January 17, 2012
Everything tastes better with bacon, Sara Perry grandly proclaimed on the cover of her 2002 cookbook. Since then, the love of bacon has grown to surreal heights; it’s become a collective obsession. Should you get the urge, it’s easy to order some bacon ice cream, bacon-infused vodka, bacon soap, or even a monstrosity called the bacon explosion, which is essentially a loaf of bacon-wrapped sausage with yet more bacon.
So what, exactly, could be inspiring this cult of bacon-worship? And why won’t it die?
Well, it’s delicious.
Arun Gupta of The Indypendent explained that bacon has six ingredients with umami (savory) flavor. But that’s always been true, and while we’ve been eating bacon for centuries, the kind of mania that exists in America today is a new trend. A Chicago Mercantile Exchange report from September 2010 found a recent surge in pork belly (where bacon comes from) prices, which have climbed steadily since 1998. Earlier this year, the CME retired frozen pork belly futures after 40 years of trading. In the olden days, when bacon was a seasonal treat, buyers could store frozen pork bellies and sell them once demand was high. But in the past decade, our love affair with bacon has become a constant, year-round obsession. We don’t need pork belly frozen and stored, we want the fresh stuff right now and keep it coming. Now, bacon goes on everything, all the time.
It’s also very, very unhealthy.
In the diet-crazed 1980s and 1990s, bacon was mercilessly demonized. It even made the cover of Time Magazine in 1984 as the face of America’s cholesterol problems. Today, we care a bit less about the calorie content of our food and more about its wholesome origins. Three years after Everything Tastes Better With Bacon was published, Corby Kummer hailed a bacon renaissance driven by the production of artisanal bacon, which is “a perfect cherry-wood brown,” and has a “deep, subtle, lightly smoky flavor.” Standard supermarket bacon, by comparison, is “tinny and one-dimensional.” On the other end of the spectrum, you could argue that its popularity stems from the desire to fly in the face of all the trendy rules of food and health. As Jason Sheehan wrote in Seattle Weekly: “The phrase ‘Everything’s Better With Bacon!’ becomes like a challenge: Oh yeah? Watch what I can do…” Bacon is fatty freedom food. Putting bacon on everything (or, uh, wearing it as lingerie) is a statement of hedonism, pure and simple, a defiant stand against any movement that suggests we moderate what we eat.
It’s more American than apple pie.
Oscar Mayer started packaging pre-sliced bacon in 1924, and soon bacon became a staple of the American family breakfast. As Chris Cosentino, founder of Boccalone: Tasty Salted Pig Parts, pointed out: “You look at classic Norman Rockwell pictures of people at a diner, and what are they eating? Bacon and eggs.” Bacon is the iconic food memory of most people’s childhoods—which makes it the ultimate comfort food. The nostalgia for Mom sizzling up some bacon on Sunday morning—even if it didn’t actually happen to you—is a collective American experience. Bacon’s not just a delicious meat product anymore; it’s a shorthand for the fuzzy golden heyday of our past.
The most bizarre bacon products floating around the Internet:
Bacon mints: Doesn’t this kind of defeat the purpose?
Diet Coke with Bacon: Hold the sugar, add the bacon.
Bacon Kevin Bacon: It was only a matter of time.
Bacon alarm clock: An alarm clock that wakes you with the real aroma of cooking bacon.
Do you have even weirder examples? Leave them in the comments.
December 2, 2011
The first time I tried a persimmon was a few years ago. I spotted the attractive fruit at the supermarket, and its smooth skin and deep orange color tempted me to buy one. Unfortunately, I didn’t know that the variety of persimmon I bought—hachiya—shouldn’t be eaten until it is extremely ripe. It tasted like industrial-strength cleaner. Since then, I’ve learned that fuyus, which are short and squat, are the variety to buy for eating fresh; pointy-bottomed hachiyas are better for baking.
Fuyus have a pleasantly firm, mango-like flesh. The most similar flavor I can think of is papaya—sweet, but not overly so, with a hint of floral or spicy tones. Both fuyus and hachiyas are usually available in late fall and early winter. Here are a few ways to use either variety:
1. In a salad. Despite originating thousands of miles apart, persimmons (from East Asia) and pomegranates (from the Middle East) harmonize nicely—both flavor-wise and visually—in a fall/winter fruit salad. For an even more colorful (and very nutritious) dish, toss them with sliced red cabbage, Romaine lettuce, Asian pear, hazelnuts and gorgonzola cheese, as in the Rainbow Chopped Salad from Epicurious.
2. As a condiment or accompaniment. Organic Authority suggests serving a fresh persimmon salsa with grilled fish or chicken. Or it can be cooked into a spicy chutney with apples and raisins, as Moscovore recommends. Firm fuyus can also be sliced and roasted to be served as a sweet/savory side dish, as in this recipe from About.com.
3. Dried. Hoshigaki, or dried persimmons, are a popular treat in Japan, where they are made through a labor-intensive process you’re unlikely to want to replicate at home. But even the shortcut method you can make in your oven—like this recipe from Martha Stewart—produces a yummy (albeit very different, I’m sure) snack.
