Go Ahead and Eat the Bacon

July 31st, 2009

I was reading a New York Times article this morning, Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch by Michael Pollan.  Ostensibly, he is promoting the new Julie & Julia film but he also finds the space to consider his pet subject, the lamentable state of America’s eating habits and trends.   He mentions the usual scapegoat suspects as causes of the increase in obesity: fast-food culture, high-cal-high-fat pre-packaged foods, lack of time to cook, the ubiquitous soft drink, etc.  But there were a few things in this article that I found especially compelling.

Writing about the shows on the Food Network, he makes mention of the competition-based shows like Iron Chef America, Top Chef, and makes an observation that I’ve many times proclaimed myself:  “If you ask me, the key to victory on any of these shows comes down to one factor: bacon. Whichever contestant puts bacon in the dish invariably seems to win.”    No question about it: bacon is always the right answer.  If one of the competitors adds both bacon and cheese, it’s practically cheating.

Offering some facts about the cooking and eating habits of Americans, he writes,

“…as the “time cost” of food preparation has fallen, calorie consumption has gone up, particularly consumption of the sort of snack and convenience foods that are typically cooked outside the home. They found that when we don’t have to cook meals, we eat more of them: as the amount of time Americans spend cooking has dropped by about half, the number of meals Americans eat in a day has climbed; since 1977, we’ve added approximately half a meal to our daily intake.”

Interesting.  Convenience = more calorie intake?   That might be one of the reasons that we, living on a steep hill and not owning a car, now consume far, far less “food of convenience” than I think either of us ever has before.  It’s like we’ve created obstacles to convenience which means that unless one of us is willing to down and up at least two blocks of a steeply graded hill, we’re cooking at home.

Which segues to the third thing I found particularly interesting in the article,  a quote from the food market reseacher Harry Balzer, whom he interviewed.

“So I asked him how, in an ideal world, Americans might begin to undo the damage that the modern diet of industrially prepared food has done to our health. ‘Easy. You want Americans to eat less? I have the diet for you. It’s short, and it’s simple. Here’s my diet plan: Cook it yourself. That’s it. Eat anything you want — just as long as you’re willing to cook it yourself.’ ”

Remarkably succinct advice, if a little trite.  A few times, people have asked Marc and I how, as two people who take so much pleasure from eating and cooking, we both maintain a reasonable weight.   Doesn’t eating all that butter and bacon and cheese and duck confit add up?   Well sure; our long-winded and circuitous answer generally dilutes down to the statement that we mostly cook for ourselves.  Now, I think I’m just going to shorten that answer to what buddy said:  “Eat anything you want, just cook it yourself.”

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Top 10 Signs of SF Assimilation

July 28th, 2009

10. While out walking, I consider it normal that more people say hello to the dog than to me.

9.  I can parallel park on a 20% grade hill.

8.  There is nothing that cannot be recycled.  Even if it means paying to arrange for the old mattress to be picked up, torn apart and made into vertical tomato vine skeletons.

7.  “The iPhone says to turn left two blocks ahead and the Whole Foods should be on the right.”

6.  When there are no parking spots,  one of us continually drives around the block until the other has finished the grocery shopping.

5.  We eat 150% more avocado than in Canada.

4.  “The Prius has a quarter tank of gas left, we don’t need to fill up.”

3.  Cocktails are organic.

2.  I can mentally calculate how long it will take to arrive a destination if the distance is displayed in miles instead of kilometers.

1.  Our largest and most exciting purchase last month was a KitchenAid® stand mixer, with which we can now make even more homemade whole grain bread and artisanal pizza crust.



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Fruits + Vodka + Lard

July 22nd, 2009

p1030755There is some magic in making a good pie crust.  Even Nigella admits to being trepidatious about anything pastry.  Indeed, I’m always at least a little anxious when making pie crust because there are so many details that could result in flabby, or glutinous, or hard, or flaky crust:  the ratio of shortening to butter must be correct, the fats must be cold, the water must be icy, the dough mustn’t be massaged too thoroughly, the dough must be rested and chilled- but not too much, or it will crack when rolled out…   No wonder nobody makes pies anymore when just the crust has so many potential pitfalls and one can buy a pie so much more easily.

