal statute almost beyond recognition. In the process, they denied us our due process rights, ignored evidence of the crisis this caused our consumers and let stand the fruits of what we now know was criminal misconduct.

"I think it's scandalous that federal regulators who were supposed to be in charge of protecting consumers are still pursuing the Enron agenda even though Enron has been dead for two years."

Also see Kurt Eichenwald's puff piece on poor Ken Lay, whose net worth is now below $20 million.

hunting and gathering

What people were eating 23,000 years ago:

The principal plant foods appear to have been grass seeds, augmented with a variety of other plants from different habitats. These include Mount Tabor oak acorns, almonds, pistachios, wild olives, and fruits and berries such as Christ's thorn, raspberry, wild fig, and wild grape. There were also several plants from the borage (Boraginaceae) and sunflower (Compositae) families, as well as a small quantity of pulses. The largest component of the assemblage, the grasses, includes the wild cereals emmer wheat and barley, progenitors of the domesticates, and an enormous quantity of small-grained grasses (SGG). Most of these have not been reported from other archaeological sites. They include brome (Bromus pseudobrachystachys/tigridis) (the great majority), foxtail (Alopecurus utriculatus/arundinaceus), alkali grass (Puccinellia cf. convoluta), and others.
Ehud Weiss et al., "The broad spectrum revisited: Evidence from plant remains," PNAS 101, 9551-9555. [Evidence: >90,000 plant remains from 142 taxa, of which nearly 19,000 were grass grains, from Ohalo II on the Sea of Galilee.] This shows that people were collecting a wide variety of relatively unprofitable foods 10,000 years earlier than previously thought, presumably in response to population pressure. Once wheat and barley were domesticated, the small-grained grasses were given up.

Monday, June 28, 2004

party

Today is officially the second birthday of badthings, and we have adopted a shiny new template to celebrate. Nothing is more boring than blogging about blogging, so I'll keep this short: new templates are a pain in the ass. Bear with me while I iron out the wrinkles. Complain to badthings at gmail dot com if you must.
Oh yeah -- mad cow #2. That would be one in 5,668 (if the results are confirmed, which could happen by tomorrow). Latest at CIDRAP and meatingplace. I do wonder why APHIS is suddenly so committed to transparency they feel compelled to announce the results before they are confirmed. [Which they do, by the way, on this page]. So far, no word from Dave.

Friday, June 25, 2004

march of progress

I just saw a cop roll down the street on a fucking Segway.

On the other hand, we can now get titanium tit jobs [via the fold drop].

weekly intemperate New Yorker rant

Hey Remnick,
Everyone knows that an attack of explosive diarrhea is funnier than Bruce McCall. Rarely, however, do you showcase his profound stupidity as extravagantly as in his latest travesty of Thurberian "whimsy." Off the top of my head: Greeks didn't wear togas, they didn't have corn, and they were pretty clear on the location of Byzantium because they had just fucking founded it.

But it's not just the details: the "joke" doesn't make sense at all. It's like he tagged along to one of Denby's great books classes, but was so exhausted from jerking off to internet porn he fell asleep and could only remember the wacky names.

You see, when you know something about your subject, it's easier to make fun of it.

Fuck it, between McCall and this cretinous tool, it's only a matter of time before you hire David Brooks. Where do you find these douchebags? At this point I can't wait to read another 50,000 words about shad: at least McPhee really goes fishing before he writes about it.

Background: This started with Gopnik and Schjeldahl [ok, it really started with my -- perfectly rational -- hatred of Denby]. Then, in a relatively rare non-New Yorker episode, this woman tried to explain the alleged greatness of the titles Bonfire of the Vanities and The Sun Also Rises without reference to either Savonarola or Ecclesiastes. At the time, I assumed this was only an oversight, but I fear my charity was misplaced. On the other hand, she's not writing about the fucking Iliad for the New Yorker. Is it too much to expect that people understand something about what they write about?

Thursday, June 24, 2004

If the Frank Gehry wasn't enough for you, this is going to revolutionize the art of making fucked-up cocktails. Or, as Popbitch claims, solve the age-old "coke or booze?" dilemma...

