Saturday, January 5, 2008

Jam Tomorrow, Jam Yesterday

                                                            Photo Flickr-ms.Tea

But never jam today.

I know I promised to talk about chili, but as I must follow Lewis Carroll's rules it won't be today.

Instead there is something to read. It is more than good enough to eat. Wander to it if you'd like to read something warming and delicious in words. From Rachel - it's the last comment on the linked post.

I love to read Rachel's evocative writings. 

Friday, January 4, 2008

How 2 B A Food Riter

Writing about food is becoming an ever-more popular thing to do.

Everyone is an expert, too - for who does not eat among us?

I'm not sure how people used to become food-writers. Maybe they just decided to do it then did it but today the opportunities to study "food-writing" are growing with the verdant strength of mint in a hot summer garden. 

Even Stanford now offers an online course in food writing, which is not only listed on a Google search but is also advertised in the sponsored link section.

Could this be the wave of the future? Could the best food writing professors at major universities ultimately replace the football coaches in income-earning ability?

Admittedly, I'd like to see someone who talks of writing about food making several million dollars a year rather than someone who talks about how to throw balls while tackling each other - but that's just me.

Maybe if a dining competition were part of the program it could help. Teams of college students, all well versed in dining (dining, not eating) could fill the stadiums . . . the games scored by how knowledgeable and discriminatory they were in menu choices and table manners. Ah, what a lovely dream.

I bet it would improve food concessions and the general state of tailgating, too.

Tomorrow: Chili

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Meeting? Meating?

                                                                                     Photo Flickr-Jenguin

If it so happens that you are someone who likes meat, hates meat, or lives in a world where meat exists, you may enjoy taking a gander at Meatpaper.

"A print magazine of art and ideas about meat. We like metaphors more than marinating tips. We are your journal of meat culture" is the editors description of the magazine.

Nobody even has to ask where the beef is - the online site offers meaty bites of the corpus of the print versions.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Putting Gender on the Table

                                                Illustration Flickr-Todd Ehlers

It's possible one would rather have sex on the table, but this is a very good thing to read about. Food for the mind.

From Harvard (wooooo-hoooo!):

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Barry Fig's Chip

Hard, small, knotted stones rose suddenly, pulsing with pain in the hot wet corners of Barry Fig’s cheeks. A startling, loud squirting noise came from his mouth. Barry had vigorously, and quite inadvertently, salivated.

The taste reminded him of rice and sea salt blended into some gummy combination. Damn dream. It had embarrassed him in public once again. He moved away from the counter cautiously, pushing through brightly attired college students and dull corporate drones lined up for chai lattes and cappuccinos. He felt slightly dizzy and moved his hands to grip the cup more securely. As he sidled through the crowd, a glum silent little prayer repeated itself in his mind over and over, “I hope nobody heard that ridiculous noise I made!” But the sudden salivation must have been covered up by the steamy sound of the espresso machines. Nobody seemed to be staring at him. Barry decided to be thankful for small favors.

Into the low purple velvet chair he sunk, coffee held close to his chest. The chair squeaked a mild puff of protest as Barry sandwiched his not-undersized bottom fully into its soft seat. Brazilian music percolated a bass note into the warm room that was made so pleasantly bright by natural light that flowed through the floor- to-ceiling windows. A disparate river of voices blended together in happy hip-ness mixed with sharp scent-notes of cinnamon, chocolate, and perfumed soaps. A seamless wave of sophisticated urbanity existed here in this so-familiar coffee shop cocoon . . . the mood was always so smooth, so genial.

But today this damn dream was seriously getting in the way of Barry’s angst-free patina. Not even the four-dollar-ninety-five-cent-plus-dollar-tip-left-for-the-barista-with-a-smug-smile caramel macchiato helped erase the urgent discomfort that persistently bit at him.

Dodging his pale slightly bulbous blue eyes here and there to be sure nobody was watching he gave a quick hard sideways tug at his fancy leather belt to relieve the tight pressure edging into his gut. The epiphany occurred then, in a shocked demi-second of illumination. It struck him like a big red lobster clawing his nose. It was time for this dream to be made real. He knew it would bring so much to the world. Who wouldn’t love this? It was time. It was past time, really, for the world’s largest potato chip to be built.

