Sunday, July 31, 2011

On the Future of Bacon

Vincent was right: bacon tastes goood. But the market for frozen pork bellies futures has been dwindling. As of July 15 frozen pork belly options and futures are no longer traded at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange where they had been trading since 1961.* Anyone left holding a pork belly contract surely ain't gonna have no money to buy their son the G.I. Joe with the kung-fu grip.**

BTW, the totally awesome drawing here is by Alyson Thomas. I just love her butchery diagrams.

Futures, as explained by Motley Fool, are agreements between two parties to buy or sell a certain amount of a specified item for a specified price at a specific date. Don't ask me to explain options. It cannot be done!

Various news sources (NYT, WSJ and NPR) say that the market for bellies was historically strong in anticipation of summer sales when folks wanted to eat BLTs. That one sandwich was responsible for the rise and fall of the Duke brothers' (and others') fortune is ludicrous. Those sources say that year-round demand for bacon has caused the demand for frozen bellies to dry up. This is partly true. The full story of the death of the contract involves changes in the industry and how the contract failed to adapt accordingly. (Click here for Jeff Carter's explanation.)

What I don't understand is why the the contract didn't change. I get why the market for frozen bellies is down but why not allow for futures trades on fresh bellies? The fall of the contract comes at a time when you can't eat out without seeing pork belly on the menu. The belly garnered a noisy, intellectual, well-heeled fan base, similar to that of other humble foods such as the donut, BBQ, tacos, ice cream. Each are being produced by careful craftspeople and being consumed, discussed and venerated.

The "bacon tastes goood" statement voiced a truth that carnivores everywhere held but were too wrapped up in their cholesterol levels to celebrate. Once stated, the market - led in part by the Charlie Trotters and Alice Waters of our nation's restaurants - started giving us more of what we liked. Slow roasted! Glazed! Braised! God forbid frozen! From his chaise in the Caribbean, Billy Ray Valentine is making a killing on freezer space futures. Looking good, Billy Ray!

So what's the future of bacon? I couldn't tell you. But I can elaborate on the asterisked items above:

* A frozen pork belly futures contract consisted of 40,000 pounds of frozen pork bellies, cut and trimmed, where 1 point = $.0001 per pound ($4.00)

** That's from Trading Places. You can't talk pork bellies without letting Billy Ray Valentine doing some of the talking.

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Monday, July 25, 2011

Happily Ever After: Tales from an arranged marriage

The truth is we did not know each other well before taking the plunge. There was no pre-marital canoodling to test each other out. I found out as much as I could beforehand, but had no idea how well we would match up. He might have thought me an amateur. He is so handsome that I doubted his ability to perform.

This is the arrangement we all have with new cars and appliances. You do the research, you ask around, then you hand someone a wad of bills and hope for the best. Will it be reliable? Will it be a lemon? Will you have to adapt your technique or cooking/cleaning/driving habits just to get the best performance out of it?

When we moved into our new home I had to select and purchase multiple new appliances. This was a total treat - especially the range in the kitchen. I chose well. His name is still evolving, but he's either Wolf or Wolfie (a la Puck or Mozart). Like his canine cousins he is eager to please, territorial, and awesome.

Wolfie has six-burners and a griddle. After cooking on a barely functioning Jenn-Air cooktop for the past six years (I cannot bring myself to knock the brand because we have a Jenn-Air outdoor grill that is a rock star*), Wolfie appeared one day as the clouds parted, angels sang, and four sweaty dudes grunted and heaved him up the steps to the kitchen. Years ago I had a Viking. Each of its six burners required planetary alignment before igniting and I had to replace the hinges on the oven door three times over seven years. The Viking did not so much like to run at high temps and I regularly cook pizza at 500. I'd cook it at 800 if I could, but you can't get that kind of heat out of a residential appliance. Anyway, that appliance was a total disappointment. The Viking brand was conceived to fill a void in the market. Nothing more than eye candy for the kitchen.

I'm often asked about my affinity for all gas ranges. But before that I'd like to take this opportunity to air my grievance with the so-called dual-fuel range. There's uno fuel: natural gas. Dual energy would be better.

I wouldn't consider an electric cooktop. Gotta cook with flames. And I do prefer the unified range to the separate wall oven and cooktop.  When you have a cooktop you have to deal with that awkward cabinet below it and I prefer my cabinetry have a sense of confidence. The cabinet under the aforementioned Jenn-Air was like Eeyore, always presuming he'd been forgotten or that it was going to rain.

A gas oven cooks with more moisture than an electric oven. This is great for roasting and baking cakes. Some things, cookies and granola in particular, seem a bit better off in an electric oven, especially one with a convection setting. Wolfie doesn't convect, but he does have a fan that helps out immensely. The first time I made granola in the Wolf it didn't dry out sufficiently. Now that I run the fan it's fine.

The griddle has been the best surprise. I almost skipped it in favor of more burners and that would have been a major oversight. You should see how well the Wolf griddle handles eggs. Unreal. I'd like to fling my nonstick pans off into the alley but I still need them for tarte Tatin and crêpes.  The only design flaw with the griddle is the drip hole. The dual energy model has a sweet drip tray that is a cinch to clean. I don't care for the hole on my Wolfie. We don't generate enough drippings to even really use it but the whole area around it gets splattered. The tray is genius, but unavailable on the gas models.

Another decision that was not hard to make was about the burners. I really, really like open burners as you get a much better flame. I don't have any issue with that drip tray, either. With closed burners all your mess stays on top and waits for you to clean it. With opened burners the unwatched pot boils over a bit but everything is contained in the drip tray.

It's been a two-month honeymoon and Wolf is a well-seasoned partner in the kitchen, and shows every indication of having the stamina to go the distance. May you all experience similar wedded bliss.

* If company history intrigues you as it does me, Jenn-Air was acquired by Maytag in 1982. In 2006 Whirlpool bought Maytag.

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Monday, July 11, 2011

Don't Name Your Restaurant

Naming posts, restaurants, stories, books, films, children - is hard work. Originality is good, within reason. An article  in The New Yorker concerning summer movies gave demerits to Bad Teacher and Horrible Bosses because those names tell the story before you've seen the picture. (The Maltese Falcon, by comparison, was celebrated for giving away nothing.)

One of the best baby books I read was called Don't Name Your Baby. I'd like to quote from it, but I lent it to a pregnant friend. Anyway, its author does not suggest you refrain from naming your young breed. What he does is tell you what's wrong with every name you're considering. It's very funny and makes a good gift. And it drives a point home about names: they're important. They say something about you. They need to be good.

Every once in awhile I'll come across a restaurant with a really bad name and it's always shocking. How could someone go thru securing a location, hiring staff, filling out the necessary paperwork, establishing a line of credit with suppliers and then print "Pink Meat" on their awnning?

And yet, these places exist.  "I will never eat at Happy Teriyaki," I told my husband when we were newlyweds living in downtown Seattle. I'm sorry to report I didn't stand by that proclamation. A scant few months later and I was going there for lunch alone, and even took an out of town guest there. I'm not sure why. It wasn't good.

Then it was Tellurice, a now-shuttered Asian restaurant in my old hometown of Telluride.  As I told a friend, "The name is just too stupid to eat there." I stood by that one. If an owner puts a name like that on the shingle one can only assume that there's some stupid sneaking into the food. My friend relayed a story from when she ate there and, get this: they were out of rice.

Lately, I've been grumbling to myself about an establishment that's going in around the corner. It's called Jam and Honey. And it's not a boutique shop selling the kind of imports that make me giddy. It looks to be a restaurant, complete with a hostess stand up front. They are optimistic about reservations, I suppose. I can only assume they will serve more than Jam and Honey, but what else?!? The name is so terrible I'll never find out. I can only imagine this scenario:

"Welcome to Jam and Honey."

"Hey! Got any grapes?"

"No, we only serve pink meat."

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Sunday, July 3, 2011

On Marriage and Moonspoons

Moonspoon is a recent discovery. I can't recall where I first saw their wares, but it was either an online or print ad, probably among the home magazine and sites I've been trolling for ideas and inspiration. And then, as I was worming around the awesome shop at Gethsemane Garden Center, I stumbled upon an abundant display of the very Moonspoons that captivated me in the first place: pickle forks, honey sticks, butter boards. It was a fated encounter and I did not leave the shop without a few.

What followed was a shock: my husband did not like the Moonspoons. This baffled me until this morning, as my oldest daughter and I noshed on the apricots procured at the farmer's market yesterday. We had been waiting, impatiently, until today because they needed a day to ripen. We stood in silent reverie of the wonderous fruit and in that moment I remembered: my husband does not like apricots, either. And while this shocks me I take no umbrage on behalf the fruit in a "more-for-me" kind of a way.

But his dislike of the Moonspoon presents a bit of a problem - particularly the diminutive sugar spoon I bought for our Nicholas Mosse sugar bowl. I liked it because it was so tiny it fit perfectly inside the sugar bowl. The lid of my beloved sugar bowl does not have a lip for a protruding spoon. And so the little hammered steel sugar spoon we've been using causes the lid to sit unevenly on the bowl which makes me uneasy in the morning, pre-coffee, and uneasy in the afternoon when I'm twitchy from too much coffee. The tiny Moonspoon afforded me approximately 36 hours of serenity before my husband returned from a business trip, discovered the impostor in the sugar bowl and pronounced his dislike of same. And the fact of the matter is, the dispensing of the perfect amount of sugar into your mug is critical. We had it down with the hammered steel spoon. So it's back, and my tiny Moonspoon awaits another assignment.

That's all.

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Saturday, July 2, 2011

On Packing Tape and Box Cutters

To be sure, there have been up sides. But moving is a lot of work.

One plus: I will never have to buy packing tape again. The movers left at least a case of it behind. This is very convenient for me as a Zappos shopper. I end up with a fair amount of returns and you have to tape those half-sheet paper USPS/UPS labels onto the box. I used to think I liked internet shopping because I lived in a remote place (when Telluride was my home). I'm a city dweller now but my love for online shopping abides, owing to the hefty surcharges of city tax and downtown parking fees. I troll the web and shop almost exclusively at retailers who offer free shipping and returns. Hence the need for packing tape.

Unpacking has been way more work than packing. It's kind of the reverse of packing for vacation. Outbound preparation demands attention to selecting and packing with great care so your travel clothes arrive in suitable condition. On the way home you can just shove everything in your bag and let the wrinkles come out in the laundry.

Packing our house was the opposite. We did not move far - just 300 yards - and we moved the kitchen ourselves to save time and bubble wrap. Everything else was boxed up over a scant few days. We've been in our new pad for a month now and I still have several large boxes skulking on the periphery of most rooms, like a dog that wet the floor. The problem with these last few boxes is there it's not obvious where I'm meant to store their contents. My office accoutrements, for example, will remain boxed until my star-crossed desk finds me.

Unpacking the boxes that were packed earliest took the most physical effort as we were much more liberal with the tape when packing the first dew dozen boxes. Afterwards it was, like, one strip per box, then on to the next, because there were a lot of boxes -a fact that was obscured in the early hours of packing when we had more time and energy.  Once it came to the unpacking it was a huge relief to be able to use a box cutter again. I'm certain that I did not once touch a box-cutter since the Towers crumbled. But with Bin Laden out of the picture it felt ok to use the tool for its sole, intended purpose. Other sharp tools aren't adequate or even really available when one first arrives in a new home. Scissors and Swiss army knives are packed themselves. But our box cutter, which makes its home in a bright yellow tool box, was readily available. My long-suffering box cutter, stained by the 9/11 hijackings, could rejoice at having its status restored as Useful Tool.

The dust has begun to settle and I'm very much enjoying the new Pinch kitchen and the patio garden that feeds it. More on those things soon.

Have a lovely Independence Day!

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