Wait, I don't get it. What's the dilemma?

the last word (presidential ed.)

Edmund Morris on Reagan:
On Michael Reagan's... high-school graduation day his father greeted him with "My name is Ronald Reagan. What�s yours?"
Choire Sicha on Clinton:
I'd rather get the cigar treatment from Clinton than read his book.

finally, some hot lowbrow action

The Olsens: so much funnier than Faulkner. [And scroll down to 6/17 for bonus taxicab confession].

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

wed. food

In the Times, Johnny Apple talks to the River Café's Rogers & Gray, whose first book is among the most transformative I have ever read.

Also, Marian Burros's much-anticipated N.E. cheese article; wild Yukon river salmon [but this year's Cali. Kings are pretty good too]; Westchester cocineras; and in yet another Fergus Henderson piece, from the magazine, Jonathan Reynolds gets a typically excellent quote:

Marrow on toast isn't for everyone, and for breakfast I can't imagine it's for anyone.... As Lewis wields a knife over a bunch of Italian parsley, Henderson explains: "You want to discipline the parsley with three or four chops, not whip it into submission. This business of dicing vegetables into little bits beats the spirit out of them. If the Great Chef in the Sky meant for us to chop the veg into tiny cubes, he would have made them differently. Now where are your capers?"
Contains a recipe for the famous Bone Marrow and Parsley Salad.

The LA Times reviews ice cream makers; Regina Schrambling cooks en papillote (perhaps an interesting counterpoint to sous vide for a theme dinner...); community garden cooking.

From the Chron comes the reassuring news that there are people far more obsessive than I; although the roasters here (with a few exceptions) are so incompetent that this is more a sign of moral laxity on my part.

On the interweb, The French Laundry is apparently open again and still good; Josh Friedland makes guanciale at home; Ukrainians love chocolate coated pork fat [via Josh's excellent site];

...after doing the requisite studies and surveys, we wrapped a structural core of solidified vodka and tonic water in a noncontinuous cladding of absinthe-tempered hard-crack sugar and bound it together with a spiriform-theme element of lime peel. And so we unveil: the Frank Gehry cocktail.

on the ball

sorry, I've been sitting on these for a while:
  • production of very long chain polyunsaturated omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in transgenic plants [Nature Biotechnology].
  • Rigorous scientific research from a peer-reviewed publication [Nature]:
    Public debate on biotechnologies illustrates the difficulty of combining democratic forms with regulation of complex technoscientific issues. The root of the problem is often identified as a lack of "scientific literacy," mainly caused by a distorted and alarmist representation of these issues by the mass media and associated with prejudice against science.

    Two years ago, we used data collected from two large surveys of Italian public opinion to demonstrate that, although lack of information on biotechnologies and a marked hostility against food biotechnologies are clear, the links between media exposure, levels of awareness, and attitudes toward biotechnologies are far from straightforward. In other words, it is not sufficient to be more informed to be more open to biotechnologies; indeed, the contrary is sometimes the case.

  • It's the IMF board game! [Harper's]:
    A monopoly is based on one player's ability to purchase another player's property, even when that player does not wish to sell. The IMF authorizes the sale and profits from the monopoly by taxing it.

    Let's imagine that "Pedro" has wheat with two national industries and one multinational. When "Maria" lands on wheat she should pay "Pedro" $700, but "Maria" decides to monopolize the wheat. She should pay the IMF the "monopoly tax" of $2,000, and afterward she should buy the territory, which will include all of the investment made by "Pedro." In total, "Maria" pays $2,000 to the IMF and $2,550 to "Pedro" and becomes the owner of wheat.

    Monopolies can be created only in the South. (In the North monopolies just develop over the long term.)

