Category: Misc.

a clarification + some of the things I’ve been staring at this week

In the grand tradition of other people for some reason caring what you’re putting in your mouth enough to comment on it, I’ve already been getting some of this stuff: “Wait, you’re not eating cheese? Why are you vegan? WHAT ABOUT PROTEIN?”

…it’s a couple of weeks, people. So I don’t think it really needs to be addressed. But, just to be clear, I’m not turning my nose up at animal products out of any sort of conviction about anything. Sometimes you need to interrupt your food habits, though, and any rigidly restrictive diet will definitely help with that. (Eating out a lot is a more fun option, but I don’t have the money to be That Kind of Food Person.)

That said, I already know what my first meal is going to be when I stop this, and it’s eggs and scrapple fried in bacon grease, so hopefully anyone concerned for my well-being can relax now.

It could be argued that almost anything would be more interesting than this. Here are some candidates:

If I were more creative when it comes to swine puns, I’d totally enter this contest to get into the opening party for Pork Slope. There’s one day left for you to do that, though, if you’re gifted in that arena.

I particularly liked Adam Erace’s review of The Industry, but then I think I’ve also favorited at least 3 different tweets just because they included photos of the lamb neck gravy, so I might be easily bought in this regard.

Also from Meal Ticket, this Mushroom Wiz Wit burger pocket whatsit has found a place on the list of meaty things I’d like to ingest, but then, I am awfully hungry.

Does anyone actually like these WHAT DOES HE HAVE IN HIS FRIDGE features? Spoiler alert: Danny Bowien has some mustard at home. And an almost-empty jar of pasta sauce?! Chefs! They’re just like us!

I’ve had this tab cluttering up my browser for over a week now. It’s not about food, but it is one aspect of the broader American culture of “It’s not us, it’s you” that I’m kind of fixated on in general. Fact: 9 times out of 10, when someone tells you there’s something wrong with you, they’re either trying to absolve themselves of some responsibility, or they’re trying to sell you something. That’s just hard math.

This was a good gotcha moment from Eater (and as it turns out, it was also the only way anyone, including Newsweek, has brought Newsweek to my attention in about 8 years). And also: seriously? Is Newsweek hiring middle schoolers now? And if so, will they hire me, I sort of dress like I’m 12 and tweet about boners a lot??

I cannot believe I signed up for a SkillShare class. But, in my defense, I do like to keep tabs on Eddie Huang and—far more importantly—it was free. I think it might still be free, if you’re dying to know what Eddie Huang has to teach about branding, but not really dying enough to pay $10.

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oh, you.

This is lazy as shit, but I’m sorry, I just can’t help myself. The upside to a new blog with a readership that is still tiny manageable, is that my analytics reports (which, let’s face it, I use solely to entertain myself) are still a novelty and aren’t yet cumbersome. Which means that I’m not likely to miss out on being vaguely creeped out by stuff like this:

Looks like someone’s got a fan! Now, a quick look at some of my favorite search terms that brought you people here in July, and the chance to address some of the tough questions posed within that have heretofore gone unanswered. Questions like,

Good question, Harrisburg! Sorry my blog couldn’t be of more help to you. I’m going to assume you’ll want to go for the smooth, round, Crayola-standard chalk if you’re in it for the crunch. Those bigger, blockier pieces just look more airy and crispy (same goes for sidewalk chalk). Also, let me extend my condolences to you that all of those shows about “weird eaters” (in my day we called this pica, but really, why have specific names for anything) have already graduated to stuff like glass, nail polish, and bleach. A short year or two ago, you probably could’ve gotten on The TV.

While some people will clearly just shove anything in their mouth, others seem paralyzed by dietary restrictions:

Huh. In Ireland, I heard a lot about some pretty shady things being done to sheep, but I’ll admit I don’t know much about what you Brits do to your pigs. Over here on the correct side of the pond, though, we don’t milk them. I dunno, does that help at all?

Some search terms are not exactly questions, nor are they funny, but they worm their way into your heart somehow anyway:

That feeling blows, for sure—but more than that, I’m just glad that I’m not the only one that addresses my problems in life by plunking down and hurling vague gripes at a search engine. For what it’s worth, my preferred method for dealing with the useless pantry problem is having Thai delivered and making false promises to myself that I’ll make a better list the next time I go shopping.

