Saturday, June 22, 2013

Preparing for Beer Festivals

Okay. Got the tickets? Check. Cab money? Check. So we should be good to go, right?

Unless you are a beer nerd. Then there are a few more preparations. The last few beer events that I have attended have definitely shown that maybe I am a little too vested in these, admittedly, great events.

1. Scope out the venue and determine if there will be bottlenecks. I hate waiting in line ups and try to figure out where the traffic flow will be. Find the natural eddies for places to have conversations.
2. Check out the beer list for have-to tries. If there is a vendor list and map, all the more better.
3. Insert list into untappd wish list to ensure that you remember cause sometimes you get a little wobbly.
4. Print out list in case phone battery goes.
5. Charge phone before leaving house.
6. Try to put beer list in rank of some order. Depending on the day might be a 2-d list using alcohol content, hop/bitterness content, and maybe degree of what you want to try.
7. Take a look at all the breweries and note any questions that you will ask either the reps or the brewers. This is the best time to talk to them. Okay, not the best but it may be the only time to get yourself in front of them, so that next time you see them in a bar, you can approach them and THEN talk to them. or send an email. Most brewers are pretty great and love talking about their beer and stuff that they are up to.

Now, after all this prep, make sure you bring everything with you.  Phone. Backup to phone - Excel spreadsheet. Paper. Map. Pen. Pencil. All good. Now, if you are going to the fest to actually taste beers then maybe have a snack and pack a lunch or more money for food. If you are going to party, then ignore that piece of advice.

So, when you get there, you will usually follow the script until a) you get wobbly, b) run into a few friends and get engrossed, or c) decide that this is all too much work and it's time to drink - so drink already.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Blogging Month Challenge - Half Done

So, here we are, halfway through the challenge that I set myself at the beginning of the month on blogging daily. I have only missed a few days, usually due to an event.

For instance on Thursday night, I was at Fermentations on the Danforth for a pretty cool event. A bunch of us, bloggers and beer people, were asked to come in and make a beer for the 20th anniversary of Fermentations. This was the culmination of that work. I came home tired and happy from the event. Got to meet some twitterers that I had been following or had connected with for the first time face to face. I was not quite sure what to blog about an event that passed and it does seem too introspective for a blog of this type. I will definitely get some posts based on conversations I had but I need time for them to marinate.

On Friday, it was Bowmore Fun Carnival. I had made a Cherry Beer and Bacon cake for the event and had a few food truck goodies. I spent an hour and a bit on my feet and wasn't really feeling up to blogging after that.

Thus, it comes to the crux of the matter, why am I doing this? In this first post of this month, Leave the Money, Take the Cannoli, I outlined why I thought I was doing this challenge. The criteria never included getting popular but the stats based on my posts showed me something that I had not expected. It seems that there are more people than I thought who find my stuff enjoyable enough to read it on a regular basis. Hello there! The funny thing is that they are split 60/40 between facebook and twitter. Every now and then some post will strike someone's fancy and I'll get a bigger uptick. These are generally restaurant reviews.

Anyways, I had concerns with what I was posting and talked it over with my wife. The issues that I was having was that some of the posts were more of an informational nature of something you could find out on the google. I wrote these posts because I had committed to this challenge. Some of them could use a bit more time to ferment. The posts I like to write and I am proud of are invariably personal and funny bits. The drunk reviews of restaurants where I can rant, the how to read a recipe where I can play and some of the experiments of stuff I am messing with are my favourites.

Blogging every day has helped me with a few things. I think more about what I am going to do next and focus on the structure and writing. I now make time for the blog in a more habitual way. I am more aware of themes. The negative to the everyday grind is that, sometimes, I am posting facts and forgetting the quirky flourishes or the thoughtfulness that I prefer in my posts. Maybe this will come as I round out the month and keep on trucking.

