I’m off to New York City next week for a two-day strategic planning workshop with a new client. Mr. Dario has planned a culinary pilgrimage to all his hidden and not so hidden dining hot-spots. Eataly is high on my agenda and I’m glad I’m driving down so I can bring stuff back. I also saw this on Chow.com today; it looks like a good bet, if we have the time.
My wife hates to go anywhere with me. It seems that (according to her) my every moment is spent looking at things and asking the questions, “Why is it this way?”, and “How could it be done differently and better?”. It’s an occupational habit that has transcended my personal life so that the two are now seamless. I can’t separate analyzing a business for pay, from actually enjoying something I’ve paid for. A good case in point is hotels. I can’t say I’ve ever really enjoyed a hotel stay because what are minor inconveniences to others are glaring and painful deficiencies to me.
It turns out though, that these various and sundry deficiencies are actually stubbornly resistant forms of passive aggressiveness on the part of people, companies, organizations, etc., hell-bent on doing what they are convinced is the right thing, despite the reality of how it actually doesn’t work.
This is a fascinating piece on public washroom design and how it actually links to the media. Huh? Yup. Read it here.
I don’t know who said this, but it’s right on: “In principle, there’s no difference between principle and reality, but in reality, there is”.
I am a pure child of the TV age, the first generation to use television as educator, babysitter, psychotherapist, entertainer, instruction manual, travel guide, and even drug to medicate through life’s tribulations. I am unapologetic about this. My brain was far from stunted by television, the reverse rather, my general knowledge is probably above average, my language skills well developed, and I haven’t done too badly in school.
But that was a different kind of TV, a kinder, gentler, and less sophisticated version of what we have today. Where does one notice the change the most? I believe it’s in the detective show. I used to love whodunits, challenging my wits to use the same clues to find the killer before the great detective. Columbo kind of screwed that up, since the killer was revealed at the very beginning of the show. But it was great fun nonetheless, and I must confess, nine times out of ten I was rooting for the killer to get away with it because the victims were generally deserving of their fates in my opinion.
Detective shows today are a different story, most being unwatchable beyond the first couple of episodes. The real difference? Today’s detectives don’t rely on their brains to solve crimes, they have special “gifts” (Unforgettable), mental abilities (The Mentalist), or rely on high-tech equipment and technologies (just about every show). And what’s with the back-story? I mean enough with the personal angst, alcoholism, depression, divorce, etc. I don’t want to know the intimate details of our hero’s personal life….just tell me the story!!!
A friend of mine is a homicide detective in Calgary (he just retired after 35 years). He’s an ordinary guy with a family, doesn’t drink beyond the occasional glass of wine or beer. There are no apparent skeletons in his closet, and he never brought his work home with him. He tells me that detective work is basically “scut” work, collecting enough pieces of the puzzle until you can make a case, and it’s usually a team effort rather than one genius. Perhaps one of the reasons we were all glued to our TV sets with the recent Shafia case is that the cops got them by pulling together a myriad of small bits of evidence from many different sources.
If you’ve noticed, most TV crime shows spend at least 75% of the storyline on three themes: The personal life of the detective, or long, drawn out images of lab rats working the various scientific equipment to extract DNA, or gruesome crime scenes with the eviscerated bodies of family members. The actual story only occupies about 25% of the total time of the show. Throw in the commercials, and you’re probably getting about 10 minutes of story in a one hour show.
There’s an intellectual laziness permeating Hollywood these days, resulting in a massive over-dependence on gimmicks and devices rather than story. Or maybe, that’s just who the audience is today and that’s about as much as they can handle. The rest have moved on to the specialty channels.
Relax, this isn’t a post about cooking beets and carrots.
I am surrounded by excellent cooks. Dr. J. and Mr. Italo in particular are masters of Italian cuisine. And the Ruskie really knows how to put some meat on your bones with down-to-earth home cooking. Philip creates wonderful Chinese dishes from his native Mauritius. And our Polish friends Andre and Collette make heavenly Polish food, including my favorite bigos of all time (stewed for several days).
What all these outstanding cooks have in common is that they tend to stay close to their traditions. The big advantage of that approach is that you always have a frame of reference for comparing what you produce to a “standard” which you grew up with and know is great.
My own cooking is hit-or-miss in quality (by my standards). Sometimes it’s great and other times it’s shit. I’ve come to the realization that the difference between the really good cooks and myself is that I tend to experiment a lot and stray into traditions that I don’t know very well. One day it’s Chinese, the next Indian, the day after that Greek, then Vietnamese. For most of my dishes (with the exception of the Greek), I don’t have an entrenched reference base of excellence. Now, don’t get me wrong, my cooking is still probably in the upper 25 percentile of home cooks today, but it’s not outstanding.
I notice that the really great cooks stay very close to home in terms of their style…and I’ve decided to do the same for the next few months. I’m going back to my Greek roots and focusing all my entertaining cooking on Greek recipes. I even have my grandmother’s “Tselementes” that she brought with her from Greece in the early ’50′s (It is the 1948 edition). The term “tselementes” is the Greek generic term for “cookbook” although in fact it refers to Nicholas Tselementes, widely regarded as the father of modern Greek cuisine.
As you can see from the photos below, it’s been around the block a couple of times. And the recipes are in grams and drams (an ancient form of weights, all but extinct today). I’ve been meaning to have it re-bound and will do so now that I’ve taken it out of storage.
Thanks to Mr. Dario for discovering this interesting Weapon of Ass Destruction (WAD). Just what I need another appliance, and one that makes deadly little snacks. I had never heard of Ebelskivers before. It sounds Nordic.
