Archive for the ‘Misc. Pop Culture Cilantro References’ Category

On the list of sentences I never expected to see written by someone not-me “The way Gmail organizes mail into conversations is like cilantro.” might be on the top. But as it happens, that very sentence is the lede of what I’m sure will be a popular Gmail Blog post. Thanks Chris for pointing it out.

gmail blog screen shot

At first I was a bit disappointed not to be included in this post that so interestingly likens popular opinion on conversation view to popular opinion on cilantro (more on this comparison below). And what with the Google Gmail blog’s Wiltse Carpenter presumably using Google to search for anti-cilantro sites, and Google’s mysterious algorithm ably finding this niche blog #3 in search results for “i hate cilantro,” understandably behind two I Hate Cilantro.com pages, I’d have a sure spot, right? But then I read the short post again:

And those of you who hate it hate it enough to launch sites like nocilantro.com and ihatecilantro.com (“an anti cilantro community”), where you can hate it together.

And I guess it’s truer to say that I hate cilantro enough to launch a blog (which I moved from Google’s Blogger service to WordPress, coincidence?) where I muse on cilantro hate and a wide range of topics I can relate to cilantro hate (it was really only a matter of time before conversation view was one these topics) than it is to say I hate cilantro enough to launch a site where I can hate it together [with other haters]. I’m more hating it alone, loudly, with a handful of commenters. So fine, moving on…

I did want to think a bit more about the simile set forth though. Conversation view and cilantro are alike because you love or hate them both. Let’s ignore for a moment that there are some crazy fencers out there who deem cilantro “fine” and have an indifference to various Google products and features that frankly I pity (it’s an exciting if nerdy world)–Wiltse next moves on from the simile in its most absolute form and goes on to confess that while he’s (he?) a cilantro lover he loves conversation view even more than he loves cilantro. And this got me thinking.

If you love conversation view more than you love cilantro do you really love it? If you hate cilantro more than you love conversation view, do you really love conversation view? Put another way, which is stronger, my love for Google or my hate for cilantro? That depends:

Will I ever stop loving Google or ever stop hating cilantro? It seems more likely I’d stop loving Google, since things have happened to make me love it less even as I perhaps also love it more for other reasons. Consider the time wasted on learning and never using Wave. (Anyone?) And how not evil are you REALLY Google? Well I still love you, but I don’t know if our love is forever. Will I stop hating cilantro? There was the time I couldn’t really taste it, but there’s never been a time I’ve had a raw bite of cilantro and thought it was anything less that truly awful. I’ve been at this hate for years, I’ve hated cilantro for longer than I’ve had a Gmail account and I think, you know what, I think I’m likely to go on hating cilantro forever, but if that changes, you’ll definitely hear about it here first.

But permanence isn’t the only measure of seriousness. It’s also a question of intensity. And while I’ve been moved enough by the convenience and efficiency Google products provide me (including Gmail and its awesome conversation view) to share this love vocally from time-to-time, indeed one might even overhear someone say “Oh yeah you know Erin, she loves Google and hates cilantro,” it just doesn’t feel as INTENSE. I lack the words but I FEEL more intensely about cilantro than Google, than conversation view. And while conversation might have a new on-off switch, cilantro never will.

Wiltse writes: “So just like you can order your baja fish tacos without cilantro, you can now get Gmail served up sans conversation view.” Yeah that’s all well and good I can get a taco without cilantro (harder than you’d think, restaurants aren’t all as catering as the Google tech team) but what about the next taco, or the surprise attack? If I could get my life served up without cilantro, that would be awesome, and more comprable.

So it seems clear: Wiltse loves conversation view more than he loves cilantro, and I hate cilantro more than I love conversation view and so it’s probably fitting that Wiltse Carpenter is the Technical Lead for Google while I’m here blogging about hating cilantro, when the spirit moves me.

And who the hell hates conversation view?

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Fabio Viviani, incontrovertibly the most charming of Top Chef contestants, ever, hates cilantro.

He doesn’t just casually hate it–as if that were possible–he really loathes the stuff: His secret dream is to “be filthy rich, grow 20 acre of cilantro, and drop a bomb on it.” He kids. I asked Fabio how hating cilantro has affected his life, he laughs in characteristic Fabio manner and says it hasn’t affected his life of course but then admits “People are having fun with me when I say I hate cilantro… [It’s] something fun.”

