kottke.org posts about food
In today’s post on “What is barbecue?” I skipped past “is a hot dog a sandwich?” so quickly that I forgot to answer the question. So in the same spirit in which someone can boldly declare that only smoked, slow-cooked pork is barbecue, here is my minimal definition of a sandwich:
A sandwich is any solid or semi-solid filling between two or more slices of bread. Not a roll, not a wrap, not a leaf of lettuce: sliced bread. What is inside far less than the container.
- A hot dog is not a sandwich.
- A burrito is not a sandwich.
- A wrap is not a sandwich.
- A cheeseburger on a roll is not a sandwich. Sliced bread only.
- A lobster roll is not a sandwich.
- A hoagie is not a sandwich.
- An ice cream sandwich is not a sandwich.
- A hot turkey sandwich is not a sandwich.
- An open-faced sandwich is not a sandwich.
- If you make a sandwich using one end of the bread and one proper slice, it’s kind of a sandwich still, but not really. See also folding over a single slice of bread for a half-sandwich.
- If you make a sandwich using both ends of the bread, it is no longer a sandwich at all.
- A peanut butter or grilled cheese sandwich is a sandwich.
- A mayonnaise, butter, or ketchup sandwich is probably a sandwich — I’m not sure whether those fillings are solid enough — just not a very good one.
- A sandwich made with crackers instead of bread is not a sandwich, but an imitation of a sandwich.
- A sandwich made with crackers between two slices of bread is a sandwich, but not a very good one.
Alternatively, “sandwich” is a family-resemblance concept and we can’t appeal to definitional consistency to get away from the fact that language is a complex organism and its rules don’t always make perfect sense.
(PS: I do not speak for Jason or Kottke.org on this matter, please do not argue with him about sandwiches)
Update (from Jason): Boy, you leave Tim to his own devices for a few hours and he establishes the official kottke.org stance on sandwiches. [That new emoji of the yellow smiley face grabbing its chin and looking skeptical that you might not have on Android IDK I’m Apple Man] I was just talking to my kids the other day about this important issue and Ollie, who is almost 9, told me that both hamburgers and hot dogs are sandwiches because “the meat is sandwiched in between the bread; it’s right there in the word”. When Ollie and Minna take over the family business in 2027, they can revisit this, but for now, Tim’s definition stands.
At Eater, Chris Fuhrmeister hits on another topic near to my amateur linguist heart: policing the word “barbecue”:
When it comes to American barbecue — I certainly won’t attempt to set ground rules for other barbecue cultures across the globe — there are absolute rights and wrongs. Sure, there’s some room for interpretation, but good-intentioned “barbecue” lovers across this country are blaspheming day in and day out. Before declaring what barbecue isn’t, it’s best to define what it is: pork that’s slow-cooked with smoke.
This is controversial, because “barbecue” is also used to mean:
- n. other slow-cooked smoked meats, e.g., beef
- v. the act of cooking or eating such meats,
- v. grilling anything outdoors,
- n. an outdoor grill
- a. a type or flavor of sauce, potato chips, and other foods
- and so forth.
It’s also odd because, as Fuhrmeister notes, it’s an American controversy, and Americans tend to play faster and looser with food words than people elsewhere. Cognac has to be from Cognac, champagne from Champagne, and so on. Americans have lots of different regional words and practices when it comes to food (soda vs pop, sub vs hoagie, etc.), and we’re definitely competitive when it comes to where and how food is made best, but we’re generally pretty pluralist about definitions. Which is probably why “barbecue” has metastasized to mean so many different but related things.
I tried to come up with a shortlist of honest-to-goodness American food word debates.
- What is barbecue?
- Is a hot dog a sandwich?
- Is Chicago-style pizza really pizza?
- Is it donut or doughnut?
- Is a wrap a burrito?
- Why do we say “chai tea” when “chai” means “tea”?
From here you start to get into all the ways Americans abuse imported food words, which is a much longer list. British English also has a debated distinction between cake and biscuit that I don’t fully understand. Some of us like “is a patty melt a hamburger?,” because the ontology of hamburger is pretty complex stuff. But this is enough to get started.
Donut/doughnut is a straight-up style dispute, and doesn’t have anything to do with definitions. “Are hot dogs sandwiches?” is almost too much about definitions — there’s no history, no implied values, or real stakes. Chicago vs NYC pizza is a regional value rivalry posing as a definitional one: press people, and they’ll say, “yeah, what they make is pizza, it’s just not as good as ours.”
Barbecue is the debate that has everything. It’s a regional rivalry with value attached to it, that’s making definitional claims. And there are so many possible distinctions! Texas and Carolina partisans might unite to reject “barbecue” to mean “cookout,” but fall apart again over the merits of beef vs pork. You can even vote on it; the voting will decide nothing. It is an infinite jewel.
From the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, a map showing where the world’s most used crops originated. Potatoes and tomatoes are from the Andes, watermelon from southern Africa, bananas from south & southeast Asia, and blueberries from North America. (via @CharlesCMann)
From Flowing Data, an animated infographic that shows how the American diet has changed since 1970. We eat less beef, potatoes, margarine, and whole milk than we used to, but more chicken, cooking oil, bananas, and Italian cheese.
From CBC Radio show This Is That, which previously did a bit on Artisanal Firewood, comes a spoof on fancy shows about chefs like Chef’s Table called Cooks.
What do I want people to think of my food? Well, that it’s fast, it’s cheap, it’s a little salty, and most importantly, that it was cooked all the way through.
Serena Solomon grew up in Australia and when she moved to the US, she was shocked at the number of products sold at American grocery stores. Solomon recently asked other immigrants to share their biggest surprises about American culture. From a French welder:
It is so frustrating here. Nothing is easy. Nothing is efficient. To pay rent, you have to use a check? I have never written a check. The last time I got a check was maybe 20 years ago, from my granddad. Getting an apartment takes so long as opposed to other countries I have lived in where it’s just a handshake. That’s it. I went to the post office yesterday, and I was waiting in line for maybe an hour — and there were only five people in front of me. I felt like I went from a Western country to a third-world country. People here with money have access to things. The rest of the people are just trying to survive.
Food is a big difference for some:
Food-wise, I noticed us all getting these round faces from the bad food we ate. We did not realize it, because it was the standard and you think because it’s advertised and readily available it can’t be bad for you. We were so ignorant coming from South Africa, eating home cooked food every night over there. Then, once we got here, we ate those corn dogs almost every day for lunch, little pizzas for snacks, and sugary cereals for breakfast.
Reminds me of Cup of Jo’s excellent series about how parenthood differs around the world.
One of the oldest businesses in the world, Sudo Honke is a sake brewery founded in 1141 and managed by the Sudo family for the past 55 generations.
We’ve been making sake for at least 870 years.
I love the “at least” bit. You can buy some of their sake online. (BTW, feel free to supply your own “Sudo, pour me a sake” joke.)
This is a perfect Friday video. Enjoy your weekend, everyone. (Or not, the machines are gonna take all of our jobs.) (via @dunstan)
Jeff Seal digs through garbage bags outside of NYC grocery stores, delis, bakeries, and supermarkets to find perfectly good food that’s been thrown out.
Stewart Brand wrote a summary of a seminar given by Jane Langdale about how the efficiency of photosynthesis might be improved for some of the world’s plants, particularly rice.
Most plants use what’s called C3 photosynthesis to produce sugars and starch, but the process is not very efficient. Some plants, like corn and sugarcane, have evolved the capability to produce sugars and starch using the much more efficient C4 photosynthesis process. So if you could modify rice to use C4 instead of C3, yields would increase dramatically.
Rice is a C3 plant — which happens to be the staple food for half the world. If it can be converted to C4 photosynthesis, its yield would increase by 50% while using half the water. It would also be drought-resistant and need far less fertilizer.
You can read more about the efforts in developing C4 photosynthesis in Technology Review.
