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kottke.org posts about food

Vietnamese people “learn” how to make pho from American recipes

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 14, 2018

From Jenny Yang’s Bad Appetite series, a group of Vietnamese critique questionable recipes for phở from American recipe sites that, for instance, try to substitute daikon radish for the noodles?

Politely, to not hurt your feelings, I’ll eat it.

The title is wrong. The whole thing, the recipe is fine. You want to eat, whatever, you cook it. Not with that name. Wrong name. Rename it. This one’s “Japanese soup”.

Don’t skip the last third of this. After politely dissing the recipes, Yang’s subjects talk about the importance of food in Vietnamese culture and share stories of how they came to the United States.

See also Koreans Learn to Make Kimchi from Brad at Bon Appetit.

The etymology of “orange”: which came first, the color or the fruit?

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 02, 2018

Orange Painting

The human eye can see millions of colors but it can take awhile for language to catch up. Take the color orange. Until the 16th century, there was no word for that color in English and even then, when writers referenced it, they said something like “that thing that is the color of an orange”.

Orange, however, seems to be the only basic color word for which no other word exists in English. There is only orange, and the name comes from the fruit. Tangerine doesn’t really count. Its name also comes from a fruit, a variety of the orange, but it wasn’t until 1899 that “tangerine” appears in print as the name of a color-and it isn’t clear why we require a new word for it. This seems no less true for persimmon and for pumpkin. There is just orange. But there was no orange, at least before oranges came to Europe.

This is not to say that no one recognized the color, only that there was no specific name for it. In Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Nun’s Priest’s Tale,” the rooster Chaunticleer dreams of a threatening fox invading the barnyard, whose “color was betwixe yelow and reed.” The fox was orange, but in the 1390s Chaucer didn’t have a word for it. He had to mix it verbally. He wasn’t the first to do so. In Old English, the form of the language spoken between the 5th and 12th centuries, well before Chaucer’s Middle English, there was a word geoluhread (yellow-red). Orange could be seen, but the compound was the only word there was for it in English for almost 1,000 years.

Also, it has never occurred to me before reading this that “chromatically brown is a low-intensity orange”. !!! Anyway, this piece is an excerpt from the book On Color.

See also literature’s slow invention of the color blue. Orange painting by James Shull (via jodi)

How one man rigged McDonald’s Monopoly and stole millions

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 31, 2018

For years, Jerry Jacobson was in charge of the security of the game pieces for McDonald’s Monopoly, one of the most successful marketing promotions in the fast food giant’s history. And for almost as long, Jacobson had been passing off winning pieces to family, friends, and “a sprawling network of mobsters, psychics, strip club owners, convicts, drug traffickers”, to the tune of more than million in cash & prizes.

Dent’s investigation had started in 2000, when a mysterious informant called the FBI and claimed that McDonald’s games had been rigged by an insider known as “Uncle Jerry.” The person revealed that “winners” paid Uncle Jerry for stolen game pieces in various ways. The $1 million winners, for example, passed the first $50,000 installment to Uncle Jerry in cash. Sometimes Uncle Jerry would demand cash up front, requiring winners to mortgage their homes to come up with the money. According to the informant, members of one close-knit family in Jacksonville had claimed three $1 million dollar prizes and a Dodge Viper.

When Dent alerted the McDonald’s headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois, executives were deeply concerned. The company’s top lawyers pledged to help the FBI, and faxed Dent a list of past winners. They explained that their game pieces were produced by a Los Angeles company, Simon Marketing, and printed by Dittler Brothers in Oakwood, Georgia, a firm trusted with printing U.S. mail stamps and lotto scratch-offs. The person in charge of the game pieces was Simon’s director of security, Jerry Jacobson.

One of the winners, Jerry Columbo, a partner of Jacobson’s who was allegedly a member of the Mafia, even appeared in this TV commercial holding an oversized novelty key to a car he had “won”:

At the height of the scam, no normal person won any of the best Monopoly prizes…they were all arranged by Jacobson. This has to become a movie, right?

I remember when the Monopoly game started. We didn’t eat out that much when I was a kid, but we still played a few times here and there. But I distinctly remember studying the game board, looking at the odds of winning, and figuring out how they must restrict some single game pieces to make it all work. You could get Park Places all day long, but you’d never ever see a Boardwalk. After that realization, I lost interest in playing. It was an early lesson about not spending too much time and energy striving for unattainable goals. Besides, those delicious McDonald’s fries were reward enough.

Update: Ah, a movie version of the story is in the works with Matt Damon playing Jacobson and Ben Affleck directing.

Using weeds, pests, and invasive species to make sustainable sushi

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 23, 2018

At Miya’s Sushi in New Haven, CT, chef owner Bun Lai makes sustainable sushi using invasive species and other typically overlooked ingredients.

By collecting invasive seafood on shell-fishing beds, we are basically providing a free weeding service… We hope that this will do a few things. First of all, it could potentially curb the dominance of invasive species in the ecosystem. Secondly, it would provide the seafood industry a greater supply of native seafood and reduce the stresses on those populations already fished. Finally, we hope that it would encourage greater balance in the inter-regenerative relationship between man and the oceans. If we were to have thirty Miya’s in thirty different places, each one would have a slightly different menu, each reflecting the problems of its local universe.

Take a look at the current menu…there are entire sections dedicated to dishes made from invasive species (like Kentucky silver carp, Japanese knotweed, and Florida lionfish) and sustainable seafood.

