Thursday, December 10

Today On Doghouse Riley's Dog-Gone Good Food Blog

YESTERDAY'S comments were interesting, which is my way of telling you I'm out of ideas, a condition exacerbated--far too early in the season--by a lack of sunlight, itself assisted by the new mixer, which has kept me inside turning out bread. On the plus side, properly amortized, I've reduced the cost to $47.80 per loaf.

Let's jump right in. Li'l Innocent?
I'm unwilling to hold those 2 little kids responsible for what their repulsively silly mother is making of them.

Once again: having been congenitally consigned a mind which refuses to move in straight lines, coupled with the inability to sit still long enough to rectify that with diligent editing, and--what cannot be blamed on genetics--the sorry results of a life spent in the thrall of self-medication, throbbing Negro music, and PBS, I aim for humor to caulk the deficit. So to anyone who imagined I was really threatening the well-being of those captives, well, you're damned straight I was. Bring 'em on. That's exactly how Jonah Goldberg started.

Seriously, okay, at nine you get a provisional pass. If you're still allowing Mater to dress you like Young Winston Churchill at eleven, let alone lining you up for photo-ops, without protesting at a level which would require visible evidence of physical coercion before you relented, thus ruining the shot, then I'm getting you the World's Most Expensive Toaster for your bath.
Also, the article rightfully faulted the notion that kids will only eat chicken mcnuggets etc. (an idea that probably also got its start during the Reagan Administration). This business of fixing 2 dinners - one for adults and one of kid-slop - was AFAIK nonexistent in the 50s and 60s. Sure, we ate a lot of slop, but everybody ate the same slop.

Agreed, whole-heartedly, with but two reservations: one, the child's palate is geared toward sweetness, said to have the survival benefit that, in the wild, sweet things are edible and bitter things (often) poisonous. Today, as typified by the case of McDonald's, we have turned the natural order on its head, but this does not relieve us of our heritage, or our appendixes. Feeding children fast-food slop is even more inexcusable than eating it yourself, but a pic of two brats dining on huîtres froides and prawns the size of their biceps, from a laughable photo-op spread costing what the average family of four spends on provender in a month, is not, in my humble opinion, likely to prevent any further episodes of culinary child abuse.

Expose children to anything, but adjust for the kid's palate they way you would adjust for a vegetarian's sensibilities.

Two, I wasn't going to commend an article for a bit of commonplace wisdom, however overlooked today--nor the much later suggestion that this continues the substitution of food celebrity for good cooking and smart eating--when it raised the issue to begin with, and illustrated it with the tale of pint-sized gastronomes.

JB, you're up:
the whole Reagan/Republican thing is a crock of shit and diminishes your post. If anything, the 1990s were even more rife with consumerism and greed. Though I will agree that the 1980s are should be notable for the children of the '60s selling-out. But that's on them, not Reagan.

Well, as Christian Doppler once said, I guess it depends on where you're standing, which, with me, is: the Midwest, late middle age, and hermetically cocooned.

I merely point out that Parker's (and the Spectator's) popularity resulted from the conferral of instant connoisseurship on anyone who could identify "97" as being higher than "88" and who could pay the rapidly escalating prices for whatever their masters anointed, and that the coincidence of this and the Reagan administration is hardly surprising.

God knows neither they nor Reagan invented wretched excess; but God knows all three profited from it without apparent loss of sleep.

Now, this blog has spent quite a bit of time rejecting the "children of the 60s" bit, in no small part because, being one myself, I know for a fact that my generation was as shallow, fatuous, self-serving and hypocritical as the one previous, or the next; half the people I went to high school with in the early 70s were auditioning for walk-ons in some imaginary Blackboard Jungle remake, and half the people I went to college with were, it was obvious, smoking as much dope as they could scrounge before it was time to go to law school or sell real estate. The political rallying points--Civil Rights and Vietnam--were primarily the work of pre-Boomers, and were comfortably abandoned once the issues were "resolved" (on the Left; the Right's been fighting them ever since). Reagan won in two landslides; I've never figured out how he is presumed to have done so without the votes of large numbers of Boomers.

That said, stripped of the notion that an entire generation marched from Woodstock to its local BMW dealer, burning copies of Das Kapital en route, I think there's something to be said for that: the food and wine boom in this country dates--clearly--to the mid-to-late 70s, following the historic Paris wine tasting of 1976, and the importation of nouvelle cuisine. This corresponds to the first big chunk of Boomer consumers being out on their own. Similarly, I'm sure that from some perspectives it may seem that the 90s are when this sort of thing fully ripened, or began decomposing. I wasn't offering a history. Let's say that, to me, the leading edge topped the dam in the 70s, the damn thing burst in the 80s, and by the 90s it had gathered up people who were screaming at the tops of their lungs without having a clue how they got there. Not to mention, of course, the ones who don't care if they get rich off haute cuisine, talk radio, or robot hamsters covered in lead paint.

