2.12.2005

Fork It Over: The Intrepid Adventures of a Professional Eater, Alan Richman

forkitover


I adore good food writing. Alan Richman is a good food writer. This book is a compilation of his essays, which have appeared over the years primarily in GQ, but also in other foodie magazines like Food + Wine.

I literally devoured this book, reading it as often as I could steal a moment, and it is wonderfully readable and at times very funny.

Still, I find fault, and in this I am a bit too like Alan Richman. Alan Richman is very fussy, and more critical than any critic has a right to be.

In an essay on Naples, he writes at length about what he expects to find there, pizzas of wonderful crispness with perfect toppings, unimaginable to Americans. Yet no such pizza exists in Naples. In Naples, the abundance of fresh ingredients results in a wet pizza. Pizza everywhere, but all wet. When he confronts some native Neapolitan on this apparent deliquency, they reply, yes, the pizza is wet. They like to take the crust and dip it in the puddle of wetness. Alan Richman is outraged. And so he is not criticizing the pizza as it is, but as compared to his totally made up expectations.

It is no problem to want to eat an imagined pizza - this is what home cooking and experimenting are for. It is a problem, to my way of thinking, to punish a food because it is not what you have made it out to be in your imaginings, especially if you have not actually ever tasted this miraculous example of what pizza could be. Accept the pizza for what it is and go from there - there are better and worse examples, but the prototype is wet.

And on and on like this. Alan Richman is afraid of Korean food, despises tofu, hates veganism, etc. He self-proclaims his close-mindedness, although this is the trait I despise most in food critics.

Still, I like the book. What Richman does best is write about Jewish culture as food. Richman is Jewish himself, with typical Jewish parents and all that that entails. He writes warmly, enthusiastically, and with gusto when he speaks of the smoked meats of Montreal Jews and older Jewish waiters, and with the detail that is missing from most of his essays. When he follows his mother around in Florida, on a mission to sample the best of the early-bird specials and decipher the phenomena of eating dinner at 4pm for retired Jews, he is brilliant. In other essays, he shows contempt or a minimum of acceptability for the majority of what passes over his tongue. In his essays on his mother's cooking, he exhibits the joy de vivre we want to see in one who eats, and eats well, for a living.

I understand that my standards are lower than Alan Richman's, I am certainly more easily pleased and don't portend to be a food critic so am not in the position of having to be often staunchly negative about over-fancified foods. In that, I feel I am lucky. Still, it rests a tad uneasy with me that he is so often so miserable. But he himself might make reference to his heritage and the long-suffering Jews.

All in all, a brilliant, quick read, especially for those interested in absorbing a few bits and pieces of Jewish food culture. Not especially worth owning on a long-term basis, so borrowing from the library or buying a copy and then passing it off as a gift are both options.

2.04.2005

How To Cut . . .

Here's a fun link including really great illustrations on how to cut many fruits and vegetables, in detail, for either left or right-handed people . . .

Lent

Although we aren't usually that pious, B and I for some reason have fallen into the habit of giving up something for Lent. And it has been a very successful exercise for us, not only to remind us of our faith, but also the time period usually helps us give up some awful culinary habit.

The first year it was soda and potato chips, which we had previously consumed in spades. Now we consume them once in a great while, with no ill feelings of deprivation. The second year red meat, the third all meat. Both these years forced us into a healthier balance, and although we are back to eating meat (truly, meat is one of the greatest food groups when it comes to taste), it is not at all an everyday food or a necessary focus of our dinners.

The fourth year we gave up watching re-runs on tv. We'd be gone to Santa Fe during Lent, and I refused giving up any food, no matter how mundane, in the off chance Santa Fe might contain the most interesting example of that food. And our tv habits were abominable. It was such a success we gave up tv altogether, shutting off the cable but keeping our Netflix subscription. We've never been happier, nor more productive.

This year we are off to San Diego for the last week of February, and again, food was not going to make the list of things to give up. But Lent starts next week and we were scrambling for ideas. So, with inspiration from our friends, we decided to add a healthy habit.

We are going for five servings of fruits and vegetables. Since I haven't reviewed the newest food guide, this is based on the old one. We are fairly indulgent and not very conscious of our health, so this is an appropriate Lenten task. Hopefully it will have the same long-term benefits as other years.

The only thing left is to make sure we understand what constitutes a fruit or vegetable.

Debates have already ensued.

Juice? No
Olives? No
But what about black beans? They are beans after all, but somehow I am unsure. Any ideas?

2.02.2005

Blood Orange Season - let the gorging begin

blood

At last, blood oranges have reached New England. With those hurricanes and all, I had reason to fear they never would.

For now, I can get organic ones for $2.99/lb at Philbrick's Fresh Market in Portsmouth. Not that bad of a price, as they are always expensive in these parts. The ones I picked up are a bit small, but that is normal for organic v. conventional, and firm and heavy for their size. Often, the first ones of the season are a bit off, it takes a bit for them to warm up, as it were. Perhaps the warm-up period has passed elsewhere, because these are fabulous.

Dark pink, sweet and a little tart, a tinge of raspberry. If you have never had one of these beauties, I almost advise against it, because it will ruin you for other citrus. I adore oranges, and tangerines, and grapefruit, and even pomelos. But if there is a blood orange in sight, forget about it. I can gorge on these things continuously for the months they are around. I know I am gushing and babbling like an idiot, but truly, these are the kings of citrus.