Triple AAA and The Cheeses of New England

I woke to the sound of hallucinating birds, woozy and dazed from three days of rain, unconvinced that the downpour had ended.   Not being French or Italian, my first thought was not, What would braised robin taste like?  Or Bluejay Cacciatore.  I thought: Live and let live.  Let ’em tweet.

So then I went to my very favorite section of the paper: Business.  2012, big debt comes due, Moody’s, the Vichy financial outfit, is saying that the U.S. will join Japan with a double AA rating, down from triple AAA.  The dollar will go up, the infrastructure will go down as it will be harder than ever before for the U.S. to borrow money.  Can’t pay back the money?  Bad investment.

Which brings us back to cheese.   Really.  You don’t see the connection?  Think about it.

High end, low end, local or French, cheese should not be part of anyone’s diet other than Topo Gigio.  Speaking of which, I miss him.  His sweet, low voice, “Hi, Eddie,” his innocence, his hope and wonder.  Mind, all this was before Lady Gaga took to the stage.  I like her, too, don’t get me wrong, but she’s no mouse.

Back to cheese, which is high in fat, high in salt, and unless you’re looking to clog your arteries, counter indicated for good health.  In my neighborhood, the high-end processed food store, Formaggio, sells cheeses that belong in museums.

Where does that leave us in terms of daily diet?

The largest immigrant group in Boston is Chinese.  The second largest is Haitian.  And, of course, our city has lots of folks with varying ranges of melanin.

So how about more street vendors selling vegetable dumplings?  Pho?  Rice & beans?  Sweet potato pie?

Beats Robin Three Ways.

Cops, Cold Coffee, Cold Rain, & High End Cheese

Woke to the sound of rain: Third day, my favorite weather.  Chet Baker last night, a blazing fire, gin, and roast chicken.

Too harried to eat before leaving home, but now satisfied, very, with cold black coffee and a cold square slice of pizza.

Feel like a cop.

Then I saw how the city of Boston is seeking vendors for the new green belt near the harbor.  That woke me up from the trance induced by Bebop and the downpour.

The big proviso: Has to be “healthy.”  The article in The Boston Globe notes: “You can imagine people squeezing fresh lemons or fresh oranges,’’ said Nancy Brennan, executive director of the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway Conservancy. “You can imagine high-end grilled cheese sandwiches with local cheese as the centerpiece of really good bread.’’

As ma would say: Oy, please.  “High end” grilled cheese?  And it has to be local?  Look, how about a great plate of curried goat?  Local goat, I swear!

High end?  What is wrong with this town?  High end.  I can’t stop thinking about the implications.  High end.  I’ll say it’s high end.  High end…why, the very idea, Mrs. Teasdale, I’ll say it’s high end, it’s high end of all of us.

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More Happy Thoughts: Sunday in the Park with Bello

Pouring rain: Big, wet, black dog reclining after our walk through flooded streets and Longfellow Park.   Nothing piqued his curiosity much this morning, getting soaked is not his thing, so I’m left discussing with him yesterday’s food events and those upcoming today.

I had lunch in Harvard Square with my friend Crystal in from  Shanghai.  She is the food editor of Time Out Shanghai and has an open and playful mind about food and dining.  50,000 restaurants in Shanghai, she said, five new ones each week.  Our lunch at Tory Row of beef chili and eggs on toast was good.  Still, I kept thinking about all the good food in China.  I certainly ate well in Shanghai!

Bello wants to go out again.  I tell him it’s pouring.  He’s suspicious.

Later today I hope to get into gear and buy vegetables.

Thoughts of obesity and hunger as noted in a piece about the Bronx in today’s New York Times.  If you’re hungry, you overeat.  And: Few healthy choices so far uptown.  Awful, really.  What?  No Dean & Deluca?

Otherwise, it’s life within these four walls writing about izakaya (Japanese pubs) and where to eat ramen in Tokyo.  Both pieces are due within a week.

The wood floor is wet and slippery where the dog is lying.


Happy Thoughts

Rather than go on about the science of overeating, it’s the weekend, after all, why not celebrate by praising good food?

Although if overeating is of interest to you, personal or otherwise, I am directing your attention to a brilliant piece by David Kessler in today’s online Guardian.  Mr. Kessler is a former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.  In his piece, excerpted and edited from an upcoming book, he quotes scientists and researchers who deep in the backstage of the food industry are creating high fat, high sugar, and high salt foods so enticing that we can’t stop eating them.  “Bet you can’t eat just one,” said Bert Lahr.  Here’s the science behind the Cowardly Lion’s pitch for  Lay’s.

Back to the weekend.  We’re off to a good start: Blood orange juice, toasted rye bread from Hi-Rise bakery, Icelandic butter, and sparkling water courtesy of The Soda Club.  (Full Disclosure: I am President of the Soda Club in this house.)

Lunch will be at Crema in Harvard Square with a friend from Shanghai in town for a week.  The cafe is run by two University of Michigan grad’s and it is, by far, the most pleasant place to eat in the Square.  Decent soups.