I will finish this month but when it is all done, I am sure that I will have found out some interesting thoughts about my connection to the written word and food. Already, this exercise has given pause.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Gourmet, Gourmand or Glutton

Finished reading a collection of essays on gluttony, one of which was G is for Gluttony by M.F.K. Fisher. I forget sometimes what a great writer she was. It is her style of reporting that was honest and reported food as it was happening around her in both high and low culture. It is one of the reasons why I started a blog.

I doubt I will ever become as good as a writer as Fisher was but I hope that I can reflect what is happening with me and food. Hopefully, this will make a few people smile or think a little different. 

Her description of a gluttony is when "I know I have had more than I want physically." Got me to thinking how I would define those three related terms; gourmet, gourmand and glutton. 
Gourmets eat what they like, gourmands like what they eat and gluttons eat more than they like.
So, at a dinner party where there is a buffet or sit down service, a gourmet would have a few things on their plate. At a sit down, maybe there is some scattered pieces of fish pushed around to make it look as if they had eaten it when in reality, it did not meet their standard. In other words, a picky or  discerning eater, if one was being gracious.

The gourmand would have taken a bit of everything and finished everything on their plate. Maybe they would have shown some gusto for a particular morsel and gone back or asked for seconds. There would definitely be a discussion on the food, pointing out the high points of the meal so far.

The glutton hovers and finishes first one plate and then another and maybe sits back until all others have had their fill. If there is a buffet, then they will be the first and last to sup greatly from the offerings. Often, they will be seen looking wistfully at an empty plate if at a sit down dinner. Maybe they will be stopping somewhere afterwards for a bit more.

Gourmet has lost its meaning. If you accept that being a gourmet is the highest of the words and most desirable then in today's vernacular, you will be disappointed. If it is intended to mean a person with a discerning palate or that what feeds them, then why is this word plastered everywhere. Are we to believe that discerning palates are so commonplace that it requires candy, bread and baby food to meet their high standards? Even pets are so discerning to deserve feasts foisted on them. It just means picky or nothing.

Gourmand has often taken heat. It means someone who enjoys food and sometimes eats too much. This was seen as a cardinal sin in earlier times. I put myself into this position and strive to be a good gourmand. I love eating at other people's houses. Given my own prowess and sometimes pickiness on my own cooking, some people worry that I hold them to that status. In reality, as long as someone tries, I am happy to eat at their table. I have been known to eat fish, which I avoid, when dining at a friend's because they are proud to have made me one of their favourite dishes. They do a good job and I appreciate it. Loving food isn't the sin but gluttony is.

Gluttony. Eating more than you physically should. We all do it at some point. There are whole holidays dedicated to unbuttoning pants or slacks with shifting panels. One of my earliest memories of a regretful meal was when I was about six or seven. There were burgers on parade. I believe that I almost ate my age in burgers on those Weston type buns with ketchup. The burgers were greasy and salty and I can almost still taste them. When I had reached a number similar to three, I recall my mother saying that I shouldn't eat any more because I was going to make myself sick. Luckily, my father interceded and allowed the excess to continue existing. I went to bed that night with stomach round and prideful. Two sins in one. I awoke in the middle of the night with pillow red and face warm from the bloody nose. I learned my lesson for a short while.

While I feel there is a fine line between gourmand and glutton, I do not believe there is any reason to never enjoy your food. I don't mean like the thing you are eating but enjoy the act of eating and receiving what is cooked for your enjoyment. You can be critical but not to the point of prejudging the food into not trying or taking some delight in dining. But, of course, as one twitterer put it, gourmet means nothing anymore. I suppose that sometimes we should just shut up and eat.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Book Review: The Windup Girl

So, I pick up this science fiction novel, The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi and I am really blown away by the characters, the setting and just the great writing.  I could go on about some of the themes of GMO animals versus "real" animals or the underlying themes of what it means to be genetically modified with the current constraints on science but this is a food blog.

For those interested in food issues, there are three underlying assumptions of this universe that provides for provocative pondering...and additional purple prose from pundits.

1. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) are here to stay.
2. Calories are a basic unit of work and will be incorporated into our daily lives.
3. Localism turned to a global scale will bring interesting effects.

