Wednesday, September 28, 2005

disaster preparedness

Oh yeah, Saveur. I don't really have much. Let's just say that any time your solution to the problem involves making the type bolder, it's not a solution. [I defy anyone to come up with a more aesthetically irritating book than Ways of Seeing, printed entirely in bold]. This redesign is analogous to Morning Addition getting rid of Bob Edwards -- yeah, you have plenty of problems, and you just fixed exactly none of them. For starters, why do you still have those ridiculous brackety things on the corners? Turn off the fucking Pearl Jam and join us in the 21st century. Yeah, this one sucks too, but at least there's no goddamn "grunge."

Sorry: I got all pissed off about something and started preparing to to rip the whole magazine to shreds, but then I took a nap and forgot what it was. Instead, random observations: It's a tough argument the day after Tom DeLay is indicted, but Thomas Krens might actually be the biggest douchebag in the world. Another strong contender: bishop Athanasius of Alexandria, who wrote the Life of St. Anthony. They just found Anthony's monastery in Egypt.

I almost never write about tools because I'm just not that kind of guy. But my brand new Gerber Harsey Air Ranger folding clip knife is very satisfying. Part of my new disater preparedness plan. Just so you know, this is probably the last thing I will ever write with all ten fingers.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The autumn of our discontent

Even for those of us with only two seasons, it is a sad time of year. The impending doom of daylight savings is announced by the arrival of the Summerset peach in the markets mid-September. Despite the tragic name, the Summerset is a tasty peach, and I've never understood why you'd buy an apple when there's still stonefruit afoot.

rhode.island.greening.jpg

But for some reason I made the switch early this year: revelation. The early appearance of "heirloom" apples changes everything. Old favorites like Cox's Orange and Queens's own Newtown Pippin are crisper and juicier than later in the year. [Copyeditors: discuss apostrophization of Queens]. New old favorites like the Rhode Island Greening at left seem to be making a comeback. Diversity is the spice of fruit too. Which is why I'm still buying all the peaches I can eat.

I'll have more for you later, includingt my long-awaited reaction to the Saveur redesign, but in the meantime you can check out the first review of the Julie Powell book, in the LA Times, natch. Douchebag goes easy on her for some reason.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

My lunch is better than yours

Now I get it: you have to write something interesting to make the internet respond in the form of "comments"! So easy.

Not, however, today.

Here's little productivity tip: do not nap until 7:30 then decide to make pâte brisée [a/k/a the short crust] for dinner if you want to get anything done the next day. Let's just say that pâte brisée is a two bottle of wine kind of operation.

If, however, you want to have an awesome lunch, do make pâte brisé, fill it with tomates confites and anchovies and bring the leftovers to work.

I was going to take a picture, but I ate it already. Yeah I ate a stick of butter in the last 12 hours, so what? I'm going to smoke it off.

Julia's recipe, which worked out pretty well: 2 cups flour, 1/4 lb. butter, 3 TB crisco, up to 5 TB water (I only needed 3). Sorry, I was fresh out of leaf lard. For procedure see above.

There was a lot of interesting and/or idiotic shit in the papers yesterday, but I haven't even read most of it yet, so you'll have to wait for me to tell you what to think about it. Too busy trying to explain the AL wild card race to my sister. [It does not look good. Damn you Sizemore queens!] And I need a nap.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Old Habits die hard

Huh. Maybe you didn't notice: I turned on comments! You now have the ability to attach your meaningless opinions to mine!

Speaking of the exciting world of blogging, the thing that's really important is its code of ethics. Because if someone were to write something untrue on the internet, the center of the solar system might collapse. Not to mention Amazon sales of Joanne Weir's cookbook.

Thank god the mainstream media has its standards. Because unbiased restaurant reviews are crucial to the functioning of our democracy.

But I don't understand why none of these codes refer to ass-fucking, so fundamental to the well-oiled functioning of the internet.

So NPR had a short interview with John T. Edge on Sat., not a single word of which was devoted to the cooking of New Orleans or the gulf coast. This strikes me as monumentally stupid. On the other hand: pimiento cheese burgers. [Bonus: note the numerous typos produced by NPR's rigorous professional media operation].

This year's Slow Food membership fee is going to to be repurposed -- the weird cult of Carlo is really getting to me, and the money will be better spent on higher home insurance coverages. But here is a nobler recipient: the Slow Food Carmel convivium is throwing a benefit dinner for a family of Bayou shrimpers who lost everything in the hurricane.