Anthony Bourdain on travel, luxury, the Despot’s Club, and more

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 17, 2018

Back in February, Maria Bustillos was set to interview Anthony Bourdain and she figured she’d get about 15 minutes of his highly scheduled time. Instead, the pair spent two-and-a-half hours chatting about anything and everything and the result is this great dialogue, one of the last extensive interviews Bourdain gave before he died in early June.

I like the idea of inspiring or encouraging people to get a passport and go have their own adventures. I’m a little worried when I bump into people, and it happens a lot — “We went to Vietnam, and we went to all the places you went.” Okay that’s great, because I like those people and I like that noodle lady, and I’m glad they’re getting the business, and it pleases me to think that they’re getting all these American visitors now.

But on the other hand, you know, I much prefer people who just showed up in Paris and found their own way without any particular itinerary, who left themselves open to things happening. To mistakes. To mistakes, because that’s the most important part of travel. The shit you didn’t plan for, and being able to adapt and receive that information in a useful way instead of saying, like, “Oh, goddamnit, they ran out of tickets at the Vatican!” or whatever, “That line at the Eiffel Tower is you know, six hours!” and then sulk for the rest of the day.

On my recent trip, I had some things that I wanted to see but largely ended up playing it by ear. And that thing about the mistakes…that hits really really close to home. I also loved his recontextualization of luxury:

I do find that my happiest moments on the road are not standing on the balcony of a really nice hotel. That’s a sort of bittersweet — if not melancholy — alienating experience, at best. My happiest moments on the road are always off-camera, generally with my crew, coming back from shooting a scene and finding ourselves in this sort of absurdly beautiful moment, you know, laying on a flatbed on those things that go on the railroad track, with a putt-putt motor, goin’ across like, the rice paddies in Cambodia with headphones on… this is luxury, because I could never have imagined having the freedom or the ability to find myself in such a place, looking at such things.

To sit alone or with a few friends, half-drunk under a full moon, you just understand how lucky you are; it’s a story you can’t tell. It’s a story you almost by definition, can’t share. I’ve learned in real time to look at those things and realize: I just had a really good moment.

Luxury as freedom of time, place, and companions. Read the whole thing…lots of great stuff in there. Like: he gave away all the royalties to Kitchen Confidential to “various deserving people”.

America’s ramen obsession

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 17, 2018

The latest video in the New Yorker’s Annals of Obsession tracks the transformation of ramen from a cheapo dorm room food to current culinary obsession showing no signs of abating. I ate the cheap ramen in college, dined at David Chang’s Momofuku Noodle Bar early on, and might pick ramen as my death-bed food,1 so I guess this video was pretty much made for me. Honestly the toughest part about where I live right now is the 2-hour roundtrip drive to eat ramen.

  1. Specifically, I would have a bowl of the shoyu ramen from Ivan.

Which came first, bread or farming?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 17, 2018

Based on the available archaeological evidence, researchers had assumed that bread and agriculture developed around the same time. But a recent find in Jordan of a 14,500-year-old flatbread indicates that bread was first made some 4000 years before agriculture was invented.

No matter how you slice it, the discovery detailed on Monday shows that hunter-gatherers in the Eastern Mediterranean achieved the cultural milestone of bread-making far earlier than previously known, more than 4,000 years before plant cultivation took root.

The flatbread, likely unleavened and somewhat resembling pita bread, was fashioned from wild cereals such as barley, einkorn or oats, as well as tubers from an aquatic papyrus relative, that had been ground into flour.

And now researchers are wondering, did the invention of bread drive the invention agriculture?

“We now have to assess whether there was a relationship between bread production and the origins of agriculture,” Arranz-Otaegui said. “It is possible that bread may have provided an incentive for people to take up plant cultivation and farming, if it became a desirable or much-sought-after food.”

University of Copenhagen archeologist and study co-author Tobias Richter pointed to the nutritional implications of adding bread to the diet. “Bread provides us with an important source of carbohydrates and nutrients, including B vitamins, iron and magnesium, as well as fibre,” Richter said.

Manually pixelated food

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 12, 2018

Yuni Yoshida

Yuni Yoshida

Art director Yuni Yoshida has created these pixelated food photos by manually cutting up the foods in question into little cubes. Love these.

See also censored fruit.

Luminescent fruit

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 10, 2018

Wojtkiewicz Fruit

Wojtkiewicz Fruit

At first, I thought these images by Dennis Wojtkiewicz were photographs of backlit fruit slices, but they’re actually super-realistic paintings four or five feet across. Ok, “super-realistic” is probably not the right description. Under scrutiny, the images are too perfect. Wojtkiewicz refers to his technique as a “heightened approach to realism”, a conscious journey into the uncanny valley.

How to make tea

posted by Tim Carmody   Jul 06, 2018

Tea Plantation - 2.jpg

Last fall, The Big Picture did a series of photographs of tea workers in China. According to the accompanying short article, “The Chinese tea industry employs around 80 million people as farmers, pickers and sales people. Tea pickers tend to be seasonal workers who migrate from all parts of the country during harvest time. The pickers work from early morning until evening for an average wage of around 120 RMB (around 16 euros) a day.”

Tea Plantation - 1.jpg

Tea Plantation - 3.jpg

Tea Plantation - 4.jpg

A pair of Asian chefs demonstrate the art of making noodles by hand

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 27, 2018

Watch as Peter Song of Kung Fu Kitchen and Shuichi Kotani of Worldwide Soba make noodles by hand.

I can watch people pull noodles all day, the strands multiplying exponentially from dough to a meal in a matter of seconds. (Kin Jing Mark doubles his dough 12 times to make 4096 noodles in this video.)

