Sunday, October 29, 2006

Introducing Vintage Retro Old-School Food Photography of Yesteryear: Venison Rolls

Venison Rolls

I have decided to begin posting new old food photos on a regular basis, perhaps even daily. I'm not going to stop posting about other things but this should make for more regular content on the blog, which might please those readers who have been frustrated by the lagging pace of my posting. I was going to start a second blog for these pictures but I decided against it purely on a gut feeling that it's better this way. I am too lazy to type in recipes to accompany all of these shots but if you want one just send me an e-mail and I'll take the trouble for you (if you'll be my best friend, natch).

If the point of all this isn't immediately evident from the image above, here's why I'm doing this: I love, nay, lurve vintage food photography, especially in color. I don't think it's kitschy or ridiculous. I'm not into the so-bad-it's-good thing. I love irony almost as much as the next overeducated wannabe hipster, but this ain't the place for it. I wouldn't post a picture of food I wouldn't eat just to show you how outrageous it is. If something is outrageous, it has to be that delicious, impressive sort of outrageous. (For the record, I have no idea when yesteryear ends and the present begins. Feel free to opine in the comments.)

This picture is in The New Complete Book of Cookery (New York: Weathervane Books, 1970), p. 159. I am in total awe of the before-and-after motif, with the mounted deerhead bearing mute witness to a feast of its very flesh. If you think selective focus is some newfangled idea in food photography, this should convince you otherwise. I'm also impressed by how dark and moody the lighting is, a quality shared by many of the shots in this book, which are credited to Ben Ericksson.


Wednesday, October 25, 2006


-I am arriving a little late to the party, but is anything on the web better than The Show with Ze Frank?

-We are without an oven until the repairman gets our new oven door hinge ordered and delivered, which is who knows when. At the same time, our toaster oven has always been terrible at toasting. So I'm thinking of buying one of these newfangled countertop infrared ovens, which cook food twice as fast as a conventional oven and without the downsides of a microwave (which heat only water molecules, make things unpleasantly soggy or dry depending on your fate, and can't brown). The customer reviews claim that these make great toast. Anyone ever cook infrared?

In the meantime I hope that the lack of an oven will spur me to improvise and innovate (but I fear it will give me an alibi for laziness).

-I can't decide if I want to continue the GG for Foodies feature. This week's ep was so full of food I will need to watch it a second time to catch all the references, and my time budget might not permit that kind of investment. In case I decide to give up the GG-blogging, let me say here that Emily's observation about pears being great in a salad was obviously written by someone who just knows. My new theory is that the new showrunner David Rosenthal is a serious foodster and that he adds the culinary references to other people's scripts if they need a little help, the same way (in the old days, I guess) Tarantino might be brought in to pepper quips about kung fu and bad TV into your Hollywood action movie. ("The Great Stink" was written by Gina Fattore, whose previous work includes writing for Dawson's Creek, Skin, and Reunion.)

-Lots of videos related to Borat movie film are at YouTube, including the first four minutes and several deleted scenes. When Borat speaks his native tongue it often includes fragments of Hebrew and when he chants or sings Khazak prayers or songs it sounds like Jewish liturgical music. This makes it seem all the more silly that the unwitting subjects of his fakery accept his anti-semitism as genuine. (Speaking of YouTube, I love calling Google "the Google." Unlike calling the internet "teh internets," which I always thought was mean-spirited and too-cool, calling Google "the Google" makes perfect sense since Google is singular and iconic. "The Google" also sounds good.)

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Am I bothering you?

Lately I have been taking pictures of strangers in public places (check it out). Some people call them candids or streetshots. Some other people call them voyeuristic and creepy. There's no law against it or anything and no one has come up to me to say hey knock it off except for when I do it in certain commercial establishments with rules against this sort of thing. Shopping malls, Pottery Barn Kids, Barnes & Noble, Whole Foods. I look the person in the eye when they tell me I can't take pictures and say, "I'm sorry, I didn't know you had that policy." Note that the person telling me not to take pictures is not a person whose picture am I trying to take. And these policies aren't to protect customers from being surreptitiously recorded. The commercial spaces themselves do that with video cameras hanging from the ceiling. These policies apparently are supposed to protect businesses from spying by competitors. That kind of cracks me up. Also, since there are now all kinds of cameras that don't look like cameras in people's blueberries and phones and spyrings, there's all kinds of picture-taking going on that the bosses can't do much about. My sense is that eventually these policies will be so unenforceable as to be withdrawn, but who knows.

