Keep The Cooking in Thanksgiving

In the preface to his book of essays, “Mouth Wide Open”, food writer John Thorne writes that our widespread adoption of cooking-as-entertainment is bringing about the death of cooking itself. I just happened to read this as I was putting together our Thanksgiving menu and realized that much like the “Keep Christ in Christmas” message, we probably ought to have something like “Keep the Cooking in Thanksgiving.”

Thorne says before the radio, people learned to sing and play instruments if they wanted to hear music. “Entertainments like Iron Chef and the Food Network are similarly transforming kitchen work into spectacle.” In other words, instead of learning to play instruments and sing, we fire up a track iTunes and instead of learning to cook “we’ll pop a favorite chef’s signature dish into the microwave,” writes Thorne.

“Cooking is a metier that demands that you learn to think with your senses and articulate with your hands. Tasting, smelling, prodding, kneading, even listening — at bottom, kitchen work is just not a verbal activity.” He’s referring here to how difficult it is to learn to cook from a book. Learning to cook requires direct hands on experience, getting down, “mano a mano with the onions and potatoes.”

In this way, cooking —real cooking — is like meditation. You can read about meditation all day long and it won’t have nearly the effect of actually sitting and watching your thoughts and you breath for five minutes. Naturally there is an entire industry dedicated to emptying your pockets in exchange for books and such about meditation because at the end of the day it’s easier to read about meditation than it is to actually meditate.

And so it goes with cooking. Thorne writes that after a hundred years of massive commercial effort being invested to create more things for you to buy to make cooking easier, even the word “cooking” has been twisted. “As the prepared-meal counter at markets like Whole Foods gets longer and longer, ‘cooking’ becomes a matter of selecting something among all this food to bring home for dinner.”

When writing food stories, I greatly prefer writing about home cooks over professional chefs. Most of the professional chefs I’ve interviewed are very, very self-aware—too self-aware to lose themselves in the interview. But I’ve found that the best home cooks are not worried about their image as “chefs” or worried about entertaining.

Just as the best musicians disappear in service to the music they are creating, the best home cooks disappear in the kitchen and mostly are preoccupied with being true to what they are making. Whatever other chaos or madness may permeate their day-to-day life, when they are in the kitchen explaining how to make something dear and personal to them, these home cooks become like Zen masters, vessels for the direct transmission of enlightenment.

Thorne says that as cooking becomes entertainment it becomes easier to let other people do it for you. Of course where the pace of modern life intersects with the convenience of modern, prepared food options, every family has to weigh their priorities.

If getting down “mano a mano with the onions and potatoes” is not as important as soccer practice or whatever other commitments are on the calendar, prepared foods are going to win out.

And so, as I was reading this on week leading up to Thanksgiving, I’m thinking that there’s no soccer practice on Thanksgiving, right? This is our country’s only holiday that is based on sharing food together (there probably ought to be more of those) and many of us will be lucky to be at home with our families.

In reading Thorne’s essay at this right time of year, it occurs to me that this holiday is the perfect opportunity to be mindful in the kitchen. No matter what we do in the kitchen the rest of the year, the very essence of Thanksgiving is to be mindful and grateful, especially if we have families to share that gratitude with. I can think of no finer way to do that then to be rubbing elbows at the counter while we get “mano a mano with the onions and potatoes.”

What went down.

Our neighbors help us taste test San Marzano and regular plum tomatoes

If you’ve been relying on Facebook to stay up-to-date with what your favorite local Red Bank food site or friend’s tumblr is posting, you’re missing out. Facebook shows you an arbitrary smidgen. To fill in the gaps, here’s what you missed this week,

Imported Italian Tomatoes We get an earful from Jimmy DiBartolo of restaurant wholesaler Quick Stop Food & Paper about tomatoes and sauce.

Keep neurotoxins off your plate. We share a few pointers we picked up from Master Gardener Carolyn Heuser’s presentation on organic vegetable gardening.

Beer and Cheese Seats are selling out for this Belgian-brew and cheese pairing event at the Molly Pitcher.

Also, I posted some thoughts about Jonathan Miles’ new book, Want Not.

And for your listening pleasure, I’ve been enjoying the new album from the NJ-based band, Real Estate:

Jonathan Miles, Want Not

want not book cover

Nutritionists tell us that when we go to a buffet, we eat more than if we order a single dish a la carte. This is because when we go to a buffet we are able to alternate between different foods with different flavors (bacon, french toast, eggs, muffin, etc.) Presented with all of that variety means that we are less easily satiated than when we sit down with a single bowl of plain oatmeal.

