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Member since: Sat Nov 30, 2013, 05:06 AM
Number of posts: 11,043

Journal Archives

Writing about food: Sumo Size Me, from Michael Booth's "Sushi & Beyond"

"It was lunch time: what I had been waiting for. ... Amused at my interest in his lunch plans, Sumo Monster explained that he was making a chanko nabe, the traditional sumo hotpot. 'There are lots of different kinds,' he said. 'Maybe as many as ten. We all take turns to make it and each of us has a specialty. This is a chicken and soy sauce one.' He chopped daikon radish then carrots into a pot of simmering water seasoned with soy, as if sharpening a pencil ... . He then added half a ladle of salt. Did he have a recipe? 'No, this is man's cooking, we don't really worry about the details. The important thing is that there is enough -- this is how the chanko nabe developed. Sumo stables used to be much larger, up to a hundred wrestlers, and they needed a dish that could be cooked in one pot but feed many.' With Sumo Monster engrossed in his chanko nabe I took my chance to sneak a look into the fridges. Instead of the cakes and chocolates I was hoping to find, they were full with sweetcorn, tofu, chicken, and other vegetables -- a veritable showcase of healthy eating.

"The lunch spread, though relatively healthy, was on an impressive scale. As well as the protein-rich chanko nabe, there was omelette, rice, cocktail sausages and, of all things, fried spam ... . We barely made an impression on the amount of food at the table, and left them to enjoy their well-earned feast and afternoon beauty nap."

I attended a morning sumo practice and lunch at a shrine a couple of years ago. During the practice I couldn't stop obsessing about how if I stepped, even a little, onto the sacred sumo dirt place I would instantly pollute it because of my woman parts. They'd have to get the Shinto priests to come and purify it for the fat guys to be able slap each other around again safely. I felt guilty ten years ago at my father-in-law's funeral ceremonies when the Shinto priest waved around sacred branches in his pure white garments and I was there quietly menstruating, polluting everything.

The chanko nabe was superb because the wrestler in charge made the broth from scratch, no instant dashi with MSG. I can taste MSG, I don't care what people who can't tell the difference say about it. You can or you can't. There were deep-fried things, a large mayonnaise noodle salad, other things I avoided. It was a hot summer day and who can eat so much besides wrestlers. The stable master asked me if I liked sweets and when I said I didn't, complained about the foreign wrestlers who did, and how obscenely large food portions were in the U.S. when he traveled there. Heh. Then the wrestlers bathed and had their hair done and took naps.

Writing about food: James Villas, "American Taste"

"Often I have occasion to glance into home refrigerators, and what I usually see makes my temperature rise; gallons of soda, frozen vegetables, pizzas and TV dinners, pounds of processed cheese in individual plastic wraps, boxes of disgusting breakfast cakes and rolls, and packages of those processed meats I wouldn't even feed to my beagle. At movies I'm dumbfounded at the amount of popcorn, candy, and sweet drinks that is consumed (when and where do those people eat dinner?). ... Nerves wracked, metabolism shot, and overweight, much of this same society (roughly 20 percent of the American population at any given time) eventually reaches out for any means possible to correct the damage.

"Basically people know that the answers to good health and weight control ultimately come from no other source than plain old common sense, but big business stands steadfast. 'The will to be cheated,' Lucius Beebe commented some years ago, 'is, apparently, a deep-rooted and inherent American instinct, but it seems a pity when it leads to the rejection of the all-too-frequent natural pleasures that make life bearable at all. As someone once remarked, the customers at diet-fad groceries always seem to look as though they got there ten years too late.'

