Monday, August 25, 2008

Pig Cuttin'

For those of you who aren't freaked out by seeing food in a close-to-natural state, Sean Brock has some great pics of his crew butchering and curing a 260-pound Spotted Poland China pig down at McCrady's.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Lost in the Icebox

My refrigerator is generally pretty orderly, since I tend to throw out food when the expiration date is passed and/or it's starting to look mushy, fuzzy, or dangerous. (This is not native behavior, The Wife will attest, but a result of domestication.)

The freezer is a different story. It's an icy Sargasso Sea of old leftover meals, odd chunks of variety meat, vegetables, tubs of duck fat, and bags of heirloom grains. I know it's impossible, since we moved into this house just a year ago, but some of the meat looks downright prehistoric.

So, today, out it all came onto the kitchen counter for a good sifting and sorting:

About a third of it went into trash, and the rest is now back in the freezer, fussily arranged on the little racks (it's one of those side-by-side models with four wire basket/racks). Meat on the bottom, vegetables and grains next, then premade food and leftovers, and miscellaneous stuff like bread and sauces on the top.

The good news: I discovered I have several weeks worth of meat on hand. The bad news: two weeks from now it will be a complete disaster again.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Workin' Out, Sorta

As soon as I stepped into my room at the Westin Crown Center in Kansas City, I knew there had been a mistake. It was a large room--some sort of suite, so I couldn't complain about that. But the whole broad end of the room by the big plate glass windows was filled with . . . some sort of bizarre, Rube Goldberg-like machinery.

Upon closer inspection I determined that they were not in fact cruel instruments of torture but rather high-tech exercise equipment, of all things: a treadmill, a medicine ball, some adjustable-weight dumbbells, and some sort of big rubber workout ball that I'm not quite sure how one would use. It appeared that I had been booked into some sort of "fitness suite."

Or, as the Westin people call it, the WestinWORKOUT(R) Room, where you can "recharge yourself on your own time, in your own room."

I have no problem with people who follow a rigorous exercise routine when on the road, even if I never quite manage such discipline on my own. Going for a jog in a new city is probably a great way to take in the scenery, and if the weather is bad or you're booked into one of those dreary motels off an Interstate exit, I can see how some laps in the indoor pool or a quick workout on the stairclimber in the hotel gym would go a long way toward keeping off those extra pounds despite three restaurant meals a day.

But isn't having the exercise equipment right there in your room just a tad excessive?

In their delightful 1975 phillipic The Taste of America, John and Karen Hess lamented the "solitary drinking" that seemed an epidemic within the rooms of "hotels that advertise 'free guest ice' on every floor'". It's a marked contrast to the nominally-sociable practice of boozing it up in the hotel bar, where there's at least an outside chance of actually interacting with similarly bored and/or lonely traveling souls.

The WestonWORKOUT(R) room seems the early 21st century's version of solitary hotel-room drinking: solitary hotel-room exercising. A depressing metaphor for the Bowling Alone generation.

I must admit, though, that the treadmill did come in handy. The handrails served quite nicely for hanging my suit pants at the end of the day when I changed into jeans for a visit around the corner to Gates BBQ.

A few hours later, as I lay on the bed stuffed full of hickory-smoked brisket, pork ribs, and ham, I suppose I took some small comfort in knowing that if I woke up at five a.m. with an overwhelming urge to exercise I had a handy treadmill just two steps away.

I woke up at seven, feeling quite fine.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

BBQ Odyssey

Two guys from up north are blogging their way through a week-long barbecue odyssey across the South in a rented Toyota Prius. They hit Charleston yesterday and took in Melvin's. Next stop is Macon . . .

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Are you a Foodie?

Something about the term "foodie" has always rubbed me the wrong way. It's never been something I wanted to call myself, even though (if forced to reflect upon it) I must admit that I meet several of the defining criteria.

The term "foodie" derives, as best as I can tell, from Paul Levy and Ann Barr's 1985 book The Official Foodie Handbook. Here's the opening paragraph:

What is a Foodie? You are probably. A Foodie is a person who is very very very interested in food. Foodies are the ones interested in food in any gathering - salivating over restaurants, recipes and radicchio. They don't think they are being trivial - Foodies consider food to be an art, on a level with painting and drama. It's actually your favourite art form.
Why did we need a new term? "Epicure" and "gourmet" had served us just fine for years. But, following the hangover of the James Beard and Julia Child days and the onset of the anti-grande cuisine reaction in the 1970s and 1980s (triggered, I guess, by Alice Waters and the whole California food thing), those old terms had just taken on too much baggage: stuffy, snobbish . . . food priggery.