His macchiato finished with a lip-licking slurp, Barry pushed up with his chubby wrists to leave his chair. Flipping open his cell phone to check the time with a practiced snap of his well-manicured hands, he emerged out into the sunlight. He decided to avoid the subway today – the end of the ride would no doubt be horrible in this heat. He raised his hand into the air, to hail a taxi out to his job on City Island as an assistant designer of elevator electrical panels.

Bouncing away on the slippery cab seat during the twenty-minute ride, his mind focused on the details of his dream, how he would do it . . . but it was all rather fuzzy. He needed help with this thing. He didn’t know anything about food. (Except to know what he liked, of course.) He needed money, too, probably, and his credit cards were all maxed out as usual. How did other people do things like this? A large billboard caught his attention. “Nike!” was brazenly splashed across the wide surface. Ugh. No, that wouldn’t do. Corporate support was okay for athletes, but personally he hated all corporations. They were evil. It was corporations that were to blame for most of the world’s ills. It was really sickening that they should have so much money and power.

He ran through the list of everyone he’d ever known . . . old friends, people he’d met on the elevator mechanics forum, family . . . but none of them had any money. Christ. How was this chip ever going to be brought into the world? But what about that guy his sister had dated last year . . . what was his name? Roan Haselshnitz! He knew stuff about food. He’d started three restaurants (none of them were still open, but anyway . . .) He’d made a mint. Now there was a really savvy business guy. Kind of guy Barry just naturally detested, but whatever. He’d get his phone number from his sister and give him a call.

“Barry, dude! What’s been going on?” Roan was the same as Barry had remembered (a bit too loud and hearty).“What’s Cassie been up to? Married yet?” Barry worked his way nervously through the usual chit-chat. His heart skipped a beat here and there as he waited to get to the point: his dream, his fantastic project! Bent closely over his work desk, he started to doodle a huge potato chip onto the message pad before him, but quickly tore off the pink sheet and crumpled it as once again the familiar sensation began in his always-ready taste-buds.

“Roan, dude. I uh . . . need your help, man. It’s about a project I’m working on. You know about food and stuff. And business and stuff. So I need to ask you something.”

“Sure, dude. Ask away!” Barry pictured Roan in a leather chair, leaning back, toying with an expensive cigar. He always pictured Roan with a cigar, even though Roan was a non-smoking kind of guy, the sort of guy that was always a bit too thin, too fit, too damn healthy, which was disturbing in some way to Barry. He opened his mouth to tell Roan his reason for calling, his dream, and a hot flash overcame him. He felt as if he were sweating bricks all of a sudden. Somehow, without passing out (yet without really knowing what he was saying) he rapidly burbled words into the receiver of the phone. God, this was hard. It was his dream. What if this guy laughed at him? Or worse, what if he just was totally bored by it?

At first when Barry stopped talking, he heard nothing. His blood felt as if it were starting to freeze in his veins, and the image of a frozen Icee flashed into his mind. He felt like he was spinning inside a big metal machine, all scrunched up and cold, palpably soft and over-sugared, just waiting to be expelled through a too-tight plastic tube into the sticky convenience-store atmosphere of real life.

“Whoa, man. That’s intense. I like it!” Roan’s voice came to him through the frozen fog. “Everyone likes potato chips. Who doesn’t like potato chips? Man, I almost feel my mouth salivating right now!”

Barry smiled. He knew that feeling. That feeling was a good one, as long as you were ready for it.

“I’m not in the food business exactly, anymore, Barry,” Roan said. “But I might be able to think of some ways to help you get set up.” Barry was shocked, and a bit worried, for how could the guy help if he wasn’t in the food business anymore?

“Most of my business now is done on the web, man. I have a couple of websites that generate income, actually pretty good income. They’re websites for foodies, you can make some good contacts there, dude. I’ll fill you in on the ropes. Your idea. . . will go over big, I’m pretty sure. Write me out a proposal for what you want to do and we’ll post it. We’ll give you a great online name. That always helps. Maybe we’ll even create a guy online to hassle you – that’ll get you the sympathy vote, and maybe even some bucks for backing. It’s a Gulliver’s Travels vs. Pinocchio sort of scene, you know. But we can work it for you. Listen, it’s made me a great income in the past six months. I love your idea!” he almost shouted through the phone with a huge guffaw of a laugh.

Barry didn’t understand most of what Roan was saying but what the heck. It sounded cool, and he was really anxious to find a way to build this chip. When Barry clicked off his cell phone twenty minutes later he and Roan were firm friends and new partners in the business of “The World’s Biggest Potato Chip.”

