Thursday, December 18, 2008

Top Chef: Catching Up

Last week's Top Chef made some pretty serious gaffs, the most egregious of them Fabio's knowledge of the color wheel. Listen to me, and listen to me closely: Fabio. is. not. charming. A few years ago, B and T discovered that my impersonation of an Italian accent insinuates that I think Italians are borderline pedophiles, and, of course, I've stubbornly stood my ground. Unbeknownst to them (until now, I assume), I really did think it's a ridiculous impersonation, but NOW (!) I feel absolutely vindicated by Sir Fabio.

In all seriousness, last week Fabio's team was assigned 'blue' in the Gail-Simmons-Bridal-Shower challenge and, instead of stretching his imagination to sea-inspired foodstuffs, he chose to pervert the idea of a color wheel. Apparently, green swiss chard plus yellow corn puree equals blue. Here's a picture of a color wheel, in case we don't remember our primary school lessons. Blue is a primary color. Green plus yellow make yellow-green. Discuss.

It's no secret that I hate Fabio, but what I hate more is how women act around him on the show. First of all, a woman's bridal shower is not the 'most important meal' of her life--a little more perspective, please? Usually, women are eating this meal with absurd ribbons and bows plastered embarrassingly to her head, so clearly any matter of taste has already been discarded with yesterday's rubbish. Second, the giggling at Fabio's accent and (again!) 'charm' makes me want to punch every one of them in their ovaries. Swooning at an Italian accent?--talk about cliches.

But he's fading, and, apparently, so is the charm. I guess women only like successful Italians.
Ariane's the new star because she knows how to cook a piece of meat damn well. The Thanksgiving turkey, last week's lamb, and last night's quickfire beef. I'm not going to slam her for the simplicity of cooking a piece of meat well, but shouldn't cooking meat well be considered a given at their stage? I think that the accompaniments have been more interesting in each case, and have been thinking about cauliflower puree ever since last night's episode. I decided to whip some up for dinner tonight and it was really delish, so here's the recipe:

Cauliflower Puree
  • 1 head of cauliflower, roughly chopped into florets
  • 3 shallots, chopped finely
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large green chili, minced
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 potatoes
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken stock
  • 3 tbsp sour cream
  • 2-3 scallions

Saute the shallots, garlic, and chili in the butter until shallots appear clear. In the meantime, boil the chopped potatoes in some water. Add the cauliflower and chicken stock to the shallots' mixture, bring to a boil over high heat and then lower to a simmer until cauliflower is very tender (about 10-15 minutes). After potatoes are nice and tender as well, drain them from their water and add to the tender cauliflower. At this point, take it off of the heat, add salt and pepper to taste, as well as the sour cream. Mash with a potato masher, or add the ingredients to a food processor and blend until smooth. Sprinkle with diced scallions for garnish.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Wheat and West Wing

It's been especially difficult for me to write this week. There are old tasks piling up, ongoing tasks continuing, and new tasks for which to wait with dread. But, when I don't feel motivated about political science, or forget why I chose this path, I watch the West Wing. I began watching this show while I was working in D.C., where once upon a time, I was the girl taking her LSAT and planning on making a difference by going down that very wide path of law school. Then I started loving the show, I started internalizing the characters' dilemmas, and I started agonizing about the show's topics long after the credits had run at the end of the hour.

And then I finally started exhibiting symptoms of the sickness calling addiction. I watched episode upon episode, sometimes with earphones on my laptop so I wouldn't disturb my roommate with the 6th episode of the night at 4am. I started lying to my then-boyfriend about other engagements, just to get some time alone to watch an episode. I stopped tasting my food properly; I'm serious about this one--I started eating quickly during commercial breaks, or stayed so engrossed in the dialogue that I'd chew mindlessly.

I decided at some point in that oddly dark stage that I wanted to study politics. I thought that maybe a Ph.D. would somehow get me closer to living the lives of the White House senior staff I'd grown very--fictitiously--attached to. I guess I didn't know how exactly to become them, but I thought a) you had to be smart to get there and b) it had to be hard get there. And I'd heard that you had to be smart to get a Ph.D. and it was hard to get a Ph.D., so maybe, just maybe, getting one might get me street cred with the other. (On a side note, I once met Bradley Whitford at a reception in D.C. and was frighteningly close to seeming like one of those cat ladies who thinks that soap operas are real--smooth, really.) Anyway, that's what I thought (and why I couldn't stay in D.C.) and now that I'm closer to getting the Ph.D. I'm realizing that it's not helping me get closer to that world at all. In fact, law probably would have been a better choice. Because while academics and lawyers can both be incredibly invested in being right, lawyers do it with a sense of urgency--at some point a lawyer could stop and say, we're going with what we've got because at some point you have make a decision to move on, rule a verdict, file charges, help people.

I think we've lost that sense of urgency in academia. I think long-tenured minds are often found out to pasture experimenting in left field because they realized that this gig is only good if you take advantage of getting paid to read and write about what you're really interested in. I think newly tenured-minds are still ailing from the competitiveness bug and trying to distinguish themselves so that when they go out to pasture, they've gone there with others' respect. I think young, non-tenured faculty are too scared trying to prove that they weren't an accidental hire that they're too scared or professionally obsessed to have any vision beyond the tenure track.

And there's a way that this all relates to the West Wing, after all. Because my husband, whom I met in this same Ph.D. program, is going to law school now. And I decided that I loved him during a West Wing marathon session, a binge relapse a few months into graduate school when I had some blinding side pain and my best friend from college, Be, came up to visit. We stayed indoors, me laying down on my couch, eating lots of fried food, and watched episode after episode of the big WW. It was during this session that I thought more about my now-husband-friend/then-just-friend and realized that he could have those discussions that they have on this show and--while it would definitely be a slower show because he's veeeeery careful with his words--the integrity would be the same. And I realized that I was glad he was going to law school, because more people who could have conversations like that needed to. So he's still new at it, but it looks like he's headed to D.C. already, and I'm really proud of him.

So I guess you could say that I fell in love my husband because he reminded me of my favorite television show. Sounds a little crazy when you say it like that, huh? Anyway, I know this is veering off into the personal, but I just watched a good episode of WW (another relapse, I'm afraid) and it made me sentimental. And if you've read this blog more than once, I figure you might be interested in some of the chaos behind the curtain.