Dinner?  At our neighbors, which is always nice, nothing too demanding, and…we can walk home!

Tomorrow I am going to Iggy’s bakery to take out square slices of freshly baked pizza.  If you ask, they will sell the corners: More crust!

Then a friend will join us for  dinner.  First,  little veal meatballs and then a good, slow roasted chicken.

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Seeds…and Boston Restaurant Week

The big story in The World of Food today?  It’s seeds.  According to a wonderfully informative piece on the front page of today’s New York Times Business section, “Last year corn seed prices rose 32% and soybean seeds were up 24%.”  The article notes that seeds are, “The most important purchase a farmer makes each year,” and that the seed industry is under Federal investigation.

The article notes: “The Agriculture Department figures show that corn seed prices have risen 135% since 2001 and soybean prices went up 108% over that period.  By contrast, the Consumer Price Index rose only 20% in that period.”

The Justice Department, “Began an antitrust investigation of the seed industry last year, with an apparent focus on Monsanto…”

So, sure, celebrate farmers, organic farming, local this and that, and let’s not lose sight of the stressful economic world farmers live in.

And in other news:

Boston restaurant week this year is actually two weeks: March 14-19 and March 21-26.  It’s what my dad would call, “A golden opportunity.”  You go all around town and dine on the cheap: “Diners will enjoy 2-course lunches for $15.10, 3-course lunches for $20.10 and 3-course dinners for $33.10 throughout Boston, Cambridge, the suburbs and beyond.”    This official site lists restaurants:

A word of caution: When you’re dining at the participating restaurants, two things can happen that jack up the price.  The first is that you’re also presented with the regular menu, which is more varied and far more enticing than the cheaper one.  The second is: Alcohol is not included.

Personally?  I went to Aureole, back in the day, during this promotion in NYC and the GM, the tip of his nose going up, and knowing that it was “restaurant week,” seated us in the Martian section of the joint, beside a wait station and a few feet from the double kitchen doors that marvelously kept swinging open and shut.  The main menu was too enticing to pass up.


Food, Glorious Food: The Irony of Obesity

In today’s Boston Globe: A report that legislation in Massachusetts may ban the sale of sugary drinks and “junk food” in public schools statewide.  (What exactly is “junk food?”  Wikipedia:”Lacking in nutrition, unhealthy when eaten regularly.”  So, that includes many delicious things.)  Anyway, I’m for the ban.  Well, duh.  Being against it is nearly like being against Mother Theresa only moreso.  Worse: It’s as if you are against virtue itself.

The ban doesn’t really address longing and hunger.

Here’s what I mean: In reading the twitters of NYC-based writers, I’m struck by the plentitude of taste.  Temptation, flavors, textures, communality over a pork bun or a good bowl of pasta.  It’s how I eat & walk in NYC.  For sure.

I know, too, that when my house is filled with good food, I eat less.

Surrounded by food offers a comfort itself, incomplete, but available.

Back to the NYC twitters: I follow the walks of the person twittering and I get hungry.  I won’t be negative, but if I walk from my home in Harvard Square to downtown Boston, well, I stay hungry for the most part.

If I ate as I made my way, I’d enjoy a delicious cheddar snail at Hi-Rise Bakery.  I might have a good slice of Sicilian pizza from Pinocchio.  That would take me all the way from the Square and then over the Longfellow Bridge.  The only places tempting en route- are two good restaurants: Rendezvous and Craigie on Main.

In downtown Boston, it would be nice to eat the great breads at Scampo.  Mario, the old school waiter there, dude out of Naples, rocks.  In the North End, there’s Galleria Umberto: Seriously, the best Sicilian slices in the country.  It’s a hike, but B&G Oyster in the South End has a good raw bar.  Legal Seafoods is good, too.

On the other hand, the bag of chips is starting to look really good.

Ruffles have ridges.

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Wednesday Food Sections: Today’s Top Stories…

The Boston Globe

1.  A delightful interview with Kim Gorton, conducted by Bella English, in which Ms. Gorton talks about fish.  She notes that the annual International Boston Seafood show will take place March 15-17.  If you haven’t been, you ought to go: Booths of producers, purveyors, and high-tech doodads for restaurants and industry chock full of lively, funny characters.  I reported on the event for public radio, back in the day.

2.  Meat loaf recipe.  Intended for people who: A) Do not have access to the Internet.  B) Have access to the Internet, but do not know how to google, “meatloaf.”

3.  A piece on what makes the best butter.  No criteria are listed, such as: Taste, texture, and appearance.  The judges are anonymous, except for the author of the piece.  Bizarre piece of reporting.

4.  Review of East by Northeast, a new restaurant that sounds good in East Cambridge.  For some odd reason, the chef, Philip Tang, is compared by the reviewer to chef David Chang.  It’s odd because chef Chang is the owner of  highly regarded, exclusive restaurants in NYC.   Momofuko Ko, for example, offers extensive, complex tasting courses that rock your senses.  Chef Tang has a nice, new storefront place that’s pretty straightforward.  (I wrote Chef Chang up in Robb Report in 2009 as one of the best restaurants in the country.)  Are they compared by the reviewer because both men are Asian-American?    (Chef Tang is Chinese-American.  Chef Chang is Korean-American.)  Wow, exotic Asians!  What a big world we live in.

