So, thanks to The Calabrian Magistra for inspiring me to fire up this space. But with something this awesome, how could you even not? If you are not a big fan of post-45 literature -- and who is, anyway? -- you might miss the reference. While it might seem like "somebody's choice" is a foolproof name for a foodstuff, as in President's Choice house brand ice cream and such, even if you have an aunt named Sophie who is a veritable Segovia of dumplings, it's still not such a hot idea for a name for dumplings, because spoiler alert. You don't need to hire a fancy brand manager to tell you that "Holocaust" is not what you want people to think of when they think of your dumpling brand. But that's why they call it Guiteau Monday.
Hola. It has, indeed, been a long time since I have rapped at you here. Apologies. If eating and cooking is an excuse, then ok. As the years and responsibilities increase, it's harder to find the time and the energy to write blog posts, and harder still not to feel as if writing blog posts are more than a charmingly anachronistic quirk, like using a straight razor or having chickens in the back yard. Increasingly, the kind of 500-1,000 word post on a meal or an ingredient or an issue has given way to commentary of 140 characters max or 5,000 words minimum. Times is againstboth, (Longform is too long! Twitter is too short! Fishwrap is juust right!) But I digress.
The 13-14 Please Everyone Tour, in which Fesser and cinetrix drive around like idiots to see friends and family does offer a chance to check in on some food options not present in the back yard. Tack on a bonus lap to Chicago for the big English Professor Stampede, and you get some more choices By chance or predilection, a bunch (almost all, really) fell into a category of new resto I might call Serious Meats & c. We hit Kirkland Tap & Trotter, Worthy Kitchen, and Worthy Burger in New England, and in Chicago we insulated ourselves from the Polar Vortex at Two, Publican, Little Goat, and Trenchermen.
These spots are all very different one from the other, but collectively, they represent a new step in an ongoing interplay between fine dining and more casual spots. If we've seen in recent years efforts by chef X to "elevate dish y from its humble roots," we now seem to be seeing the opposite, where Beard-winning chefs are opting to do something with more barstools and Formica. KT&T Little Goat are both siblings of top-5 restaurants in their respective towns, and were the most exciting places I visited. Telling that on a short trip, I found a way to make return trips to both of these places. Little Goat is basically like if Steak and Shake died and went to heaven, via Seoul. KT&T is like Valhalla where there is food at River Gods or People's Republic you actually want to eat. Details TK -- in entirely unrelated news, I am on my way to the gym.
Anchower, I know, but stay tuned for PHC on the new Maws joint, and a Chicago safari.
Anyway, I mentioned this briefly in a tweet yesterday, and wanted to expand just a little. I've been aware recently of how much cooking is the repetition of similar tasks at different times in different contexts. There are new ingredients, better equipment, new friends, new techniques, etc. There is also displacement, isolation, and bereavement. It's jarring every time I realize I don't have access to a staple b/c there are not Asian groceries where I live now, and so forth.
But what struck me last night was the experience of returning to an old recipe after time away from it. It's a green Thai curry receipt I learned off of the back of a can of Westernized coconut milk, but it was a favorite back in the 1990s. I cooked it on third dates, and my folks really loved it. It goes like this:
Heat green curry in coconut milk, add diced chicken breast, add brown sugar/fish sauce, add basil, add stock, add frozen peas, serve over rice.
Nothing fancy, but comforting on a cold night. I doubt if I've made it though, in the time I've been doing this blog, which is now longer than I care to consider (2005). I was working from memory, and a couple of things immediately struck me. Somehow the process reminded me of long-ago agit about how to cut up a chicken breast, which I've done many times in other contexts since, or at least spent more time with a knife in my hand. Also, it occurred to me that I wanted to punch up the jar of cury (now Maesri rather than Taste of Thai), w/ real aromatics, so I added some fresh ginger and shallot at the beginning. Then I browned the chicken in the curry/aromatic mix, before adding liquids. This receipt was a favorite winter choice for my folks, b/c it's a non-assy application of frozen peas. However, reheating was a disaster, as peas got untenably mushy. I barely thawed some frozen peas, rinsed in cold water, and added as I served.
This version was objectively better, but somehow it felt strange to improve upon something my parents (now dead) had enjoyed so much when I cooked it for them. Cooking is funny like that.
Hoping for new signs on the bridges: "Welcome to Brooklyn! Come for the hot dykes! Stay for the hot gruel!"
Under the right circumstances, paying someone to fix you a hot farinaceous breakfast might be just the thing. Asked the porridge folks a menu question, and they use Bob's Red Mill grits, which is nice, in that they did not say "corn grits," but also disappointing in that it's not Anson Mills, or Red Mule, or Timms Mill or other grit with more personality. They were at pains to tell me the grits were gluten free, which considering grits are made out of corn seems unnecessary. However, the entire resto is very focused on being gluten-free, which is nice for those folks, though alarming in that there is a market for a gluten-free restaurant. Also, the grits are "creamy," but all the porridges are "dairy-free"? Butter is available, for a seventy-five cent surcharge on your seven dollar bowl of grits. We are not quite in gravy sommelier territory, but not far off. Would welcome intel from any boots on the ground in the Slope.