GMO is becoming a big thing. When I was doing a science radio show in the 90's, the producer and I would have arguments over this very thing. I am largely okay with GMO until it starts crossing lines in the Kingdoms. Adding fish genes to tomatoes would never happen in the wild and so the husbanding of this erzatz product, and it is only a product, seems ridiculous. If it is a more gentle coaxing then I tend to be okay.

The other point is that banning something tends not to work. Telling kids not to have sex doesn't work, so you should just go right into harm reduction mode. Think of it as a road to co-option. If you agree but only on these terms, then maybe we have a chance at ensuring a safer and more sane approach to messing around with our foods. Right now, the corporations will only be looking at ways of improving their bottom line without regard to such things as biodiversity, flavour, nutrition, and ancillary issues. If it sells and gets produced for cheaper then it works.

Calories have already started to make their way into our mindsets but generally as a negative thought, as in, reducing your calories to a minimum. Now, if you think of it a different way, as in how many calories did you create or use today, then the system starts to flip itself on its head. If a calorie became the unit of currency due to food shortages then certain jobs become more important namely agricultural, food production, and biochemical engineers. Also, your body becomes important when you die as a calorie source that should find its way back into the food system.

Not all of this is in the book but my mind turned to what an economic system based on calories would look like. I assumed many bad effects because I had recently finished reading The Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John Perkins, which is the same job as one of the protagonists in the novel.

The third foodie thought that came while reading this book was around a profound effect that could be had by making localism a norm and rule rather than a nice thing to do for the local farmers. If some place like Colombia said that it would no longer provide the world with coffee but that it would only produce enough for itself and convert the remaining plantations to food to grow calories for its own population, think of the impact.

It is not to far fetched as the climate changes and affects the coffee yield, it may be in their best interest to change to crops to something more sustainable and relevant to them. Given that food crops are now being affected adversely by the creation of the equivalent of stock markets that reward speculation that drives up real world prices. The producers cannot afford their own food as is the case for quinoa. I am only linking one example but if you start looking into that example and looking at the complex effects, I am sure that you will get what I am going on about.

Anyways, the book isn't about food but these three throw away ideas that don't even drive the novel are incredible by themselves. It just goes to show how deep and curious this almost like our world is. Read any of his stuff. So far, I am really impressed by the imagination and the writing itself. Worth a read.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Darwin Awards and Food, Part II

A couple of posts back, I cracked a little wise on poisoning myself with potato sprouts, making light of the dangers of trying new things. One sprout is not that dangerous especially since it is so hard to eat given the taste. The taste is the early warning system for most poisonous foods. Unfortunately, there are other more risky stunts that don't sound harmful but can cause some really nasty side effects and even death.

Let's start with chugging milk or water. Neither sounds too harmful. There are tons (or is that tonnes) of YouTube videos of kids trying to chug a gallon (3.78l) chug of milk in 60 minutes. Most end up vomiting. The most likely scientific explanation is that the human body can't hold that much liquid in the system. I haven't been able to nail down a conclusive study or medical journey citation but there are mentions everywhere about it.

Is it any liquid? Mostly, but water has a bit of a special trick. The funny part about the 60 minute challenge with water is that water does leave the system at about a gallon per hour, so it is possible to get water in and sometimes keep it down. As long as your body is operating optimally, you will probably vomit. The problem with drinking too much water is that it can kill you. It is called water intoxication. Too much water in a short period of time can cause something called water intoxication which can upset the electrolytes in your body and even cause death.

So water... seems innocuous. There are other challenges that seem doable. Take the cinnamon challenge.  Just swallow a teaspoon of cinnamon in 60 seconds without water can cause coughing, irritation of the throat, breathing difficulties, risk of pneumonia and collapsed lungs. Riskier than crunching into that potato sprout.

Nutmeg, another common spice, can be used as an hallucinogenic drug but has so many bad side effects that it should not be attempted. The amount of nutmeg that would cause this effect is not too high that any person would think that it would cause such effects. Another common spice rack standard is alum. Alum (sodium alum) used in pickling can also be poisonous in large doses. And so it goes with many ordinary spices. Many of them require a huge quantity and the flavour would put you off before you got to a dangerous point.

