Tag Archives: Food

Thanksgiving and Why Barbecue Isn’t Restaurant Food

Let me say up front: I don’t come from an old southern family. I come from the opposite of an old southern family, raised in a kosher home by parents who didn’t particularly enjoy cooking. If you’re not from the tribe, traditional celebratory cooking for Jews involves large amounts of chicken fat, salt, and onion soup mix. And when I was a kid, having “a barbecue” meant burning the bejeezus out of kosher hot dogs on a Weber grill cleared of cobwebs for the occasion. In my fondness for cooking pork, I’m not an originalist when it comes to cooking Jewish food, and I’m not an originalist when it comes to barbecue.

I have no hipsterish claim whatsoever to having smoked meat before it was cool.  My wife bought me a smoker (pictured) for a wedding/birthday present in 2003. It is the greatest gift she ever gave me. Well, aside from the marrying me thing and the two kids. The smoker is the greatest gift that didn’t involve pain and questionable decision-making on her part.  I still have the smoker (and the kids, and the marriage, surprisingly) and have never felt the need to upgrade or replace it – just like me, it’s older, crustier, and more fragrant than it was in 2003. Unlike me, the smoker sometimes oozes black goo from its lower openings. I still have a few years before that happens.

Weber Smoker

My circa 2003 Weber Smoker. Note black goo.

The great thing about a smoker is that it’s a device that attracts people to your home. It’s a reason to come together whether or not there is an actual holiday. You can’t – or least I can’t – barbecue a piece of meat small enough for my family of four – anything that small cooks too quickly to come out right. If I’m using the smoker, it means I need to have a few people over to enjoy whatever charred hunk of beast I just made.  It’s what I think of as a “real” barbecue: an amicable humans eating together, interrupted only by the occasional panicked search for napkins.

Recent Brisket

A recent brisket

Here’s what rains on my parade: some well meaning person, grease dripping from their chin, will ask if I’ve been to Schmo’s for their brisket. Or Smookie’s. Or whatever the new barbecue restaurant is in Chicago. A new one opens every week. And the answer is almost always no. I don’t believe in restaurant barbecue. I can’t separate the food from the experience – to me, barbecue is barbecue because it’s served at a barbecue.

Maybe that’s not true with smallish idiosyncratic shacks in Texas. But in Chicago, a restaurant is an expensive business to run.  The goal must be to turn out an abundance of food consistently, serve you, and then turn over the table to serve the next people. They have to do this, or they couldn’t make their lease payments. No room for idiosyncrasy. Boring. What if they ran out of apple and used oak? Or the smoker ran cool because it was 29 degrees outside? What if the drippings that were supposed to go into the sauce ended up on the kitchen floor? I realize not everyone is going to make their own barbecue, but everyone who likes to eat barbecue should be friends with someone who makes it.

I’m not trying to convince anyone of this argument, because I don’t think I’m  likely to win. After all, investors are supporting all of these new barbecue places, so there’s obviously a market for sweet, damp protein. Probably people looking to step up from making “BBQ Pork” with a bottle of KC Masterpiece and a slow cooker.

For the record, I don’t understand those people.

The other day, I was picking up a brisket from the guy, and I asked if he was going to carry turkeys for Thanksgiving. He wasn’t going to and explained that he only carries meat and poultry restaurants use, and restaurants don’t really use turkeys. Flash! There it was: why I love Thanksgiving. Because like barbecue, Thanksgiving dinner is only Thanksgiving dinner when it’s served on Thanksgiving. It’s food made by amateurs for other amicable humans. Aside from the odd diner, there aren’t a lot of restaurants popping up all over trying to sell ol’ timey “traditional” roast turkey and mashed potatoes. You definitely aren’t getting cranberry sauce or challah stuffing. Yes, there’s Boston Market. And ok, there’s probably a food truck somewhere doing this. Or doing it in a donut. Because some people place a huge value on food handed to them out the side of a colorful van. Those people can also learn to push a bar with their nose to get sugar water.

Last year’s model

I have had some terrible turkey. It was like eating the heel of a cadaver. But it was cadaver heel prepared according to someone’s own SPECIAL recipe. I don’t care if it splinters when you cut it. It’s still awesome.  If your family tradition is serving dessicated poultry with a box of Stove Top and one of those Costco pumpkin pies the size of a tractor tire, that’s  a family tradition! It doesn’t even need to be turkey. Even people serving spaghetti carbonara or some sort of textured soy protein are having a Thanksgiving meal. And every family has a different one. When I finally mastered the Jewish Holy Trinity of schmaltz, salt, and  soup mix, I then had to incorporate my wife’s family traditions. She is a refugee from Oklahoma, and holiday food for her involves cheese, heavy cream, and sausage. Thus, we have both challah stuffing and sausage and cornbread dressing side by side on our table. And we have a ton of it, because just like barbecue, it’s not anything you can make for a small amount of people.

It’s the second decade of the 21st century, and there are what, two things that are still great about America? You can argue whether the second one is our tremendous capacity for self delusion or John Hodgman.  But the first one is that we have a national holiday that both traditional and evolving and remains rooted in giving thanks for our many gifts and eating with loved ones. Or eating parts of loved ones, depending on how the turkey tastes.

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Thank Goodness I Can Eat Gluten Free at T.G.I. Fridays!

T.G.I. Fridays has a gluten-free menu. This is great news for all the people out there that were saying “You know, I *really* have a taste for a 10 ounce rib eye with ‘generous marbling’. And I like that I can get my meat with a side order of ribs, because my favorite side dish to meat is more meat. And when I’m done with that, I really like to tuck in to an ice cream sundae with chocolate and caramel sauce and whipped cream all washed down with unlimited Coke refills. If only I could have such a delicious meal gluten-free!”

Well you lucky bastard, it’s like Friday’s marketing team just did a little bippity-boppity-boo for you — because each of those things are on Fridays’ amazing gluten-free menu. It’s super-thoughtful for Friday’s to offer these options, because 1 in 133 people in the United States (about 3 million individuals) have celiac disease, which is a nasty auto-immune disorder. Oh, wait. While 3 million people sounds like a lot, that’s less than 1% of the US. So, it’s pretty unlikely that you’re part of the population afflicted. And it’s even less likely if you’re not white. Yes, that’s just another example of black privilege in this country.

Good. And good for you!

But don’t feel left out. Because while it’s unlikely you have celiac disease, it’s pretty likely that you’re fat. Because while one percent of the population has celiac disease, more than 34% of American adults are obese. That’s three million people vs. seventy-eight million total, or the difference between the population of Nevada and the population of TWO Californias. Two big fat Californias – and one of them is letting their giant arm hams spill over onto your space on the plane, except you don’t notice because you fell asleep and it would’ve been ok except for you’re wearing a t-shirt and they’ve got big arm-hams which means they’re wearing a sleeveless shirt and you wake up and your arm is STUCK to their arm-ham and what’s the polite thing to do when that happens?

Anyway, what I’m saying is that it’s really unlikely that you have celiac disease and much more likely that we’re going to be stuck to each other on a plane. You could have at least bought me dinner first. Hey! Maybe we can go to Friday’s, where we can both enjoy the gluten-free menu!

Maybe you don’t actually think you have celiac disease. Maybe you just think you have “gluten-sensitivity.” That mean protein in grain makes your tum-tum hurt. Stupid lousy gluten comes in and wrecks your system which would otherwise be happily digesting the meat with a side of meat, trough of soda, and sweet, sweet fatty sugar covered with sugary fat. How is it that you’re concerned enough about what you eat that you know what gluten is, but not so concerned about what you eat THAT YOU STILL EAT AT FRIDAY’S?

Gluten sensitivity is like sexism. Five years ago, I never heard of it and now everyone is acting like it’s this big deal. Eleven percent of American households reported buying gluten-free foods last year, spending more than 10 billion dollars on a disorder that researchers firmly concluded “may exist.” Are you telling me that Americans wasted all this money  and changed their behavior because of something that “may exist?” What next? Are we going to a big building on a weekend morning to ask for gluten’s blessings?

Eating gluten-free seems like it’s just the latest incarnation of our scapegoating of grain. Grain: it’s the Homosexuals of food. The devil wheat gets blamed for everything. Do you think I’m kidding? Two of the books on the New York Times’ “Food and Fitness” best-seller list are Wheat Belly and Grain Brain. Two of the other books on the list are Wheat Belly Total Health and The Grain Brain Cookbook. And then there’s Danielle Walker’s Against All Grain: Meals Made Simple. If you’re counting, fully half the books on the “Food and Fitness” suggest that the magic bullet for a losing weight and leading a healthy life is avoiding wheat. What’s weird is that the last decade’s big grain-blaming diet fad, the Atkins Diet, turned out to work because participants ate less.

But who the heck wants to eat less? Or for that matter, exercise? This is AmericaDid you notice that none of the popular food and fitness books are about, you know, fitness? Anyone think that The Impotence of Being Earnest Presents: Take a Walk has a shot at the best-seller list? No? What about the sequel: Impotence of Being Earnest: Use the Stairs? According to the Grain Brain website, that dastardly wheat is responsible for low energy levels, depression, and “brain fog.”  Which is more likely? That after 10,000 years of being eaten, wheat is finally getting its revenge, or that “binge watching” is now a thing we admit to, and 22 straight hours of House of Cards will probably cause low energy, depression, and whatever the hell “brain fog” is.

According to her website, Danielle Walker cured herself of ulcerative colitis by changing her diet and being adorable. What did she eliminate from her diet? Dairy, wheat, gluten, and legumes. She’s perfect candidate for the Grain Brain Cookbook, which the leading Amazon review raves “is high-fat and low carbohydrate.”  Indeed, Walker’s website helpfully links to the Grain Brain page, which tells us that our brain “thrives on fat and cholesterol.”  I definitely want my brain to thrive, so I will absolutely eat more of those – better to have a meat ass than a grain brain, I always say. Or I will now, especially when my so-called doctor tries to tell me that high cholesterol correlates with an increased risk of heart attack and stroke, two of the top five leading causes of death for Americans.

Really, how lucky can we be? We Americans love to eat meat AND it turns out that it’s the key to weight loss and a healthy lifestyle! It’s almost like these books are successful because they tell us to do exactly what we already like doing!  Forget the fitness books I was going to write. I’m writing a book for teenage boys called How to Get Into College By Masturbating. 

But first, I’m going to clear my brain by eating this giant, delicious steak.



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*This* Is the Thing That Chicago Public Schools Is Doing Equitably?!

My wife and I are very proud of the fact that our two kids go to a Chicago Public School. Chicago has one of the best public school systems in the country. Or it will once the city secedes from the rest of the United States. We were super excited for this school year to get underway, without the threat of an imminent strike or lingering ill will and uncertainty about massive school closings.

Maybe there wasn’t one big story that overshadowed this school year in the way that we enjoyed in 2012 and 2013. Or perhaps we’re just in a lull before Rahm privatizes or closes every neighborhood school in 2016. Or maybe it’s that we’ve overlooked the big story of this year: every CPS student now gets a free school lunch.

This is classic nanny state garbage. Who is the school to try and feed my kid a pre-packaged mass-produced lunch? I demand choice! I demand the right to feed my kid whatever pre-packaged mass produced lunch *I* choose, not what some bureaucrat tells me. I know what’s best for my boys. And what’s best is that they sport at least a B-cup by 6th grade. I don’t want my sons to know the agony of being appointed to the committee for itty bitty…oh, it’s too painful. It’s hard having boys.

How do I know the school is going to take into account my children’s many food-related allergies, religious beliefs, cultural taboos, and special needs? My wife and I carefully planned their regimen of homeopathic vaccines, raw milk, dried tiger penis (and not the fake stuff), and kombucha colonics. I’ll be damned if CPS bureaucrats are going to ruin all of our hard work.

But the lack of choice is not the only thing bothering me. The new initiative is wholly funded by a federal program that ends individual students’ applications for the program. Instead, because so many families in CPS are low-income, the whole district will qualify for free lunches. The old system required the lunchroom staff to keep track of which kids qualified for free or reduced lunch, and I’m sure there were kids who felt stigmatized by being identified as needing the program. But no more! The children of the affluent will be treated exactly the same as those with financial difficulties. All kids will be equal in the cafeterias of the Chicago Public Schools.

And there’s my problem. We are in CHICAGO. These are kids in PUBLIC SCHOOLS in CHICAGO. Chicago, famous for being among the most segregated cities in the country. Chicago, where I can ignore appalling gun violence because it doesn’t happen near me. There are two things every Chicagoan loves: gross inequality and that other thing. Do you know the best way we’ve found to preserve inequality in Chicago? With our public schools! What’s the point of being a privileged white family in CPS if we’re going to be treated like those families whose depressing stories always lead the evening news?

Up until now, CPS was preserving inequality beautifully. Forty-one percent of CPS schools are more than ninety percent African-American. Sixty-eight percent of the system’s African American students go these homogenous schools. Close to 90% of students in CPS come from low-income families. A federal commission report noted that poor urban students “are getting an education that more closely approximates school in developing nations.” (source for all of this) CPS wants my kids to eat lunch like kids who might as well be going to school in Somalia?! I didn’t fork over all that money for infant French literature classes and MENSA preschool for this! If I wanted my kids to grow up in some desolate isolated backwater, we would have moved to Tinley Park!

Sure, CPS already treats all kids equally in that it  does a lousy job preparing all of its students for college. But it does an especially bad job preparing the poor and African-Americans. And it does a great job of making sure white kids go to the best high schools in the city. Fewer than 10% of CPS students are white, but they took better than 40% of the spots at Walter Payton and Northside College Prep, gems of our system. That’s the kind of inequality that I expect from the City of Big Shoulders. Of course, it could be that those white kids were just better prepared – helped by the fact that when the district has some extra money to throw around, it gave it to the whiter schools on the north side.

Here’s the other crazy thing about this new free lunch program: part of the justification for the program is that it will end corruption. WHAT?! This is CHICAGO.  In COOK COUNTY.  Which, last time I checked, is in ILLINOIS. No one with any integrity holds public office here. Every so often, someone of character and rectitude wades into the waters of local government. In mere seconds, their bones are stripped clean of morality and character by the piranhas of our political culture. They vanish below the surface, their bloated corpses becoming part of the effluvia of public office, rotten and ignored until their skeletons wash up years later and engineer a cush job for their offspring.  We have a finally balanced ecosystem of corruption in Chicago. You can’t go messing with it. Take away the piranhas, you get crocs. Take away the crocs, you get sharks. Try to deal with the sharks, you get sentient liquid metal assassin robots from the year 2031 by Governor Skynet. We put one governor in prison because he was selling drivers licences and he was replaced by a governor who tried to sell EVERYTHING. People complained about Daley because he closed ONE tiny airport. Rahm closed FIFTY schools!

The previous school lunch program was only defrauded by administrators, staff, and parents. By local standards, that’s not so bad. With the relaxed standards, everyone is going to get in on this — and then how am I going to guarantee that my kids are going to get more?


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Six Ways to Make Guacamole – And You’ll Never Guess What Happens Next!

It’s summer, and that means parties and parties mean dips! And with most kids in the United States being born to minorities, there’s no better time to bring some Latin flavor to the table. With these awesome takes on the fiesta classic, you can make a run for the border without climbing over a single fence!

guacamoleQue Pasa Authentic Guacamole

2 Avocados
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic
1 ripe tomato, chopped
1 lime, juiced
salt and pepper to taste

Peel and mash avocados in a medium serving bowl. Stir in onion, garlic, tomato, lime juice, salt and pepper. Season with remaining lime juice and salt and pepper to taste. Chill for half an hour to blend flavors. Remember this kitchen secret: leave those avocado pits in to keep it fresh! It doesn’t work, but it’s super fun to be one of those people who has kitchen secrets.

Speedy Gonzales Guacamolespeedy_gonzales

America has the bald eagle. Mexico has Speedy Gonzales. Capture the spirit of the Mexican icon with this muy rapido version of delicious guac, for those weekend days when you have to take the kids to their tutor, dance class, tennis lessons, French enrichment, and anxiety group. Simply replace the two avocados with two cups of reconstituted avocado powder (hint: the less you stir, the more authentically chunky the guac!), the onion and garlic with one tablespoon and one teaspoon, respectively, of onion and garlic powder, the tomato with 1/4 cup Pace chunky salsa, and the lime with 1 tablespoon of Capri-Sun Tropical Zinger. Arriba! Arriba!

Zesty Mock-amole

Food allergies are an exciting way to stand out in a crowd, start interesting conversations, and meet new people. Plus, they’re super trendy right now! Do you know anyone with an avocado allergy? Probably not – which means you can be the first one! When you’re done with this recipe, all you’ll have to do is make up some symptoms. Instead of the avocados, just puree a cup and a half of mayonnaise and one cup of peas in your blender or food processor, then stir in the other ingredients. Sí Se Puede!

Guacamole of Brotherly Love

Do you want a thick and creamy take on traditional guac? Declare your independence from tradition when you add one package of softened Philadelphia cream cheese to the recipe above and serve over strips of beef and green peppers. You’ll be running up the steps of deliciousness and throwing your hands in the air just like Rocky Balboa!

Race Day Guacamole

Nothing says fitness like a big jar of protein powder on top of your fridge! Why not add a couple tablespoons to your guac, and replace the lime juice with a splash of Gatorade? With your Under Armour and ugly shoes, everyone will believe you’re totally a runner!

Locavore Guac

Avocados and limes only grow in tropical climates, meaning that unless you live in southern Florida – which, if you’re not an old Jew or a gun nut, you probably don’t – you might be out of luck with traditional guac. But don’t worry! Find whatever local produce you can mash up and substitute for the avocado. Squash, beans, broccoli – it doesn’t matter, just as long as you can demonstrate how much more you’re willing to spend on food than people who went to state schools.

Be sure to leave your exciting variations in the comments – and remember, guacamole is an easy way to express yourself, show off your adventurous side, and most importantly, reveal your superiority to others! Have a great summer! Vaya con Dios!







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FAQ on Hacking Your Life with the Sesame Diet!

Is it true that when I Hack My Life with the Sesame Diet  I can eat WHATEVER I WANT?

That’s right! The miracle of Hack Your Life with the Sesame Diet is that you can eat whatever you want, whenever you want!

So do I have to take a special pill or supplement? Isn’t it true that the best diets involve pills and supplements?

You can take a supplement if you want. Some of them are harmful, but most of them do nothing, so if your cousin has a supplement business and you want to throw some money his way, have at it.  Americans spend $5 billion on supplements every year, and it can’t all be a waste, can it?

Is the Sesame Diet compatible with Paleo?

Yes! As you know, the Paleo diet is a nice way to do what you wanted to anyway — eat lots of meat and buy diet books. You can do both, when you Hack Your Life with the Sesame Diet! So eat like a caveman, and enjoy living until you’re 35 – just like a caveman!

So how many sesame seeds do I have to eat?

None! Sesame(tm) is a mnemonic device: Stop Eating SMuch. When you Hack Your Life! with this amazing new diet concept, you can lose weight, feel better, experience higher self esteem, increase your stamina, and save money!

I don’t get it. How does it work?

Simple! Think about the food you want to eat and then stop shoveling so much of it into the giant, gaping, hole in your face. That’s all there is to it! You’ve Hacked Your Life!

I’ve recently made up a food allergy for myself. Are there alternatives for hypochondriacs like me?

Yes! Many successful users of the Sesame method have discovered the exciting world of food allergies in the last few years. We understand that not having a food allergy can be an isolating and uncomfortable experience. With the Sesame method, you can eat whatever crappy alternatives to regular food that you want!

Is the Sesame Diet the same as a a cleanse? All of my friends are cleansing!

You know you have great friends when they share details of their bowel movements with you! When you Hack Your Life with the Sesame Diet, you’ll look great and feel great, and the workings of your bowels are entirely up to you to share. Twitter is a great first step!

Is it true that Hacking Your Life with the Sesame Diet is based on ancient cultures and rituals? I love those!

When you Hack Your Life with the Sesame Diet, you’ll be carrying on the traditions of people throughout human history who ate less than you do! The Maori, Tuareg, Bedouin, Inuit and many other followers of ancient and beautiful cultures can  be said to be Hacking their Lives with the Sesame Diet.

What about Eastern Medicine?

Yes! That too.

Does the Sesame Diet include probiotics?

