Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Fear and distraction...

I've been doing something lately that I generally try to avoid. I know better. Yet some strange morbid curiosity seems to draw me back every once in a while. And every time I make this mistake, it hurts me worse.

I've been listening to the mainstream media. I've been exchanging opinions with average Americans. And when I hear what the voters are thinking, I'm horrified. Things begin to look hopeless.

Almost every story is the same. Fear-driven nonsense. Sensationalist propaganda. Thinly-veiled bigotry. And the public response? Outrage. Flag-waving hysteria. Righteous indignation.

The ugly secret, however, is this: It's all a scam. Smoke and mirrors. Simple bullshit hyped up to distract simple people. Those who are in control seek to keep the populace angry, scared, and pointing the finger at someone else. A giant, semi-educated mass who are so busy fighting amongst themselves that they are incapable of seeing through the fog and identifying their real enemies.

Based on what I've read, seen, and heard lately, these are some of the things we should all be very frightened and angry about...


Homosexuals. Society's punching bag for generations now. I must admit, I had been fooled into believing that this whole argument was over. Educational institutions, alternative news, and my own personal social community had brainwashed me. I thought we had evolved beyond a junior high mindset. Apparently I was wrong.

As it turns out, homosexuals are destroying the very fabric of this nation. Yeah, I know. I was shocked too. I'm now told that this great nation was founded upon the ideals of a Christian God, and it's health is dependant upon good, wholesome, Christian families. Homosexuals, it appears, are actively trying to undermine both these religious teachings, as well as traditional family structure. A few wise souls have gone a step further, and shared some really big news with me. Rumor has it that if gay marriage is legalized, it will cause the aforementioned God to withdraw his blessing from this nation (which he apparently created), thereby leaving us on some forsaken fast-track to utter destruction.

Scary right? Thank God I know now. All this time I was thinking that it really didn't matter what consenting adults did with their lives. I was living in ignorance, believing that it didn't affect me at all. I wasn't even aware that there was such a spiteful and angry God, and I had no idea that he liked America better than every other nation. I'm lucky all those blessed souls on the comments section of a popular news site were kind enough to scream all this sense into my head. I probably would have gone the rest of my life treating gays like my equals, rather than as sub-humans as this God character does. Whew. Close call.

Moving on, I'm going to attempt to lay off the sarcasm...


Yes, yes, I know all of the arguments. Immigrants strain the economy (that one is just funny). Immigrants raise health care costs (Yeah.... that's where the problem comes from). Immigrants participate in the drug trade (who's buying those drugs?). "I have no problem with them, as long as they come here legally" (try walking in someone else's shoes, you'll probably find yourself walking across a border).

My problem in understanding all of the fear and outrage is this: I've always approached the topic from a standpoint of compassion, and on top of that, I'm poor. I understand that drastic situations sometimes demand drastic measures. I've been over the southern border. I've seen what the living conditions are like. If I were there, I'd jump the border and get a job too. That's how my ancestors arrived here as well. Back then, however, it was a lot easier. All you had to do was show up and pass a rudimentary examination to make sure you didn't have tuberculosis. If you weren't coughing and you could pick up a tool, you were in.

It's time to quit crying about the massive influx of immigrants and come up with realistic plans on how to cope with this massive group of HUMANS. There are millions here now, and millions more coming. Immigrants just like our ancestors. And truthfully, half of the people who are clamoring about this are motivated by racism. Sad but true. Yet whether your opposition is racially based or something other, my advice is the same: Aprenda a hablar espanol....


I'm going to keep this one real light. A lot of people are very sensitive about this topic in the wake of September 11th, not to mention the fact that the U.S. is currently at war in two primarily Islamic countries. The agitation exists, mainly, due to a lack of education. Once again, it's not primarily intelligent people who are making all of the noise here.

I'm speaking chiefly about the uproar surrounding the proposed construction of an Islamic community center near "ground zero", in southern Manhattan. Avoiding all other arguments, I'd like to advise any bible-thumping, FoxNews-loving, flag-waving zealots to look over the First Amendment to your beloved Constitution. I'm willing to drop the debate right there. If that basic sentiment fails to change the mind of those who disagree with me, then it is a waste of time to share anymore logic with you. Logic does nothing to combat those who've arrived at their opinions using no logic at all.

And before I receive any hostile messages, comments, or emails regarding how terrible Muslim people are, I suggest that any such persons do a little reading before you type. If you have Internet access, it's quite easy to find a wide array of facts about the Islamic religion, it's different branches and sects, the history of U.S. foreign policy towards these peoples, and the actual intentions and beliefs of those who are trying to build this community center. If that proves to be far too time consuming for you, perhaps you could just look over the Bill of Rights.


I'm going to keep this very brief. And very simple. And I should preface the comment by making it clear that I am not a supporter of the current President...

Barack Obama is not a Socialist. No major figure in our present Federal government is a Socialist. This is the most rampant example of fear-mongering nonsense that I hear on a daily basis. It's absolutely false. One semester of political theory, at any community college in the country, will absolutely disprove these baseless accusations of Socialism. If you meet any person, and they tell you that Barack Obama is a Socialist, you can safely assume two things: They are an idiot, and they have no clue what Socialism is.

A man started parroting this Obama/Socialist bit at me earlier today. Yet he actively collects unemployment, and his girlfriend receives disability payments. He failed to see the irony when I pointed that out.....

So who should we be mad at? What should we be afraid of? Who is to blame for the economy, the war, the poverty, the violence, the vague sense of dissatisfaction that so many people feel? Who is really in control? Are we in control of anything? How do we change the present state of affairs?

We can start by turning away from the mainstream media, and beyond that, the remainder of the answer is complex. Yet under no circumstances should we follow like sheep, transferring our frustration onto whatever minority group is the designated target.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Good food, and good people...

Hello everyone...

I went to a restaurant I had never visited this weekend. Well, at least it somewhat resembled a restaurant. It is definitely worth mentioning though.

The place is called Mel's Famous barbecue. I happened to see it mentioned in some online reviews I was reading a while back, so we decided to give it a shot.

The location is very small, located in an older strip mall. It is truly a bare-bones operation. No decorations, no amenities, and three tables. Total seating capacity: 10 persons. Most business appears to be carry-out. The menu has seven entrees, four sides, and canned soda. There are no real plates, and no real silverware. Everything is served in styrofoam containers with plastic knives and forks. Mel's son works the counter and does most of the cooking, while Mel and his wife serve and bus tables. Both Mel and his wife are older people, in their mid-70's.

The food is reasonably priced, and good. They offer ribs, rib-tips, pork steaks, chicken wings, burgers, hot links, and brats. Side options are potato salad, slaw, baked beans, and green beans. They offer pulled pork also, but only on Wednesday and Thursday. All entrees are generously covered in homemade sauce, which is thick and sticky, with strong hints of molasses, brown sugar, cinnamon, and perhaps chili powder.

Is it the best barbecue I've ever eaten? No. But I've had some really mind-blowing barbecue before. There truly was nothing to complain about though, and the potato salad was nearly worth the trip alone.

The absolute highlight, however, was Mel.

While I suspect that the son is the owner and does most of the work, the family patriarch hangs around and helps out. But mainly, he likes to talk to people. And talk he does.

After bringing out our food, he disappeared until we were finished. But soon after, he re-emerged, and sat down at our table. If this sort of behavior turns you off, you probably shouldn't go, because Mel simply does not hesitate to sit down, make himself comfortable, and begin telling wild and entertaining stories for half of an hour.

While we found this behavior odd, the old man was simply too charming and entertaining to resist. He told slow winding tales covering a wide array of topics, including but not limited to: Growing up as an African American in pre-civil rights era Mississippi, being beaten for stealing apples, eating roasted barn-rats as a child, his life and career as a professional cook, secretly feeding his wife raccoon meat concealed in stew, raising his children, making barbecue sauce, and his battle with cancer ten years previous. He is one of those rare old people who possess the ability to be funny, touchingly sad, and wise all at the same time. We talked with him for some time, and when we finally bid him farewell, he thanked us, wished us a blessing, and promised to give me a mason jar full of sauce the next time I came in.

All things considered, Mel's has the combination of things I enjoy in a restaurant; good food, odd location, and interesting proprietors. It was a very good experience, and as long as you won't be freaked out by a socially-forward old man, I suggest you pay them a visit.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Yeah, THOSE people...

I've really been trying to come up with a nice positive blog entry; and uplifting story, or just something food related that happens to be interesting. I've been holding off on writing anything else that is negative in nature, but unfortunately, enough has accumulated that I now must spew it forth into cyber-space...

What follows is just one of a collection of occurrences which have irritated me, and my thoughts about the offending persons....

This morning I was sitting at a red light, next to a McDonald's. I was blankly staring at an older gentleman, perhaps 60 years of age, who was walking across the parking lot. He had some difficulty moving along, and was employing the use of one of those large cane-type things that have four separate feet on the base. As I was sadly contemplating my own mortality and wondering how life would be if I couldn't walk, A minivan pulled up. A dreaded suburbanite minivan. A housewife type, with phone firmly attached to her ear, emerged and proceeded to slide open the rear door. Three children, ranging in age from perhaps three to six, quickly emerged. They immediately began sprinting in random directions through the parking lot. The middle child, a boy, ran straight toward the hobbling man. And stunningly, collided with him at full speed.

The man took several staggering steps, made some quick moves with the cane to gather his balance, and with the help of a car he toppled into, somehow managed to stay on his feet. Suddenly I heard the child scream. As he turned around and began running back toward his mother, I could see that he had suffered a cut on the top of his head. I'm guessing he ran dead into the handle of the man's cane. A thin line of blood was running down the child's face.

To my shock and awe, the mother then began screaming at the handicapped man! I heard her clearly say "What is wrong with you?! Why aren't you paying attention?!" I could not hear the man's responses. He was somewhat confused it appeared. But the woman was mad and shouting loudly. The remaining two children now burst into tears also due to the argument as well as the sight of their comrade's blood. Suddenly another woman emerged from a parked car, I presume she was the wife of the gentleman with the cane. She was clearly enraged, stormed up to within a foot of the mother, and began screaming while pointing her finger in the lady's face. I couldn't hear the words exactly. I did hear the words "stupid asshole" though. Throughout all of this, the mother never hung up the phone.

At this point, I was startled by a horn from two cars behind me. Both myself and the driver behind me had become transfixed by the drama on McDonald's parking lot, ignored the green light, and were now impeding traffic. I had no choice but to move along, and miss the remainder of this spectacle.

Had I stayed, however, I would have loved to unleash a verbal barrage on that mother. The entire affair was her fault. She was the one not supervising her precious offspring, it was her fault the child almost knocked down a handicapped man (and was cut in the process). And it was also her inappropriate reaction that escalated the situation into an argument.

I can't stand women like these ones. Spoiled, stupid housewives. Phones glued to their heads. Poorly behaved children running rampant around them. Minivans with stick-figure representations of every member of their clan displayed proudly on the rear window. Fingernails, make-up, a functional IQ of 90, and a sense of entitlement. They just wander around suburbia, getting in the way and breathing up oxygen that otherwise would be consumed by valid lifeforms. These are the ones who love to tell you how great and special their children are, and will defend these offspring with great passion; whether said children are being tripped in a youth soccer game, or knocking down handicapped people in a parking lot.

These are the people who move to suburbia to avoid minorities. These are the people who's door locks I hear click when I walk past their car in the drug store parking lot at 9:15pm. These are the people you see being interviewed on the news, when every several years a homicide occurs near their upper-middle class neighborhood, who talk about how frightened they are. These are the people who drop 10% of their income into the collection plate at their multi-million dollar mega-church, and fail to see the hypocrisy. These people home-school, because it would be far too dangerous to allow their darling snowflakes to be exposed to, well, anything. And these people vote. They absolutely love voting. Especially when they can pass some anti-homosexual legislation, or drug law, or immigration reform. Anything to "keep their family safe". Nothing is more important. They'll dial 911 if they hear a noise, or the neighbors have a house party, or a new car is parked on the street. They can never be too careful.

Personally, I think they should all be LESS SAFE. I wish they would all move to homes that lie either directly on top of fault-lines, or perhaps at the base of steep earthen hills in a rainy environment. At bare minimum, they should be someplace that is prone to hurricanes and/or tidal waves. At least that's my opinion...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Zatarain's tried to kill me...

I think it may be time to start observing some standard food safety and sanitation rules...

Professionally, I play it straight. I've always been pretty careful with what I serve to others, and I'm sure to maintain cleanliness. But as far as feeding myself goes, I bend the rules a little. Or a lot. Or perhaps I totally ignore most everything I know.

