What’s Happening to American Food?

Yeah, Well, I Mean Other Than That ….

In the big cities on the Right and Left Coasts, what we know of as American food is—I think, anyhow—starting to disappear. Not that American cuisine is necessarily the best in the world. Being Hungarian, I know it couldn’t hold a candle to a home-cooked Magyar meal. But there are some good American dishes of which I am quite fond. For someone who truly hates the Confederacy, I like Southern food: fried catfish, grits, collard greens, black-eyed peas—though I stop short at chicken. (Martine, on the other hand, is a big time poultry devotee.)

I think the problem is those guys with toques who like to think of themselves, standing in their kitchens, as masters of all they survey. The Food Channel has introduced us to a whole generation of soi-disant chefs who basically like to screw around with food, mix flavors like crazy, and build photogenic little towers on the plate. I think of these toque-n chefs the same way I think of those little kids who like to mix Coke with Mountain Dew with Root Beer at one of those automatic soda dispensers, thinking they’ll come up with something new and interesting. Of course, they never do.

Martine is unable to eat the range of food that I can. I would be perfectly content eating nothing but Asian food all my life, or Mexican, or Argentinean. She has irritable bowel syndrome and needs good plain food. We usually compromise when we go out: one meal to make me feel good, and maybe the next to make her feel good.

Today, for instance, we found that a restaurant chain we loved that had been out of business for over 10 years still had one branch in Sherman Oaks, near the intersection of Moorpark and Van Nuys Boulevard: It was Hamburger Hamlet. The food was not great—not like pigging out in New Orleans on a po’ boy or in Boston on scrod—but it is good; and the menu is large enough and interesting enough to make me feel better than dining at Denny’s or Norm’s.

In our lifetimes, I think the American coffee shops will disappear, at least in the big cities. I hate to think what the chefs of tomorrow will do to our stomachs.

Where Smokey Bear Is King

Smokey Bear Museum Capitan

Smokey Bear Museum Capitan

Everybody knows the Smokey Bear of advertising, but do you know there was a real living Smokey Bear.According to Wikipedia:

The living symbol of Smokey Bear was an American black bear three-month-old cub who in the spring of 1950 was caught in the Capitan Gap fire, a wildfire that burned 17,000 acres (69 km2) in the Lincoln National Forest, in the Capitan Mountains of New Mexico. Smokey had climbed a tree to escape the blaze, but his paws and hind legs had been burned. According to some stories, he was rescued by a game warden after the fire, but according to the New Mexico State Forestry Division, it was actually a group of soldiers from Fort Bliss, Texas, who had come to help fight the fire, that discovered the bear cub and brought him back to the camp.

Originally called Hotfoot Teddy, his name was changed to Smokey and he became a living symbol, ensconced at the National Zoo in Washington until his death in 1976. His remains were returned to Capitan, New Mexico, where there was a museum and a funerary monument in his honor.

The museum is still there, as well as a Smokey Bear Motel and a Smokey Bear Restaurant. We visited in 2003, and plan to drop in again to pay our homage to Smokey. Martine has a special devotion to Smokey. She has a special 50th anniversary stuffed Smokey Bear, as well as a zipper pull. Our refrigerator has two Smokey Bear magnets.

This Sign Appears All Over the Southwest

This Warning Sign Appears All Over the Southwest

There is even an Idaho company called Woodland Enterprises, which Martine has visited and which sells Smokey Bear (and Woodsy Owl) memorabilia. We shop there annually for gifts.

So Capitan, New Mexico, you can expect us some time this summer.

Dreaming of … London?

50327110. Tulum, QRoo.- Los voladores de Papantla y los Guerreros Mayas, dan la bienvenida a los más de dos mil turistas locales, nacionales y extranjeros, que día a día visitan la zona arqueológica, que es de un kilómetro, donde algunos prefirieren hacerlo caminando o existe a su disposición un pequeño transporte en forma de tren. NOTIMEX/FOTO/FRANCISCO GÁLVEZ/COR/ACE/

Totonac Voladores at El Tajin

Last night I had particularly vivid dreams. Was it because I had eaten watermelon before going to bed? If so, I might be in for more dreams tonight.

Martine and I were in London at a large museum. I noticed that a number of English dressed in red “Beefeater” costumes were flying in the air by their feet just like the Totonac voladores at the ruins of El Tajin in Mexico’s State of Veracruz. I mentioned to Martine that it must be a traditional English Maypole ceremony—though, God knows, the real Maypole does not involve anything quite so spectacular.

At the same time, I noticed that several large buildings in London were aflame. Since the fires were several blocks away, I didn’t particularly care. I was slightly miffed that Martine, as usual, was being too slow and meticulous about seeing all the exhibits. I, on the other hand, wanted to catch a particular train to the north.

Somewhere along the line, my desire to go was also to visit a particular bookstore. At that point, I woke up.

 

 

A Weekend With Dan

My Brother Dan in the Thousand Palms Oasis

My Brother Dan at the Thousand Palms Oasis

I will be taking the next three days off from posting on this website. Tomorrow morning, I will pick up a rental car and start heading for Palm Desert to spend some time with my brother and sister-in-law. Among other things, I need to coordinate with Dan about our upcoming trip to Ecuador.