I'll leave you with this last link about soy sauce and how drinking a litre of soy sauce can kill. This is more of a case of sodium poisoning. What scared me about the story was that it turns out that you can poison yourself long term with sodium. I'm not talking high blood pressure and all that but rather another case of upsetting the other salts in your system.

The thing is that none of these examples have a poisonous taste. It is the quantity of something that is considered good for you in most cases. I guess it just goes to reinforce the saying that everything should be in moderation.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Graphic Novels and Food

Just looking at my to read and just read piles and have discovered that there have been quite a few graphic novels in the past while.

I have read and reviewed both dirtcandy and Get Jiro!. dirtcandy is a vegetable cookbook with interludes of pictures while Get Jiro! is a straight up novel with chefs as heroes and villians. The other two books that remain unread at this time are: In the Kitchen with Alain Passard and Relish: My Life in the Kitchen. These final two are partially biography and partially cookbooks. The Alain Passard has been recently translated into English and is not his first foray into the graphic novel format. Relish is drawn by the author, Lucy Knisley and tells about her life with food and gives a few recipes.

These two mediums, food and comics, seem to be made to go together. Eating is, at first, a visual experience. So much of your expectation of a meal is bound up in our sense of sight. If something looks unappetizing, it may never make it to your nose or mouth.

I wonder if I have not noticed a whole bunch of these books before or if this is finally going to be a thing. So far, my experience has been pleasant and I look forward to more.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Slow Down! Queen Street West Restaurant Study

This morning Gord Perks was on CBC talking about the Queen Street West (between Roncesvalles Avenue and Dufferin Street) - Restaurant Study. In Parkdale last year, the city put a moratorium on restaurant and bar licenses until they had a chance to study the impact this densification had on the current community.

Now, the recommendations will be presented by the Toronto and East York Community Council on June 18, 2013, a little over a week away. It will only take a few minutes to read the recommendations but basically boils down to restricting the density to a level of 25% as stated by Gord Perks. Full backgrounder is available here

For the last week, I have been trying to blog each day. The easiest type of blog has been one where I produce a short personal story along with some tidbit of information. Most of these type are easy because it is easy to see where they fit into how I feel and think about food. Something like this takes a lot more time for me to develop my opinions.

Food blogging should require an amount of introspection that leads to a well thought argument. At best, I could say that it always seems that the complaints that come from a neighbourhood that is becoming gentrified is often from people who have not lived there long. Most often is takes the form of someone who moves into an area where there is - let's say - an abbatoir and then complain about the noise and the smells. 

Another knee jerk response would be around the lines that this is the natural progression of a neighbourhood. If the area cannot support these restaurants then they will close. There is a counter argument that is similar to an anti-Walmart argument that states the addition of the restaurant will drive out other required services that make an area tick such as hair salons, convenience stores and super markets. 

I guess one approach to writing a blog post would be just to report what is going on and what is available but somehow that seems like not a good enough reason. Another approach would be to take a side or opinion and show the story in that way. I could state that I am against bad restaurant and concentrated restaurant areas and this is why...but we already have too much of that happening in comment sections already around this city.

In reality, many blogs are trying to drive traffic in order sell advertising and make a living. This is my hobby and I want to take a think. It will probably take a while to process the impact. Living close to little India, I can see the effect of restaurants and neighbourhood services closing down. I can also see the effect of restaurants re-invigorating an area. Take a look where Burger's Priest, Queen Margherita Pizza, and Sausage Partners (now Oliffe) opened along the Beach.

So, for down, I am going to slow down and digest this meal. I'll relax and take in the scene with some coffee and an apres-dinner drink. 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Potato Sprouts and the Darwin Awards

Have you ever tasted potato sprouts?

DON'T DO IT. They are poison!!!

Having said that, I did that just the other day. Let me explain.