Finally: observe our immigration policy in action in the fields of California.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Thursday morning quarterback

Readers interested in Lafcadio Hearn, mentioned above should check out John Thorne's Serious Pig. Hearn was an Irish-Greek newspaperman whose interracial marriage was not popular in Cincy, and so went to New Orleans (he ended up in Japan). Thorne's writing on New Orleans does not quite match his work on Maine, but it is well worth reading. This jambalaya recipe from Cooking in Old Creole Days -- and its juxtaposition with "riz à la valencienne" -- suggest rather strongly a kinship with paella that was not apparent from the Joy of Cooking version my mom used to make. Also supports a derivation from jamòn, of which I had been skeptical.

Yesterday's NYT: As far as Johnny Apple goes, Gawker Media pretty much says it all. Even if Julie Powell is huffing dust from the crypt of Erma Bombeck, she wins for, um, getting off "nut bags" in paragraph 2. However lovably idiosyncratic Bruni finds "the rules and rhythms of David Bouley," they have little to do with the seasons if he's serving fava beans and asparagus in September. WTF?

LAT: Regina showed admirable restraint printing the following without comment:

Judy Jurisich, of the New Orleans Cooking Experience (a cooking school taught by chefs), says that Cajun and Creole are 'two of the three indigenous cuisines' in America, with Tex-Mex being the third.

For starters add: Yankees, Pennsylvania Dutch, and what I'll call Gadsden Purchase (NM/AZ food, distinct from Tex-Mex) for lack of a more elegant term. southerners might have further additions. Did you understand Russ Parsons's explication of corn genetics? I rather suspect that you didn't, and I regret the suggestion that technique is a suitable replacement for the flavor the man has bred out of our food.

Janet Fletcher reveals a fascinating dilemma in the Chron:

A devout Muslim, Lahlou serves no pork and observes the month-long fast of Ramadan. "That's when I become a better cook," he says. "I have to rely on smell." At sundown, when he can check what he made during the day, he almost always finds the food properly seasoned.

Such asceticism would undoubtedly kill me -- although I might have a fighting chance without pork. Fletcher, by the way, is coauthor of the soon to be released Niman Ranch Cookbook, which will probably have some good ideas for pork.

On teh internets, don't miss the Cod's attempt to go local and Pim's description of the vulgarest sushi dinner ever. Yuck.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

breaking

"A 27-year-old pregnant San Mateo County woman is in jail accused of stabbing her boyfriend with a kitchen knife after the couple argued about her nutritional choices, authorities said."

Must be that newfangled raw food diet.

And you will suffocate in your waste

Surely we are at a point in history when someone can come up with a better word than "blog". I shudder every time I even think it. This started before my mom asked me what a "blog" was, even before some douchebag invented the "-osphere". [Who was that? Mickey Kaus? He seems like just the kind of douche who would do something like that]. Remember in the '90s when people realized how pathetic it sounded that they were going out to a "club", so they starting calling them "parties" instead? Ultimately even more pathetic, but at least everyone stopped saying club, except for 50 Cent. Now is the time for a similarly transparent ploy to make teh internets seem less lame. Please help.

Back in the olden days, this "blog" got started, more or less, when I got excercised about genetically modified food. I just wanted to figure out what the deal was without all the bullshit. So I did a little reading, then realized that no one else could read the interesting shit without 10 million subscriptions to page turners like Nature Biotechnology and Transgenic Research (those 2 alone would cost you more than $2000/year). A "blog" was born.

Of course, no one paid attention until I got bored and started writing about stupid food writers instead of stupid scientists. Not that anyone's paying attention now. But still no one really knows what to think about GM food, except in a general Frankensteinian way.

[Mere days after I praised the pluot, one of the guys selling them at the farmer's market (not a farmer, obvs.) told a customer that they weren't hybrids, because hybrids aren't organic. Clearly we have some work to do.]

Thus I direct your attention to Peter H. Raven, "Transgenes in Mexican maize: Desirability or inevitability?" PNAS 102/37: 13003-13004. For those of you without a subscription:

It has generally been accepted for about three decades that the process of producing transgenic organisms does not pose any threat in itself. Furthermore, no credible argument has been offered as to why such organisms would, as a class, pose a threat to human health. Hundreds of millions of people have been consuming foods derived from transgenic plants for ~10 years, and no health problems have been reported, nor has any credible reason been advanced as to why such a problem should be expected. As for environmental problems, such as the origin of novel weeds, none has been observed with the transgenic crops currently grown, although such problems certainly remain a theoretical possibility for novel genes not yet approved and introduced. Modern agriculture of any kind, with its cleaner, more productive fields, certainly harbors less biodiversity than more traditional, less productive forms of agriculture, but that is not a criticism of transgenic crops....