"Well, at least as far as I'm concerned, healthy weight control is no more problematic than brushing teeth or walking the dog or preparing breakfast, meaning that what might appear to be a boring chore can, through habit, be transformed into a very enjoyable experience. When I wake up in the morning (even with a hangover), I know exactly where and what type of food I'll be eating throughout the day and night ... the anticipation nears being erotic. ... Many enlightened souls throughout the centuries have championed gourmandism as one of life's more civilized pleasures, but surely none stated the case more colorfully than the composer Rossini: 'Aside from doing nothing, I know of no more delightful occupation for myself than eating -- eating, that is, properly. What love is to the heart, appetite is to the stomach. The stomach is the chapel master which activates and directs the great orchestra of our passions. An empty stomach represents the bassoon or piccolo, one groaning out dissatisfaction, the other yelping for contentment. A full stomach, on the other hand, is the triangle of pleasure, the tympani of joy.'"

Writing about food: Edmund White, "A Language for Food"

"Hubert, like all Frenchmen, takes food very seriously and likes it fresh, so I go shopping every day ... . There is a small supermarket, but since I'm always with Fred, my dog, and he's not welcome, I avoid it. ... First Fred and I go to the fish man, who drives me mad because he insists on speaking English. ... But he does have nice fish, and ... he'll even write out recipes for me if I ask him. There he reverts to his native language and uses lovely expressions such as 'a tear of wine' ... 'a suspicion of ginger' ... 'a cloud of milk' ... or 'a nut of butter.' ... Fred prefers the butcher, who is fat and red-faced ... and wears a dubiously bloody apron. He always remembers to give Fred a big bone. Fred gazes at him admiringly as he cuts the fat off steak, chops off a chicken's head, digs out the giblets, sews up the cavity and passes the trussed bird under the blowtorch to remove the last feathers.

"The fruit and vegetable man is young and handsome and an incorrigible skirt-chaser. ... Of course it would be sacrilege to palpate or even touch any of his produce; he's always shouting at Americans who can't read the waring sign -- naturally, since it's written in French. His prices and stormy temperament are worth it, however, given that he can tell by smell alone the exact degree of ripeness for a melon, never sells rotting raspberries or fungusy blueberries, has eight kinds of lettuce, crisp tarragon, heavily perfumed basil, the subtlest chervil and even courgette flowers for deep-frying.

"The cheese store smells either intriguing or repulsive, depending on your mood or health. There are so many cheeses -- little 'turds' ... of goat cheese, runny Brie made from yummy unpasteurized milk, nightmarish rotting pyramids wrapped in leaves that remind you of nothing so much as vomit, even divinely bland cottage cheese made specially for the local Americans. I'm always reminded of de Gaulle's remark that it's impossible to rule a country that makes 250 kinds of cheese. The Italian shop ... the bakery with its irritating dog which always mounts a chagrined Fred, the wine store -- at last we're heading home. ... And to think my publisher wonders how I spend my days."

Writing about food: Howard Mohr's "How To Talk Minnesotan"

"On your visit to Minnesota, you will sooner or later come face to face with Minnesota's most popular native food, hotdish. ... A traditional main course, hotdish is cooked and served hot in a single baking dish and commonly appears at family reunions and church suppers. Hotdish is constructed on a base of canned cream of mushroom soup and canned vegetables. The other ingredients are as varied as the Minnesota landscape. If you sit down to something that doesn't look like anything you've ever seen before, it's probably hotdish. ... Here are eight hotdishes taken at random:

Spaghetti-Tuna Hotdish
Garbanzo Bango Hotdish
Velveeta-Hamburger Hotdish
Ketchup Surprise Hotdish
Back of the Refrigerator Hotdish
Doggone Good Hotdish
Turkey Wiener Doohah Hotdish
Organ Meat-Cashew Hotdish

"The Minnesota Salad is an appetizing complement to any hotdish and is composed of Jell-O in any flavor, miniature colored marshmallows, canned fruit cocktail, and a generous dollop of Cool Whip on top. ... Don't make the mistake of calling the Minnesota salad dessert or saving it until the end of the meal. The Minnesota tossed salad consists of a few leaves of iceberg lettuce floating on a sea of french dressing.