Ah, and the connection to this blog is that it was the most recent episode of WW tonight that motivated me to finally return to this blog. I can't write a chapter I'm supposed to be revising and so I watched the WW. And in this episode, there was a great discussion on wheat and the miracle that it brought to India in the 1970s. I didn't know of this, but apparently the main problem with India's wheat levels originated from the inefficiency of a type of wheat whose stalk keeled over when it grew high. Now, that's mindboggling to me--that a whole country can be in famine because of a plant's particular relationship with water and the sun. But it's also amazing that India was brought out of famine, not by humanitarian aide and not because of charity, but because scientists by the names of Dr. M.S. Swaminathan and Dr. N.E. Borlaug discovered a type of wheat that would stay short, not fall over, and yield high amounts and this research stayed in India, enabling Indians, themselves, the ability to create wheat as a survival crop.

It's bittersweet to learn about these--what WW called--"miracles" because, on the one hand, it reminds me that politics can take a back seat to the fundamentals of scientific advancement and humanity; on the other hand, it really makes me angry about the state of science and politics today. The WW episode discussed the sale of affordable, generic HIV medications, but there's also stem cell research, drug rehabilitation, and health insurance... just to name a few.

I really wonder what our 'wheat miracle' would look like.

P.S. I was kidding when I said that's why I had to leave D.C.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Top Chef (Season 5; Episode 3): this post is brought to you by... soup

After a busy holiday weekend--75% of which was spent driving up and down the east coast--and emotional check-ins with family back home, I finally have a chance to sit down and post an update. Because so much time has lapsed, and thoughts have accumulated, this post is in 3 parts: Top Chef, Thanksgiving, and a freakin'-fantastic-recipe I tried a few days ago. In one of those seemingly predetermined moments of coincidence, I realized that all three topics I wanted to talk about have one very simple food in common: soup.

Top Chef...
The Quickfire Challenge asked our contestants to beget soup, inspired by other chefs' notable recipes in previous seasons compiled in the Top Chef cookbook. They certainly contrived some wonderful recipes, the white asparagus topping them off. Soups aren't easy to make (I should know, I have a damn 2 quarts of a disasterous attempt to soup-up canned pumpkin in my fridge right now--which is not, incidentally, the recipe I'll post below. That was pure delight.), and these chefs really did demonstrate inspiration, instead of pureeing the entrees they'd already begun to prepare before the soup-twist was thrown at them. What debased this creativity, however, was the latest of Bravo's shameless sponsorship exploits. Each chef was asked to use Swanson's Vegetable, Chicken or Beef Stock in what can only be documented as the most embarrassing product plug in the history of television. To top it all off, each chef replugged the stock while describing what he/she had made--obediently repeating the Swanson brand, in sing-song for the producers' ears. Add this to the cookbook plug, Kenmore appliances, Mac products, Saturn vehicles, and so much more. I wouldn't be surprised if we started seeing Padma in some accessories from the Project Runway design room.

When I was younger, I attended a small, private, primary school because my immigrant parents thought that it was the ticket to a better life in this country and worked numerous jobs each to afford the ridiculous tuition it charged. I was miserable there, to put it mildly--I was the only non-white, non-WASP child (except for one Jew and one Cuban) in the entire school, I lied about being Christian so I could fit in until I was caught not knowing any of the songs at a classmate's communion, and I threw up every day on the ride to school for months (not in the eating disorder kind of way, but more of the 'I can't show up to school covered in vomit' variety--didn't work, my parents were too clever and packed extra clothing). I digress. Point is, I hated that place--mostly because the other students were racist, spoiled, and, honestly, dumb as bricks. But there's one memory that I still recall fondly from those years and it was the school's tradition of Stone Soup.

Stone Soup is an old Grimm Brothers' tale that tells the story of two soldiers making a pilgrimage home after serving in a war. On the way, they stop in a village and ask its villagers for handouts, as they've run out of provisions. Each house snubs the soldiers, ignoring their service and selfishly claiming they have no food to share. The soldiers then take up a cauldron in the middle of the village square, and try to look their busiest as they stir warm water with nothing but a single stone mixed in. As villagers pass by, their curiosity gets the best of them and they ask what the soldiers are making. Stone soup! they exclaim, lamenting that their specialty just needs a bit of onion, or a single potato, or a pinch of herbs (you get the point) to reach its potential. To the soldiers' delight, each villager agrees to pitch in the 'missing' ingredient, in return for a helping of the promised perfection. And, in this way, a hearty, delicious soup is made (and enjoyed) by the entire village and its two cunning visitors.

On the last day of school before Thanksgiving break, our entire grade school (K-6, 140 kids) would gather in a clearing in the forest behind our campus. We'd all sit on logs arranged in a circle, around a single cauldron in the middle. The youngest student in the school would ceremonially place a single stone in the pot to kick off the tradition, and each student would then walk up to the pot and place some ingredient that he/she had been assigned inside. While the pot simmered, we'd listen to my favorite kindegarten teacher, Mrs. Hays, read us the story of Stone Soup and then we'd feast. And for that single day each year, for 5 years, I could momentarily sit in that forest and forget that the little shits sitting next me on our log made fun of my last name, my parents' accents, or the lunches I brought to school. For one day, we all ate each other's meal and I realized more and more over the years that spice was something to be celebrated--it's just that none of them knew any better.

Gingered Carrot Soup...
I must still associate soup with that sort of temporary comfort, because when things got particularly bad one cold night a few days ago and I was dreading the reality of what completing my dissertation will entail and feeling remiss that my partner is no longer in the same graduate program to commiserate with and regretting making all sorts of decisions that led me to this career path and shut the doors on others, I decided to dump my sorrows in a pot and make huge vat of gingered carrot soup. There were many ingredients, numerous steps, and much detail, but I'm telling you--when you feel like you've completely lost control over your own life and desperately think you're dependent on whims of fate, there's nothing like successfully making a really tasty, hearty soup that will last you for at least 9 meals. Every sip I took of this soup for the rest of the week reminded me that I can, in fact, complete things I set out to do on my own.

2 lbs carrots, peeled and chopped into 1 inch pieces
4 cups chicken broth, low sodium and fat free
1 tbsp butter
1.5 cups chopped onion
4 medium cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp freshly grated ginger
1.5 tsp salt
1/4 tsp each: cumin
ground fennel
dried mint
4 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 cup lightly toasted cashews

1) Place the chopped carrots in a saucepan with the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until very tender (takes about 10-15 minutes).
2) In the meantime, heat the butter in a skillet. Add the onions and saute for a few minutes, until they start to soften. Then add the garlic, ginger, salt, and spices. Saute the mixture for another 10 minutes and then stir in the lemon juice.
3) Puree the onion mixture, boiled carrots (including the chicken broth) and toasted cashews together in a food processor or blender (you might have to do this in batches). Add water or milk to achieve the consistency you desire, because the recipe as is makes a very thick, creamy puree.
4) Enjoy--it's good for the soul.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


As the attacks on Mumbai continue, I'm thankful that my family back home is all accounted for and safe. Everyone is shaken--at the span, coordination and intensity of these assaults. And now, as we wait for resolve of some sort, I'm sure the city is holding its breath for the next phase that will inevitably follow. This city is sadly all too familiar with communal backlash that happens in moments like this, where the real perpetrators become conflated with communities they have no business trying to represent or speak for. And fear and frustration translate into hatred in order to feel some semblance of control in such chaos.