Unfortunately, Martine will not be coming with me—at her request. Not only does she hate the desert after spending two years working at the Twentynine Palms Marine Combat Center, but she is now on a super-strict diet regimen called FODMAP.  That’s short for Fermentable Oligo-Di-Monosaccharides and Polyols. (You’ll need Adobe Acrobat to be able to read this file.)

Two weeks ago, she finally saw a gastroenterologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and was told to avoid onions, garlic, and virtually all foods that have vowels in their names. She has done a fair job of adhering to it, and she has been free of abdominal pain and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) during that time. I wish her luck, and I very much want one day to travel with her again.

If I have the time, I hope to have some new desert photos to share with you.

 

The Cook

I Do All the Cooking at Home

I Do All the Cooking at Home

At some point during the 1960s, I discovered that eating out at restaurants all the time was going to:

  1. Eat into my finances
  2. Deprive me of the fruits and vegetables I needed to survive and
  3. Make me tired of eating out all the time

I knew what good food was because I was raised on my Mom’s Hungarian home cooking, supplemented by my great grandmother Lidia’s special dishes. But I made the mistake of never learning from them, though I did help my Mom from time to time, mostly stirring the pot so the food would not burn.

My first experiments were pretty bad: They usually had too many spices (more or less randomly chosen) and relied excessively on rice and pasta as the carbohydrate base. Also I used way too much ground beef, for which I now substitute lean ground turkey.

When Martine came to live with me in the early 1990s, I also had to learn to cook to please her. This is not easy. Martine cannot eat spicy food, and there are too many ingredients that she flat-out doesn’t like. Also, as she suffers from recurring bouts of irritable bowel syndrome, I have to be able to turn on a dime and cook something especially bland at a moment’s notice. This week, for example, despite the heat and humidity, I made a pot of vegetable soup.

Tonight, I plan to cook Ree Drummond’s spaghetti with artichoke hearts and tomatoes. I like her recipes because they are well conceived, simple, and lavishly illustrated. Her cooking column is called “The Pioneer Woman.” I haven’t found a clinker yet in the lot.

Why do I do all the cooking? Well, for one thing, Martine is notably maladroit at cooking; and her mother prepared the most vile dishes I have ever eaten. (Her vegetables were greasy!) Secondly, I like to cook. It makes me feel good about myself. Every once in a while I experiment with a new recipe that I have to throw out, but essentially I have a fairly decent repertoire of healthy dishes that I can rely on to see us through.

I’ve cooked the spaghetti with artichoke hearts and tomatoes two or three times before with good results. I just have to make sure the tomatoes are chopped up fine because big pieces of tomato are one of Martine’s bête noires.

Back from Mexico Lindo

At Cabo’s El Arco

At Cabo’s El Arco

We just returned from Cabo San Lucas a few hours ago. It was everything I hoped it would be: I got a good rest just before the rigors of another tax season. For Martine, it was not so good. She was so frightened of getting traveler’s diarrhea that she was overcareful of what she ate and drank. Also, her problems with sleep came down to Mexico as part of her luggage. I tried my best, but some other solution will have to be found for her. I suspect the ultimate solution for her as-yet nameless ailment will be either chiropractic of acupuncture. AMA-style medicine just gets her into trouble with bad prescription drug reactions. Getting her to agree to either will take some doing.

Fortunately, we stayed at a nice resort on Solmar Beach called the Playa Grande Resort & Spa. We ate most of our meals there, making occasional forays into town to have great seafood dishes for which Cabo, as a fishing town, is famous.

“Are You Comfortable in Bed?”

I’m More Comfortable Than HE Is, As I Don’t Sleep on Rocks

I’m More Comfortable Than HE Is, As I Don’t Sleep on Rocks

In my last batch of spam e-mail, I got one entitled “Are You Comfortable in Bed?” As my answer is yes, I did not see fit to open the e-mail, which probably sold vigara [sic] or cialas [sic] or something like that. Thankfully, I am not suffering from electoral dysfunction. Which is to say, I usually vote Democratic.

Getting eight hours of sleep a night is important to me. That is challenged by my massive intake of iced Baruti Assam tea this time of year, but I usually manage to sink back into sleep quickly after draining my lizard. Occasionally Martine and I make like buzz saws, but curiously it doesn’t bother us much. I actually feel reassured that Martine is asleep next to me; and she graciously refrains from kicking me when I start sawing wood.

Every once in a while, I have a difficult time dropping off to sleep because my mind is racing in an infinite loop. I find that the only way to deal with that is to get up and either a bit of a TV movie (the only time I watch TV) or read a book. That somehow closes the infinite loop and allows me to doze. The one thing that does not work in that case is to twist and turn for hours. Better not to even try!

I am appalled when I hear of people getting by on five or fewer hours a night. Sometimes Martine can’t sleep because of her back pain. Frequently she wakes at five in the morning and twists and turns until morning light (or later).

We have an extra firm mattress which helps Martine somewhat. And our living room sofa is similarly firm. These things help (and they don’t bother me at all), but I would be happier if Martine’s back pain abated to the point that she could accompany me on my travels. It’s a lot more fun having her with me.