Like many of you, when Lou Reed died recently, I went on a VU/Lou binge. I bought New Sensations, listened to Rock n Roll Animal for the first time all the way through in forever, and so on. And now the news that Judy Rodgers, of Zuni Cafe, has died. I only had the chance to eat at Zuni once. I had the chicken, of course, and it was good, of course. What I learned from that meal, however, was how good Judy Rodgers was at writing cookbooks -- when a dedicated home cook took the time to read the receipt, get the proper ingredients, and take the time to do it the right way, the result was within maybe not spitting distance, but within a biscuit toss, maybe, of the restaurant version. That's rare for chef cookbooks. There is a lot of great stuff in the Zuni cookbook, and you should go get one now if you don't have it, but the bond between Ms. Rodgers and her roast chicken and bread salad is about as strong as any I can think of between a chef and a dish. As it happens, it's also figured in some moments in the Cod's life - I cooked it the night my mom died, and I mention cooking it for the first time when I remembered my father.
As it happens, we have the cinetrix' grasshoppers over for dinner tonight. I was tempted, for a moment, to scrap the plan and make the chicken and bread salad, in the same way I went on a Lou Reed binge recently. Then I remembered the recipe, and that starting now and making it for tonight would mean a series of halfass compromises, inimical to the spirit of her cookng. So I'll fire out something nice for the kids, and plan on roast chicken and bread salad for the weekend when I can get good chicken, good bread, and take the time to dry brine. With luck, I might be able to find the Charles Joguet Chinon she suggests as a pairing. I might just pick up Live, Take No Prisoners as a soundtrack.
For reasons easy to imagine, but tedious to relate, not the Cod's favorite time of year, specifically the part where we pivot from being thankful to trampling oneanother for flatscreen discounts. And "cyber Monday" is not part of the solution - a) it carries this spasmodic consumerism into the next week, and b) "cyber" is a word best left to the 900-baud era of online pornography.* That said, it is phyisically impossible to get mad at a Cheerwine robot telling you how to get some Cackalacky** hot sauce for Xmas giving:
I guess you have to move back catalog, and I guess it's harder with a dead cookbook author than with a dead rapper, b/c you can't release posthumous duets and stuff, but still, kind of a weird move from Knopf:
Yep, that's a banner advertisement on the online version of DI/DO suggesting that the answer to your Thanksgiving agit is... Julia Child? This is not quite like having Martin Luther celebrate Mass, but it's a headscratcher. Child dropped one (2 volume) cookbook that changed everything, and had a TV career that was even more infulential. TV chefs have to publish cookbooks b/c people want to buy them. Her bibliography reveals some essential titles, and some far less so. If Julia Child is the Wu-Tang Clan, then Mastering the Art of French Cooking is clearly her 36 Chambers, but there are some titles in the list that are more akin to Raekwon solo joints. The Way to Cook may be more of an Iron Flag, but I've never felt obliged to pick it up, what with a shelf full of books covering similar generalist territory.
So, yeah, "Traditional roast turkey" is sort of the opposite of what MTAOFC was all about, but curiouser still, the livery of the Knopf advertisement, steering people toward Julia's Way to Cook, is the iconic fleur-de-lys and whatchamajig of MTAOFC.
I have been thinking about icons and the wonkiness of our affective attachments to them at my day job, and this feels sort of similar. Anxious thanksgiving hosts fly to the pages of DI/DO in search of succor, and see the familiar face of Julia Child, click, and feel better. I would be sorry if this became a thing, as it works to reduce Julia to something like a posthumous career as a soigne 1-800-BUTTERBALL hotline. The essence of Julia's achievement was that she challenged home cooks, even as she made them feel they were up to the challenge. Situating Julia as the answer to Thanksgiving agit makes her more akin to a culinary Xanax, which is a shame.
Just when you think you might make it to kickoff with a Monday that is Guiteau-free the forces of Terrible say "not so fast." Via FOC TWM, news of Trader Joe's frozen poutine. Frozen french fries are terrible at home. Can't imagine that either gravy (or "Beef Sauce" for Trader Joe) or cheese curds take well to freezing. It's not so much that this is something to be avoided at all costs, as an item that discredits an entire grocery chain. If they allow this to happen, who knows what what else? Is the Trader Joe's store brand of pumpkin pie spice made entirely out of ground cicada corpses? No reason to be confident the answer is no. In any case, your fair warning to keep the entire fuck away from Trader Joe's, and to remember that you can only ever hope to contain Guiteau Monday.
1) In the context of eating a meal at a fast casual restaurant chain, how sure can one be of a server's sexual orientation? Is it like: "Hi! Welcome to TGI Pancho's! My name is Lisa, and I'll be your server today! Why don't you take a minute to look over the menu while I go over there and eat out my girlfriend, and I'll come back and tell you about today's specials?"
2) If we presume that it is ok (it is not) to punish the gays economically, wouldn't the thing to do be to ask to be moved to a different section with a heterosexual server? Instead of having filthy gays handle your plates of crab rangoon, etc? Or are these Christian stiffs all "hey! our server is a catamite, we walk out of here with 18% of the check total still in our pockets, because we do not have to tip depraved sinners. Cha- CHING!" Really?
3) In at least one case, the server was an ex-Marine. Just saying.
The Cod's initial reaction when I saw this story was "people who voluntarily eat in fast casual Italian restaurants, not to mention "Asian bistros," feel that they have a leg to stand on when it comes to disapproving the lifestyles of others? Surprisingly though, the Italian place, Carrabba's, on paper at least, seems to be fairly cromulent. No mention of unlimited breadsticks, and mostly recognizably Italian items on the menu. I doubt it would give Del Posto much to worry about, but it looks like it would be a better look than say, PF Chang's in an emergency. Also, out of curiosity, I took a look at the diversity tab on the website, and it appears to be an actually more thoughtful and more inclusive statement thann I would imagine: