US bans import of Vegemite

Reports are coming in that the FDA has banned import of Vegemite, even going so far as to stop and search Australian tourists at the border to relieve them of their yeast-extract goodness. Clearly the FDA has their priorities straight, protecting the US from a product that no American will eat. (Lord knows, I’ve tried to make Jay eat it.) Fortunately, I have enough supply of my favoured hangover cure for at least the next couple of years. I have one jar I’ve had since I first moved here (expiration date: October 2004) and another full jar I haven’t opened yet. Fortunately, the stuff never goes off, and you only use a minute amount at a time.

Man cooks pig


“Eclectician” at Off the Bone is doing the Carnival of Modern Man thing with a level of culinary dedication that is, well, manly. While good friends may recall a certain project that involved “ten pounds of salsa,” this guy cooked 15 pounds of pork for his wedding.

I’m making pork confit, then layering it with duck livers for terrine. Making confit takes 2 days if you’re rendering the fat yourself, the terrine takes another. And yes, doing this makes me feel manly.

It’s not merely the huge piles of meat and fat, nor even the sweetly animal smell that permeates my Brooklyn shoebox after rendering three gallons of lard. It’s that my fiancée thinks I’m crazy for doing this. It’s that I’m doing this at home, in a kitchen far too small for a project this size. It’s the sentiment of “damnit, I will feed the people who come to my wedding, with my own two hands.” But on some level, I’m doing it because I woke up one morning and said to myself, “I’m making terrines for the wedding,” and the thought made something in me growl contentedly. And it is, sad to say, at least partly the joy of being stupid that’s made this project so much fun.

Cooking seems to be one of those activities whose polarity seems to flip unpredictably between the masculine and the feminine. Perhaps it’s only when it’s a “mother feeding her family” scenario is it truly feminine, or perhaps it’s just sugar shock from the Era of Betty Crocker that makes me think that. Whatever gender we give it, I do know that there’s nothing more powerful than that primal maternal feeding instinct. Eclectician seems to hit on something I might label “Atlas Shrugged in the Kitchen”–the hypermasculine theater of culinary triumphalism that says “I must cook this pig today!” Or perhaps more aptly, “me fight pig me win.” I’m thrilled that this impulse has been translated, through the miracle of the democratization of haute cuisine, into “je dois faire les terrine pour le mariage.

Whatever the language, that’s butch. And as far as I’m concerned, hot. Mrs. Eclectrician is a lucky gal–if I’m allowed to make such comments at the Carnival.

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Mango Mania

So the other day I was in my favorite grocery store– New Seasons Market– and as I was wandering around the produce section admiring all the new delights that are starting to trickle in from local farms, I smelled it— the best scent in the world. 

Thing was, I couldn’t quite place what it was.  So I started to approach one thing at a time and take a big whiff in order to pinpoint what I was sure was my favorite scent.  First the melons– no, that wasn’t it.  Then a pinnaple– no, that wasn’t it.  Finally I saw some small peaches and stuck my nose close to the bin– these were it.

The peaches were hard and weren’t organic, so I didn’t get any.  But I understand the excitment that Indians feel when mango season arrives.  This is a great article on the frenzy in Bombay over the real deal. BTW, we are going to be able to get real Indian mangoes in the US soon.  I have read that they are unimaginably better than the mutant commercial lines we are offered here now.

An ode to duckfat

A few weeks ago, Matt and I took advantage of a gift certificate to Cafe Flora, a well-regarded vegetarian restaurant just down the street from our new place. The menu looked almost promising, but as I broke down each potential option to figure out what it might taste like, I kept thinking things like, “that would be good, if only it had some lamb in it,” or, “yum, except risotto without chicken stock? I’m not sure that’s going to be particularly tasty.” Which, yes, I realize defeats the purpose of eating in a vegetarian restaurant, but remember, we were eating there because it was free, not because a meatless dinner sounded appealing. (And to follow up, indeed, the risotto would have been much improved with the inclusion of chicken stock. Flavor is a fine, fine thing)

One of the items in our appetizer plate was a vegetarian pate, which, while tasty on certain levels, lacked the unctuousness and depth of real pate, and just left me sort of pining for a bit of good old duck liver fat. A yearning I could potentially find myself nursing for the rest of my natural life if certain people have their way. It’s not bad enough that California is due to outlaw foie gras production in six years, but Whole Foods is now trying to do in the foie producers even quicker by strong arming their duck supplier Grimaud Farms, also Sonoma Foie Gras’ processor, if they want to continue doing business with the grocery store.

That is so not playing fair. First of all, it’s completely disingenuous to make such a fuss about force feeding ducks as being cruel when the average American eats a chicken that’s spent it’s life with it’s beak ripped off, in a cage it can’t move around in, getting pumped with antibiotics because it’s upstairs neighbor has no choice but to poop on it day in, day out. Compared to the chickens in this country, future plates of foie gras live lives of luxury.

Second of all, if people don’t want to eat foie gras, fine. Don’t. But don’t tell me I can’t eat it either. I don’t tell you you can’t eat e. coli strewn ConAgra produced beef in your Big Mac, and again, it just as cruelly produced, and at least as unhealthy, without being nearly as tasty.

To quote Thomas Keller, a national culinary treasure:

“I hope I’m retired by 2012…If force-feeding a duck is cruel, then packing chickens in a cage is cruel, and then the veal and the beef. We are all going to be vegetarians soon if they have their way. We should probably start converting now.”

