Today I learned that my favorite local diner, the Rocky Cola Cafe in Montrose, is closing down.
I've been taking the kids to Rocky Cola for spectacularly unhealthy and classically American weekend breakfasts for years. It's an agreeable arrangement: they greet us by name, the kids have their favorites, they bring me my drink without asking, and I cheerfully, massively overtip. This leads to a feedback loop where they bring the food even faster and I overtip more, towards the theoretical zero-point where they'd be shoving the Kitchen Sink Omelet into my face before I'm all the way out of my car and I just deed my house over to them.
I'm going to have to find somewhere else to pacify children with mountains of hash browns, and make new memories.
I have resisted what amounts to a dare by Patrick to geek out in front you all over the progress of the HBO series Game of Thrones, which has had two episodes now. Suffice it to say: I am rereading the series (in my iPad this time) in preparation for the 5th book in July, I am faithfully watching and enjoying the series, I am attempting to keep my dear wife (Happy Anniversary, dear) interested in it, and I am using it to think about the necessary differences between art forms. But I am reserving the more effusive geekery to other locales, so as not to embarrass Patrick. It's really the least I can do.
That said: one of the great things about this series of tubes is its ability to deliver to us not only pure geekery in its unrefined form, but geek fusion, in which different types of geekery are combined in new and exciting ways. In that spirit, via the man himself, I give you The Inn at the Crossroads, a blog that documents attempts to re-create both medieval and modern versions of the foods described in GRRM's Song of Ice and Fire series.
Something tells me that all of the Chinamen who've been struggling to get out of the rice paddies aren't going to be too happy to hear what the United Nations, and the New York Times, have in store for their future…
The oldest and most common dig against organic agriculture is that it cannot feed the world’s citizens; this, however, is a supposition, not a fact.
Do you see the reversal here?
The Times is advocating for a return to "organic" agriculture, meaning no pesticides, no chemicals, no fertilizers, and no machines. That would be a pretty radical change from what the green revolution has wrought, but the Times puts the burden of proof on those who believe that a complete worldwide upheaval, and rejection of a century's technological progress, on those who don't see the need to upend world agriculture just yet.
A more accurate statement would be:
"Advocates for non-technological farming, or as they put it, "sustainable agriculture," state that the world population of six billion can feed itself using no pesticides, chemicals, fertilizers, or machines; this, however, is a supposition, not a fact."
In fact it's science fiction. Or perhaps fantasy:
Yet there is good news: increasing numbers of scientists, policy panels and experts (not hippies!) are suggesting that agricultural practices pretty close to organic — perhaps best called “sustainable” — can feed more poor people sooner, begin to repair the damage caused by industrial production and, in the long term, become the norm.
Olivier de Schutter, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on the Right to Food, presented a report entitled “Agro-ecology and the Right to Food.” (Agro-ecology, he said in a telephone interview last Friday, has “lots” in common with both “sustainable” and “organic.”) Chief among de Schutter’s recommendations is this: “Agriculture should be fundamentally redirected towards modes of production that are more environmentally sustainable and socially just.”
Sustainable means no pesticides, fertilizers, chemicals, or machines. We get that. Socially just means…
And how? Oh, here's how:
Agro-ecology and related methods are going to require resources too, but they’re more in the form of labor, both intellectual — much research remains to be done — and physical: the world will need more farmers, and quite possibly less mechanization.
In other words, it's going to require science fiction. Scientists are going to have to invent a way for agriculture to feed six billion people, without technology. Without the pesticides, fertilizers, chemicals, and machines that they've used so far to enable people to feed themselves. And without genetic modification of crops, because that's wrong too.
The United Nations, and the Times, are essentially advocating the methods demonstrated by Monty Python forty years ago in "How To Do It":
Just invent a way to feed six billion people without pesticides, fertilizers, chemicals, machines, and genetic modification of crops, and you're all set. This rather remarkably resembles my plan to make the world energy independent by inventing a means of magnetically contained hydrogen fusion, which I'll unveil any day now. I'm just waiting until after the United Nations, and the Times, reveal their method for revolutionizing world agriculture without technology.
