Sunday, October 31, 2010

From Thrill Ride to Fear Factor: The XLerator Turns Ugly

A while ago I wrote about the XLerator about which I said it's something akin to a bathroom thrill ride for 9 year old boys.  To quote that previous post, "the XLerator is to handdryers what the Hummer is to sports utility vehicles (the original Hummer, not the wussy H3)--extreme, testosterone laden, and completely over the top."

These observation still hold, but now that my younger son (who is four) is fully potty trained and able to use restraurant bathrooms, the old XLerator has taken on a whole new persona: evil weapon of terror.

The four year old is particularly sensitive to loud noises, and especially those in bathrooms, which I imagine is due to the echoing and amplifying effect of all that tile.  Loud-flushing toilets are bad enough. "Is this one a loud one or a quiet one?" he always asks as we approach a new bathroom.  Once inside, he carefully evaluates the standing urinals, which, if they're low enough he can use, or the regular old johns, which are always the right height but more prone to having a very loud flush.  Often I end up doing the flushing for him, once he has backed away to a respectable distance and covered his ears just in case.

I vaguely recall having a similar fear of loud toilets--there was a particular one in the bathroom of our church in Great Falls, South Carolina, that, back through the misty fog of early childhood memories, I still recall being terrified of.

But, I never had to deal with the XLerator, unlike my poor four year old.  The thing roars like an F18 taking off right there in the echo chamber of your local restaurant restroom,  rendering a noise-phobic four year old into a howling, curled up, almost-comatose ball of fear.

So, now we have a new routine when we go to bathrooms.  Upon entry, look first to see if they have traditional paper towels, old school wimpy hand driers, or the infamous XLerator.  If the latter, while the little one does his business, I stand casually and directly in front of hand drier, shielding it with my body to prevent any other bathroom patrons from sneaking up and using it to dry their hands before we can evacuate the premises.

And then there's the question of what to do with the four year old's hands once he's finished, since I'm still working to instill in him the social nicety of washing your hands after a visit to the restroom.  In some bathrooms they have both paper towels and the XLerator, and this works just fine, though the four year old will keep stealing glances at the silver beast out of the corner of his eye just in case the thing might decide to go off on its own.  In other bathrooms, though, the air dryer is the only option and we have to just let the restroom hygiene lessons wait for another day.   After all, I tell myself, which is more unsanitary, a couple of unwashed hands or having a four year old collapse in terror and roll around on a bathroom floor?

This is what parenthood--and the XLerator--has reduced me to.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Oh, No Sir, I Must Protest!

BBQ Geek, a blog I follow regularly and, most of the time, at least, respect heartily, has had momentary lapse of sanity and has posted the following "opinion" (and I put it in quotes because it's hard to argue opinions but in this case it is just patently wrong):  "Of all the BBQ sauces out there, SC mustard probably has the fewest fans and is the most regionalized sauce."  Well, that's just, like, your opinion, man.

Fewest fans?  Based upon what evidence?  And compared to that weird-ass white mayonnaise sauce they serve down in Alabama?

Anyhow, sauce blasphemy aside, it's an interesting piece on barbecue carts in New York City.  I myself, in NYC on business just a few weeks ago, looked up all the recently-opened barbecue joints and thought seriously about trying one out for dinner.  But, midway through searching Chowhound NYC for BBQ, I realized something:  you shouldn't go all the way to New York and eat barbecue, especially if you live in the South,

New York doesn't have great barbecue.  The remarkable thing about eating barbecue in New York is this: "can you believe we found good barbecue in New York, of all places?"

Brother, stick to barbecue when you are at home in the South, are on the road at a great barbecue city like Memphis, Kansas City, or Lexington, North Carolina.  If you're in New York, go to Katz's for pastrami or Keen's for a steak or the lobby at the Algonquin for a cocktail.  Don't go looking for barbecue.  Even if it is served from a street side cart and the pitmaster used to cook at Daniel and Le Cirque.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Vertical Schfarms

I'm listening right now to a podcast with an author nattering on and on about the future of vertical farms, which essentially means indoor hydroponic farms that feed urban populations without requiring all the soil and acreage of traditional land-based agriculture. It's a compelling sci-fi sort of concept, especially when you hear that currently to feed the city of New York it takes the land acreage of the entire state of Virginia but, according to vertical farm theorists, at least, it would take only a thirty story building on a single city block to prove the same number of calories.