-Biotic is one of the hottest suffixes in the diet world today. When you Hack Your Life with the Sesame Diet, you’ll enjoy many benefits of probiotics, unavailable to those on abiotic, symbiotic, or antibiotic diets.

What other sorts of scientificish language supports your claims?

We’re glad you asked! Eating involves proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, made up of molecules! In your body, this molecules are subject to scientifically proven processes like digestion and excretion! This is what THEY don’t want you to know about!

Who’s “they?”

THEY. Doctors, nutritionists, and other researchers involved in the so-called health industry. THEY stand to lose BILLIONS if America chose Hack Your Life with the Sesame Diet. Think about it: if you were healthy, you wouldn’t need all of these so-called experts. The health and medical industrial complex only makes money when you are unhealthy, whereas the diet industry only makes money by making you healthy. Which side do you want to be on?

So who developed the methods behind Hacking Your Life with the Sesame Diet?

The Sesame Diet is has been reviewed by traditional healers, medicine men, herbalists, witch doctors, faith healers, orderlies, and scholars with Ph.D.s in comparative literature.

How much weight will I lose?

When you Hack Your Life with the Sesame Diet, the limit is up to you! When you encounter food, simply don’t eat it. Continue not eating it until you reach your desired weight! You’ve Hacked Your Life!

It’s hopeless, isn’t it?

Pretty much.


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The Absurd Food of the Future

I’ve come to the realization that cookbooks aren’t actually meant to be cooked from. They’re meant to be ogled. Look at the bindings. Perfect for sitting on a coffee table, lousy for opening on a counter. Nowhere is this more true than in the books dedicated to “modern cuisine.” This is the food that is usually thought of as being all about foams, “airs” and assorted concoctions made with liquid nitrogen. While that image is true, there is also a fair bit of work with centrifuges, dehydrators, agars, and physical transformations you couldn’t accomplish in your kitchen unless your name is Henry Jekyll. If you’re a pedestrian, fork-knife-chopsticks kind of person, modern cuisine is barely recognizable as food offered at prices that are barely recognizable as reasonable.

In this, modern cuisine is one of those cultural things loved by its target audience while the rest of society – to the degree they’ve heard of it – makes derisive jokes about the effete nerds who enjoy it. It’s a lot like Dr. Who.  Needless to say, I am all for expensive dining trends. Wealthy people need inconspicuous things on which to spend the money they worked so hard to inherit. Otherwise, the rest of us would grow fed up with inequality in this country and fritter away our lives forwarding Rachel Maddow clips to each other.

I would be in the derisive joke camp (which is right near fat camp, for obvious reasons) but for one uncomfortable realization. After the talks I’ve listened to, and spending some time poring over the bible of this stuff, the six volume Modernist Cuisine, it dawned on me that some people think modern cuisine is actually the future of food. Not the future of food for the children of bankers, professional athletes, and Williams-Sonoma shoppers, but the actual future we will all live in.

This will be a future where we all eat food transformed beyond recognition by a frightening amount of engineering. Not the bad kind of engineering of the sort that Kraft uses to sell guacamole that’s less than 2% avocado. That’s food tampering for rubes. The future of food is good engineering, where you freeze dry watermelon, inject it with dried pea powder and allegedly make it taste like tuna. This sort of elaborate tampering currently requires a perfectly coiffed crew in fashionably framed glasses and kitchen whites, but in the future highly skilled labor will be free.

Because this future is brought to us by media-savvy buzzword-spewing food professionals in the 21st century, they insist on the virtue of local food. As we know because the guy selling chard at the farmers’ market told us, local food requires less energy for transportation and storage. This will be very important because you’re going to need that all that energy to power the fancy ovens, dehydrators, centrifuges, and sous vide machines required to make modern cuisine. If only someone could discover a way to generate abundant energy from hype.

The other kind of bad food engineering is genetic engineering, which produces the dreaded GMOs (genetically modified organisms).  Again, these are 21st century food professionals, so they will tell you that using technology and chemicals to increase crop yields and decrease pesticide use is evil. The best use of technology and chemicals is to make everyday food into balls! Because it’s food and it’s also BALLSAnd who doesn’t need that? Also, did you know that genetically modified food causes autism? We know this because both have become more prevalent in the same period. This is also how we know that iPhones cause Miley Cyrus. I’ve noticed a lot of professional chefs have formed their own Bourdainian creation myth in which they were complete failures academically and – aside from culinary school – lack any further higher education, where they might have learned the difference between correlation and causation.

So here we are in the early 21st century, trying to steer ourselves and our kids away from highly processed food while the emissaries of the year 2050 gleefully tell us that tomorrow’s food will make Cheetos look as wholesome as rolled oats. Is high fructose corn syrup going to come back into vogue? Why wouldn’t it? Food wizards took a common and abundant food, processed the bejeezus out of it and made it sweet. It doesn’t taste like you expect corn to taste, and it certainly doesn’t look like you expect it to. They made corn sweet and CLEAR!  How has no one sold Karo shots to credulous foodies for twelve bucks a pop? In the future, I’m going to be a millionaire. Of course, thanks to inflation and Obama, that million will be worth twelve bucks, and I’ll have to give six of it to lazy poor people.

I hate the future.

