Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Dead horse flogged

A few clarifications about Buford. There are two separate issues here. First, the New Yorker's fact-checking. Yes, people make mistakes.* And even if these are particularly surprising, given the obviousness of the mistakes, the ease with which they can be verified, and the relative quality of the publication, they are not, indeed, the end of the world.

The more important issue** is that Bill Buford*** is apparently going to keep writing stories about restaurants larded with irrelevant excurses on food history that are simply wrong. Remember, this is not an isolated incident: his original Batali piece featured a discussion of fifteenth-century squash ravioli. Since squash is endemic to the Americas (as you'll recall, "discovered" in 1492), this was a problem.

This bespeaks a lack of seriousness on both the writer's part and the magazine's, and that is what bothers me. In the culture of the New Yorker, interstate trucking and the workings of UPS conveyor belts are more important than the history of food. Again, fine; just don't publish shoddy work on the subject you so obviously disdain. I'd be perfectly happy with a weekly Table for Two paragraph on the latest LES shithole plus the odd semi-annual Trillin.

*Of course it's childish to drag all English majors into this, but if the conflation of etymology with history isn't one of their characteristic vices, I'll go 10 rounds with A. J. Liebling.

**On the irrelevance of fact-checking.

***I have nothing against Buford personally: I thought Granta was fantastic, as a teenager. I'm not, obviously, amused by the culture of culinary star-fucking hero worship, but you can hardly hold him responsible.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Remedial research with the New Yorker

If, as the latest "Contributors" appears to suggest, Bill Buford is the official New Yorker food writer, they are going to have to invest in some better fact-checkers. In a series of errors reminiscent of his earlier offenses, Buford writes:

Dessert is a modern concept. Chaucer didn't eat one. Neither did Shakespeare. Even as late as the sixteen-sixties, in the diaries of Samuel Pepys, and nearly two centuries after Columbus returned with the first parcel of New World sugar... there won't be a single mention of chocolate cake.

If anything, Columbus brought sugarcane to the new world, since it was unknown there before the conquest. This fact is so elementary, and easily ascertained, that it is hard to imagine Buford doing any research at all, unless it consisted of perusing equally erroneous Haaaagen-Dazs advertisements.

Buford goes on, like all English majors, to confuse the word with the thing, saying that no one ate dessert before 1550, which is ridiculous. The course of fruits and cakes in Chapter 60 of the Satyricon may not fall at the absolute end of Trimalchio's banquet, but it is still recognizably a dessert: Petronius calls it a pompa, presumably in the sense of an ostentatious display, but it also means a (farewell) procession. Certainly more of a dessert than Buford's emetic/emblematic DQ banana split.

So my question to you, emdashes, is why Bill Buford is allowed to write about things he understands so poorly. At least get him a fact-checker.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Unclear on the concept

Feeling extra-ironic, I grilled a Uruguayan grassfed ribeye last night. It definitely tasted better than the last time I attempted a similar cut of the local product (which was a long time ago, because it was not good). Iodine-y and a little offal-y, without tasting off. But, please:

Amateurish back-of-napkin calculations based on Power Steer, metafilter, and a new variable I've invented called CMPG (carcass miles per gallon) reveal that each cow shipped from Montevideo to SFO requires 545 gallons of jet fuel, versus 284 gallons of crude for a US cornfed steer. [Obviously, I have no idea how good this is, but I'm sticking with this until someone comes up with some real numbers].

So if you base your consumption decisions on vague and uninformed desire to save the planet, don't eat South American meat. If you want to eat well and right, this is still the answer as far as I can see:

No "American," no human, should be denied the joy of dry-aged prime cornfed beef. This does not mean that we should be able to procure it from the drivethrough twice a day. And of course, we can't -- we can't even, as I learned last weekend, get it for $40 at more-or-less highly regarded restaurants that specialize in the product. So let's excercise a little impulse control, people. Grassfed beef tastes better than whatever you're eating now. Treat yourself to some real prime beef every now and then and you'll save on narcotics.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Lobster and Lobsterer

I pity those of you who have no alternative to Whole Foods. I try to ignore them, and I certainly never shop there, which is why I have very little to say about last week's arthro-posturing (also, I don't really like lobster). But the Cod is appropriately outraged; and Trevor Corson* has some interesting things to say as well. To celebrate, he decides to grill a soy mock-lobster recomended by Peta, which he names Ham for some reason, with predictable results.

I just hope the Sonoma Foie Gras lawsuit has a material adverse effect on these union-busting douchebags.

*Early-onset dementia or something, but I kept thinking that he was a hockey player until teh internets revealed that Shayne Corson and Trevor Linden played together on the '99 Canadiens, which, luckily, does not allow enough time for their bastard love child to grow up and write an excellent book about lobster. Sorry, what?

Thursday, June 15, 2006

A cry for help

After I smugly explained to the farmers market blueberry lady what my cardoons -- sorry, Paul, cardoni -- were and how to cook them, I went home and cooked them à la grecque... and nearly choked on the result. Even my half-dead palate could barely handle the bitterness. I admit failure. What, short of bagna cauda, do you do with cardoon?

Lest you imagine I've lost my touch, I should mention that I also prepared a delicious variation on Colman Andrews's Llobarro al Forn (p. 129) with Halibut cheeks.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Warning: baseball

Normally I'm disinclined to give a shit about baseball's "steroid" "controversy", but the angst occasioned by a possible link between Albert Pujols and alleged HGH kingpin Jason Grimsley is starting to piss me off. Sure, Pujols seems like a "nice guy" and Barry Bonds doesn't, but that means nothing except as an index of how each man treats the "journalists" who constantly pester them. It is beyond me how anyone thinks they get a good idea of a baseball player's "personality" from the media. I'll leave it to Gary Sheffield to explain how that works...