"Lunch can also occur at other odd times of the day. It is then called 'a little lunch.' ... Little has no more to do with size and variety in the phrase 'a little lunch' than it does when you say 'I had a little trouble' after the parking brake fails on your car and it rolls through the wall into the No Smoking section of Perkins Family Restaurant. Whenever two or three are gathered together, a little lunch will be forthcoming: at 4-H, poker games, Lutheran Circle, piano recitals, town councils, funerals, weddings. The little lunch is always larger than the mid-morning and mid-afternoon lunch, with a better selection of bars and meat sandwiches."

"Abrupt and eager acceptance of any offer is a common mistake made by Minnesota's visitors. ... We never accept until the third offer and then reluctantly."

National Potato Chip Day: M.F.K. Fisher, "Last House"

"Most of our vices are relatively harmless to other people, two- or four-legged -- that is, I doubt that I taint more than my own liver when I happily, indeed voluptuously, tweak open a cellophane packet of salt-encrusted, preservatives-loaded, additives-flavored, crispy-crunchy, and machine-made potato chips. (They used to be called Saratoga chips, I think.) It seems logical, or at least convenient in a somewhat jesuitical way, that I have earned this latter-day respite from my early dedication to the pursuit of The Perfect. I have tasted the best, I argue, and therefore am justified in solacing my last years with no matter how unreasonable facsimiles, since the best is unattainable. It is unattainable here and now, anyway. Occasionally, and always alone, I put some substitute for the Perfect Potato Chip in a little wooden bowl (this is all somewhat dubious and fetishistic from a Freudian or perhaps Jungian or even est-ian point of view) and eat it before lunch. (Never dinner or supper.) The ersatz potato chips are not good."

Writing about food: James Beard, "Delights and Prejudices"

"When Proust recollected the precise taste sensation of the little scalloped madeleine cakes served at tea by his aunt, it led him into his monumental remembrance of things past. When I recollect the taste sensations of my childhood, they lead me to more cakes, more tastes: the great razor clams, the succulent Dungeness crab, the salmon, crawfish, mussels and trout of the Oregon coast; the black bottom pie served in a famous Portland restaurant; the Welsh rabbit of our Chinese cook, the white asparagus my mother canned, and the array of good dishes prepared by the two of them in that most memorable of kitchens. The Kitchen, reasonably enough, was the scene of my first gastronomic adventure. I was on all fours. I crawled into the vegetable bin, settled on a giant onion and ate it, skin and all.

"One of my memories of this period is the sight of my mother ... cooking dozens of freshly opened oysters in butter by the pound. There were two big iron skillets on the fire. The oysters were floured, dipped in egg and cracker crumbs and cooked quickly in deep butter till they were golden on both sides. ... A squeeze of lemon and some freshly ground pepper were all they needed, except for a garnish of bacon and crisp, buttered toast. ... Sometimes after an early morning session of clamming we had a breakfast of fried clams, fresh from the sands. ... Supper on the beach changed with the seasons. We often had salmon grilled over the coals of the fire and brushed with bacon fat or butter. ... For a beach luncheon, we frequently had sensational hamburgers of beef, onion, herbs, garlic and salt and pepper, which Mother formed into thickish cakes and cooked on a griddle instead of broiling over the open fire. ... She would also provide pickled salmon, or cold ham, salad, relishes and pickles and very often a pan of her baked beans boiled till tender with onion and bay leaf and then baked with salt pork, mustard and seasonings, with the addition of meat broth ... or sausage ... . Mother taught me to detest beans done with molasses or brown sugar. I remember once going to a picnic given by other people where canned beans of a famous make, thus sweetened, were served. I thought they were very chic and told my mother her beans were old-fashioned. At the next picnic of ours, Mother brought a huge mess of canned beans and insisted that I eat them instead of hers. I never complained again ... .

"These days on the Oregon shore were among the most memorable in my life. I can remember several occasions when an equinoctial storm came up suddenly, catching us still on the beach. I reveled in being out in the driving rain and high winds and in watching the surf go wild. It was equally exciting to scurry home, draw the shutters and sup on good food while listening to the wind and the beating rain."