Of course, most searches that bring people here are not questions at all. Some are just things I’d totally high-five the googler for:

HEARD. (!)

Oh boy, LET’S!

And, unfortunately, some are the exact opposite:

Look, pal, you couldn’t be more wrong. And let me tell you something else: you will never, ever find love. If there were a way to ban people from my blog, 1.) I sure as hell wouldn’t know how to do it, what do I look like, a computer scientist?, but 2.) you’d be the first to go.

And finally, to rinse the taste of that idiot out of all of our mouths, here’s my number one favorite, most heart-wrenchingly wonderful thing—and not just of things found in analytics reports:

!!! I go with homemade biscuits and giving him so many hugs and kisses that he sort of rolls his eyes at me because he’s trying to sleep, but that’s just me! Peanut butter in a Kong works pretty well, too! And take him to the beach, you lucky SOB!! OMG DOGS!!!

Um, hey, have we talked about my dog yet?

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notes on foodie navel-gazing

As part of my staunch commitment to acting like I’m still 12, I do one really weird thing: I still frequent public libraries.

For the record, from top to bottom: 1.) one book I’ve picked up on a few occasions and then promptly re-shelved, because it opens with such a dull rehashing of that propaganda-darling framework, “I understand the argument of my opposition perfectly; I used to be one of them!” and thanks for that, but I’m not actually still 12; 2.) one book I took out and started reading once a long while back, but that never held my interest and went back to the library largely unread; 3.) one book chosen partly to deflect any potential suspicion on the part of the librarian that I might actually be considering veganism and that this would be how I’d go about it if I were, and partly because I can’t wait to give it a second look through Gwyneth Paltrow-colored glasses; and 4.) one book by Alicia Silverstone.

I actually just humped these back to my house and haven’t cracked any of them open yet. This post is not about these books, but more about why I took them out. (Hint: not because of any recommendations from Alice Walker. BLURBING: WHY, HOW??)

There are a number of things that taint food writing and “foodie culture” as a whole for me, but there are two that particularly assert themselves, and they go hand in hand. The first is the tendency to indulge in preachy moralizing and snobbery. The second is the continual need to apologize for certain things you like to eat. One is more self-aggrandizing and the other more self-deprecating, but both are just expressions of a small-minded obsession with the self.

While veganism is an easy mark for the discussion of overmoralizing food, it’s hardly alone. Locavores often take on the same shrill tones, as can porkophiles. And it’s easy to get caught up! There are moral issues tied up in food and food production, same as any other form of consumption. But the reason I usually avoid books like some of those pictured above is that by now I’ve come to expect more proselytizing than sound argument, over-reliance on truisms and flawed studies, and appeals to the reader’s sense of superiority over those who would disagree.

The way I see it, we are all raping the planet, every day. We are all contributing to the suffering of other people and of animals, and not only through our dietary choices. (I’d be willing to concede that there may be a few people who don’t, but I also feel very confident that they’re not reading this food blog.) I’m not a nihilist; I applaud people making thoughtful choices in an attempt to lessen their negative impact on the world. But if, for instance, you really think that universal or widespread vegetarianism is the solution, you might first want to swap out the real U.S. population with some other one—because if there’s one thing people here might love more than animal products, it’s food from a box. And soy protein contributes to the rape of the planet, too.

(Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe one of these books will be so meticulously researched and so convincing that I will come back to you a fervid vegan or mindless carnivore. At the very least, the surprisingly large number of jokes I make at Jonathan Safran Foer’s expense will be coming from more solid ground.)

Moralizing types are bolstered by their convictions, which—much like a religion—they feel they need to convince others of or even legislate for the good of the planet, the animals, or our health in general. As a card-carrying pinko, I think some measure of regulation is absolutely necessary. But at a certain point, it helps to take a step back from yourself and remember all the other groups who fully believe they’re doing what’s necessary to save us from ourselves: Prohibitionists, the anti-choice crowd, the Westboro Baptist Church.

Then there are those whose only guiding conviction in life seems to be that no one else has a palate so refined as theirs, or a wealth of experience to rival theirs. Read the comments section of any popular food blog, and you’ll recognize these people by the way they react to every recipe with something like, “Cute idea. Next time, try a 36-month Parmigiano-Reggiano made in the northern Apennines in October, so much more complexity than whatever Whole Foods sold you.” In other words, they’re insufferable, and much of the time they’re just mining old Jeffrey Steingarten articles anyway. But this isn’t news to anyone.