By the way, it took until the late 80s/early 90s for this attitude to really begin to ruin global wine production, but that's not from a sudden lack of concern.

Bi-lingual subversive Bondon Culé:
Although reverse snobbery is no more justified than snobbery itself, a good bottle or two of Pisse-Dru can make it all seem less than noticeable.

I just wanted to define this a little better, since the aphorism about reverse snobbery was aimed specifically at Easterbrook: snobbery is the elevation of commonly-acknowledged paragons of Good Taste and the rejection of anything else as unworthy of one's attention. The person who says, "I adore Bach, and hate The Beatles" is no snob, just someone practicing discernment. The person who says, "The only music worth listening to is serious music," and means the works of acknowledged genius, but has never actually listened to The Beatles, Cole Porter, or Robert Johnson, is a snob. Still, we can at least admit that this requires enough familiarity with a serious topic to grasp a sizable chunk of it, the way reading the first 100 pages of Proust can pretty much help you fake it through 85% of conversations you're ever likely to enter on the subject. Reverse snobbery--not "I don't like classical music" but "everyone who claims to love classical music is faking it just to play the big shot"--what Easterbrook said about wine appreciation, in other words--requires no knowledge at all, and is generally in the service of the same. (This is where I'd draw a distinction with Philistinism, which simply doesn't know and doesn't care.)

And what those Parker numbers do is give people a shortcut to sounding like snobs--awful in itself--while avoiding the minimum amount of effort required to reach that point honestly.

I don't shop for wine much anymore, but when I do the closest place, apart from the grocer's, is the biggest wine store in the state. Parker and Spectator ratings everywhere, of course. And more than once I've heard someone reject a clerk's suggestion with, "Oh, I couldn't give my guests a $15 dollar bottle of wine!" Such a person will happily go home with the $75 bottle that got a 99 on the test, open it, and be convinced they're having a sublime experience based on savvy wine purchasing, even if the wine's five years too young to drink, is being served 15º too warm, and overpowers the dish it's matched with, while the too humble bottle would have been just right. It's morally wrong for a so-called expert to encourage this sort of behavior for money.

Sue me if you want, but I can't divorce the attitude from the movement "conservatism" of the past thirty years, with its pre-solution to questions no one is supposed to raise, and the declaration that every result is Good provided it says so.
Can you offer your perspective on what the balsamic vinegar thing was all about?

Somewhere in this happy home to two bipolar pack-rats I've got a cartoon from the New Yorker of early 80s vintage. Couple seated at a Bistro table, and the husband says to the waiter, "Well, if pesto is Out, bring us what's In".

At any rate, never underestimate the amount of effort somebody will be willing to put into plugging a product which is easily counterfeited, in a country where any trash fish can be sold as North Atlantic cod, and yesterday's squeezings of Thompson's seedless, injected with CO2, can be sold as "Champagne" tomorrow morning.

Designer grappa. Explain that to me.

Mr. Masson?
It's taken this long to simply take the time to try to remember the names of the type (and, if I'm ambitious, the maker) of wines where I find myself enjoying the taste.

Ask for the label. Write your impressions on it. Then don't expect the exact same item to taste quite the same or be just as pleasurable the next time.

Beer's like baking; if the producer knows what he's doing he can make a remarkably similar product time in time out. Wine is Herelitcus' river.


R. Porrofatto said...

With orthographic pecksniffery, I shall point out that it's Heraclitus, and now I'm going to pretend I knew how to spell it without looking it up.

Narya said...

1. I've been going to Beer School at a bar in town (one of the two best bars for beer in Chicago, if you ever make it to Our Fair City), run by a local brewmaster who started out as a home brewer, and it's been completely entertaining learning about the flavors--and being able to find them and identify them! (Having training & experience as a pastry chef doesn't hurt, but other tasting companions are perfectly able to play along w/o said t&e.) Also, when we attend the beer-tasting festival in Madison in August, we do NOT spit it out, we swallow.

2. I LIKE balsamic vinegar. It brightens flavors, adds some acid (as they're always yammering on Top Chef), etc., and you don't need more than a splash most of the time.

