WHY BE HAPPY?

Well, a decent draft of my new book, “WHY BE HAPPY?,” The Japanese Way of Acceptance, is complete and each and every day I add more and take out more, and soon it will be in the hands of my editor at Da Capo, and then published in hardcover in early 2020.

My monthly jazz column in The Bay State Banner is coming along.  The most recent one (4/4/19) is a Q & A with Regina Carter: https://www.baystatebanner.com/2019/04/04/qa-with-regina-carter/

The five previous columns featured Dee Dee Bridgewater, Ron Carter, and several great local talents.

My new piece on Museum Susch, a museum that opened in 1/19, featuring the art of women artists is out in Vogue later this year.

Working on a sad, fascinating, tragic story of a young man who died in the Coast Guard.  His mom and I are in sync.

Then, too: Micro-brewed beer in Switzerland, women farmers in Switzerland, and UNESCO sites around the world.

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All that Jazz

Well, my monthly jazz  column in The Bay State Banner is in its 5th month, and the current piece is about the brand new, “Jazz and Gender Institute,” at Berklee: https://www.baystatebanner.com/2019/03/06/terri-lyne-carrington-tackles-gender-in-jazz-with-new-institute-at-berklee-college

Soon my piece on Museum Susch will be in Vogue.  This museum opened in 1/19, and focuses on women artists.

Then, nodding to F&B, we have micro-brewers of Switzerland, which will appear in Hemispheres; and, Women Farmers of Switzerland, which will appear in the Toronto Globe & Mail.

Meanwhile a first draft of my new book, out in 2020, about Japanese day to day habits that focus on the Other, rather than the late stage capitalist perception of individualism, which mistakes Self for happiness, is done.  Now I have 4 months to revise it.

Not eating out any longer in Boston frees up time and money.

Sports & Food

Writing about restaurants in Boston is a lot like writing about basketball in NYC.

You might enjoy watching the Knicks and Nets, they might play well, both as teams and individual players, they might even win.  But chances are you’re not in NYC expecting great basketball.

In Boston, the amount of energy, money, and devotion that goes into sports is astonishing.  The city has the best of the best in football and baseball, and the best in basketball and hockey.

If the town put 1/10th of the focus it has on sports into restaurants, there might be a reason to eat here.

Here’s an important difference: In NYC, Knicks fans can remember when the team was great.  They know what needs to be done: Get Dolan to sell the team, for one.  Is he the worse owner in basketball? With the Nets, better scouts and a better GM might help.

In contrast to Knicks and Nets fans’ recognition that something is wrong and something needs to be done, critics and chefs and restaurateurs in Boston act as if this really is a restaurant town with a whole bunch of great chefs and restaurants.  They act as if everything’s great, even getting better than ever.

In fact, things have never been worse.

There’s no James Dolan to blame, nor scouts nor GM’s.  The reasons for the deep mediocrity of most Boston restaurants is multi-faceted.  But start here: Noting that the restaurants are, in general, pretty awful, like basketball in NYC, is a good place to start.

What needs to be done?  What might help?

Where Restaurants Are Opening

Boston is one of the greatest sports cities on the planet.  Restaurants, not so much.  The local joints are terrific, and there are lots of really wonderful places like Raphael’s in Codman Square and Galleria Umberto in the North End.  But it’s sports where the city excels.

And that’s why the big trend in Boston is restaurants opening near sports venues.

Next to TD Garden, home to the Celtics and Bruins, are a good half dozen restaurants, from Alcove to Tavern to Ward 8.  New places are opening within walking distance in the North End.  Further afield, in the Seaport District, the city’s most racially segregated part of town, are literally dozens of high end restaurants, many of them franchises–within walking distance or an UBER ride.

And near Fenway Park, more and more restaurants are attracting sports fans before and after games, and during the off-season.

Many of these restaurants serve good food with good value and good service.

It’s a good business model to use in one of the greatest sports cities on the planet.

 

Why Restaurants Are Closing Now

Yes, high rent.  But let’s say that the rent is affordable, why then do restaurants close?

In 2018, about a dozen well-known places closed in Boston and  NYC.

Restaurants start with food.  If the food’s no good, people won’t go.

Obvious, right?

But even with good food, if the service isn’t attentive, anticipatory, thoughtful, and empathic, the restaurant’s days are numbered.  Danny Meyer, of Shake Shack and Gramercy Tavern and Blue Smoke and many other places, understands this better than anyone in the restaurant business.

The big thing, once the food and service are reliably good, is that a restaurant must serve a cultural function in its community.  Without that, it simply won’t survive.

Numerous restaurants in Boston closed over the past three or four months, located in hotels or areas frequented by tourists, or in neighborhoods that have changing demographics.  These places never really fit in properly, and it was because they failed to do so that, despite good food and good service, they are gone.

Restaurants, no matter where or when, are neutral public places that exist to provide people a place to go with friends and family.  Boston has a few of these: Santarpio’s, Galleria Umberto, Darryl’s, and Charlie’s come to mind.

But you can expect even more closures in 2019 both in Boston and NYC as restaurants continue to distance themselves from their communities and have little or no cultural function.

In their place, and we’re already seeing this, will be franchises, places owned by private equity geared toward volume, and the most bankable item next to coffee: Pizza.

So grab a slice and hoist a pint of $10 beer.

Best Cookbooks of the Year

Back in the day, I would get about 150 cookbooks sent to me each year by publishers and PR people for free.  It wasn’t long before I had 600 cookbooks in my house: Stacked up on the floor, cluttering shelves, and in boxes in the basement.  And that’s before I gave them away as presents to friends.