So, I was eating all sorts of stuff that you can find on your lawn and in your backyard in the last several weeks, even posted about some spring recipes. I started to feel a little giddy thinking about Noma and eating food that is going past its prime or just beginning the life cycle, depending on how you look at it.

I was peeling some potatoes that had started sprouting and cut out an eye with a small sprout. I put it to my mouth and bit down. I remembered the many times that I would pick on people telling them how raw potatoes are poisonous and still the jaws clamped down. Before we find out whether I die of the poison, let's go on a bit of an aside.

In this day and age, so many of us are too cognizant of the best before date. Any fermentable comestible becomes a problem regardless of its age. It is the date that seems to scare us. I have been reading a lot lately about fermentation and remembering my grandma's farm. They only had a few milk cows but it served their needs. A couple of times I was there to watch the milking or see the cream on the top of the milk pail the day after. One of the coolest things was watching the separator that had a small machine engine that would spin a centrifuge to mechanically separate the cream and the milk. There was even a milk churn that was wooden barrel with a bung in a metal frame that would allow the whole milk to be sloshed about until it turned into butter.

I remember seeing the milk pail sitting outside with no refrigeration overnight to let nature do its work. I don't remember anyone getting poisoned. I am sure that their could be food borne illnesses but there wasn't. Now, there is an element of risk with raw milk. Death is rare.  Not trying to preach that raw is all just trying to outline the risk that we would accept previously was greater.

Poison is a little different than just getting sick due to bacteria. The truth is that many common ingredients are toxic. I suppose that in theory most things have a level of toxicity. We humans often use the toxic effects as recreation from drugs, cigarettes and alcohol.

Back to the potatoes. Green patches on potatoes and the sprouts contain two poisonous ingredients. One is solanine. There have been only rare cases of solanine poisoning in the US and seem to be due to eating green potatoes or using the leaves of the plant. In Britain, in the 1970's there was poisoning of boys at a school but no one died.

Here's the thing, most stuff that will poison you tastes horrid. As the sprout crunched and snapped in two in my mouth, the bitterness and crapitude of that one bite would prevent me from eating the crapulence of sprouts required to achieve the lethal dose, let alone a dose large enough to make me sick. It sucked.

Will this stop me from trying lethal foods that might cause me to win a Darwin Award? There are some really risky foods that can cause death at a small dosage and I am aware enough to know. So,  most wild berries and mushrooms will make a pass until I can be incredibly reassured at their safety. As for the odd ingredient, most have a toxic dose that requires so much that I am sure to be sick before I could stomach enough.

Also, if you have immune problems, pregnant, or are a small kid, don't try this stuff. Just don't. But some risks are smaller than you think. I didn't suffer any ill effects from that sprout aside from five minutes of horrid bitterness in my mouth.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Canned Meats

Finished reading James A. Michener's book, Journey, about the Klondike Gold Rush from the Canadian side. In it there was some business about five tins of canned meat. In this case, canned meat meant tinned meat which began in the early 1800's. The time of this novel is set in 1897-99.
Now, tinned meat means something different, often Flakes of something or bits of meat such as escargot. Rarely does can meat mean hunks of meat cooked in a liquid and that is all.

There is a description of them splitting open the cans and cooking with the meat in a pot with some chopped onions. This is the description that got me going. My dad used to can beef or venison using the standard canning jars. It was chopped up hunks of meat with a good amount of salt then canned using a hot water bath. Those jars would wait until late winter and early spring to make an appearance when he was laid off from working in the bush. The snow would be high and the fish wouldn't be biting.

Out would come the jars. First, onions would be sliced and fried in butter or fat. When the onions turned translucent, a quick turn flick of a knife would break the seal on the jar with a quick hiss and  a sharp pop. In would go the meat, liquid and all, to warm. While it was warming up, a quick slurry of flour mixed with the already warming broth would be mixed, ready to thicken the mess when it was time. This salty, gravy based onion and meat dish would be served with boiled potatoes and white bread and butter.  I suppose if there was homemade bread, it would be more welcome but during those cold spring days, my mother would be working and she was the one known to occasionally bake bread and buns.