4. In a drink. Just because I’m teetotaling for the next few months doesn’t mean you have to. Imbibe magazine’s recipe for a persimmon margarita rimmed with cinnamon salt is a novel twist on one of my favorite cocktails. On the nonalcoholic side, 101 Asian Recipes explains how to make a Korean persimmon tea.
5. In dessert. Nicole of Pinch My Salt shares her grandma’s recipe for sweet, moist persimmon cookies. And I would like to be in Denise’s Kitchen next time she makes this delicious-looking fuyu persimmon, pear and walnut rolled tart. Having spent only one very rainy day of my life in Indiana (on the interstate en route from Nashville to Chicago), I was unaware that persimmon pudding was a traditional regional food there. Joy the Baker explains how it’s made (including how to wheedle the fruits from your neighbor), describing the result as “sweet and super moist bread pudding meets spice cake.” Sounds good to me.
October 6, 2011
I’m somewhat shocked and appalled that human behavior allows for recurring blog posts on criminal behavior involving food. Not that I’m one to complain about my muse. The month of September alone was rife with new shenanigans, and a couple of convictions, from society’s dark underbelly.
September, 2011. Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The raw food movement?
On the afternoon of Monday, September 12, Wal-Mart security officers saw a man opening packages of raw hamburger and stew beef and eating some of the contents before putting the items back on the shelf. Police were contacted and arrested Scott Shover, 53, at taser point and charged him with felony theft. While only about $25 worth of meat was involved in this particular incident, Shover received the felony charge as this was his fifth retail theft offense.
September, 2011. Mount Prospect, Illinois. A Late Night Snack.
When most people get hungry in the middle of the night, they make a beeline for the kitchen. Hachem Gomez, 19, preferred to make a 3:00 a.m. trip out to Mr. Beef and Pizza. No matter that the restaurant was closed and the drive-through window was barred: Gomez broke through the security grating to gain access to the kitchen, where he began to prepare himself chicken tenders and fries in the microwave. Officers arrived on the scene at 3:30, and when asked if he worked there, Gomez simply said no and that he was just hungry. He was arrested and charged with burglary.
August, 2011. Denver, Colorado. Bring out your dead.
In the 1989 movie comedy Weekend at Bernie’s, two men, promised a ritzy weekend at their boss’ weekend home, arrive to find their boss dead, but decide to tote the corpse around so that they can enjoy the few days of luxury they felt entitled to. According to police reports, on the evening of August 27, Robert Young, 43, arrived at the home of Jeffrey Jarrett, only to find the man unresponsive. In lieu of calling 911, Young, along with friend Mark Rubinson, 25, piled the corpse into a car and went to Teddy T’s Bar and Grill. Jarrett was left in the car while the other two enjoyed libations charged to his card. Next stop was Sam’s No. 3, a diner, before they returned Jarret’s corpse to his house. Young and Rubinson next made a pit stop at a strip club, using Jarrett’s ATM card to withdraw $400, and before the night was over, they flagged down a police officer notifying him that they suspected their buddy was dead in his home. The pair was later arrested, and while they are not suspected of causing Jarrett’s death, they stand charged with abusing a corpse, identity theft and criminal impersonation. Both men were released on bail. Young has an arraignment date set for October 6. Rubinson has since been arrested again for drunk driving. He also happened to be driving in a stolen vehicle, but whether he was the one who snatched it has yet to be determined.
September, 2010. Denver, Colorado. Playing chicken.
To some, like The New York Times, raw chicken evokes l’amour in a big way. But 58-year-old lobbyist Ronald Smith was feeling less than amorous when he placed raw chicken in the heating ducts of his ex-wife’s home. (Other non-food-related acts of vandalism included wiping the hard drive of her computer, pouring bleach on her grand piano and marring her hardwood floors with mountain bike cleats.) Michelle Young, the former Mrs. Smith, discovered the damage on returning from a California vacation. It was allegedly the culmination of months of harassment, and while prosecutors could not produce eyewitnesses to definitively place Smith at the scene, they were, however, able to illustrate that the blue duct tape used to package the chicken pieces matched the roll of duct tape found in Smith’s home. Jurors deliberated for about six hours before arriving at their decision. Smith was convicted in September 2011 of second degree burglary and criminal mischief and is awaiting sentencing. He could face up to 18 years in prison.
January 2010. Leeds, England. A big break.
On the evening of January 30, Hussein Yusuf had been drinking at a local pub when he asked the chef, Roger Mwebiha, to cook him a meal. After repeatedly entering the kitchen asking if his food was ready yet, Mwebiha got fed up to the point where he returned Yusuf’s money. At 3:00 a.m. the following morning, Yusuf again asked the chef to prepare him some food and the two began to argue. Mwebiha went to take out the trash when he was confronted outside by Yusuf, who kicked the chef’s right shin, shattering both lower leg bones. Yusuf fled the scene while Mwebiha spent months recuperating from the injury. But about a year later, in a logic-defying move, Yusuf returned to the restaurant. The chef recognized his attacker and notified police. Yusuf, 23, admitted to the crime and was sentenced in September 2011. He is currently serving a 15-month prison term.