Oh wait. They have. In the here and now, there's brute labor and price controls.
Forty percent of the world's population is in India and China. To farm sustainably, and without technology, the Indians and the Chinese are going to have to leave the cities, where for some reason they prefer to be, to go back to the rice paddies they've spent the past two decades trying to escape.
Has the United Nations told them? Has the Times?
Do they know what the United Nations of the far future has planned for them? And what would they think of it, if they knew?
36 years ago, a local paper ran a seasonal puff piece about the holiday traditions in my maternal grandmother's home. In addition to discussing the German and Dutch traditions handed down from my great-grandparents, it offered an array of German recipes, a purloined "secret" cheesecake recipe the publication of which remains a scandal nearly four decades later, and an array of recipes that illustrate just how much our palates have changed in that time. One of my favorite signs of change:
MEXICAN HORS D'OEUVRES
Butter a flour tortilla and place in hot frying pan, buttered side down. Cover with grated Tillamook cheese, chopped Bermuda onion and a chopped pimento. Butter a second tortilla and lay on top of the other, butter side up. When brown, flip over and brown other side. Remove to a warm plate and cut in wedges with a pizza cutter.
I'm pretty sure somebody associated with this whole affair knew that was called a quesadilla, but deemed that term inappropriate for a family newspaper in Orange County, California in 1974. Also, I had not previously appreciated the role of the pimento in easing culture shock.
My youngest aunt — still in the home at the time — reports that guests in 1974 found the "Mexican Hors D'oeuvre" remarkably novel and exotic. Now, of course, my kids have been eating quesadillas their whole life — along with sushi, tikka masala, pad thai, and sole in black bean sauce. What will they be trying to get me to eat 36 years from now, and feeding their own kids?
How about some recommendations for some tasty and interesting variations on Thanksgiving classics — with links, if possible?
The rules: (1) no food that is too fun to cook. In other words, no deep fried turkeys. (2) Only variations on classics. No strange shit.
Why am I so timid?
Well, it's not me. My lovely and much-smarter-than-I-am wife has a rule: if it ain't in Freedom from Want, we're not having it. Normally she permits me to cook adventurous things. Not on high holidays. This may be a form of PTSD remaining from our first Thanksgiving dinner together, eaten at my grandparents' stuffy and white-as-bone downtown club, where they served (among other things) lion, and where she was exposed to a is-she-good-enough-for-our-little-boy grilling from the relatives so severe that it makes Gitmo look like a spa day at the Plaza.
So if you have any recommended turkey brines and/or rubs, creative ways to do mashed potatoes, tasty gravies, etc., serve 'em up — I'm the chef on Thanksgiving.
When I read that Maurizio Antoninetti (a serial filer of Americans With Disabilities Act claims) had sued a Mexican fast food chain for denying him "the Chipotle experience," my first thought was, "why the Hell would anyone want to undergo "the Chipotle experience" a second time?
But then, when I think of "the Chipotle experience," I associate it with this not-safe-for-work bit of humor:
Of course Antoninetti didn't actually want to feel "the Chipotle experience" even once. As pointed out at the link, Antoninetti has sued at least 20 restaurants to which he never returned after receiving his ADA payout.
So, the con itself started. Registration actually started 20 minutes early. I was pretty close to the front. You got some nice schwag just for showing up. A free copy of one of three Queen Games (I got Robber Knights, the least of the three) then you drew a ticket which either entered you in a drawing for some really great games, or guaranteed you a game from the free game room (full of a lot of good but not great games.) I got the free game, and wandered the room for 20 minutes trying to decide. I finally went with an expansion deck for my favorite party game Times Up. This time, all the cards are names of board games. Should be fun with my gamer friends. (Of course, part of the reason I chose it, was that it was among the smallest choices, and luggage space was at a premium.)