So is it a result of these attitudes that so many people seem so insecure about the things they like to eat? Or is it just that if we acknowledge in passing our unease at eating so much junk food, we can move on, pretending we’ve actually addressed it? Whatever it is, I wish everyone would agree to stop throwing around the phrase “guilty pleasure” so damn much. (And that goes for your taste in TV and websites, too.) It’s so gross on so many levels. It implies a faux-morality that you clearly don’t actually ascribe to, and it also tries to imply that you live this intensely principled or harried or meaningful life for 23.5 hours a day and then hey, you’ve just gotta blow off a little steam by watching Kendra On Top.

Maybe you also saw that NYT piece a few weeks ago. I don’t have a problem with the article itself; I just hate that it had to be written. Even some of the chefs quoted just make me sad: Gabrielle Hamilton makes sense, but Tony Maws “[doesn't] know why” he likes to eat Fritos. (Hint: they’re manufactured to be nothing other than addictively delicious.)

Why would anyone apologize for eating American cheese? Are you afraid that people are going to think that you’re only using it because you’ve never tried any other cheeses? If that’s been a real problem for you, how about this: the answer might not be to worry about your standards when it comes to food. Maybe you need to raise your standards when it comes to the people you surround yourself with. If you can’t extricate yourself from them, my advice would be to stop eating around them and stop telling them anything specific about yourself, because they sound awful, like really boring poison.

That kind of lazy, mean-spirited questioning into what other people are eating and why is what leads to the foodie one-upmanship I mentioned a few paragraphs back. Why would someone eat American cheese when they could have that one particular blue you’re so fond of right now? Well, maybe because they have entirely different properties, or maybe just because of nostalgic ties. It’s ok to eat something without a label approved by the foodie cabal, even without the blessing of Wylie Dufresne. It’s even ok to eat and enjoy something without ever asking to see the label. Which is not to say it’s not ok to note the provenance because you’d like to buy it again, but it is absolutely to say that it’s never ok to take note only so that you can later impress someone else with the fact that you ate it. If you ever feel yourself getting caught up in that race, have enough self-respect to drop the fuck out of the running.

(I should note that there is also the phenomenon of foodie shame surrounding anything one doesn’t like to eat. If you happen upon a crowd of trendy foodie types and want to ensure they won’t want to talk to you, try casually mentioning to them that you hate oysters, or that you can’t bring yourself to eat any animal’s eye.)

There are a lot of people who want to tell us what we should be eating. But if there are some we should listen to on that subject, I feel all right about assuming that the star of Clueless (or Pepper Potts, or Mark Bittman, or or or) does not number among them. I’ll read some of their books, though, even if the only result turns out to be that I have a fuller understanding of what’s being put out there that’s making us more and more stupid about how we feed ourselves.

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wherein i try to embrace
the suburbs, kinda

An oppressively steamy weekend in a locus of suburban blight about 45 minutes outside of Philadelphia doesn’t sound crazy-awesome, because it’s not.

But in this case, it was a little nicer than it sounds. I think (I hope!) things might be looking up for Lansdale, PA. The town has long had some things going for it (a number of good BBQ spots; far more diversity than many surrounding areas), but it’s never been in danger of drawing the kind of people that like to get out of the city to spend the day tossing around words like “charming” or “adorable.” Its Main Street is not exactly thriving just yet—a number of businesses have shuttered in recent years, and where replacements have come in, several have not lasted long—but there’s been a steady trickle of interesting new businesses popping up, too. The best of the new spots seem to be doing quite well.

My favorite diner is there, and we’re well-known to the staff, as Jarred is apparently the only person they’ve seen finish entire orders of their gargantuan pancakes. (It’s a rare instance of huge food that is also good food.) It’s been around for a few years, but the chef was able to buy the place from the original owner towards the end of last year, making an already good place even better. A few doors down is Virago bakery, which specializes in vegan and gluten-free desserts. (There are some hits and some misses there, but no shortage of interesting choices.)