Hating cilantro is so fun that he has banned the herb in his restaurant Cafe Firenze (though he is sure the Latino cooks (cilantro is popular in Mexican, Central and South American cuisine) prepare family meal with it in his absence as he finds it in the walk-in when he returns from a short vacation). Hating cilantro is so fun that he refused to help co-competitor and European compatriot Stefan Richter prepare his (losing) dish of salads and meat for the “Super Bowl Chef Showdown” episode. Come to think of it, not helping Stefan cook does sound sort of fun.

Fabio feels like he’s the only member of a club. “No way” I assured him. Please read the Wall Street Journal or check out IHateCilantro.com or Facebook or anything–you aren’t alone! He feels the herb tastes like soap, and there is a lot of support out there for that opinion.

I’m not the only one who has noticed that cilantro is everywhere. Fabio agrees and is not happy about its growing prevalence. While would-be fancy chefs find cilantro sophisticated, new and exciting–Fabio says it just wouldn’t happen in Italy: “It’s outlawed in Italy,” he jokes.

Once he and his (Italian) mother prepared meatballs and accidentally purchased cilantro (in the U.S.) instead of parsley–they look similar. Neither noticed the mistake until they tried them–they were both repulsed.

Erin: Does your mother not like cilantro either?
Fabio: No, she’s Italian.

While I have often argued that cilantro has no place anywhere, it certainly has no place in Italian cuisine: cilantro in pasta sauce? Please. I can imagine those meatballs must have been very terrible indeed.

Some people think we cilantro haters are just a winy group of crazies, or that we must just hate everything. Fabio admits he isn’t crazy about artificial cherry flavor, (clearly a man of good taste) but quickly goes for typically less-desired foods like rooster neck or bull’s testicles. Not a finicky eater, just a man who knows what he likes, and what he really fucking hates. (Fabio likes to use the word “fuck” by the way–this cilantro hater approves–am I gushing, how embarrassing. I’ll admit the company is nice).

So, what’s next for Fabio (he was robbed and told to “pack his knives and go” last week)? He’s cooking me an 8 course cilantro tasting menu at his restaurant Cafe Firenze, of course.

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I’m not much of a liar.

There’s an obvious potential paradox here that I won’t even insult you explaining, but choose to believe me or not, I’m actually a pretty honest person. This is for a variety of reasons most notably: I’m bad at lying, My long-term memory is better than my short term memory and I would have a hard time keeping my facts straight (in other words, I’m bad at lying) and I, to be honest, have this strange sense of what one might call integrity wrapped around this virtue, if you will, of telling the truth. Telling the truth is better than not, most of the time, and I leave it to men smarter and men dumber than me to decide when those times might be.

Except with this whole “I’m allergic to cilantro” businesss, which WSJ quoted me on and has been the source of much discussion since. Commenters have written that they are worried I’ve exposed the lie as such and restaurateurs and cocktail hour hosts across the world will no longer take the allergy proclamation seriously. Another commenter worries that the “crying wolf” waters down the very serious allergies of people like her daughter–restaurants no longer take allergies seriously, everyone’s got an “allergy,” these days.

To be fair, I’ve always had a somewhat unfounded attitude towards allergies, with the exception of peanuts (though I resent people with peanut allergies because it means I can’t eat them on planes anymore), thinking they’re largely the result of 1) too worrisome parents who don’t feed their kids anything potentially allergy-causing and hence end up with kids “allergic” to everything 2) nature telling us we shouldn’t be eating these things we’re “allergic” too (lactose intolerant, please, eating milk from another species (and after early childhood) is unprecedented in the animal kingdom and just straight weird–yes I eat milk products) 3) a general hypochondria that has swept the nation. But, while these opinions aren’t going anywhere soon, in all seriousness, of course if a child, especially, has a physical reaction when eating a food, I don’t want to stand in the way, in any way, of them not eating that food.

But, I don’t see that happening. I worked in a bunch of restaurants and I can tell you chefs take allergies seriously, especially real ones like peanut allergies, and while they find it HOPELESSLY ANNOYING, they don’t want to get sued or lose business, so they comply. They’ve gotten so used to allergies, that they are actually more prepared and skilled at dealing with them. Separate areas for peanuts, separate pans for garlic or meat or vegetables. Do they sneak a little butter into risotto they call vegan? I’ve seen it done. And why? Because they find vegans annoying and their cause not sympathetic whereas they find people with allergies equally annoying, but a potential lawsuit–they would also have proof of the infraction in theory where the vegan wouldn’t. (I’m speaking in general from my experience here, but I think I’m right). So there you go, the person with the allergy gets what they want and the person with a distaste doesn’t, at least not relaibly.