I'm not totally irresponsible. I wouldn't cut salad up on a cutting board covered with raw chicken. And I do wash my hands and tools, but that's about it. If I'm the one eating, I'm more than willing to take some slight risks.

Undercooked chicken wing? Yeah I'll eat it. Expiration dates? I'll be the judge. Mold? Cut it off. I'm not scared. Questionable odors from a meat product? Perhaps I should rinse it. Ground beef of unknown origins? I'll take mine mid-rare.

I've been behaving this way for a long time. And for a while, encountered no problems. I've always theorized that my body was super-powerful, most likely do to my exposure to so many pathogens. I figured I was immune to food-borne illness.

This long string of good luck only encouraged me to make more sketchy decisions. I'll eat just about anything, anywhere, under any circumstances. But this past year, however, I got sick a few times. Not REALLY sick. Nothing that would frighten me into changing my ways. But these occurrences where a warning. A warning I refused to acknowledge.

So last night, I wanted to eat something. I was hungry, bored, and lazy. I wanted food, I wanted something I hadn't had in a while, and I didn't want to do any work. I decided to embark on an adventure to the back of the pantry.

There wasn't a wide array of items available. Nothing was calling out to me. But then, in the very back corner, I spotted a strange red box. Upon inspection, I discovered it to be a package of Zatarain's cheesy jambalaya mix. I had no recollection of ever purchasing it, nor any idea why I even would have. I immediately decided to eat it.

This was going to need some doctoring. After destroying the freezer, I discovered about a half pound of some ancient mystery sausage. It was wrapped in aged butcher's paper. Or perhaps it was papyrus. I couldn't quite tell what kind of sausage it was, but I'm guessing it was some sort of Chorizo/Andoulle hybrid that I must have made during my days in the meat industry, YEARS AGO.

I thawed it, and began to brown it. Once it was about half cooked, I gave it a taste. The texture was poor from being frozen for so long, and it was way too salty, but these were problems I was confident I could work around. It was time to add the jambalaya mix.

When I opened the package, I was shocked to discover that the contents had solidified into a perfectly rectangular brick. I tried to crush it, but alas, it was impossible. I checked the box for an expiration date. June, 2009. I briefly considered aborting the entire operation, but decided to press forward. I placed the jambalaya brick and a few cups of water into the pot. After a minute or two of boiling, the brick softened somewhat. I managed to first break it up, and then, using a fork, smash it into pasty chunks. Eventually, after around ten minutes, the mixture became homogeneous. Success!

The finished product was, well, edible. My seasoning made it palatable, I'd definitely eaten worse concoctions. So I filled a large bowl, and ate it. My girlfriend scoffed at this meal, and refused to eat any of it. I denounced her as a coward, and continued eating.

Twelve hours later, I came to the realization that sometimes there exists a wisdom within cowardice.

I'll spare you all of the details. But I was sick. Severely sick. This was no mild feeling of illness. This was full blown lie-on-the-floor-and-pray-to-God-for-salvation-while-repenting-of-your-evil-deeds sick. For a while I feared I would die, eventually, I wanted to die. It's not as bad as it was, but I'm still not anywhere near 100%.

Have I learned this time? Will I make this mistake again? I'm really not sure. It remains to be seen. But what I do know is that Zatarain's is a totally irresponsible company. They should make those expiration dates larger and easier to read. And perhaps warn people that the contents of the package are not to be consumed once they morph into brick form. Otherwise, somebody could seriously get sick...

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Commuting with the missing link...

Today I had another job interview. I was a bit nervous. But I went, and everything went swimmingly. I was handling questions well, and inserting humor as needed, and then right at the end, we started to discuss salary. My instincts told me that I may have priced myself out of consideration. I was told I would be contacted in a few days.

As I drove home, I tried to remain optimistic. I did a fairly good job of convincing myself that perhaps I was just being paranoid. "Maybe they'll call?" I said to myself.

When I got home, I discovered that they had re posted the position online. Merely 90 minutes after I had left the interview. Ahhhh. Disappointment. So I ate an apple, and took a nap. A sad and weary nap.

It's ok though. They were looking for a prep cook, I was looking for something more. So it goes...