  • Apollo the Lizard Slayer comes to Cleveland. No really, I'm sure its authentic.
  • Awesome [Miami Herald via Maud, who has a login for you]:
    By translating Hebrew letters into their numerical equivalents, which he says are laid out in ancient scriptures, Braden has matched them to the atomic weight of the chemicals that make up the human genome. Hydrogen becomes the Hebrew letter Yod, nitrogen becomes the letter Hey, oxygen becomes the letter Vav, and carbon becomes the Gimel, spelling out, Braden claims, Y-hweh, one of the 72 Hebrew names for God.
    Furthermore, this has something to do with DNA, but you'll have to figure that part out yourself.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

highbrow II

Never a big fan of Faulkner either, but wow.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Boswell's Johnson

Via the hag, A day in the life of the OED. I have to admit, it sounds like a pretty fun job. If you're feeling enterprising, you can help them track down the source of some of Dr. Johnson's mysterious entries, which formed the backbone of the first ed.

In other highbrow hijinx, blogs are being put to increasingly literary use, perhaps inspired by pepys: to wit [via cup of chicha] you can now read a page a day of Ulysses (but see the warning below). You can, in fact, skip ahead, which allowed me to identify page 14 as the one where I stopped many years ago, unwilling to take a Mulligan.

More ambitiously, "Nick" is publishing an epigram a day of Martial, and translating it for us. I like today's:

cogit me Titus actitare causas
et dicit mihi saepe 'magna res est.'
res magna est, Tite, quam facit colonus.

corn

Anyone who has bought imported Italian polenta and wondered what "granturco" is would do well to read this excellent history of the gobal diffusion of corn after the conquest, written by two employees of the USDA's National Agricultural Library: "Milho, makka, and yu mai: early journeys of Zea mays to Asia":
As I ate my maize, I wondered how an American crop plant had become a staple food in a remote region of the Himalayas. My neighbors were convinced that their maize, or makai, was 'local', and only one among the many crop plants, such as rice, millet, and buckwheat, that actually are indigenous to the Himalayas. They believed that maize and other American crop plants like the chili peppers and tomatoes they used in their curries had been with them from ancestral times.

Friday, June 18, 2004

2 Joyce reviews

then:
...when he insists upon describing a drinking party in an interminable series of imitations which progresses through English prose from the style of the Anglo-Saxon chronicles to that of Carlyle one begins to feel uncomfortable.
now:
Joyce is blind in one eye because he read Ulysses and then the eye hung itself... I�m contemplating traveling back in time and murdering James Joyce, in the face... For Ulysses to be any worse of a book, it would have to break into your house and defecate on your bed.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

shut up, "a bit" is relative

If you were dazed when Freud slammed into Marx the other day, let me reiterate: the alienation of food consumption from its production is logically and ethically impossible. This is not an abstraction. Which is why, if you can get to Watsonville on July 3, You should attend the benefit for Rogelio Barrajas Aguilar, a Michoacano employee of Mariquita Farms, who was recently injured by a drunk driver. Unfortunately, A Day Without Mexicans was not a very good movie, but the point was something you need to think about, if you eat food.

There were a number of important farm/food links in the last issue of the Snail, which they are going to put online eventually, but here's a start:

And another book: the new edition of Ed Behr's Artful Eater, in paperback or signed hardcover.

On a lighter note, or a stupider one, in keeping with the bizarre conjucture of Reagan reprises, the USDA has declared that batter-coated french fries are a fresh vegetable. Throw a little ketchup on it and you've got a complete meal.

Alternatively, you could make "mole" salami, like Mario Batali's dad [via Sauté Wed.].

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

wed. food

Last night I opened a pinot grigio from one of the few California wineries that makes good wine at a good price point, and subjected myself to something truly horrible. In fact, it tasted exactly like a pineapple butterscotch sundae, which is Jordan Mackay's apt description of California chardonnay. His LA Times article attempts to demonstrate that some people are making better chards., but after tasting what they did to pinot grigio, I'm not holding my breath. Speaking of wine, Asimov writes the usual "sounds crazy"/"tastes great" article on biodynamic wine [perhaps we can get those Miller Lite ladies involved somehow?].

