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Slime is not fine. March 30, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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What’s the beef? Silence Dogood here. Like all of you, I’ve been following the uproar over “pink slime,” aka “lean finely textured beef,” aka the defatted, processed, finely minced beef tendon tissue and other scraps that have been routinely added to ground beef for the past 20 years.

The problem isn’t the content of the slime. For thousands of years, people the world over have, by necessity, found ways to eat “everything but the squeak” (or in this case, moo). High-profile offal-loving chefs like Tony Bourdain should be squealing with delight that these normally indigestible parts have been rendered edible, so nothing is wasted. (I have to wonder why they’re not ending up in pet food instead of people’s hamburgers, though.)

The problem is the way the slime is “sanitized”—by being sprayed with ammonium hydroxide to kill bacteria. I don’t know about you, but I can only sympathize with anyone who’d prefer not to eat ammonia-laced food. Just smelling ammonia is more than I can bear.

Someone blew the whistle on the ammonia treatment, and social media blew the whole pink slime issue sky-high. I say “someone” because The Wall Street Journal (“‘Pink Slime’ Defenders Line Up,” 3-29-12, www.wsj.com) says that the British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver “detailed how it is made in a TV special,” setting off the media feeding frenzy, while ABC News (“‘Dude, It’s Beef!’: Governors Tour Plant, Reject ‘Pink Slime’ Label,” 3-29-12, http://news.yahoo.com/) say it was scientists from the USDA, touring a plant where pink slime was made with ABC reporters, who blew the whistle. The ABC story refers to those scientists as “former” employees of the USDA, implying that they were fired for exposing the ammonia-spraying to the public, since the official USDA position is that pink slime, excuse me, lean finely textured beef, is perfectly safe.

No doubt. And there’s also no doubt, based on the ABC story, that pretty much everyone vouching for pink slime’s health qualities and safety is being bankrolled by the company that produces it, Beef Products Inc. I won’t go into the tawdry details, since they’re all there in the story, but the fact that, in The Wall Street Journal article, the governers of five beef-producing states toured a BFI plant in support of their constituents, and announced that they were actually willing to eat burgers prepared with the dreaded pink slime to show their support says it all, as far as I’m concerned.

Not because they toured a BPI plant. Not because they expressed support (especially since BPI supported so many of their campaigns). But because of the way they announced that they would actually be willing to publicly consume the product in question. “We’re going to consume it,” said Governor Terry Branstad of  Iowa, as if he were planning to snack on some alien fungus that had fallen to Earth. 

Governer Branstad, bless his heart, also spoke up on two other issues. He pointed out that adding the beef-fat-free pink slime would counter the obesity crisis, since the slime is low-fat, while consuming additive-free beef would contribute to the obesity crisis. Great news! And guess what: Not eating beef of any kind, ammonia-enhanced or otherwise, would counter the obesity crisis even more.

And then, apparently trying to reach tender-hearted meat-eaters, he pointed out that “You effectively need to kill 1.5 million more head of cattle in a year to replace the meat that would go off the market from this unwarranted, unmerited food scare.”

Yowie! Kill more cattle?! Folks who care about killing cattle wouldn’t eat them in the first place.

For everyone else, please, I beg you, buy beef that comes from organic, free-range, grass-fed steers and cows. Then you don’t need to worry about pink slime, and can enjoy your ammonia-free burgers.

                  ‘Til next time,

                               Silence

Cast your vote: Tony Bourdain or Paula Deen. August 23, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. There’s a food fight going on between celebrity chefs/TV icons Anthony Bourdain (author of cookbooks, travel/food books, and tell-alls, including the bestseller Kitchen Confidential, former chef at Brasserie Les Halles in New York City, host of the Travel Channel’s hit show “No Reservations”) and Paula Deen (chef/owner of the Lady & Sons in Savannah, GA, author of bestselling cookbooks and a tear-jerking bio, It Ain’t All About the Cookin’, and supposedly the most beloved chef on television, combining the appeal of Oprah and the latter-day Liz Taylor).

Bourdain is perhaps best known for not sparing the expletives in his tell-it-like- I-see-it commentary. But Paula is no genteel Southern flower, either. So when Tony called her “the most dangerous person in America” (“Plus, her food sucks”) and accused her deep-fried, high-fat cuisine of contributing to America’s obesity epidemic, she fired right back, telling him to “get a life” and asking if someone had peed in his breakfast cereal.

I have to give Paula props on this one, much as I love Tony. Now that he’s given up cigarettes, cocaine, heroin and etc., I’m not sure how he manages to remain so thin (ADHD, bipolar disorder, a rigorous exercise routine?!), but his on-screen diet of endless fatty pig parts and alcohol would hardly contribute to anybody’s health. Most people who took his food regime as an example would weigh 5,000 pounds and be courting diabetes, heart disease, and God only knows what else. He’s certainly not the one to point a finger at the queen of deep-fat frying.

But I digress. Returning this post to its true point, my question for all of you is this: If you could have Paula Deen or Tony Bourdain prepare a meal for you, then sit down and enjoy it with you and talk to you about whatever you wanted to discuss, who would you want to eat with? I know my choice. I want to know your choice. Please let me know! 

          ‘Til next time,

                    Silence

Beatles or Stones? August 17, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood had once again dragooned our friend Ben into watching an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s travel/food show, “No Reservations.” Why Silence, a passionate vegetarian, is so obsessed with this show, which seems to focus entirely on killing and eating meat, I can’t say. Whole episodes pass in which not a single vegetable is consumed. The show’s host loudly and constantly abuses and despises vegetarians. I can only conclude that one of Silence’s life goals is to cook for Tony and force him, not to convert to vegetarianism, but to recant as far as his antipathy to all things vegetable is concerned. 

At any rate, this episode was a bit different from the others we’ve seen in the series in that Tony interviews four “contestants” at the start of the show to determine where he’ll go next (in the event, to Saudi Arabia). At one point, interviewing a musician who’s trying to lure him to Buffalo, NY, Tony asks: “Beatles or Stones?” When the musician answers “Beatles,” it seems to seal his fate as a non-contender.

This of course set our friend Ben and Silence off bigtime. If Tony Bourdain had asked us this question, the answer would have been an unhesitating “Zeppelin.” We despise the Beatles’ hokey, self-indulgent ballads. Our friend Ben almost committed murder when taking acoustic guitar lessons after the instructor announced that the lessons would be based on the Beatles’ thump-thump playbook. (Silence does acknowledge that George Harrison became pretty cool once he managed to escape from the band.)

As for the Stones, our friend Ben simply found them discordant, loud, and boring (the latter trait shared with the Beatles), but Silence was totally revolted: “Vile, vulgar, ugly, and gross! Who would find that attractive?!” The Stones don’t give us no satisfaction, for sure.

Give us Led Zeppelin any day. Great music, great drama, no sappy, sentimental whining or pathetic pseudo-macho posturing disguised as music. Zeppelin was genuinely sexy. And it made genuinely fabulous music, thanks in large part to musical genius and founder Jimmy Page. If there’s another song from the entire rock era that can even approach “Stairway to Heaven,” we’d like to know what it is.

So, Tony, take your Beatles and Stones and eat them. Then listen to some real music. And think about expanding that famous “no reservations” attitude to include some vegetarian fare. It’s not brown, boring “health food” any more. And you don’t have to apologize* for killing a baby camel or trembling, terrified armadillo to enjoy it.

* Not that we’d expect a meat-eater to apologize for eating meat, but for whatever reason, Tony does so fairly often on the shows if the animal is killed on-air before being prepared and served, especially if it’s inherently appealing.