But as the nauseating media over here continues to describe this as an attack on Westerners, the violence against those in cinemas, hospitals, and train stations clearly means that this is a coordinated assault on humanity.

We're about to leave our home to spend Thanksgiving with family in NC, specifically an aunt and uncle who worked for years at the Taj in Mumbai. They've just learned that their best friend, the executive chef at the hotel, died this morning after being shot point blank, as well as another friend who was the general manager...along with his wife and kids. As stories like this start to trickle in, it makes me painfully aware how thankful I am for my family being safe, around the world, but how many more families are dreading similar news.

My thoughts are with that city, in its entirety.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Top chef (Season 5; Episode 2): No dessert for me, thanks.

Something that continues to puzzle me through 4 entire seasons of Top Chef is the contestants' aversion towards making desserts.  If you're applying to be on this show, either you've watched it diligently yourself, or you should do your research--either way, you'll discover that dessert is always each chef's achilles heel (note: with the exception of Marisa, the pastry chef from Season 4, who failed to win any popularity points).  You know there's going to be an episode where there's high likelihood that you'll end up on the 'dessert team' or that a quickfire will ask you to pair a dessert with some sort of liquor that is sponsoring Bravo. Why, then, do these contestants not prepare a few signature desserts--each!--before appearing on the show?

The politics between pastry chefs and what are called 'regular' chefs--assigning a normative bias to the latter at the outset--are pretty well-documented.  While baking is almost a science, non-baking cooking is seen as a more creative endeavor, allowing chefs to showcase their inspiration and talent.  The fact that dessert is often so much more than 'baking' gets ignored in these internal industry wars, and as pastry chefs are disparagingly called 'bakers' who simply know how to follow recipes to a tee, their salaries go down and it becomes very difficult to move beyond the pastry partition in most professional kitchens.  

This tension between creativity and precision resembles the ongoing feud between the
 humanities (and social sciences) and the hard sciences in academia.  I'll admit it, while I probably wouldn't want anyone from the engineering quad waxing politics in policy meetings, I also wouldn't want a political scientist within 76 feet of something that could potentially explode.   Both are important departments; education in the liberal arts bridges this divide for an important reason.  I'm just saying that I wouldn't apply to a contest that I know has asked contestants to build reactors in the past, expecting to win by simply crossing my fingers and hoping that my feminist interpretation of immigration politics would be enough.  

I think that the person who should have gone home yesterday was inexplicably given a second chance because we never expect these chefs to be able to do desserts well. Well, there's a decent dessert and then there's this: 

On a completely different note, Fabio (our Italian) repeated the following "Italian saying" twice yesterday: "In Italian they say, it doesn't matter how many dragon you kill, it's who take home the princess.  So I go for the princess." [translation: his]  I can't stand that the judges find this sexist jerk to be charming.  Thank god I had two European (men, I should add) sitting next to me on the couch watching this episode; after Fabio had treated us to more words, one of my friends couldn't help himself: "Oh, shut the hell up." 

Monday, November 17, 2008

Drinking through a crisis

The United States, in the midst of this financial crisis, will not abandon our commitments to people in the developing world; that the HIV/AIDS initiative, known as PEPFAR, will remain strong and vibrant; that our deep desire to significantly reduce malaria deaths in countries on the continent of Africa will not be diminished; that our obligation to help feed the hungry will not stop; that in the midst of all this turmoil and financial crisis, we will meet our obligations. These obligations are in our national security interests and our economic security interests and they in--are in our moral interests. --GWB, 11.15.2008

This is an excerpt from President-defect Bush's address to international dignitaries at the World Financial Summit on Saturday--a gathering (humbly) aimed at fixing the world's current financial crisis. His speech made three main points: 1) we must promote economic growth 2) we must adapt financial industry regulations to 21st century standards and 3) we need to reject protectionism and refrain from erecting trade barriers.

Now, Bush is no James Joyce, but some of these state leaders may have had a difficult time making sense of his speech, considering their menu from the previous night. On Friday evening, these same dignitaries were hosted at a State Dinner with the following menu:
  • fruitwood-smoked quail with quince gastrique
  • quinoa risotto
  • thyme-roasted rack of lamb
  • tomato, fennel and eggplant fondue
  • a salad course of endive, baked brie and walnuts
  • pear torte
I'm not arguing that State Dinners should be 'macaronis au fromage avec le boeuf,' but it's well known that these dinners are paid for by tax dollars (as opposed to personal dinners at the White House, the groceries for which are paid for by the President himself). When you're discussing launching the $700 billion bailout that's asking individual taxpayers with mortgage crises that are increasingly transitioning into food-on-the-table woes, indulging on wine at $500 a bottle seems absolutely immoral. Quail, lamb, fondue and brie... well, that's just rubbing it in.

You can read the rest of Bush's speech here. I, for one, cannot wait for January 20th--the day where I no longer have to listen to a president who sounds, on his best days, like a 6 year old who just fell off the monkey bars, nailed his nuts on the see-saw, and then tries to tell us he did it all on purpose.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Top Chef (Season 5; Episode 1)

My post-election fog has lifted (slightly), because I'm happy to say that the fifth season of Top Chef has finally arrived. Anyone who knows me reasonably well knows that this show affects my bio-rhythm in its entirety--I measure my sleep, plant my crops, and take my meals according to this show. Have you ever watched this show and thrown something at your television after an upset victory, or jumped off your couch after someone corruptly turns off a fellow contestants' burners? For the next three months, you can count on this space to discuss--what else?--the politics of Top Chef.

Episode #1:

1. the army wife. lauren's husband is serving in iraq, making the role of army spouse an official contender in the realm of identity politics catered to by reality television. or the war has affected so many people in the last 5 years that the odds landed an army spouse on the show. either way, it's clear that the war has continued to ravage lives around the globe and that's pretty disheartening.

2. playing the "ethnic" card. radhika says in one moment that she doesn't want to be stereotyped as the indian chef who makes curries with a bunch of spices; almost immediately afterwards she's off making chutney because that's what she knows how to do. we see a lot of this on this show--certain chefs are pidgeonholed into a type of cuisine and the esteemed panel of judges doesn't hesitate to completely essentialize regions of the world and make egregious claims that contestants should challenge themselves by cooking outside of their 'asian' comfort zone. seriously? i think it's particularly irritating when we use an arbitrary u.s. census category to cluster completely different cultures under one insulting label, but then to insinuate that their palates are also indistinguishable? that's akin to asking padma to stop wearing dresses because they all look the same.