Getting grumpiness out of the way: either Hoffman or Bowen is very confused if they think you make romesco with anchos (consider yourself lucky I missed last week's nixtamal typo); I like Bruni so far, but "the roe less taken" is, to quote the Simpsons, a fridge too far; we have plural problems in Cali., with the Chron. writing of "a panini" and "millenniums" in LA -- the latter, though, from an excellent Russ Parsons article on farmed abalone; there seems to be some kind of weird seasonal conspiracy going on, because the Chron. published Janet Fletcher's Royal Blenheim story this week, when their short season is about to end (cf. 3 weeks ago).

I have no complaints about Alex Witchel's DiPalo's story [NYT] or David Shaw's observations on the demise of the "fine dining experience" [LAT].But the best thing I have read this week is Bruce Cole's article on sous vide. Maybe it's too challenging for the paper, but how is it that none of our nation's many fine food magazines are paying him for this?

more in a bit.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

My UN mole writes to alert us of the latest FAO biotech email forum: Biotechnology applications in food processing: Can developing countries benefit? I have to admit, the answer seems so transparently to be "no," or at least, not much, and why don't you do something useful like help us irrigate instead, that I hadn't given it much thought, but it will be interesting to see if they can come up with anything persuasive. The excellent backgrounder gets right to the the heart of the development/sustainability dialectic:
Traditional fermentation processes employed in most developing countries are low input, appropriate food processing technologies with minimal investment requirements. They make use of locally produced raw materials and are an integral part of village life. These processes are, however, often uncontrolled, unhygienic and inefficient and generally result in products of variable quality and short shelf lives. Fermented foods, nevertheless, find wide consumer acceptance in developing countries and contribute substantially to food security and nutrition.
Do we really want to visit HACCP on the rest of the world?

Monday, June 14, 2004

food and farming

In a back issue of the Snail (the Slow Food USA newsletter), Corby Kummer had an interesting interview with Myrtle Allen, who started a restaurant at Ballymaloe House in County Cork in 1964. She talked about how local farmers woud show up at their door with produce, for which she paid what she thought it was worth (as a cook and a farmer herself, she had a pretty good idea). It is amazing how shocking this idea was then (and now, notwithstanding "fair trade") -- Allen connects it to a historical Quaker ethics to try to explain it, which seems a pretty complicated way to make a simple logical connection.

The degree to which soi-disant "foodies" still remain oblivious to or uninterested in their object choice's means of production continues to amaze me. It is 2004, after all, and you would think that "It's the ingredients, stupid" would have sunk in after 30 years. So, thinking about the radically archaic idea that things should cost what they're worth, I assembled the following semi-random links: Wisconsin family farms and the fancy Chicago restaurants that buy their food; The Essential Agrarian Reader, The Fate of Family Farming; the most important part of Slow Food, the Foundation for Biodiversity, now has its own website.

Some things I should have been paying attention to last week

There was a great story by Steve Stecklow and Erin White (in the 6/8 WSJ -- I give you the info in lieu of a link) about "fair trade" price-gouging which -- shockingly -- is being engaged in by retail chains, not the co-ops or certifiers:
"Supermarkets are taking advantage of the label to make more profit because they know that consumers are willing to pay a bit more because it's fair trade," says Emily Dardaine, fruit-product manager at Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International, or FLO, a Germany-based federation of fair-trade groups.

Both British chains say they aren't exploiting fair-trade products to their own advantage. In some cases, after being asked about their margins, retailers cut their prices.

Douchebags.

Alan Guebert had some interesting numbers from the latest USDA farm census, like:

For the first time, the 2002 Ag Census reports contract livestock production. Two numbers leap out of that date: a.) 20,778 poultry producers grew 8.3 billion chickens under contract in 2002 and b.) 10,370 hog producers raised and delivered 79.4 million hogs in 2002 under contract. That�s more than 85% of nation�s hogs.
He also picked up a WSJ item (6/7) that Cargill is about to introduce DNA testing for beef cows. From the original article:
Cargill's genetics project identified markers able to predict five traits, including a steer's ability to produce marbled meat -- the intramuscular fat that is a big factor in tenderness. Cargill says it also has found markers that predict the genetic ability of cattle to convert feed into muscle, which could help Cargill select cattle that grow more efficiently in its feedlots. Its four Caprock feedlots in Texas and Kansas fatten more than 600,000 cattle annually and its Excel Corp. meatpacker unit is the nation's second-biggest beef packer.