So then the question becomes, do I, a paying customer deserve to get what I want? Yes. I think so. I treat “the help” politely and when I’ve explained I don’t like, even hate cilantro, it finds a way onto the plate. Those of you who have watched a certain amount of Sex and the City know that the Carrie Bradshaw character does not like parsley and uses the same lying technique to avoid getting parsley in her food. This of course annoys Berger to no end and is probably the beginning of the end of their relationship, but I digress. I get what I want when I lie. It carries that I could do this in other arenas of my life, (get what I want by lying) but one must sacrifice one’s integrity with calculation and consideration for mankind.

I would argue that the rampant allergic-ness of America has in fact made it easier to have an allergy in America (described above) and that while this makes things more difficult and annoying for chefs, it makes things better for diners, in other words for the demand to the restaurant’s supply, and those with allergies have nothing to fear from liars like me, and cilantro haters calling themselves allergic similarly have nothing to fear because the chef is obliged to take the allergy seriously. But cilantro haters out there, if your hate is as real, as tangible, as undeniable as mine, it is as serious an unpleasantry as most not-serious allergies (which is to say most allergies) and if lying means I can enjoy a meal, one man’s hives is another man’s ruined palate and dining experience, let’s leave it at that.

And lying’s kind of fun too.

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As 2008 nears end, I’ve set up an ambitious plan to conclude the year with my top 10 reasons to love hating cilantro. Today: The Esoteric Company

With my favorite shows now off the air on HBO (Sopranos, Six Feet Under) or in off-season (Big Love), I’ve found the need to dig deep into the realm of shows I didn’t watch when they originally aired but can easily score for free online, on-demand.

The Grey’s Anatomy period was a sad, but short, experiment in this genre: Emergency, patient has an explosive lodged in his arm and Dr. Meredith Grey must hold it place or everyone will die!–but there have been more rewarding examples. Friday Night Lights was pure joy and Arrested Development requires no further lauding than it’s already received–that show’s hilarious. But the O.C., co-starring Peter Gallager and his eyebrows (to off-quote Sarah Vowell) is a current guilty favorite. Like any self-respecting O.C. viewer, I watch not for Ryan and Marisa, but for Seth Cohen and his delicious adolescent, but preternatural brand of sarcasm.

No matter how stupid any episode’s given plot, no matter how much the writers insist on giving pretty but retarded at acting Mischa Barton lines, Seth Cohen gets you through and keeps you coming back.

But of course there are other characters on The O.C., like the requisite parents in any high school primetime soap, and less requisite ones like the parents of the requisite parents–enter Caleb Nichol, father to Seth Cohen’s mother, WASPY but witty Kirsten.

A mere 24 episodes into the first season–dammit I just learned Caleb dies in the second season, beware, the internet will tell you everything!–I can tell you that Caleb’s deep distaste for cilantro has come up in not one but two episodes. In both cases, this hate arises as Kirsten scrambles to prepare one kind of high-society party or other for her difficult tycoon of a dad. “No no, dad can’t take cilantro” she warns the cooks and caterers as if this pickiness were the very proof anyone watching needed that Caleb really is a powerful, particular man. “He’ll notice even the slightest amount,” she continues.

In 2003 when the show first aired, the season in question, season 1, stretched to May of ’04, cilantro had considerably less notoriety. The two leading blogs in cilantro hate, this one and that other one didn’t even exist! People weren’t as into food yet, though they were getting there, and I think this choice of herb (also suprisingly referenced in My So-Called Life) was meant to show just how classy yet have-it-his-way Caleb was, may he rest in peace (Though I really suspect one of the writers hates cilantro, but that’s neither here nor there).

Well, if Newport Beach’s richest, most powerful man is in my club of hate, I can’t quite say why, but I tell you I’m thrilled to have him, may he rest in peace. There’s a kind of existential allegiance in those moments, when you realize that fictional or not, there are people you have deep, deep connections to (in this case hating cilantro but it could be something less meaningful I suppose) that you never would have known about, had it not randomly come up.

I like to think there will be a time in my life when someone, perhaps a real life Orange County real estate mogul, perhaps a holy rollin’ Republican evangalist, and I will share a special bond when we realize, over passed canapes, that we share at least one thing, and because of that one thing, even if we don’t see eye-to-eye on everything, a spoken or unspoken understanding and connection otherwise lost will have been shared.

But until this person rears his hummer-driving head, it’s me, Caleb Nichol and the countless unknown of you out there…

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I love Mark Bittman (of the New York Times Dining Section) for insisting, relentlessly, to be such an elitist foodie prick; he embodies the effete New Yorker cliche so well, it’s uncanny. If you aren’t familiar with his work (he’s written lots of cookbooks) or have only read his column (The Minimalist) I suggest you check him out in video form because only through this medium does his sincere I can’t help but make it clear I know I’m smarter than you-ness come through. I’m not being ironic or sarcastic, these are actually the reasons I can’t help but like the guy (he does seem to know what the hell he’s talking about and he makes quick meals — the obvious smart guy’s alternative to Rachael Ray — poor thing).