The drive home was rough though. 30 highway miles, from downtown to suburbia, at the peak of rush hour traffic. I saw a lot of craziness. Every day I drive, I'm sort of surprised that more people don't die on the roads. Nobody seems to be thinking clearly. And everyone is on the phone. Everyone. Being as most people lack the intelligence to reasonably operate a motor vehicle in the first place, I'm not sure why they attempt to use a communication device at the same time. These people are way too dumb for multi-tasking. I often want to drag people out of their cars and beat them, and then stomp on their phones before I leave.

I recently heard a scientist argue a theory that humans are now evolving into two separate species; one intelligent, one not so intelligent. I didn't put much stock into the idea, but while driving home today it came to mind. And he may just be right.

If I think about all the rapid expansion of knowledge, science, and technology, and the people who develop or discover these things, and then compare those people to the girl who nearly caused three accidents in a three minute time period while applying eye-liner in the rear view; or the guy who cut of a semi while talking on the phone and eating a cheeseburger, the theory starts to make sense. It begins to seem logical that perhaps these beings are on their way to becoming different species. Evolution hasn't stopped. Theoretically, we have to be moving toward something.

But if it is true, here's the scary part: The stupid people are reproducing a lot faster than the smart ones. Think about it. Who has more kids, the guy with the PhD? Or the guy with a functional IQ of 88 who spends all of his money on shoes and weed? We all know the answer. Have you ever met a man with a confederate flag belt buckle who didn't have children scattered across six counties? I haven't. And who is reproducing with the dumb guys? Generally, other idiots. Most often, people tend to naturally pair off with their intellectual peers.

I should throw out a disclaimer: This is not a racial argument, nor is it an argument of socio-economics. I don't want to hear any comments of that nature. There are idiots among every race, creed, and class of people.

I don't have any kids, but perhaps I should. Perhaps you should also. If you already have kids, maybe you should bite the bullet and have one extra. We have to keep up with the morons and religious fanatics somehow, right?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Episode #517

I've long held a theory that the last ten years of my life are all secretly part of a hidden camera type show, and that many of the people I encounter in my existence are actually hired actors. I imagine that there is a group of producers sitting around brainstorming up new situations to throw me into, and without me knowing it, millions of people sit in their living rooms every Thursday night and watch brand new episodes of "When Will This Guy Snap?".

Well, the producers are really putting on one hell of a show this week.

I had a job interview today. I have another one tomorrow which I am far more enthusiastic about, but I figured I'd go feel this one out just in case. Who knows what will happen, right?

Big mistake.

As soon as I pulled in the parking lot, I got a bad feeling. The joint looked bad. It's located in a pretty affluent area, so this wasn't what I was expecting. This place looked like it should be serving diner food in between a prison and an industrial park. But I convinced myself to give it a chance, and cautiously entered.

My feelings continued to spiral downward as I glanced around the interior. Torn up carpet. Filth. Tables shimmed with cardboard. Sad, broken waitresses milling around as if they had received lobotomies. Waitresses that I suspect were once successful and happy, but had come here, like wounded animals, to die. The decor was just depressing. It appeared as if someone had scavenged the remains of a sports bar which had burned down in 1984 for things to hang on the walls. There was a toy stuffed monkey, smoke-stained yellow, sitting on the bar. I was puzzled.

The hostess approached me and inquired, in monotone, if I would like a table. I replied that I had come for an interview, and told her the name of the man I was to meet with. "Hold on" she replied blandly, as she smacked a menu down on the hostess stand and shuffled away.

I stood, attempting to look calm and happy, and waited. Minutes passed by. My desire to break into tears and/or laughter was hard to deal with.

I was turned around, looking at grimy pictures of some long extinct softball team on the wall when I was startled by a sharp, loud, bark of "Hello" from halfway across the dining room floor. I turned to see a 5'2" Asian man walking briskly toward me. His face looked angry and somehow demented. I estimated his age to be somewhere between 50 and 200.

The following is an exact description of the conversation which followed. I will abbreviate his name as "AA", for "Angry Asian".

