diversions

Drinking Liberally: This Ain’t No Tea Party

Are you wearying of the Republican primary marathon?
Sure, it was amusing at first watching the Perry and McCain gaffe machines, but lately all the fun has gone out of it. The incessant finger pointing and negative advertising is enough to try the patience of even the most committed political junkie.

This would be a fine time to connect with your local chapter of Drinking Liberally.
Drinking Liberally is an informal, nonpartisan social gathering where left-leaning individuals can go to share a drink and a little political chit chat.

There are currently 227 Drinking Liberally chapters in 47 states plus a few overseas chapters for expats. Each meets at a regular bar or pub and at a regular time each week or month. Drinkers aren’t necessarily policy wonks, or even members of the Democratic Party, and progressive political discourse tends to be just a starting point for a night out with like-minded friends and strangers.

Think about the last Republican debate.
You probably sat at home with your head ready to explode from the especially inflammatory and preposterous candidate statements. Instead, you could have gone to a Drinking Liberally debate-viewing party where everyone is welcome to vent their outrage among friends, boo at the screen with every mention of Obamacare or debt ceiling, and empty their glass when Ron Paul talks about the Federal Reserve.
Drinking Liberally makes activism fun.

Promote democracy one pint at a time.
Find a Drinking Liberally gathering near you.

Drinking Liberally is a project of Living Liberally, an organization that builds progressive communities through social networks and events. You can also engage through the political comedy fans of Laughing Liberally, attend a film with Screening Liberally, have a good meal and conversation with Eating Liberally, and discover progressive authors with Reading Liberally.
Conservatives don’t have nearly this much fun.

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The $1,000 Coffee Break

image via Visual Photos

Work perks.
Staffing firm Accounting Principals, which has just published its Workonomix Survey of workplace spending, found that 50 percent of the American workforce has a $20 weekly coffee habit, spending $1000 a year on workday coffee. Most consider it money well-spent.
Younger workers (ages 18-34) spend almost twice as much on coffee during the workweek as their older colleagues ages 45+: $24.74 vs. $14.15; men outspend women: $25.70 vs. $15.00.

The coffee break is a vaunted worker tradition. Legend has it that the world’s first coffee break took place around 1000 A.D. in Abyssinia, today’s Ethiopia. Long before the power and pleasure of the coffee plant had been discovered, a goatherd noticed his goats dancing around after eating its red berries. Following the goats’ lead, herders began indulging in the berries to stay awake during the long, boring stretches of watching the herds.

The coffee break first appeared in the U.S. in Stoughton, Wisconsin (home to the Stoughton Coffee Break Festival held every August) when the wives of 19th century Norwegian immigrants agreed to cover their husbands’ work shifts on the condition that they be allowed morning and afternoon breaks to go home to tend to household chores and brew up coffee. It was formalized as a workplace ritual in 1902 at the Barcolo Manufacturing Company of Buffalo, NY (rather appropriately, the manufacturer of Barcalounger recliners). In 1964 the coffee break was etched into U.S. labor history when negotiations between the United Auto Workers and the big three automakers nearly broke down over the practice. Other issues at those historic negotiations included health insurance, retirement benefits, and a 5% raise, but it was the coffee break that nearly brought about a strike. 74,000 workers at Chrysler came within an hour of walking off the job when the company relented and agreed to a 12 minute daily coffee break.

Did you know…
the espresso machine was invented in 1901 by an Italian factory owner as a way of speeding up his employees’ coffee breaks?  The first espresso machine, the Tipo Gigante, used a combination of steam and boiling water forced through coffee grounds to make a cup of coffee quicker than any other method in use.

The Coffee Break App for Mac can be set to remind you when it’s break time. It darkens your computer screen for the duration, lighting up again when break time’s over.

 

 

 

 

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The GOP Candidates: You Are What You Eat

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Undisciplined, unpredictable, and unapologetically falling to temptation— that’s Newt Gringrich. He knows he should watch his waistline, but sometimes he just can’t help himself when it comes to ice cream.

Rick Santorum loves his beer, resolutely but conditionally. He has judged the stouts, the bocks, the white ales and the wheat beers to be worthy; IPAs don’t pass muster.

Ron Paul eccentrically puts it all out there with a family cookbook. The recipes are unfettered by contemporary dietary concerns and restrictions: pork tenderloin is sauced with an entire block of cream cheese; another block is the binding for a little something called Oreo Truffles; and the book makes liberal use of Velveeta, pudding mixes, and bottled dressings. Salt and additives, good fats and bad; it’s not his place to infringe on your personal liberties.

And Mitt Romney’s favorite food? Ever the political chameleon, that seems to depend on who’s doing the asking. He has previously cited chocolate milk, pretzels, peanut M&Ms, hot dogs, meatloaf, and Cocoa Puffs cereal. He often attempts a common touch, tweeting about a chicken sandwich at Carls Jr. and declaring a pulled pork burrito is “better than filet mignon,” but unlike the everyman he hopes to evoke, he removes the crispy skin from his fried chicken and pulls the cheese off the top of pizza slices.

   Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are.
                                   (Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, The Physiology of Taste)

 

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Supermarket Waste: Where Does the Old Food Go?

image via Scary Mommy

The out-of-date yogurt cartons, the dented cans, the misshapen potatoes that shoppers passed over.
There’s a lot of activity behind the scenes and after hours at your local supermarket. Employees strip the shelves of brown bananas, opened boxes, broken jars, and stale muffins. They take the past-peak quality produce and meats to the deli or the salad bar and recycle them into prepared foods. They also remove packaged foods approaching their expiration dates—still perfectly good, but who’s going to buy a 5-pound block of cheese with 3 days left?

The good news is that more food than ever is finding a second life.

Wholesalers and supermarket chains have set up reclamation centers that operate as clearing houses for products considered unsaleable by the stores. The centers are filled with Christmas cookies in January, Valentine’s chocolate in March, and a year-round assortment of products that are nearing their sell-by dates or have packaging that has since been updated by the manufacturer. Much of it is shipped off to dollar stores and discount grocers, two categories that have become important to the food chain in our current economic state. There you’ll find an ever-changing assortment of foods—items discontinued by manufacturers, unfamiliar regional brands, foods labelled for export, and plenty of familiar and even high-end products all offered at highly discounted prices.

Food banks are another outlet for unsaleables, and most supermarket chains and reclamation centers participate in some sort of hunger relief program. The passage of the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act encourages participation by protecting the stores and distributors from criminal or civil liability around issues of food safety. The FDA also enthusiastically supports the practice and has even emphasized that other than baby food and formula, most food expiration dates refer to the point when a product’s taste, texture, color, or nutritional benefits start to deteriorate rather than the point when you need to worry about the product’s safety.

Americans waste a lot of food—more than 40% of  all we produce. According to the The Natural Resources Defense Council if we wasted just 5 percent less food, it would be enough to feed 4 million Americans; 20 percent less waste would feed 25 million. This is indefensible at a time when both food prices and the number of Americans without enough to eat continue to rise.

On his Wasted Food website, Joanathan Bloom has a lot to say about food waste and what we can do about it.

AlterNet grades the food waste handling of Wal-Mart, Safeway, and other top grocery chains.

 

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How Food Influences Dreams

image via the film 'Sleeping and Dreaming of Food'

You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!

– Scrooge to Marley’s ghost; from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol

Was it something I ate?
Anyone who has ever gone to bed after a dinner of enchiladas can tell you that what you eat affects your dreams. Surprisingly, there is very little solid science to explain it.

Spicy foods in particular are notorious for inspiring especially vivid dreams.
Some in the medical community have theorized that the heat from the spices elevates body temperature enough to interfere with the quality of sleep. The discomfort then works its way into your subconscious, and is reflected in the narrative it creates. Real life stomach aches and other types of gastric distress can end up as dream-pain experienced by your dream-self.

Another theory suggests that what you eat before bedtime isn’t as important as how much you eat and when you eat it. Any digestion increases the metabolism and brain activity, so the more you eat and the closer it is to bedtime, the more vivid the dreams.

Sweet dreams: Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, is another culprit. When your body’s blood sugar level is low, which happens when you haven’t eaten in a long while before bedtime, your brain gives you a little spurt of adrenaline that causes your body to drop some stored glucose into the bloodstream. If you’ve ever had a dream that wasn’t just vivid but also felt especially frantic, you know the feeling of adrenalized dreaming.

If you’ve ever dreamed you were sitting in a restaurant only to wake up and find your partner cooking up some bacon, you already know that food smells can creep into your dreams. The sense of smell is associated with the part of the brain that is associated with emotions, so food smells can take on a literal meaning and also affect the mood of your sleeping-self. One study (unpublished but presented to the American Academy of Otolarygology) pumped different scents into the nostrils of sleeping subjects, and found that dream moods and impressions were clearly colored by the smells, although dream content seemed unchanged.

Gaming your own dreams
We know that food affects dreams, but no one has figured out how to use it to manipulate the content of dreams, Inception-style. The best we can do is choose foods and time our meals to get the best night’s sleep possible. Web MD has a slide show of foods that help and foods that harm your sleep.

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Should We Eat Roadkill?

Guinea Fowl image via My Retirement Chronicles

Waste not?
It’s a question being asked by a growing number of environmentalists, animal ethicists, and economists.
Leave it to rot or take it home for dinner?

According to PETA, roadkill is a better choice than the factory-farmed, shrink-wrapped product you find in the supermarket. The group recommends it from a health standpoint, because it doesn’t contain antibiotics, hormones, and growth stimulants. And it’s the more humane option because the animals haven’t been castrated, dehorned, debeaked, or suffered through any of the other horrors of intensive animal agriculture.

Perhaps you prefer the term flat meat.
Roadkill is fresh, organic, and free. It was clearly free-ranging, as some unlucky driver knows all too well. It’s sustainable and supportable through an enlightened political ideology, and there’s plenty of it—according to estimates by Animal People News, the annual roadkill toll tops 100 million animals, and that’s not even counting the species categorized ever so delicately as indiscernible.

The legality of taking home roadkill varies by state.
Alaska considers it state property but residents can get on a waiting list for a moose, caribou, or bear; Illinois says the driver gets first dibs, though the privilege is only extended to state residents; Texas had to outlaw roadkill because of too many not-quite accidents; and in Tennessee, on the day that the legislature legalized the taking of roadkill, the state senator who had introduced the bill was presented with a bumper sticker: Cat—The Other White Meat.

Tastes just like chicken.
Steve Rinella, who collided with and then stewed up a raccoon for an episode of his now surprisingly defunct Travel Channel show The Wild Within says that “[roadkilled] meat is actually much fresher than what you might find in a grocery store.” The wiki How to Eat Roadkill recommends that you “learn the signs of healthy roadkill”: it should be freshly killed, preferably from an accident you witness, although you get some slack time in the winter months; you want a fresh stench, since the impact can force excrement rapidly through the animal’s digestive tract; and fleas are a good sign, maggots are not. And not to worry about rabies—sure, it’s a deadly communicable virus that infects the central nervous system, but the wiki tells us that it dies off quickly with the animal.

Should we eat roadkill? In theory, it’s an excellent exercise in ethics, environmentalism, and self-reliance.
Just in case, you can order PETA’s Free Vegetarian/Vegan Starter Kit right here.

 

 

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Snooping in Other People’s Pantries

Almedahls vintage pantry tea towel

It’s been said that the eyes are the window to the soul.
Nonsense. The true window to the soul is the pantry.

Every pantry tells a story.

Pantries are as individual as fingerprints. They reflect history and aspirations, politics and pocketbooks. They are links to the past and road maps to our dreams. They are the show we put on for guests and they can harbor our deepest secrets.

Pantries can be treasure troves of exotica or wastelands of deprivation. They can speak of careful planning or organized chaos. They can remind us that we are overscheduled or underpaid. And sometimes they just scream Take out the recycling!

Pantries are the place where dreams meet reality.

The online world is ripe with opportunities for a culinary peeping Tom. The best of these is a photo series, now in its fith year, called Other People’s Pantries.

Hosted on the blog The Perfect Pantry, each week a different guest blogger showcases their own pantry in photographs and text. We have peered inside of converted broom closets in tiny urban kitchens, hand-hewn shelving in log cabins, and lavishly outfitted pantry extravaganzas in grandiose homes. We have been to kitchens in nearly every state and about a dozen countries. Can by can, spice by spice, each pantry tells the story of a cook, a home, a life.

If you’re game, Other People’s Pantries is currently soliciting submissions for new pantries to feature.

Want to snoop some more?

Diane Sawyer prefers Miracle Whip to mayonnaise. Bobby Flay like to mix hot sauce into his Greek yogurt. Rachel Ray bakes with cake mixes. Celebrity  secrets are revealed in Stock Your Pantry Like the Stars.

A dieting wife and mother; a restaurant critic; a 20-something ethical vegetarian; a newly-divorced middle-aged man; the Montreal Gazette dissects the shopping and eating habits of this eclectic group of home cooks in its series Shop, Cook, Eat, Drink.

What Your Groceries Say About You looks at the secret language of grocery purchases, from Jimmy Dean’s dough-wrapped frozen sausages (“I will eat anything on a stick,”) to canned Reddi Whip (“There’s an 87% chance I’m using this for sex.”)

 

 

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Jell-O Returns

Did you feel that?
It’s the Jell-O groundswell, and I’ll bet you’re sensing it too.

Jell-O is primed for a comeback. It’s a most modest indulgence, inexpensive and fat-free. It has a nostalgic earnestness, evoking memories of tonsillectomies and Mom’s bridge club, but it can also play the irony card as an amusingly kitschy party dish, all retro-cool atop a Mid Century Modern chrome and glass table. Plus, it wiggles.

Jell-O comes with its own mythology.
Prototypically American, for years Jell-O was the official welcoming dish served to immigrants as they passed through Ellis Island. It’s been found to have numerous medical applications, as a testing medium for pancreatitis, mimicking brain waves for an EEG, and as an experimental cancer therapy; and by day 3 of the stomach flu, it’s just about the only food you can handle.

Jell-O has even been touched by scandal. In the 1951 espionage trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the case hinged on a meeting between two communist spies. One spy had stolen atomic secrets from the military compound at Los Alamos, and the other was to deliver the secrets into the hands of the Russians. The prosecution alleged that Julius Rosenberg had arranged for a meeting between the pair of spies by tearing a Jell-O box in two and giving a piece separately to each. The theory went that when the spies met up to pass along the stolen secrets, they would  be able to confirm the other’s identity by fitting the Jell-O box together. The torn Jell-O box shown in court was seen as a damning piece of physical evidence that led to the Rosenbergs’ controversial convictions and executions. That Jell-O box is now held in the Public Vaults of the National Archives.

A distinguished past and a bright future.
Our infatuation with all things DIY helped kickstart the Jell-O comeback.
The unique properties of Jell-O make it a magnet for tinkerers. Play with the ratios and it can be a liquid, a solid, or something in between. You can use it as finger paint or hair dye; as a powder it will deodorize the cat’s litter box, and as a paste it’s a household cleanser.

In its gelled form, Jell-O is edible entertainment. Its color and opacity are endlessly variable. It molds into any shape and suspended objects can be layered in, making it a favorite of both holiday hostesses and office pranksters who are endlessly amused by gelatin-encased staplers.

Jell-O is an enduring symbol of American ingenuity. It’s also a remnant of the unpretentious traditions of American cookery. It reminds us that there was a time in the not-so-distant past when a wiggly, jiggly, gaudy mass was the height of sophisticated dining.