There are some other things I do that I know technically aren't nice or right. When someone in a car behind me seems to be in a hurry I like to slow down to piss them off. I would never do this in the passing lane of the interstate or even on a main road, but on quiet residential streets where the limit is 25 or 30 I do it all the time. It gives me so much pleasure, and people trying to go 40 on these streets should slow down anyway.

Also, in bookstores, at the magazine rack, when an issue of a magazine I want to browse through is wrapped in plastic, I go into a quiet corner and tear off the wrapping so that I can check out what I want to see without paying for the magazine. I know that this means they're not likely to sell the issue, but so what? It's like a store giving free samples. Every store should give you samples of things you might want to buy if it's feasible to do so, and the fact that bookstores are organized so that you can read the books, with comfy chairs or a cafe where you do just that, makes these establishments the very epitome of the free samples environment. The plastic-wrapped magazine violates the spirit of the bookstore so I don't mind tearing it off.

And then there is table etiquette. It's often seen as boorish to eat with your hands, but the hands are such excellent utensils. Take sushi. The term "nigiri" itself means hand (referring to how the clumps of rice are formed, I believe) and this tells me that sushi are finger food. I like chopsticks just fine, especially for eating noodles. But they are nowhere near as effective when it comes to eating sushi (or dumplings for that matter). And when taking from a communal dish many Emily Gilmore types would look askance at someone extending their naked fingers, but if they are clean why not? The cooks used their hands in preparing the food. Have you ever seen a sushi chef waving a pair of tongs around?

Similarly, on Top Chef once I saw a cook get kicked off for dipping his finger into a pot to taste something. Tom Colicchio was all huffy about it, like he's the only one standing between civilization and an onslaught of unsanitary barbarians. But I take it that finger-tasting is not unusual behavior in many professional kitchens. I do it all the time myself. What gives? If the food in the pot is at a high simmer or a boil, any bacteria on the finger (or spoon) will be killed.

Finally, for the sake of balance and fairness, here are some things that do bother me:
-the phrase "x is the new y," as in this article on $40 restaurant entrees: "Forty is the new 30." Please everyone stop. Also, why the hell does the Times write out "forty" but not "30"?
-the term "sucks." There is no less interesting thing to say about something than that it sucks. (sucks, suck)
-people who don't know how to use apostrophes. I'm grading papers this weekend, can you tell?
-TV lovers' enthusiasm for Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. (for instance)
-the proposed amendment to my state's constitution that would ban gay marriage and civil unions. (more)

And you?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Gilmore Girls for Foodies

Lots of food in last nite's GG ep ("'S Wonderful, 'S Marvelous") but none of it excited me. It felt like the writers were trying to include the basic elements of the GG formula but without integrating them into an organic whole, without making them expressions of character in the context of the situation. There was a bit with Lorelai expressing her distaste for squash soup, calling the squash festooned around the Dragonfly kitchen gourds and being illogically disdainful. This was the opportunity for Sookie to squeal that the soup tastes like pie, at which point we were supposed to exclaim, aw that Sookie's cute! Nah. This also functioned as one way to indicate the passage of time. In the previous episode it was still early summer; now it's back-to-school season. Another way they established this was by having Lorelai and Chris go to see Snakes on a Plane. But it didn't quite add up in my mind. Snakes was an August release and squash are at the earliest a September crop. A show that is so concerned with the characters' interactions with movies and eating needs to get these things spot on.

The opening scene had Lorelai and Chris divvying up their movie theater candy. Sour Patch Kids, Twizzlers, Milk Duds. This seemed perfunctory. A scene at Luke's had Kirk struggling to decide between a bagel and pancakes, somehow a metaphor for whether Luke would try to please his girl or his mom. I barely understood this and didn't care. Unless he is being obnoxious as he plies some novel trade, I am not interested in Kirk.

