Friday, September 29, 2006

More brand fans + links

As a postscript to my earlier discussion of corporate brand fans, consider this Starbucks enthusiast (via) named Winter who dresses only in Starbucks t-shirts and is attempting to drink at least four ounces of caffeinated coffee from every Evil Empire outpost in the Universe. Someone is apparently making a film of this, which might help spread the star's philosophy. What's that? In his words, "I'd like to see an elimination of global conflict." He admits that this is not really a newsworthy philosophy but that's his line.

Meanwhile, on the internet...

-Bacon Press: Why I Don't Read Your Blog.

-Zingfu: do fun things with photos (via).

-Taking pictures in restaurants: the Cod is against it. I'm undecided. I've done it in the past but part of me doesn't like to. Related: Flickr, does anyone take pictures of their meatballs while dining at IKEA? (Also, IKEA groups on Flickr.)

-Degrassi, new season, tonight at 8 pm on television, at 9 on the web. Having no cable is no longer a good explanation for why you don't watch television. Still, watching on a computer screen isn't ideal.

-This op-ed in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is the smartest thing I've read in the mainstream press on Whole Foods coming to town. It addresses issues of gentrification and the big guys stomping on the little guys. On a personal note: having shopped there several times now, I am still marvelling at the huge size of the place, the hordes of people always eating and shopping there, and some of the products they sell. Who goes to a supermarket to buy Robeez shoes for their babies?

Friday, September 22, 2006

5767 since the creation of the world

Plum Cake

I am blessed to have married into this cake, which is not unlike Marion Burros's Original Plum Torte (thx chocolate lady). I bake almost no cakes, but my Jewishness demands holiday food preparations and this does the trick.

These are the verbatim instructions from the family recipe, which we have on a printout of an e-mail sent 9/7/1999.

1/2 c BUTTER
1/4 c SUGAR
1/2 t SALT




Shana Tova! Happy New Year!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Stairway to Heaven

Stairway to Heaven

Actually to Whole Foods.

It was too crowded to explore properly but my initial impression of it is entirely positive. Being there gave me the desire to spend large sums of money and consume 10,000 calories of food and drink. But there were too many people swarming around (it was the post-work rush) and I had dinner to cook at home, so I quickly left.

More details to follow (and a few more pictures at my flickr).

Food fans

Online Fandom reports: "Retailers: the new rock stars." Fans used to cluster around their favorite bands, movies, or sports teams. Now it's also stores like Trader Joe's. After linking to a gaggle of TJ's fansites, OF analyzes the phenomenon:
Fandom has jumped the shark from media products to companies. Trader Joes is one example, but there is much more of this going on. Media companies are used to thinking of customers as fans, and even they are facing more challenges than they can count figuring out how to make the most of what fans do online while protecting their intellectual property and creative control. Companies that have never thought of customers as “fans” before will have even greater challenges ahead. But if retail customers can become engaged enthusiastic proponents in the same way media fans have, there’s a gold mine waiting for the companies that figure out how best to work it. Trader Joes couldn’t buy better online advertising.
This discussion seems to rely on a different notion of "fan" than I remember from my younger days. It used to be that anyone who followed a team was their fan. I was a Blue Jays fan, a Maple Leafs fan, even once upon a time a Toronto Blizzard fan. When I liked Duran Duran I was a fan and all I had to do was buy a cassette of Rio and listen to it a hundred times. Now to be a fan means to be invested in active participatory experiences with other fans beyond just watching television and listening to the radio. Now to be a fan one must get drawn into online discussions, blogging, convention-going. It's not enough to buy the t-shirt; a real fan sports tattoos.

All of this seems particularly relevant to me as I write because today marks the much anticipated opening day for our Milwaukee Whole Foods. I'm hoping to make it over there later. When I visit and perhaps blog my WF experience, will it be as a fan? I suppose I'm a food fan but the idea of worshipping at the altar of a corporate chain makes me queasy. I know that Star Wars is essentially a movie version of a corporate chain and I don't get queasy at the thought of Star Wars fans. But there's a difference in there somewhere. (Also, half of me wants to hate the place.)

While on this topic, I recently came across a reference to TJ's at that described it as an "indie grocery chain." That is telling. TJ's appeals to the same kind of anti-mainstream sensibility as various forms of culture commonly called indie (movies, music, clothing, games, etc.). But TJ's is part of the German Aldi chain that owns hundreds of Aldi discount supermarkets in the U.S. in addition to hundreds of TJ's stores and an empire of retail in Europe. Its annual global revenue is $37 billion. That ain't indie change.