For two weeks now, Barry had been posting on Roan’s websites about his project to build the world’s biggest chip. At first he had some positive feedback, but no definite backers seemed to be interested. Each day he would log on to see what responses had come in. Each day things got worse and worse. People were posting ridiculous questions and even coming close to being insulting about his idea. “Posturing nincompoops,” he muttered to himself as he read the posts this morning. “Go fuck yourself.” That was the mantra he muttered each morning, over and over now, as he read the replies. “Go fuck yourself go fuck yourself go fuck yourself.”

But today was different. Someone had posted offering what looked like good ideas, along with an offer to help. She had one advanced degree in Marketing and another in Biology. Minx Calipher. “What a beautiful name,” Barry thought. Her posts were full of stuff about who had done what, here and there, in this somewhat limited field of building large food dreams. “Gossipy little bit of strudel!” Barry smiled to himself, pleased at discovering all this new and valuable information. He decided to contact her.

Finally, the project was underway. The chip was actually being grown, rather than built. A patent had been applied for in Minx’s name along with Roan’s, for they had provided the funds needed for the project. The only point of contention between the three had been about what sort of potato to use. Barry wanted to use an Idaho. An Idaho was already big to start off with, he figured, and had a sense of safety, and America, about it. Roan argued for Red Bliss, saying that the tensile strength of the potato would prove a good thing in the long run. Minx was for the idea of Peruvian Purples. So stylish and hip! After three days of bitter argument, they decided to leave the decision up to a vote by the members of Roan’s foodie website. Idaho won by a landslide.

The plan was to grow the potato chip to its full, giant size, then to prepare it for cooking by spraying all its surfaces with canola oil. It would then be air-baked by a team of chefs, each wielding a hot welding gun gently over the surface of the chip as they walked around and around it, just close enough to cook it to a perfect golden crisp.

Journalists called Barry weekly to find out the status of the project (one even invited him to guest judge on the top-rated TV show “Americas Biggest Chefs Spit Bricks”), for this would be the first giant potato chip ever developed with the use of Viagra as fertilizer. Minx, with her advanced degree in bio-engineering, had written a two hundred fourteen page thesis on the subject. Barry had scanned through it but had not bothered to read it, really, as first of all it looked like gibberish to him, which made him feel stupid, and second of all, he trusted Minx implicitly. Who wouldn’t! She was charming, and loved to wear tight low-cut blouses, which made her all the more believable.

In the small closed-off room in the basement at Barry’s office building in City Island, dimmed lights were hung at odd angles from the ceiling and the chip started to grow. It had been cut perfectly with a mandoline, an oval orb from an Idaho potato – then placed on a cut-open and taped-down Hefty lawn-and-leaf bag to grow. It was doused with a precise amount of liquid Viagra daily. Barry had taken to gulping a bit of the Viagra too, as Minx visited often. Not that he needed it, he told himself. When his chip came through, she surely would love him anyway.

And the chip did start to grow. First it extended into a larger oval, then grew even more. It had reached three feet in diameter when something started to change. It elongated into a shape longer than oval. It began to resemble a french fry more than a chip. Barry was extremely upset when he noticed the change, and called Minx to come over to the shop to take a look. He also was vaguely uncomfortable in general and was having difficulties walking because of his daily Viagra cocktails.

“Jeez, Barry! What are you worried about?” Minx asked with a warm hint of maternal concern in her voice, when she saw how the potato had grown. She laughed as she tossed her Chanel necklace out of the way in order to put her face up close to the large, strangely-shaped bit of potato. “We’ll just call it the world’s biggest french fry! People love french fries! Maybe even more than chips! Ahhh, we could even make the world’s largest ketchup packet.” She poked with her burgundy-manicured fingertip at the potato and smiled, well pleased.

Barry was wordless. His head pulsed with a pain that had started just above his left eye. This was his dream, had always been his dream, and she did not understand it! Sweat beads formed on his forehead and the taste-buds in the corners of his mouth felt hot, burning hot, and dry. They crumpled into sand-like piteous fragments like a taste-reminder of ancient stale Pop Rocks. Without thought, he grabbed Minx’s shoulder and twisted her around, pulling her up as she bent over the table, towards him, grasping her tiny waist and pulling her narrow bony hips up and jabbing into his own rounded frame, while still trying to stand up straight without embarrassing himself.

