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From the Food File

June 30, 2009 Leave a comment

n'awlins

Last week ended up being a big food week, owing to the usual convergence of events — Father’s Day, our anniversary, Joel’s birthday — along with the arrival for two days of my cousin John and his wife Joan and the fact that Joel was in fact home for the week. I already wrote about our anniversary dinner at the Georgian Room last Tuesday. I’ll mention some other meals here.

John and Joan arrived on Thursday afternoon, staying with us for two nights before moving on to attend a wedding. No one loves food more than John does, so if you want to stay on a diet, he may not be the ideal house guest. But if you want to eat and talk food, be sure to invite him over. He’s just serious enough about food to give up his law practice in New York a few years ago and move to Phoenix to open a new restaurant. I don’t know enough about Phoenix to suggest that it’s a restaurant vacuum, but it’s not New York, and until John and Joan came to town, you probably wouldn’t go there to get New Orleans food. They changed that, albeit briefly, with A Taste of N’awlins. We had the good fortune to pass through the Phoenix area in March 2006, during its brief life. I had a deans meeting in Tempe at Arizona State University, and we arrived two days early so we could see the Mariners play at their spring training home in Peoria and the Angels play in Tempe. We had dinner with John and Joan our first night in town, they joined us for the Angels game, and the next day, when I was on campus at the meeting, Gail went into downtown Phoenix to put in a day of work at the restaurant. A day later, with the meeting ending at lunchtime, we headed back downtown to have lunch there and stick around to help with the cleanup before going to the airport for the flight home. We tasted a little bit of everything. It sure was good.

But back to last week, here in Seattle. Thursday Gail cooked dinner for us all. Salmon on the grill, tagliatelle in a cream sauce, salad with lettuce from our garden, and for dessert, trifle. Friday morning I had to go to a meeting, returning as everyone finished a breakfast of bagels and smoked salmon. Soon we were off to Pike Place Market, the one thing John wanted to see in Seattle. There’s much to enjoy there, but I did wonder if there was much point in showing off our locally-famous Italian food store, DeLaurenti, when there’s no shortage of such places in New York. Or Italy.

We had been talking the night before about bucatini amatriciana, which I wrote about two months ago after ordering it at the nearby restaurant Piatti. At the time, I quoted from the website of Babbo Ristorante that this “dish is one of the most celebrated in Italian cuisine and a favorite here at Babbo. Named for the tiny town of Amatrice, located 100 miles east of Lazio from Abruzzo this dish can be made both with or without tomatoes. Ever since Abbruzzese shepherds begin the tradition of eating this spicy pasta after a day in the chilly mountain air, the cooking process has always begun with the rich smell of a fatty piece of pork bubbling in the pan. At Babbo, we use our homemade guanciale, or cured pig jowls, with its distinct pork flavor, to achieve the same rich taste that comforted the shepherds of old.”

I noted that recipes call for either guanciale or pancetta, and that guanciale appeared to be the authentic ingredient. I also noted that we were fortunate to have access to guanciale. “After all, Babbo was started by Mario Batali, and Mario’s father, Armandino, started Salumi, Seattle’s own purveyor of cured meats. Sure enough, they purvey guanciale.” Well, the point of all this is, when we were in DeLaurenti, looking at the case of meats, John pointed out that they had guanciale. He insisted on buying some for us, and we saw that it was none other than Salumi’s guanciale. We then went over to the pasta section to look for bucatini — a hollow tube spaghetti. We didn’t find it, but found instead a fatter spaghetti in long tubes that was called rigatini. We were set for Joel’s birthday dinner that night, provided he approved.

After an hour and a half in the market, we walked uphill to Serious Pie, Tom Douglas’s pizza restaurant on Virginia between 3rd and 4th. It’s part of his complex of restaurants surrounding the intersection of 4th and Virginia: Dahlia Lounge, Lola, Serious Pie, and the Dahlia Bakery. There was a wait to get a table at Serious Pie, so while we waited, we headed around the corner to the bakery to get a birthday cake for Joel, a chocolate cake with apricots and cointreau. The timing worked out well, with Joel arriving from home to join us for lunch just as we were ready to order.