-Wikipedia TJ's entry.
-Whole Foods Market Vision Day 2005, a YouTube video in which employees of a WF in SF talk about changes to the store. I would so love to see videos of supermarkets from 10, 20, 30, 40 years ago.
-Nation of Rebels: Why Counterculture Became Consumer Culture, a book by two Canadian philosophy professors about how anti-mainstream rebellion is often an empty form of defiance that consumer society exploits to sell people more stuff. It's written in a breezy style to appeal beyond an academic readership, so parts of it reduce complex phenomena to glib descriptions in a way that might send you into a rage. But the basic argument is quite convincing. On the marketing of organic food to upscale consumers: "A more perfect example of the convergence of hippie and yuppie ideals would be difficult to find." (306) That sums up my feelings about Trader Joe's pretty well. (This book owes much to both Thomas Frank and David Brooks.)

WF previously [1], [2]

Monday, September 18, 2006

Culinary metaphor watch, politics edition--now with bonus metonymy!

Clinton left the White House angry, exhausted, and broke. He also had to live with the fact that he had hurt Al Gore in the 2000 election, thereby jeopardizing his Presidential legacy--and, as it turned out, so much else. Not a few people made the calculation that if Monica Lewinsky hadn't been on pizza duty during the government shut-down of 1995 (and Clinton not so predisposed to share the snack) there might have never been a Bush Presidency at all, or a hyped case for war in Iraq, a botched occupation, a skyrocketing budget deficit, a morally and bureaucratically bungled reaction to Hurricane Katrina, and a loss of American prestige around the world. His kingdom for a slice!
David Remnick's profile of Clinton 42 in The New Yorker of 18 Sept 06 offers this bit of fallacious historical reasoning, carefully presented with rhetorical finesse so as not to make the author seem unsophisticated. Remnick doesn't think that Clinton's dalliance with Lewinsky was the root cause of everything that is wrong with America, but not a few have made that calculation. Well not a few have made much worse calculations and so what? Is Remnick suggesting that Clinton torments himself with the thought that his oval office liaisons were the first step along a slippery slope down which we tumble to this day? Do those "not a few people" whose minds this thought crosses give it any credence? Perhaps Clinton thinks his actions were bad for him and even for Gore, but for the suffering New Orleanians and the Americans treated badly abroad because people despise Bush 43? And does he, like everyone who sympathizes with him, not know very well that there are others more culpable--say, the 97,421 Floridians who voted for Nader in 2000, or the five Justices of the Supreme Court who gave the Presidency to Bush, or the preposterous John Kerry who lost an election that any Dem should have won?

As important as Clinton's past personal woes or even those of the republic, though, the future (as far as lefty types are concerned) might depend on the presidential prospects of the would-be Clinton 44 whose reputation is inevitably tied to her husband's. And in Remnick's profile, we are constantly reminded of the double nature of Bill's reputation. He is on one hand brilliant, curious, indefatigable, and charismatic. But he is also on the other an inveterate horndog. Remnick seems to relish those details of Clinton's conversations when sex comes up, as if to remind us: if Hillary runs for president, here's what's coming. When Clinton talks about reading presidential biographies, the detail of them all he seems to find most fun is that John F. Kennedy slept with Jayne Mansfield when she was pregnant. And when visiting a natural history museum in Ethiopia Clinton launches into a description of bonobo behavior. These playful primates like to share food, and when the feast is done they jump each other and have group sex! Take out the "group" and this reproduces the sequence of those government-shut-down-of-'95 events. First Monica and Bill shared a snack, and then they shared a "snack."

What dogs Hillary as a public figure, politician, and candidate is not just that her health care scheme never came together, not just that she blamed a vast right wing conspiracy, not just that she carpetbagged into New York and pretended to like the Yankees, not just that she voted to go to war. It's a public perception that her husband doesn't desire her. Or, as Bill Maher put it (Rolling Stone, 24 Aug 06, 58), "The NASCAR crowd she thinks she can get votes from will never vote for Mrs. Blow Job. Never." Perhaps he gave his kingdom for a slice. Now what about hers?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Search strings

I haven't shared any of these in a while. I think they're usually more interesting to the blogger than the reader, but this is true of many things. What I love about reproducing these artifacts of the websearching of strangers is how it highlights not only curiosities of the sort that make you go "wha?" but also earnest efforts to unearth vital information. And sometimes you can't tell which of these is producing your search string. In other words, looking at these phrases is an imperfect form of mindreading, like overhearing context-free snippets of conversation as people pass in the street.

What would a meme sandwich taste like? You won't find out here.

Phil Collins anti-semite. No idea how this rumor got started but the reference here came from my brother in the comments and now I'm on the first page of results. (The top hit is a site called Israellycool, which quotes from a debunking of the rumor and contains the heart-stopping shocker that some of Phil's best friends are Jewish.) I have that same sibling to thank for the continuing pitter-patter of Ginsberg and Wong seekers.