So I used to read his column every week and once in while I read his blog “Bitten,” (hey, even Shakespeare couldn’t resist a pun) but recently I’ve been watching his 3-5 minute videos instead, much to his indifferent chagrin no doubt. This week’s video is for St. Patrick’s Day (aka Monday for all you out there who seem to find it impossible to remember what is the same every year — March 17th guys — Erin go Braugh!). As Bittman introduces the segment, “In honor of St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland, I’ve decided to cook a Mexican dish, because it’s green.” Just about everything I love about the DB (and I don’t mean Daniel Boulud) is evident from that very first sentence. You kind of have to listen to it, but, trust me, it’s all in the delivery. The pregnant (I once posited that only men used pregnant as a non-literal adjective, so I guess I’m trying to prove myself wrong) pause between “Mexican dish” and “because it’s green,” is done with ironic perfection — that kind of perfect Monty Python beautiful clash between the low-brow ridiculously absurd and the higher-brow intellectually germane — right, ok Mark, sure, and you know what else is green? Marijuana. I’m just saying.

Since the whole dish is about being green and apparently Mexico’s cuisine is also about being green, it shouldn’t come as any kind of surprise that cilantro is but one of many green ingredients. There’s the tomatillos and pepitas, the marjoram (love marjoram, love it) and poblanos, the lime and serrano. So of course, being Mexican and all, and green and all, there’s the cilantro too. Once the chicken has finished cooking in the sauce of tomatillo and garlic and peppers and pepitas and so on (Mark calls them pumpkin seeds, “well actually squash seeds” dismissively. If you watch the video you’ll note the characteristic crotchetiness in the delivery) he questions “That green enough for you? Wait! Some ciiiilantro…” and proceeds to top the dish with various other herbs and green things. He says cilantro with the affect of an American ex pat living in a Spanish speaking country (and maybe he lived in Mexico for 15 years, I really don’t know) — he really gets cilantro, cilantro is Mark Bittman’s homeboy.

My gripe du jour is two-fold. 1) I understand the desire to play off the green rather than decidedly Irish cultural aspects of St. Patrick’s Day, I really do, but for God’s sake my fucking name is Erin, I got Irish heritage, leave cilantro out of a holiday we all really know is not about food but too-much drinking. 2) It seems to me cilantro is becoming an almost de facto green addition to things. Now, I’m not saying it isn’t at home in Bittman’s dish, (although I don’t think even he would argue it’d be fine without it, just add a little more parsley) but in his delivery he makes an I’m sure accidental point, a point only a cilantro hater might notice: not green enough? add some cilantro! For Christ’s sake, if it’s green you’re looking for add some parsley or chives, inoffensive flavors that, sure, have flavor, but it’s, you know, neutral-ish. When you add cilantro you’re not just adding green, you’re adding gross.

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This year I resolve to…. well, all kinds of things; you know, cliche self-improvement-type stuff. But none of these resolutions has anything really to do with cilantro (except the “write in cilantro hate blog more often” one that actually wasn’t one until this very moment) so, I won’t, you know, write about the New Year, you know, directly. This is, like, a blog I write, not, like, my life, or whatever…

I have a really good memory — ask anyone, it’s true — which is why I was surprised when I didn’t remember a scene from My So-Called Life, a show I have been unabashedly watching the past week, since my friend James (love that guy) got the complete series (ie the first season) boxed set for Christmas. Now (years ago) I’ve seen every episode of this show at least once, many of them twice (ok, the one with Angela and Jordan making out in the boiler room, Self-Esteem, maybe three times) so, given this excellent (noteworthy for its accuracy but excellent for its serious endurance) memory thing, there shouldn’t be, like, entire scenes I don’t remember.

Well, in fairness, it’s not that I didn’t remember the scene, it’s that I didn’t remember the super explicit cilantro-reference in the scene (recap from mscl.com):

As Patty regales Graham with her encounter with Amber, Graham offers Patty a taste of the food he’s cooking, and while she thinks its wonderful, Graham must tell her what she is tasting. Angela enters, Graham offers her a taste and she knows immediately what she is tasting.

“Mmm, cilantro.”

Graham then proceeds to explain to Angela why he has added the cilantro. (To balance the acidity of the tomatoes.) Graham’s “food” education of Angela is ongoing, as we have seen since the Pilot epidsode:

“Con carne, ‘with meat.”