Minx let out a little shriek, pulling her chin so far back into her neck that Barry thought she looked exactly like a french fry herself for a moment. “Barry! Cut it out! I’m with Roan. Didn’t you know?” She pushed him away, hard, and as she did, he grabbed the Hefty lawn-and-leaf bag to try to keep his balance. The bag slid onto the floor and the potato went with it. As it landed on the floor, the elongated huge piece of potato broke into shattered bits.

Barry and Minx stared at it, breathing hard, frozen in time and space. Minx was the one who moved first, to start to clean it up. “I’m sorry, Barry. I guess that’s the end of that.”

It was the end of Barry’s hopes and dreams. Minx and Roan sold the story of the chip to a scientific journal then used the money to take a trip to Cuba where, Barry imagined, they were smoking small vile cigars and drinking bad rum at this very moment. His dream had been crushed, ruined, and on top of that he’d had to consult a medical specialist to help with the problem that he’d developed from drinking all that Viagra. He couldn’t start over again with another chip, for Minx and Roan owned the patent to the idea.

One bright morning, on his way to work a few months later, he patiently waited in line at the coffee shop. A strange woozy feeling came over him. A dream. A new dream. No longer a chip. Instead, the image of a doodle came rushing with a vibrant glory into his mind. A cheese doodle. The biggest cheese doodle in the world. And it would be his. It would be Barry Fig’s Big Doodle. He couldn’t wait to begin. Sometimes, he thought, a chip is just not enough.

Barry smiled, and salivated loudly with a startling, loud squirting noise, surrounded by all the brightly attired college students and dull corporate drones lined up for chai lattes and cappuccinos.

Environments Near Far and Virtual

Monkeys at the Feast

Monkeys at a feast. In ways it reminds me of humans on the information superhighway.

It's astonishing the ways online environments have replaced real ones in terms of time spent in various degrees, for various purposes. 

In the past year I learned a lot about the virtual experience. On the plus side, there are some people who over time have shown themselves to be rather wonderful people in my life, though I do not know them "in person". On the minus side (but not really for all things learned lead to some sort of hoped-for wisdom) there are some people or environments which (just as in real life) have proved to be toxic in my life.

The toxic in life always startles me. Intellectually I'm ready for it but nevertheless there is always an element of surprise, emotionally. One never wants to see the toxic, of course.

The great thing is that when one departs from a place or person that is toxic the feeling of possibilities increase as if by magic. And of course in reality the possibilities increase too, for there is no longer a struggle of the confusion wrought not by good fairies but rather by imps.

I recently read a post by a new member of a website (or rather the website prefers to be called a "Society" actually) a few weeks ago and it made me laugh aloud. It was this new member's first post and though they noted that they dared to do it in order to contribute their thoughts to the topic, nonetheless they somehow felt "guilty" just for noting their thoughts, and that this had never occurred at any other site, and they could not really put their finger on the "why" of it.

So often I had felt the same way when participating in this "Society". Being versed in management I often wondered how this could happen (for it not only happened to me but to other people I knew and more than a handful of them too).

Was it an operational flaw? Lack of management structure or accountability? Was it due to the fact that there was no real pay given to management types but rather there was the coin of ego boost attached to title given, the feeling of being part of the powerful (sic) in-group, the bonus of having their essays printed in the literary section of the site? (All good things but not in the real world equating to the variety of professionalism granted when compensation by real money is given for a job done.)

Or was it due to the leader?

I've developed a thesis by watching things over the years: The priest makes the church. The rituals are important, the structure is required - the supporting cast necessary, too - but the final tone of the place is set by the priest or leader.

Why did this person new to the site feel guilty? Why have so many other people been made to feel quite odd and uncomfortable when they do not feel so at other places?

I don't have an answer to that. And can't really find one that satisfies me, for the Society I speak of (or the website anyway, which has named itself a Society), although seemingly transparent in all things operational is in reality opaquely transparent in all things operational. One might think a lawyer designed it.

And goodness knows what lies at the hearts of things lawyers design.

There are so many other environments, though. Near, far, and virtual. I'm pleased to have found that there are no new members posting of feelings of guilt in any of them I've noticed so far.

I feel like a new woman, having emigrated from a place where I often felt quite uncomfortable. 

In the new year to come, if you feel uncomfortable or unhappy, do consider yourself . . . consider what contribution your own acts may have conspired to have this be so. But do also consider your environment. 

Some can be toxic. 

If we are to be monkeys at the feast let's be sure the food is to our tastes. If not, search out another table. Good tastes are waiting, somewhere.

Chomp chomp.