If you left the house with a lemon, some copper clips, some zinc nails, some wire, and steel wool but somehow forgot your matches, you can still start a fire. I imagine if you had a large enough lemon and enough wire and metal bits, you could also jumpstart a car or a human heart. (via @kathrynyu)
The PBS Ideas Channel talks to Brooklyn bar owner Ivy Mix about all the different kinds of glassware that cocktails are served in. The most interesting bits are about how factors other than taste influence how people enjoy drinks, as with wine. Men in particular seem to have a difficult time enjoying themselves with certain types of glassware and drink colors.
The common button or white mushroom, the crimini or brown mushroom, and the portobello mushroom are all the same species of mushroom.
Agaricus bisporus has increased in popularity in North America with the introduction of two brown strains, Portabella (sometimes also spelled portobello, portabello, or portobella) and Crimini. The three mushrooms you see to the right are all actually the same species. Portabella is a marketing name the mushroom industry came up with for more flavorful brown strains of Agaricus bisporus that are allowed to open to expose the mature gills with brown spores; crimini is actually the same brown strain that is not allowed to open before it is harvested.
See also the magical Brassica oleracea plant (cabbage, kale, broccoli, brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, collard greens, and cauliflower are all the same species of plant). (via @dunstan)
Questlove is coming out with a book about food and creativity next month called something to food about.
In conversations with ten innovative chefs in America, he explores what makes their creativity tick, how they see the world through their cooking and how their cooking teaches them to see the world. The conversations begin with food but they end wherever food takes them. Food is fuel. Food is culture. Food is history. And food is food for thought.
Love that cover.
It’s so soothing and satisfying watching this person unslicing tomatoes. (via digg)
The Booker and Dax Cocktail Cube is a plastic cube you put into your cocktail shaker to simulate a big ice cube and achieve “awesome texturizing effects” for your cocktails.
One year in front of a large audience I ran a test intended to prove that big ice cubes were all show. I shook with different types of ice and dumped the drinks into graduated cylinders to measure the amount of foam the shaking had produced. To my surprise, and embarrassment, the large cube had a positive, repeatable effect on foam quantity. I don’t know why the big cube does a better job, it just does.
I’m not sure my homemade cocktail game is quite good enough to be worrying about texture at this point, but yours might be.
Chef Joshua Smookler took a hunk of waygu steak and dry-aged it for a ridiculous 400 days. No surprise, it tasted like “funk”.
Prison Ramen is a cookbook of instant ramen recipes from prison inmates and celebrities (Samuel L. Jackson wrote the foreword).
Instant ramen is a ubiquitous food, beloved by anyone looking for a cheap, tasty bite-including prisoners, who buy it at the commissary and use it as the building block for all sorts of meals. Think of this as a unique cookbook of ramen hacks. Here’s Ramen Goulash. Black Bean Ramen. Onion Tortilla Ramen Soup. The Jailhouse Hole Burrito. Orange Porkies — chili ramen plus white rice plus 1/2 bag of pork skins plus orange-flavored punch. Ramen Nuggets. Slash’s J-Walking Ramen (with scallions, Sriracha hot sauce, and minced pork).
Chef’s Table, the excellent Netflix show by filmmaker David Gelb (Jiro Dreams of Sushi), which I like to think of as Other Chefs Dreams of Other Foods, is coming back with three additional seasons.
“The idea was to do a series about chefs with a really cinematic quality.” As Gelb has said before, the BBC’s Planet Earth was his visual inspiration. With one season behind him, Gelb now has a process. “The hardest thing is to choose the chefs… choosing chefs that are at the absolute top of their field, are dynamic story tellers, have interesting stories in their personal lives,” he explains. He asks a lot of questions: “What are the epiphanies that made them want to be a chef? How do their cooking and personal lives intersect?”
And then from a practical perspective, do they have the time and will to commit to this shoot? “We shoot two weeks very intensively, and they have to be willing to give us their time. Finally it’s about how do we balance the chefs, how do we make it so each story is different, so that the different stories complement each other. While each film can stand alone, together they should form a greater whole.”
Among the chefs to be featured are Grant Achatz, Ivan Orkin,1 and Michel Troisgros. If you’re curious about season 1 (trailer), the Francis Mallmann and Massimo Bottura episodes are the ones to watch.