Liz Hickock is an internationally exhibited sculptor and photographer who is currently working in the medium of Jell-O. Best known for her gelatin renderings of urban landscapes, she has transformed the San Francisco skyline, the Arizona desert, and the city of Wilmington into fragile, shimmering mosaics.

In upstate Le Roy, New York, birthplace of Jell-O, the Jell-O Brick Road leads to the Jell-O Gallery. General Foods moved the factory out of state years ago, but the museum still hauls in busloads of tourists drawn to artifacts and exhibits like the evolution of Jell-O packaging and a Jell-O-themed Barbie doll; and a gift shop that carries boxer shorts bearing the Jell-O tagline: Watch it wiggle, see it jiggle.

The motto of My Jello Americans is ‘in order to form a more perfect union of gelatin and alcohol.’ In other words, they blog about jello shots. But that simplification belies the artistry of their creations: intricate, elegant sculptural objets wrought in boozy Jell-O.

 

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Apple to Apples: Technology vs. Fruit

apple apples01 Apples Apples... Talk About Geek Fruit picture

[Japanese ‘Geek Apple’ image via Weird Asia News]

Comparing a multinational corporation to the fruit of the apple tree is like, well, apples and oranges, but that’s exactly what the business resource MBA Online has done. Their latest infographic is a daffy but surprisingly edifying matchup of the technology giant and its namesake fruit.

Apple, Inc. and apples are more alike than you’d think: they are both wildly popular in the western U.S.; China is the leading producer of both; and of course there are Macintoshes (computers) and McIntoshes (fruit).

Here’s how they stack up:

Apple to ApplesHow do you like them apples?

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The Porkapalooza Roadshow is Coming to Your Town

Pignal via Cochon 555

The traveling pig fest rolls on in 2012.
Now in its fourth year, the high-profile touring porcine bacchanalia known as Cochon 555 will travel the country looking for this year’s King or Queen of Pork.

555: 5 chefs, 5 pigs, 5 wines
Cochon 555 holds culinary competitions in 10 cities—NY, SF, Napa, Portland, and the rest of the usual foodie suspects. At each stop, five prominent local chefs are paired with five whole heritage breed pigs and matched with five wines. They’re given a week to prepare a whole hog feast that’s judged by attendees at a public tasting. The 10 regional winners face off in a grand finale when the tour wraps up at the Aspen Food & Wine Classic.

The chefs dream up menus utilizing every bit from snout to tail: all manner of charcuterie; pork belly slabs and tenderloin slices; liver-stuffed dumplings and heart-stuffed ravioli; salads of lardo topped with lardons; ribs and chops galore. You’ll drink pork fat digestifs with bacon swizzle sticks, and dessert might bring a piggy popsicle or sweet and crunchy pig ears.

Brady Lowe, Cochon 555’s founder, thought up the pork Olympics as an entertaining way to educate consumers about heritage breeds and the sources of a more natural, sustainable food system. It pits chef against chef, but also breed against breed: the rich marbling of a Berkshire pig against the bacon-friendly Tamworth, the lardy Ass Black Limousin against the beefy Red Wattle; each with its own deeply distinctive flavor and fat distribution. Breed loyalties and passions run so high that a food fight broke out in the aftermath of the Portland round, complete with tasers, contusions, and chef mug shots, when a local hog was slighted.

You can expect plenty of fireworks, culinary amd otherwise, when the tour kicks off in New York later this month.

Cochon 555’s 2012 Schedule 22:
· New York, January 22
· Napa, January 29
· Memphis, February 4
· Portland, March 11
· Boston, March 25
· Miami, April 1
· Washington DC, April 22
· Chicago, April 29
· Los Angeles, May 6
· San Francisco, May 20
·The Grand Cochon, Aspen, June 17

Tickets will be available on the Cochon 555 website.

 

 

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Good Luck/Bad Luck Foods for the New Year

crossed-fingers

If Friday the 13th is unlucky, then 2012 should be a real doozy.
We have 3 of them coming up on next year’s calendar. That’s the greatest number that can possibly fall within 12 months.

This seems like a good time to try some of the good luck foods from New Year’s traditions around the world.

  • Beans, peas, and lentils
    They are symbolic of prosperity in many cultures because they’re thought to resemble coins when they’ve been cooked. Legumes are often paired with pork, which has its own lucky associations, so the combination makes for a most propitious meal. Italians eat sausages and green lentils just after midnight. Germans usually eat their New Years legumes in lentil or split pea soup with sausage. Hoppin’ John, a dish of black-eyed peas cooked with ham, is a tradition in the American south.
  • Noodles
    Long noodles like are eaten as a symbol of a long life.
  • Round or ring-shaped foods
    These represent a year coming full circle. Mexicans eat the ring-shaped rosca de reyes cake, the Dutch eat the donut-like ollie bollen, and in Greece, families bake a lucky coin into the round vassilopita cake.
  • Fish
    Fish makes frequent appearances on New Years tables. There’s herring at midnight in Poland, boiled cod in Denmark, and the Germans not only feast on carp, they also put fish scales in their wallets for a successful new year. In Japan, herring roe is consumed for fertility, shrimp for long life, and dried sardines for a good harvest.
  • Grapes
    In Spain it’s traditional to eat 12 grapes at midnight, one for each month of the coming year. The taste-sweet or sour-gives a clue to the character of each of the coming months. Spanish state television broadcasts the New Years chimes and nearly 4 million pounds of grapes (in little 12 grape packets) are sold in the last week of the year.

What Not to Eat

  • Lobster
    Lobster is considered a poor choice for a new years meal because lobsters move backwards and could lead to setbacks, regrets, and dwelling on the past.
  • Chicken
    You don’t want your good luck to fly away.
  • White foods
    The Chinese avoid eggs, cheese, and tofu, because white is the color of death.

And never clean your plate. A little leftover food will usher in a year of plenty and guarantee a stocked pantry.

 

 

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Babies and Dogs Dressed Like Food

Is there anything more precious than a baby? So sweet, so innocent, so defenseless; our hearts overflow with the desire to love and protect them.

And our dogs: pure of heart, willing to lay down their lives for us, we see the unconditional love in their soulful gazes and undying loyalty.Then Halloween rolls around and we dress them like food: we wrap babies in tortilla diapers and give them red felt salsa for hair, and stuff dachshunds between foam hot dog buns and tape yellow mustard stripes down their backs. The sacred trust between child and parent, dog and master— it goes right out the window.

Why do we do it? I guess because we can.

http://www.endlesssimmer.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/dog_pasta.jpgBabies in Food Costumes (20 pics) http://blog.rounds.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/pizza-baby.jpghttp://www.wondercostumes.com/imgzoom/FW90056H.jpghttp://blogue.us/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/costume121.jpgBabies in Food Costumes (20 pics)

 

 

Posted in diversions, funny, Halloween | 5 Comments

Their Last Meal on Earth: What the Chefs Would Choose

It’s a morbidly perverse little parlor game.
Chefs have been playing the My Last Supper game for years. Alone together with some down time, in the kitchens and after-hours back rooms of restaurants around the world, they ask each other the question: As the big clock is ticking down, what would you eat?

Like The Aristocrats joke told among comedians, it was always a kind of secret handshake for chefs. Then a few years ago, photographer Melanie Dunea asked 50 prominent chefs to describe their ideal last meal, and she compiled their answers, along with portraits informed by their responses, in an absorbing, intimate volume titled My Last Supper.

The answers are as varied, imaginative, and distinct as the chefs, and it’s a diverse list that includes Ferran Adria, Jamie Oliver, Anthony Bourdain, Marcus Samuelsson, Gabrielle Hamilton, Tyler Florence, and Thomas Keller. Some of them would pile on luxurious ingredients like truffles and foie gras; some would seek perfection in the simplicity of a hot dog or a BLT; and others would return to their early taste memories choosing scrambled eggs, rice pudding, or Mom’s fried chicken. Each also shares the wished-for setting, dining companions, and even background music (count on lots and lots of early Rolling Stones).

Last week, Melanie Dunea launched a website bringing the concept to life. Every other Tuesday at noon, EST, she’s releasing a video in which a different chef shares the manner in which they would bid adieu, complete with recipes. The current episode features the ultimate meal of chef Daniel Humm of New York’s Eleven Madison Park.

You can watch the latest installment of My Last Supper here.

In October, Dunea will release a follow-up book, My Last Supper: The NextCourse. Asking the question that drove the first volume: “What would be your last meal on earth?” it features a new roster of chefs including Grant Achatz, Heston Blumenthal, Paul Bocuse, David Chang, Tom Colicchio, Bobby Flay, Todd English,  Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck, and Joel Robuchon.

 

 

 

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The Edible Stay-cation

You haven’t booked your Michelin tour yet?

That’s right, Michelin, publisher of the eponymous hotel and restaurant guides, bestower of stars to the crème de la crème of restaurants worldwide, has created a set of world-wide culinary vacations. The drool-worthy itineraries include cooking classes with renowned chefs, wine tastings in celebrated cellars, and of course plenty of Michelin-starred dining.

Are we forgetting something?

Oh yeah; time and money. But don’t despair. With a little online browsing, you can find recipes and ingredients for any and all of the world’s culinary traditions.

International Recipes.net is a recipe exchange with more than 34,000 members in 90 countries. I’m not sure what this means, but it’s a little disconcerting to see that the most requested recipe from the U.S. is Olive Garden’s tiramisu.

Food in Every Country covers culinary history, traditional holiday dishes, mealtime customs, and the political, environmental, religious, and economic factors that define each cuisine. The database is broad, although every country is a bit of an overstatement.

In Mama’s Kitchen focuses on authentic, home cooking from around the world.

Soup Song and Rice Gourmet focus narrowly on these two, universal foods.

Say it like a local– Forvo is a pronunciation guide for 258 of the world’s languages.

Sometimes they do things a little differently. Worldwide Recipes has conversion tools that adapts weights, measures, and temperatures for the American kitchen.

Ethnic Foods Co. sells a global selection of spices, pantry goods, prepared foods, cookware, and even some fresh herbs and produce.

Massachusetts blogger Sarah Scoble Commerford began her world tour in April, 2010. She is cooking her way through each of the world’s 193 countries (give or take, depending on the dynamism of national political agendas). Working alphabetically, beginning with Afghanistan, she is preparing a representative meal from each country’s traditions and ingredients. She just started cooking her way through the T’s (goodbye St. Kitts; hello Thailand). She documents one or two meals each week in her blog,  What’s Cooking in Your World? At the current pace, the ETA for Zimbabwe is spring of 2013.