In non-food scenes, the strongest material was the scene in which April, Luke's daughter, plugs the virtues of shopping at Target. The comic bit with him thinking "Tarzhay" would be too fancy for them was good clueless Luke humor. The scene with Rory making new friends, two artsy girls she meets at an opening she is covering for the Daily News, had some amusing bits at the expense of contemporary art. But these were easy points to score and not terribly imaginative ones. I was happy to see a veteran of Veronica Mars, Krysten Ritter, who played the mayor's daughter Gia, as one of these characters and I look forward to seeing more of her in coming weeks. The scenes around Emily getting arrested and bailed out of jail were strong but her über-haughty response to being pulled over were a bit too sitcom. On that note, the author of this week's script, Gayle Abrams, is a vet of Frasier and other half-hour laffers.

Elsewhere in the world of television-food connections: tell me you don't want these Battlestar Galactica cakes for your next bd party.


Spicy Whole Grain Mustard

Take a look at my spicy French-style grainy mustard, shot food porn style with the macro setting on and the camera practically touching the food. That's the way I like it.

I had some brown mustard seeds looking like they had been hanging around too long and I wanted to eat them rather than toss them. So, following Bittman's HTCE loosely, I ground these (1/4 cup) corsely and mixed them with enough white vinegar to make a paste. Then I combined half that quantity of yellow mustard powder (Coleman's, 2 tbs) with enough cold water to make a paste. The Coleman's tin stresses that the water must be cold. The next part only makes sense when you do it: you combine the seed paste and the powder paste and add enough wine, beer or water to make a...a paste. I added dry sherry, which is what was open in the fridge. The recipe warns you to wait a day before eating it. I don't understand the science behind it (the vinegar/water thing, the waiting), but hot damn, it's good and spicy. Goes well with pretzels, Gruyère-style cheese, and probably a thousand other tasty things. One of these little turkey and mustard canapés is enough to clear out the nasal passages but if you have one you will probably have another.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Gilmore Girls for Foodies

Emily Gilmore returns to prime-time after a cruel summer-plus-two-episode absence to do what she does best: make her daughter Lorelai feel bad about herself and boss people around like she's the Queen of Spain. The door opens in the teaser and instead of the latest in the series of hapless maids, Emily's new domestic slave is a ten year-old girl being groomed for a cotillion. The lucky kid gets the first good laugh line of the night when she tells Lorelai that her mother said she would have a smart mouth. Zing! She then proceeds to take the drink orders and knows to ask if Lorelai would like her Martini straight up or on the rocks. Rory orders club soda, though we know she likes to tipple and indeed, in the ep's final scene her dad remarks on how she has ordered a drink with dinner. GGs would benefit from more drunken Rory scenes, but I can't complain about this installment of the ongoing story one iota. Tonight's was as perfect a Gilmore as ever aired. I have worried that without Amy and Dan, the show might end up losing its signature tone or drifting off into sharkey narrative waters. But the writers (tonight's script was credited to Everwood vet Rina Mimoun) have been ventriloquising remarkably well. Whether this is authentic or ersatz I cannot say, but I subscribe to the solipsistic theory of comedy: if I laugh, it's funny. I am laughing.

The etiquette training bits are clever not just because they give Kelly Bishop a chance to show her remarkable chops, but because they reveal character. This episode is about the possibility of Chris and Lorelai becoming a couple. In classic Gilmore fashion, this theme is not made apparent to us until the final scene, after Chris has dropped Rory off at home and Lorelai appears fresh from Emily's bash. But we realize in this moment that the high society function for moppets was Emily's way of recapturing Lorelai's youth, and that Lorelai's connection with Christopher goes back that far, to when they too were ten and victims of high WASP culture. GG likes to give us the impression that an episode is just slack, goofball fun, that nothing is at stake, and then in a flashy flourish to raise the stakes in a final scene that ends with a pregnant, questioning fade. This one duplicates that pattern of so many episodes from earlier seasons.

When she is tutoring the roomful of girls at the Dragonfly, one is reminded of the scenes in Gigi between the heroine and her Aunt Alicia, especially the one in which the clumsy girl is instructed on the proper manner of eating ortolan. Here eating food is not so much the point as the pretext for showing off one's good grooming. The counterpoint to this scene is the one in Lorelai's kitchen in which she wonders if she really would like Pop Tarts if her mother had served them to her on a silver platter. She is questioning (as with the hairstyle that looks good but which, to her dread, her mother likes) if she is the way she is merely because of her desire to be different from Emily. This is exactly the right scene for this moment: again, it crystallizes the theme of the episode, Lorelai's reluctance to see Christopher as her great love--in part because he is from her world, her past, her parents' milieu. Because being with him would please them. This is one good reason, perhaps, to reject him.

