Here is the best brussels sprout recipe. Doesn't even require blanching.
You cut some nice, thick strips of guanciale, or, if you haven't got a good Italian market, you go to a grocer that serves a black clientele and use pork jowl, which is essentially the same thing. Put the guanciale in an unheated heavy sauté pan and then place the pan on the stove over a very low heat. Slowly, slowly render out the fat, occasionally turning the pork so that it renders out on both sides. Patience is the key here; if your pan gets even a bit too hot, the meat and fat will begin to fry and the rendering process will stop.
Meanwhile, remove the base and outer layer of a pound or so of brussels sprouts. Cut the sprouts in half. Toss them very lightly in olive oil--the addition of a little oil brightens the flavor and also helps speed the cooking process later on, as it transfers heat around the vegetable more efficiently.
When you have a nice layer of grease in the bottom of your pan, the equivalent of at least a couple of generous tablespoons, remove the meat and residual solid fat. Increase the heat to high. When the pan is popping hot, toss in the sprouts. Sauté until they just begin to blacken around the edges. Remove immediately from heat and then remove from oil with a slotted spoon. Toss with coarse sea salt to taste. Serve immediately.
Friday, November 05, 2010
Here is the best brussels sprout recipe. Doesn't even require blanching.
If I stole your car and said, 'oopsy I thought I owned it,' without any evidence of owning I'm pretty sure I'd be learning the minimum mandatory sentence for grand theft auto.Becoming a joke? Fuck you too, buddy.
Our legal system is becoming a joke.
-Duncan Black, AKA Atrios
To hell with banks and repossessors; the confiscatory powers of police have been swelling for decades. (Check Balko's archives.) Rather more to the point . . .
Ten percent of black men between age 25 and 29 are in prison at any given time. One third of all black men will go to prison at some point in their lives. We execute innocent people. We execute mentally ill and retarded people. We lock up children.
Our legal system is a mechanism through which the ownership class maintains its status; it is one of the principle means of fomenting continued racial animosity; its vicious policies of Prohibition not only contribute to race animus, but have, through their military counterparts in the "drug war" done grievous injury to the people of other countries, up to and including the assassination of presidents, the funding of decades-long dictatorships, and the ongoing funding of disastrous civil wars. The legal system protects the fictional property rights of fictitious corporate beings while subverting at every turn the property ownership of individuals. Private property developers can seize your home in order . . . not to do anything at all with the property. But though Kelo is a particularly egregious recent example, the taking of private land for mere "public purpose" dates to the fifties.
I don't mean to make too big a deal out of what I suspect to have been no more than an infelicitous turn of phrase, and yet it in this woefully, absurdly brief historical perspective of the systemically and systematically unjust society in which we live, a perspective that seems to have all bad things springing sui generis from the lunar face of Ronnie Reagan or the stroke-victim jaw of George W. Bush, that magnifies the manifold weaknesses of the progressive analysis. They see some bank taking a house without proper documentation, and it suggests to them that Barack Obama should call for a "moratorium on foreclosures." But of course the issue isn't foreclosure at all, which is merely a minor current symptom. The question is ownership. The question is who has a right to his possessions in general in this society. Who owns what? And more importantly, who, or what, owns whom?
Thursday, November 04, 2010
I am no fan of musical theater; like most opera fags, I actively disdain it. But the Lincoln Center Theater revival of South Pacific is playing in Pittsburgh, and it's quite lovely, although admittedly buoyed enormously by David Pittsinger, an accomplished operatic bass-baritone who plays the role of Emile de Becque. South Pacific was my grandmother's favorite musical (my grandfather served in the Pacific), and if its themes of racial tolerance seem a bit ham handed, well, the heart is in the right place, and the tunes are certainly hummable. It's a big production and technically quite impressive, yet it's well-scaled for touring, which is where the real money is made in the theater business.