Update: The trailer for the second season is out. May 27th!
Gordon Ramsay shows us how to chop an onion, cook rice, debone a fish, cook pasta, and sharpen a knife. We’ve been watching a lot of Gordon Ramsay videos at our house recently. My daughter’s class is studying how restaurants work1 — they’re operating a real restaurant in their classroom today — so she’s been really curious about food.
On a recent weekend when it was just the two of us, we watched Ramsay cook his soft-scrambled eggs (and then made them the next morning), which sent us down a rabbit hole of beef wellington, tacos, turkey, and donuts. If you’ve only ever seen him yelling at mediocre chefs and restaurant owners on TV, you should give his cooking videos a try…he’s a super engaging chef that gets you excited about food and cooking.
From a new video series by Eater featuring “culinary-minded individuals who are hard at work perfecting their crafts”, sushi chef David Bouhadana visits a sushi apprentice honing her skills in NYC.
Gear Patrol collected a number of coffee cups from coffee shops around NYC. Prices for a small cup ranged from $1 to $4.50. I’m guessing the latter was not 4.5 times tastier than the former. (via @mccanner)
Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs of Food52 are coming out with a new book called A New Way to Dinner.
A smart, inspiring cookbook of 100+ recipes from the founders of the powerhouse web site Food52 showing just how they — two busy working parents — actually plan, shop, and cook for delicious dinners (and breakfasts, lunches, and desserts) — all through the week. The secret? Cooking ahead.
I need this. I want to cook more, eat better, and not dine out so much, but I just haven’t been able to get it together. And I love the title…”dinner” cleverly works both as a noun and a verbed noun.
At Serious Eats, the Food Lab’s Kenji Lopez-Alt reverse engineers (and improves) the Egg McMuffin for the home cook. Clever use of a Mason jar lid for cooking the egg.
Ben Schott collects some instructions from the cookbooks of noted chefs that will likely never be attempted by the home chef (unless you’re this woman). Like this one from A New Napa Cuisine that calls for phytoplankton:
20 grams marine phytoplankton
100 grams water
4 matsutake mushrooms, peeled and left whole
Or this one from Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck Cookbook to make frankincense hydrosol:
50 grams golden frankincense tears
100 grams water
I’ve owned several cookbooks where one recipe on page 107 calls for the product of a recipe on page 53 which in turn calls for the output of a recipe on page 28. Rube Goldberg cooking. Living in NYC, it’s often easier, faster, cheaper, and tastier to walk to the restaurant in question and just order the damn thing. Or head to Shake Shack instead.
Food writer Michael Pollan — author of The Botany of Desire (my fave of his) and originator of the world’s best simple diet: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” — is the subject of a four-part Netflix series called Cooked. The series is based on Pollan’s book of the same name and debuts on February 19.
Each episode will focus on a different natural element and its relationship to both ancient and modern cooking methods. In the “Fire” episode, Pollan will delve into the cross-cultural tradition of barbecue by looking at fire-roasts of monitor lizards in Western Australia and visiting with a barbecue pitmaster; in the “Water” episode, he’ll take lessons from kitchens in India and cover the issues surrounding processed foods. An episode titled “Air” explores the science of bread-making and gluten, while the final episode, “Earth,” looks at how fermentation preserves raw foods. Every episode will also feature Pollan in his home kitchen in Berkeley, California, with the intention of underscoring the viewpoint that “surrounded as we are by fast food culture and processed foods, cooking our own meals is the single best thing we can do to take charge of our health and well being.”
Announcing this show only a month out and unaccompanied by a trailer? I have no idea what Netflix is thinking sometimes.
Update: Cooked is now available on Netflix. The NY Times has a review. (via @Ilovetoscore)
This is America in a nutshell. Instead of banning kids from playing football, as the world’s leading expert on the football-related head injuries urges, a school district is having their football players drink a brand of chocolate milk that has been shown in a preliminary study to “improve their cognitive and motor function over the course of a season, even after experiencing concussions”.