I especially like the way this guy thinks Pujols's charity means he must be classier than Bonds -- as if the latter doesn't also give away a small percentage of the huge amount of money he makes. And as if our awareness of those two charitable foundations isn't determined by which press releases the media prefer to make their audience aware of.

More importantly, who gives a shit about a baseball player's "personality"? You pay him to produce a spectacle for you on the field. Judge him by his performance.

Now if he "cheated" you'll have to take that into account as your conscience dictates. But let's just note that if Pujols is really juiced like an alleged 50% of baseball, he's still the only one putting up those numbers.

Through 1999 (age 34), Barry Bonds's career numbers:

.968 OPS (10th all-time)
445 HR (20th all-time)
460 SB (45th all-time, right behind Bobby Bonds)

[The all-time rankings exclude all active players and certain recently retired ones]. I'm not a big enough math geek to project an average un-juiced end to his career, but I'd assume he'd lose maybe 20 points on the OPS while he hung around long enough for 500 HR. It hardly matters. The only difference the alleged steroids make is where you want to slot him among the 4 greatest left fielders of all time.

Note: those numbers include the first season Bonds allegedly juiced -- I was too lazy to look it up, and I'm too lazy to run them again. But if he retires after '98, he's still the 4th best LF ever.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The neighbor of the beast

Frankly, I'm relieved the National Day of Slayer is over. Enthusiasm is so exhausting. And I didn't want to say anything at the time, but 6/6/6 really should have been National Day of Venom, or, you know, of some band that's actually satanic. Or, better, National Day of Fantômas's cover of the song from The Omen, which is so brilliant you should probably buy the album even if you're a normal person who doesn't actually like metal.


Early returns on Bertolli's salumi are profoundly unimpressive. I am biased, both because I'm loyal to a competitor and I've been so consistently underwhelmed by Bertolli's previous venture, but I tried the salametto -- the only product available so far -- at least semi-blind, unable to remember if Fra' Mani was Bertolli's company or not.

It was, first of all, soft. In an unappealing gummy way. Half the filling stuck to the casing. The flavor, too, was curiously mushy: none of that clean, transcendent fermented pork umami that takes the top of your head clean off and makes you want to move to Italy tomorrow. The garlic was rather sharper than one imagines -- or hopes -- was intended.

I wouldn't write them off based on a single sample from their first batch, but I'm a little surprised at the quality control. Certainly he made better salumi at Oliveto.

Also, when you say:

Fra' Mani dry salami are made from the finest-quality fresh pork and natural hog casings. Hand-tied with natural twine and slowly mold ripened. Extended ageing in the Fra' Mani cantina di stagionatura....
I say: fuck you. Anyone more pretentious than me has some serious fucking problems. Cf. both the beginning and the end of Cooking by Hand (I have no complaints about the middle).

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Raining Blood

Don't complain, Miu Miu. I made you thinner in Photoshop. As I was ironing my stylish designer shirt this morning, something in me snapped. Because I'm a gigantic fucking rebel. If I have to work today, I'm going to wear my Slayer shirt, goddammit. That's just how we represent west coast style. And of course, my Prada shoes. Because the motherfucking devil wears them.* Yes, I stole that idea from my extremely hott and fashionable wife.

Not only that, the shirt reeks of smoke. From all the corpses I've sacrificed to Satan. OK, it's because I've been barbecueing. But still: I didn't wash it first. How fucking rebellious is that?

[Slayer posted a (fairly mediocre) new song on their website, along with some offensive Hot Topic co-branding opportunity, which kind of killed my Slaytanic boner. The Kerry King site has not relaunched as promised. is still under construction. Even the NDoS site has nothing special going on today. Only the Cod has come through. And Krucoff, of course. But the fact that blogger is down not only makes today's telecommunication even more hypothetical than usual, it proves that the end is near. Or something.]

*The Devil is undoubtedly also conversing -- about your IMMINENT DEMISE -- on the new D&G RAZR. Which, I happen to know, matches the bedroom in Stefano and Domenico's Capri villa.

Friday, June 02, 2006


Although Marian Burros doesn't really go into detail on joys of mackerel -- which are manifold, at least for Atlantic mackerel -- she does (inadvertently) bring up the problems with eating down on the food chain, explained in a heroically discursive post two years ago. How did I write all that? Problem: once humans really start competing with big pelagic fish for dinner, whatever we haven't already fished out of existence will be doubly fucked.

Coincidentally, my "solution" then (there is of course no solution except the chance that your own mortality will arrive before the oceans') was Colman Andrews's anchovy spines, which I still endorse. Just to prove that I do like the guy. I'm sure it's superfluous to tell you to buy the book.

Furthermore, I've got some (sustainably fished, local, montessori) sturgeon salting in the fridge wrapped in lemon leaves, inspired by Saveur's latest Sorrento article (I swear they did another one in the last 5 years or so... I guess I could look it up in that sexy new recipe index... or you could). I can confirm that the mozzarella grilled thusly is indeed "the bomb."

The poor Cod, on his trip to the frontier last week, had to bail on his shot at grilled lemon leaves. If he's lucky I'll FedEx him some... [mozzarella link via tfs].

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