Or I thought I did. Because I also learned that in the future, this will not happen: you will not tell people that you cook dinner for your kids every night, or baked a few dozen cookies for a fundraiser, or maintain a small garden and have them say “oh, who has the time for that?” I learned that thanks to advances in hydroponics and artificial lighting, in the future we will (1)have our own small room dedicated to growing fresh greens, (2)have kitchens equipped with hydrators and dehydrators and powders and potions to make things taste like other things and look like modern sculpture and, (3) we will evolve venom sacs in our mouths. Ok, I made up #3. But it seems no less likely than the majority of Americans changing their hatred of procuring and preparing their own food, something no one in the modern cuisine crowd seems to have noticed.

When they do, they’ll have to figure out a way to bring all of this highly processed carefully engineered food to us in plastic pouches and boxes available at the grocery store. Better yet, maybe we’ll see a future where you can drive your car up to a window and have someone hand you a miracle of food engineering that vaguely resembles ethnic cuisine and contains a fairly convincing replica of meat. One could then take that food home, share it with their family, and provide them with a fairly convincing replica of health.

I can’t wait for the future to get here.

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Delicious Mediterranean Chickpea and Bullshit Dip

Tucked in amongst the vast shelves of dietary supplements, paper goods, and firearm fetish books written by victims of gun violence, Costco still sells food. In the last couple of years, they’ve added more refrigerated space, presumably because of major advances in sausage and dip technology. I made the mistake a while ago of mocking their wide selection of  hummus on Facebook, in particular the kind that was $2.99/pound and packaged in little plastic single-serve cups. Little plastic single serve cups topped with plastic seals, packed onto a cardboard tray, and then wrapped in more plastic. Take that, Earth!

Sadly, the environmental movement has long since given up hope in the face of the “we like giant trucks and a/c set at 62″ movement. Even so, this seemed excessively wasteful. And more than that, expensive. For reasons I can’t fathom, Costco carries three varieties of hummus, ranging from $1.99 to $2.99 a pound. I suppose that a certain kind of person feels entitled only to buy only the “good stuff”, even when said stuff is mostly chickpeas and tahini. Those people must’ve gotten lost on the way to Whole Foods, “where people who will believe anything shop(tm)!”

Given that the environmental argument seemed lost, I thought I could make an argument on cost. Surely, you could make hummus at a fraction of the cost that you could buy it at Costco. I decided to do the research. I went to the store and priced out the simplest recipe for hummus that I know, which is:

2 cans of chickpeas
2/3 cup tahini
3 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice

Throw everything in a blender, food processor, or place in rip-stop bag and run over with rear wheel of Lincoln Navigator a few times. While making sure the a/c is on, of course. Also, if you can put a baby harp seal under the other wheel, more’s the better.

After careful research which required both multiplication AND division, I came to this conclusion: the Costco hummus at $1.99/lb is probably cheaper. I say probably, because once I realized that the chickpeas, tahini and garlic alone were going to run $1.39/lb – never mind the $129 blender I make it in – I gave up. Like I said, there was multiplication and division involved. Even with a marginal savings, I will concede to Costco and Big Hummus (really. Sabra is owned in part by Frito-Lay) that buying it by the bucket in the refrigerated aisle is a lot more convenient. This is particularly true if you don’t happen to keep olive oil, lemon juice, and tahini in the house. I do. But only for intimate purposes.

These results left me conflicted and divided, just like the land from which hummus comes. Was all hope lost, like the two-state solution? Could I somehow mount a comeback, like Hezbollah in Lebanon and have a successful jihad against the mighty Israeli Sabra and it’s American-backed force of Costco/Frito-Lay? Maybe I could just act like the whole thing never existed, like the Palestinians, Israel’s nukes, or Benjamin Netanyahu’s bald spot.

Why cook? For something simple like hummus, one can’t even argue that the homemade is that much better for you. Sure, the tubs o’ hummus have preservatives in them, but that just means they won’t get all of those white fuzzy patches on them after sitting in the fridge for a week.

The best argument I could come up with was that cooking was good, even it wasn’t necessarily better for you or cheaper. I was a better person because I cooked for my kids. Yeah, take that parents who spend money on their children! I grind up things in a blender for them! That’s love. I’m teaching them something about self-reliance, hard work, and always making sure that part of the blender lid isn’t in the carafe when you turn it on. And that’s how my kids got to enjoy a delightful applesauce with plastic chips one day last fall. Stupid blender.

Imagine my dismay when I realized that the Costco hummus can indeed counter my self righteous virtue. Though hummus is, again, mostly chickpeas and tahini, the vats carried all sorts of bold-faced text proclaiming that the puree was any number of the following:

-Gluten free
-Cholesterol free
-GMO free
-Dairy free

That’s a whole lot of freedom. And freedom isn’t free — it costs $1.99/lb. Sure, factually speaking we’re talking about a food that isn’t made from wheat, or animal fat, or crops that are subject to genetic modification, or milk. But if George Bush taught us anything in the War on Terror, freedom outweighs facts every single day. How could my homemade hummus in a ceramic bowl possibly counter freedom served with a side of bullshit?