3. speaking of essentialism. the challenge asked these chefs to find inspiration from neighborhoods in nyc that are so ridiculously eclectic themselves, i was baffled. chinese, indian, middle eastern... these judges were on a roll. i want to know how a dish smothered in something called 'masala sauce' wins accolades when masala literally just means spices. also, since when is little india considered to be curry hill on lexington ave. in
manhattan? i think any indian in the ny/nj metro area remembers weekend trips out to jackson heights, queens, where restaurants and few street vendors and bangles' shops lining a short section of street aren't considered to be an ethnic community. the 'little' prefix has a special place in urban history and it carries with it stories of settler-narratives, mono-lingual comfort, and marginalized ghettoization. there's a reason that indians from all over the u.s. are known to make a pilgrimage to queens and not curry hill--the variety and authenticity you find in that maze of streets is often heralded as the closest an indian in the american diaspora can get to the homeland they left behind.Link
4. team rainbow. top chef has a rich history of gay pride and while i think their casting director may have been personally scorned by a lesbian in the past, it's always great to see that a good number (this season: 3) of contestants feel comfortable enough on this network or in this industry to wear their sexuality with pride.

5. global citizens. there's some anti-americanism/anti-europeanism brewing in the flat and i'm laying down bets on how bad it's going to get. it's been launched by an alliance between the finnish and the italian making fun of the overweight new-yawkah and he's certainly lashing back. first, since when do finland and italy see eye to eye on anything, except maybe how much they both hate immigration? second, i suppose it's refreshing that the casting department didn't fall back on the old, reliable stereotype of frenchies insulting american chefs. talk about thinking outside the box.

It's definitely going to be an interesting season!
And on top of it all, we have head judge, Tom
Colicchio, introducing us to the concept of being 'fat-fit'--how in god's name does he manage it?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Last Suppers

I've been the teaching assistant for an undergraduate class called Prisons two years in a row. In sections, our discussions invariably turn to what prisoners "deserve" and, predictably, many students make zero-sum arguments about limited resources and the mere idea of prisoners receiving more translates into the rest of us receiving less. It wasn't a far cry from Marxism if one deigned to think that maybe, just maybe, the welfare state in the U.S. was too weak to provide rights for all, and instead encouraged this sort of base competition for rights among citizens. Often the discussion would turn to food, and how it's often used by prison authorities as a weapon. Nutritional legislation requires certain minimum caloric intakes, but that's interpreted liberally by authorities who want to punish bad behavior with dietary restrictions. The superintendent from a nearby maximum security penitentiary bragged that giving prisoners "the loaf" single-handedly stopped the practice of prisoners throwing feces on their guards.

But meals play another important role in correctional facilities, particularly when we start thinking about "last meals" afforded to death row inmates. In debates over whether modern societies should still use the death penalty, or what particular means to death should be allowed, the ritual of a prisoner's last requests is rarely discussed. Typically, inmates are granted a final meal 'within reasonable limits' that is often prepared by prisoners themselves. Often there's a disparity between what prisoners receive in actuality and what the prisons report on their websites or in their press releases. The public could hardly be bothered by the daily content of these inmates' diets, but news of their last meal meets morbid curiosity. Some examples of recent inmates meals:

  • Charles Edward Smith--nine tacos, nine enchiladas, french fries, a salad with ranch dressing, beef fajitas, a bowl of picante sauce, a bowl of shredded cheese, six jalapeno peppers, a strawberry cake with strawberry frosting and 16 Pepsi's.
  • Clyde Smith, Jr.--a cheeseburger.
  • Ivan Murphy-- four pieces of fried chicken, five pieces of deep fried fish, four deep fried breaded pork chops, extra-large order of french fries, large order of onion rings, ketchup, tartar sauce, one pint of Blue Bell Moollennium Crunch ice cream, two quarts of chocolate milk.
I can't figure out what bothers me most about listing off details of executed men's last meals like that. It could be the fact that the only reason we care what these individuals were eating is merely the fact that the state was about to take their lives immediately after the meals' consumption. Or it could have to do with the eery similarity between menus; the requests don't correlate with inmates' crimes, but they do seem to reflect a certain geographical contiguity. The majority of the states that still employ capital punishment are southern and so repeated requests for fried or barbequed items with cornbread and other southern side dishes all serve as stark reminders that this country's federal structure has enabled very distinct legal cultures to evolve regionally.

I'm guessing what bothers me most, though, is where I got the information-- the site that collects this information on inmates' last meals, Dead Man Eating. It lists each meal before a graphic description of the crime for which the prisoner was executed and does so in such a flippant way that you can't figure out whether the site is for or against the use of capital punishment. The worst part of the site advertises its own merchandise--most disturbingly amongst the lot, a thong--with the following slogan scrawled across each: Dead Man Eating... looking for a killer meal?

While some early societies had the superstitious predisposition towards feeding those who were about to die in order to appease their spirits in the afterlife and deter them from haunting their murderers from the beyond, it seems that the last meal is now imposed upon prisoners as a final attempt at redemption... on the state's behalf. Take, for example, the last request of James Edward Smith, who asked for a lump of dirt; he was denied and settled for a small cup of yoghurt. Apparently the state only abides by last requests that flatter its own potential as a benefactor--to rationalize taking men's lives, it must appear to do so begrudgingly, not smugly.

And where do our dear presidential candidates fall on capital punishment? Both of them support the death penalty, but Obama's record as a state legislator in Illinois shows that he simultaneously fought for reform against wrongful convictions and supported IL's moratorium against capital punishment until the system could be fixed. He also partnered with law enforcement officials to require videotaping interrogations and confessions. I find it interesting that most supporters don't seem to be bothered that his veep pick was the author of a bill in 1994 that expanded the application of the death penalty to federal, non-violent drug traffickers, certainly compromising Obama's position of reform. Is reform too idealistic? Is drug trafficking just that awful? Or do we just not care how much of an outlier the U.S. is in relations to other democracies that have promoted abolition for ages?

While numerous other societies have long believed that a shift from authoritarianism to democracy requires the abolition of practices such as capital punishment, some of our states proudly post their executed inmates' last meals on websites of their Departments of Criminal Justice. Three cheers for democracy, right?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Kitchen Operative

Join me for a moment in imagining the day and age when an extremely tall, striking female who once played basketball for her college team, and made her living by parading her femininity on the national stage, pledged to do whatever she could to serve her country in a time of war. Julia Child was, indeed, a formidable woman. Were you thinking of someone else?