Questions for Anthony Bourdain. February 3, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. For a fan of Anthony Bourdain, host of the Travel Channel’s “No Reservations,” author and chef, surely a dream come true would be the news that Mr. Bourdain was turning up in your vicinity, or at least reasonably close. Such was my good luck when I heard that Tony would be appearing at the State Theatre in Easton, a mere hour from here, on February 11.

Better still, our local paper, the Allentown, PA Morning Call, was sponsoring a contest for free tickets to see Tony at the State Theatre. The contest winner would get two front-row tickets plus dinner at an Easton restaurant of note, and the runner-up would receive two tickets to the show. Not being one to sign up for contests in general, I went online and signed up for this one. And, I have to assume, now that February has arrived, my usual luck attended me and I didn’t win.

Well, heartaches, nothin’ but heartaches, in the immortal words of my friend Edith. (Though I suspect our friend Ben is probably still wiping his brow in relief.) But then, yesterday, Morning Call food editor Diane Stoneback interviewed the famous chef prior to his visit in an article called “Chef’s tongue can be sharp as a knife” (head to www.themorningcall.com to read it). OFB, perhaps to make amends for his ill-disguised delight that we wouldn’t be going to the actual talk, brought me the section of the paper specially.

The part of the article that really caught my attention (besides, of course, the giant photo of the very easy-on-the-eyes chef himself) was that Tony will apparently be taking questions from the audience at the end of his talk. He’s asked that people please not ask him “What’s the grossest thing you’ve ever eaten?” or how he stays so thin. (I’m convinced it’s because he eats one appreciative bite of each dish for the camera, then lets the crew finish the dish. But maybe he just has a fast metabolism.)

Instead, Tony told Diane, “I’d much rather be surprised by difficult, awkward or embarrassing questions than keep answering those questions again and again.” What an irresistible challenge! For those lucky folks who have $39.50 to $49.50 to pony up per ticket, live close enough to get to the State Theatre in Easton (www.statetheatre.com, 610-252-3132), and are free at 8 p.m. on Friday, February 11, it’s time to start making your list.

But not going isn’t about to stop me from making up my own list of questions! I don’t know if they’d be awkward or embarrassing—hopefully not!—but they’d certainly be difficult if Tony took them seriously. Here goes:

* What’s the deal with you and vegetarians?! I get that you feel a great chef must be prepared to sample every food the world offers, without prejudgement,  in order to prepare the finest food. I don’t have a problem with that outlook, I just wish you’d extend it to vegetarian food. Come eat a meal at my house before you issue another blanket condemnation!

* If you had reached the final episode of “No Reservations,” where would you go to shoot it? I myself would like to see you at home in your own kitchen, shopping for and preparing a meal for family and friends, including some of the folks you’d gone adventuring with on earlier episodes.

* What chefs do you respect most? I know you think highly of Mario Batali and his family, but who else? If you had to go back to school, who would you want as the ideal set of chef-teachers?

* Who do you consider the greatest chef of all time, and why?

* If you had it to do all over again, would you still become a chef? And if not, what?

* What’s your idea of the perfect meal?

* Is there a dish you absolutely love that you’ve never been able to make or make well?

* If you had to eat one regional cuisine for the rest of your life, drawn from anywhere in the world, what would it be?

* If you could go back to one place in the world and live there, where would it be?

* What do you see yourself doing with the rest of your life?

Gee, I guess that’s about enough to ask anyone! Maybe I’ll go back over them and consider my own answers to at least a few of the questions. The answers might give me some ideas! And on February 11, I hope the audience asks Tony some great, provocative questions when they get the chance. And I hope Diane Stoneback is in the audience to share his answers with us!

          ‘Til next time,

                       Silence

How sweet. December 16, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Alert readers will have noticed that I have a thing about Anthony Bourdain, the bad boy chef-turned-TV-travel-adventurer. Our friend Ben has certainly noticed. And far from pitching a fit, OFB recently asked if I’d like for him to get us tickets for a February appearance by Tony Bourdain at the Easton, PA State Theater as a Christmas present for me. He was genuinely shocked when I said no.