And then it hit me like a homemade rocket attack for which I prepared a disproportionate response. I made my own food labels. Every time I open the fridge, I can look at my hummus and know that I am doing the right thing. I am both righteous and virtuous. Even better, people who eat the food I’ve made will know of the abundant amounts of righteousness and virtuousity of which I am possessed.

You can download the handy food labels I made yourself. They’re sized to print on standard Avery address labels, and you can put them on virtually anything that might not presently reveal your high moral standing to the world.

In designing these labels, I didn’t want to resort to complicated words and all the reading and knowing stuff that they require. I instead used powerful, powerful symbols of goodness known to all Americans. Big hummus has got gluten free? GMO-free? That’s nothing.  I’ve got the combined moral weight of Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Spider-Man, “Sully” Sullenberger, Martin Luther King, Jesus, Mr. Rogers,Anne Frank, Maya Angelou, Yoda, the Dalai Lama, and Gandalf the Grey.

Dip a an organic cholesterol-free pita chip in that and suck it, Costco.

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On Lunchables

I chaperoned a field trip for my preschooler’s class recently. During the trip, I made the mistake of checking in on Facebook and making a joke that, of the four kids in my charge, the three that weren’t mine all had Lunchables packed for them. Among the many jokes posted were also concerns that there was some sort of judgement being passed on the parents who packed them. There was, of course. What’s the fun of parenting if not judging other parents? But I wasn’t judging for the reason my friends thought.

Let’s pause first to review Lunchable fundamentals. Basically, if there’s a health or social issue you care about, the Lunchable is against it. It’s a highly processed, high calorie, high sodium, high sugar, corporate product. Then, some genius has wrapped these bits of refined flour, cheese product and mechanically separated chicken and beef in an amazing, stupefying, staggering amount of packaging. It’s an Earth-screwing plastic box inside of a cardboard box with each interior component separately wrapped in its own additional plastic pouch. You could probably feed something worse to your kid (though, barring industrial adhesives, I’m not sure what), but you couldn’t kill a baby seal, pave the Everglades, and drive a coal-powered Escalade right into  Al Gore’s big green balls while doing it.  Did I mention that they’re also crazy expensive?

The other fundamental behind Lunchables is that they’re “sure to be fun for your kids.” Not as much fun as the inevitable colostomy bag is going to be someday, but fun. Food marketing for kids is all about  this kind of “fun” – from yogurt in a tube, to fruit in a sack, to chicken shaped like its evolutionary forebears, to all sorts of breakfast cereals, the idea is simple: take something once recognizable, process the hell out of it, and put a friendly cartoon face on it. You could call it the Michael Jacksonization of food – both are mostly about screwing kids.

As a parent, I absolutely believe you have the right to feed your kids what you want. This is America, and you have the right to bear arms and the right to bare arms that look like Christmas hams. The first time I volunteered at my kids’ school, I heard one mother lamenting her inability to find husky sized underpants for her son.* I totally supported this poor woman and, moreover, I supported her poor son and his ass cheeks being cleaved into proto-balloon animal shapes by his ill-fitting drawers. I am much more concerned about what kids who grew up on this crap will be like as adults, and it has nothing to do with their size or health.

The thing is this: Lunchables make your kids into jerks. The kind of jerks who will come to a shared meal or dinner party and turn their noses up at the food. Because they don’t like cilantro. Or they don’t eat tomatoes. Or they think that fish is icky. Or refuse Indian food based on the fact that they heard once it was spicy. I’m still angry about the person who joined my family for some excellent Lebanese food and then said that dolmas looked like poop.  A friend of my father’s once asked for a restaurant recommendation, with the caveat that she didn’t want to eat “Asian” food. By this, she actually meant THE ENTIRE CONTINENT OF ASIA. She didn’t want to be subjected to any restaurant offering the cuisines from Turkey to Japan. She probably ended up at the Olive Garden.

All these kids raised on super salty, super sweet, incredibly rich foods are going to be insufferable jerks at meals with friends and co-workers in the future. They learned as kids that they don’t have to eat anything that isn’t “fun” ; and just like they do now, they’re going to make sure everyone knows it.  Complaining. Picking their food apart. Asking for something different. There is one rule for my kids when we eat at someone else’s house: try everything and be grateful. People invited you to join them for a meal. That’s a nice thing. Be nice.

Crap. I just gave away the phrase that could’ve spawned a bestselling parenting book. I was going to call it “What to Expect When You’re Expecting Your Kid to be a Dick.”

I don’t even want think about what a nation of palates raised on processed food are going to do to grocery stores in the future. The poor produce section is already trying to hold its territory against far better organized and funded opposition, like West Bank Palestinians fending off the Israeli settlers of  chips, bottled beverages, and a whole world of brightly packaged sugary snacks “made from real fruit” in the same way that Paul Ryan’s budgets are “made from real numbers.”

Yes, I may indeed be making a little judgement.  Because I believe this: your right to feed your five year old whatever you want directly impacts everyone else’s ability to select, prepare, and -especially -enjoy their own meals now and in the future. So feed them what you will and get ready to be eating with them alone for a very, very long time.




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The Garden of Good and Evil. Mostly Evil.