This spring, Lansdale even got its own brewery, right downtown and within easy walking distance of the town’s train station. Round Guys brewery has plans to begin serving food and operating as a brewpub, but thanks to the notoriously slow and finicky PA licensing boards, they can’t even sell pints yet. Even so, they’re there producing beer to distribute to a couple of bars, and to sample and sell in growlers to anyone curious enough to stumble in.

Please note that I didn’t take a picture of the actual beer. In an obvious display of my commitment—both to food blogging and to the domestic sciences—I had no clean glasses that weren’t pink.  So yeah, I’m by no means a beer aficionado. As with wine and whiskey, I drink plenty of it, I try new ones as often as possible, I can point to styles I particularly like, but I’m just not a hobbyist when it comes to beverages. In fact, say more than a few words to me about a drink or ask me any in-depth questions and, I can’t help it, my inner frat boy comes out and I really, really want to tell you to stop being such a puss and just drink it already. Even so, I think these guys are doing some pretty interesting things, and they’re clearly only doing what they love (from their own FAQ):

What they really seem to love are sour beers, which is a genre I went in particularly unfamiliar with, but I ended up walking out with one nonetheless. We also tried the Alpha Blackback IPA (which I loved), the Mini-Bob (which is a very drinkable session ale, but I didn’t find it compelling in any way), and the Berliner-Weisster, which despite being described on the menu as “like a lemonade on a hot summer day,” still surprised me by tasting… like lemonade. Quite tart, though you can also order it with raspberry syrup, which makes it a Himbeer. Or so they tell me. (I liked it just as it was.)

Soon, it looks like there will be a take-out seafood restaurant opening, with the unnecessarily difficult name “Shellfish Sue.” But for now, the youngest addition to Main Street is Tabora Farm, a satellite store location of a farm in Chalfont that’s been a hugely popular vendor at the Lansdale farmers’ market since it began. The cafe and store, which just opened a week or two ago, sells bulk spices and teas in addition to their own baked goods, ice cream, and (soon, hopefully: wonder if the PLCB might be involved here again?) wine. (I never realized how much weird wine people are making around here until I heard about Cardinal Hollow, a couple minutes down the road in North Wales, where they make wine from peaches and jalapenos. Note to self: buy jalapeno wine.)

The market in Lansdale is currently in its third year, but only recently did they finally answer my prayers and get someone in to sell tamales. I don’t know what my deal is, but any time I see a gathering of people or tables of any sort, I immediately start nosing around for tamales. These were good. I was a little too distracted by the fact of their existence to ask a lot of questions or, you know, read their sign, but whatever. Tamales! The Food Trust clearly knows what they’re doing.

Like everyone else in the world, I love a farmers’ market. Not for any particularly poetic reason, or because I live to hunt down new things to challenge myself with, but just because the market experience fits so seamlessly into a lazy weekend. In a grocery store produce section, I’m lost without a list. I’ve thought of what meals I’ll be making, and I’m shopping to make them happen. At a farmers’ market, I just sort of find myself holding a giant bunch of beets, and then I guess I know what I’ll be eating. Pasta with beet greens, garlic, and pecorino romano that night; beet salad the next day. Whatever. Perfect.

So, to close this out, my “recipe” for beet salad:

Roast or boil beets (for now, boil them; it’s a little hot for a fast oven) until tender.

A few minutes before they’re done, slice an onion, drop it into a large bowl, and douse it with vinegar. Enough that you can also toss your beets in it, and don’t bother with a soft or subtle vinegar here. In fact, this is the time to take a second look at that jug of white vinegar you keep around for cleaning. Salt, pepper, dried dill, toss. No one’s stopping you from using fresh dill; we’ve just given up by now trying to grow dill for ourselves. We only keep growing it so the swallowtail caterpillars don’t starve.

Peel and slice the beets while they’re still hot, and toss them in the bowl with everything else. Stick the bowl in the fridge for a little bit.

That’s it. I don’t use oil in this case, because beets are already pretty lush, and the oil just dampens the acid. These are just shortcut pickled beets, really, but they’re what I usually turn to. In this case, tossed onto some lightly-dressed lettuce from the backyard. Beets are never going to be quick nor neat, but they are easy, and a big bunch ends up providing a few meals. Which leaves you to your weekend, be it somewhere idyllic or just, you know, in Lansdale.

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