Tests made by smaller outfits for marbling and tenderness first began hitting the market in 2001, says Calvin Gunter, director of corporate development for Bovigen Solutions LLC. The Metairie, Louisiana, test-maker sells tests mostly to breeders, who can afford to pay the $50 to $100 (about 40 euros to 80 euros) it costs to test an animal.

Mr. Gunter says companies are racing to find improved tests, but must also prove that they can deliver accurate results. "Being that this is an emerging tech, one of the questions in the marketplace is 'How real are the markers?" Mr. Gunter says.

The highest priority is a test that can accurately predict tenderness. Consumers have long complained about the uneven quality of beef, and Steven Kappes, director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Meat Animal Research Center in Clay Center, Nebraska, says tenderness is one of beef's most elusive properties. "You can't see it and it is hard to measure," he says. "You really need a DNA test to be able to sort cattle by tenderness."

All Things Considered audio segment on industrial biotech.

Another study shows that GE Salmon will destroy wild Coho salmon populations [Seattle Times story | PNAS abstract].

The full set of last week's Sac Bee biotech series: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

If you are interested in Vini Passiti, Franco et al., "Off-Vine Grape Drying Effect on Volatile Compounds and Aromatic Series in Must from Pedro Xim�nez Grape Variety, J. Agric. Food Chem. 52 (12), 3905 -3910 quantifies some of the changes grapes undergo as they dry in the sun. Romani, et al., "Germplasm Characterization of Zolfino Landraces (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) by Flavonoid Content," pp. 3838 -3842 of the same journal, quantifies the flavonoids of one of the world's greatest (and rarest) beans. They found one never before detected in beans: delphinidin feruloylglucoside. Delicious.

Nature article on "bioprospecting," and the Convention on Biological Diversity, accessible through SciDev.Net.

Hao and Golding, "Patterns of Bacterial Gene Movement," Mol. Biol. Evol. 21(7): 1294-1307:

Our results suggest that an amazingly large number of genes have been laterally transferred even within comparatively closely related bacteria. Lateral transfers are thought to be influenced more by physical proximity than by phylogenetic proximity of the organisms and are seen to share similar genomic properties such as genome size, genome G/C composition, and carbon utilization. The functions of most laterally transferred genes are still unknown. The most studied lateral transfers belong to pathogenic islands, but pathogenicity islands are only a small part of genes laterally transferred. The results presented here suggest that many of the LT genes may be species-specific adaptations.

Friday, June 11, 2004

silence = death

I wanted nothing more than to ignore this whole thing, but the 24-hour posthumous blowjob channel npr has been carpet-bombing my brain with this bullshit all week, and since it is a National Day of Touching Ourselves, I have summarized the Legacy of Reagan for you:

fiscal irresponsibility, moral stupidity, racism, class war, bizarre fantasies of immortality, imperialism, senility, incompetence, lies, cruelty, rape, murder, terrorism (cf.).

In short, the transformation of American public discourse from substance into spectacle.

Did I forget anything?

Thursday, June 10, 2004

The new Science is a special issue devoted to soils.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

interlude

It is Wednesday, and there are a few things we need to discuss before my return to the desert. Most importantly, Frank Bruni debuts with an attempt to restore order in his review of Babbo. It is an auspicious start, I would say, though I do wonder how it is possible to penetrate a gantlet. [Seriously, please do not tell me the answer, particularly if it includes the word "tailhook"]. Relatedly, Robb Walsh talks to J.-G. V. about his recent adventures in the Houston Press, Andoni Luis Aduriz interviews Basque "celebrity" chef Juan Mari Arzak [via Sauté Wed.].