Another dish, that was similar to this, was taking hamburger, adding it to the fried onions instead. There was many times that the burger meat came straight from the freezer because we always bought extra when it was on sale. There would be steam coming from the pan as you turned it over and over, to scrape the cooked meat away to let the heat get at the frozen parts. Once it was browned, sometimes frozen peas or carrots were added and the gravy was made the same way as on the canned meat. Served over boiled potatoes with bread, it differed only with the addition of ketchup. Us kids would sometimes ask for mashed potatoes and mix the whole bunch together. It is something that I miss sometimes.

If we are serious about eating in season and ending our reliance on factory farming there may be a return to these type of dishes. We have a ready supply of meat that is rarely finished on grass but rather grains. If you want a grass finished cow in the middle of winter, you will; have to transport it, pay for the keeping of the feed, or have it from frozen. In  "simpler" times, you would can when you had excess.

Canning has some advantages over freezing. Aside from the availability of fresh meat, another reason that this art is rarely practiced is due to the dangers of canning. I wonder at how much this is oversold. Yes, canned meat is at a risk of botulism but does the modern mass market protect us from food borne diseases any better? The Maple Leaf and Costco food recalls and illnesses are still fresh in my mind.

Not that I am suggesting that we all make sure that we get free range food and only eat seasonally but consider it next time you are eating fresh beef in February. There are sometimes that I wished I had a jar of beef hidden in my back cupboard. It makes a quick meal too.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Menu: Happy Farter's Day

So, last year with my two boys we planned a special holiday just after Father's Day which was named Farter's Day. If you have been exposed to children of a certain age, I am sure that you can guess what this entailed.

We hosted a party for my in-laws and ensured there was enough Bean-o to go around. Whoopie cushions were given to any attendee who was still young enough to enjoy it. Baked beans and cruciferous vegetables were enjoyed by all. Needless to say, this family holiday went over so well that we are planning on doing it again this year.

The menu is in constant flux but will include some or all of the following:

  • Baked beans with ham hocks and smoked jowls
  • Brussel sprouts with bacon
  • Cabbage Roll casserole
  • Crudites (Broccoli, Cauliflower, et al) with hummus
  • Cheese and implements for cutting said cheese
  • Bread with cold cuts and mustard (for cutting said mustard)
This year, we are introducing an interesting wrinkle. Rice. It seems that rice is the only starch that does not break down into flatus. Seems weird to me and I will have to check into it more fully. That will be served for those that do not and never will fart and prefer to have gentle winds stirring their loins and small puffs of spring time air.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Three Spring Recipes: Fiddleheads, Pea Shoots and Lambs Quarters

Sunday was a day of looking at the spring things gathering in the fridge and figuring out what to do with them. I love spring produce because it is the first taste of real greens. They tend to be more intense and bitter than those early summer sprouts.

After asparagus and rhubarb, the next harbingers are greens such as lambs quarters and dandelion greens. Fun fact, pissenlit is one translation for dandelions in French. That means wet the bed for those who skipped a couple of classes too many. I didn't bother with dandelion this year but did up a little weed and feed for my kids.

Potatoes with Lambs Quarters and Sausage
Grab some lambs quarters from your lawn or backyard. Strip away stems and leave the leaves. Treat like spinach and submerge in water to ensure to get all the dirt out. Meanwhile, boil some potatoes.
While you are waiting for the potatoes to boil, another fun fact. Lambs quarters are related to quinoa, rhubarb, spinach and a bunch of other greens with oxalic acid. If you taste the green raw, you will get this fuzzy itch at the back of your throat. If you have kidney stones or disease or just worried in general, avoid. Now that the potatoes have boiled and you have finished searching the internet to see if you are going to die from this recipe, we are ready to go to the next step.
Drain the potatoes. Cook some dried sausage over a medium-low heat. I used mild Hungarian but any semi-dry sausage with a good amount of fat will work such as chorizo, pepperoni, or salami. When fat is rendered and sausage is browned, remove sausage from pan. Add a little onion. Some oil may be required at this point. Cook until translucent. Add some potatoes. Cook until potatoes start to break down. Add greens. Cook until wilted and bright green. Add in sausage. Season to complement meat. Serve.
I used Mrs. Dash because someone gave me it and it has a lot of celery seed. The dish lacked salt so I added smoked salt and a little black pepper to add a bit of edge. Kids loved the idea of eating weeds.