Sixth Anniversary of the March 11, 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan.

Government subsidies and housing for survivors are being phased out, reconstruction slowing (also instances of fraud, companies collecting subsidies and not doing the work), who knows what's up with the radiation situation. Stories of children of evacuated Fukushima families being bullied, called "germ" by classmates and teachers -- a national survey shows that 54% of 741 families out of 9,500 who completed the survey reported bullying of this type. One of them said that after six years it's getting worse, not better.

A couple of my favorite documentaries:

Japan's Tsunami Caught on Camera:

Children of the Tsunami (this is really bad quality)

And a story about "Tsunami Warnings, Written in Stone":

"Hundreds of so-called tsunami stones, some more than six centuries old, dot the coast of Japan, silent testimony to the past destruction that these lethal waves have frequented upon this earthquake-prone nation. But modern Japan, confident that advanced technology and higher seawalls would protect vulnerable area, came to forget or ignore these ancient warnings, dooming it to repeat bitter experiences when the recent tsunami struck.


Writing about food: Jim Harrison, "The Raw and the Cooked, Adventures of a Roving Gourmand"

"I spent two weeks at the Rancho La Puerta health spa ... in order to quit smoking ... . Almost incidentally I lost seventeen pounds in two weeks. ... The menu was total vegetarian with fish twice a week. ... At the Rancho one day at lunch I told some ... ladies what I thought was a charming story of simple food. One August, years ago, I was wandering around the spacious property of a chateau up in Normandy, trying to work up a proper appetite for lunch. The land, owned by a friend, doubled as a horse farm and a vicious brood mare had tried to bite me, an act I rewarded with a stone sharply thrown against her ass. Two old men I hadn't seen laughed beneath a tree. I walked over and sat with them around a small fire. They were gardeners and it was their lunch hour, and on a flat stone they had made a small circle of hot coals. They had cored a half dozen big red tomatoes, stuffed them with softened cloves of garlic, and added a sprig of thyme, a basil leaf, and a couple of tablespoons of soft cheese. They roasted the tomatoes until they softened and the cheese melted. I ate one with a chunk of bread and healthy-sized swigs of a jug of red wine. ... A simple snack but indescribably delicious. I waited only a moment for the ladies' reaction. CHEESE, two of them hissed, CHEESE, as if I puked on their sprouts, and WINE! The upshot was that cheese was loaded with cholesterol and wine has an adverse effect on blood sugar.

"At dawn the next morning I decided to skip human life and spend the day in the mountains. ... I took my binoculars, an orange, a hard-boiled egg, and a one-once bottle of Tabasco for the egg. ... Four hours into the mountains I ate the egg and the orange with relish. ... Then out out of the chaparral appeared a tough, ragged-looking Mexican who asked me if I had anything to eat. I said no, wishing I had saved the orange. He smiled, bowed, and continued ... presumably toward the United States and the pursuit of happiness, including something to eat.

"I remembered, in my wandering starving artist years in the late 1950's, spending subway fare for a thirty-five-cent Italian-sausage sandwich and walking seventy blocks to work the next morning, eating free leftovers given to me by Babe and Louis at the Kettle of Fish bar, buying twenty-five-cent onion sandwiches on rye bread at McSorley's. I had wonderful meals working as a poetic busboy at the Prince Brothers Spaghetti House in Boston; I often devoured two fried eggs after Storyville, the best jazz club ever, closed at dawn. In the San Francisco area there were two-for-a-nickel oranges, the oddly delicious macaroni salad at the Coexistence Bagel Shop for a quarter, the splurge of an enormous fifty-cent bowl of pork and noodles in Chinatown. And let's not forget the desperation of eating ten-cent cafeteria bread and ketchup in Salt Lake City or the grapefruit given me by an old woman in the roadside dust near Fallon, Nevada."