Elsewhere, Robert Birnbaum finally publishes the interview with Jim Harrison he's been talking about for weeks:

JH: I am doing a food piece for [the NYer] of a peculiar origin. A friend of mine, a book collector/dealer in Burgundy, France, had a lunch for a group of friends that had 37 courses in November and took 11 hours. [both laugh]

RB: I thought you swore off these kinds of indulgences?

JH: No, I just picked at the food. Nineteen wines. It was a nice lunch. [both laugh] This was all food from the 17th and 18th centuries. He is a great bibliophile of ancient books on food and wine. So he made tortes of pig�s noses, you know. Old timey stuff. It was interesting, of course, the origins of dishes.

More lit. than food, but nevertheless interesting.

Also, you need to read about the latest USDA mad cow fuckup/coverup.

In the better-late-than-never dept.: 1. you really should join slow food [thanks J.!]

2. Although everyone who is likely to buy the Fergus Henderson cookbook probably already has, allow me to offer further inducement: his writing. One recipe begins:

Even just writing this recipe down, its soothing qualities have quite restored me from the fragile state in which I was.
If that doesn't make you want to bake a fish pie, I don't know what will. Then there is the famous haggis recipe
...Do not be put off by the initial look of your ingredients
(I will spare you further details, except to say that they include the words "pluck," "lights," and "windpipe"), not to mention the "miracle," with which the book ends, "a cure for any overindulgence," which will undoubtedly be the first recipe I end up testing.

And in the miracle-of-life dept., cherry season is already winding down here, with all of the attendant intimations of mortality, though these are offset by the appearance of the first real tomatoes of the year. It does, however, give me occasion to advise you to take advantage of your own cherry season, when it finally arrives in your less meteorologically pleasant neck of the woods -- it will be over before you know it, so don't waste any time.

Appropriate non-food things to read this week include Bonzo's remembrances, and Mencken's [the latter via Thompson's via t-muffle], particularly instructive for those of you who cling to the idea of progress:

Bryan came very near being President of the United States. In 1896, it is possible, he was actually elected. He lived long enough to make patriots thank the inscrutable gods for Harding, even for Coolidge. Dulness has got into the White House, and the smell of cabbage boiling, but there is at least nothing to compare to the intolerable buffoonery that went on in Tennessee. The President of the United States doesn't believe that the earth is square, and that witches should be put to death, and that Jonah swallowed the whale. The Golden Text is not painted weekly on the White House wall, and there is no need to keep ambassadors waiting while Pastor Simpson, of Smithville, prays for rain in the Blue Room. We have escaped something -- by a narrow margin, but still safely.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Obviously, the Reagan/John Paul II dead pool was a sucker bet, but there is something suspicious about the timing of this. Between Reagan and the BIO conference, the internet is going to be clogged with so much horseshit that this week is as good a time as any to take a little time off. You see, I have some "work" to do. If you actually give a shit about the biotech industry, read the Chron or the Bee [the Merc-News is requiring registration these days, so I say skip it]. Good luck trying to find something else to do. My recommendation is to spend the entire week contemplating the artifact described in # 60 [scroll down]. Back soon with a special treat.

Update: Though you really must read Tom Knudson's excellent article on technology transfer and its discontents in today's Bee, first of a 5-part series on GM food [via MeFi, which I was reading for work...].

Friday, June 04, 2004

there's no i in fuck you

Dude, who killed the interweb? Book deals? Rising productivity? The sac? Whatever, there's always porn, and, more entertainingly, .mp3 blogs. This latest diversion will, contra RIAA, cause you to return to the dimly-recalled dens of consumption known as "record stores". Remember? You were 25? You liked "new music"?

Yes, I have recently spent actual cash on non-liquid consumer goods. The best thing I've discovered -- but remember, my taste in music is atrocious -- is a band called Walls of Jericho. Try to imagine lo-fi Pantera, with a pinch of early Dischord thrown in. And a chick singer. That's right, a woman who sings like the Pantera guy. It's mesmerizing.

