Thursday, August 28, 2008

Oily Food

Americans put almost as much fossil fuel into our refrigerators as our cars. We're consuming about 400 gallons of oil a year per citizen-about 17 percent of our nation's energy use- for agriculture, a close second to our vehicular use. Tractors, combines, harvesters, irrigation, sprayers, tillers, balers, and other equipment all use petroleum. Even bigger gas guzzlers on the farm are not the machines, by so-called inputs. Synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides use oil and natural gas as their starting materials, and in their manufacturing. More than a quarter of all farming energy goes into synthetic fertilizers.
But getting the crop from seed to harvest takes only one-fifth of the total oil used for our food. The lion's share is consumed during the trip from the farm to your plate. Each food item in a typical U.S. meal has traveled an average of 1,500 miles. In addition to direct transport, other fuel-thirsty steps include processing (drying, milling, cutting, sorting, baking), packaging, warehousing, and refrigeration. Energy calories consumed by production, packaging, and shipping far outweigh the energy calories we receive from the food.
A quick way improve food-related fuel economy would be to buy a quart of motor oil and drink it. More palatable options are available. If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country's oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week. That's not gallons, but barrels. Small changes in buying habits can make big differences. Becoming a less energy-dependent nation may just need to start with a good breakfast.

Sidebar by Steven L. Hopp from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

I don't wanna wear a red shirt!

Don't you just hate it when you're working, driving, whatever, and you have this really good idea for a blog topic and then can't remember it later? I even thought at the time that I should pause to write it down, but then told myself that it was a good enough idea that I'd surely remember it. I don't.
I thought briefly that it might have to do with Star Trek, since that was a fun topic of conversation at work today; as in, "If this was Star Trek, Macie and Zack would be wearing red shirts." Zack understands the meaning of this since I've been telling him that for over a year now, even though he has since evolved more into the wacky neighbor you love to hate character from any given sitcom. Macie on the other hand, did not understand, and had to be sent to Brett (blue shirt) for an explanation.

I, of course, as the captain, wear a gold shirt even though I now look more like the Kirk of Star Trek II, The Wrath of Khan, than the TV show Kirk, even though in the movies pretty much everyone wore red shirts...but, that's beside the point. The point is that I don't remember what the hell I was going to write about, even though I thought it was pretty good.

I once read an interview with a songwriter in which he was asked if he kept a notebook next to his bed to write down ideas he might have at night or as awoke. He stated that he did not, as he believed that any idea that he couldn't remember in the morning couldn't have been that good.

I sure wish I could remember who he was.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Mmmmm, Fried Stuff....Make Homeresquely Appropriate Groan Now

I remember the first time I ever had the miracle of fried cheese sticks, it was at a now-defunct restaurant in Oklahoma City named Pumps, more than twenty years ago. It was served with a sweet mustard sauce and it stands out as one of my first culinary "awakenings." Simple mozzarella, battered and deep fried, the crunch of the shell, the molten cheese, the sweet twang of the mustard, how had I lived without it for all of my (then) seventeen years?
Since then only one fried cheese dish has matched that experience, that of Hot Dog on a Stick, the wonderfully kitsch stands found in malls across the US.
Which brings me to the corn dog. My God, I do love a good corn dog, and Hot Dog on a Stick has the best I've ever had. As I order my heart quickens, my saliva glands are working overtime; is it knowing that I'm about to get a great corn dog or that the dog is being hand dipped in batter and fried to order by an always beautiful girl wearing a beguilingly retro uniform of jockey hat and hot pants, as her twin strokes away at a vat of fresh lemonade with a long handled plunger. I'll leave that question to smarter people with degrees in psychology, but it's a damned good corn dog.
Locally, if you want a good corn dog you can do no better than at The Quarters. A dive bar of Loverboyesque-mullet proportions, The Quarters (conveniently located on the same block as our place) has a liberal shot pouring policy (at least for friendly neighborhood cooks and waiters) and a really good corn dog. Sweet corn breading, crunchy on the outside with just the right amount of give on the inside, wrapped around a good, plump dog. None of the show you get at Hot Dog on a Stick, but when you consider that you don't have to drive half a day to get it, and you can have a cold Corona as well, a pretty darned good pinch hitter.