But there’s something to be said for homemade pie.  One earns extra points when serving pie for dessert if it’s homemade, and even more points if even the filling is from scratch.   If keeping score, Marc recently earned extra bonus points for a pie that not only had amazing crust and a scrumptious, sweet-tart filling, but which could be extracted from the pie plate cleanly and without any spill-over.   Of course, there is no human alive that would turn down a slice if, during serving, it comes apart and spills over becoming somewhat unrecognizable as actual pie, but it portends a certain suave genius to serve a piece of  pie that looks like it could be on display.   His creation was of the strawberry-rhubarb variety, my second all-time favourite;  apart from it’s perfect execution, I’m sure part of its deliciousness was owing to the absolutely perfect – truly perfect –  strawberries contained within.  Wow, those strawberries were blue-ribbon quality.   What a difference buying local and vine ripened makes; they were deep red and just the purest essence of strawberry.  The grocery store was selling them right next to a shiny basket of new rhubarb, thus making the mental leap from strawberry to rhubarb to pie that much more obvious.  We happily walked right into that one.


Before this, there was pecan pie, made only because of the surplus of pecans in the freezer.   Those nuts only last so long and Trader Joe’s only sells them in enormous bags, so having bought the enormous bag, we were committed.  Only 475 calories per slice.

The pecan pie was a revelation as it was the first pie crust we made with vodka.  Yes, it turns out, that in addition to cocktails and sauce for penne, vodka can be used in pie dough.   The recipe came from an episode of America’s Test Kitchen and explained the science behind the addition of vodka:

While gluten (the protein that makes crust tough) forms readily in water, it doesn’t form in ethanol, and vodka is 60 percent water and 40 percent ethanol. So adding 8 tablespoons of vodka produces a moist, easy-to-roll dough that stays tender (because it contains only 6 1/2 tablespoons of water). The alcohol vaporizes in the oven.

And now, forever more, I will add vodka to pie crust: partly as a practical step towards good pie, and partly as a superstitious sacrifice to the forces that grant a flaky crust.

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Recently, in Photos

June 4th, 2009

Endive Salad with Feta and Scallions


Green Papaya Thai Salad


New Orleans-Style Blue Bottle Iced Coffee


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A Year Ago

June 4th, 2009

Art as Dessert

So Very SF

Dinner at The Movie

May 22nd, 2009

Here’s something:   I love the Kabuki Sundance Theater in Japantown.  Let me explain.


We had decided to see Star Trek: The Prequel Where Spock and Kirk First Meld Minds.   SciFi kind of warrants viewage on the IMAX-sized screen but the theater downtown which offers this option is rather large and cold and rather not our favourite.   Instead, I suggested that we make use of the balcony level of the Kabuki theater because it is connected to a bar and is uniquely qualified to cater to women dragged to see Star Trek: The Origin of The Unconscionably Offensive Yellow Captain’s Uniform.    Marc promptly purchased the tickets online, where we were able to choose our seats at the very edge of the balcony so as to have an unobstructed view of the finer details of the visual effects associated with “beaming”.

We arrived early to size up the bar.  The cinema itself is on the small side, somehow managing to be both cozy – with the Peet’s Coffee on the second level – and bright, with the 3-story atrium effect.  We headed straight for the third floor and ordered glasses of wine.   At this point, it’s nothing to really write home about, but the true brilliance of this theater is the fact that one can take their (generously poured) drinks and pizza or salad or mediterranean platter into the balcony seating area.   So civilized to sit in comfortable reclining seats, separated in twos by coffee-table-esque surfaces, sipping wine from glass glasses, feet up, in front of a big screen.  I doubt we’ll be able to visit another theater now;  all others are ruined.  (Except that one in Oakland that serves beer and pizza, but it can’t hold a candle to Kabuki.)   At least I will not offer any resistence when goaded into seeing the next Star Trek movie, Star Trek: Even More Green-Skinned Women in Their Underwear.

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May 14th, 2009

title1I’m currently reading Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone.   (A particularly poignant read while eating my lunch alone today: a bowl of cereal.)  The writers who contributed to the collection confessed no small amount of loneliness and associated dark humour.  So many eggs consumed by people eating alone, so much pasta;  so many meals eaten over the sink or in bed; so many tables for one by the window, armed with a book.