The New York Times

1.  Great short piece on a panel discussion to be held about Joe Baum on March 16 at the Theresa Lang Community and Student Center of New York at 55 W. 13th Street, 212-229-5488.  For $5, you can learn about how to run a successful restaurant.  Mr. Baum was the creator of Windows on the World and The Four Seasons, among other places, and his knowledge of the business informed current leaders like Drew Nieporent and Danny Meyer.

2.  Coffee Town.  Do we really need  three full pages on how NYC is now, “A coffee town?”  The pieces mention “java hounds.”  I don’t know about you, but if I see a java hound coming towards me, I’m running the other way.    Besides, when was NYC ever not a coffee town?  What?  You never heard of Porto Rico Importing Company?  Best coffee in the universe:

3.  Nice small blurb on Gastronomica’s new book compiling many articles:  I hasten to add that I’ve reported for them on: The psychology of chefs, sous vide cooking, and chef Andrew Carmellini.  Chef Carmellini is just like chef Mario Batali and it’s not what you think, it’s not because they are both Italian-American.  There are other reasons.  Really, I mean it.

Not your mother’s meatloaf:

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No Baggage, No Voyage

A friend from NYC writes that her husband feels as if she came into the marriage with, “A lot of baggage.”   Makes sense: No baggage, no voyage.  Plenty of people never leave home.

I mention this by way of saying that many of the world’s great chefs have a lot of baggage, too.  Lucky us, that they left home.  Found new cuisines, new flavors, new techniques, new ways of seeing and feeling and, indeed, expressing love.

I think of an interview I did with Jean Georges about his initial arrival  in Thailand: “I made the taxi driver stop at least eight times on the way to the hotel just to taste the food at the markets we drove by.”

Or a conversation with Eric Ripert.  Why he was traveling to Scandinavia: “To explore–to taste new things.”

I loved Lutece, who didn’t, and it was unfortunate that Soltner did not leave his kitchen enough.

Nowadays, our great chefs are peripatetic, having left their homes where the horizon was visible at a hillock or colline: Boulud, Ducasse, Robuchon are a few who took to the road.

Certainly there are chefs who remained rooted and great depth is evident in their cooking.  And yet, the globalization of consciousness in cooking is a kind of revolt of the senses.

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The Week Ahead in THTK

I’m feeling blue: Not blue like bluefin or Regina Spektor’s, “Blue,” or the blue of Avatar or Joni Mitchell’s, “Blue,” or the blues.  Just blue: Raw, exposed, tired, and hungry.

Thank goodness for food.

Big discovery: I feel better when I eat.

Last night, using a thick filet from New Deal Market, I made “Hake, Salerno style,” adapted from a recipe in Dave Pasternack’s book based on the food he serves in his restaurant, Esca.  Esca is my favorite restaurant on the planet.

You preheat an oven to 450 degrees.  You take little Yukon potatoes and boil them for 10 minutes in salted water.  You put two garlic cloves, a handful of fresh basil, a handful of fresh parsley, and about a cup of fresh breadcrumbs in a Cuisinart.  You let the potatoes cool and slice them in half and make a layer in an ovenproof pot.  You put the hake on top of the potatoes.  You put two sliced garlic cloves and about an ounce of butter on top of the hake.  You put some of the mixture from the Cuisinart on the potatoes and fish.  You put a lid on the pot and put it in the oven for 10 minutes.  Remove and eat.

I felt much better.

This week, however, it’s going to be lazy:

Monday: Chicken parmesan

Tuesday: Tuna Bolognese

Wednesday: Rendezvous.  This is a very good restaurant in Central Square where I am being taken to dinner by a dude with deep pockets: DDP.

Thursday: Turkey chili

Friday: Penne amatriciana.  Found some guanciale at Russo’s at Sunday.  Oh, yeah!

This is what the pasta on Friday will look like:

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Blue Fin Tuna Comes Ashore

A 2/22/10 piece in The Boston Globe by Devra First wrote about the dangers of overfishing blue fin tuna.  A few days later, the Globe ran an unsigned op-ed calling for chefs and industry to curtail their use of the fish.  Save the blue fin, save jobs.

But yesterday while trawling for fish in Cambridge and Boston,  looking for sources, I came across New Deal Market on Cambridge Street in East Cambridge.  It’s a clean, wonderful store selling thick filets of fresh fish, including hake, cod, and…blue fin tuna.  I’d never seen it sold as retail in the U.S. before.  Apparently, the store caters to a Japanese clientele ready to shell out the $39 per pound.

I would have thought that more discretion was called for: I mean, why not have a system where you go up to the counter and say, “Takeshi has a big smile,” and the counter person could say, “His sister’s smile is bigger,” and then sort of tilt his or head to the back room where you’d hand over an envelope of twenties and in exchange get a small, brown paper bag of endangered fish.