A blog meant to represent, as most blogs do, extracts or excepts from day-to-day life.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Opening Doors

Monday I held the door open for Sam Baker, local host of Morning Edition. That's Sam Baker as in, "For K-E-R-A, I'm Sam Bakuuurrrr."

Sunday, August 27, 2006

New blog

I've got a new blog space up and running. I'm calling it "Gastronomic Tests," after a chapter in The Physiology of Taste. The purpose of Brillat-Savarin's gastronomic tests was to seek out like-minded companions with whom to enjoy the pleasures of the culinary world. I hope to do the same.

This blog, for the most part, will be a log of highpoints in my day-to-day eating and drinking. Maybe I'm a bit naive to think that my readers will enjoy reading about what I eat, but I think I eat really well. I should even think that on reading these little blogs, you might be a bit jealous that you were not dining with me...

I hope to reflect a bit on food as a pleasurable part human culture, and as you'll see, food is something like the "tip of the iceberg," for lying under the surface of any meal (or for that matter any blog about a meal) is an entire world of joy, sorrow, love, loss, and whatever else the human condition can conjure. That's the framework in which I intend to blog, anyway.

I feel like I should end this entry with a nice, big "bon appetit!" a la Julia Childs, but that just might be construed as too contrived.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Sea Salt

Readers, just in case you don't know this yet--and I'd wager most of you don't yet--I should say that I'm kind of a visionary.

I think gourmet salt is kind of popular right now, and it's a trend I'm really excited about. So excited, in fact, that I envisioned an hors d'oeuvre concept Monday night that was all about the salt. I don't think my guests were quite ready for that. The slices of beautiful, homegrown tomatoes, I tried to explain, were just a medium for experimenting with a smattering of prized sea salts.

I envisioned that as an interactive, sensual experiment in salt tasting, and I think the concept is uniquely mine. I'm afraid, though, that my guests didn't really take to the idea, and the whole thing felt kind of awkward. The world just isn't ready for my creativity. Someday, though, all the trendy restaurants will be experimenting with the raw beauty of gourmet salts, and I'll be left hemming and hawing about how that was my idea. I guess that's the problem with being a visionary.

On the upside, though, I was telling my dad about the whole thing, and he sort of gasped quietly and said that he'd been planning to buy me salt for my upcoming birthday. How thoughtful! Gift-giving occasions, me, and my parents are usually a terrible combination: they never know what to give me, and I never want to tell them what I want. So I was tickled that my dad thought of such a great gift--all by himself. Nevermind the fact that I beat him to the buy. (I suppose that's another problem that the average visionary has to face now and then.)

I never would have thought that he and I could have had such a great time sitting around talking about the complex and nuanced flavor of salts and potential media onto which to present them. And all that after I accidentally ran my mouth about him compromising his sauce by letting the butter get too hot.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Afternoon Coffee

Afternoon coffee and a cigarette. The coffee is Whole Foods' Espresso Sierra blend, roasted only yesterday, and brewed in my La Pavoni Europiccola machine. I've tried a lot of espresso blends, and this is the one I keep going back to. The cigarette is Nat Sherman's New York Cut Original. It pairs so well with espresso. Truly a gustatory delight.

I also found today that the Whole Foods where I shop now carries salt in their bulk area. I'm glad that gourmet salt is a trend right now. I'd been using kosher salt almost exclusively for the past several years because I like the texture, although the taste is not that much better than plain table salt. The unrefined sea salts, however, have a much more complex and pronounced flavor that adds so much depth to the dish. I picked up samples of three salts today: flor de sel ($28/lb), grey sea salt ($9/lb), and fumee de sel (chardonnay-smoked salt) ($35/lb). They also have unrefined sea salt from a company called Real Salt for $2.50/lb.

The grey salt and the pinkish Real Salt product are my favorites. Fortunately they are also the two reasonably priced ones.I think smoked salt probably has limited uses. I can see it going well salmon, but I can't imagine using it with much else. And unfortunately I don't eat much salmon here in Texas.

I'm working on a food blog site. Eventually I'll turn these food-related posts over to a food-specific blog that I can market as such. One day I hope to be a famous food blogger. (I'm crossing my fingers.) Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Wednesday Dinner

Tonight for dinner I had "eggs in purgatory," one of my old favorites. Caramelized shallots, simple tomato sauce (unfortunatly I had to use dried thyme and marjoram because my herb garden is doing so poorly this year), basil (something from my garden that isn't doing so bad this year), fresh, local eggs from my favorite little produce shop, and toast from this morning's homemade bread.

I was finishing a gin martini and talking to a friend on the phone while prepping the shallots and sauce. I got off the phone and picked out the eggs--I grabbed the two biggest eggs from the flat. They were both twins. How special is that?

Two eggs, two yolks each. Two pieces of toast. I needed a second martini.

I know this picture isn't great. I'm no photographer, and I had to act quickly because my food was getting cold!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

On Kitchen Gadgets: Cutting and Slicing

This is the first in what I hope turns into a series about kitchen gadgets and how they help or hinder the cook's kitchen.