Your Wine Guru

I'm no sommelier, but here is a great wine buy. Little Penguin's shiraz is very drinkable and creates a very enjoyable buzz for under $10 a bottle.
It also pairs quite well with Marie Callender's beef pot pie.
Next wine blog: Which white wine to pair with ramen.

A Bad Night: Or, Our Hero Finds Comfort in the Pain of Others

Leaving work, I know I have to go somewhere. Not home, not to the bar, not yet. I need to talk, it needs to be someone in this business, and really there are only a few people who will do. Two are too close to the problem, one is unavailable, so that leaves Richard.
I find him in his usual spot, lost in the banquet at Le Bistro, an open bottle of red on the table in front of him. The small Frenchman waves me over, past an eight top of business types, and offers me a glass of his wine. We make the usual small talk about how business is, how this one is doing, how that one is, how the hell is that one still open? before I get to vent. He listens, nods and says, "Edeek, I'd rather be asshole than stupid."
He's right of course, I can be every one's buddy and be taken advantage of now and then and just live with it, or I can be an asshole until the problem is fixed.
Donica and Hillary soon join us and we start another bottle of wine, soon they are talking about their own problems and I realize what I'd already known; we are all in the same boat. Not all of us will survive the trip, but I am not alone.

The Cook's Tale, Part V

The Dark One led the way down a torch-lit hallway past several doors which bore signs warning that only employees were allowed beyond. Eventually, we passed into a cavernous space, the center of which held a cast iron range. Various other tools of cooking radiated from the center and at the opposite end something screamed while being cooked on a spit in an enormous fireplace as a group of cooks cheered.
"Well, this is it," my new employer said.
"Ok, thanks, I'd better get to work."
"Uh, don't forget about my party Friday night, please."
"No worries," I replied. I waited until Satan had left before crossing toward the fire. The beast on the spit continued to scream and the cooks were now jumping with excitement.
"What's going on here?" I asked one toward the back of the crowd.
"Oh, hello," he replied. "Just having a bit of fun, sir."
"Is that Gordon Ramsey?" The English accented profanities emitting from the spit were unmistakable.
"Yes, sir."
"What's he doing up there?"
"Well, it's part of the Hell thing, sir."
"Couldn't you find anyone worse to burn?" Several candidates from history came to mind.
"Well, the karaoke bar up-cavern already had Simon Cowell."
"Ok," I conceded. "But get him down, show him to the dish room and put Dick Cheney up there."
Having sorted out the rotation of villains to be cooked I retired to the office and began sorting through the books, such as they were. I was beginning to appreciate how bad hell was going to be when there was knock at the door.
"Guy's here for the order," one of the cooks called from the other side of the door.
Must be a supplier, I thought as I walked out.
"Holy shit, Keith, what are you doing here?" I asked, recognizing him immediately.
"Same thing I was doing up there," he answered with a glance topside.
"Yeah, we're everywhere."

Mmmmmmm, omelets.

