The Collapse of the Euro Zone

An unsigned editorial in today’s NYT, probably written by Paul Krugman, as it bears his Cassandra-like voice, bears down on northern Europe for not funding immediately a central monetary fund.  To prevent the collapse of the nations that have accumulated massive sovereign debt, the author reasons, a monetary fund could print money, create jobs, and so on, rather than watching austerity measures limit growth, cause civic unrest, and ultimately lead to the collapse of the Euro Zone.

Sorry to say, but it’s not going to happen.  For one thing, the Chinese have no interest, excuse the pun, in accumulating more debt.  Private investors are following a different course: They are shorting the debt and hope and expect the Euro and all that goes with it to collapse.  Profit will accrue through the collapse for the hedge funds.

John Lanchester, writing in the London Review of Books and The New York Review of Books, notes that all this is bound to happen, anyway, but that the collapse of the Euro zone will speed up the emergence of the Chinese century.  In the book I’m currently reading, “Boomerang,” Michael Lewis tells of a world gone nuts with financial speculation, of nickel hoarders, and of Icelanders who simply made up numbers.  I find all this entertaining, in a miserable kind of way, as it reveals the coarseness and temporality of human nature.

For day to day life, it means that increasingly we will see diminished regulation of the unseen and the untraceable: Ever been to China?  The safety of the food supply and the safety of pharmaceuticals are already compromised.

On a personal level, here in The Haas Test Kitchen, we’ve stopped buying all products from China, many cheeses from southern Italy, and all fish from Japan.  The ban will stay in effect until the geiger counter at the front door stops beeping.

This leaves us with doughnuts and coffee.




Fine Dining and the 1%

Sometimes I lose sleep thinking about the paradoxes of life.  Like why winter must follow summer.  Why can’t summer follow winter?  Or how come milk comes from a cow?  Why can’t it come from bluejays?  These are the kind of things that keep me up at night.  The sheets are tangled at the foot of the bed.  My skin is covered in sweat.  I can’t get a tune out of my head.  Something nonsensical and jagged, such as, “Last Train to Clarksville.”

“Take the last train to Clarksville

And I’ll meet you at the station,

You can be here by four-thirty,

‘Cause I’ve made your reservation, don’t be slow,

Oh, no, no, no,

Oh, no, no, no.”

See what I mean?

This in mind, I woke up at 4 A.M. and wondered about fine dining.  OK,  I understand that fancy restaurants provide many jobs for many people of varying skills, but at the same time, isn’t the status quo left static in these places?  Is there some kind of untoward abnegation of social responsibility happening by dropping big bucks for food?  On the other hand, as noted, doesn’t eating in these establishments keep small and artisanal producers alive?  Provide jobs for unskilled workers?

Most importantly, I reasoned, fine dining keeps the rich off the streets.  Think about it: Instead of making more money and behaving recklessly, they are eating.  Restaurants serve a subversive function.  Sated, made woozy and lulled by fine wines, the rich who spend $300-$1000 for dinners forget their woes and challenges.  Life is at the table.

We have them just where we want them.


The Next Big Dining Trend

When Neurologist-Chef Miguel Sánchez Romera opened a restaurant in NYC this past September claiming that his food could produce acute changes in the brains of diners, I scoffed, knowing that so much more is at stake.  Yes, I share his conviction that the eggplant strips he was serving would increase short term memory.  Yes, I knew that an edible flower, plucked from a Greek mountaintop, had the power to make me happy.

Chef Romera was not really saying anything terribly new here.  Psilocybin mushrooms, opium poppy, coca leaves, and cannabis plants are all put into the body to create neurological and subsequent behavioral and mood changes.  Chef Romera was applying the same logic to other types of food.  The advantages to his method were the legality of what he was doing, the pleasures to be derived from the tastes, and the shared experiences between the cooks and the guests.

However, what is left out of the equation, ironically, is the chef.  It is one thing to serve up mind altering food, but it is something else entirely to know what to cook and when to cook it.  The chef’s neurology is central here; how a chef thinks, his or her moods, and their overall character are fundamental to the food being cooked.

I am not alone in recognizing that who the chef is as a person will be the next big dining trend.

In January, 2012, in Miami, Chef Thomas Sullivan, former chef de cuisine at Les Mougins, on Manhattan’s upper east Side, is opening Carousel, which he bills as, “The World’s First Restaurant Where the Mood is the Food.”

With a menu that will change, “Every twenty minutes depending on the chef’s mood,” Sullivan hopes to bring, “new meaning to seasonality.”

“Basically,” Chef Sullivan explained to me over what had initially been mojitos and crab cakes, but which were then removed after a sip and one bite, to be replaced by tuna tartare and diced macomber turnips and shots of Talisker, “I’m applying seasonality to the emotion of the chef.  How I feel is paramount to how I create.”