Tuna salad without mayo.
I say it's a bad idea but if you're looking for some, you still might end up here.

Continuity porn.
Still producing a trickle.

Who cares? We'll all be dead Takes you here.

And when you search for I hate the rich, you surrealistically get to see a picture of a duck breast, yum yum YUM!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

"Over There"

Jonathan Coulton is a folk-rock singer-songwriter who encourages people to make videos for his songs. Many collaborators have begun to set the tunes to slideshows of public Flickr photos available under a Creative Commons license. In "Over There," a jokey miserable song about intercontinental travel ("Don't make me go over there"), we see dozens of very literal visual representations of the lyrics. Over a line about taking a train from Amsterdam we see an Amsterdam train station. Coulton croons about eating an Italian meatball and hey, there's one on some Flickring shutterbug's plate. But although the music and the photos and the combination of music and photos aren't really spectacular by themselves, the idea of this kind of collaboration between strangers gets me all excited, and thus you are reading about it now. Knowing that that shot of Brooklyn Lager was taken by someone just like me--I'm the sort of person who takes shots like that and posts them to Flickr, see below--and edited into a YouTube video seen by a thousand people makes me feel like I'm part of something good. That's how I'm feeling today.

Sweat on a Miller

More Coulton on YouTube:

IKEA, a They Might Be Giants-style celebration of the place your tables and chair once called home. This is my other favorite of these. "Billy the bookcase says hello/So does a table whose name is Ingo/And a chair is a ladderback birch but his friends call him Karl." An anthem for bourgeois bohemians., the one that got it all started. A bit sincere for my taste but the images in this one are really well chosen.

The Presidents is a dorky list song. "McKinley kicked the Spanish out of Cuba/Roosevelt was handy with a gun/Taft was big and fat and had a mustache/Wilson kicked some ass in World War One."

Mr. Fancy Pants (flash) is the goofiest. It's about fancy pants.

In other online video news, some people think it's all a big waste of time. Check out the hysterical comments to Virginia Heffernan's blog entry about the big lonelygirl reveal.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Yeast reflection

Here's a little story about eating local.

I ran out of SAF-instant yeast a few months ago. And I decided to wait before replacing it because:

1. To my knowledge, SAF instant yeast isn't sold in any grocery store in Milwaukee.

2. The shipping charge when ordering it from the Baker's Catalog, $5.50, is equal to the price of the item itself.

3. I thought that I would wait until I had something else to buy from the Baker's Catalog so as to maximize the value my shipping dollar. In the meantime I would use whatever yeast one can find at the supermarket.

That was a mistake. As I found out the hard way, the kind of yeast you buy in the supermarket that comes in what Jamie Oliver calls sachets (i.e., packets) is not a good product. The pizza dough made from the sachet yeast (I haven't baked bread with it in years and don't intend to) is harder to work with, not as supple, more likely to tear. The crust turns out less flavorful, less crisp on bottom and less airy in the middle. All in all, sachet pizza is a pretty dull date. I would never have thought that the kind of yeast you use makes a bit of difference when baking pizza but it does. And it is worth spending $11/lb. on good yeast, since that is still much cheaper by the pound than buying the sachets. The only problem is if you are only baking with yeast once or twice a year. Then a pound of yeast is a waste and you have a real problem.

Where does SAF-instant yeast come from? According to the package, it's made in Mexico for a company based in...wait for it...Milwaukee, Wisconsin. To get their product, though, I have to order it from Vermont. Whatevs.

There is one more nice thing about buying saf-instant in the 1-lb. brick: the sound of the vacuum-sealed package taking a breath when you snip it open.


I keep coming across recipes for pizza dough that demand a minimum 24-hr rise. Maybe it depends on the yeast, and a long fermentation is the way to go with sachet yeast. If you're using instant yeast, a two hour fermentation (i.e., rise) is fine. I can't believe it could taste better.

Pizza dough
3 cups AP flour
1 tsp saf-instant yeast
1.5 tsp kosher salt
1 tbs sugar
1 tbs olive oil
1 cup body-temperature water
semolina for dusting

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead 5-10 minutes. It should still be a bit sticky but it will come together as a smooth ball. Leave to rise in a greased, covered bowl for about an hour and a half, or until doubled in bulk. Deflate and divide in two, shape these into balls and cover on the countertop.

Heat the oven to 500 with a stone inside. I like to preheat at least half an hour before baking. Flatten the first dough ball with your fingertips pressing in an exaggerated charade of piano playing, stretch it over your fists, toss it in the air, pull the edges out and make it into a circle. Spread it on a baking peel dusted with semolina and top with whatever you like. Jarred spaghetti sauce and supermarket mozzarella are surprisingly good if the crust is excellent. Bake 10-12 minutes, until the edges are dark brown. Then bake the second pie while you eat the first.

