Why Care about the McCutcheon Decision?

In the food world, change from the ground up is all well and good. We desperately need cooks, gardeners, farmers and teachers. But we also need legislation. The recently passed and almost uniformly abysmal Farm Bill is a lesson in how legislation affects those of us working to change the chaotic so-called food “system.” Pittances were tossed at supporters of local and organic food, fortunes’ worth of agribusiness subsidies were maintained, and much-needed support for the country’s least well-off was slashed.

That’s a Republican-led Congress at work, but when it comes to supporting Big Ag and Big Food, most of the Democratic representatives from states where farm income matters most are not much better: While the majority of Big Ag’s financial support for candidates goes to Republicans, Democrats are close behind. For big-time change on a national scale, we need representatives who put the needs of a sustainable food system and all that goes with it ahead of those of the chemical and processed food manufacturers who are currently running the show.

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A Cappuccino for Public Safety

In New York, many things are referred to as jokes. The Van Wyck “Expressway,” for example, a coarsely paved road that has been under repair for as long as anyone can remember, is a joke. Compared with those of other world capitals, our mass transit system is a joke. And every now and then we’re reminded that underground is a bewildering mess of pipes, wires and fibers, the stuff that keeps the whole semi-anarchic mess running. That’s a joke, too, one that The Times called “a glaring example of America’s crumbling infrastructure.”

Although black humor is dear to New Yorkers, these are not funny jokes. No one likes the service interruptions and long waits for a train. But when gas pipes explode, as they did in East Harlem last month, killing sleeping innocents, it’s tough to remain stoical. This isn’t the Blitz or 9/11, events on which we could blame an embodiment of malevolence for random deaths of fellow citizens. Deaths like these are largely preventable.

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Special Gift with VB6 Cookbook Preorder

Preorder a copy of The VB6 Cookbook by May 5, submit your proof of purchase in the form below, and receive a bookplate signed by me, plus a voucher code for a free month trial to Eat Your Books, where you can access all 15,217 of my recipes in one place.
 
Plus, share this preorder offer online using #VB6Cookbook and you will be entered to win one of five 15-minute phone consultations with me (we can talk about VB6, or any other food issues you’re interested in).
The VB6 Cookbook is on sale May 6, 2014, everywhere books are sold.
 
PLEASE NOTE: The bookplates will be individually signed but not be personalized (sorry), and will arrive by June 15th. You can preorder The VB6Cookbook at Amazon, Barnes and NobleiBookstore, or Indiebound.

 

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Years of Living Dangerously

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The Aliens Have Landed

In the ’30s, as Germany rearmed, we said, “Yeah, France can handle that.” Earlier this week, the Panzer Corps of climate change zoomed right around our Maginot line of denial, and we all became the retreating French.

The disaster we refused to acknowledge has arrived. And now, as then, many people are just giving up. “Oh, well,” countless friends and co-workers muttered Monday, “nothing to do now.”

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Not Enough Cooks in the Kitchen

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Last month I ate at Camino, a Cali-Med-Asian (that is, no-holds-barred) restaurant in Oakland, Calif. Camino is funky and open, and its look, which lacks pretense, offers little clue about the delights that await. There are long wooden communal tables for you and 29 of your closest friends, over which hang chandeliers that could pass for medieval drying racks. There’s live fire in a wide-open kitchen. The whole effect is even more casual than the upstairs at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, which was perhaps the original setting for tablecloth-free four-star food. It was also the place where Russ Moore, Camino’s chef and co-owner, worked for 20 years.

Moore is a self-described half Korean, half “New England white mix.” He grew up in Redondo Beach and, he says, “ate almost exclusively Asian food, except for fast food and garbage like that.” At some point, he did a three-month stint at L.A. Trade Tech, which he quit to take a job at “a crappy Italian restaurant.” He eventually moved to the Bay Area, where David Tanis, who was then a chef at Chez Panisse, took him on.

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Butter is Back

Julia Child, goddess of fat, is beaming somewhere. Butter is back, and when you’re looking for a few chunks of pork for a stew, you can resume searching for the best pieces — the ones with the most fat. Eventually, your friends will stop glaring at you as if you’re trying to kill them.

That the worm is turning became increasingly evident a couple of weeks ago, when a meta-analysis published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine found that there’s just no evidence to support the notion that saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease. (In fact, there’s some evidence that a lack of saturated fat may be damaging.) The researchers looked at 72 different studies and, as usual, said more work — including more clinical studies — is needed. For sure. But the days of skinless chicken breasts and tubs of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! may finally be drawing to a close.

Read the rest of this column here.

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The Unhip, Unexpected Joys of Cruising

I have an embarrassing admission to make: I like cruises.

This is, of course, among the least hip things one can say. My friends look at me with incredulity. I feel the glare of the late David Foster Wallace, who in his 1996 Harper’s essay “Shipping Out,” later retitled “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” exposed cruises for the torturous, un-fun things they can be. So be it.

There is a qualification here: I have worked on cruises, as part of the “entertainment staff.” (Though I’m not very entertaining, I may actually be funnier than the so-called comedian.) This comes with the very real benefit of not paying, although there is the downside of having to work, and being bossed around a bit. So I may miss a few hours of time to myself in order to give a lecture or prep ingredients or demonstrate recipes. Or even get cornered by curious fellow passengers, asking things like “Oh, you’re the celebrity chef?” (Which I’m not, but close enough.) In short, I’m less busy than the servers, but more obligated than the average passenger.

Read the rest of this essay here.

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Hearty Stews, Heavy on the Vegetables

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There is an extreme version of just about every stew you can name — beef stew, Irish stew, curry, cassoulet, bouillabaisse — in which vegetables are used, if at all, as “aromatics.” You may start by sweating a little bit of onion, carrot, celery, maybe garlic, with a bay leaf and a thyme sprig, and then you proceed to brown your main ingredient, usually chunks of meat, and add some liquid.

It’s difficult to believe that this tradition goes back much before the ’50s, because so few people had access to the two pounds or more of meat that it takes to make a stew containing little else. From Henry IV to Herbert Hoover, the promise was made that every Sunday, there would be a chicken “in every pot.” No one ever said “a half-pound of meat per person per day,” which is about what we eat.

Read the rest of this column and get the recipes here.

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A Busman’s Honeymoon

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I had been cooking avidly for six years when, in the fall of 1976, thinking it was important to learn about “French” and “Northern Italian,” I flew to Rome with my new wife to begin what we called a “sort of honeymoon.”

At the time, “sophisticated” meant “complicated” and conjured visions of high-hatted chefs spending hours creating sauces you could never hope to duplicate. Instead, we were eating eggplant Parmesan — sautéed eggplant slices with a light tomato sauce and a grating of Parmesan — at a steam-table restaurant near the Pyramid of Cestius and rigatoni con la pajata, with the intestines of baby lamb, at a dive in the Testaccio.

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