Compare then to this hilarious failure, Spiderman: the Musical, karma's revenge on Julie Taymor for ruining the Met's Magic Flute after they inexplicably retired David Hockney's beautifully restrained production design in favor of a light-up green Rubik's cube and a sensibility somewhere north of Jim Henson on a straight IV drip of cocaine--without, I hasten to add, even a shadow of Henson's good humor or basic human empathy. Taymor is also the mad genius behind Disney's The Lion King, a perennial blockbuster stage musical that begins with an impressive parade of animals and then grinds the audience into a dry grit for eight hours of Music By Elton John, Lyrics by Tim Rice, all in service of a bad rewrite of Hamlet. She also made a superviolent film version of Titus Andronicus, the worst thing Shakespeare ever wrote. (The Wikipedia article on the play has an un-cited quote by Harold Bloom: the only appropriate production of Titus would be directed by Mel Brooks. I doubt he really said this, and yet I hope he did.) Soon her version of The Tempest will be released. That may be the best thing that Shakespeare ever wrote, line for line, and I expect that, like Spiderman, her production of it will stick to the wall.
Now obviously I am tickled to see the Donk have it handed to him, but let's get serious. Obviously you cannot vote against "big government" or "the expansion of government" or whatever; I mean, a vote for the Republican Party or the "tea party candidate" is many things, but it is obviously not a vote against government. It's a vote for a Republican in government; more broadly, toward a Republican government. Equally obviously, these Republicans in government aren't going to give up powers already claimed. Rather, they will arrogate to themselves those same powers, and then dream up some more. And this is really the genius of the system: it is incredibly elastic; it has an inexhaustible capacity to take rage and frustration at the government, the mechanisms of the state, and to direct that anger and frustration into a ritualized affirmation of the very government that you resent and despise.
Wednesday, November 03, 2010
Is the Republic still standing? Oh, whew. Thank Dog. Let's get on to the important stuff:
yeah, IOZ, ARE you contrarian enough to take on bacon, and its related fads?No. I mean, I, too, think that bacon-flavored sherbet or whatever is a little goofy, but in fact what the prevalence of bacon, especially in amateur cookology and bogus NY Times trend stories represents is the unacknowledged reintroduction of lard. That is to say, it is not actually the bacon that has gained new culinary currency, but rather the recently neglected rendered pork fat that has recovered some of its earlier popularity as a cooking fat and a shortening. The latter, by the way, is why you suddenly see bacon popping up in sweets and baked goods. It is not the meat, but the fat. (To be fair, American bacon, which is often smoked on applewood or other fruit wood chips, has a pleasantly sweet flavor, and of course, salt makes everything better.) Lard, by the way, is an absolutely amazing cooking fat. Personally, I like to slowly render the fat out of guanciale--jowl bacon, usually unsmoked--and use it to sauté brussels sprouts or potatoes.
Tuesday, November 02, 2010
I read The Man Who Ate Everything years ago and didn't think very highly of it, and then I promptly forgot that Jeffrey Steingarten existed, until the Food Network's deliriously bad remake of Iron Chef began to bring him on as a judge, where he played a pleasingly carbuncular foil to the other, generally politer judges.
Although we have passed, thankfully, the period during which it became universally popular to bemoan the advent of reality television as if it alone were the doom of the Republic, lamenting it remains prevalent, if not exactly fashionable. I find this attitude absolutely incomprehensible; yes, reality TV is bad, but one more turd hardly ruins the toilet. The complaint wasn't simply that scripted-unscripted shows were lousy--they were and are--but that they were effectively ruining a medium. Partly I suspect this complaint percolated into the newsmedia from the Writer's Guild and SAG, who, having spent the nineties inflicting Kelsey Grammar's Rushmorian head upon us all, saw a bunch of hack scenario sketchers and fametards willing to eat worms nibbling at the collective payscale. Anyway, TV was terrible before MTV realized that it could save production costs by editing a plot into the raw footage of a bunch of semiliterate, venereal postadolescents rubbing up on each other, and terrible TV remains. Thank god that the internet and her punky brother, video games are killing TV and movies--let the last sitcom be strangled with the guts of the last rom-com; let George Clooney be bludgeoned to death by the monstrous body of Bill O'Reilly, and he in turn put out of his misery by a Heidi-Klum-shaped ice pick to the back of the titanic noggin.
Heidi Klum, though, I can appreciate. I recall falling asleep on many a night to my boyfriend's uncontrollable giggling as he watched Project Runway on his laptop in bed. That show, if you are not familiar, is a reality-TV competition in which several women and a narrow jaggle of homosexuals compete to become fashion designers. Klum is the show's spiritual figurehead; she presides in judgment at the end of every episode along with Michael Kors, who looks more and more like a prosciutto every day, and Nina Garcia, one of the many interchangeable women in fashion. Garcia has a slight and lovely Colombian accent, whereas Klum sounds like two hamsters crawled up her nostrils in the middle of the night. Directing the cast of would-be Cocos is one Tim Gunn, who speaks as if two Heidi Klums crawled up his nostrils in the middle of the night. He is the show's one rational actor, however, and he does look good in a suit. Anyway, the whole thing is just hysterical. The histrionic competitors wheedle and slink their way around each other; so steeped are they in the reality of reality TV that they fall immediately into their predestined roles. More on that below. They are given a series of improbable tasks--take these three tear-stained pillowcases and make me an après-ski outfit that is appropriate for a black-tie wedding--and then dismissed, one by one, for failure, until only one remains. As far as I can tell, the only winner who went on to do anything was the elfin Christian Siriano--the rest of them vanished into the subfamous ether, from which discorporate realm their voices can still occasionally be heard, whispering "look at me, look at me."
However, I don't much care for fashion, and so when I found out that there was a show called The Next Iron Chef, modelled on similar lines, I popped immediately over to Hulu, at whose website I have been enjoying Season 2, mostly--maybe only--because of Steingarten. As a point of clarification, the real forebear of this type of entertainment isn't The Real World, and it's not really proper to call them reality shows. They are in fact expansions of the game show format; hussied up with a bit of interpersonal intrigue and some vague semblance of extra-competitive plot, but still fundamentally a skill-specific version of Family Fued or Jeopardy. Competition progresses in stages; the winners stay on; the losers go home. The Next Iron Chef eschews much of the antic dorm-room action that you find in other competitions of the type and sticks mercifully to cooking. The host is they hyperkinetic Alton Brown, who may be the least funny man on television, although he has not been told. The competitors appear to be real chefs, and they appear to cook real food. But even these actual, real-reality professionals can't escape the maw of the culture-consuming television virus. They speak in a bizarre, made-for-confessional, competitive patois: they might've pushed it a little too hard; they're not going to be the one to go home; they're in it to win it; etc. In the first episode, one of the chefs observes pointedly that it's nerve-shattering every time you go before the judges. But . . . this is the first episode! And then he's the first to be cut. Every time? Born to play the role, each and every one of us, it seems.
Steingarten sits in foofy, dyspeptic glory between two women--a restaurateur and some sort of slow-food guru--who plainly despise him. He keeps telling Donatella Arpaia that she's wrong, and she keeps looking as if she wants to eat him. He takes perverse pleasure in undermining their critical judgments. As the ladies oooh over a salad, he declaims, "Sometimes light and refreshing isn't good. Sometimes it's lousy!" He gestures with a fork. He grins. His schtick occasionally seems to verge on misogyny, and yet he is clearly a fan of the female cooks; or at least, he hates them equally with the men. It's just obvious that he considers his copanelists morons, and of course, they are. He is gleefully dismissive of bad food, lacerating in his comments, and his highest compliment is, "I would pay for this." He does not engage in any of the egregious moralizing that has infected culinary culture, the earth-goddess greenwashing of the act of eating, wherein each organic apple is so-much ammunition for the war on global warming. It seems odd that a grouchy, silvered man so fond of pocket silks and catty asides should remind us that eating is base, carnal, and animal--awesome, in other words--and yet, there it is. He does.
Monday, November 01, 2010
I'm not surprised. For as clever as Stewart, Colbert, and their writing staffs can be, they are at bottom corporate mouthpieces, part of the very distraction Stewart bewailed in his closing monologue.Look, I will be the first (not literally the first) to admit that John Stewart can work for a network that can hire a staff that can put together a video montage of some people saying some things this time that are different from and or exactly the same as things that they said some other time as well as the next guy. White bachelors of the arts find this uproariously funny, I guess. In support of the right of Americans to watch television programs about other television programs, one hundred billion Weslyan alumni turned out on the National Mall in order to contribute sanity and sanely contribute their voices to Comedy Central, an owned subsidiary of MTV Networks dba Comedy Partners, an owned subsidiary of Viacom, NYSE: VIA, VIAB, VNV. Having reaffirmed the fundamental right of college-educated Americans to be critical of media consumption habits, they returned to their nests. There, the queen sheds her wings and begins her life's work, laying millions of eggs.
Sunday, October 31, 2010
There is a very good 350-page book inside the 700 pages of Paul Murray's new novel, Skippy Dies, but I am not sure the rewards of excavating it are worth the effort of digging. As a reader, I expect that sort of paleontological work to be done by some back-office Max Perkins. I just want to see the T-Rex, unearthed and already assembled, in the museum.