Depending on how filling your toppings are and how much other food you serve, this should feed three or more adults. Last evening we had it with a watermelon and feta cheese salad with red wine vinegar, shallots and olive oil. Danny Meyer says this has been the year for "watermelon as a replacement for tomato," but I've been making this salad for at least a couple of years, so there.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Culinary Metaphor Watch

Our latest installment of CMW finds us in the land of litblogs where this anonymous rant against chick lit has set off a minor litstorm. (Is my snoring bothering you?) This is how it starts.
You know chick-lit novels, those pastel bonbons that have turned your local Barnes & Noble into a gingerbread house of crap writing.
Are you licking your lips? Can you just taste the gingerbread crap?

Thursday, September 07, 2006



[Ernie Button's Hey, Hot Shot! 1, 2, and yes those are Grape Nuts and Cheerios, kids. via]

[Russ Feingold's map of Wisconsin oven mitt, by marglytta]

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Bullshit food

I begin teaching today, my tenth year at the front of a classroom. Not that much has changed in all that time. I still get excited. The first day jitters, while milder than in the early days, still afflict me. (I'm sure I'm much better at concealing them than my first few times teaching.) One consequence of first-day jitters is that I don't want to eat. There must be some good evolutionary function for food aversion in such an instance. I'll let you know if I discover it.

Anyhow, I am feeling a bit queasy just typing the words "Sicilian Lasagna Pizza" right now, but I'm about to do it again. What do Pizza Hut's Sicilian Lasagna Pizza and the War on Terror have in common? The Cod makes a connection.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Slightly disgusting-looking tomatoes

I'm sure these taste great.

Heirloom Tomato
Heirloom Tomato

(At the East Side Open Market.)

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Custard fatigue

Orange Dream

Custard custard custard. I love it. I take pictures of it and eat it and when it gives me a stomach ache I don't care. But sometimes I just don't like it. Like the other day, when I tried this orange dream custard at Kopp's. It was ok but it didn't have any wow factor. It didn't taste like real orange. It wasn't as rich and creamy as plain vanilla. It was supposed to be like a creamsicle but it was missing the contrast of the hard shell against soft ice cream. A creamsicle would have been better and this brought on an overwhelming dejection. Maybe you are like me and can understand that a disappointing few spoonfuls of something you were hoping would be so so good can spoil your mood.

Kopp's Frozen Custards

A while back I started this Kopp's Frozen Custard flickr photoset. May I remind you that Kopp's always serves chocolate and vanilla in addition to their two daily flavors. To find out what a day's flavor is, you can go to the website or call the flavor hotline, 414-282-4080. I keep the Kopp's website in a toolbar bookmark for quick checks of the daily flavor whenever I feel hungry and also many times when I don't.*

I started the project as a way of coaxing myself to try out the different flavors and open up my palate. I used to track their flavor calendar to choose which days to go for custard so that I could always have my non-vanilla favorite, grasshopper fudge (which is mint custard with chunks of chocolate fudge). Sometimes I would go without even knowing the daily flavor, intending to have chocolate or vanilla. Between these three flavors, my custard needs were being met very well. But I would drive past the flavor-of-the-day sign on I-43 and wonder, maybe I'm missing something by never trying tiramisu or strawberry or German chocolate cake. So when I started taking pictures of custard, I decided I would try as many as possible and having this little project gave me an incentive to keep trying new things.

Turns out I don't like any flavors very much other than the ones I already liked. The only real discovery was mint chip, which is grasshopper fudge with chips instead of fudge. Black raspberry is good too and I like the caramel flavor custard, though it really should be more intense. Most of the other ones I could do without. I don't like ice cream with lots of chunks of stuff in it (like most Ben & Jerry's flavors). And since Kopp's vanilla, chocolate, and mint are all so submile, all the other flavors have a hard time measuring up.

But I keep on pursuing my dream of tasting all the flavors. Now that I'm in the middle of it, the project is like the sun or the seasons, always there. And like when I play video games, I have become focused on completing the task even as the task itself has ceased to have much appeal. I just want to do it, to accomplish what I started. The goal is actually probably unachievable, since Kopp's has more than 200 flavors (so far I have taken pictures of only 19) and occasionally introduces new ones. There is only so much custard a person can consume, even the person with the only Kopp's custard flickr photoset in the entire history of the universe.

*What else is on my bookmarks toolbar? Glad you asked. The Thomas the Tank Engine site, flickr, the New York Times, the site of a professional organization of which I am a member, the page you are reading now, gmail, statcounter, zap2it, the pages of the public and campus libraries, google news, and drop-down menus in categories for links pertaining to various scholarly and not-so-scholarly projects I have been undertaking. To make them all fit, I abbreviate the names, so my Kopp's bookmark actually is just a lower-case k.