The zeitgeist means that independently of Mr. Sullivan other chefs throughout the country are putting their emotions on the plate.

In Tribeca, in March, 2012, Chef Takeshi Ebisan, recently diagnosed with an Atypical Bipolar Disorder and Adult Onset Attention Deficit with Hyperactivity Disorder, and who credits his current stability to, “A cocktail of Seraquel, Limigdal, and gin,” is opening, Sushi Ebisan.  Traditionally, masters have served sushi to regular guests that effortlessly address their moods, but at Ebisan, the chef is turning the tables.

“Why should I sell some fucking piece of glistening ahi if I’m down in the dumps?” said Chef Ebisan.  “Conversely, if I am high as a kite, why not multiply flavors until the guest is on my wavelength.”

Describing himself as, “Godlike in appearance,” while admitting to grave bouts of, “Feeling as if my body is as diseased as a house pocked with termite holes,” Chef Ebisan spoke of building an empire of Sushi Ebisan.

“I see us in every airport terminal in the world,” he said.  “Either that or we close in two months.”


I don’t know what happened yesterday, but somehow this site, strongly committed to sandwiches and toppings, appears to have been hacked by the OWB (Occupy West Bank) settlers.  The posting?  What did it have to do with cream cheese spreads and poppy seed rolls?  Very upsetting, to say the least.

However, the campaign continues: The gym locked down, I wound my way through the empty streets of the city searching for food.  The original plan was to go out to dinner, but with three exceptions, no restaurant was of any interest.  The three places had average covers of $100, $90, and $45, respectively, and so the decision was made to eat at home.

New Deal was tapped for hiramasa.  The wine cask had decent Alsatian, but almost nothing from northern Italy.  The big news was Miso: It’s been open only three months, and the odd Anglo behind the register, who seems as Japanese as can be, is selling fresh wasabi root ($22), beautiful matsutake ($2-$11, per), shashito, and very fine…miso.

So the dinner wound up being broiled shashito & ikura; noodles with Dave Chang’s recipe for octo dressing; and, broiled, miso lathered hiramasa.

That’s more like it.

Occupy West Bank

In what appears to be a misinterpretation of the aims of the Occupy Wall Street movement, Israeli settlers in an encampment near Nablus announced today, “…our solidarity with Occupy Wall Street by occupying the West Bank.”  Ari Barak, a spokesperson for the group, which has named itself Gush Aleph, added that, “We are the 99% and we won’t take it any more.”

Certainly, questions of translation arise, but at the same time, the group’s proposals are a clear effort to adopt the language and strategies of a political movement that has global support, in contrast to widespread, negative views of the Israeli occupation.

A carnival atmosphere prevailed in the encampment with rides, snacks, and games.  Songs could be heard late in the night and continued on through morning.

Meanwhile, the leadership of the Occupy Wall Street movement has disavowed all ties to the Occupy West Bank movement.  “The irony has an appeal,” one leader said, on the condition of anonymity, “but that’s about it.”


Black Friday: The Day After

The plan this A.M. was to wake early, walk the dogs, and begin with the first of many turkey sandwiches, but fate stepped in.  I did manage the p-a-r-k, but when I returned a vigorous kitchen debate was taking place between two adults on the nature of Episcopal spirituality as compared to Buddhism.  Heady stuff for 7:45 and piecemeal at that.

Fortunately, I had three people I needed to consult on in the psychiatric hospital I call home.

It is good work, time spent with the mentally ill, and staff are rather chill, but it all takes a toll emotionally.  I suppose it’s the boundary crossing, being an amanuensis like repository of secrets, and maintaining efforts to buck up the unbucked that can wear me out.

So at last the sandwich at the end of the tunnel felt like something earned.  That and a new edition from Amazon of Some Girls with a bunch of newly released songs.

The dream now would be to do nothing, but that’s never possible.  So it’s off to work at Craigie on Main and later have a listen to Regina Carter at a decent jazz club down the street.



Fair Trade Coffee & Big Business

I was going to write about Thanksgiving, but what is left to say about birds and Pilgrims?  All I have is: Up early and to the bakery for croissants and bagels, followed by baking corn bread and stuffing two 12 pounders.  The stuffing: Three red onions, two celery stalks, about a pound of chopped chestnuts, arborio rice, chicken stock, six eggs, two sticks of butter, the aforementioned corn bread, chopped parsley, and plenty of salt  and pepper.  Birds stuffed and into oven preheated to 350, all done in 20 minutes, exclusive of the time it took to bake the corn bread.  What, for Pete’s sake, is the fuss?

Fine, later I’ll enlist the Millennials to trim the baby Brussel sprouts, pop the cranberries into a pot of boiling water, and peel the candy and golden beets.