Whether or not transgenes are present in landraces in Oaxaca at present, they will inevitably be found in them as time passes, because of the nature of the indigenous agriculture I have just described. There they will persist if they confer a selective advantage on the plants in which they occur, or they may disappear if they do not confer such an advantage in the prevailing conditions.... As Ortiz-Garcia et al. have pointed out, it is unlikely that the presence of transgenes could reduce the genetic diversity of the landraces in which they might occur. In general, for the landraces of maize in Mexico or for any other populations, their genetic characteristics should remain essentially unchanged unless there is strong selection for whole constellations of characteristics from radically different strains of maize, conditions that have not been observed in southern Mexico.

My overall conclusion, therefore, is that the introduction of the transgenes currently in use for maize poses no danger to maize near its center of origin, to the Mexicans, or generally.

There are reasons to demur about all of these points, but they are theoretical. All the evidence -- and there is a good amount of it now -- points to the safety of GM crops. Not to say that there never will be any evidence to the contrary, or that they survive a cost-benefit analysis for anyone but Monsanto, but hysteria is unwarranted.

One may still argue that the scientific-industrial approach to the problems of industrial agriculture is not a solution at all, but rather an infinite deferral thereof, with ever-diminishing returns. In this case, it is hard to see how industrial corn addresses the problems of Oaxacan subsistance farmers except by forcing them off the land.

Raven alludes to this delicately:

Some of the genetic variability of landraces can be maintained by encouraging indigenous cultivators to keep growing their distinctive strains. To do so effectively would probably require economic incentives for the cultivators, because they are often poor and apt to seek alternative lifestyles outside of the areas to which they are indigenous.

The important point, notwithstanding Raven's cavalier attitude to Oaxacan "lifestyles," is the poverty of his understanding of maize. One need not invoke mesoamerican creation myths to appreciate that for Oaxacans (and millions of other Americans) maize is a bit more than a commodity crop whose cultivation "rationally" responds to the market's dictates. Maize is more than a "staple", more even than a "cultural signifier"; dismissing the chance, however small, that the CMV promoter, or sh2, or any other trait from US factories will inadvertently end up in the "landraces" that Zapotecs and their neighbors have been selecting carefully for millennia is, simply, colonialism.

*

Well. That took longer than I thought. Let us never speak of this again. Probably won't get to the rest of the internets for a while. See the Cod for this week's DI/DO madness.

If I had server space, I'd post the appropriate soundtrack here: Soundgarden's cover of "Into the Void" with lyrics by Chief Seattle. Genius. Instead, I'm going to try to enable comments, which is free, and see what happens.

Friday, September 09, 2005

note to self

I'm sure you have read your fill of Bad Things about Hurrican Katrina, but in case I forget: I'm proud to be an American.

For the above reasons as much as its intrinsic suckiness, I totally forgot to read the Times food section this week. If only I hadn't remembered, I would have spared myself the Wines of the Times Septimanian* stupidity. One can only imagine how much Balthazar would attempt to gouge for these wines if they weren't such "marketing nightmares."

After my little experiment with good things, the tetra-pak trebbiano disappeared from my supermarket shelves, and I blamed you, hordes of anonymous sheep-consumers. No more tips for you! Then I remembered that no one reads this shit, the trebbianno reappeared, albeit apparently more oaky and residual-y than before, and all was well.

So here's more cheap wine that doesn't suck. You know how everyone's been telling you for the last ten years what a great deal Spanish wine is, but all you can find is shit like this? [Not not good, just not cheap]. The answer lies across the Pyrenees from Languedoc: D.O. Calatayud. Aragón, Spain. Garnacha (grenache to you, mon ami) mostly, some tempranillo. Big but not stupid. Fruit, but not too much. No goddamn oak. Nothing fancy. Easily found for under $10.

No brands, because I don't want you assholes running out and buying up my supply. I've probably found 5 or 6, and they're all pretty good. If you drink heavily, as you should, you will occasionally run into some TCA, which is what we say when we're trying to avoid the word "taint" in polite conversation, but it's a small price to pay. Maybe certain importers can be persuaded to ship it in tetra-paks.

