Archive for October, 2007

The frost is here for good

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

“I think the first frost has finally come. It wasn’t a deep black frost, the kind that makes the unprepared gardener weep. Two mornings in a row the pasture has turned white, and the thick stands of goldenrod have turned silver.”

Verlyn Klinkenborg, on the late frost finally arriving in today’s NYTimes.

The Portland Food Map in the news

Monday, October 29th, 2007

The Portland Food Map, the exceedingly useful brainchild of Anestes Fotiades, gets profiled in today’s Portland Press Herald.

The other harvest

Thursday, October 25th, 2007

Verlyn Klinkenborg gets it exactly right about pigs and other livestock on the NYTimes editorial page today. He talks of the difficult bargain we make when we raise animals knowing of their eventual slaughter, and of the much worse bargain most Americans get when they buy industrial meat at the supermarket. Eric Desjarlais writes of much the same idea about his participation in the slaughter of two red deer in preparation for the recent Portland Venison Death Match.

Fall is harvest season for much more than corn and wheat, squash and kale. We should pause to recognize the other harvest happening right now, the one which will put turkeys on our table at Thanksgiving, and hams at Christmas. Even a small awareness of the realities of the slaughter of our food animals connects us to the truth of our food, and keeps us more honest about our place on this earth and our responsibilities toward it.

Two obits in the news

Thursday, October 25th, 2007

Two giants in the history of mediocre food in the boomer era have died. Read obits of Peg Bracken, author of The I Hate to Cook Book, and Vincent DeDomenico, an inventor of Rice-A-Roni, both int he New York Times. I’ve no problem with people who don’t like to cook, but Peg Bracken turned her dislike of the kitchen into an industry, eventually selling over three million copies of The I Hate to Cook Book, and helping to create a generation of bad cooks (she had lots of help on this front). Her readers had plenty of good food alternatives at the time – James Beard, Julia Child and many others. What a shame they couldn’t have read them instead. America’s good food revolution might have come earlier.

And Rice-A-Roni? Well, it is the San Francisco Treat, although my San Francisco food experience, through the early eighties and beyond, thankfully had more to do with an introduction to real olive oil and basil, California burritos, and the dancing peppers at Henry Chung’s Original Hunan in Chinatown. DeDomenico did use his Rice-A-Roni money to purchase Ghiradelli chocolates, and later build the Napa wine train. So he gets points for that.

Judith Jones

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

The Tenth Muse, My Life in Food, a new memoir by legendary cookbook editor Judith Jones, is out now from her longtime imprint, Knopf. Jones has brought many major food writers to print, including Julia Child, Marcella Hazan, Claudia Roden, Edna Lewis and Marion Cunningham. Sheryl Julian profiles Jones in the Boston Globe, and Julia Moskin has a piece in today’s NYTimes.

Jones will be appearing at Rabelais on Saturday November 17th at 2pm , to speak and sign her new memoir. Stay tune to the Rabelais “events” page for more details.

beet soup

Sunday, October 21st, 2007

Yes, I suppose some would call this borscht. The New Food Lover’s Companion by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst from Barron’s Educational Series, refers to borscht as a vegetable soup made with beets and usually meat, or meat stock. That strikes me as a simplistic definition. Opening The Russian Tea Room Cookbook of 1981 by Faith Stewart-Gordon and Nika Hazelton, I find borscht has more nuance. There is a distinction between Ukrainian and Russian variations. The former is more likely to include meat, while the latter may only use a meat stock base, both can include other vegetables like cabbage and carrots. But these fine points are why I titled this post beet soup. I love beets. When I was little my WASPy grandmother who rarely cooked (she had a professional help for that) and always preferred a cocktail and some witty banter to bothering with a meal, would occasionally venture into the kitchen. I was the first born grandchild so may have brought out some latent maternal instincts in her for a brief period. Two things I remember from that kitchen. One was Bugles, a snack product from General Mills. Um, yeah I like salty. And the other food I remember, vividly, was this salad she would make from canned beets and mayonnaise. When combined, beets and mayo become electric pink. I have no recollection of being one of those pink obsessed little girls, so I do not think the attraction for this dish was the color. No, I think it was that perfect mesh of the sweet, toothsome beets and the salty, unctuous mayonnaise. I loved the stuff. Perhaps being the only thing my grandmother actually made for me figured in there too, but maybe not. That dish did however begin a life long love affair with the beetroot.