But “no” seemed the only sane answer. If Tony Bourdain suddenly showed up here at Hawk’s Haven, I’d be delighted to cook for him and see what he thought. I’d love to chat with him about his life in and out of cooking. But pay for the privilege of sitting in his presence? No way. Or sure, if OFB and I had unlimited resources. I’m sure it would be fun.

But right now, we’re struggling to pay for our Christmas presents on top of our usual bills. Adding a frivolous large expense right now would simply put us farther underwater. Instead, I can always order the next season of Tony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” series on Netflix. I’ll enjoy it, and we won’t be incurring an insane amount of debt for a transient pleasure. Maybe OFB can get me some lovely high-end olive oils and balsamic vinegars instead, something we’ll both enjoy for months and months as I prepare salads and meals. Or put that money towards occasional dinner nights out.

Tony, if you’re reading this, I really would love to host you. Otherwise, Ben, I can only say, how sweet. Thanks for surprising me with an offer of an expensive treat you knew only I would enjoy. That makes it even easier to say no, let’s save our money for something both of us can love.

             ‘Til next time,

                           Silence

What about that pizza crust? November 3, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. The other night, our friend Ben and I watched Anthony Bourdain’s Pacific Northwest episode from his series “No Reservations.” (Thanks, Netflix!) We thought it was one of the better episodes, showcasing both the unique foodie/artisanal approach of Oregon and Washington State and Tony Bourdain’s entertaining persona and unending flow of bon mots.

But while OFB and I were enjoying the show, something struck me: There’s room for improvement in pizza crust creation. Say what? OFB and I are serious pizza fans. We like to go out for pizza and order it for takeout. We love homemade pizza. (OFB consistently praises my own-made pizza as “the best ever,” forgetting that our friends Delilah and Mary both make much better pizzas on their grills.) I love to improvise by spreading olive oil and/or pesto on the crust before adding tomato sauce, cheese, herbs, and toppings. But it never before occurred to me to consider adding things to the crust itself.

All this changed when I saw Tony Bourdain heading to a pizza parlor, something that, even loving pizza as I do, I’d never have expected, on-air at any rate. But this wasn’t just any pizza parlor. It was a restaurant owned by a chef who was determined to make the perfect pizza. He makes his dough by hand so the crust will be light, crispy, and crackly. (“Nobody does that!” said Tony about professional pizzerias and handmade, from-scratch pizza crusts.) He allows no more than three toppings on his pizzas. And he closes the restaurant once the dough for that day runs out. (“Don’t you care about making money?” “No! I care about making pizza.”)

Watching all this made me think. Why doesn’t anyone add ingredients, enhancements to the pizza crust? Olive oil and Italian herbs (rosemary, basil, oregano, thyme); Parmesan cheese; kalamata olives; sauteed onion and/or roasted garlic; roasted peppers or sundried tomatoes. Maybe a crust with lavender or minced truffles, pepitas or cumin seeds. The possibilities are endless.  I can imagine a luscious crust with a simple assortment of toppings, all working together for the ultimate goodness. Yum!!!

But I’ve never heard of anyone doing this. Do you? If so, what do you do? If not, what do you think of the idea? Please let me know!

          ‘Til next time,

                      Silence

Not a chef. September 30, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I was reading a review of Anthony Bourdain’s latest book, Medium Raw, this afternoon, and it began this way: “Anthony Bourdain is not a chef.”

Well, I beg to differ. The reviewer apparently felt that Mr. Bourdain is no longer entitled to the title of chef because he no longer works in a restaurant kitchen. To me, that would be like saying Beethoven was no longer a composer because he skipped a few years between symphonies, or Gertrude Jekyll was no longer a garden designer because it had been a while since she’d designed a garden, or Johnny Depp was no longer an actor because none of his films were currently in release.