What, you thought I was going to post an .mp3? Go get your own. Also, Marty alerts me to a song name almost as good as the one quoted above: please kill yourself so i can rock.

F & W

I spend a lot of time talking shit about California wine. However much money you want to spend, there is always something better from somewhere else. Every now and then, though, I am reminded that a few people are making delicious wines here -- usually, when the Edmunds St. John newsletter hits my inbox. Steve Edmunds is a nice guy, and his wines are amazingly subtle. They aren't cheap, but they have the best California qpr you will find until the Euro hits $3. He is also an entertaining writer who can teach you something about wine:
Normally, when you bottle a wine, within a week or so it comes apart at the seams. The various facets, and components in the taste of the wine seem to decide that they just can't bear to be seen together, so one time when you taste the wine the fruit has gone to lower Slobovia. A week later, you can taste a little fruit, but the alcohol seems to have doubled. One week you only taste oak. Etcetera. Usually, after about six weeks or so, a truce is called, and it seems the various parts have decided they can't live without each other, and they decide, somewhat tentatively, to be friends again. It might take six months to a year after that to get all the details worked out, and then, finally, the wine really begins to sing, and, lo and behold, it can sing harmony with itself, kind of like those Himalayan throat singers.
At the farmer's market a couple weeks ago, the eccentric egg guy told me not to refrigerate eggs. It dries them out, adversely affecting the flavor. I believed him, but I wasn't about to leave my eggs out on the counter. Of course, the USDA keeps them in the fridge, but now they claim eggs are fine for 10 weeks from the packing date. By fine, they mean "egg functionality." This is an odd conclusion to draw though, since they found bacterial contamination starting in the fifth week.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

The SF Guardian previews protests planned for next week's BIO conference at Moscone.
Junk DNA update [New Scientist | background]
It is not often that the audience at a scientific meeting gasps in amazement during a talk. But that is what happened recently when researchers revealed that they had deleted huge chunks of the genome of mice without it making any discernable difference to the animals....

'It may say as much about our inability to detect any phenotypes as it says about the function of this region,' says David Haussler of the University of California, Santa Cruz, who thinks the work of Rubin's team is impressive and significant. 'My sense is they do have confer some kind of advantage.'

There might be a third explanation: similar regions on other chromosomes could make up for the deletions. 'It could be that these elements are so critical that there is redundancy in the system,' says Kelly Frazer of Perlegen Sciences in California."

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

wed. food

NY: Amanda, perhaps wisely, cops out of her final review:
Masa is my last review as the interim restaurant critic. After several visits, my impressions are firm: four stars when dining at the sushi bar and three stars at the tables. If forced, I could settle on one, but I would rather not. Instead, I will look forward to reading, in the future, what The Times's new permanent critic, Frank Bruni, thinks of it.
David Karp writes with his customary excellence on rhubarb; Julia Moskin explain the basics of freezing; if, for some reason, you are still confused about Spanish wine, Frank Prial can help; Finally, a rather obvious explanation of how to shop, featuring Savoy's Peter Hoffman:
This kind of spontaneous recipe creation, impressive as it may seem, is not limited to restaurant chefs, Mr. Hoffman swears. In most cultures cooks prepare dishes from whatever is available on the farm and in the pantry. And that is Mr. Hoffman's secret, too: he scours the market for local seasonal ingredients, and pairs them with staples in his larder.
LA: Corie Brown reprises the USDA's organic standards fuckup; Leslie Brenner reviews two new Roman cookbooks.

SF: Janet Fletcher explains knife basics -- don't miss the accompanying knife porn, but ignore the end and refer to this excellent egullet course on sharpening.

Elsewhere, Katherine Tallmadge attempts to explain sat. fat in the Post; Molly O'Neill is doing a cookbook for Second Harvest; wine is food; feeling crazy? Make a galantine with Peter Hertzmann (it only takes 5 days); surely, you're dying to know how the goat turned out.