October 5, 2011
Every year I try to plan ahead and think up a clever Halloween costume, only to end up rushing around the day before a party trying to scrape up something passable. It helps to have a theme; one year I was invited to a “one-hit wonders” party, to which I went as Jennifer Beals in Flashdance, with leg warmers, an off-the-shoulder sweatshirt and a welding mask. The food world is also rife with costume potential. Although you could go as or with a food itself, like a bunch of grapes made out of balloons, I think character-based looks are more fun.
Here are a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing while there’s still time:
Paula Deen: The Food Network’s high priestess of high-cholesterol food is easy to emulate. Just don a white, feathery-coiffed wig, a generous amount of mascara and a pastel-color collared shirt. To complete the look you’ll need some reference to her favorite ingredient, butter—maybe wrap a couple sticks of yellow-painted styrofoam in a butter wrapper (or waxed paper) and turn them into earrings.
The Swedish Chef: If only all cooking shows were as entertaining as this recurring sketch on The Muppet Show. And considering that a new Muppet movie is due out this holiday season, the cheerfully indecipherable chef is newly relevant. You’ll need a chef’s hat and either a chef’s jacket or a pin-striped shirt, bow tie and white apron, a bushy orange wig, mustache and eyebrows. If you ever run out of party conversation, you can always retreat into character, lilting, “Bork, bork, bork!”
Colonel Sanders: The KFC founder’s secret fashion recipe was simple—white suit, string tie, horn-rimmed glasses and a cane. And don’t forget the white hair, mustache and goatee. Bonus item: a classic red and white chicken bucket, which can double as a trick-or-treating basket for the kiddies. In fact, this look works for kids too—I mean, how cute is this?
Wendy and Jack in the Box—the couple: What if two of the burger world’s biggest celebrities got together? One half of the couple could go as freckle-faced Wendy, the other as cone-hatted Jack. The pièce de résistance: their globe-headed, red-braided baby. I thought I was pretty clever for thinking this one up, but it appears others have beat me to it. Oh well, chances are no one at your party will have seen the idea before.
The Unknown Restaurant Critic: The supposed anonymity of critics has been a topic of foodie discussion this year, with one Los Angeles Times writer outed—and kicked out—by an irate restaurateur. You could go two ways with this: either a paper bag over the head with eye holes cut out, à la the Unknown Comic, or a classic nose-mustache-and-glasses disguise. Either way, you’ll need accessories to indicate you’re a food critic—maybe a reporter’s notebook and pen, and a napkin tucked into your collar.
Anyone else have fun food-related costume ideas?
September 30, 2011
Whether for career development or their own edification, the culinarily curious can gorge on all kinds of food knowledge online. Here are a few of the offerings:
Sharpen your cooking skills. Everything from nifty tips on peeling garlic to full-fledged cooking shows are available online. Saveur (source of the amazing garlic video), Epicurious, Chow and Cook’s Illustrated (for subscribers only) are good sites to check for short technique and recipe demonstrations. The Culinary Institute of America’s ciaprochef.com is full of recipes and videos. And a number of YouTube cooking shows have gained a loyal following, including Show Me the Curry, where Hetal and Anuja help you navigate South Asian and occasionally other cuisines; Great Depression Cooking, starring 96-year-old Clara; and the amusingly enigmatic Cooking with Dog (tagline: It’s not what you think…), where you can learn to make all kinds of Japanese dishes while the host’s coiffed poodle looks serenely on.
Get a culinary degree. Until someone figures out how to transport food via the Internet, you can’t actually attend cooking school online. But you can earn an online degree in a culinary-related subject that doesn’t involve cooking. Le Cordon Bleu USA offers a bachelor of arts in culinary management and an associate of occupational studies in hospitality and restaurant management. If you can’t move to Vermont (which you should consider, because it really is lovely), the New England Culinary Institute offers an online bachelor of arts in hospitality and restaurant management. And Virginia College Online’s culinary arts associate’s degree is designed for those who have already completed cooking school elsewhere.
Feed your inner geek. One of the greatest developments in recent years for people like me who love to learn but live far from a big university is iTunes U. Institutions like Oxford University, the University of California at Berkeley and the National Portrait Gallery upload audio and video of lectures—and most of them are free to download from iTunes. A few of the foodie offerings are Harvard University School of Engineering and Applied Science’s public lecture series on science and cooking, with demonstrations from top chefs like Wylie Dufresne, on meat glue (transglutaminase), and José Andrés, on gelation; the University of Warwick on how to build a chocolate-powered race car; and culinary historian Jessica Harris speaking at the Library of Congress National Book Festival.
Learn how to write about food. If you already know plenty about food and want to share your knowledge with the world, online food-writing classes can help tune up your presentation. Indian cookbook author Monica Bhide offers occasional e-courses covering everything from recipe writing to food memoir. The latest class started in September, but check her site for upcoming dates. Gotham Writers’ Workshop’s next 11-week course, which includes a Q&A session with a New York Times food editor, begins October 4.