Reading the stories, I am reminded of food to which I gravitate when unencumbered by anyone else’s tastes, or moods or presence.   Eggs figure prominently; homemade bean and cheese burritos, which, as ingredients get low, devolves into tortillas with melted cheese, and then just cheese; half an acorn squash roasted with butter and a little brown sugar- I could eat that every night for weeks.  It would seem that eating the same thing over and over again for long periods of time isn’t that uncommon: one woman ate asparagus every day for 2 months, one man ate spaghetti for 1973.  I doubt I could stomach any one thing for more than a few weeks, even if it is Nigella’s spaghetti carbonara with bacon and extra bacon.

Before I die, I intend to have one meal like the one I envy Olympia Dukakis in Moonstruck.   Wearing a suit and conservative heels, I will go to an Italian restaurant by myself.  When the maître d’ asks, “Good evening, who’s coming?”   I will respond with “Just me. I wanna eat.”  And I will sit at the tableclothed table for one in the middle of the room and order “a martini, no ice, two olives.”

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I’ve Been Thinking

May 1st, 2009

kitchen-gadgetI’ve been thinking lately that I don’t believe I’m doing enough to speed up global warming.   All my recycling of paper, glass, and plastic, all my wishy-washy re-use of shopping bags and containers, these things can only lead to a slow-down of production of toxic byproducts and, consequently, the impact on the environment.  At the rate things are going, we are never going to reach our collective and unadmitted goal of a worldwide tropical paradise/garbage heap!   Clearly, I must do my part- but how?   How can I, without working too much or thinking too hard,  help to abuse the planet’s plant-life, air supply and water reservoirs?   Oh wait, I know, I’ll join a Kitchen Gadget of the Month Club!

For only $139.99USD per year, I can automatically increase the amount of useless plastic crap clogging up my kitchen with practically no effort at all.   The enlightened people at The Kitchen Store.com will send me all kinds of ridiculous, single-purpose, wasteful products each month so that without even thinking, every 30 days I am $11.67 closer to a more materialistic and cluttered lifestyle.   And just think of all the people in the world who live on less than $1/per day who might otherwise have accepted charitable goods as a result of my having donated $139.99USD who surely are happier that I have a lime keeper and corn stripper than that they have clean water.   Thank-you, KitchenStore.com!

January – Microwave Popcorn Popper
February – 16 Blade Meat Tenderizer
March -Jar Pop
April -Egg Cuber
May – Lime Keeper
June – Disposable Grilling Planks
July – OXO Good Grips Corn Stripper
August – Picnic Knife
September – Silicone Baking Mat
October – Progressive Measuring Sifter
November – Bread Warming Stone
December – Ateco 8pc Decorating Set


Christmas is only 237 days away, so if anyone was thinking of signing me up, I would prefer that each month’s gift be wrapped so that more trees might die in my honour.

Search It, Find It

April 29th, 2009

I once heard a story, likely an urban myth, about the reaction that People In Charge had when they learned that computers could store and organize great quantities of information into a new thing called a ‘database.’   The feeling was that it was a clever idea, but no-one could imagine much use for it beyond the storage and referencing of recipes.  How darling and naive.   These are probably the same People who cleverly thought the best use of the telephone would be to broadcast music to people in their homes willing to stand at the wall with a receiver held to the ear.

Though likely untrue, I can’t say that my first reaction to news of such a thing as a ‘database’ would have been much different; food is never far from my mind and my first thought might automatically leap to the exciting prospect of an automated catalog for all my favorite recipes.  And to be able to search for and find recipes by entering a keyword?!   Swoon!   Indeed, the searching for and finding of recipes is the most use I have for a database in my everyday life.  This magnificent tool is what allows us to think of anything in the world we want to eat, and then cook it. Fish amok?  palak paneer?  chicken schnitzel?  puff pastry?  tom yum goong?  Search it, find it, print it, shop it, buy it, cook it, hot, consume it.


Recently we made good use of this power to satisfy cravings and make cabbage rolls and ripieni.  Two versions of meat-stuffed tubes, one cabbage, one squid, with tomato sauce which would have been impossible without our friendly, global interweb.

To be perfectly honest, neither of these classics fully met expectations of fine flavour or texture, but the beautiful part is that we can peel the good parts from these recipes, search for new versions, adapt, search, learn, tweak and eventually satisfy the cravings.    Oh interweb, is there anything you can’t help us do?


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At A Wedding

April 27th, 2009

A sample of Marc at a wedding:


A sample of Janet at a wedding: