Barking Kitten

Fiction, musings on literature, food writing, and the occasional Friday cat blog. For lovers of serious literature, cooking, and eating.


Close to forty. Not cool. Politically left. Atheist. Happily married. No kids.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Lead us not into temptation

as it differs from food porn.

Yesterday I bought the November issue of Food and Wine, a magazine whose subscription I've long let lapse. This is a magazine aimed less at serious cooks than wealthy folk who enjoy gastronomic travels. Recipe spreads often include either famous chefs, celebrities, or both, preparing foods that never strike me as especially appealing. (Crabmeat stuffed baby artichokes with creme fraiche sounds a little heavy. As an appetizer before the turkey, I'm running for the Maalox.) So why did I succumb to the bronzy turkey on the cover? Hell, I don't know. American consumerism, so stifled in my Berkeley-buy-it-local-fair-trade-organic-polemic self, reared its awful politically incorrect head.

I packed the glossy mag off to work with me, where I started with Dana Corwin's Editor's Letter:

"Thankgiving is the only holiday meal that my family eats together at home. We're really more of a restaurant tribe." (25) This from a food editor? Are readers to be reassured or horrified? Can Dana Corwin really cook? Never mind. Page along to News and Notes, where you may purchase aprons for $34, or, if you're feeling flush, $80. Note these aprons tie about the waist, offering no protection for the chest area.

My apron cost $7 at Ace Hardware. It's kinda stained because, well, I use it a lot. To cook. Next we find Keebler Town House Toppers, the perfect new cracker for entertaining. By now you are wondering if this is a magazine about cookery or things to buy that will make you look like a chic cook. Then come the travel articles: Texas eateries, Sydney, the Caribbean. An article about Jean-Georges Vongertichten going game bird shooting with a few chef buddies. A recipe for crunchy almond-crusted duck breast. If you can afford duck breast, why mess it up with almonds? An interview with Beth Arrowood, owner of housewares store NiBa Home. Beth is newly single, and has celebrated this fact by painting her apartment turquoise. Beth is also quite the party giver, but she's careful about guests bringing food. A terrible thing once befell her: "I asked someone to bring an appetizer and the person just went to a random grocery store and bought something premade. I can't stand that." (84) Beth, honey, we feel your pain. Bad appetizers are like nuclear bomb tests. They ruin your whole day.

An article on safe meats. Gotta have that pc angle. A kitchen spread using sustainable materials, available provided you are an heir to the Levi Strauss fortune. And ad from our friends at Teflon, reassuring us that DuPoint really does care about poisoning us, and will continue doing so.

But enough dilly-dallying--let's talk recipes. Side dishes for the turkey day table are pedestrian variations on an ancient themes....maple this, sausage that, more squash than a tournament. The way to deal with Thanksgiving veggies is to douse them in pig of some kind--bacon bits, more sausage. Heads-up, Niman Ranch--the pc baconers will be knocking on your door once they've grabbed their heritage birds.

The one article with some heft: New Era of the Recipe Burglar, to be addressed separately. Past that article, more product--fancy oils, truffle salt, a recipe for muscat and dried-fruit gravy. God help us.

The celebrity angle appears in the form of Marcus Sameulsson, he of Aquavit, serving dinner with art dealer friend Thelma Golden, resplendent in her Tracy Reese dress. The African menu, like so much of this magazine, is watered down to accomodate upper-class white palates. No foofoo, no pumpkin stew, no palm-oil based stews, no injera, no berbere. Instead of Ethiopian honey wine, a dangerously delicious, potent drink, we get Cranberry Caipirinha, a cocktail I'm certain the many Ethiopians in my neighborhood are imbibing this very moment.

I'm skipping here, passing over Barbara Lynch's first home Thanksgiving in her professional kitchen and the Good Housekeeping sweep of Chef Andrew Carmellini's recipes. We are told he makes Parpardelle with Lamb Ragu at his A Voce Restaurant, but in the spirit of quick n' easy, we get store-bought ground lamb and pasta and discard the lamb stock entirely for canned chicken broth. Gnocchi with wild mushrooms is modified with store bought pasta and more canned broth. I'm feeling very Rachael Ray. Maybe Food and Wine can pair up with her and we can order Yum-O! t-shirts with our magazine subscriptions.

Hey, I understand lamb broth and gnocchi aren't Tuesday night fare for many of us, but why bother writing about Carmellini's terrific recipes and then giving readers junk versions? What is the magazine after besides selling a ton of premade foodstuffs? The promulgation of guilt over inadequate parties? Getting that damned bird on the table, its inescapably painful history backburnered in favor of impressing guests?


I wrote the above screed last night, then thought it over. Was I gratuitiously bashing F&W? I don't think so; the magazine poses as a serious guide to cooking, eating, and wine information. In truth, it is Ladies Home Journal for the Rachael Ray/Sandra Lee set--quick, easy, hopelessly shallow. The product huckstering rivals any beauty mag.

I'm running back to Cook's Illustrated. I'd much rather read Christopher Kimball's weirdly literate ramblings about Vermont Country life and his magazine's critical assessment of cooking tools and techniques. You can use canned broth in a Cook's recipe, but Kimball would really rather you wouldn't. There are no ads in Cook's. No food porn. No celebs. The recipes are all lengthy, complex, and invariably wonderful.

Finally, I'd bet my bank account that Chris Kimball is eating at home on Thanksgiving.


Blogger Sean Carter said...

Thanksgiving is all about good food and merriment. And when the family's around it's a great thing!!! Anyway you can find a lot of Thanksgiving ideas and suggestions at this Thanksgiving Blog. Check it out real soon.

October 18, 2006 11:46 PM  
Blogger Barking Kitten said...

Thanks for the heads'll only be me and h-man this year, the family being far away....but we can have a good time.


October 20, 2006 8:13 PM  

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