Thanks to Dave Coppit showing it to me, I am now the proud owner of an AeroPress coffee maker. It's like a super sophisticated french press (cafetière). You use espresso grind coffee, which gets a much nicer brew. It takes about as long to make a cup of this coffee as to make a cup of instant coffee, but it's infinitely better. It's a conversation starter in the office, too. Very geeky.
I've been reading a lot of little recipes here and there. You know, on the back of cereal boxes, jars of sauce, cans of vegetables, that sort of thing. Admittedly they're not intended to be great culinary accomplishments, but they really stretch the definition of a recipe.
Consider "Texas Two Step Chicken" on the back of my jar of salsa. The two steps are basically "buy some chicken" and "bake it." I mean, you do put the salsa and some other prepared condiments on it before baking, but that hardly qualifies as a recipe.
My wife gets a magazine whose purpose is to provide simple recipes. One of the ways they keep costs down is to print readers' suggestions. Let me tell you, there's some pretty non-creative readers out there. For example, one recipe consisted of essentially store-bought ravioli, with a store-bought alfredo sauce, and topped with bacon. Since when is buying stuff at the grocery store and heating it up a recipe? Hey, with that as the benchmark, I could make all kinds of "recipes." Just replace the store-bought alfredo sauce with store-bought marinara, or bolognese, or vodka sauce, or anything else. Top with gratuitous bacon.
There's another pet peeve, while we're here. I live in the South. Everything is better with bacon. Potato salad? Yeah, put some bacon in there. Corn chowder? Make it with chicken stock and add some bacon on top. My friend Ryan over at vegblog.org became a vegan a while ago. He told me a story about the subsequent family Thanksgiving dinner. A well-meaning relative told him "since you're vegan now, I made my fish entree without the bacon." "Well," he told her, "there's still the fish." Oh. Right. People just don't think about the gratuitous meat.
It's really no wonder that Americans are so fat and so culinarily deprived. We get vegetables that are flavorless and bland because we breed them for shape, color, and durability during shipment (none of which favors flavor). Then, when we try to spice things up, we add a bunch of fat (chicken fat, chicken broth, bacon, etc.) to make up for the bland taste. Nutrition goes down, calories and bad stuff go up. Simple equation.
Since so few people cook much sophisticated food any more, what qualifies as a recipe has had to shift. Nobody knows how to make a roux any more (I always have to ask my wife the proportions), much less a sauce based on a roux. So we resort to so-called "recipes" that are little more than shopping lists for prepared foods and heating directions.
How many recipes can there be? One might say "an infinite number," but I think that's too generous. There's only so many unique combinations of stuff that are likely to appeal. And remember that we're trying to appeal to the most basic of people. When you look at the recipes I'm talking about (on boxes, jars, cans), these are written for people who have little more than the box, jar, or can of product being promoted.
So, for the challenged marketing wonk who has to put some passable "recipe" on a product, here's Paco's Special <insert adjective> <insert product>:
- Take 2 chicken breasts (it's always 2 chicken breasts)
- Apply 2 tablespoons of <product>
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
- Bake 15-20 minutes or until done (duh. Don't bake more or less than 'done')
I went to a Thai restaurant in Massachusetts recently that offered "Vegetable Vegetables" on its menu. I suppose that's better than Vegetable Meat, or Meat Vegetables.
That's the best picture my iPhone could do.
I'm reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, et. al. and it's got me thinking about what I eat. I'm already vegetarian, but a vegetarian who (a) eats a lot of cheese, and (b) travels a lot. Although the USDA and the FDA have some rules on food labeling, companies (especially folks like Kraft Foods) really push the limits in terms of convincing consumers that a manufactured, artificial product is somehow cheese. I have more thoughts, though, on what this really means.
I recently had the misfortune of staying at the Westin Chicago O'Hare. I don't know that I have ever seen a hotel more inflated than this. Read on for the most outrageous prices for the most ordinary and basic things.
When I entered my room...
The first thing I noticed was a pair of water bottles, 750ml each. I've been to lots of hotels, and I've found the occasional free bottle of water in my room. Most often that's occurred at longer-term places, like Residence Inns or Oakwood corporate apartments. Not here at the Westin. A tag on the bottle notes that if I drink it, I will see a $5.00 charge on my bill. I'll pass, thanks.
The Mini-Bar is a common feature in upscale hotels. You have a small refrigerator in your room. It works on sensors built into the fridge. Touch anything in it and you immediately incur charges. They could figure out what you ate by doing inventory and noting what they had to restock. Of course, that's absurd. It would be correct. When my oldest son was a toddler, he went with us to Belgium and we stayed in a fine hotel. Toddlers can do a number on mini-bars. Thankfully, that hotel was gracious about understanding what had happened.
The Westin lists all the prices on a small card near the bar. Sadly, the prices aren't the prices. What's the point of putting prices down and then saying "15% stocking fee will be added..."? We're all accustomed to tax being added onto the price of things, so when it says "10% tax will be added" I realize that it's not the Westin's fault and that Chicago is just taxing me. But the Westin is making up this 15% stocking fee. Look at the prices in Table 1. The Westin charges me $2.88 (before tax) for a 12oz can of Pepsi. That can should cost in the neighborhood of 50 cents. Even $1.00 is within reason. But $2.50 plus a 15% stocking fee? Wny not say 75 cents plus 383% stocking fee? Or, for crying out loud, why not just say "$2.88" and be done with it? If you think this is bad, wait until you see room service.