We got three pizzas: the buffalo mozzarella, san marzano tomato; the yukon gold potato, rosemary, olive oil with walla walla onions added; and the buffalo mozzarella, san marzano tomato with house salumi and sweet fennel sausage added. Everyone liked the third one best, but I seemed to love them all. The potato one wasn’t as successful with some of the others. I would happily eat all three again soon.

Joel approved the dinner plan of rigatini amatriciana, and when we got home, Gail set to work. John and Joan had other plans, so it was just the three of us and Jessica. Joel had other plans too for that matter, centering on playing golf with two of his friends, so he didn’t get home until around 7:15, late for the ceremonial birthday photos we always take at the moment of his birth, 6:00 PM. I think he’s happy to let that tradition go, so happy that last year he stayed in Boston on his birthday. I bet he’ll be happy to have Gail’s rigatini amatriciana again though. Was it ever good!

Gail followed the Babbo recipe, which includes the following instructions for preparing the guanciale:

Place the guanciale slices in a 12- to 14-inch sauté pan in a single layer and cook over medium-low heat until most of the fat has been rendered from the meat, turning occasionally. Remove the meat to a plate lined with paper towels and discard half the fat, leaving enough to coat the garlic, onion and red pepper flakes. Return the guanciale to the pan with the vegetables, and cook over medium-high heat for 5 minutes, or until the onions, garlic and guanciale are light golden brown. Season with salt and pepper, add the tomato sauce, reduce the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.

The guanciale made all the difference. It was so tasty. Go get some, get whatever pasta you like, and make this dish. It’s great.

Our food week wasn’t quite over. The next morning, we had a late breakfast in the backyard with John and Joan, featuring Chef Gail’s cheese-onion-pepper-bacon omelets and local cherries that we bought at the market the day before. And for Saturday dinner, it being Joel’s last meal, he had his choice of restaurants. He chose Northlake Tavern, one of our standard pizza places. So ended a great week of eating.

Categories: Family, Food, Restaurants

Purdum on Palin, II

June 30, 2009 1 comment

palinvf

I wrote earlier today about Todd Purdum’s article in Vanity Fair on Sarah Palin. After a short delay, Andrew Sullivan is on the case. No one has been a more consistent critic or exposer of her lies. In the first of a series of posts, Sullivan observes:

There is not much new in Todd Purdum’s nonetheless superb summary of the Wasilla whack-job. I learned that Matt Scully’s concern for the welfare of animals did not prevent him from writing not one but two speeches for a woman who backed shooting wolves from helicopters and allowing them to die a gruesomely painful death. I learned that Mark MacKinnon publicly said he would never join a campaign against Obama and yet coached Palin for her presidential debate, and kept it quiet. One should remember, I suppose, that in Washington even those who seem able to put principle before partisanship are all liars and hypocrites in the end. Chief among these goons is John McCain, a man whose reputation should never, ever recover from this act of wanton irresponsibility and cynicism.

But I did learn of several new odd lies – in the same classic pattern of categorically denying things that are categorically and patently and verifiably true. This is not, as this blog noted in the campaign, the typical political lie, the Clintonian parsing of truth or lying when the truth cannot easily be discovered. It is the statement that it is night when it is clearly, by universal aggreement, three o’clock in the afternoon. So the Dish needs an update and it is imminent. Stay tuned.

In his next two posts, Sullivan adds entries XXVIII and XXIX to his continuing series, The Odd Lies of Sarah Palin. And Sullivan addresses yet again the strange story of Palin’s delivery of Trig. Quoting Purdum again: “But there were ominous signs—indications of an erratic nature. This is the third thing McCain could have discovered about Palin—a woman, after all, who kept a pregnancy secret for seven months, flew all the way home from Texas to Alaska with a near-full-term baby while leaking amniotic fluid, and then finally drove the 45 minutes from Anchorage to a hospital in Wasilla, all so that the child could be born in the 49th state.” Basically, on this point, Palin is either lying (with the assistance of doctors, aides, and hospital employees) or unimaginably reckless. At least one has to be the case. But again, this isn’t news.

Categories: Politics

Made in Detroit

June 30, 2009 Leave a comment

madedetroit

A few weeks ago, I was telling my friend Werner about my two winter trips to Detroit, prompting him to mention Paul Clemens’ Made in Detroit: A South of 8-Mile Memoir. A week later, a copy of the book arrived from Amazon, courtesy of Werner (thanks, Werner!), and a week after that I began reading it. Due to various distractions, I didn’t get around to reading it in earnest until a few days ago, and I finally finished it Sunday morning.

The author grew up in northeast Detroit in the 1970s and 1980s, in a white, Catholic family. He writes about white flight, attending Catholic schools and church, the steady closure of Catholic schools and churches, the governance of the city during the long mayoral reign of Coleman Young, city and suburb, racism and religion, his father’s work on autos and his mother’s domestic work in nearby Grosse Pointe, and much more. Well worth reading.

A couple of Saturdays ago, when I was just a short ways into the book, we went to a friend’s birthday party and got to talking with her brother-in-law, a Detroit native, about the city. I mentioned the book, which he knew well, as he did the author’s old neighborhood. We talked about life in Detroit for a long time. An endlessly fascinating city.

Perhaps the best part of the book is Clemens’ depiction of his father, whose understanding of the workings of cars is nonpareil, both as mechanic and as driver. We get our first glimpse of the father’s expertise in the fourth paragraph of the book:

My father had amazed me throughout my childhood with his ability to spin 360s in icy intersections–it had something to do, I noticed, with violently jerking up the parking brake–and he remains the only person I know able to shift his way from first to fifth wihtout his foot once touching the clutch. “It’s how European rally drivers do it,” he once said to me. “They never use their left foot. Their right heel is on the brake, and the ball of their right foot is on the accelerator.” “But how do you know when you can shift that way?” “Without using the clutch to disengage the gears, you mean? Oh, you can hear it when the gears mesh.” Car performance, and upkeep, was everything to this man. …

My own experience with a clutch is extremely limited. There’s the time I helped my brother drive from New York to Oklahoma, in September 1971. I got a crash course in order to share the driving duties, and then we were off. I was pretty good as long as I just had to put it in fifth on the interstate. The first evening, after we had gone around Indianapolis, my brother’s eye was sore and I had to take over for the final 100 miles into Terre Haute, where we were to stay overnight. I didn’t mention that the car was a sports car, whose transmission was not the easiest to master, but it sure liked to go fast and the road was empty except for the occasional semi. I got into a great rhythm, hitting 100 mph for long stretches, slowing to 90 to pass a truck, then getting it back up to 100. All was well until we had to get off to get to our Terre Haute motel, but under my brother’s guidance, we made it. The next day was the worst. We crossed the Misssissippi into St. Louis, had to get on local roads because of some detour, then I took over the drive as we were about to get back on the interstate. But somehow, a few miles on, I got in the wrong lane and we mistakenly exited at a giant intersection for the Six Flags amusement park. A state trooper controlled the intersection, letting cars enter the interstate from the park for a couple of minutes at a time, then letting us get off the ramp into the park. But I wanted to go straight through, from exit ramp to entrance ramp. And when our turn came, I managed to stall the car. He stopped us all again, let the other direction go for a while, then pointed at me, shouted “Are you ready?”, and waved us forward. I was feeling a little pressure. And if I remember correctly, as we headed up the ramp, I screwed up by shifting from 1st to 4th. But we made it onto the interstate and I continued driving to Springfield before handing off to my brother again.

Clemens’ father I wasn’t.