One day I called a program that trains high school kids to work in hospitality, and donated 250 books to them.  Staff showed up, hauled away the books, and I never heard from the program again.

I still have about 300 cookbooks.  Most go unread.  If I want to cook something, I look it up on the web.  From grilled chicken in corn tortillas to Korean marinated beef, it’s all there.  By chefs and students of cuisines.

Once I asked a very famous chef, whose name you’d know in a second if I told you where his first restaurant is, why he and so many other chefs published cookbooks.

Brand promotion is key.

There are the rare cookbooks that are incredibly useful: Anything by Marcella Hazan, Nancy Singleton Hachisu, or Mark Bittman, come to mind.

But the real essentials of cooking well aren’t there for the most part:

A chef took six months to teach his line cooks how to use salt and pepper properly.  A chef taught his sous chef how to buy the best ingredients, from chicken to beans.  A chef taught his crew how to use four ingredients well.

The great chef Gary Danko said: “If you can learn to cook ten dishes well, a total of ten, in your lifetime, you are really far ahead of the game.”

Not that I’m knocking stuff you get for free.

Top, New Food Ingredient: 2018

Wow, tough call, I was back and forth on this one.  Was it cinnamon, persiflage, yuba?  Or some other rare product sucked out of the earth in Orwellian named Democratic Republic of Congo?

Well, none of the above, and those of you who are adept at puzzles and prestidigitation know where I am going with this.

That’s right: It came down to one thing with at least two meanings.

Dough.

That was the top ingredient this year.

From pizza to bread to croissants to pretzels to doughnuts to sandwiches, the big boom in 2018, which will herald investment in years to come is: Flour and water.  OK, add salt, be my guest.  Anyway, FLOUR is the big ingredient this year, 2018, and that’s because it has, next to coffee, the greatest profit margin in the food and beverage industry.

If you look at your “local” bakeries and pizza joints, you will find that the non-franchise outfits are either: Fewer in number; about to go under; and, unable to compete in marketing or pricing with international brands.

Which is the second meaning of dough.

The #1 franchise in the U.S. in terms of growth in 2018 was pizza.  That pie you buy–“artisanal, gourmet, healthy, natural”–for between $12-$28 has a food cost about 90% less per slice.

Folks, the food world is where the music world was in 1972: Undervalued, in the early-middle stages of monetization, and not so much about the taste of things, but about the sale of things.

And that’s not persiflage.

 

 

Best Food Books!

This year’s bumper crop of food books, from recipes for soup to the world’s best restaurants, is surefire.  Let’s take a gander at some of the best.

Yes, the Reichstag is burning, but why go negative?  In, “Berlin’s Beer Halls,” author Pieter Ulrich takes us down back alleys and into luxe hotel cellars showing us where brown shirts and the yet-to-join lift up big steins of frothy, fresh beer.  The famous joints are celebrated while those establishments new to the scene are given their due.

Closer to home, you can bitch about income inequality until the cows come home, but why not wine and dine at the restaurants where private equity is sinking their dough, literally.  In, “America’s Best Pizza and Bakery Franchises,” by Rose Starr, we join in the fun of “eateries” that capitalize on our hunger for fun, fun, fun!  And because wages are kept low, and profit soars on flour and water, you are guaranteed to come back for more.

Books with recipes?  Why, there are books galore!  So never mind about surfing the ‘net and discovering for yourself how to make a bowl of soup or a cheeseburger.  Pick up, “Trading Plates,” by Sally Doherty, in which the author takes us into her kitchen, sponsored by the manufacturers of the products in play, and shows us how to cook, well, everything!

Save room.  In this soon-to-be-classic, Stephanie Hammond is our guide to, “Food Is the Answer.”  Using guided meditation, she reaches back to soothing broths, jams, jellies, and stews, proving that, yes, everything is political.  “You may think,” she writes, “that cooking is a way to avoid engagement with the world, but wait until you taste my toffee pudding!”  Kudos to Hammond!

 

Christmas in November

I’m not naming names, but a neighbor on Sunday night did the unthinkable.

There I am, out walking the dog, and I look up and what do I see?

That’s right, you guessed it: A Christmas tree.

Adorned with white lights, pushed toward the front window in what was once, a hundred years ago, a parlor, there it was, a big tree, conical and unmistakeable.

Now, look, I get it, there’s a kid there, a boy about two, it seems, nice kid, it seems, the dad carries him around, talks to him as if he is sentient, it’s all good.

But isn’t this the wrong message to send junior?  Four days after the culling associated with Halloween we’re on to Christmas?

Shouldn’t dad be taking the boy-o into cranberry, turkey, sides and stuffing territory?

Reluctantly, I’ve contacted the city’s Department of Youth Services, let them take a look.  Probably tip of the iceberg, I don’t know, not for me to decide.

Sausages in Sudentenland

Sure, the international press has loads of opinions about our boys reclaiming Sudetenland, but all that negative reporting misses the great sausages here–To say nothing of the beer halls.  Why, as we prosper as a nation, must two-bit reporters use their outlets to promote personal agendas?

Closer to home, there is so much “despair” over events that distract from terrific recipes, chefs, and seasonal ingredients. You might think that criticism of Nationalism is more important than how to prepare soups and what sides are best for Thanksgiving.

After all, isn’t it great that highly educated individuals spend their time attracting readers with the best cranberry sauce rather than using analytical skills?  Think about it: If those writing about food chose to provide information about society to readers and viewers and listeners, we wouldn’t have a recipe for chestnut stuffing.

Can you imagine a turkey without stuffing?