After graduating from Smith College, Child took different writing jobs and moved home to California to take care of her ailing mother before deciding to offer her services to the U.S. government in its time of need during World War II. Originally assigned secretarial duties with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS, the predecessor to the CIA) headquarters in D.C., she was subsequently assigned to the agency's Emergency Sea Rescue Equipment Section. While working with this subsection, Child developed shark repellent to coat explosives that were targeting German U-boats, because the bombs were falling victim to curious sharks who would bump into them underwater and unintentionally set them off.

The most effective deterrent for sharks is the odor of a dead shark's body. When asked in her later years how her love of cooking was ignited, she referred to her days working on shark repellent, but claimed that it was used to coat servicemen who had to spend considerable amount of time submerged under water. When the CIA recently released classified files identifying the names of 24,000 spies, the use of Child's recipe for assistance with explosives was clearly outlined. The recipe itself has never been divulged, but Child did not necessarily have to fool around with dessicated shark corpse in her Navy kitchen; apparently, certain copper compounds, such as copper sulfate or copper acetate, can also emit a similar odor that repels the bumbling fish.

Child only later moved on to discover the French culinary experience after moving to Paris in 1948. Her recipes have since been immortalized in American kitchens, while her own kitchen has literally become (part of) an American institution--currently on display at the Smithsonian. It's hard to imagine that the author of this classic recipe for French Roast Chicken began cooking by basting explosives aimed at enemy vessels.

The French Chef's obsession with smell persisted throughout her career, even if she became more interested in infusing her recipes with the odors of reduced wine and garlic than the stink of dead shark. Still, she was an odd one:

Julia Child on the nuance of smells...

Monday, October 6, 2008

Palin's wine sales

Things have been a bit crazy around here, so here's a little something to keep your gastropolitical tastebuds active, courtesy of a friend of mine, courtesy of seriouseats:

"'It was our best selling wine before (the V.P. announcement),' said Chris Tavelli, Yield Wine Bar, which has offered Palin Syrah, a certified organic wine from Chile, by the glass since July. But after Sen. John McCain tagged Sarah Palin as his running mate, sales of the wine with the conservative's inverted name plummeted—not surprising in famously liberal San Francisco. owner of

As with the GOP ticket, the Palin falls second in the lineup. The wine’s tasting note reads as it did when Tavelli wrote it months ago: white pepper, madrone, dry. Incidentally, a madrone is an evergreen found primarily in the Pacific Northwest that bears red berries in the fall. When the berries dry up, they are replaced by hooked barbs that latch onto large animals for migration."

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

VP Debate Menu- Bon Appetit!

I apologize for not keeping my promise of posting recipes every Monday and Wednesday, especially because a lot of you have told me that you not only enjoyed the goat curry recipe, but some of you actually tried it--kudos! In addition to my apologies, I offer you not one, but three recipes that you might want to try out tomorrow night in honor of the VP debate.

I can't think of many things Alaska and Delaware have in common besides crabs and lighthouses.

Cocktail: The Lighthouse
The Lighthouse is a drink that reminds me of a rowdy, very political friend of mine in college who lit his face on fire with his first flaming shot. He was fine and we laughed about it afterwards, but then we lost him in Iraq and I'm really sorry he won't be able to enjoy Obama and Biden kick ass in this election. So this recipe's for him--R.I.P., K.
  • 1/3 oz. Kahlua
  • 1/3 oz. Baileys
  • 1/3 oz. 151 proof rum
Pour kahlua into a shot glass. With a spoon, slowly pour irish cream into the shot glass on top of the kahlua. Pour the 151 rum, again with the spoon, slowly on top of the irish cream and light on fire. Blow flame out before drinking. (seriously, don't forget!)

Starter: Masala Crab Cakes
Crab cakes are a classic, but I always think they can use a little spice (read a metaphor into this if you will). This is a slightly modified version of Anjum Anand's recipe and the closest I could find to what our wedding caterers must use in their restaurant--and, sweet jesus, they're tasty.
  • 4 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 3 scallions, chopped
  • thumb-sized piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • ¼-½ tsp red chilli powder
  • salt, to taste
  • 1 tsp fresh ground peppercorns
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • a few fresh coriander leaves and stalks, chopped
  • 14oz prepared crab meat
  • 1 large egg
  • 2½ tbsp mayonnaise
  • 2 cups breadcrumbs
  • 6 thai green chilies, chopped
For the tamarind mayonnaise
  • 80g/3oz mayonnaise
  • 50ml/2fl oz milk
  • salt, to taste
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp tamarind paste, or to taste
  • handful fresh coriander leaves and stalks, chopped
  • lightly dressed salad leaves, to serve

1. Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/Gas 3.
2. Heat half the oil in a non-stick pan and fry the onion for about four minutes, or until soft. Add the ginger and garlic and cook for another 40 seconds. Stir in the coriander, red chilli powder, salt and garam masala and cook for another 20 seconds then take off the heat. Place into a large bowl.
3. Add the lemon juice, fresh coriander, crab, egg and mayonnaise to the onion mixture in the bowl. Stir well and add the breadcrumbs. Divide into eight equal portions and form each into a circular shape.
4. Heat one tbsp of oil in a non-stick pan and cook the crab cakes in batches over a low moderate heat for about two minutes on each side, or until golden brown adding more oil as needed.
5. Place the cooked crab cakes on a baking tray and place them into the oven to stay warm while you cook the others.
6. For the tamarind mayonnaise, place all the tamarind mayonnaise ingredients into a bowl and whisk together. Season to taste.
7. To serve, take the warm crab cakes out of the oven, put them on a plate and serve with a spoonful of the tamarind mayonnaise.

Entree: Amtrak New York Strip Steak
Did you know that Biden takes the Amtrak home to Delaware every night after session ends in D.C.? If you've missed that, you must have been out cold since he was picked as veep--and, even then, I feel like they're whispering it in coma-patients' ears or something. I thought we'd serve up an entree he must miss now that he's on the campaign trail and flying/busing everywhere. I refuse, however, to offer the recipe for either of the sauces they offer with the steak. Seriously: "please select either a green peppercorn sauce or crushed plum tomato sauce to enhance your entree" [emphasis added, but are they freakin' serious??] No way, no how.

  • Steak
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Olive Oil
Pat the steak dry. Season with salt and pepper, to taste, on both sides. Place on well-oiled hot grill and cook for 4 minutes on each side for medium rare. Adjust cooking times to your liking.

Dessert: Beehive Cake
And, finally, something sweet and light (hearted, at least) to help us stomach the nonsense we're going to hear. Remember when there were conspiracy theories flying around about Bush wearing an ear-piece, aiding and abetting his performance during his debates against Kerry? I'm thinking Palin's beehive could hide some stuff. Just sayin'...