AA- (From 15 feet away, pointing at a booth) "Sit!"
ME- (Walking toward him with my hand extended) "Hello, I'm M...."
AA- "Sit!"
ME-"Uh, OK. Alright." I sat down.
AA- "You want kitchen job?"
ME- "Well, yes I'm here to inquire..."
AA- "You go to school?"
ME- "Yes sir I have. I graduated from..."
AA- "You cook before?"
ME- (I'm now tiring of being cut-off and interrupted in this manner) "Yes sir, I most recently worked..."
AA- "You want job?"
ME- "Well, perhaps, You see I have a few options to explore, and I..."
AA- "I give you (x) dollars an hour, you start tomorrow!"
ME- "Well sir, I actually have another interview tomorrow, and to be honest, I'm asking for a bit more than..."
AA- "You start tomorrow!"
ME- "Well, again sir, I have another interview tomorrow, so that won't be possible. Plus, I..."
AA- "I don't play games!!!"
ME- "What? I... You don't understand sir... You see I..."
AA- "Stand up! I show you kitchen."
ME- (Sighing, contemplating just running away) "Alright. Let's see the kitchen."

We stood and walked to the kitchen. Inside were two tired looking Latinos. The kitchen had clearly not yet been cleaned following a lunch rush which I'm guessing occurred sometime during the administration of Jimmy Carter. It was small, poorly lit, and totally in shambles.

"Hello" I said to one of the workers, "How are you?" As we shook hands he said "Como esta?" I nodded slightly, and turned to the other. "Como esta?" I inquired, and he looked at me very sadly and replied "Asi, asi" (so-so). "Si". I said. They both turned away. You could taste their depression in the air.

AA- "You work here! Tomorrow!"
ME- "Well sir, as I've explained, I'm asking for significantly more than (x) an hour, and being as I have another interview, I'll have to..."
AA- "I don't play games!"
ME- "Thank you for your time sir. I'll have to call you in a few days." I turned and broke for the door.
AA- "You want job or not!?"
ME- (Over my shoulder, still walking quickly, nearing the door) "I'll be in touch with you in a few days sir, and again, thank you!"

I could hear other orders being yelled at me as the door closed behind me. I got in my car and exited the parking lot at a dangerous clip. I immediately lit a cigarette, inhaling deeply and trying to wrap my head around what had just occurred. Five minutes later, as I navigated through highway traffic at 80 miles per hour, I burst into laughter. Just then my phone rang. I didn't recognize the number, but I answered it.

AA- "Matt! It's (name of AA)! I thought about it, I give you (x).50 an hour. You start tomorrow!"
MT- (Stunned once more) "Uh sir, I'll have to get back to you later"

I hung up the phone. Then I turned it off.

Have fun watching this weeks episode everyone. I hope you're all entertained...

Monday, August 9, 2010

Mr. Positive asks a question...

I've been neglecting the blog lately. There's a lot of things going on in my life, plus I've been spending the majority of my computer time arguing with social conservatives, so I just haven't gotten around to writing. My thoughts lately are definitely lacking cohesiveness.

I keep most of the important topics to myself, but I will mention that I have a job interview coming up soon. I'm hopeful that it goes well and we can agree on salary, because this is a gig that I actually want. It's a new venture by a successful restauranteur, in a cool neighborhood, with an eclectic menu. From a culinary standpoint, I would definitely be in over my head, but that's the sort of thing I'm looking for. It would certainly be an interesting piece of the timeline on my five year plan. Far more interesting than what I've been doing lately.

Right now, I'm feeling pretty positive.

And to keep my good vibe going, I'm going to take some time off from debating the FoxNews crowd also. As much as I'm drawn to combating bigotry and ignorance, it wears on me. It's generally a waste of time anyway, being as it's nearly impossible to change the minds of people who are that immersed in their own belief system. Logic does very little to dissuade pseudo-Christian Glenn Beck listeners. If they happen to be enraged by some anti-homosexual sentiment or poorly shrouded racism (as most of them seem to be), it's equivalent to arguing with a hungry coyote. Despite the fact that I'm a heterosexual caucasian, I've been on the receiving end of a lot of racial or orientation-based slurs in the last few days, so in the interest of maintaining positive energy, I'm retiring from all arguments for the next week.

I'm just going to relax and attempt to only engage in amicable conversations. Hopefully that won't require too much social isolation.