I like to cook new things. I even like to cook, and try, new things on holidays. My dear wife does not. My dear wife likes traditional home-cooked holiday meals. My dear wife has still not forgiven me for our first Thanksgiving together 14 years ago, when we ate at the Jonathan Club because that's where my grandparents wanted to throw a dinner. (The fact that she was relentlessly interrogated by my female relatives may have something to do with it.) If an item of food is not visible in Freedom From Want, my dear wife wants no part of it.
I'm past my free will issues now and at peace with this. So I was somewhat surprised when my dear wife, inspired by an article in the Los Angeles Times, asked me to dry-brine the turkey this year.
I did it last night, using a mixture of kosher salt, diced fresh rosemary, and lemon zest. You clean the bird carefully first, dry it, then rub it vigorously with a generous sprinkling of this mixture.
Now, I really like salt. It's amazing that my blood pressure doesn't have more digits. But this seems like an awful lot of salt even to me. The experts swear that he salt will draw out all the juices and flavors without making the bird taste like the bottom of a pretzel bag. We'll see. If it doesn't work out, I will know who to blame.
Otherwise, I'm making it simpler this year. I'm passing up my mother's yam casserole, and therefore recovering roughly two months of our lives that would be spent by consuming that dish of butter and sugar. I'm going with my favorite stuffing (mushroom and carmelized onion stuffing from the Williams-Sonoma cookbook), a cheddar and chive mashed potato casserole, homemade cranberry sauce, and an cider gravy. Someone else is doing green vegetables and desert. Only 13 people. It will be practically relaxing.
Zante Pizza is fusion in the best sense. It is a pizzeria that infuses it's pies with the flavors and spices of Indian food. The smell of the place alone is heavenly. Credit where due, I was introduced to Zante by my friends Scott & Caren, who are vegan, and yet responsible for several of my favorite pizza experiences.
My parents were in town from Texas, and they always like to try new things when they are here, so we made an adventure of it, and got off BART at 16th Street, and walked the mile or so down Mission Street to Zante.
Mission Street (and the Mission in general) is one of my favorite neighborhoods in SF. It has (despite the pernicious influx of gentrification) maintained it's combination of rich Latin American cultural flavor, bohemian SF hipsterism and delightfully shabby mom & pop stores & restaurants. There are very few chain stores or fast food restaurants here. But, there is a taqueria on just about every block (ranging from pretty good to transcendent. If you're ever in SF, you owe it to yourself to make a pilgrimage to Taqueria Pancho Villa, with it's long assembly line style burrito assembly. Of course, taquerias in the Mission are like churches, everyone accepts the choices of others, but secretly knows theirs is the best..)
Anyway, I took them down Mission Street where we stopped and looked at several random stores. The architecture along the street is great, even if the beautiful facade of the old Mission Theatre is now a .99 cent store.
Ah, but Zante. You actually smell it before you see it. I cannot describe the combination of the delicious smell of pizza, mixed with the aromatic spices of India. It just works.
We ordered the Indian meat pizza which comes with a spinach curry sauce, cheese, a mountain of veggies, tandoori chicken, lamb and prawns. We went with an extra large, reasoning that there would be leftovers for the next day. There weren't. The three of us polished off the entire thing.
One of the best things about Zante, is how light their pizza is. As I get older I find that cheese and I have a tempestuous relationship, and pizza is something I avoid. Zante is so light on the cheese that I never have a problem. I had 4 slices (matching my Dad slice for slice) and did not feel bad at all afterwards.
All in all, the combination of the cool multiculturalism of the Mission, the delicious synthesis of Zante and spending a lovely evening with my parents (who reminded me that despite my cynicism about Obama, he's still better than John Cornyn) it was a great night.
If you find yourself in SF, go off the beaten path a little. I assure you the Mission isn't in guidebooks, and there aren't a lot of tours, but there is so much good food there, that it is a must visit when you come to the City.