3. Designer grappa? That's bizarre. I mean, I'm sure you're right and all, but does anyone remember that this is a product that used to be made from the leavings of a different product? For some reason, it brings to mind the "instant" polenta I've seen in stores. Look, people, polenta is made with corn meal, water, and salt. You can't get much more "instant" than that.

4. According to Iron Chef (which I've only seen once; I can really only handle one cooking show, and Top Chef and its spawn are pretty much it), there's a fifth flavor, umami. Personally, I'm skeptical.

Edward_Blum said...

I remember Iron Chef, in the original Japanese that was good stuff.

When I was in college, a girlfriend's girl friend asks me seriously, "So do you like good music?"

whetstone said...

Narya: The Map Room? Just curious, as a Chicagoan.

DR: enjoying the food/wine writing. Do read/comment on Megan McArdle's kitchen gadget lusting, if you are taking requests.

Anonymous said...

I'm deeply flattered, Mr. Riley, to have my comments discussed.

The Post article was indeed worse than foolish, its premise destructive of both good sense and good eating as you say, and the pic of the kids was grating. But the photo reminded me, I now realize, of something I saw in an airport restaurant once. Near my table, a little girl was seated at a table with 3 adults, whom I took to be her mother, her mother's male companion, and possibly her grandmother. The mother gave off very odd, volatile vibes, as if she were perpetually on the verge of flying into a causeless rage, and the young man seemed to be catering to or deferring to her. The older woman was neutral. The little girl, maybe 7 or 8, was facing me, and she sat absolutely still, watching the adults with a peculiar intensity that I have since learned is called "hypervigilance" by mental health pros. It's a characteristic of abused kids. I'll never forget it. That kid was outnumbered, and could never, ever relax.

Abuse comes in many shapes, and if grim Fate has placed you in the control of one of the various forms of truly wacky domineering parent (such as an egotist who would have her palate insured for $1,000,000 OVER its assessed value), you might just as well be Patty Hearst in the closet for all the likelihood that you'll strike out actively against their tyranny, at least before adolescence.

Those "gourmet" kids have Stockholm Syndrome written all over their pathetic mugs. "Cokehead in training" is just about right -- but not til later in life.

As for point about fixing two dinners and children's preferred flavors, you remind me of an interesting thing an early childhood teacher told me, namely that little children - say, 5 yrs or under - have taste buds on the insides of their cheeks that disappear later on, which is one reason you'll see them swishing things around in their mouths. Maybe these are sweet receptors? Of course, kids shouldn't be expected to appreciate flavors that even adults have to acquire.

Those things said, I think the whole notion of fixing separate meals to suit the preferences of individual family members must be an outgrowth of the era of super-consumption. It takes a certain depth of wallet to keep enough kinds of food on hand to approach mealtimes like that on a routine basis. It simply never would have occurred to anyone in my family - products of the Depression and the working class as they were - that it was a reasonable thing to do.

Li'l Innocent

Anonymous said...

When I was in college, a girlfriend's girl friend asks me seriously, "So do you like good music?"

I hope your response was "No, ma'am, I only listen to crap" if only because that's what I like to imagine my own response would have been.

Hairless in Gaza said...

"...the sorry results of a life spent in the thrall of self-medication, throbbing Negro music, and PBS..."

Best thing I've read so far today, and likely to remain thus.

brownie said...

i worked in a fine wine/gourmet food shop for 15+ years. People who followed my advice usually got an interesting reasonably priced wine that matched their occasion well. However,I would NEVER pass up the opportunity to snatch a Benjamin from any sucker who was shopping for points. You know what they say about a fool and his money.

I once had a couple ask me how i could remember all that information about regions and varietals yet i couldn't tell them how the wine scored in the Wine Speculator. Without insulting them (too much) I pointed out that I care about what I do and I like to think for myself. The lack of thinking for oneself is how you end up at designer grappa, my friends!

Anonymous said...

I think the whole notion of fixing separate meals to suit the preferences of individual family members must be an outgrowth of the era of super-consumption.

I blame pre-processed food and microwaves.


LittlePig said...

Beer's like baking; if the producer knows what he's doing he can make a remarkably similar product time in time out

Dang, DH, you make that sound like a bad thing.

Narya said...

whetstone: Yes, the Map Room.

As for beer/baking, the guys at the bakery at which I worked can tell when the flour producer switches crops. The flour has to age a bit, and sometimes when they're switching between seasons, the stuff that shows up hasn't been aged enough. The thing that's interesting (and similar) about both products is that they are similarly simple: water, yeast, malt, hops, or water, yeast, flour, salt in a good baguette. It always blows me away how much flavor you can get out of that short list.