In Gourmet Magazine this month there is a fine article by Francis Lam in which the author discusses his perfect omelet. I had never read an article by Mr. Lam before, but I have now read several online and he is becoming one of my favorite food writers. I just have a minor contention with the omelet article in which he writes that the omelet should be cooked in a specific pan and that the eggs should not be over mixed to avoid their becoming too fluffy and thus dry when cooked.
Mr. Lam has been to culinary school, I have not. Once, at the age of 17, I briefly entertained the thought of going to culinary school, but opted instead to spend the next twenty years wearing various uniforms and toting about mechanisms for killing people. Which led me to one of the best omelets ever.
While in the Army, in Germany, way back in the 80s, our battalion mess hall was a relatively small affair which still somehow was able to prepare three meals a day for nearly one thousand troops, employing a handful of pale, skinny warrior-cooks (this was a tad before the Army was taken over by civilians). And these fuckers could cook, making several entrees, sides and desserts for lunch and dinner with no waste and all of it better than anything you pay for in those "family" restaurants.
And the omelets...a few times a week the guys would do omelets, you could tell by the meez set up in front of the guy working the flat top, and the word would pass back down the line.
"Fuckin’ A, omelet day!"
Upon reaching the station the cook would ask what you wanted.
"Omelet, ham and cheese."
He’d pick up a bowl with a couple of eggs in it and dump them onto the flat top, whack ’em a couple of times with a long, solid spatula, roll ’em over then put the ham and cheese in. A few seconds later, letting the cheese start to melt and the eggs set up, he’d give the thing a flip, folding it in half before putting it on a plate and setting it on your tray. As you passed down the rest of the line the cheese would continue to melt so that by the time you had everything and had sat down it had reached a perfectly gooey state. The omelets were dense and filling, the perfect thing right after PT with five hours still to go before lunch. They were moist and delicious, the mild flavor of the eggs complemented by the smoke of the ham and the tang of the cheese.
Fast forward 21 years to New Orleans, the Clover Grill. Freshly over my hangover-from-hell and with newly shined boots I stumble back into the Clover for a quick lunch. The last time I was in I watched the cook making omelets (along with waffles, burgers, fries...) and am determined to get one now. The juke box is still blaring, but the staff is different: the cook one of the best I’ve ever watched and the waiter one of the worst. From the counter I can see everything. I’m right behind the cook as my order comes up, he reaches into the low-boy cooler and grabs three eggs, cracks them one-handed into a shake can, throwing the shells into an unseen trash can behind and to his left. He puts the can into the shake mixer and goes back to his burgers, fries and the hundred other things he’s got going on, taking a minute to yell at the customers blocking the door lining up at the register to get to go orders.
"If y’all are getting to gos you gotta wait outside, come in one at a time. Y’all can’t be blockin’ the door!" He turns back to his station shaking his head. "God DAMN," he mutters.
The suit-wearing guy a couple of stools down from me has been trying to get the waiter’s attention for about ten minutes now. The waiter is at the juke box sliding dollar bills into its face and loading us up with another half hour of rave music. The dishwasher walks out of the swinging door that conceals her station from our sight and the man yells his order at her. I’ve got to confess, I’m smiling big as the young lady stops, looks at him as if he had just asked her to perform a most unnatural sex act and yells, "I DON’T take no food ORDERS!" As she walks by me on her way to the bus tubs she is shaking her head. "God DAMN," she mutters. My eggs are still mixing in the shake machine.
My bacon on the flat top, the cook pours a ladle of oil into his pan and then pours some waffle batter into the iron and throws the old hubcap over a couple of burgers. The oil hot, he pours my eggs into the pan, immediately starting a gentle swirling motion. The eggs roll together, simultaneously setting up and breaking free from the pan’s edge as he applies more torque. He stops long enough to put the cheese and bacon in the center and then rolls the thing out of the pan onto a plate, folding it in half perfectly. The omelet is wonderful, the eggs are light and airy from the minutes of mixing, yet still moist, the bacon crisp and the cheese completely melted.
I must confess that I have never had an omelet prepared the way Mr. Lam describes them, prepared with nothing but three eggs, salt, pepper and butter, but I will be trying his recipe and the technique described to see for myself if it tops my perfect omelets.

Yee's Haw!

Had an unremarkable lunch at one of the local Chinese places yesterday, but I did get a yummy bit of English from the chopstick wrapper and thought I'd share. Here it is as printed, no shit:

Welcome to Chinese Restaurant.
Please try your Nice Chinese Food With Chopsticks
the traditional and typical of Chinese glorious history.
and culture