All well and good, except for one thing. I'm not aware right now of there being a particular shortage of farmland in the United States. It's not like farms are bloating out all over the country and starting to gobble up the land that used to be used for subdivisions. Instead, in my neck of the woods, at least, huge tracts of lands that used the be used for food farming are now being planted over with pine trees for timber and leased out to groups of town-dwellers as hunting land. (As is the case with the 800 acres of former farmland my family owns in south Georgia.)

So what problem, exactly, are our "vertical farm" advocates trying to solve?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Lake Trout: Who Knew?

My wife and I just finished watching the full run of the HBO series The Wire on DVD from Netflix.  Absolutely brilliant, gripping, and for me, at least, proof positive that television shows--yes, television--will be considered the high literature of our day fifty years in the future.

Part of the reason is that the show captures the city of Baltimore in the way that no one has captured a city since Raymond Chandler portrayed L.A. in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s.  There's a throw-away line somewhere in season 3 or 4 where someone mentions "lake trout" and notes that it's neither a trout nor from a lake.

And I had no idea what they were talking about until I saw John T. Edge's United Tastes piece on it in the New York Times.  As it turns out, Atlantic whiting is the most commonly used fish for "lake trout".  It's a great piece, and makes me want to learn more about Baltimore.  A fascinating city.

Monday, October 11, 2010

On the Way: the Rice Market

Nice to see, as the Post & Courier reported this weekend, that the old Boathouse location down on East Bay St. will soon be home to a new restaurant called the Rice Market.   It sounds like the Crew Carolina guys are going to be involved in running the place, and it will serve "regional and international cuisine."

I'm not exactly sure what to make of this comment from one of the partners, Walter Brock, in explaining the restaurant's motif: "We have an overabundance of Lowcountry fare, which is always delicious, but if you live in Charleston full-time you don't get the same thing you get in bigger cities."

It's not like shrimp and grits and she crab soup are the only things you can eat in Charleston.  La Fourchette, Fat Hen, 39 Rue de Jean, G&M, Mistral, Trattoria Lucca, Al Di La, Bacco, Fulton Five, Pan e Vino, Wild Olive, Mercato, Il Cortile de Rey,Fuel, el Bohio, Cajun Kountry Kitchen, Basil, Quyen/Party Kingdom,  Pho Bac, Tasty Thai, Red Orchids, Olimpik, Samos Taverna, Opa Cafe, Manny's, Nirlep, Pooja's, Taste of India, Lana, Muse, Ali Baba, the other Ali Baba, La Nortena, Santi's, Uno Mas, Wasabi, Tsunami, O-Ku, Sushi Haru, Chai's Lounge, and the Voodoo Lounge are just a few of the "international" places that immediate spring to mind.

But, still, I'll be curious to see what the Rice Market brings to the mix.  It's a great location and a big space to work with.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Chicagoans Invade the South on BBQ Road Trip

Kevin Pang and Keith Claxton, two guys from the Chicago Tribune, are off on a barbecue road trip through the South.  Day 1 took them from Chicago all the way to Nashville, then Day 2 and 3 across the state of North Carolina, where they hit such notable spots as the Barbecue Center and Lexington Barbecue in Lexington, Richard's in Salisbury, Allen & Son in Chapel Hill, the Pit in Raleigh, the Skylight Inn in Ayden, and Wilber's in Goldsboro.  That's one hell of a two day winning streak.

Day 5 took them through South Carolina where, I must say, from a purely barbecue perspective, they squandered all their time in Columbia instead of getting off I-20 and heading to Hemingway and Gadsden.  Day 6 was a dash through Atlanta all the way to New Orleans, where they are apparently now off on a raw oyster detour.