I will not go into a long history here. I can go on, you know. And I cannot say that I have ever tried to re-create that childhood dish. Perhaps I should some day. But I can say that I love to make beet soup. My beet soup is very simple. Some onions, sliced and softened in butter. Beets, chopped into bite sized pieces, added to the pot just to sweat briefly and then the whole thing gets covered with beef stock and some water. Simmer till tender, serve with a dollop of creme fraiche/sour cream and perhaps a sprinkle of chopped dill if available. Simple, streamlined, utterly dependent on the quality of your beets, not for those who are not fans of the beetroot. I discovered my true love for this preparation last summer when I did particularly well with beets in the garden. I made beet soup a number of times, mixing up the color of the beets used: golden; chioggia and good old detroits. When November rolled around and we were planning our Thanksgiving menu I thought a simple soup would be a lovely starter, and how about that beet thing I was doing last summer? Great idea. But I no longer had beets in my garden. Bought a couple pounds from my local organic (?) purveyor and didn’t think twice about the course. Whoops. Served a beautiful purple/red elixir to the assembled family, but to my chagrin was wholly underwhelmed by the flavor. It was bland, tasting mostly of stock and creme fraiche. Thusly I learned a lesson. If you do not literally know where your produce comes from, and how long a journey that is to your kitchen, you cannot guarantee your outcome.
Just another pair of cheeks on the buy local bandwagon…

More confusion about tuna and mercury

Friday, October 19th, 2007

In the NYTimes, Marian Burros discusses the ongoing battle for information about tuna and mercury, and how the battle means big lobbyists, ad agencies and of course, big money.

End times for bad beer

Friday, October 19th, 2007

Garrett Oliver, brewmaster of the Brooklyn Brewery and author of The Brewmaster’s Table, tells us not to worry about giant beer in the NYTimes.

reality tv, food reality

Saturday, October 13th, 2007

It appears that watching Top Chef gets my wheels spinning. The season has concluded, not necessarily a bad thing. Hung won, and based on the final meal, that was as it should be. The wrap up show was revealing if for nothing other than the holding room information. The viewer gets snippets of the contestants sitting around waiting for the judging in a room. As with any ‘reality’ show, you never know how much of what you are watching is in any semblance of real time. But it does appear to be a stressful, grueling wait. They cook in a frenzy, focused intently on completing the task(meal) at hand. Then they have to verbally defend their work. Then they wait to see what the judges will decide. What I learned in the wrap up show, is that that wait can be hours. The idea that they have to sit there in that close room, with no windows to give them a sense of the passage of time, and wait for someone to decide on their fate for that week’s episode has got to be disarming at best. On some episodes you got a feel for the tension when outbursts were shown (Howie comes to mind). But now I understand that they spent much more time in that situation, which would try the patience and spirit of the most dedicated chef. I have my issues with Top Chef. Some of those quick fire challenges are simply ridiculous, the elimination rounds are slightly better, but still verge on the inane. But I have a new found respect for the contestants and what they actually go through. Do I think it will make them better chefs (or chefs at all), I don’t know. But it usually makes for good TV. Certainly better than most anything on the Food Network.

During the season finale something occurred to me that got me thinking, and led me to this post. We live in a food town. We are surrounded by food culture on all levels: from the purveyors/farmers/foragers who deliver to the various restaurants on our block; to the chefs and cooks who come into the store looking for reference or inspiration; to the arguments about the ethics of Whole Foods; to the meals we eat out and cook at home; and not least to things like the Venison Death Match. We live and breathe food and it’s issues. So when I am watching Top Chef, and they flash a cover of Food & Wine magazine (the cover with their Top 10 Chefs for ’07, including Steve Corry of 555 right here in Portland),and spin on how the winner of Top Chef will be given an editorial spread in the magazine, it makes me think. I have some knowledge of the machinations that go into a national editorial magazine story, I was a photo editor at People magazine for 7 years. I have also worked in the food business, I was a baker at various restaurants in NYC (including a stage at Craft of Colicchio fame) and Maine before we opened this store. So I recognize that it sounds so glamorous and exciting to be featured in Food & Wine. Sounds so much like success, like accomplishment, like having reached some level at which you have made it. Bravo TV throws those rewards around like they are something that will change these contestants lives. But the reality (no quotation marks here) is something much less tangible. Being on the cover of Food & Wine with the ensuing publicity is a wonderful thing for a chef and their restaurant. Reservations get booked, people travel for your food, connections that may previously been tenuous are secured and certain worries are usually lifted. But the fact remains that food needs to be prepared every day, every week, every month consistently. Day in and day out the stock needs to be made, the birds must be spatchcocked and the doughs have to be mixed. The extra publicity of the limelight helps smooth the edges, but the work still has to be done. And it is not all glamorous, hell sometimes it’s downright dirty. But when one is lucky enough to observe it done regularly, and with the style grace and imagination that most of the chefs in these parts do, you appreciate the depth of the commitment.
So when I watch Top Chef I smile to myself and say, yeah, that’s great but lets wait and see how they do the year after.
And the year after that.