Experimental groups drank Fifth Quarter Fresh after each practice and game, sometimes six days a week, while control groups did not consume the chocolate milk. Analysis was performed on two separate groups: athletes who experienced concussions during the season and those who did not. Both non-concussed and concussed groups showed positive effects from the chocolate milk.
Non-concussed athletes who drank Maryland-produced Fifth Quarter Fresh showed better cognitive and motor scores over nine test measures after the season as compared to the control group.
Concussed athletes drinking the milk improved cognitive and motor scores in four measures after the season as compared to those who did not.
Vice Sports has a quick look at what’s wrong with this study.
See also these new helmets designed to “prevent” concussions. The problem is not poorly designed helmets or lack of magic chocolate milk. Those things only make matters worse by implicitly condoning poor behavior, e.g. if helmets prevent concussions, it’ll gradually result in harder hitting, which will result in more injuries.
I love watching Gordon Ramsay make scrambled eggs. I first saw this video years ago and, possibly because I am an idiot, have yet to attempt these eggs at home. You and me, eggs, next weekend.
P.S. Jean-Georges Vongerichten makes scrambled eggs in a very similar way. Not quite soft-scrambled…Serious Eats calls them fancy French spoonable eggs.
P.P.S. Anyone have a square Japanese omelette pan I can borrow?
P.P.P.S. In Jiro Dreams of Sushi (now on Netflix!), an apprentice talks about making tamagoyaki (Japanese omelette) over 200 times before Jiro declared it good enough to serve in his restaurant.
That apprentice, Daisuke Nakazawa, is now the head chef at Sushi Nakazawa, one of the five NYC restaurants that currently has a four-star rating from the NY Times (along with the aforementioned Jean-Georges and not along with Per Se, which recently got dunce capped down to 2 stars by populist hero Pete Wells).
Amazing! Redditor eudicotyledon and family win the holiday season with this exquisite gingerbread rendition of the Overlook Hotel from “The Shining,” complete with scary gingerbread twins and edible wallpaper, Danny lost in a hedge maze made of green Rice Krispies, a quinoa-and-powdered-sugar snow covered roof, Jack and Wendy fighting, the dreaded room 237 and its decomposing woman in the bathtub, and an elevator spilling a hallway of Jolly Rancher blood. Unbelievable. (via Neatorama)
(Reminder: This is Susannah Breslin guest-blogging.)
I’m a freelance writer, but I didn’t do a lot of freelance writing this year, mostly because I’ve been working on a book. Recently, I’ve been reading various best-writing-of-the-year listicles floating around, and I wondered to myself, of the things I’d published this year, which I thought was the best of it. I thought of a piece I wrote for The Billfold back in May: “Blood Sacrifice.” It’s about having a very expensive dinner and having had cancer, and what the two have in common.
Check it out, if you’re interested.
Then a month ago, I got a note from a friend, who had a ticket to Next, and what he wanted to know was: Did I want to go? As far as restaurants go, Next is kind of a unicorn. It’s co-owned by Grant Achatz, who is a pioneer in the strange world of molecular gastronomy and the owner of Alinea, which is considered to be one of the best restaurants in the world, and Nick Kokonas, and it is so exclusive that you have to buy a ticket in advance to get into it. The date of the reservation was one week after my birthday. I fantasized that if I went, on the night that I was there, by some strange coincidence, Achatz would be there. Achatz, I knew, had had cancer, too, and, in my daydream, Achatz would come by the table, and I would motion to him, and he would bend down low, and I would tell him, in a murmuring voice, that I had had cancer, and I knew that he had had cancer, too. He would smile knowingly at me, and I would smile knowingly at him, and then he would disappear into the kitchen, and he would emerge with a plate of something that looked like a tumor splattered across porcelain, and I would eat it, and whatever it was made of (rhubarb? venison? something else entirely?), it would be delicious, and I would have eaten the tumor that had tried to eat me, metaphorically, of course, and the cycle of life would close upon itself, completing itself, like Ouroboros with his tail in his mouth rolling down a street like a wheel.
Also, this is a nice homage to The Billfold and its “certain sense of humanity.”
(Photo credit: Radio-Canada/Claude Brunet)