One more thing: Il Purcìt, the sweetest website devoted to the love of the pig. Literature, butchery, history, recipes and prodotti tipici from all over Italy, emphasis on Friuli. In Italian.

* So called after Legio VII Claudia Pia Fidelis, settled in Narbonne in 36 BCE. Languedoc comes of course from the language of the south, i.e., provençal: ironic because "Provence" is currently across the Rhône from "Languedoc". It is not easy to maintain this herculean pedantry, but I kick it for my people.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

evacuate

We had to evacuate for the Blizzard of '78. Our parents carried us out over chest-high water to the Scout. We wouldn't have gotten out if it didn't have a waterproof ignition. Our upstairs neighbors were rescued the next day -- they stepped right out of their window into the boat. I don't remember much except getting to watch an unprecedented amout of TV and wear my pajamas for a week. Because of the Scout, my dad drove around getting people to shelters. He was telling me the other day how people just broke down, sitting on stairs that led to houses that were no longer there.

I bring this up not because it confers any legitimacy to what I am about to say. Someone from the Red Cross told NPR today that "the urge to do something is not necessarily helpful," and the same is true for the urge to "relate." What the world needs now is not another douchebag telling the internet how he feels about other people's misery. So I'll spare you.

But it brings up this question: why is it necessary to force every single remaining inhabitant of New Orleans to leave their homes? Instead of tormenting the survivors, FEMA and co. need to shut the fuck up and pick up the corpses.

As of yesterday they were 65 days from draining the city. [That math took me hours, but for the record: 181 sq. mi. x 60% flooded x 10 ft. high = 30b ft.3 (confirmed in the Times); 5387 cf/s pumping capacity on 9/7 = 465m cf/day]. But that is just a fraction of the total capacity -- station # 6, the biggest, reopened today and others will follow. Plus, there are, you know, portable pumps that they can bring in. So where does this 3 months bullshit come from?

Of course you don't want half a million people running around, but what's the problem with a couple thousand? These people have survived hurricane, flood, violence, and a week and a half of government incompetence. Give them some food and a bucket. They can clean up too.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

roundup

Chron to rest of the world: Nor*Cal is better than you. The whole section is devoted to the topic, more or less forgettably. Cf. interesting and annoyingly written article on Edible Schoolyard in Eugene, or lack thereof.

The Chron did lead indirectly, to the "Jumberlie" recipie in What Mrs. Fisher Knows about Old Southern Cooking (1881), now completely digitized at Michigan State's awesome Historic American Cookbook Project. Even better: Lafcadio Hearn, La Cuisine Creole. Hearn's Jambalaya lacks tomatoes; either way, you should make some to celebrate

the nature of its birthplace -- New Orleans -- which is cosmopolitan in its nature, blending the characteristics of the American, French, Spanish, Italian, West Indian and Mexican.

Also see TFS, where SFA's Amy Evans is guest posting on the culinary uniqueness of New Orleans.

The muse will be excited about the LA Times's brazilian theme... but I might need a little more Astrud Gilberto and cachaça to get in the mood.

And don't miss Regina's beautiful Kanye West --> ratatouille segue. Wow.

Onion food critic tears Radish canapés with salmon mousse a new asshole [thx Lisa].

AutoCAD founder John Walker sees romanesco (the broccoli, not the sauce), loses his mind.

Your tax dollars at work [meatingplace]:

The Beef Checkoff program operated by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association is working with Domino's Pizza to introduce the "Steak Fanatic Pizza"... giving Domino's permission to use the tagline—"Steak. It's What's for Pizza." It will sell for $9.99, with customers invited to "heap it on" by doubling the steak topping for an additional $2.

"What appears to be putrefying body parts are the bread sculptures of 28-year-old art student Kittiwat Unarrom."

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Self-abuse

Pyris communis

Long weekend of enforced bachelor-ism. Forbidden pleasures: anchovies, seat up, Mastodon and 40-oz. bottles of liquid gold... My own devices, when I'm finally left to them, turn out to be pathetically brutish and short. The best devices, of course, require a partner. In lieu of those: I don't even know where I could buy drugs at this point, which is irrelevant because I'm too old to enjoy them anyway. And you can't imagine how exhausting it is to drink a 40.

Or, really, to get off the couch at all, which is where I turned to the New Yorker food issue for solace after a series of irritating outcomes in my chosen sporting events. I was having a good enough time to let Gopnik's sloppy Mars/Venus bullshit go, and enjoying John Seabrook's article on the Umbrian pear preserve.