Finally, if you are not familiar with Robb Walsh's books, you need to buy some. Legends of Texas Barbecue is one of the best American cookbooks ever written, and his new Tex-Mex Cookbook, based on a well-researched series of articles he wrote for the Houston Press, looks to be more of the same.

biotech news

Alison Pierce in SF Weekly on how the biotech industry silences critics, focusing on the story of Tyrone Hayes and his atrazine research:
Shortly after starting work at Ecorisk, Hayes ran into a conflict of interest that seemed almost too obvious to be true; it involved Ronald Kendall, the environmental toxicology professor who runs the Institute of Environmental and Human Health at Texas Tech University. Kendall was, at the time, director of Ecorisk, the consulting company that had a $600,000 research contract with Syngenta to review atrazine. He was also on the boards of the two EPA groups -- its scientific advisory panel on atrazine, and its endocrine disrupter screening committee -- that would be involved in any decision on whether atrazine should be reapproved by the environmental agency. And as president of the Society for Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, Kendall edited the Journal of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, in which Texas Tech professor James Carr's study on atrazine -- a study that Kendall was involved with that concluded the chemical was not toxic to frogs -- was published.
A new CSPI report details the growth of plant-based pharmaceutical trials, including 4 new applications from Prodigene. Also see the Post article.

Meanwhile, scientists at Kirin, working on pharmaceutical production in milk, have engineered cow cell lines that are theoretically immune to BSE.

more: Monsanto works on drought tolerance [St. L. P-D]; USDA announces increased transparency in anticipation of CSPI's report above [USAT]

still more: interesting article by Kristen Philipkoski in Wired news last week about a plan to biopharm underground in an Indiana quarry. And before you take all the alleged safety studies too seriously, consider how big pharma discloses its information.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

You don't care that the CDC has isolated anthrax plasmids (the parts that make it fatal to mammals) from a different bacterium, B. cereus. But you should:
Some taxonomists have argued that this is evidence of such a close genetic relationship between the two bacteria that B. thuringiensis should be considered a variant subspecies of B. cereus. The same argument has been made for the relationship between�B. anthracis, the plasmid-encoded anthrax toxin, and B. cereus.
And 30% of the corn planted in the US has Bt genes in it.

[Alex R. Hoffmaster et al., "Identification of anthrax toxin genes in a Bacillus cereus associated with an illness resembling inhalation anthrax," PNAS 101/22 (2004), 8449-8454]

E. H. Zandstra et al., "Scoring or boring? Predicting boredom through repeated in-home consumption," Food Quality and Preference 15/6 (September 2004), 549-557
There was no correlation (r=0.07) between the predictions of change in interest and the change in desire and liking that consumers actually experienced. In other words, consumers thought they would not get bored with the instant soups, but in fact they did become bored �� albeit slightly �� with two of the three soups when actually eating.
In GM news, the June issue of ISB News Report is out, featuring: Cowgill and Atkinson, "Assessing the Impact of GM Plants: The Effect of Transgenic Protease Inhibitors on Non-Target Invertebrates"; Tawanda Zidenga, "Towards Switchable Crops: Beyond the Green Revolution"; and Phillip B. C. Jones, "Turf Wars and Other Conflicts in the U.S. Regulation of GM Plants," with more on GM creeping bentgrass.

delusion

It is sad that, as well-intentioned as is Pervez Musharraf's plea for Enlightened Moderation, it is so nonsensical:
Muslims are probably the poorest, most uneducated, most powerless and most disunited people in the world.
With a little effort, I could probably come up with some people who are a bit worse off. I bet you can too! (Of course, to make the argument, you would have to grant the assertion that Muslims constitute a "people," which is self-evidently false.) It is disturbing that a man as intelligent as Musharraf so completely buys into this mass persecution complex. I am not saying that it is totally unwarranted, just that the grandiose scale of the paranoia is a product of a variety of diseases within the Muslim world, for which Israel and the CIA can only be held partially responsible.

Anyway, his solution is to try to revitalize the Organization of Islamic Conferences. Sounds like a good idea, but I wonder how he settled on that as opposed to, say, a military coup, or selling nuclear weapons to North Korea.

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