Tony Bourdain was classically trained in the culinary arts at the Culinary Institute of America, and worked as a chef for 28 years, eventually becoming executive chef at Brasserie Les Halles, a highly regarded restaurant in New York City. (He also wrote their cookbook, as well as the sensational memoir of his life as a chef, Kitchen Confidential.) That he’s now traveling the world seeking culinary adventure for television does not mean he is not a chef. He’s simply no longer in the restaurant business.

Me, I’d say he’s a very, very lucky chef.

                    ‘Til next time,

                                 Silence

Food: The show must go on. August 19, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. This morning, I stumbled on a guest post Anthony Bourdain had written for Michael Ruhlman’s blog, in which he analyzed the good, the bad, and the ugly in terms of the hosts appearing on Food Network shows at the time he wrote the post in 2007. Of course it was entertaining, and Bourdain’s comments on Rachael Ray, Sandra Lee, and Paula Deen have to be seen to be appreciated. (“Guest Blogging: A Bourdain Throwdown,” http://blog.ruhlman.com/

The thrust of the post is Bourdain’s lament over “the not-so-subtle shunting aside of the Old School chefs” in favor of the “bobblehead personalities” dominating the network. By “Old School chefs,” I gather that he means chefs who’ve had formal training at a rigorous and recognized cooking school, as both Bourdain and Ruhlman did at the Culinary Institute of America, and then went on to work as professional chefs in high-end, nationally recognized restaurants such as Brasserie Les Halles.

Bourdain contrasts these legitimate chefs with the “culinary nonentities,” aka the superstars of the Food Network, epitomized by Rachael Ray and company, whose faces stare at us everywhere we go, peering from magazine covers and cereal boxes like post-office posters for “America’s Most Wanted.”

But, I find myself thinking, what’s his issue? Real chefs have food to prepare and restaurants to attend to. It’s a miracle that they can find time to write the occasional book and make the occasional guest appearance on a TV show, much less host their own show. And clearly, for the Food Network, “show” is not enough. Their stars appear to be enslaved to them 24/7, pumping out multiple shows, magazines, books, product lines and endorsements, public appearances, and the like as the network transforms them from cooks to celebrities, from human beings to brands.

I mean, think about it: It took Julia Child what, ten years?, to write Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume One, as a full-time occupation and with substantial help from her coauthor, Simone Beck. When Julia launched her TV career, it was one show at a time, still her sole occupation, with subsequent books typically emerging from the shows. She wasn’t juggling a career as a professional chef with her television and writing schedule. And I suspect that she still found it to be a lot of challenging work.

I can’t imagine the stress and exhaustion level of a Rachael Ray or Sandra Lee, much less poor Paula Deen, still a restaurateur on top of her Food Network stardom. I can’t imagine that this is how they really wanted to live their lives, if you could call it living. To me, it’s like they’ve inadvertently gotten on a treadmill that never stops, and there’s no way to get off without pitching yourself over the side and into food TV oblivion. Me, I’d pitch. I guess that’s why you don’t see me every night on “Silence Dogood’s Kitchen.”

Tony Bourdain is apparently puzzled by another aspect of the Food Network star system: The fact that their food is so horrible, glorified Cheez-Wiz, canned frosting, deep-fried, grease-laden everything. And the worse, the better, as long as you can make it in a minute from pre-packaged ingredients for cheap. Especially if you can pass it off as homemade or gourmet.

But this is not a new phenomenon in American cooking; it’s been here all along. Most Nineteenth-Century American cookbooks were aimed at helping the busy housewife get the most for her time and money. Poppy Cannon, that icon of sophisticated cooking in the 1950s—who, btw, could not cook at all, it was entirely smoke and mirrors—was most famous for her bestselling opus The Can Opener Cookbook (1951). (If Tony thinks Sandra Lee’s Cheez-Wiz appetizers are horrendous—and they are—he should sample some of the supposedly sophisticated cocktail-hour canapes dreamed up out of tins and jars by Ms. Cannon.)