But watching Kotani make soba noodles with his eyes closed was almost spiritual. He combines the flour and water using only his sense of touch in a three-step process (sand garden, volcano, ocean wave) so that the dough comes together in the right way. And then he turns a circle into a square and I don’t even know what’s real anymore. The resulting soba dough is amazing, like a piece of luxurious fabric.

Cooking Babylonian stews, the oldest recipes ever found

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 22, 2018

The Yale Babylonian Collection has four cuneiform tablets that contain the world’s oldest known food recipes — nearly four thousand years old. Scholars think the recipes weren’t everyday cuisine, but dishes prepared for royal houses, because they’re 1) fairly complex and 2) written down. A Yale-Harvard team decided to cook three of the recipes (two lamb stews, one vegetarian) for an event at NYU called “An Appetite for the Past.”

The undertaking was not without its challenges, says [Yale curator Agnete] Lassen. “Not only were some of the ingredients that were used during this time period not available, but two of the tablets are poorly preserved — there are big holes in them. Some of these terms that appear in the Akkadian original are difficult to translate because these are words that don’t appear very often in the other texts that we have and that makes it very difficult to decipher them.”

“Having an understanding of what the food is supposed to feel and taste like is very important,” says Lassen. “We didn’t know what we were looking for. When we were recreating one of the recipes I kept thinking they were doing this wrong, ‘this is not how I would make this.’ And then when it had boiled for a while it suddenly transformed itself into something delicious.”

I wonder which of our recipes will still survive in four thousand years, and what historians of the future will make of the people who ate this food.

Update: University of Chicago Press has a book of ancient Mesopotamian recipes. “Offering everything from translated recipes for pigeon and gazelle stews, the contents of medicinal teas and broths, and the origins of ingredients native to the region, this book reveals the cuisine of one of history’s most fascinating societies.” I’ve never eaten pigeon, but people I know who have say it’s delicious. (I don’t know anyone who’s eaten gazelle.) Via Amy Drummond.

Country Time will cover illegal lemonade stand fines and fees this summer

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2018

The makers of Country Time Lemonade are running a unique promotion this summer. If you’re the parent of a child 14 or younger who has incurred a fine for running an unlicensed lemonade stand or who has paid for a permit, Country Time will “cover your fine or permit fees up to $300”. This video explains (ok, I lol’d at “tastes like justice”):

Open to legal residents of the 50 U.S. (including D.C.), who are the parents or legal guardians of a child 14 years of age or younger operating a lemonade stand. Program ends 11:59pm ET on 8/31/18 or when $60,000 worth of offers have been awarded, whichever comes first.

In a related promotion, Domino’s Pizza is working to fix potholes in streets around the US.

I guess it’s nice of these companies to step in here, but it’s sad that America’s crumbling infrastructure and antiquated legal system have become promotional opportunities for massive multinational corporations that spend millions each year trying to avoid paying local, state, and federal taxes that might conceivably go towards fixing problems like this in a non-ad hoc way. But hey, pizza and lemonade, mmmmmm.

Wine and storytelling

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 08, 2018

At Vinepair, Felix Salmon waxes metaphysical on the value of mythology and narrative in shaping our experience of food and drink.

The amount that we enjoy a bottle of wine is a direct function of the stories we tell about it. Once you’re telling stories about the winemaker, about the soil, about the grapes, about the cool dog that patrols the vines, you’re invested.

If they’re personal stories then you’re even more invested. If you’ve met the winemaker, seen the grapes, had the dog cuddle up at your feet while you were tasting your fourth bottle, that’s going to further deepen your personal connection to the wine. But if you’re one degree of separation away, and that one degree of separation is an enthusiastic worker at Chambers Street Wines to whom you have some kind of personal connection, then that’s great, too.

It’s much better, in fact, than the kind of wine-snob knowledge that allows people to identify wines in blind tastings or wax authoritative on the subject of malolactic fermentation. Knowledge is a dispassionate, Apollonian thing; stories are where we find Dionysian pleasure.

One of the myths Salmon zeroes in on is terroir, which has functioned almost as a kind of auteur theory for wine, and (like auteur theory in cinema) is almost definitely more a 20th century French propaganda campaign than a demonstrable fact. But, Salmon also says, the fact that it’s propaganda doesn’t really matter: the stories add value to the experience beyond their demonstrable truth. And when we eat or drink, it’s the experience, not the demonstration, that matters most.

(Via @hels.)

How to make grilled cheese

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 01, 2018

best-ever-grilled-cheese.jpg

I’m a big fan of different recipes for simple food dishes — Jose Andres’s “The Perfectly Fried Egg” changed the way I cook just about everything — and this deconstructed-then-reconstructed take on grilled cheese fits right in with that glorious recipe.

  1. Heat a heavy pan over medium-low heat.
  2. Thinly spread one side of each bread slice with butter. Spread the other side of each slice with mayonnaise and place the bread, mayonnaise-side-down, in the pan. Divide the cheese evenly on top of the buttered slices. Adjust the heat so the bread sizzles gently.
  3. When the cheese is about halfway melted, use a spatula to flip one slice over on top of the other, and press lightly to melt. Keep turning the sandwich, pressing gently, until the sandwich is compact, both sides are crusty, and the cheese is melted.

Personally, I would omit the mayonnaise and brush the down sides of the bread with olive oil instead: it gives the bread a nice cripsyness and none of that mayonnaise flavor. (I’m cool with mayo most of the time, but not on my grilled cheese.)

My media diet for Spring 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2018

I’ve been keeping track of every media thing I “consume”, so here are quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past month or so. I went to Florida with my kids and we did the Harry Potter thing at Universal & visited the Space Coast. I stopped watching Mr. Robot s03 after two episodes. Still making my way through Star Trek: Voyager when I want something uncomplicated to watch in the evening. (Ignore the letter grades, they suck.)

The Americans. This season, the show’s last, has been fantastic. It’s idiotic to say The Americans is the best show on TV with like 50,000 shows on Netflix alone, but after five strong seasons and this finish, they’ve earned it. (A)

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: The Podcast. I wrote an appreciation of this a few weeks ago. (A-)

Am I There Yet? by Mari Andrew. I love Andrew’s Instagram feed but even so, her book surprised me with timeless and universal themes woven into her life story. (A-)

The Handmaid’s Tale. The first season of this show was great and season two picks up right where it left off. I binged the first six episodes of this across two nights and came away shellshocked. (A)

Wild Wild Country. Not sure why anyone followed the Bhagwan anywhere, but Sheela on the other hand… There were several interesting threads in this documentary that didn’t quite get pulled together in the final episode. (B+)

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Florida. The tickets for this were incredibly expensive and worth every damn penny. This was very nearly a religious experience. (A+)

Downsizing. I wanted more from this about the implications of the evolution of humans into nano sapiens. Still, better than many critics & audiences suggested. (B)

Brain It On. I saw my daughter playing this physics puzzler on her iPad and basically grabbed it away from her and played for 24 straight hours. (A-)

Westworld. Watching this every week feels like a chore. Even though the safeties are off, everything that happens in the parks feels consequence-free. I don’t care about the robots. Should I? (C+)

Fantastic Mr. Fox. Stop-motion animation might be Anderson’s natural medium because he can shoot everything *exactly* like he wants. (A-)

Isle of Dogs. Loved this. The style of it made me want to design something amazing. I could have watched the sushi-making scene for like 15 more minutes. (A)

On Margins - The Making of Rebel Girls. Craig Mod talks to co-creator Elena Favilli about how Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls came about and came to be so successful. (B+)

L’Express. A classic Montreal restaurant. Best steak frites I’ve had in a long while. (A-)

Babylon Berlin. Super stylish. The dance scene in the second episode is amazing. The best things about the show are the music and the world-building in the first few episodes. (B+)

Death of Stalin. I love that people still make films like this. Most of the audience I saw this with had no idea what to make of it or why a few people were laughing so hard at some parts. (B+)

Kennedy Space Center. The solar eclipse last summer awakened the space/astronomy nerd in me, so this visit was incredible. We saw a Space Shuttle, a Saturn V rocket, the VAB, and a whole mess of other great things. Thinking of going back for their Astronaut Training Experience. (A+)

Avengers: Infinity War. The ending of this left me stunned…it broke the fourth wall in a unique way. (B+)

A Quiet Place. This entire movie is a metaphor for trying to keep small children quiet on a long plane flight. (B)

Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet by Claire Evans. This book demonstrates that telling the story of technology, programming, and the internet mainly through the many women who helped build it all is just as plausible and truthful as telling the traditionally women-free tale we’ve typically been exposed to. (B+)

Songs of the Years, 1925-2018. So glad this playlist is back in my life. (A-)

The Avengers. I’d forgotten where all the Infinity Stones came from, so I’ve gone back and watched this, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and the first Thor movie. Fascinating to see the changes in the filmmaking and pacing. If Infinity War had been made with the pace of Thor (directed by Kenneth Branagh!), it would have been 5 hours long. (B+)

Caliphate. Gripping and disturbing and very nearly a must-listen. But I keep showing up places shellshocked after listening to it in the car. (A)

AWB OneSky Reflector Telescope. When I looked through this for the first time at the Moon, my first thought was “WHOA”. My second was “I should have bought a more powerful telescope”. Luckily I can just buy more lenses for it… (A)

I’ve been doing this for more than a year now! Past installments of my media diet can be found here.

Ask An Ice Cream Professional: AI-generated ice cream flavors

posted by Aaron Cohen   May 22, 2018

Hello, it is I, once and future Kottke.org guest editor Aaron Cohen. In the years since my objectively wonderful and technically perfect stints posting skateboarding and BMX videos here, I opened an ice cream shop in Somerville, MA called Gracie’s Ice Cream. As an ice cream professional and Kottke.org alumni, I’m not qualified for much except for writing about ice cream on Kottke.org (and posting skateboarding and BMX videos which I will do again some day). Now that I’ve mentioned Kottke.org 4 times in the first paragraph per company style guide, let’s get on with the post.

At aiweirdness.com, researcher Janelle Shane trains neural networks. And, reader, as an ice cream professional, I have a very basic understanding of what “trains neural networks” means [Carmody, get in here], but Shane recently shared some ice cream flavors she created using a small dataset of ice cream flavors infected with a dataset of metal bands, along with flavors created by an Austin middle school coding class. The flavors created by the coding class are not at all metal, but when it comes to ice cream flavors, this isn’t a bad thing. Shane then took the 1600 original flavor non-metal ice cream flavor dataset and created additional flavors.

AI Cream

The flavors are grouped together loosely based on much they work on ice cream flavors. I figured I’d pick a couple of the flavor names and back into the recipes as if I was on a Chopped-style show where ice cream professionals are given neural network-created ice cream flavor names and asked to produce fitting ice cream flavors. I have an asterisk next to flavors I’m desperate to make this summer.

From the original list of metal ice cream flavors:
*Silence Cherry - Chocolate ice cream base with shredded cherry.
Chocolate Sin - This is almost certainly a flavor name somewhere and it’s chocolate ice cream loaded with multiple formats of chocolate - cookies, chips, cake, fudge, you name it.
*Chocolate Chocolate Blood - Chocolate Beet Pie, but ice cream.

From the students’ list, some “sweet and fun” flavors:
Honey Vanilla Happy - Vanilla ice cream with a honey swirl, rainbow sprinkles.
Oh and Cinnamon - We make a cinnamon ginger snap flavor once in a while, and I’m crushed we didn’t call it “Oh and Cinnamon.” Probably my favorite, most Gracie’s-like flavor name of this entire exercise.

From the weirder list:
Chocolate Finger - Chocolate ice cream, entire Butterfinger candy bars like you get at the rich houses on Halloween.
Crackberry Pretzel - Salty black raspberry chip with chocolate covered pretzel.

Worrying and ambiguous:
Brown Crunch - Peanut butter Heath Bar.
Sticky Crumple - Caramel and pulverized crumpets.
Cookies and Green - Easy. Cookies and Cream with green dye.

“Trendy-sounding ice cream flavors”:
Lime Cardamom - Sounds like a sorbet, to be honest.
Potato Chocolate Roasted - Sweet potato ice cream with chocolate swirl.
Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate Road - We make a chocolate ice cream with chocolate cookie dough called Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, so this isn’t much of a stretch. Just add chocolate covered almonds and we’re there.

More metal ice cream names:
*Swirl of Hell - Sweet cream ice cream with fudge, caramel, and Magic Shell swirls.
Nightham Toffee - This flavor sounds impossibly British so the flavor is an Earl Gray base with toffee bits mixed in.

You can buy almost everything local, except for grain

posted by Tim Carmody   May 11, 2018

A number of bakers, farmers, and enthusiasts are trying to create a market for small-batch, locally-grown grain and flour, using either regional varieties or more exotic, specialty grains. They’re bumping up against an infrastructure that does one thing, and does it very well: process, market, and distribute commodity grain.

The emerging market for heritage and source-verified grains doesn’t really have a supply bottleneck, nor is there a lack of consumer demand. Instead, the missing piece is infrastructure for the wholesale buyer. Hungry as they are for local wheats, bakers are trying to drink from an ocean with a straw.

The biggest benefit to a different kind of wholesale system (besides consumers looking for a wider variety in their baked goods) would be to wheat farmers, who’ve seen revenues plummet on the global grain exchange. Cheap food comes at a cost.

The culinary wonders of MSG

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 27, 2018

Helen Rosner writes in praise of monosodium glutamate, an umami-rich flavor additive that’s been vilified for all the wrong reasons.

Monosodium glutamate has been widespread in the American food supply since at least the nineteen-twenties, imported from China and Japan by major food-production companies like Heinz and Campbell’s, according to research done by Catherine Piccoli, a curator at New York’s Museum of Food and Drink. But a 1968 letter published in The New England Journal of Medicine raised the spectre of “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome,” an illness allegedly brought on by the consumption of MSG, which was commonly used in American Chinese restaurants. Ever since, the chemical compound has been vilified—despite dozens of rigorous studies concluding that the ingredient is innocuous and the “syndrome” nonexistent. Certain scientists and culinarians have long agitated for MSG’s rehabilitation. In a 1999 essay for Vogue titled “Why Doesn’t Everyone in China Have a Headache?,” the legendary food writer Jeffrey Steingarten gleefully ripped to shreds the standard litany of complaints and protests. But only in the past decade has MSG’s reputation truly turned a corner. The Times, Epicurious, and Bon Appetit have risen to its defense. The near-infallible food-science writer Harold McGee has regularly championed its use. At the 2012 MAD symposium, in Copenhagen, the chef David Chang gave a talk on the anti-Asian sentiment that underlies MSG aversion. “You know what causes Chinese Restaurant Syndrome?” Anthony Bourdain asked on a 2016 episode of “Parts Unknown.” Then he gave the answer: “Racism.”

MSG is a potent flavor enhancer; glutamate, the amino acid that does a lot of the heavy lifting, is found in foods as varied as parmesan cheese, fish sauce, and cooked tomato paste — all of them known for packing a punch. As Rosner writes, “it is to savory flavor what refined sugar is to sweet.”

Saltine crackers arranged artfully is extremely my jam

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 16, 2018

Kristen Meyer

This arrangement of saltine crackers by artist and prop stylist Kristen Meyer is giving me all sorts of feelings. Meyer has done many other similar arrangements (see her site and Instagram) but the geometric chaos of this one is *kisses fingers*

See also gradient food photography, Always. Be. Knolling., common objects painstakingly organized into patterns, and Things Organized Neatly. (via colossal)

My recent media diet for March-ish 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 05, 2018

Quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past month or so. I was out of town for a few days so there are more books on here than usual. I’m trying to keep it up…reading right now but too early to call: Broad Band, Am I There Yet?, Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet. Oh and I’m really glad The Americans is back on, even though it’s the final season. (As I’ve said before, don’t pay too much attention to the letter grades. They are subjective and frequently wrong.)

Star Trek Voyager. Not in the same league as Next Generation, but it hums along nicely after they get going. (B)

Mr. Robot. I watched the first episode of season three and then got distracted by other things. Anybody watch the whole season? Is it worth circling back? (TBD)

Annihilation. I enjoyed this more than many people I know, but not as much as Matt Zoller Seitz. Eager to watch it again since reading the book (see below). (B+)

Lincoln. I love this movie. One of Spielberg’s best. (A)

Ugly Delicious. I wanted to hate this, but it’s really interesting and David Chang wears you down with his, well, I wouldn’t call it charm exactly. The episode that really hooked me was the Thanksgiving one, when he’s wandering around a massive supermarket with his mom, who’s mockingly calling him “David Chang” (you can almost hear the appended ™ in her voice) and then refers to him as the “Baby King”. Also, for a chef, Chang is weirdly incurious about food but harangues people for not appreciating kimchi. I really should write a longer post about this… (A-)

Murder on the Orient Express. Better than I had heard, if you choose to embrace its slight campiness. I really enjoyed Branagh’s Poirot. (B+)

Geostorm. I love disaster movies like this, but I kept checking my phone during this one and a day or two later I couldn’t have told you a single plot point. That will not stop me from watching it again because (see first sentence). (C)

Sunsets. I recommend them, particularly on the beach. (A)

The Wizard and the Prophet by Charles Mann. “I recommend that you read The Wizard and the Prophet”. (A)

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward. Great book, deserving of all its accolades. (A-)

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer. This is likely an unpopular opinion, but I liked the movie more. Upon finishing, I was not inclined to read the sequels. (B)

The Odyssey, translated by Emily Wilson. As I mentioned here, I’m reading this aloud to my kids, which feels a little like a time machine trip back to antiquity. (A)

An Incomplete History of Protest. Inspiring collection of objects related to the protests of everything from the AIDS crisis to Vietnam. Fascinating to see how the disenfranchised leveraged art and design to counter their neglect by the powerful. (A-)

Grant Wood: American Gothic and Other Fables. Fun to see American Gothic up close, but I was more impressed by some of Wood’s other work, particularly his illustration-like landscapes. I showed the kids a photo I had taken of one of the paintings and Ollie said, “that looks like a 3D rendering!” (B+)

Stephen Shore at MoMA. I’d label this a “must see” if you’re into photography at all. Shore’s shape-shifting career is inspiring. (A-)

Red Sparrow. I was texting with a friend about how cool it would be if J. Law’s character in Red Sparrow was Paige Jennings from The Americans all grown up, but the timelines don’t match up. (B-)

Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle. I don’t play a lot of board games so maybe this is a common thing now, but I really like how all the players have to work together against the game to win. But once you get past the first couple of decks, the games take *forever*. (B+)

The Royal Tenenbaums. Rushmore will always be my sentimental Wes Anderson fave, but Tenenbaums is right up there. (A)

Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace. I have been listening to the audiobook version while in the car, and Wallace’s reading of the first story, Big Red Son (about an adult video awards show), made me laugh so hard that I had to pull of the road at one point. (A)

Logan Lucky. Much better on the second watch. I don’t know why I didn’t appreciate it the first time around…I love Soderbergh and this is basically Ocean’s 7/11. (A-)

Moon. I saw this when it originally came out but didn’t like it as much the second time around. Great soundtrack though. (B+)

Sleep. An 8-hour-long album designed to be played while you sleep. I listened to the entire album while working, and it’s pretty good for that purpose as well. (A-)

Simon and the Whale. Wonderful room and service. Really good cocktails. I know the kitchen crew and they still blew me away with the food. (A)

Girls Trip. I haven’t laughed so hard at a movie since I don’t know when. Bridesmaids maybe? Can’t wait to watch this again in a few months. (A-)

Ready Player One. I very much enjoyed watching this movie. Spielberg must have had fun going back through the 80s pop culture he had a large part in shaping. (A-)

Electricity. I’m writing this not from my usual home office but from the lobby of the local diner/movie theater. We had a wind storm last night, which knocked the power out at my house. That means no heat, no water, no wifi, and very poor cell reception. And a tree came down across the road I live on, so I was “stranded” for a few hours this morning until someone showed up with a chainsaw. I unreservedly recommend electricity (and civilization more generally). (A+)

The world’s smallest sushi is made from a single grain of rice

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 29, 2018

Tiny Sushi

At Sushiya no Nohachi in Tokyo, you can eat sushi that is made using a single grain of rice. The tiny sushi came about when a customer challenged the owner’s son to make the smallest possible sushi.

The most difficult tiny sushi are the ones with nori seaweed — those are the sea urchin and egg. For sea urchin, he has to put a small piece of nori around a grain of rice horizontally. For egg, he has to wrap the nori around the egg and grain of rice. It’s pretty impressive to witness.

You can see the small sushi being made in this video:

That said, when we asked how often they need to make a plate of small sushi, we were surprised.

“Just a few times a week and at most five times in a day.” Though when customers from overseas order, they tend to be extra enthusiastic about the tiny sushi.

He told us that one woman from Europe burst into tears and cried for an hour and a half after seeing the cute, little sushi.

(thx, jason)

How to make 29 different shapes of pasta by hand

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 28, 2018

Somehow, I happily watched all 26 minutes of this video on how to make 29 different pasta shapes by hand. Pasta architecture is fascinating!

Semolina pasta is a southern Italy specialty. From that dough, Luca makes cavatelli, malloreddus, lorighittas, cencioni, capunti, strascinati, culurgionis, and sagne incannulate. From the egg dough, D’Onofrio makes fusilli al ferretto, tagliatelle, tortellini, farfalle, garganelli, anolini, cappelletti, tagliolini, agnolotti, sacchetti. From the spinach dough, Luca makes foglie d’ulivo, trofie, fagiolini, and pappardelle. From the cuttlefish squid ink pasta dough, D’Onofrio makes orecchiette, strichetti, fettuccine, and corzetti.

(via the kid should see this)

I recommend that you read The Wizard and the Prophet

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 26, 2018

The Wizard And The Prophet

A couple of weeks ago, I finished Charles Mann’s The Wizard and the Prophet. Normally I shy away from terms like “must-read” or “important” when talking about books, but I’m making an exception for this one. The Wizard and the Prophet is an important book, and I urge you to read it. (The chapter on climate change, including its fascinating history, is alone worth the effort.)

Mann is the author of 1491 and 1493 (both excellent, particularly 1491, which is one of my favorite nonfiction books ever) and I’ve been thinking of this one as the natural third part of a trilogy — it easily could have been called 2092. The Wizard and the Prophet is about two “dueling visions” of how humanity can provide food, energy, housing, and the pursuit of happiness to an estimated population of 10 billion in 2050 and beyond. According to Mann, this struggle is exemplified by two men: William Vogt and Norman Bourlag. The book, in a nutshell:

Vogt, born in 1902, laid out the basic ideas for the modern environmental movement. In particular, he founded what the Hampshire College demographer Betsy Hartmann has called “apocalyptic environmentalism” — the belief that unless humankind drastically reduces consumption its growing numbers and appetite will overwhelm the planet’s ecosystems. In best-selling books and powerful speeches, Vogt argued that affluence is not our greatest achievement but our biggest problem. Our prosperity is temporary, he said, because it is based on taking more from Earth than it can give. If we continue, the unavoidable result will be devastation on a global scale, perhaps including our extinction. Cut back! Cut back! was his mantra. Otherwise everyone will lose!

Borlaug, born twelve years later, has become the emblem of what has been termed “techno-optimism” or “cornucopianism” — the view that science and technology, properly applied, can help us produce our way out of our predicament. Exemplifying this idea, Borlaug was the primary figure in the research that in the 1960s created the “Green Revolution,” the combination of high-yielding crop varieties and agronomic techniques that raised grain harvests around the world, helping to avert tens of millions of deaths from hunger. To Borlaug, affluence was not the problem but the solution. Only by getting richer, smarter, and more knowledgeable can humankind create the science that will resolve our environmental dilemmas. Innovate! Innovate! was Borlaug’s cry. Only in that way can everyone win!

Or put more succinctly:

Prophets look at the world as finite, and people as constrained by their environment. Wizards see possibilities as inexhaustible, and humans as wily managers of the planet. One views growth and development as the lot and blessing of our species; others regard stability and preservation as our future and our goal. Wizards regard Earth as a toolbox, its contents freely available for use; Prophets think of the natural world as embodying an overarching order that should not casually be disturbed.

To combat climate change, should we stop flying (as meteorologist Eric Holthaus has urged) & switch to renewable energy or should we capture carbon from coal plants & build nuclear power plants? GMO crops or community-based organic farming? How can 10 billion people be happy and prosperous without ruining the planet?

I came to this book with an open mind, and came away far more informed about the debate but even more unsure about the way forward. The book offers no easy answers — it’s difficult to tell where Mann himself stands on the wizard/prophet continuum (although I would suspect more wizard than prophet, which is likely my leaning as well) — but it does ask many of the right questions. Wizards can order the book from Amazon while Prophets should seek it out at their local bookstore or library.

Further reading: an interview with Mann in Grist; Can Planet Earth Feed 10 Billion People?, an Atlantic article by Mann; The Edge of the Petri Dish, a piece by Mann in The Breakthrough; State of the Species, a 2012 piece by Mann that was an early attempt at W vs P; and The Wizard and the Prophet: On Steven Pinker and Yuval Noah Harari.

Hair Dryer Chicken

posted by Tim Carmody   Mar 23, 2018

My friend Helen Rosner loves crispy poultry. She evangelizes dry-brined turkey and fried chicken given an extra turn under a heat lamp. Others may have been surprised when she turned her hair dryer loose on a roaster in the hopes of sucking just a little more moisture from the bird’s skin before it got properly cooked. I was not.

Hell of a lifehack, Hels.

Update: Helen has added a full write-up and recipe for hair dryer chicken (or Roast Chicken à la Dyson) at The New Yorker.

Recipes by algorithm

posted by Tim Carmody   Mar 16, 2018

Cover:Cheese is a website charting the progress of EMMA, the Evolutionary Meal Management Algorithm. This is what it sounds-like: a relatively basic attempt to automatically generate food recipes from other recipes.

The trick is, since it’s not just wordplay, and the results can’t be processed and validated by machines alone, somebody’s gotta actually make these recipes and see if they’re any good. And a lot of them are… not very good.

Ingredients

med okra
lot sugar
Instructions:
boil: sugar
okra sugar

NOTE: This one is still around. Don’t make it. You basically end up with a pan full of mucus

But there are some surprises. Apparently eggplant mixed with angel’s food cake is pretty tasty. Or at least, tastier than you might guess. Anyways, at least the algorithm is learning, right?

All the typefaces used on the iconic Huy Fong sriracha label

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 27, 2018

Fonts in Use took a crack at identifying the crazy quilt of typefaces used on the label of Huy Fong sriracha.

Sriracha Fonts

The most prominent Latin text elements are rendered in a variety of informal script typefaces released by American Type Founders in the 20th century, namely Balloon and its shaded counterpart, Balloon Drop Shadow, as well as Brody. Smaller text on the back of the bottle is set in Impress and Tekton.

And they threw Arial in there for good measure. Oof. Don’t miss the first comment about the label’s Chinese fonts; “In the West, PMingLiu has become a prominent component of what some might call the “Asian diaspora aesthetics”. In East Asia, it is seen as the signature for those typographically unenlightened.”

P.S. No one knows who drew the label’s iconic rooster. And remember when people were stockpiling Huy Fong sriracha due to shortages? Simpler times.

Update: After I wondered on Twitter what the Huy Fong sriracha label would look like if the great Modernist designer Massimo Vignelli designed it, the folks at Major Interactive came up with this:

Sriracha Helvetica

*slow clap*

Switzerland makes it illegal to boil a live lobster

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 20, 2018

Come March 1, it will be illegal to throw a lobster into a pot of boiling water. Chefs and home cooks alike will need to quickly kill the lobster first and then cook it.

The first such national legislation of its kind in the world calls for a more humane death for lobsters: “rendering them unconscious” before plunging them into scalding water. Two methods are recommended: electrocution or sedating the lobster by dipping it into saltwater and then thrusting a knife into its brain.

The same law also gives domestic pets further protections, such as dogs can no longer be punished for barking.

The measure is part of the broad principle of “animal dignity” enshrined in Switzerland’s Constitution, the only country with such a provision. The Constitution already protects how various species must be treated and specifies that animals need socialization.

That means cats must have a daily visual contact with other felines, and hamsters or guinea pigs must be kept in pairs. And anyone who flushes a pet goldfish down the toilet is breaking the law.

But really, this is just an excuse to revisit a sublime piece of journalism that David Foster Wallace wrote in 2004 for Gourmet magazine called Consider the Lobster (later collected in a book of the same name). In it, Wallace travels to the Maine Lobster Festival and comes away asking similar questions that the Swiss had in formulating their law.

So then here is a question that’s all but unavoidable at the World’s Largest Lobster Cooker, and may arise in kitchens across the U.S.: Is it all right to boil a sentient creature alive just for our gustatory pleasure? A related set of concerns: Is the previous question irksomely PC or sentimental? What does “all right” even mean in this context? Is it all just a matter of individual choice?

Wallace being Wallace, he then dives deep into these questions at a length of several thousand words, a bunch of which are:

Since, however, the assigned subject of this article is what it was like to attend the 2003 MLF, and thus to spend several days in the midst of a great mass of Americans all eating lobster, and thus to be more or less impelled to think hard about lobster and the experience of buying and eating lobster, it turns out that there is no honest way to avoid certain moral questions.

There are several reasons for this. For one thing, it’s not just that lobsters get boiled alive, it’s that you do it yourself — or at least it’s done specifically for you, on-site. As mentioned, the World’s Largest Lobster Cooker, which is highlighted as an attraction in the Festival’s program, is right out there on the MLF’s north grounds for everyone to see. Try to imagine a Nebraska Beef Festival at which part of the festivities is watching trucks pull up and the live cattle get driven down the ramp and slaughtered right there on the World’s Largest Killing Floor or something — there’s no way.

The intimacy of the whole thing is maximized at home, which of course is where most lobster gets prepared and eaten (although note already the semiconscious euphemism “prepared,” which in the case of lobsters really means killing them right there in our kitchens). The basic scenario is that we come in from the store and make our little preparations like getting the kettle filled and boiling, and then we lift the lobsters out of the bag or whatever retail container they came home in …whereupon some uncomfortable things start to happen. However stuporous the lobster is from the trip home, for instance, it tends to come alarmingly to life when placed in boiling water. If you’re tilting it from a container into the steaming kettle, the lobster will sometimes try to cling to the container’s sides or even to hook its claws over the kettle’s rim like a person trying to keep from going over the edge of a roof. And worse is when the lobster’s fully immersed. Even if you cover the kettle and turn away, you can usually hear the cover rattling and clanking as the lobster tries to push it off. Or the creature’s claws scraping the sides of the kettle as it thrashes around. The lobster, in other words, behaves very much as you or I would behave if we were plunged into boiling water (with the obvious exception of screaming). A blunter way to say this is that the lobster acts as if it’s in terrible pain, causing some cooks to leave the kitchen altogether and to take one of those little lightweight plastic oven timers with them into another room and wait until the whole process is over.

Are these photographs of moons or pancakes?

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 13, 2018

Pancake Moons

Pancake Moons

Pancake Moons

Nadine Schlieper and Robert Pufleb have published a book called Alternative Moons. The book is filled with photographs of pancakes that look like moons.

See also Christopher Jonassen’s photos of frying pans that look like Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons. Oh, and don’t forget about the world’s best pancake recipe.

A woman’s place is at the South Pole

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 29, 2018

Why is this 16-year-old girl holding a ham & cheese sandwich at the South Pole?

Jade Hameister

At 14, Jade Hameister became the youngest person to ski to the North Pole from outside the last degree of latitude. After she gave a talk about the journey at TEDx Melbourne, a video of the talk was posted online and the comments — like “Make me a sandwich” — rolled in from men presumably upset that Hameister isn’t preparing for a life of cooking & cleaning rather than polar exploration. After skiing across Greenland and then to the South Pole, Hameister had a message (and some lunch) for those men:

Tonight (it never gets dark this time of year) I skied back to the Pole again… to take this photo for all those men who commented “Make me a sandwich” on my TEDX Talk. I made you a sandwich (ham & cheese), now ski 37 days and 600km to the South Pole and you can eat it xx

How’s that Hameister & cheese sandwich taste, fellows? *bicep flex emoji* *dancing woman emoji*