Why not put away your passport, save on airfare, and indulge in some kitchen table travel?

 

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Audible Edibles: Radio food shows online

There’s something about listening to a food show on the radio.

Of course I am endlessly entertained by TV cooking shows: a little pseudo-cooking from a well-coiffed celebrity host in a pristine, Sub-Zero-sponsored kitchen; or maybe the high drama of competitive cooking looking all too easy with flashy knife skills and careful editing. It’s performance television, and most of us view it with the same slack-jawed passivity we assume when watching a CSI marathon.

But there’s just something about listening to a food show.
There’s an intimacy and immediacy to the disembodied voice in your ear, a connection that is rarely found through the high-gloss visuals of television. Fans of the genre claim that at its best, radio taps deep into their memories, pulling imagery from their brains in a way that video never does.

Radio is accessible just about anytime, anywhere: you can tune in the local station through the FM dial, subscribe via satellite service, stream shows live online, or download podcasts to numerous devices. There are shows for every taste from the big city polish of Los Angeles’ Good Food to Eastern Iowa’s recipe-swapping Open Line, with its repertoire of icebox cookies and new uses for canned cream of mushroom soup. Niche podcasters play to cultish audiences with the practical, the edgy, and the strange like the dairy discourse of Cutting the Curd, irreverently feminist Girl on Girl Cooking, and school cafeteria reports from the Renegade Lunch Lady.

Much of the best of food on the radio can be found on the lower end of the dial at NPR stations and The Heritage Radio Network, a relative newcomer that presents an eclectic lineup of live webcasts aimed at the hip, green-leaning, culinary do-it-yourselfer.

American Public Media’s the Splendid Table combines cooking tips, chef interviews, and lifestyle segments.

Cooking Issues brings one of our favorite blogs to life. Dave Arnold, the Director of Culinary Technology at the French Culinary Institute tinkers with the newest kitchen technologies, techniques, and ingredients.

Brand new to the airwaves, U Look Hungry is long-time blogger Helen Hollyman, who follows the people behind the latest cultural shifts across a broad spectrum of food, arts, agriculture, and activism.

The BBC’s The Food Programme produces thoughtful, in depth explorations of a broad range of culinary topics.

 

 

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Potluck Politics

[image via Column Five Media]

Check those voter registration cards at the door.
You don’t want to serve gnocchi if there are Republicans on the guest list—linguine and spaghetti are the preferred pasta shapes of Conservatives, but a nice lasagne crosses party lines.

So says Hunch, the collective intelligence, decision-making website co-founded by the people who brought us Flickr. Hunch is building a ‘taste graph’ for the internet, using profile-building methodology to map group and individual affinities. Sifting through 25 million responses, its algorithm reveals distinct eating patterns and preferences that correlate with political ideologies.

We split along party lines on more than congressional budgets and healthcare.
Liberals like their pizza with a thin crust while Conservatives lean toward deep dish. Liberals like to toast things for breakfast, are crazy for seafood, and are 57%  more likely to drink wine with dinner at home. Conservatives skip breakfast more often, like to fire up the grill for dinner, and are 57% more inclined to avoid tap water. But everyone agrees: soft tacos are best.

Remember the defining moment in the 2008 election? In the still wide field of Democratic presidential candidates, the junior senator from Illinois strode into a Rural Issues Forum on a farm outside of Des Moines, Iowa and asked this question:
Anybody gone into Whole Foods lately and see what they charge for arugula?
That’s when we knew that Barack Obama was a foodie like us.

It turns out that Democrats do like arugula. And Thai food. And bacon cheeseburgers. See the full political spectrum: You Vote What You Eat: How Liberals and Conservatives Eat Differently, at the Hunch blog.

Where politics are never taboo at the dinner table:
The same folks who brought us Drinking Liberally have added Eating Liberally to their social network of like-minded, left-leaning individuals. Hundreds of local chapters (in 47 states, plus DC and abroad) organize monthly gatherings that facilitate political engagement and democratic discourse over food and drink.

Stymied by the name?
Conservatives have been less successful in their efforts to get a similar network off the ground. Drinking Conservatively just doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. Keep checking for new developments from Red County, the folks who attempted to launch both Drinking Conservatively and Right on the Rocks.

 

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Like Stars without their Makeup


A scandal rocked the vegetarian world last month.
It was revealed that vegetarian lifestyle magazine VegNews routinely ran photographs of meat-based dishes to illustrate its meatless recipes. Examples included ice cream made from actual cream, beef frankfurters posing as their vegan counterparts, and pork ribs with the bones airbrushed away to look like a soy substitute. Bear in mind that these were stock photos used for budgetary reasons, and that no animal products touched the VegNews test kitchen. Still, readers were outraged, immediately offering up their online condemnation. They called it hypocrisy of the highest order, a betrayal of their trust, a show of contempt springing from deliberate and systematic deceit.

Food journalists, though, mostly responded with a collective shrug.
Food is, for the most part, supremely unphotogenic. It’s the law of nature that frozen will melt, crisp will wilt, and moist becomes dry. Food stylists have always relied on an arsenal of inedible ingredients and unsavory techniques to get the money shot, in the same way that celebrity stylists enhance their clients with hair extensions, false eyelashes, and push-up bras.

Take roasted chicken. If you make it at home, you know that the flesh shrinks and the skin wrinkles and deflates as it roasts, but in the pages of food magazines it always appears plump with taut, evenly browned skin.  That’s because the picture-perfect chicken has been stuffed with materials like cotton balls and paper towels, its skin was sewn tightly together, and it was roasted just long enough to give it a little texture. Then, still raw on the inside, it’s sprayed with a soap-based mixture and blasted with a blowtorch to achieve the ideal, deep golden-brown color. Bon appetit!

Here are some other tricks of the trade:

  • motor oil substitutes for pancake syrup, and the pancakes are treated with water repellent fabric spray to keep the ‘syrup’ from soaking in
  • barbecued meats are colored and glossed with wood stain and eyeliner grill marks, while roasted meats get a coating of brown shoe polish
  • nuts are fixed in place with super glue, and berries get touched up with lipstick
  • Elmer’s glue is a stunt double for pouring milk; stick a straw in a glass of whipped Crisco and you’ll swear it’s a milkshake
  • aerosol deodorant gives fruit a just-picked look

There are purists out there who only use the real thing, and if the photographs are destined for advertising, the governing laws dictate that the food product that is the campaign’s subject must be the authentic item, although alterations and enhancements are perfectly kosher. The public should understand that commercialized food imagery is a hyper-idealized version of reality. It’s been gussied for its magazine appearance like a movie star that’s styled for the red carpet.

Ultimately, we gladly turn to our home-roasted chicken—homely and imperfect, but perfectly delicious. In the same way, we know that our romantic partners are not Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt, but we are no less satisfied.

 

 

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Palettes and Palates: Artist Cookbooks

[Claes Oldenberg, Spoonbridge and Cherry]

They paint food— from 17th century still life paintings to Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s soup cans.
They cook foodnot always as successfully; taste can be secondary, but it always looks good.

The French Impressionists and Post-Impressionists knew a thing or two about good food. You can recreate meals from Renoir’s Table, Matisse: A Way of Life in the South of France, Cezanne and the Provencal Table, Toulouse-Latrec’s Table, and Monet’s Table, which proves that the gardens at Giverny didn’t just look good. Vincent Van Gogh wasn’t known for domesticity, but Van Gogh’s Table explores the role of the cafe in the artist’s life with recipes from the Auberge Ravoux where he took his meals.

The Artist’s Palate looks at the private lives and appetites of artists from Michelangelo and Mary Cassatt to Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, and Jeff Koons. It mixes family snapshots, artwork, and personal memorabilia with recipes created by contemporary chefs like Mario Batali, Ming Tsai, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

Frieda’s Fiestas is part scrapbook, part recipe collection, detailing the meals and events in the life of Frieda Kahlo.

A Painter’s Kitchen: Recipes from the Kitchen of Georgia O’Keeffe shows us that her cooking, like her art, tends to be compelling, over-blown, and not to everyone’s taste. Who’s up for a garlic sandwich with fried locust blossoms? Also specific in its appeal is the Futurist Cookbook. Dishes are provocative, tactile, and often bizarre: chicken stuffed with steel ball bearings (removed before serving), raw onion ice cream, and an appetizer of olives, fennel, and kumquat that is supposed to be eaten with one hand while the other caresses a progression of textures, from sandpaper to velvet.

Salvador Dali’s Les Diners de Gala is a gastro-surrealistic journey of surprisingly precise and well-grounded cooking. Who knew that Dali had once dreamed of becoming a chef? Recipes are full of luxuries and exotica like towering crustacean tableaux, veal stuffed with snails, and frog leg turnovers, and nearly every other dish is showered with caviar or encased in aspic.

Contemporary art museums will occasionally solicit recipes from their rosters of living artists. Often they are more notable for the artist selection process than for the food. One exception is the California Artists Cookbook, from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The food-centricism of the 1980’s Bay Area is reflected in both the artists’ work and the sophistication of their global recipe contributions. It appeared just a few years after The Museum of Modern Art Artists’ Cookbook, and the contrasting local scenes for both food and art is striking. More conversation about food than proper cookbook, some of the high points of the MOMA book include Helen Frankenthaler’s complaint about the dearth of red leaf lettuce in New York’s markets, Louise Bourgeouis railing against the provincial nature of American cookery, and Will Barnett taking us through his favorite bakery.

Food is another medium for artists to explore through color, form, texture, and visual presentation. The culinary arts, like the fine arts, can speak to history and culture, religion and ethnicity.  Each can be site-specific and performative, or solitary aesthetic experiences. Artists and cooking: it’s a natural crossover.

 

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The Return of Jell-O

Did you feel that?
It’s the Jell-O groundswell, and I’ll bet you’re sensing it too.

Jell-O is primed for a comeback. It’s a most modest indulgence, inexpensive and fat-free. It has a nostalgic earnestness, evoking memories of tonsillectomies and Mom’s bridge club, but it can also play the irony card as an amusingly kitschy party dish, all retro-cool atop a Mid Century Modern chrome and glass table. Plus, it wiggles.

Jell-O comes with its own mythology.
Prototypically American, for years Jell-O was the official welcoming dish served to immigrants as they passed through Ellis Island. It’s been found to have numerous medical applications, as a testing medium for pancreatitis, mimicking brain waves for an EEG, and as an experimental cancer therapy; and by day 3 of the stomach flu, it’s just about the only food you can handle.