The other foodie moment comes in an exchange between Emily and Sookie. Sookie has prepared samples of food she is to serve the mini-debs at the tea at which Emily is to give them their etiquette instruction. Sookie tries to sub in pb&j for salmon in some canapés, but Emily will have none of it. If she's going to compromise with peanut butter, she might as well just toast them some Pop Tarts.

This ep also had some excellent bits with Rory and Paris tutoring SAT kids and Rory scouring Henry Miller for ideas to use in dirty texting with Logan, but those things have nothing to do with food.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Answers to questions you didn't ask

-Is there a frying pan that takes up less space? A roll-up frying pan saves you those precious cubic centimeters. Now if they can come up with a roll-up standing mixer or blender I might be interested, but a pan is a flat thing. You can hang it on a wall or store it on its side in a narrow cabinet. The new product does look cool, though, which I think is the main idea. (via)

-Is there some way of adding fat and protein to my cocktail? A-ha! The pork Martini:
In these pomo days, when old formulas are reborn with futile twists for our fickle, fin-de-siècle tastes, the meat cocktail stands out above wobbly, cranberry-tainted attempts at bar trendiness. When one abandons the olive garnish for that of a pork-rind wedge, the pork Martini merges the flavors of the working class with that of wealthier ones, bridging social strata. It has the humanitarian goal of bettering the nutrition of alcoholics, offering protein for those who prefer their lunches liquid: since meat digests longer, it will both inebriate and offer nutrients for longer periods! It will open new markets to pork consumption, adding American jobs to every level of the meat-industrial complex. And, finally, it looks really weird.
I actually hate this kind of thing and wish there were less of it on the internet: weird, dumb shit people do so that other people will pay attention and say, "hey, that's some weird, dumb shit!" Hate, hate, hate it! But not as much as websites that blast open ads that talk and sing to you unprovoked. (via)

-What's going on inside my fridge when I'm not there standing at the open door? A Flickr group reveals the answer.
It's as simple as it is strange. A photo taken with the door closed, using your camera's timer function. The timer is important. Please do not attempt to get in the fridge yourself. Your flash will probably be needed too, unless your fridge light stays on when the door is closed (a good chance to find out!), or you have some of transparent fridge.
-Which celebrity do I most resemble? Find out using facial-recognition software. According to this bizarre website, the celeb I most resemble is David Bowie of the Let's Dance era.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Edible clichés

I still do prepare meals, you know. Like today, I made fried rice with leftover beef stew. The beef had been cooked in red wine but it went very nicely with the garlic-ginger-kecap manis seasonings and the usual fried rice garnishes of carrots, peas, eggs, and green onions. The key was to shred the beef by pressing it through my fingers so that every bite would have some bits of braised meat in them. Another trick: it helps to have wet hands when adding the cold rice to the pan. It keeps the grains from sticking to your fingers and helps you break up the clumps.

Now some links.

-Epi-log solicits food analogies.
He has some chops; give me some sugar; don't sugarcoat it; hi, honey; honey will get you more flies than vinegar; too much sugar for a dime; don't give a fig; he gave us raspberries; to squash a project; bitten off more than I could chew; he's worth his salt; salty language; take it with a grain of salt; you don't want to see how that sausage is made; now we're cooking...
More in the comments. I was going to start a culinary metaphors wiki but neither my web skills nor my spare time are up to the task. Of course, there is a difference between these phrases and the culinary metaphors I have been writing about. These are all basically clichés. Notice that to avoid sounding like someone who uses clichés many people say things like "you have to take it with a very large grain of salt" or "you have to take it with a mountain of salt," etc.? They're not fooling me. Also, squash or quash? Discuss.

-Language Log reports on Asian salad languages, which are the sort of things we might call Spanglish. Indonesians apparently call this bahasa gado-gado, gado-gado being a kind of salad. I like how salad means "stuff jumbled together," but salads are often more carefully put together than that suggests and the origins of this terminology might betray a prejudice against salad-making if not against food preparation in general. Also, consider the use of "tossed salad" as an alternative to "melting pot" and "salad days" to mean a youthful heyday. There is also a sex talk usage of "tossed salad" which you might have read about in Dan Savage's advice column. Food terms used in sex talk is a big, exciting topic for another day.