Changing pace, (again my thoughts are not cohesive) I'd like to ask a question for personal research purposes. What is your absolute favorite thing to eat? If you are unable to come up with one specific thing, you can tell me a few, or something that you just really like. It doesn't matter what it is, whether simple, cheap, processed, expensive, or finely composed; I just want to know what my readers and future customers are really interested in eating. You can comment on the blog, the Facebook link, or by my email if you have it. I truly appreciate any feedback I get.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A basic culinary theology...

I pay a lot of attention to food and cooking. It's a very large part of my life. It means a lot to me.

Unfortunately, I've spent a majority of my time lately hammering out shitty food in a cafeteria setting. Sure, you can try to ensure the quality of what you are serving. You can attempt to take pride in your work. But ultimately, it's hard to be enthusiastic about a strata made from day-old biscuits, or a prepackaged perfectly round veggie-burger. So when I talk about the food that actually means something to me, make no mistake, this isn't the food I'm talking about.

You would be wrong to assume, however, that I'm passionate about high-end ultra-modern food either. I couldn't care less about what is occurring in the world of fine dining. Frankly, I find it to be pretentious and asinine. Granted, new ideas and cutting-edge trends are somewhat interesting, and I do try to keep up with what the big-name people are doing. Yet I don't foresee myself ever embracing that style as my own. It's not my thing.

Truthfully, what more can possibly be done? How many proteins can be seasoned with out of place spices like cardamom, chocolate, or coffee and delicately placed atop some random puree of fruit or vegetable? How many "paints" or "glues" can we make from assorted food items and artfully drizzle or brush around a plate? At a certain point, doesn't the fine-dining scene just become a fashion show? Where we can all see WHO can afford freshly imported langoustine lobsters served atop organic salsify, confit of Peruvian potatoes, and a roasted walnut gremolata?

You have to keep it honest.

Food is a human staple. A universal art form. Every culture on Earth has a cuisine witch reflects it's environment, history, and personality. Much as all cultures have music, dance, language, religion, story-telling, and social structure, they also have food. Cooking and eating are beautiful and special things. Many of us have lost sight of reality.

Spare me the molecular gastronomy and the imported luxuries. I don't need my plates to be "composed". If I can't eat the garnish, get it out of my face. I don't need any smoke blown up my ass.

Likewise, all chicken-nuggets, hydrogenated whatever-it-is, frozen meals, fish sticks, and general prepackaged poisons can be done away with also. No one needs to eat this nonsense outside of emergency situations.

Fresh. Seasonal. Local. Organic. Free-range. These are the things worth eating. Just don't get too excited and try to make visual art work. Solid cooking techniques and good seasoning will work wonders. Avoid the corporate food-monster and cook like humans have been cooking for centuries. That's all you need, and that's all I ever aspire to cook.

Study the traditional cuisines of South America, Spain, Italy, Northern Africa, and Southeast Asia. Study India if you are a vegetarian. All of these cultures excel at making delicious, one pot, family style meals which use available ingredients and excellent cooking technique. Many of them also use the entire animal being consumed, rather than just one specific portion of it as we Americans so often do.

Brazilian pumpkin stew. Spanish paella. African potjie or tagine dishes. Savory vegetable-based curries from India, sweeter rice-based curries from Thailand. Delicious Vietnamese Pho. I could name several from every region in the world, but you get the point.

I firmly believe that the best food is relatively simple, yet carefully and skillfully prepared. It should be served in a large quantity to a group of people. People who can laugh and love and enjoy the company of one another. And teach the children of the group to make the same things. This is the beauty of food. It can bring joy in the most somber of times, it can give us emotional relief, it can link one generation to another.

Food is a staple. A foundational part of culture and humanity. What does it say about a culture when they eat as Americans do? Walk through the isles of your local grocery store, and look at what surrounds you. It's a reflection of us. A painfully accurate reflection.

I'm not going to get too preachy. I'll let you all answer for yourselves. These are the questions at hand:

1) WHO is selling this to us?

2) WHAT is their motivation?

3) WHEN and HOW did this begin?

4) WHERE can we find an alternative?

5) WHY are we tolerating this?

I certainly have my answers...

Front-kicks and semi-gloss...

I've been away for a while. I have a lot of things going on, most of which I won't mention here. But I should mention a few, as they are food related, or involving customer service.

I was in a wedding yesterday. Overall, it was a splendid affair. Everything went smoothly, and everyone was happy. Afterword, the wedding party and many of the guests went to a local eating/drinking establishment. About 35 people.