And then. Why do they have to ruin everything? I don't care if you don't understand heterozygosity -- just don't devote a paragraph to grafting methods that has no point except to reveal your ignorance. Christ.

[If you care, pears, like most fruits, are heterozygous: the offspring lack the traits of the parents, in particular, fruit quality. So the seed from a Bosc will not only not grow into a Bosc tree, it won't be an Urbaniste either, or even particularly edible. But there is a tiny chance that it will be The Best Pear Ever. Thus the necessity of asexual propagation, a/k/a/ grafting.]

Seabrook, you will recall, wrote the article about David Karp, "fruit detective," and his former high school classmate, which was pretty good. But the last thing he did before that, as far as I can recall, was about how he liked to buy Helmut Lang T-shirts or something.

Judith Thurman wrote something stupid too, about dashi, but thankfully I've forgotten the details. On the other hand, the Times managed somehow not fuck up this gazpacho article.

About the only thing I accomplished was an experiment in the ongoing ribs project. The previous batch, while excellent, was a little dry, so I tried brining. Better, of course, than "northern barbecue," but that's not saying much. They ended up with an unpleasant savor of kielbasa, and beef is not what you want in your pork. So many variables obtrude on the Weber that it's difficult to isolate the culprit. Preliminary conclusion: when you successfully keep it under 250, 5 hours may not be enough.

eye

More soberly, check out photos/katrina/interesting. These are amazing. Here's your mental soundtrack [via t-muffle].



Thursday, September 01, 2005

Going through the motions

As previously noted, I was born in a hurricane that hardly deserves the same name as the monstrous shitstorm we just saw, although it did make life interesting for my parents. Disasters like these are really incomprehensible except insofar they can be related to oneself; so I ate oysters last night* in mournful contemplation of my stupidity in never having visited New Orleans before its destruction. And gratitude for not being made to live in the Astrodome.

The whole armageddeon thing has cast a bit of a pall over my efforts to exploit the internet for cheap laughs, but like a moth to a flame, I did eventually fly from the weather porn to the blinding light of the food section.

In particular, I was blinded by Johnny Apple's belief that you can find "Mex-Mex" food in Santa Barbara, both because it is not true, and because it is based on a fallacious fetish of exotic authenticity. Furthermore, although La Super Rica is indeed super rica, their "salsa bar" is home to both foodborne bacteria and the allegedly lacking "dips". And then there is the discussion of the Hitching Post in the absence of Santa Maria barbecue, which is either lazy or stupid. One expects better from Apple.

And about the whole "chowder" travesty: if you want to make a soup and call it a chowder, fine. But someone is going to have to admit that it's not really chowder. And keep your bacon away from my fucking clams.

I admit it: mostly I just wanted to say "fucking clams." But there is no bacon in chowder.

On the other side of the country, Charles Perry flirts with authenticity and bacteria at LA's taco carts. And Emily Green has no difficulty describing the right way to make a burger:

It turned out that Huntington's lean mix has 5% fat, its standard mix 10% to 15%, but what they fondly called "Nancy's blend" has more like 20% to 28%.

"That's what gives the flavor," said the butcher. "Coarse ground, right?"

Some of the toppings are suspiciously SoCal, but you can't go wrong with enough fat. As they certainly know in Texas, where one can find The Squealer in the middle of a very large spectrum that ranges from delicious to terrifying. Also see: Whataburger.

August does seem to be the month when the Times unveils its shoddiest food writing, but I cannot do justice to this earnest humorlessness. See La D. instead. With, however, the following caveat: whatever the problems with "ethical consumerism," and they are manifold, a distinction needs to be maintained between tiresome good intentions and the much more detestable denial of pleasure in the service of some kind of arbitrary, terrorized ideology of "health". There are plenty of latter day macrobiotics around, and orders of magnitude separate them from recyclers.

Notwithstanding the Lees' good but not great tomato breeding article, it is becoming more and more difficult to avoid the conclusion that Bruce reached some time ago: the LA Times is superior to its "rival". All the more impressive when you consider what's happened to the business end in the last couple years. And I'm not saying that to curry favor. Speaking of: big ups to Pim for the linkage.

* Since it was technically September, Central Time, I violated no oyster consumption rules, though generally I wait for October. The rest of the evening went roughly like this.

©2002-2005 by the author