An Olive Garden is opening near my neighborhood. In Chicago. And not the Chicago that people from Aurora claim as their home when travelling. Actual Chicago. When I moved into the neighborhood seven years ago, a real estate agent asked me if all my neighbors were Mexican (needless to say, I ditched the agent). There’s still a late 70s primer-gray Ford parked down the street, and I’m pretty sure my house still falls securely in the Familia Stone territory (suck it, Latin Kings!). And yet, here comes the bricks-and-mortar symbol of bland middle class whiteness, closing in on me like a speed freak waiter in ill-fitting black pants asking me “have you been here before?” as if (a) the experience I’m about to have is so mind-blowing that I need to prepare for it or (b)my knowledge of Italian is severely limited and I’m going to need a translation of the menu – “what the hell is bruschetta? Do I look like goddamned Benito Mussolini?” Needless to say, this is causing me a lot of anxiety.

I could probably make a cultural argument against the place. Olive Garden is hardly doing a good job representing Italy. But if you follow the news, Italians are doing a crappy job of that themselves. Maybe Italy deserves to be lightly breaded, fried, topped with marinara, mozzarella, and parmesan and served with spaghetti, just like the $12.75 eggplant parmigiana. “Parmigiana,” interestingly, has nothing to do with “parmesan,” but is part of the traditional Tuscan blessing, “Parmigiana la prossima settimana,” which means “may your bowels move in the next week.”

What about the food itself? Let’s say you can no longer get your hams into an airline seat to visit the land of the Renaissance masters. Why not indulge in the Garden’s “Tour of Italy?” This delicious dish features lasagna, chicken parmigiana, and fettucine alfredo. All at once. I hope that a tour of Italy was on the list of things to do before you die, because you won’t be living for much longer. This “tour” has 3830 mg of sodium. Screw the recommended allowance and the nutrition scourges who would tell you that’s a bad thing! Instead, try to envision eating a bit more than a teaspoon and a half of table salt. Oh, and you can add the equivalent of and six tablespoons of lard. I guess sodium and fat is better actually in something, but still. I personally enjoy the “lighter” menu, which includes options with 24, 20, and 19 grams of fat. Lighter, in this context, presumably means something less dense than having your colon stuffed with modeling clay so you can star in the next BodyWorlds exhibit.

This is America, so you absolutely have the right to have your limbs to look like blue ribbon entries in a Bavarian state fair knockwurst competition. I do wonder if you should reconsider wearing all the brightly colored workout wear, though. With the exception of Kermit the Frog, no one should look like a parade balloon of themselves. Eat what you want – but do you want to grow your third and fourth butt cheeks at a place that is taking part in the destruction of America?

Put simply, the Olive Garden is the greasy, salty, fake parmesan covered manifestation of the hypocrisy of America. Ok, one of the many hypocrisies of America. Olive Garden doesn’t really have anything to do with fetishizing the Constitution and killing people with flying death robots. Or celebrating amateur athletes while letting the NCAA exploit their uncompensated labor for billions. Or saying we love music and listening to Bon Iver and Maroon 5. That last one is just the hypocrisy of one of my co-workers, but it’s out there.

Within a mile or two of the new Olive Garden are at least four family owned Italianish places. Probably more, but I can only eat so much red sauce. They’re all different, with their own recipes, very different ambiance and presentation. The one closest to me is owned by a second generation restaurateur – his parents owned a place down the street that was torn down and replaced with a bank. It’s a good place, staffed by about three people. These are local businesses, not owned by a giant corporation that serves 400 million meals a year. Not all of those are via the Olive Garden, to be fair. They also own a couple of seafood and steakhouse “concepts.” Concepts as in conceive of an actual restaurant and then completey fabricate the actual experience of it. The Olive Garden, in the corporate parents’ own words is “an idealized Italian family meal” – in much the same way that Mario and Luigi represent an idealized Italian family plumbing/princess rescuing business.

This is what actually drives me crazy about Olive Garden and all the other national family casual “concepts.” They’re effectively tricked out McDonald’s, with millions and millions served the exact same meal. Where’s the America of the family business, the America proud of the regional differences in cuisine – where’s the America of the individual? How much of an individual can you be if you just stuffed your gut with a pasta bomb identical to the one some guy in Sheboygan and another in Poughkeepsie just ate? These restaurants even look all the same. As near as I can tell, every metal sign made before 1983 is screwed to a wall somewhere. Have a friend blindfold you and drop you off at an Applebee’s, Chili’s, or Friday’s booth. Amongst the kitschy signs, onions blooming and jalapenos popping, see if you can figure out where you are. Then ditch that friend, because he’s a jerk. Who would do that to someone?

One of the reasons for living in the city is to avoid the stultifying sameness of the cookie cutter kingdom that exists outside the limits. No one ever talks about the local dishes and successful family owned joints in Schaumburg or whatever the God-forsaken equivalent burbs are in New York, Philadelphia, or Baltimore (ok, maybe someone talks about them, but I stopped listening after they said they moved to Fish Belly Acres to ‘get more for their money’). The city shouldn’t be a place for the Olive Garden, and yet I know that big restaurant companies make their decisions about new locations very carefully. I hope they’ve got it wrong – I hope that my neighbors will stick with the local options. LIke Italian beef. Sliced meat served on a bun with cheese and soaked in its own fat served at place with the owner’s nickname in the title and an actual Little League trophy (or four) behind the counter.

God Bless America.

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