Here's a fun recipe, courtesy of Williams-Sonoma:
  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 16 Tbs. (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 tsp. lemon zest
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

For the glaze:

  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 1/2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp. salt

For the quick buttercream:

  • 4 Tbs. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 1 Tbs. milk
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt

For the royal icing:

  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 2 to 3 tsp. milk

Sugar honeybees for decorating (optional)

Have all the ingredients at room temperature. Position a rack in the lower third of an oven and preheat to 325°F. Grease and flour a beehive cake pan; tap out excess flour.

To make the cake, over a sheet of waxed paper, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy and smooth, about 1 minute. Add the granulated sugar and lemon zest and continue beating until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs a little at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla just until incorporated, about 30 seconds.

Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the milk and beginning and ending with the flour. Beat each addition just until incorporated, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the lemon juice and beat for 30 seconds.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, spreading the batter so the sides are higher than the center. Bake until the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 55 to 60 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the glaze: In a small saucepan over medium heat, stir together the honey, lemon juice and salt and bring just to a simmer, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Tap the cake pan gently on a work surface to loosen the cake. Set the rack over a sheet of waxed paper, invert the pan onto the rack and lift off the pan. Using a pastry brush, brush the warm cake with the glaze. Let the cake cool completely, at least 2 hours, before assembling and decorating.

To make the buttercream, in a small bowl, using a handheld mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. Add the confectioners' sugar, milk, vanilla and salt and continue beating until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes more.

To make the royal icing, in a small bowl, stir together the confectioners' sugar and the 2 tsp. milk until smooth. If necessary, add more milk 1/2 tsp. at a time until the icing is thick but still pourable.

Stand one half of the cooled cake vertically on its base. Using a serrated knife, level the flat side of the cake by trimming off 1/8 to 1/4 inch from the edge. Repeat with the other cake half.

Using an offset spatula, spread a thin layer of buttercream, about 1/2 cup, on the cut side of one of the cake halves. Place the cut side of the other cake half against the frosted side and gently press to secure the two halves; using the spatula, smooth the buttercream at the seam.

Using a large spatula, carefully transfer the cake to a serving platter. Drizzle with the royal icing, making sure to cover the frosted seams of the beehive. Decorate with sugar honeybees.

Phew! Enjoy.

Feminism's a wild game

These little Palin tidbits are like vials of crack and the media's our pusher. Are we, as a nation, so completely and hopelessly struck with ADD that our news networks don't think we can sit through more than 10 minutes of questions with such a high profile candidate? Here's the latest, courtesy of CBS and its latest ploy to boost ratings.

Let's break this down a bit, shall we?
Climate Change: I formed a subcabinet to deal with it and it doesn't matter whether it's man-made (read: I don't like blame when it's pointed at my party, but did Obama invent the SUV? Because then I'd like to get back to you)
Abortion: I want a culture of life in this country and would counsel women to choose life over an abortion; I don't want women to go to jail for having an abortion (read: Choose is a conjugated what-of-what now, Katie? Heavens no! I don't support choice--that's those other folks over there. Yes, I want to make abortion illegal, but only for those nasty liberal doctors who perform abortions--not for the women who choose to get them.)
Homosexuality: I'm not going to judge gay people (read: now I'm using that word 'choice' correctly-- right, Katie?)

And, of course, feminism: I'm a feminist because I provided wild game for my family (read: I'm a hunter AND a gatherer--take that, Hillary!)

Did anyone else think that we'd one day see the mother from Bobby's World running for the second highest office in the country? I'd rather have Brian from Family Guy, and, if you don't watch the show, he's a dog.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Hot Dogs

Meet Daisy.

This adorable pug belongs to a friend of mine, and she can chase her tail up to 47 clockwise and counter-clockwise rotations (and that's *rotations*--when you factor in how many circles she spins each way, you're looking at 47 x 6 and that's, well, mindboggling). Daisy's adorable, there's no question about it--but what exactly is it about these domesticated heroes that spawns such international anti-dog meat politics?

Various countries around the world have been known to offer dog meat as a meat option on their menus; while they're mostly concentrated in the Southeast Asian region, this controversial meat is also favored in certain German, Swiss, Mexican and Nigerian communities. By now, we know that these animals aren't skinned alive by their owners for soiling the living room rug or turned into supper if their barking is bothering the neighbors--dog meat has become an industry and certain breeds are farmed for meat, while others are raised for 'pet' purposes. Then why is there such an outcry when dog meat is mentioned as part of a national cuisine, the likes of which is enough to spawn governmental regulation, international social movements and underground markets?

The Chinese government banned dog meat this summer in Olympics-designated restaurants and strongly suggested that other food outlets in Beijing follow stead. The reasoning? Beijing News quotes the municipal food department as saying that the measure was implemented to "respect the habits of many countries and nationalities." Interesting, considering people are visiting China and eating dog meat happens to be one of the many habits that that particular country and its nationality entertain. (FYI, it was available elsewhere in China, because B had some dog-soup when he was there in July. Soup wouldn't exactly be the way I'd try a meat for the first time, as broth is just about the most unforgiving of reductions, but that's neither here nor there. I love how experimental my partner is!) What exactly qualifies as a practice so offensive that people who choose to come to your country should be humored and have their sensitivities prioritized to the point where restaurants who violate the regulation would be so heavily sanctioned by their own government as to put them out of business? And this isn't the first time: in 2002, animal rights activists around the world petitioned FIFA to pressure the South Korean government to ban the sale of dog meat during the World Cup.

The two most common arguments employed against eating dog meat are incredibly easy to deconstruct when they're closely examined. First, dog meat is obtained cruelly. Certain activist organizations decry the cruelty with which dogs are allegedly slaughtered in Southeast Asian countries. Well, if cruelty's the stumbling point (as it certainly ought to be), then activists' interference in South Korean governmental legislation that tries to standardize humane killing methods, as they apply to commercial livestock, makes no sense. Then enters the second argument, basically referring to the companionship that dogs provide to humans. The same activists above, for example, state that dogs (and cats) are "bred to trust and love humans." Actually, in Korea and most of the other countries where it's eaten, they're not. Domesticated pets are often an unproductive luxury that the majority of people in developing nations can't afford, much less attach imperalist taboos to. And, by that reasoning, plenty of people in cultures and communities outside the West consider cows and goats to be their pets; does that mean their meat should similarly be outlawed in this country?

As William Saletan rightly asks in this piece, what is so wrong with eating dog meat? These activists are NOT calling for the end of consumption of all animals--that would be an absolute position I could get behind, as carnivorous as I am. If you believe it's wrong to eat animals, then dogs qualify, fine. But, if you can't offer me any better reason for why you single dogs out of the mix, than 'they're man's best friend,' and I tell you that they're actually not in most of these places, and you still insist that other cultures are wrong to be eating what you, yourself, consider to be morally repugnant, I'm going to call you a cultural imperialist.