Wilted Pea Shoot Salad
Take some quantity of pea shoots. Rinse them off if you have to and place in the salad bowl. If you don't have a salad bowl, then I guess there is no salad for you. On medium-low heat take some cured meat with a good amount of fat and render. (That just mean cook it until the fat is in the pan. Meat will start to brown and crisp when it comes to that time). Pour meat with fat over sprouts and toss. Taste and add acid if you wish. Orange, lemon, lime, vinegar, whatever. My favourite cured meats to use for this are bacon, dry sausages or ham. Ham and pea is a classic pairing and so works really well especially if go all Italian with some prosciutto or something like that. 
There is a pattern here. I like my greens with a little fat and have no problems if that fat comes from an animal. In many ways, the idea of the last pieces of cured meat that have made it through the winter combine with the first greens of the spring makes me happy to look forward to what is to come and appreciate the finality of the winter.

This last salad that we had on Sunday was made with fiddleheads and a spicy version of the Hungarian sausage. I cut the sausage into coins to mimic the shape of the fiddleheads. My one kid who likes spicy food had seconds while the one with the more delicate sensibilities was fine with the quarter serving I gave him for tasting.

Fiddlehead Sausage Salad
Clean your fiddleheads removing brown bits and ends. This is another vegetable that likes a good bath. Set it in water and try to get out any grit or sand. Boil in salted water using about the same amount of salt as you would use for pasta. Add a squirt or two of lemon juice. It is only to make sure that the greens don't turn to brown. Vinegar would work too. Boil for seven to ten minutes. The ferns, you did know they were ferns, right, will have the same texture as asparagus when ready. Drain. In a fry pan (or saute if you want to get technical), on medium-low heat, add either fresh or dried sausage cut into coin shapes. Cook until done or in the case of dry sausage, finished rendering. Remove sausage bits. Add the drained (I said it twice because water will make it splatter big time) fiddleheads. Once coated and warmed through again, add the sausage. Turn into a serving bowl and serve. 
Why do recipes say that? I mean it is up to you to decide if you are using a serving bowl. What if you hate doing up the dishes? Maybe you are single? Anyways. And Serve. I have spent all this time following this recipe just to have the food sit there. Yup. Not eating it. Sheesh.

Anyways, any of these recipes could easily become a How to Read a Recipe post. The main thing to remember is that salads require some fat to dress the greens. Greens can be loosely interpreted to be such things as green beans, asparagus, endive, any green and of course, something you find on your front lawn. The more bitter the green, the more likely that a quick blanch will remove some of the bitterness and make it more palatable. Have fun with your lawn or your back yard this spring.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Book Review: Get Jiro!

So, Anthony Bourdain, not content with writing memoirs, cooking, doing tv shows, has also acted as an author on Get Jiro!, a graphic novel. Okay, technically it is a co-writing credit with Joel Rose. He wrote a fun little book called New York Sawed in Half at the same time that Bourdain had written another book for the same imprint called Typhoid Mary: An Urban Historical.

Anyways, back to Jiro. It is a graphic novel set in a future where food and food stars has replaced the natural order of crime and politics. Two large factions rule the food scene in Los Angeles. There is a mother earth type, Rose, representing an Alice Waters type aesthetic and of course, a traditional French style kitchen chef, Jimmy who looks for the best ingredients regardless.

The two philosophies are strung out through the book showing the downfall of being dogmatic to either of them. These failings will be obvious to those who have been following the food trends over the years.

The localvore movement can be strident and militant while some of its proponents will stretch the meaning of local in order to get ingredients to fit the mold making this style of cuisine, though local, unavailable to locals without the ability to pay and pay.