I just looked at the date of my last post and it’s already been five days! Unbelievable. I’ve been in the midst of a major project and time has lost all meaning – up at 3:30 AM, work till 2 PM, nap in front of the TV for a half-hour, and then back to work til 9 PM. In bed by 9:30 PM. Then, two days ago, broke into teeth-clattering shivers and a fever….flu! Cancelled all social activities for the week-end. Can’t cancel work however.
Should be done by Monday and then back to a more normal routine.
There’s a guy who comes to our front door a couple of times a year. He’s a scruffy looking fellow. His opening line goes something like this: “Sir, please don’t be afraid….I’m a criminal on parole, working with this organization to help me learn how to earn my living legally”. Do you think I’m going to buy from this guy? You’re damn right I will. If he’s not a criminal, then you’ve got to admire his schtick. And if he is a criminal, a few bucks is great cheap insurance.
So he opens this small gym bag and shows me a variety of trinkets for sale: Pens, lighters, and oh, what’s this….scissors. I now have several pairs of scissors from this guy…and I’m really grateful.
Scissors have become like those $10 reading glasses you get at the drugstore; very handy to have a few pairs lying around the house in various rooms for when you might actually need them.
If you haven’t already noticed, we live in a scissors world. There was a time not long ago that you could open most packages by just ripping them open. Tried opening a chip bag recently?I bought a bag of Boulder all natural organic potato chips a couple of days ago (they make a nice garnish for a lunchtime sandwich). They come in a rather flimsy looking paper bag. But looks can be deceiving. I tried pulling the bag apart in the age-old tradition and, well, nothing. No one told me that they’re reinforcing chip bags with recycled Kevlar bands from old radial tires!
The sliced cheese container has an “Easy-peel” label on it. Supposedly, the tiny 1 mm. wide plastic edge they allow you for a grip peels apart easily. Unfortunately, my fingers can’t seem to grasp a piece of plastic wrap the width of a fly’s testicles.
And if you’ve bought any electronics, they’ve likely come in those heavy-duty plastic sandwiches that are hermetically sealed on all sides right up to the product itself. There’s no way to pull them apart and if you try too hard, the rigid plastic can draw blood.
Even my bagged Andy Boy organic romaine lettuce hearts need scissors, despite the fact that they use a Ziploc! The Ziploc is so tight that as I’m trying to pull it apart, the bag rips before the seal opens.
It’s been a few months since I’ve seen my friendly neighborhood killer, car thief, gang-banger. I miss him. I need another pair of scissors.
Leisureguy has a good post on Mindful Eating and a link to this article in the NY Times about the growing popularity of this practice as a way of reconnecting with yourself and learning to eat in tune with your body’s needs.
Here’s what I commented to Michael’s post:
You may recall that I’ve been experimenting with this for the last year. I have one other suggestion that, it turns out, is extremely difficult although very simple. Take much smaller bites. This sounds very easy, but I’ve found it the toughest of all the “chilled-out gestures”. The mouth to size-of-bite ratio seems to be quite strongly hard-wired.
My own observation around mindfulness is actually antithetical to the article’s tenets. Mindfulness destroys spontaneity and the pleasure of the unexpected discovery. It’s as if you are looking so hard for something that you don’t see it. I’ve noticed it very much in my daily Greek coffee ritual: When I try to savor the aroma consciously, it becomes very hard to detect and appreciate. But if I am “just making coffee”, there are sudden moments when the smell penetrates the mind with an excruciatingly pleasant “Ahhhhhhhh”.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time with Buddhist monks in various mindfulness sessions. It is brutally unpleasant; the exact opposite of what you might expect.
In general, I prefer the French approach: Sitting with good company, in an elegant and convivial setting, enjoying the total gestalt of place, people, and food, and reveling in the occasional, spontaneous moments of “Ahhhh”.
Our friends recently returned from a trip to Dubai and brought us back some frankincense and myrrh. These are the dried gums of trees that grow in that part of the world and have been prized since biblical times for their aromatic and healing qualities.
I have a censer that I brought back from one of my many trips to Mount Athos, and decided to light up some frankincense this morning, to give the house a nice smell. Then I saw that low pre-Spring light entering the living-room windows at just the right angle!
If you’re buying your first car today, you can feel pretty secure knowing that there are very few, if any, “lemons” on the market.
The lemon has achieved almost archetypal status in modern society, representing the belief that there are occasional cases where product defects in design or manufacturing coalesce into a prefect storm to produce a product of very low quality and poor reliability.
Lemons were once a very common experience among car buyers. I myself have owned several…but not in the last 20 years. Since the late ’70′s I’ve always had a new company vehicle every 3-4 years, in addition to many “hobby” cars. Over that 35 year time span, I’ve probably owned about 20 cars, with perhaps four genuine lemons. But, as I say, not in the last 20 years. I think that with the development of Computer Assisted Design (CAD) and manufacturing (CAM), quality initiatives such as Six Sigma and Total Quality Management (TQM), the use of test tracks, accelerated “torture” testing, etc., the likelihood of lemons has been vastly diminished. Oh, you may well get a car you don’t like from a comfort or performance perspective (I hated my 2008 Subaru Impreza), but in general cars today are pretty good from a reliability perspective.
The above of course assumes vehicles of a provenance that recognizes North American climatic realities and buyer values. I’m not sure that a Russian or Indian car would meet current consumer expectations, and frankly, if you buy anything British, you’re just asking for trouble, IMHO. Italian cars? Not sure. We’ll have to see how Fiat does here in the coming years, but memories of its acronym, “Fix It Again Tony”, still reverberate loudly. But overall, this is a pretty good time to be a car buyer.