Levy's definition of "foodie", with its references to high art, may not sound much better, but it definitely took on a different slant from "gourmet." The latter was some one interested primarily in just eating, the pure connoisseurism and enjoyment of the very best in refined dining. The refined part didn't matter as much to the foodies. The were food amateurs, but they loved not just eating but everything about food, including learning as much as possible about food and, of course, talking incessantly about it.

Somewhere along the line "foodie" took on its own set of negative connotations, namely obsessive compulsion and judgmentalism. It wasn't enough that foodies had to memorize every strain of bacteria used in fermented cheeses and proceed to enumerate them for you with color commentary at cocktail parties. While they were at it, they took the extra time to sneer at the pasteurized cheddar chunks that your host was so ill-informed as to serve.

But my resistance to the term goes deeper than the negative overtones. Part of it is a general impatience with people who let a hobby or interest get all out of whack until it becomes a "lifestyle" or, worse, forms a large portion of their identity.

The truth of the matter, if you get down to it, is that a predilection for pursuing good eats at the expense of reason and practicality doesn't define your identity so much as it defines the identity of your spouse or significant other, who must endure countless sidetrips down country roads because "I think I remember hearing about a guy around here somewhere who makes the best liver pudding in three counties." Who must suffer through extensive mumbled gripes and kvetching any time you spend more than two days encamped at the homes of relatives who insist upon serving pre-breaded, pre-flavored frozen chicken breasts to you for dinner. Who frequently is told "I'm just going to whip up something light for dinner" only to return three hours later to a kitchen knee-deep in dirty pans and the smoke alarm going off.

"The poor woman," she overhears them say in hushed tones. "She's married to that food nut."

But, let's cut to the chase. The fact of the matter is that "foodie" is simply one of the damn silliest names for a food lover that anyone could have come up with.

It would be one thing if it was an insult concocted by a bunch of fast-food junkies and Hamburger Helper devotees to mock food snobs. But why would any sensible human being want to say to another, "Oh, yes, I am a foodie!" Would a motorcylist announce, "I'm a bikie?" Would a oenophile embrace being a "winey" or a numismatist a "coiney"? Somehow I think not.

Maybe Levy tacked on that dorky "-ie" suffix just for that reason, to separate down-to-earth foodies from the stuffier, self-important gourmets. No latinate technical terms or snooty faux-Frenchism for them, just cute, little inoffensive "foodies." Or maybe the British are just weird.

In any event, it doesn't work for me.

I've always been partial to Calvin Trillin's preferred term, "big hungry boy," which describes someone who's passionate about food but mostly just wants to eat all the time and will go to great lengths to seek out tasty items but rarely, if ever, lords it over people who might have (if you were a foodie judging them, at least) "less discerning" tastes. A Big Hungry Boy would be far less interested in a yet another foie gras-topped filet than an unparalleled "River Dog" from Joseph Riley Park in Charleston (with its unbeatable combination of coleslaw, mustard-based barbecue sauce, and a big spear of pickled okra laid along top).

But, what's in a name? The Wife frequently chastises me for my "obsessive" interest in matters such as finding housemade pancetta or fresh, on-premise-ground burgers. But she has her own unnatural fascination with the daily minutiae of third-rate screen actors and really has no room for throwing stones.

After all, when I'm off on the road on yet another business trip, she may be stuck at home with two young children and nothing in the cubboard but a tin of really good Spanish sardines, a jar of handmade mustard, and six varieties of heirloom rice that take three hours to cook. But, I doubt she worries too much that I'm out at the nudie bars "entertaining clients" or hitting up the bellhops for tips on evening entertainment. It's a much safer bet that I'm alone in my room at 9:00 PM, sleeping off another triple-platter from Gates's Barbecue (ribs, sliced beef, and ham!) and calculating in my REM-sleep whether I have time to finish a client meeting at 10:30, grab a burnt ends sandwich on the way to the airport, and still make a 12:20 flight.

I suppose it could be a lot worse.

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