That’s the way reading Jonathan Miles’ Want Not felt. Like a buffet table I couldn’t leave. Miles weaves several very different characters and scenarios together but doesn’t cinch them closed until the very last moment in the book.

It makes for compelling reading. A story that seems to be about all the traces of ourselves —trash and otherwise — that we leave behind on this planet. In the end, I’m not quite sure what Miles’ point is about what we leave behind and whether it has any real applicable guidance to how we live our lives, but it does get you marinating about the comet trail of debris we leave in our wake as we burn our way through our lives.

Also, that much of it takes place in NJ means that the characters, the scenes, the scenarios – from the dumpster diving freegans to the McMansion-dwelling weirdos to the small university academic types — are all easy to imagine.

David Eggers’ review in the NYTIMES is what originally put me on the book.

For my tastes, the book is a bit too now, too temporal. I mostly enjoy books that feel universal, timeless — books that while I’m reading, i could imagine myself reading again in ten years and enjoying and extracting more from because of how I’ve changed, not because of how the world changed. Selfish/solipsistic reading is my bag, I suppose.

Anyway, very hard to put this book down. Totally worth a read if you need a break from the classics or non-fiction (as i did).

Weekly Update for February 28, 2014

Like the random patches of clouds blotting out swaths of the blue sky on a partly cloudy day, Facebook permits you to see only a few intermittent and unpredictable slices of the awesome, local food stories PieHole publishes.

These are the stories we ran this week:

  • The Red Bank Community Garden committee is kicking off the first of —what they hope to be — a series of monthly talks and presentations at the Red Bank Public Library. This month’s talk is on Organic Gardening
  • PieHole readers asked for an update on Red Bank’s Peruvian restaurant coming on Monmouth Street.
  • Another burger place opens in Red Bank, this one caters to late-night diners.

I also wrote up a comparison of Beats vs. Spotify that you might be interested in reading if you’re looking into online/streaming music subscriptions.

Beats v. Spotify

I’ve been bouncing back and forth between Beats and Spotify for the past couple of weeks. I’d love to know what other people are thinking. Here are my criteria/important features, in no particular order.

  • Pricing
  • Grateful Dead Catalog
  • Classical title display
  • Remote control for home audio system from iPad/iPhone
  • Discovery
  • Catalog Depth

Both are identical on sound quality, or purport to be, so i didn’t make that a criteria. If I really want to settle in for listening, I’ll put on vinyl, a CD, or some lossless audio. But for hanging around the house or driving in the car, you can’t beat a subscription music service.

Pricing

Beats wins. But barely and it could be better.

If you’ve got AT&T, you can get the Beats family plan for $14.99/mo. Otherwise like Spotify, an individual monthly plan is $10/mo.

I was hoping to put the kids on the family plan so they could use it with their iPads but since they don’t have cell phone numbers, they’re not eligible. So it’s just the wife and I. Still that’s cheaper than buying two Spotify plans.

Grateful Dead Catalog

Spotify wins.

This is silly and sort of trivial, I know, especially since there’s so much available elsewhere online. But anyway, Spotify has a nice Dick’s Pick selection. When Beats first came out, it did, too. They seem to have disappearred though and been replaced with the “Road Trips” series of shows. Can’t say that one really wins here. They both have plenty of listening.

So as a tie-breaker here, Spotify has a much deeper JGB catalog than Beats. Much much deeper. So we’ll give the win to Spotify

Classical Title Display

  • Desktop: Tie
  • Mobile: Beats

As my test here, I try to find a listenable version of the second movement of Dvorak’s Ninth. When you type “Dvorak 9 II” into Beats or Spotify, you get just what you want.

If you just type “Dvorak 9” in Beats, you get list of tracks that makes it easy to find the movement you want. The sort order doesn’t make any sense but you can find what you want. If you type that expression into Spotify, meh. You can’t find the second movement among the results, easily.

This works on the iPhone, too. Beats, thankfully, gives two lines for title display so you can see which movement you’re clicking. Spotify just gives your “Dvorak Symphony No.9 …” and makes you guess at the movement you’re selecting. Boo.

Remote Control for home audio

Spotify wins.

Spotify has a companion/third-party app called Remoteless. This iPhone application allows me to remotely control Spotify on a computer that’s plugged into my home audio system. This is hugely convenient as it allows me to pick songs, playlists, control volume,etc. from my listening chair. Unfortunately, the application only works about 70% of the time.

Beats has no such remote control option. While it’s frustrating as hell to deal with a remote control that often doesn’t work when you need it to most (phone ringing, want to turn down music), at least it’s something.