The traditional French style requires certain ingredients to make unchanging classics. It has lead to the destruction of species and a regimenting of the correct style to do a dish. However, public tastes have changed and even though giving an air of superiority for fine dining, it twists the definition to keep diners.

The third way is Jiro, a sushi master who has to innovate but still tries to deliver the best food he can with the ingredients he has. In the first scenes, pages go by with the whole sushi making. These panels of food making are a delight. There are several scenes of this type of food porn and they are fun. It is good to see something other than mayhem be delivered in exquisite colour and stop time precision. One motion captured for a page that suggests what will come next. The customers break a taboo in the ritual of eating and Jiro deals with them harshly.

This third way philosophy bothered me in this regard; eaters should not be pigs at the trough and are partially to blame for the degradation of the cuisine. Fine. At what point do they become educated? How does this happen? I mean, I ask my server how I am supposed to eat something but is that the way it is supposed to be. But, hey, this is a graphic novel so sometimes there are gaps.

The rest of the novel unfolds as a result of the two large forces trying to deal with the "authenticity" of the third way. This seems to be a definite collaboration as the voice found in the Bobby Gold novels seems to be hanging in the air. There is violence, food, and some funny moments. The food world does get skewered and we do get a glimpse into what Bourdain's and Rose's definition of authentic food would include in a scene that I spent a little time going over and over.

It's a fun read and suffers from too little exposition. The characters are cartoony but the philosophy of food is argued clear and well. For anyone trying to get food culture, this is a really accessible way compared to reading Nestle, Pollan and so many others. This could be a gateway book into a lifetime of trying to understand food politics.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Leave the Money, Take the Cannoli

So, I am bastardizing a movie quote. What the hell does that mean in the context of a food blog? Well, two articles came out this week that got me thinking about why I am food blogging. The first is an article that I loved from the New York Observer that talked about food blogging in New York for cash and how it has driven food culture into an ADHD like scene.

The argument boils down to the idea that you have to add more and more content to drive eyeballs to your site in order to get advertisement revenue. The amount that is written then creates a demand for new content when even in New York, it would be hard to write twelve stories a day on something new. In a way, this model rewards novelty. It also leads to stories that are more shallow due to time restraints. There is a pressure from the public to try that one thing that everyone is looking at on (name your favourite site) and get their first. Then comes the bust.

The interesting thing is that there are many neighbourhood restaurants and old standards and classics that continue to go on. These places are sometimes walking dead but most likely surviving because they know their clientele and give them good customer service and decent food at the price the client wants to pay.

It is worth the few minutes it takes to read the article. The other article is not so much an article but a bunch of links that have showed up in my twitter feeds toward the end of the month. Several food bloggers are making a commitment to blogging every day in the month of June. Ostensibly, it is to make them more focused and increase traffic to their blogs.

These two things taken together got me thinking to what am I trying to do by blogging. I started this blog halfassedly in October 2010 and only started posting "regularly" in spring of 2011. In the last few months, I have been averaging 1000 hits a month. I have not put google ads or any other sponsorship on my site. So, not an incredibly successful blog but something of which I am proud.

Why do I do this?

  1. I like writing and want to get my writing muscles up to speed and maybe do something in my dotage.
  2. I love food and food culture and have things that I want to understand and work out. Writing helps.
  3. My wife is bored of hearing me talk about food and this is a good outlet.
  4. It amuses me and some of my friends.
  5. It acts as an archive and journal of crap that I am trying out.

So, do I bother with writing every day or not? Well, I've been wanting to write a bunch of stuff around food blogs and culture as an outsider but I am still working through my own understanding. Maybe this writing daily thing is a good excuse to do it. However, I am not a pro. I will always take the cannoli over the money.

One of the things stopping me is that food blogging is that it is a little like masturbation. Sitting alone in a dark basement in front of a lit computer screen may feel good when doing it but sometimes you are left with a deep shame and slight guilt afterwards. Funny, last month was Masturbation month.