One of the more interesting things is their coverage of a stop at the improbably-named J.J. McBrewster's in Lexington, Kentucky, where the staff was resting up and bracing up for the broadcast of their appearance on Guy Fieri's cloying Food Network show "Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives."  The interesting part is what an appearance on "the Triple D", as it apparently is called, can do for an otherwise out-of-the-way strip mall restaurant: 3 hour waits, apparently, are par for the course.  Go figure.

The road trip's good stuff, and you can follow it here:

Thursday, October 07, 2010

A Lost Southern Delicacy

What could be more Southern than pimento cheese and boiled peanuts?  How about the two of them mixed together?

My recent research has led me into the origins of various Southern foods, and recently I uncovered this gem from George Washington Carver's Bulletin Number 31 of the Experimental Station at the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (1916).   Carver, the famous peanut innovator, included the following recommended peanut recipe:


To every pound of cream cheese grind ½ ounce of pimento pepper and one ounce of peanuts in the same way recommended for the above [a recipe of “peanut cream cheese with olives”]. 

This recipe was part of Carver's treatise “How to Grow the Peanut and 105 Ways of Preparing it for Human Consumption”  It appeared as  item #102 on the list, well after dozens of scrumptious sounding candies and desserts and even after such dubious concoctions as Liver with Peanuts (#37) and Peanut Macaroni and Cheese (#46). While ambitious in its combining two items that were well on their way to becoming iconic Southern foods, Carver was notably unsuccessful in getting peanut pimento cheese to stick.

Two great tastes that taste great together?  You be the judge . . .

Monday, October 04, 2010

Are we at a lull?

I always like pondering food trends, and I have great fun trying to prognosticate them, though in reality I am so poor at predicting trends it seems the only safe way to try it is with tongue firmly in cheek.  That's the ultimate "win-win"--okay, sorry--the ultimate cop out.  If I get any of them right I can claim to be a genius; if I get them wrong (and I usually do), well, you see, it was all just a joke, right?

So what's happening these days?  Where is it all going?

Beats the hell out of me.  Right now I feel like we're in sort of a lull, stuck somewhere between the ebbing of "locavorism", which is still the most prominent trend in the food world today, and whatever is going to succeed it.

Don't get me wrong.  Locavorism, despite its ludicrous name, is still hot. Just this week, the National Restaurant News declared  gardens to be the hottest restaurant trend of 2010 (thanks to Robb Walsh via Twitter for the tip).  But, you have to admit, it's starting to feel a little stale.  It seems like something is about to turn, that we're on the cusp of something new and dramatic breaking loose.

Maybe its a reflection of what's going on in the country and the world at large: the pending November elections?  This lingering recession/depression thing?  We got all into the weeds of it back in late 2008/early 2009 and made a big fuss and did a lot of soul searching, and then it seemed for a while earlier this year that things were starting to slowly, inch by inch, get a little bit better.   Then a few months ago it all ground back down to a halt and perhaps even turned back a little in the wrong direction.

Mostly, though, it just feels like we're on hold, waiting in limbo for something to happen, but we aren't really sure what it's going to be or even what we want it to be.

Maybe it's just me and the particular spot I am in in my life, but I feel like there's something looming out there--good, bad, or just different: who knows?  But something is pent up behind the dam and ready to break.  I don't care to speculate about global economics, but in the food world I'm waiting for something exciting and new to happen, too.

The Internet has knocked food journalism into a tizzy, with food magazines on the ropes, traditional publishers struggling, and even a turnover in the old warhouse profession of restaurant reviewing (which really isn't that old of a profession, since we've had computer scientists and astronauts for about long as we've had restaurant reviewers.)  But, somehow Yelp and iPhone apps just don't seem like they're really the way of the future.

Whatever it's going to be, it's going to be new.  We need something different: a hot new trend.  Food trucks have official worn out their novelty, and they were always sort of a mobile locavorism anyway.

So, what's next?  I don't know.  But I have just two words: bring it!

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