I felt a little bad when I discovered that no one had called ahead. Just three dozen people appeared, requesting a monster table, on a lightly staffed Monday evening. The service staff was pleasant, if a bit overwhelmed, but the kitchen was pissed. It was an open kitchen, so you could see the cooks looking out onto the floor. I didn't see any smiles.

It didn't go terrible all in all. It did take about half of an hour to get the tickets split, and the manager ended up having to hurriedly bus tables. Such is to be expected given the circumstances however. There were a few moments that made me cringe though. One guy decided to clap when a member of the staff dropped some plates, he then loudly commented "No wonder a beer costs five dollars here". Another character decided to hold up an empty beer bottle, shake it side to side, and yell "Beer? Beer??" as the waitress was attempting to take a food order from this massive group. My instincts told me to front-kick these persons out of their chairs, but in respect to the bride and groom, I remained silent.

As a general rule, restaurants like to know when such a large party is coming in. I felt bad for that service staff. But ultimately, this was not a crime I committed. I should mention that the groom in this wedding is a long time member of the food-service industry. I'm a little stunned he would have agreed to this. But I'm aware that not everyone thinks or behaves the way that I do. This is sometimes a good thing, and sometimes a bad thing.

Ultimately, the service staff fought through, got a guaranteed 18% gratuity, and lived to tell the tale. So the world keeps on spinning...

Today I found myself in the paint store. It was a grueling experience. The desire to front-kick was born anew.

I should mention that I was a professional painter years ago. That said, I'm a very efficient customer. I have no questions, I waste no time, I know exactly what I want, and I explain it very clearly. I'm also aware that most customers aren't as prepared as I am. So I'm fairly tolerant of most people who are in front of me in line.

But this lady in front of me was terrible. Just detestable.

First of all, she was the type of person I dislike most. Middle-aged, wealthy housewife. Probably never employed. Sense of entitlement. Totally clueless. Wasn't sensing at all that the guy behind the counter was in a hurry. Or that I was in a hurry. Or that anything on earth was equally as important as her guest bedroom being painted. Asshole.

So there she stood at the counter. In front of her were the following items: A bedspread. Three candles. A throw pillow. A small figurine of an angel. About six photographs of the aforementioned guest bedroom. About 12 color samples of very similar light blue paints.

I stood and listened for several minutes while the worker futilely attempted to explain the differences in sheen to her. "So what's the difference between flat and semi-gloss?", "What's this satin?", "So if flat covers the best, can I get flat semi-gloss so it's shiny?". The guy behind the counter finally convinced her to buy eggshell and asked what color she would like. "Well I was hoping you would tell me which one of these blues you think would match my guest room the best." She said. He tried to tell her that it was a matter of personal taste, and that there was a line of people waiting. He suggested that perhaps he should help some other people while she decided on her color.

Wrong move on his part.

"Excuse me? YOU'RE helping ME." She said in snotty fashion. "The other people will have to wait in line, just like I did. It isn't my fault this store is understaffed." As I looked at him, I swear I could see tiny blood vessels bursting in his face. People behind me started making passive noises. The time to act had come.

Swiftly, before she had time for another syllable, I slipped in front of her. "I'd like (quantity) of (brand, color, sheen) please." I said while smiling. He exhaled heavily, and politely told me it would just take a moment. Just then, she began to speak. I spun, and before the first word had left her mouth, said "Ma'am, excuse me, could you back up?". I stared into her eyes for just a moment. She was starting to unravel. I turned my back quickly.

It took a minute or two to get my paint. She put on quite a show behind me. Labored breathing, mumbling to herself, foot tapping. All the normal reactions of the angry coward. As he walked toward the counter, the next person immediately said "Uh, can I just get two gallons of ceiling-white?". "No problem" said the worker. I grabbed my paint, thanked him, and turned to walk away. It was then that I saw her face. It was red. Deep red. And slightly sweaty. I grinned slightly.

When I was several feet away I heard her voice again, though I couldn't make out what she was saying. I heard the worker say "Oh, I'm sorry ma'am. Have you decided yet?" I can only imagine what the rest of his interaction with her was like.

What a terrible lady. She was really a pain in the ass.

I hope she hates her guest bedroom.