I went on a little Williams-Sonoma shopping spree the other day. I filled my online shopping cart with forty-three gadgets that do what a couple good knives could do otherwise. Total bill for the shopping spree? $1,187.67, before shipping. I didn't get as far as shipping, because I feel that all but a few of these gadgets are unnecessary. I'd even say that all but a few of these gadgets are a threat to humanity. Read on, reader.

The gadgets (some of them): tomato slicer, onion dicer, onion chopper, onion mill, garlic dicer, garlic slicer, two or three types of garlic choppers, egg slicer, mozzarella slicer, butter slicer (!), truffle slicer, herb slicer, herb mill, herb shears, tomato knife (two types), citrus knife, mango pitter, avocado slicer, shrimp shears, shrimp deveiner, three or four types of vegetable peelers, mandolins, two types of julienne slicer things, mezzalunas, pizza slicers, and so on and on and on.

I don’t own any of these gadgets, but I’d like to own a few. I’d like a really nice mandolin, a mezzaluna, and a truffle slicer. A well crafted mandolin is a beautiful thing. It would be really nice to own, although I’d rarely use it. I would use, however, a mezzaluna for mincing herbs in large quantity. A mezzaluna is pretty much a knife, though, right? Maybe it doesn’t even belong in this discussion of knife replacements. And a truffle slicer, or truffle shaver as they are sometimes called, is more of a status symbol than kitchen utility: owning one of these things says, “not only do I eat truffles, but I own a tool whose sole purpose is to slice them.”

Otherwise, these gadgets are ridiculous. They discourage good knife skills and clutter the kitchen. The last thing a cook needs is a cluttered kitchen. Let’s look at a few of these gadgets in detail.

The butter cutter: isn’t butter like one of the easiest things to cut? “Like a hot knife through butter.” The simile says it all.

The mango pitter: I know mangoes are a little bit difficult to core, but learning how to core a mango quickly with a good paring knife is a good skill to have. I’ve had many opportunities to show off my mango skills in front of unlearned and frustrated party hosts unable to manage mangoes. Slicing through the fruit, knowing exactly where the core lies, and expertly avoiding it is a skill that never fails to impress.

Herb slicers: those roller slicer things, you know? They never seem to work. They just sort of mash the herbs instead of cutting them. Mashed herbs lose their sharp edge, both in physical appearance and gustatorily. The other thing I don’t like about these herb roller slicers is that their users rely on them too much and lose sight of the fact that a lot of times the dish is far better if the herbs are torn rustically instead of sliced or julienned uniformly.

The same goes for onions and garlic. It’s important to know when to dice, when to mince, when to crush, and when to chop rustically. When we depend on machines to do the prep work for us, we give up contact and intimacy with our ingredients.

Using these gadgets discourages good kitchen skills and leads to a dependence on technology—decadence, cf. Rousseau. We lose the well honed skills (word play well intentioned, thank you) and the culinary challenges that motivate us to cook. As our knives and our kitchen skills dull, our dependence on the gadgets increases. I envision the Last Man having his garlic mechanically diced to perfect 1/10-inch precision, but having lost sight of the joy of mis en plats and the indiscernible taste and textural qualities of his product.

I’d submit that four good knives, which might cost a few hundred dollars, are all the home cook really needs: a large and small chef’s knife, a paring knife, and a bread knife. Buy these and a good sharpener, too, then go into your kitchen, reader, and throw all your cutting and slicing gadgets into a pile on the floor. Pick them up, one by one, and ask yourself, “is this a knife? Is this a beautiful and well crafted machine? Does owning this improve my social status?” If the answer to those questions is no, then throw the gadget to the trash. Keep your knives sharp and your knife skills sharper, for the sake of humanity itself!

Friday, August 11, 2006

Friday Happy Hour

I'm just winding down happy hour this Friday. It seems like the people I'd really love to do happy hour with today are out of town, so I decided to stay home and do it alone.

I had little finger sandwiches of homegrown tomatoes and lots of fresh garlic sliced paper thin, served on homemade bread. Yes, I'm baking again... My source for these wonderful little sandwiches? A movie I watched yesterday, Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers, by Les Blank. It came out in the late 80s and has appearances by Ruth Reichl, before she was wildly famous, as well as Alice Waters, when she was just barely famous.

To drink I had (big surprise) a gin martini, stirred, served straight up. To garnish? Slices of garlic! I look forward to passing the night alone, remember, so I have no need to worry whether my breath smells overpoweringly of garlic.

Monday, August 07, 2006


"Wish I was in heaven sittin' down." --R. L. Burnside song. That's how I feel right now. I need a break.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Final exam 5600.002

I'm in the midst of an exam. It's kinda freak-out time. I have to give definitions, explainations, descriptions, etc. for fifty or so terms. I probably have to give complete bibliographic information for all the sources. The terms are somewhere amid twenty-five or so PDF lectures, each forty or so pages. The final is due tomorrow at midnight.