Writing about food: Nigel Slater, "Toast, The story of a boy's hunger"

"Mrs Jones lived in a granny flat next to her daughter's house on Collins Green. ... Mrs Jones was dying to the ticking of a grandfather clock. Her daughter made cake. Lemon cake, date cake, chocolate cake, aniseed cake, cherry cake, walnut cake, round cake, square cake, plain cake, fancy cake. Best of all she made coffee cake, thick, light sponge the colour of milky coffee, with nubbly bits of walnut in and two thick layers of walnut frosting. I would love to say I went to see old Mrs J every week to cheer up a lonely old lady, but I cannot. I went for the cake.

"One Tuesday visit had included two slices of particularly wonderful coffee cake, and I figured there would still be some left the following day. I knocked at the door but it was already open. I called her name, then peered inside. A neat hallway, a kitchen sink, clearly visible, full of cake tins and mixing bowls. Suddenly something hit me from behind and I fell forward on to my hands and knees. Before I could call out a single word two huge paws slipped around my shoulders, two hind leg tucked behind mine, and the smooth chest of Miss Jones's pet Alsatian pushed down on my back. I froze, waiting for his teeth to sink into my neck. Instead, I just felt something cold and wet against the top of my bare leg.

"The humping -- frantic, breathy, his wet tongue lolloping against my ear -- seemed to last for ever. Part of me wanted Miss Jones to come round the corner and rescue me, but another part didn't. I would rather no one ... witnessed a sex-starved Alsatian pumping away at me like a sailor on leave. ... I loved that cake dearly, as I do to this day, but never again did I visit that dear old lady or eat coffee and walnut cake to the sound of a ticking grandfather clock."

Writing about food: A.J. Liebling, "Between Meals, An Appetite For Paris"

"The Proust madeleine phenomenon is now as firmly established in folklore as Newton's apple or Watt's steam kettle. The man ate a tea biscuit, the taste evoked memories, he wrote a book. ... In the light of what Proust wrote with so mild a stimulus, it is the world's loss that he did not have a heartier appetite. On a dozen Gardiners Island oysters, a bowl of clam chowder, a peck of steamers, some bay scallops, three sauteed soft-shelled crabs, a few ears of fresh-picked corn, a thin swordfish steak of generous area, a pair of lobsters, and a Long Island duck, he might have written a masterpiece.

"The primary requisite for writing well about food is a good appetite. Without this, it is impossible to accumulate, within the allotted span, enough experience of eating to have anything worth setting down. Each day brings only two opportunities for field work, and they are not to be wasted minimizing the intake of cholesterol. They are indispensable, like a prizefighter's hours on the road.

"If ... the first requisite for writing well about food is a good appetite, the second is to put in your apprenticeship as a feeder when you have enough money to pay the check but not enough to produce indifference to the size of the total. ... The reference room where I pursued my own first earnest researches as a feeder without the crippling handicap of affluence was the Restaurant des Beaux-Arts ... in 1926-27. I was a student, in a highly generalized way, at the Sorbonne ... . A man who is rich in his adolescence is almost doomed to be a dilettante at table. This is not because all millionaires are stupid but because they are not impelled to experiment. In learning to eat, as in psychoanalysis, the customer, in order to profit, must be sensible of the cost. ... A drastically poor man, naturally, has even less chance than a drastically rich one to educate himself gastronomically. For him eating becomes merely a matter of subsistence; he can exercise no choice. The chief attraction of the cheapest student restaurants in my time was advertised on their largest placards: 'Pain a Discretion' ('All the Bread You Want'). They did not graduate discriminating eaters. During that invaluable year, I met a keen observer who gave me a tip: 'If you run across a restaurant where you often see priests eating with priests, or sporting girls with sporting girls, you may be confident that it is good. Those are two classes of people who like to eat well and get their money's worth.' ... Failing the sure indications cited above, a good augury is the presence of French newspapermen."
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