Never thought I would say this, but Whole Foods has officially lost this customer.

Randomize Your Life

Just like my thoughts…

when adopting a cat and taking it home, it could be scared and have a tendency to crap all over you and your car. if that does happen the best thing to do is roll down the windows and throw out all the clothes you were wearing that had crap on them. but make sure you get your wallet out of them BEFORE tossing them out the window.

Man, The Cheesecake factory is my new favorite food joint.

My reading list is made by Jon Stewart. I started reading every book I saw on The Daily Show in January… that happened to be a lot and I’ve only managed to get through a weeks worth of book recommendations. So far the best one is also the most eye opening. “No Place to Hide” by Robert O’Harrow, Jr. is a chilling look at how the very low regulated gathering of information by private companies is now being merged with biometrics and purchased by our government.
Costa Vida is a sub-par burrito joint. It’s just my opinion.
Oklahoma and Utah have pretty much the same alcohol laws… but Utah is worse because you have to by a membership at a bar if you want to drink.

5 things that make my head explode: conservative politics, pop music, fox reality shows, the awesomeness of shaun white, the delay again of Windows Vista
Coolest thing I saw this week: a bar sign near the LSU campus advertising a new drink… “Ridick’s Tears” (courtesy of r.randall fransen photography)

Post Oak Houston

Houston gets a bad rap. People think it’s nasty and dirty and hot. They could be right… but not last week, not with the NBA All-Star game in town. Houston was on top of its game (pun intended), weather included.
When I stepped out of the airport on Monday afternoon instead of the 32 degree weather I was told I was going to have I had blue skies and 70 degrees of bliss. No smog, no scorching sun and high humidity, just the most perfect weather you can imagine. The grass was green and evidence of spring was everywhere.

Post Oak is just west of downtown Houston, south of I-10 north of 59 and right off of I-610. There are 3 golf courses (Houston Country Club, Memorial Park Municipal and River Oaks Country Club) within 5 miles but since I’m the worst golfer ever I can’t comment on them. The streets were clean and at the intersections of major streets, suspended in the air, were large faux metal rings with names of the streets illuminated from within. The shopping centers were full of all the usual retail and food suspects but here are some of the standouts of the trip (other than Chipotle).

Hilton Houston Post Oak – the service was just outstanding. The rooms had granite and cherry wood accents throughout. The styling of the hotel was modern and simple but not over the edge of plain. Even waiting for a elevator was nice on the eyes with the leather panel walls and the cherry wood accents on the brushed nickel doors. The staff was very attentive, especially the bartender in the bar downstairs (damn them for not having fat tire beer). With the exception of the tough and chewy Pecan crusted Halibut I had for dinner one night, all of the food was super.

Fogo de Chão – vegetarians beware! If you don’t like the sight of meat then definitely avoid this Brazilian Steakhouse (they do have an all you can eat salad bar but I’ve never been anywhere where lettuce tasted better than any other place, so who cares). They have locations in Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, Washington DC, Beverly Hills, Chicago and 4 in Brazil.

I first experience the one in Dallas several years ago. I was immediately a smitten kitten. The warm cheese bread has just enough cheese in it to taste but not enough to make it too solid. I don’t know how they do it but they manage to keep the consistency of high quality bread with a crispy outside. Sort of like a cheesy bread cream puff. Seriously.

Their website explains their menu better than I so here’s a taste:

“Operating under the unique service concept of espeto corrido, which translates from Portuguese as “continuous service,” Fogo de Chão satisfies palates and the desire for something original. Instead of ordering from a traditional menu, Fogo de Chão offers a prix-fixe system where guests can sample the entire menu, or just focus on their favorite items.

The lunch and dinner menu features unlimited servings of 15 different delectable cuts of fire-roasted meats, a sumptuous buffet of gourmet salads and fresh-cut vegetables, and a variety of Brazilian side dishes.”

Everyone pays the same price which for now is around $45 per plate. Several years ago I remember it was $35 but either way it’s worth every penny to a food lover. And to the owners, I’m sorry I came in in a t-shirt, jeans, and my new balances.

Willie G’s Oyster Bar – this Landry’s joint has been around for over 20 years but only 3 locations. The ambiance was definately not screamin oyster bar (or any oyster bar I’ve ever been to)… unless it’s supposed to be an Oyster bar that the owner hit the PowerBall.

The menu wasn’t vast but it all looked and sounded great. It contained the usual seafood and steak items with Cajun twists.  After having my fat tire spilled in my friend’s lap and a thousand apologies from the waiter, I settled on the fried stuffed shrimp and fries (I have seafood hangups… anytime I have shrimp it has to have fries). The 4 fried stuffed shrimp on my plate were huge. Each were about the size of my palm and they looked like giant hush puppies with tails. I could comment on the how great it was but I was way drunk by the time it actually got there so for all I know it was crap. That’s what happens when you get together with some old drinking buddies.

Sam’s Boat – I didn’t eat but I did drink… a lot. It felt wierd being in a college bar many years out of school. My partner in crime agreed. The ambiance was very dock party. Live band, easy women and cheap beer was my idea of heaven 7 years ago but I’d like to think I’ve refined past that.  But I can’t lie, the cheap beer was a nice change ;0)