-A newish blog (via zp) called Epifurious recently offered this nasty smackdown of one popular food blog, 101 Cookbooks:
Inspired by au courant food photography, 101cookbooks delights in the magic of macro--the food photographed microns away, the shallow depth of field allowing a single fleck of cilantro into full focus, the rest of the dish receding into the blurry, supersaturated distance. As Ulrike pointed out, no one actually surveys their food from nose's distance. This photography is a conceit--an aestheticization of food that has nothing to do with cooking, nothing to do with eating. It is the dish as a dish. In the same way that the ingredients are labored over, exclusive, the photography suggests that the food is outside of the actual act of making, and certainly outside of the act of eating.

I like pictures of people cooking. I like pictures of the process. I like pictures of mistakes. I like pictures of food as a meal, food as a spread. I like the ugly photographs from 1970s cookbooks, a garish array of food presented from a respectable distance, to be taken in as one would a lavish buffet--food as bounty, food as plenty. Food is not a collection of items, a collection of precious bowls. Food is a social act.
My problem with this kind of food photography, which I also admire in some ways (not least because I lack the skill and tools to duplicate it), is not that it takes food away from its social function. It is that it has become a cliché. Shallow focus is an overused technique. (And to be fair to Heidi, many of her best shots are not of the sort described in that quotation.) When you see one of those shots, you don't immediately see the food, you see the mode of presentation. I see that and say, blah, another shallow focus food porn shot. But the idea of aestheticizing food and taking it out of its usual context is not necessarily a bad thing. This kind of photography has the power to show us food in a new light, to allow us to discover it anew. The whole point of avoiding cliché in any endeavor is that clichés get in the way of our enjoyment of things. A photographic cliché is the opposite of showing us things in a new light. One reason macro shots can be good is precisely because no one surveys their food from a nose's distance. And that can be a cool thing to see.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Counterintuition Watch

Rachael Ray good, Malcolm Gladwell bad. Yawn.

(Updated: The first link is to a reprint. I thought I had read that article before. Hm. Have you seen RayRay's talk show? Her enthusiam may be infectious, but my immune system can easily fight off that kind of thing.)

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Food Tube

Where am I? Watching television. Too much to watch this time of year and lots of it is good, too.

Last week's Gilmore Girls seemed to me to be written by someone who is not a foodie but wanted to seem like one. (Backstory: there is no program with more references to food than GG. You have Luke's Diner food, Sookie's fancy Dragonfly Inn food, Emily and Richard's Friday night dinner food, and Rory and Lorelai's pig out at home food. I always though Dan Palladino was the food-obsessed writer and that his episodes had the most food talk. Now he doesn't work on the show any more, so I have feared that the food-writing voice would be lost.) Ok, so last week there was the part where Sookie talks about how she insists on whipping cream by hand with a whisk and she goes on and on. Something about struck me as just off, as inauthentic. But tonight's Gilmore Girls had way more food and although some of it was not quite right (Lorelai asks herself WWTBFCD, i.e., What Would the Barefoot Contessa Do? Rory corrects her that barefoot is one word. But seriously, they couldn't find a better Food Net personality than the Barefoot Contessa? Hello, Giada?) But then there was Lorelai inventing new kinds of sushi: meatloaf sushi, pb&j sushi, dessert sushi, oh so good. And there was a scene where R & L discuss how you make fried ice cream. Rory: I guess you fry it in a pan. Ha! And there was a great scene with Luke and his sister Liz and brother-in-law TJ where they drink white Russians but since Liz is pregnant hers is a virgin--just cream. Ha! And Liz is supposed to be cooking Luke a homecooked meal to console him after his breakup from Lorelai and it's...wait for it...tuna loaf! Who the hell makes that?! (Maybe you had to be there.) Finally, the big scene near the end when Luke and Lorelai run into each other and talk is set in the frozen foods ailse of a supermarket! Shot on location! He's holding veggies, she's got a pint of ice cream, which is supposed to help her get over breaking up with him. Sigh. The show is still great.