I was visiting a friend in Sacramento over the weekend. The town of Rocklin is like one large strip mall. Really pretty awful. However, we went to the generically quaint Waffle Barn for breakfast on Sunday, and they had a menu item I had never seen before.
If you really hated yourself, you could get a bacon waffle. A waffle with bacon baked (grilled? ironed?) right into it. I didn't order it, but I was sort of tempted.
I've seen a lot ofcriticism of the Double Down Chicken Sandwich at KFC, which uses the chicken as bread, and is currently being test-marketed in Nebraska. I guess KFC assumes that nobody in Omaha cares if they get fryer grease all over their hands while eating. It is pretty heinous looking when you see the actual sandwich instead of the glossy advertising photo but I'm at a loss as to what the big story is.
It isn't that I don't get the problem. I've written about fast-food monstrosities before, and continue to think that there is a special circle of hell for Colonel Sanders, Ray Kroc and the King of Burgistan for what they have wrought. It just doesn't strike me as anything new under the sun.
The chicken-as-bread is a gimmick. A gross gimmick, but a gimmick all the same. If the KFC PR guy is to be believed, it is a 590 calorie sandwich – high, but not out of line for fast food. If the combo meal were simply called the Two Patty Platter – or even if they surrounded the double-chicken with bread, increasing the calorie count – I don't think anyone would have mentioned it at all.
In the end, under the guise of being horrified by the fattening of society by the evil fast food companies and their ever-more-devious ways of packing more calories into a meal, all of the critics have instead served as a gigantic, free marketing campaign for a fairly ordinary sandwich.
It isn't that the fast food companies aren't evil and ever-more-devious; they are. I only wish that people would do a better job of picking their battles.
Sorry Chris, but this is going to be another "how cool is living in SF" post. The other day I was walking around and found a little trailer selling some incredible crepes. I talked with the folks there briefly, and they let me know that San Francisco has a great tradition of "street food" and that most of it is now coordinated by Twitter.
Turns out, you can get everything from curry to tamales to goat tacos, on the streets of San Francisco (sorry, I couldn't resist..) in conveyances ranging from the classic taco truck to a guy on a bike. And, they use Twitter to tell you exactly where they are going to be. They also give you hints as to what's on the menu.
Acting as a guiding force in this is an organization called La Cocina. They are helping street vendors deal with city ordinances and permits, acting as incubators for food ideas and even offering kitchen space for aspiring street vendors. Here's a map they put together of some of the many choices around SF.
I'm not usually one for the Twitter/flashmob/social networking sort of thing, but (probably because I love food like I love oxygen..) this whole thing just seems very cool to me. It's almost enough to make me sign up for Twitter and follow a bunch of these folks in hopes they make it to my neck of the woods. Especially those bacon wrapped hotdogs!
The Sacramento woman who sued the tiny Squeeze Inn hamburger restaurant over its lack of wheelchair access has dropped her lawsuit.
Kimberly Block, 41, filed a civil rights complaint July 6 against the Squeeze Inn under the Americans with Disabilities Act. In the lawsuit, Block claimed she suffered "embarrassment and humiliation" when she tried to eat there last November.
For reasons set forth in our previous post and comments on the topic, Block's suit seemed a classic shakedown, the sort of abuse of a well-meant law which gives a bad odor to anyone who attempts to use it for legitimate purposes. While I support the idea behind the Americans With Disabilities Act, abusive or ill-founded suits like those filed by Block (her fourth this year) and individuals like Thomas Mundy give me, and many others, pause about the law.
Still, the internet does get the word out. When the ADA was enacted, the internet was limited to people who could afford dollars a minute for access, or university systems. A suit like that filed by Block and her attorney, Jason Singleton of Eureka California, would have proceeded in silence with barely a voice raised in protest. And months later, people in and out of Sacramento would wonder whatever happened to the cramped cheeseburger joint on Fruitridge Road?