Strategy? I dowloaded all the PDFs to my hard drive and put them into the same folder so that I can use Adobe Acrobat to search all the PDFs at once in that folder. Adobe searches the whole folder and then displays how many files contain the term and how many occurences in each file. Clicking the link that Adobe provides for each file that contains the search term pulls up the pdf to the specific page within the PDF where the term appears. Adobe highlights the term. Now all I have to do is perform fifty or so searches and distill the definition, description, explaination, etc. from the lecture notes into a small paragraph, a hundred or so words in a Word doc, slap on the appropriate header and footer and post the exam into the appropriate assignment drop box.

First term to define: information overload. Ugh.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Miss New Orleans

I was supposed to go to New Orleans next week, but I changed my mind. I've only been there once before, but I miss it. I miss the crowds of people waiting for tables at Jacques-Imo's Friday night, the perfect flash-fried whole flounder, and the waitress who de-boned it for me. And I miss Jacques-Imo's simple baby spinach salad with the one-fried-oyster garnish, the best fried oyster I've ever had, so good it changed my mind about fried oysters. (I normally like them raw.)

I miss walking down the street and being struck here and there by the scent of Confederate Jasmine.

I miss drinking big rum-and-cokes in the car while driving from party to party, bar to bar. I miss eating the best cheese fries in the world at 3:30 in the morning and finally leaving the bar at 5 in the morning.

I miss all that New Orleans style, wardrobe choices that people couldn't pull off anywhere else in the world that look so perfect in that city.

I miss seeing Papa Grows Funk on Monday night at the Maple Leaf Bar, and I miss randomly running into James the brewer, a friend from Texas and a new New Orleanian, dancing to the funk, his big Panama hat spinning and bobbing above the crowd.

I miss the old, worn out front door at Faulkner House bookstore in the French Quarter and the dignified proprietress inside who welcomed me to her shop and treated me like a New Orleanian even though I felt like a tourist everywhere else I went. "You've been here before, haven't you?"

I told her that, in fact, this was my first time in the city. She welcomed me and showed me around her shop. We talked about Andrei Codrescu, his newest book, and the party he just had at his French Quarter flat. We talked about Dallas and a book of Hurricane Katrina photography by Dallas Morning News photojournalists that had just won a Pulitzer and seemed to be on backorder everywhere. I'd wanted to see if I could order it for my friend and hostess in New Orleans, as a birthday gift and an appreciation for letting me stay at her house. The proprietress couldn't order it, so she showed me other Katrina books by local authors. I found one I liked, Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans? I wondered if it'd be a suitable gift for my hostess. "Oh, you're a good houseguest," the proprietress said.

I decided to keep the book, though, and I'm glad I did. What would it mean to Miss New Orleans, anyway? To Miss New Orleans... well, that's something I'll just have to get over.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

My meeting with NPR folk

I went down to KERA yesterday to meet with Jeff Whittington and start the phone screening gig. I have a few remarks.

First, I worried about what to wear and ended up being kind of overdressed, but now that I’ve set that precedent, I’m afraid I’ll have to keep looking well composed. That’s not so bad, as long as the crew there doesn’t think I’m just trying too hard to impress them or something. At least I have pretty good taste. Jeff, by the way, was wearing an old short-sleeve pearl-snap shirt, slim jeans, and beat-up Converse All-Stars. He’s more attractive in person than in his pictures on the website.

Second, I felt like the crew was welcoming, and as far as Jeff is concerned, I’m “A good, upstanding member of the UNT Mafia.” Mafia. That’s how he introduced me to Jeanie in the control room. Apparently there are a lot of UNT grads there, and they were happy to hear that I’m a UNT grad, too.

Third, Jeff uses words like “pedant” to insult and condescend, as in “boy, she sounds like a real pedant.” I love that. He also uses words like “sully” to encourage, as in “Krys, this is Sean. He’s here to try and sully his name.”

Fourth, Jeff was really stimulated—but I couldn’t figure out why—by one caller’s question for the liberal linguist guest: “Do linguists have an ethical obligation not to use their skills to promote their political ideals?” Why is that such a good question? Do doctors have an ethical obligation not to use their skills to rid the world of suffering?

Fifth and final, I think I’ve fallen into something good.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The futurists

I always thought the futurists were just joking around--you know, trying to show some of the pitfalls of our technological advancements by hyperbolizing them in art, literature, even cooking(!) But it turns out they were being serious. Joke's on me.

I just bought a first edition of The Futurist Cookbook (paperback, so it's not nearly as valuable as the hardcover editions). I was reading through the introduction, which was all about how the essays, recipes, and F. T. Marinetti's gastronomic journey across Europe was meant as a "joke"--but the joke was that everything he was saying about food was really intended to signify his ideas about human culture in general. (For the record, I don't think that's really a "joke." I think that's an allegory, analogy, metaphor, parable, etc.)

So what was so surprising to me was that the futurists really did think that technology holds humanizing possibilities. How did I miss that? On some level, I suppose we can't deny technology's humanizing potential, but I always thought the futurists were intentionally trying to be so ridiculous in their movement as to show that such a penchant for technology--a reliance on machines, computers, kitchen gadgets, and so forth--would lead to a race of very weak and lame humans, lacking the hard work, spirit, and creativity that become the essence of humanity itself. Where'd I get that idea? Silly me. I should just stay in the kitchen. And read cookbooks.