Jell-O has even been touched by scandal. In the 1951 espionage trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the case hinged on a meeting between two communist spies. One spy had stolen atomic secrets from the military compound at Los Alamos, and the other was to deliver the secrets into the hands of the Russians. The prosecution alleged that Julius Rosenberg had arranged for a meeting between the pair of spies by tearing a Jell-O box in two and giving a piece separately to each. The theory went that when the spies met up to pass along the stolen secrets, they would  be able to confirm the other’s identity by fitting the Jell-O box together. The torn Jell-O box shown in court was seen as a damning piece of physical evidence that led to the Rosenbergs’ controversial convictions and executions. That Jell-O box is now held in the Public Vaults of the National Archives.

A distinguished past and a bright future.
Our infatuation with all things DIY should help kickstart the Jell-O comeback.
The unique properties of Jell-O make it a magnet for tinkerers. Play with the ratios and it can be a liquid, a solid, or something in between. You can use it as finger paint or hair dye; as a powder it will deodorize the cat’s litter box, and as a paste it’s a household cleanser.

In its gelled form, Jell-O is edible entertainment. Its color and opacity are endlessly variable. It molds into any shape and suspended objects can be layered in, making it a favorite of both holiday hostesses and office pranksters who are endlessly amused by gelatin-encased staplers.

Jell-O is an enduring symbol of American ingenuity. It’s also a remnant of the unpretentious traditions of American cookery. It reminds us that there was a time in the not-so-distant past when a wiggly, jiggly, gaudy mass was the height of sophisticated dining.

Liz Hickock is an internationally exhibited sculptor and photographer who is currently working in the medium of Jell-O. Best known for her gelatin renderings of urban landscapes, she has transformed the San Francisco skyline, the Arizona desert, and the city of Wilmington into fragile, shimmering mosaics.

In upstate Le Roy, New York, birthplace of Jell-O, the Jell-O Brick Road leads to the Jell-O Gallery. General Foods moved the factory out of state years ago, but the museum still hauls in busloads of tourists drawn to artifacts and exhibits like the evolution of Jell-O packaging and a Jell-O-themed Barbie doll; and a gift shop that carries boxer shorts bearing the Jell-O tagline: Watch it wiggle,see it jiggle.

The motto of My Jello Americans is ‘in order to form a more perfect union of gelatin and alcohol.’ In other words, they blog about jello shots. But that simplification belies the artistry of their creations: intricate, elegant sculptural objets wrought in boozy Jell-O.

 

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Eating Bacon-Flavored Ice Cream is Like Watching Scream 4

You know the feeling.
Heart in mouth, butterflies in stomach, maybe a little nervous laughter. Your attention is so perfectly focused that everything else is a blur.

It’s what we feel when we watch a scary movie or ride a roller coaster. It’s also the feeling we get when we challenge ourselves to try an unfamiliar food.

According to the psychology research site PsyBlog, we choose varied, novel sensations not because we think we’ll like them better—in fact we might even know we won’t—but because of something called conceptual consumption. We like the idea of the thing and we want to possess the experience. We push the envelope because of the self-satisfaction we know we’ll feel once we have made it through the fear and anxiety.

Most of us are satisfied with our modest collections of experiences. We conceptually consume in line with our self-image; we want to see ourselves, and be seen by others, as an interesting person who doesn’t shy away from a variety of experience, whether it’s the roller coaster ride or the tête de cochon.

Then there are those who find that they thrive on a sense of arousal; they crave the pulse-pounding, nail-biting adrenaline rush that comes from intense experiences. Psychologist Frank Farley coined the term Type T Personality —T for thrill-seeking—to describe people who enjoy panic-button experiences. He says that the diner who chooses to taste cocks’ combs and sheep’s eyeballs is the same extreme personality type as a skydiver or a fan of gory slasher films.

Conceptual minus the consumption.
Popular culture has latched onto extreme dining and turned it into a spectator sport. For those of us who are non-T types, television shows like Bizarre Foods With Andrew Zimmern, Extreme Cuisine with Jeff Corwin, and Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations give us conceptual consumption once removed. We get a vicarious thrill as we watch celebrities engage in extreme eating challenges, still collecting the experience but without the nasty taste in our own mouths.

Sometimes, watching the dining adventures of others just doesn’t do it for you.
The Gastronauts started meeting in NY about five years ago and just expanded to Los Angeles. They organize monthly dinners that test the outer limits of edible. This month saw the inaugural dinner of the California chapter. Not to be outdone by their east coast counterparts, the menu drew from the cuisine of rural, northeastern Thailand with dishes like fried silkworms, ‘jungle curry’ frog, a salad of raw crab with fermented fish, stir-fried eel, and an offal hotpot made with pork and beef stomach, liver, heart, and lungs.

Informal gastronaut groups and adventure supper clubs have popped up in cities around the world. There are dining groups dedicated to offbeat specialties like offal or insects, but most of them organize more broadly appealing adventure meals in local restaurants. You can find gastronauts groups in Boston and Brisbane, London has the Experimental Food SocietySan Francisco and Denver have their Adventure Clubs, and the Cross Species Adventure Club holds topically-themed dining events in Australia and the U.S.

 

 

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