The good and interesting story is that of the eponymous character, Daniel "Skippy" Juster, who gets knocked off in the first chapter before the dull magic of the extended flashback abracadabras us back in time to see How It All Happened. It is a trick straight out of Tarantino, whom I believe to have ruined narrative across all media in the Anglophone world by misunderstanding just what's going on in Rashomon and then popularizing that misunderstanding for a whole generation of stunted men, and it serves in the same capacity and to the same effect as having John Travolta blasted off the crapper in the first act of Pulp Fiction, which is to say none and none. Skippy's story, untangled, is lovely and sad. He is a shy, quiet boy. His mother is dying from what may be Hodgkins or some kind of luekemia--the book is pointlessly oblique about these sorts of details, as if opacity were a fundamental principle of limited-view narration, a minor but annoying flaw. His father is overwhelmed. He is in love with a self-involved girl. The boorish, uncomprehending and incomprehensible adult world around him is, in the chapters told from his point of view, well-drawn, as is his mute passage through it. His friends, mostly other boys boarding at Seabrook College, a Catholic boys' school, are fine secondary characters. The problem is that no supporting cast is allowed to be secondary. Murray fell in love with his fiction, obviously, and no priest, janitor, or cornerstone escapes his crypto-Joycean pen.
Spoiler alert. Skippy drifts along, getting bullied, falling in love, and taking mysterious pills prescribed to someone else. His girlfriend was probably using him to get to another boy. She breaks his heart. He overdoses and dies. It is revealed that the pills came from a teacher who molested him, but not the teacher that you long ago stopped expecting it to be because the TWIST was so obviously a set-up. These may be the stuff of cliché, but they are a fine skeleton for the tragically abortive bildungsroman that Murray obviously set out to write. (Scott Heim's novel, Mysterious Skin, treads similar territory over a far more reasonable length and to better effect.) The evokation of boyhood consciousness, despite the frustrating opacity previously noted, is extremely well done; the boys are smart and savvy, but indisputably young, on the verge of adulthood but still children, with the tools to communicate but not yet the ability. Murray is empathic almost to a fault with his boys, and his way of imbuing their tiny struggles with the world-changing importance with which the boys themselves imbue them is the mark of a rare writer's gift.
But the adults are just awful, by which I mean that they are awful people awfully drawn. The headmaster, a gibberish-spouting management type straight out of office-based sitcoms is broadly lampooned, so broadly that when he suborns something terrible near the novel's end, it comes off as slightly impossible and wholly out of character, a buffoon redrawn as a monster for the sake of plot. An ascetic priest (one of the book's better jokes: he is a French teacher named Father Green; in French, Père Vert) is given his own chapter to muse on the nature of sin and dregde up Shocking! secrets that are mostly used as a red herring. The main adult character, Howard, a failed, twenty-something broker and former student who's returned in modest professional disgrace to teach history after some cryptic financial screw-up, is the worst of all, cursed with a case of quarterlife anomie sraight out of a Zach Braff movie . . . or worse, that movie's soundtrack. His total lack of personality or motivation results from his reality: he is a framing device metastasized into a character. He is supposed to be our adult window into the environment of the school; a confident authorial voice would've been just as well, but perhaps a bit too Victorian for Murray's taste. Howard is the prime example of an author overcommitted to detail. In a noble effort to avoid drawing hastily, he overworks the canvas. Howard is excruciatingly boring. His little love affair is dull. His failures as a teacher unenlightening. His complicity in the monstrous act toward the book's conclusion utterly unmoving, because his character never suggests anything otherwise. I will not go through the list of other characters. The dramatis personae runs into the millions, billions. It is exhausting.
Which is all a shame, because Murray is a supple and intelligent writer; poetic but not fucking "lyrical," thank god, who ruined his own book by wandering too widely. What is it about English-language authors, males especially, that causes this furious bloat, this apparently incurable urge to the agglomerative and the expository? Our critics, the popular bad ones anyway, seem to equate length with moral and literary seriousness of purpose, so there's one explanation. Frankly, I blame ambition--curiously enough, a concept, emotion, desire that Murray self-consciously skewers (and skewers and skewers) in Skippy Dies, and yet in the end a black hole he hadn't the velocity to escape.