Categories: Automobiles, Books, Life, Society

Balanced Journalism

June 30, 2009 1 comment

see-saw

I haven’t read Matt Taibbi’s piece on Goldman Sachs in the latest issue of Rolling Stone (and it’s not available online), but I did read today’s post at his blog in response to mail he has received on the article. One issue Taibbi addresses is what it means to be “balanced” and what a writer’s responsibility is. This is the same issue that underlies the continuing debate on whether to use the word torture to describe the actions of certain US soldiers and the CIA. (See my recent post on this.) It continues to be a mystery to me why telling the truth isn’t good enough, why one must add a quote from an outright fabricator of the truth or abuser of language in order to ensure balance. The earth is round. No, it’s flat. The climate is changing. No it isn’t.

Taibbi addresses the issues well in ending his post today:

I’m aware that some people feel that it’s a journalist’s responsibility to “give both sides of the story” and be “even-handed” and “objective.” A person who believes that will naturally find serious flaws with any article like the one I wrote about Goldman. I personally don’t subscribe to that point of view. My feeling is that companies like Goldman Sachs have a virtual monopoly on mainstream-news public relations; for every one reporter like me, or like far more knowledgeable critics like Tyler Durden, there are a thousand hacks out there willing to pimp Goldman’s viewpoint on things in the front pages and ledes of the major news organizations. And there are probably another thousand poor working stiffs who are nudged into pushing the Goldman party line by their editors and superiors (how many political reporters with no experience reporting on financial issues have swallowed whole the news cliche about Goldman being the “smart guys” on Wall Street? A lot, for sure).

Goldman has its alumni pushing its views from the pulpit of the U.S. Treasury, the NYSE, the World Bank, and numerous other important posts; it also has former players fronting major TV shows. They have the ear of the president if they want it. Given all of this, I personally think it’s absurd to talk about the need for “balance” in every single magazine and news article. I understand that some people feel differently, but that’s my take on things.

Categories: Journalism

Purdum on Palin

June 30, 2009 Leave a comment

palinwink

The journalist Todd Purdum has a piece about Sarah Palin in the August issue of Vanity Fair, which went online just today. In a better world, Palin would have disappeared from the national press by now and I wouldn’t have to read or think about her. But she’s still around, so I read the piece, and you may wish to too. I’ll quote one passage that I found particularly troubling:

As Palin has piled misstep on top of misstep, the senior members of McCain’s campaign team have undergone a painful odyssey of their own. In recent rounds of long conversations, most made it clear that they suffer a kind of survivor’s guilt: they can’t quite believe that for two frantic months last fall, caught in a Bermuda Triangle of a campaign, they worked their tails off to try to elect as vice president of the United States someone who, by mid-October, they believed for certain was nowhere near ready for the job, and might never be. They quietly ponder the nightmare they lived through. Do they ever ask, What were we thinking? “Oh, yeah, oh, yeah,” one longtime McCain friend told me with a rueful chuckle. “You nailed it.” Another key McCain aide summed up his attitude this way: “I guess it’s sort of shifted,” he said. “I always wanted to tell myself the best-case story about her.” Even now, he said, “I don’t want to get too negative.” Then he added, “I think, as I’ve evaluated it, I think some of my worst fears … the after-election events have confirmed that her more negative aspects may have been there … ” His voice trailed off. “I saw her as a raw talent. Raw, but a talent. I hoped she could become better.”

None of McCain’s still-loyal soldiers will say negative things about Palin on the record. Even thinking such thoughts privately is painful for them, because there is ultimately no way to read McCain’s selection of Palin as reflecting anything other than an appalling egotism, heedlessness, and lack of judgment in a man whose courage, tenacity, and character they have extravagantly admired—and as reflecting, too, an unsettling willingness on their own part to aid and abet him. They all know that if their candidate—a 72-year-old cancer survivor—had won the presidency, the vice-presidency would be in the hands of a woman who lacked the knowledge, the preparation, the aptitude, and the temperament for the job.

Categories: Politics