How a few countries in the West can shame others into abandoning aspects of their own customary diets through the psychology of 'social taboos' would likely have driven Foucault and his ideas of norms and discursive power wild with anticipation (and vindication). And why it's certain animals and certain countries over others would have been more excitement than his precious heart could have handled. Why is guinea pig OK to eat in Peru and Ecuador, for example? Last time I checked it's so popular that classrooms across the U.S. are teaching children how to fall in love with these rodents.

I guess we'll have to wait until the World Cup lands in one of these countries for the guinea pig to be set free.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Don't 'Goat Curried' Away!

So in our progressive, contemporary, and unconventional living arrangement, I cook on Mondays and Wednesdays, B cooks on Thursdays and Sundays, T cooks on Tuesdays and Fridays or Saturdays and we fend for ourselves on the day leftover. Last night, I cooked goat curry and thought that folks might enjoy the recipe, age-old and a family-classic. My table-mates have also tired of my fun-facts (or "obsession" as they call it--whatever.) regarding moose, so I'll tell you all a little bit about goats below. And from now on, Mondays and Wednesdays will feature recipes for the foodies among you.

Goat Curry....mmmm
1-2 lbs. goat (shoulder chops or ribs)
3 tbsp. vegetable oil
2 medium onions, diced
1 medium tomato, diced
4-5 cloves
10 peppercorns
1 2-inch stick of cinnamon
1 tsp. turmeric
1 tbsp. salt
1 tbsp. chili powder
1.5 cups yoghurt
1 tbsp. garam masala
2 tbsp. garlic, minced
2 tbsp. ginger, minced

Marinate the goat in the yoghurt, garlic, ginger, turmeric, chili powder, and salt for at least 30 minutes. Heat the oil in some frying oil, and when the oil starts spitting, add the peppercorns, cinnamon, and cloves. Add the onions and tomatoes and fry the mixture for about 10 minutes, or until the onions are browned. Now add the goat pieces and garam masala and fry it all up for about another 10 minutes, until the goat is browned on all sides. Pour the entire mixture in a slow cooker, and add water until the chops are just slightly covered. Cook it for 6 hours on the high setting, or 8 hours on the slow setting. Serve with basmati rice and raita.

Goat is now my favorite meat, no questions asked. Low cholesterol, low fat, tender, etc. But when I was growing up, all I knew about goats was what I saw in cartoons--namely, goats were sort of slow, dopey, junkyard-scavenging creatures with appetites for everything from tin cans to rotten vegetables. As I grew older, I learned that goats are actually incredibly intelligent, clean and picky animals; the only reason they got typecast as garbage-prowlers was their rabid curiosity--they'll nibble on buttons and bottles to figure out what they are, but they'll stop there. On the other hand, they do eat their own placenta (look out for future posts on this topic), but that's survival instinct in order to evade predators attracted to the birth-smell of vulnerable prey. Still seems pretty smart to me.

The myth of a goat's ravenous appetite reared its inaccurate head once again in the children's story, The Pet Goat, in 1997. The story became infamous when President Bush continued reading it to a classroom of elementary school children in Sarasota, Florida even after he'd been told by his CoS that the second plane had crashed into the WTC on September 11, 2001. I'm not interested in getting into a discussion over whether Bush was wrong to continue the classroom-reading while the rest of the country was shutting down in fear. What's more interesting, and pretty much left undiscussed, is the irony of the plot in this particular children's story. The story is about a young girl's pet goat who eats everything in its path, to the point where her father thinks the goat is literally going to eat the family out of house and home. The father is ready to expel his young daughter's companion, breaking her blessed heart, when the goat foils a robbery by horn-butting the burglar. Thankful, the father changes his tune and welcomes the goat into their home.

The moral of the story? If the father had acted on his first, harsh impressions of the goat, the long term interest of the family would have gone to shit. Or profiling clouds our understanding of the true character of individuals and we should avoid it at all costs. Hell, maybe even that, in the family's time of need, it wasn't an overly vigilant Neighborhood Watch that foiled the burglary, but help came from where it was least expected. Maybe Bush kept on reading the story, instead of leaping to lead the country, because he was curious as a goat to see how the story ended.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Pretensions of Cheese

And here's an entry to serve as testament to the fact that this is, indeed, a foodie-blog. Out of necessity, there must be a few words about cheese.

Look, I'll admit it, I get nervous when a plate of cheese is brought out by my host or hostess and it's met by variations of the following statement: "Goodness! Where did you find all these wondrous samples, in this pitiful country that wouldn't know a delectable piece of cheese if it grew on its own nose?" It can be at the beginning of an evening, or at the end of the meal, but I invariably become a little shifty and start crafting an exit strategy in the event that the conversation should turn in my direction and ask me my opinions on the new focal point (or platter) of the evening. In these situations I always choose to contribute my "party-cheese" story, the only really interesting encounter I've had with cheese of late: in the middle of vineyard hopping in the area where I go to grad school, I somehow ended up at a cheese farm. When I pulled into that farm, there was a very angry looking cow sitting right in the middle of the driveway, a child wretching by the front porch, and a man wearing overalls, a cowboy hat, and chewing on straw handing out samples of gelato....see how quickly the topic moves off cheese?

I think I first started to wonder about the politics of cheese when I read a conversation carrying on between college acquaintances on our alumni 'blog' of sorts, called planworld. Some people couldn't wait to go home, after hard days at work, to a nice block of cheese--and that was it. Others smuggled it in from abroad, marveling at its funk--the stinkier, the better. And still others listed cheese as 'things that are good in this world' and keeping chins up in otherwise dreary times. What amazed me was not only that I had certain ideas of the people I expected to like cheese so much--these were constructed ideas of elite taste that correlated with high taste in fashion, decor, coffee, etc.--but that I was shocked every single time others surprised me with their own cheese-confessions. People who have no interest in the other elite tastes loved cheese. I had internalized the construction of the cheese-lover in my mind, and it was being severely challenged.

Cheese-lovers take themselves pretty seriously. There are societies where they come together, there are well-known, illegal markets of the 'good stuff' (which is made out of raw milk and has basically been deemed potentially life-threatening to consume), and they have lobbyists as any other special interest group would.

When you ask cheese-lovers exactly what it is about the cheese that they love, the answers are full of pretension--including references to texture, robustness, sharpness, muted qualities, etc. But I suppose if we could forgive any food these sorts of descriptions, there's something about age being a factor in a recipe that affords cheese a certain pretension (similar to wine). It's as though the food has accumulated some amount of wisdom over those years, and the more we let pass by, the 'smarter' it gets.