And then there’s Peg Bracken’s classic and bestselling The I Hate to Cook Book (1960), and the bazillion microwave this!, process that! books that have followed in the wake of each new convenience appliance like the aftershock of an earthquake.

My feeling is this: If somebody wants to learn how to prepare food like a chef, sooner or later, he or she will enroll in a professional cooking school. Nobody expects to learn how to cook like a chef by watching TV, because even the most clueless of humans knows that cooking like a chef is hard. It’s work. It’s not just technique, it’s timing, and it requires tremendous discipline and a prodigious memory. It takes years of rigorous discipline and apprenticeship, and even then, not everybody’s gonna make it. Most people just don’t have what it takes.

On the other hand, we’re trained to view anything that appears on TV—even the most gruesome news reporting—as entertainment, and that’s the way pretty much all TV is presented. It’s why the Rachael Rays and Paula Deens of the world become stars: They’re willing to work hard to make what they do look easy and fun, and work hard to create likeable, memorable personas for themselves.

Pre-Food Network, Martha Stewart set the bar high for the TV cooks who followed, transforming herself from a caterer into an industry. Rachael Ray, and legitimate chefs who’ve made themselves brands and household names like Emeril and Bobby Flay, are following in her wake.

But there’s more to the “gross TV food” phenomenon than entertainment and convenience: Americans genuinely love food that’s dripping with sugar and fat. Just this morning, I read about the popular new fair food, a Krispy Kreme cheeseburger (yes, a grilled Krispy Kreme doughnut with the burger and toppings sandwiched inside), even more of a hit when served with a side of chocolate-coated bacon.

I would have assumed this was a parody, but found too many online references to it, including respectable sources like The Christian Science Monitor, to be able to doubt it, much as I’d have liked to. Here in our friend Ben’s and my adopted home state of scenic PA, deep-fried mac’n’cheese cubes have apparently taken the diner world by storm. And then there’s the notorious Kentucky Fried Chicken sandwich that uses two deep-fried chicken breasts instead of a bun. If none of this is gross enough for you, I suggest that you look at a bucket of cheese-laden French fries sometime and try to guess how much grease and how many calories you’d be consuming if you ate the whole thing.

A preference for salt, sugar, and fat is in our genes: It kept our ancestors alive back in the hunter-gatherer day when amassing and retaining calories was the goal of all food consumption. And unfortunately, massive lifestyle changes over a few thousand years haven’t been enough to change our basic instincts. It’s why we’re still fond of alternating chips, popcorn or fries with, say, M&Ms, brownies or ice cream, instead of eating one or the other. It’s one reason we’re all in trouble in the couch-potato era.

And it’s why Paula Deen’s show and recipes draw such large audiences day after day and week after week, even though you know you’d drop dead if that was the way you actually ate: According to your body’s genetic wisdom, comfort food is good food. The sweeter, saltier, and greasier, the better.

Healthy food, macrobiotics, Nouvelle Cuisine, those horrid little pileups of God-knows-what stacked in tiny portions in the middle of a plate drizzled with God-knows-what, devoid of fat, salt, sugar, or anything good: This is bad food, your body tells you. How can you possibly survive on that? It knows you need the “good” stuff to survive, no matter how often your doctor and your waistline are telling you differently. Let the trendsetters eat sushi: You’re going for the barbecue, the chimichangas, the chicken-fried steak, the stuffed pizza with extra cheese, and you’d like a big basket of onion rings and/or fries with that.

Me, I’m not about to judge. I pity Rachael and Paula. I love fat, salt, and sugar, even if I deny myself the pleasure of eating them (well, except for salt) most of the time. I hate pretension and pathetic, anorexic food trends, and I hate being a sheep that follows any trend rather than knowing yourself and what makes you happy. Yes, I do enjoy Tony Bourdain’s shows, even though I couldn’t bear to eat what he eats. But hey, it’s entertainment, and Tony’s a great showman. Just like Emeril and Paula Deen.

                   ‘Til next time,

                                 Silence