But speaking more globally–and who doesn’t enjoy GG (Goin’ Global)–is a story on the front page of today’s NY Times on the Fair Trade USA movement.  Principally, this is about coffee, though it does cover other agricultural products.  OK, here is what’s what: When Fair Trade first got started, it bought stuff from smaller farms in an effort to help under-capitalized or poor farmers compete in a market where they were outmanned in marketing, setting prices, negotiation, etc.  The idea was to establish a level playing field, and to get the smaller outfits a fair price for their coffee.  (It’s kind of sort of like socialism, but if you won’t tell, I won’t either.  Loose lips sink ships.)

However, Fair Trade USA, according to the lively and thoughtful piece by William Neuman, “…angered critics by saying it would cut its ties at year’s end with the main international fair trade group and make far-reaching changes in the sorts of products that get its seal of approval.”

More specifically: “The changes include giving the fair trade designation to coffee from large plantations, which were previously barred in favor of small farms. The group is also proposing to place its seal on products with as little as 10 percent fair trade ingredients, compared with a minimum of 20 percent required in other countries.”

So what this means: The Fair Trade USA designation will lose its previous significance.  When you buy Fair Trade after the changes, you might be buying a watered down product from an agribusiness.

The reasoning behind the decision, according to the article, is this: “The group says the changes will benefit more poor farmers and farm workers around the world and make it easier for large corporations to sell fair trade products. Sales of fair trade goods in 2010 were $1.3 billion in the United States and $5.8 billion globally. Fair Trade USA said it hoped to double sales in the United States by 2015.”

I would put it a different way: The group figures that consumers will see the Fair Trade label and buy the product.  Agribusinesses and Fair Trade will double down, and join the 1%.

Here is the link:

Look, so many of the goody two shoes companies are owned by huge firms.  Honest Tea, noted in the article?  Owned by Coca Cola.  Things Go Better with Tea, right?

But when you slap a name on a something that does not describe that thing, broader problems arise.

Turkeys, I’m telling you.

Help is on the Way: Thanksgiving or No, Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving is beginning to seem like baseball to me: When I was little, I loved both, then I had no interest in either until having kids of my own, and now that the kids aren’t little, I find it all burdensome. I think that my best experiences in life are usually those in which I expect nothing and then something happens.  Leaving out the sure fire date.  So when I am asked to plan and anticipate A Happy Day, I consider Beckett’s play, “Happy Days.”

I am not being curmudgeonly.  I love leftovers: That Friday AM sandwich of turkey skin and mayo?  Priceless.

It’s the frivolity and drinking and lounging around, all that gaiety?  Exhausting.

A patient of mine is buying a bird and all the fixings from Whole Foods.  I think that’s kind of silly.  After all, to be honest, it takes me entirely 20 minutes, start to finish, to make the Thanksgiving meal. Stuffing, birds in oven, done.  Sides?  Roasted vegetables, salad.

It’s The People Factor.

Next year?  Chinatown?  Nee-how!

Back to Boston: Thanksgiving Fever

While the traffic is light, students having left to enjoy long days with distant families, those of us who remain or who have returned, are caught up in the mad prelude to a day of feasting and football.

The aisles of grocery stores are filled with shoppers who, pushing carts and holding lists, have the look of people who might as well be on the Titanic.  It’s a familiar panic, inculcated through generations of excess and primarily its anticipation, and nothing will make that go away until Black Friday.

It’s 9 for the day here in The Haas Test Kitchen: The usual spread of some TBD appetizers prepped by a sister-in-law, two birds, cornbread stuffing, and a mess o’ pies.

Meanwhile, having finished Beckett’s second volume of letters–(To Ralph Richardson’s question, “Is Godot a symbol for God?,” Beckett replies tersely, “If I had wanted to call him God, I’d have called him God.”)–I’m now onto a collection of Angela Carter’s stories set in Japan.

Pass the salt!

Venice is not the Menace

It all started on Thursday, November 10th, with a flight from Boston that took us through Germany and then to Venice.  Now normally when I am in Venice I have a kitchen where I can cook the remarkable products from Rialto Market, but this time, what with the kitchen being renovated and unavailable until five days into an 8 day stay, it was necessary to rely upon cafes, bars, and restaurants.

We were still able to buy beautiful cheeses and cured ham from Casa del Parmigiano and San Erasmo veg at Rialto as well as stunning breads at Colussi bakery.

The Friulian, Slovenian, and Austrian influences on Venetian cuisine were readily evident: Smoked meats and cheeses, pretzels, lots of butter, and, of course, spritz…

Although I was initially saddened by The Kitchen Predicament, in a short while I rather enjoyed the opportunity to find out of the way places.  Plus, our friends had us up to Udine where we enjoyed risotto, pasta, and polenta in their home.

For a long time I had the opinion that Venice had many bad, overpriced restaurants.  That is still true.  However, in discovering hidden gems, I found that there are many good places.

Finally, with the kitchen complete, I inaugurated it:

Tonno Bolognese, fiori di zucca, carciofi.

Filetti di San Pietro…