It would be nice if planworld's love for cheese and the way it brings people together from completely different walks of life (besides the fact that we all went to the same, small liberal arts college on the hill) could be a microcosm for the larger impact cheese--and its obsessed-- could have on the world.

OK, so just when I'm coming around on cheese, one of the country's leading cheese experts, Steven Jenkins, is found saying this (about the FDA's statements on the health hazards of cheese made with raw milk): ''It's going to wipe out one of the most beautiful and romantic links between human beings and the earth that we will ever know, and we are going to be the lesser for it.''

In response to this, I'll quote none other than my husband, who, rightfully-so, is interested in being on same page as me when it comes to romance: "So squeezing something from an animal's teet, curdling it into a solid, and eating it is supposed to be romantic?"

Fortunately, I disagree. Woof, was that an elitist entry! Excuse me, but I must now go in search of my monacle to read Paradise Lost as I get ready for bed. It may not have been Milton's best work, but it will do. At least, I know Obama would agree with me. And that's why I love him.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Moose, Schmoose.

Can someone please answer me this: why do we care that the Republican veep pick, Sarah Palin, hunts moose? Why is her penchant for hunting any different from Huckabee's fondness for pheasants or ducks? Or Cheney's partiality towards quail? Does the target have to be poultry for the hunting to be excused? I think the good people at Bird Lovers International might disagree. Moose seems to be a perfectly respectable meat, playing first fiddle in recipes such as Jellied Moose Nose or Moose Sausage, but often also used interchangeably with venison or elk.

This particular piece tries to argue that moose are somehow more morally reprehensible to kill than smaller, more agile animals such as ducks and deer. Besides being personally offended by this bizarre relativism, as an individual of petite stature, the argument makes no sense. Does that mean that we should forsake hunting all large animals and only hunt those that make their conquest more of a competitive, skilled sport? The author disparagingly suggests that Palin's only contribution to the ticket would be to add mooseburgers to the White House menu, without even an ounce of critical analysis explaining why this would, in fact, be a bad thing.

The disturbing nature of this moose obsession that exploded on blogs, across media outlets, and in comedians' repertoires is two-fold. First, it reeks of sexism. The discourse surrounding sexism in the media is still either focused on Hillary loyalists and their die hard allegiance to the former First Lady, whom they believed was unfairly treated by the sexist media and DNC, or the sexism of those Palin-critics who question her (EXECUTIVE, haven't you heard?!) experience, allegedly just because she has ovaries. What they fail to mention is why hunting is all of a sudden taboo when it's attached to a female candidate but easily forgotten when it comes to a male one. A quick blog search at reveals that a whopping 2010 blog entries have been published on Palin's moose-hunting in the 23 days since she was announced as the veep pick for the GOP ticket, while only 106 entries have been published on Huckabee's affinity for hunting in the 603 days since he announced his run for the White House.

Second, judgmentally lumping Palin's moose-hunting together with the rest of progressives' assessment of her as a qualified candidate only distracts us from real issues and makes us look like liberal assholes who, for some reason, accept venison at high prices in upscale restaurants, but look down our noses at the largest animal in the same deer family. Look, I may not like Palin's positions on reproductive rights, education, the separation between church and state, the war in Iraq, or pretty much anything else she has taken a position on as yet, but, when it comes to moose, I think we could all learn a little something from Alaska. [note: whether wolves should be shot down from the air to conserve the moose in question is a topic for another post]

One of the most interesting parts of Alaskan moose culture that Kim Severson reported in the NYTimes the other day is that there happens to be a state law in Alaska requiring that all meat from a hunted animal be salvaged for eating; even when a moose is hit on the road, an official roadkill list is consulted and volunteers immediately rush to the scene and start butchering the animal. The meat is then distributed to churches and soup kitchens so that families in need can feed on the meat.

It seems like these conservationist measures could be used in similar fashion to former President Jimmy Carter's advocacy for responsible hunting and preservation of wildlife. Here was a president who is still internationally acclaimed as a responsible environmentalist and avid hunter--bedfellows that might not necessarily be as strange as the recent bout of quail-hunting-face-shooting politicians suggest.

Another lesson Palin could learn from Carter might be his honesty concerning the equipment that hunters need for their operations. Carter was able to turn his keenness for hunting into an admirable call for stricter gun control. He criticized the NRA's irresponsible and manipulative messaging that claimed to fight for hunters' rights, while really lobbying for the manufacture, transfer, and possession of 19 specific semiautomatic assault weapons--NONE of which are used for hunting.

Guns kill moose, but as long as that meat is feeding people who would otherwise go hungry, I'm fine with it. When guns kill people, however, there aren't any official roadkill lists or charitable organizations to consult--nor should there be, of course.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Sweet words--nothing more, nothing less.

There's nothing that leaves you feeling more vindicated than the discovery of something so potentially offensive, yet brilliant, when you're admittedly trolling through material trying to dig something up to whet readers' appetites so they come back for more.

My discovery?

A dessert option on the White House Menu for the Dinner in Honor of President Kufour of Ghana, September 15, 2008: Graham Cracker Crumble and Cocoa Pod Shell.

Now, there's no reason to call anyone names, I know. But just think about this for a second. How great would it be if Chef Comerford decided to make political statements with her menus? Maybe she's tired of feeding the man who has turned this country inside out, and watching his shit-eating grin while he does it. Maybe she's tired of watching foreign heads of state, from countries whose clothes and pallets and music might remind her of her roots in the Philippines, come to dinner and have to smile with clenched teeth as the President makes comments like these:
"When Ghana's independence was secure, President Eisenhower sent a message to Ghanaians from the people of the United States. He said, 'We revere in common with you the great and eternal principles which characterize the free democratic way of life. I am confident that our two countries will stand as one in safeguarding this greatest of all bonds between us. Half a century later, we see that President Eisenhower's confidence was well-placed. Today, Ghana and America are still bound by our love for liberty, and we stand as one in our efforts to safeguard that freedom.'"

Really? You know what year Ghana was granted its "secure" independence? 1957. Apparently Eisenhower thought a free democratic way of life for black people was alright as long as it was in Ghana, not in his own backyard.

Crumble away, good sirs. And don't forget to munch on the shell while you're at it.

The Beginning

Welcome to a new type of foodie-blog. Don't let the name fool you--I might mention food and politics in the way farm policies affect our economic and political systems now and then, but I think gastro-politics is about so much more. Every time a menu is planned and the White House Press Secretary feels the need to report its contents to the media, or communities that battle to the blood over religious differences favor the same regional dishes, or candidates are put on special diets to make their immortal bids on the campaign trail, or every time I hear that the majority of cooks in this country are women, but the majority of chefs are men, I think of gastro-politics. And I think you should too.