Discovery

Beats wins.

There’s almost no contest here. The suggestions that Beats has been making for me on my mobile app and the desktop app are amazing. The human-curated playlists are spectacular. I’ve listened to more new music on Beats in the past two weeks than I have through any other channel in the past year.

My only disappointment here is that there seems to be almost no way to keep my new discoveries organized. Both Spotify and Beats offer custom playlists and subscribing to lists, etc but neither really has nailed a way for me to organize my discoveries for later listening.

Catalog Depth

Spotify wins.

Two quick examples. Spotify has three singles off of Beck’s new release Morning Light. Beats has one. Spotify has had multiple releases from Lake Street Dive for several weeks now, Beats just added a single album from the band this week. Neither, though, has Lake Street Dive’s newest album. Still, between the new releases, depth of JGB catalog, etc. Spotify’s catalog is just deeper. I suspect this will be a moving target though.

Conclusion

I’m still up in the air here. I really enjoy the interface of the Beats iPhone app. The ability to filter album lists is great and new music discovery is really a treat.

That being said, the few times I’ve really wanted to hear something (like some of the new Beck album or a Jerry Band tune), Beats just hasn’t had it and I find myself switching over to Spotify.

So, no clear winner yet. Would love to know others’ thoughts here.

Good magazines, electronically delivered from Red Bank Public Library

image

[see note below about creating a library-zinio account if you already have a personal one that you use.]

I’ve used Zinio for a couple of years now on my iPad to read a few magazines that I used to subscribe to in print form (Stereo Review, the occasional Threepenny Review, Esquire, etc.) Zinio has come a long way and now supports Kindles and desktop computers and a bunch of other devices so it’s an easy way to read good magazines without cluttering up your reading table/nightstand or cutting down trees. 

So but anyway, if you live in Red Bank and have a library card you can now get magazines delivered to your device through zinio. It took me a while to sort out how to link up my existing zinio account with my library account[1] but now that that’s done, I can browse the library’s magazine collection and just click to have the current issue delivered to my iPad. 

1. Here’s the deal if you already have a zinio account and want to add the library’s magazines to that account

  • when you create your library zinio account on this page, use the same email address that you use for your personal zinio account
  • the caveat here is that the password requirements for the library-zinio account and the personal/zinio account are different. The library-zinio account is more restrictive (i think it was 8 characters with both letters and numbers).
  • so before you go creating the library zinio account, go to your personal zinio account and make your password 8 characters with both letters and numbers, then use that same email and password when you create your library-zinio account.

Mahi Mahi with Roasted Corn, Avocado and Mango salsa.

This sounds like a crazy-difficult recipe but it is really just an on-the-fly dish i put together last night that is the result of some sweet concurrent sales going on at Whole Foods and Foodtown right now and doesn’t take more than 20 minutes to make. This was really, really good and I’m just making a note of it here for my neighbors and so that I don’t forget about it.

Mangos are 3 for $2 at FT and FT always has conventional avocados on the cheap and both mangos and avocados are on the safe-side of the conventionally grown vs organic list –meaning they organic versions aren’t hugely better for you than the conventional.

At the Whole Foods you can get nice local (Farmingdale) corn and fresh mahi mahi. 

Shopping list

Whole Foods

  • 1lb mahi
  • 4 ears corn
  • 1 jalapeño (or a scotch bonnet if you really want some heat)
  • 2 bottles of 2011 or 2012 white bordeaux (1 for while you’re cooking, one for while you’re eating)

Foodtown

  • 2 avocados
  • mangos (you only need 1)
  • 1 lime

grill

  1. prep the corn (remove husk, wrap 4 ears and a dozen ice cubes tight in some foil) 
  2. Put corn on grill over hot spot.
  3. put some cayenne and salt on the mahi
  4. put fish on the grill.

make the salsa

  1. cube up a mango
  2. cube up the avocado(s)
  3. dice jalepeno
  4. mix this upstuff and squeeze lime on it
  5. (if you’ve got some bermuda onion hanging around, a tablespoon or so of that diced into the salsa is nice but not mandatory).

after about 8-10 mins on the grill;

  1. flip the mahi
  2. take the corn out of the foil and put it over direct heat to char it a bit all around
  3. take 2 ears of corn and cut the kernels onto cutting board, let it cool a bit before you mix it into salsa.

Serve:

take the mahi off the grill, serve it with a ton of salsa on it. drink heavily. make your kids do the dishes.

Just got turned on to Sarah Jarosz. This track sounds especially like a Nick Drake song for some reason. Her song writing, both lyrics and composition are really something.