The business of tasting Graham’s cooking is minor; its foremost purpose is to add verisimilitude and dynamics to an otherwise static scene. But the difference in Patty’s and Angela’s reactions to Graham’s cooking relates to the difference in upbringing they received from their respective fathers. Patty’s upbringing has been one of chili fries and diner pie, of enormous turkeys and oregano in the curry sauce. Angela’s upbringing has been one of balanced meals, spaghetti reheated by father, cilantro, pasta and lemon hazelnut torts.

I mean, this scene is huge. (that’s not me mocking Liberty High-speak). Anyone who ever watched the show, and certainly anyone who watched it not so much through a culinary lens as much as happened to be interested in food or had a father who liked to cook (I did/I do) remembers the frequent kitchen/cooking scenes shared not only between father and daughter, but also, of course, between the food-savvy father and the rest of the family.

What I did not remember (and this is probably because I don’t remember the first time I had cilantro or when I knew I hated it — other than I’m pretty sure it had something to do with Chipotle (the chain restaurant, not the delicious smoked peppers) — more on this later) was that the very symbol of Angela’s dad’s foodiness was cilantro. In 1994 if you were cooking with cilantro and could identify its flavor (nice one Angela) you were absolutely in the culinary know.

One piece of evidence is the fact that I remember the scene but don’t remember the reference: at 12 I didn’t know what cilantro was, at least by name, and certainly didn’t hate it, lest I would have, like, you know, commented or something. But then, I wonder if some version of that show (I don’t think the ubiquitous plaid, flannel would work today, although Jordan Catalano’s work shirts are truly timeless) existed now, would the ingredient be different? Have I just gotten older, food savvier, more full of hate, and that’s the difference?; that in fact the ingredient is still slightly esoteric, slightly special, it’s very use proof positive of food smarts? I kind of don’t think so. I mean, it is everywhere right? Right? Like, by name, it’s everywhere. I think the ingredient might have still been cilantro in today’s show (The Emperor’s Children, the show (GOD HELP ME!)) but it would have a different meaning. Angela’s dad wouldn’t seem so food savvy to me now; would he to the general population? I wonder. I think, in today’s show, the herb would be shiso. Yeah. That’s right, I went with shiso. Although he is making some sort of sauce (cilantro to balance the acidity of the tomatoes — unbelievable), maybe marjoram? I just don’t think it would be cilantro, because, most of the population, I would venture to say, has taken it for granted as part of the current food lexicon.

Will I sound like a frightening conservative when I suggest we should go back to a simpler time, years ago, when, oh wait, Clinton was president and the economy was good and cilantro wasn’t everywhere? No, I think that would, like, be ok or whatever.

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I posted an “Ask the Editors” question on a popular industry food magazine this morning. The question went as follows: “What makes cilantro so special?” The editors responded with:

Thank you for your inquiry. I am special for many reasons. I feel inventive. I’ve got motion, restrained emotion. I use my arms, I use my leaves, I use my seeds, I use my side-step, I use my fingers, I even, on occasion, have been known to use my imagination. I’d like to make you see that there’s no herb here. No herb like me. I’m special, so special. I’ve simply got to have some of your attention, give it to me.

At least cilantro loves itself (and I’m sure his mom thinks he’s special — bitch).

In the spirit of full disclosure, this is in reference to another question that came in, when I worked at the same popular industry food magazine, that went “What makes cinnamon so special?” Sure, what makes all foods so special?

But the question at hand is, what makes cilantro so special in the skunk of the earth way, not in the mull me some red wine, garnish my cappuccino, serve as the je ne sais quoi (I’m learning French, more on what makes French special later) for any number of, largely, Midwestern-Mex-inspired chili recipes way.

For me it’s a different kind of je ne sais quoi, the Platonic ideal of awful, manifest in that stupid little herb. At a certain point, things must be described in relation to other things, right?, so, for instance, one way I could describe other foods is by how far away they are from the flavor of cilantro (the flavor of awful); a simple vanilla panna cotta would score very well here, having nothing whatsoever to do with the flavors of cilantro. Can’t quite explain why, just know vanilla panna cotta doesn’t taste like cilantro.

For a lot of people the stuff tastes like soap. I myself haven’t eaten a lot of soap, and my folks, moderate-conservatives as they might be, never insisted I try it, even when using phrases like “I f##$&ing hate cilantro.” But, I have a vague sense of what soaps generally taste like: it’s slipped into my mouth while showering or washing my face, or whatever it might be, plus they (they) say that some high percentage of taste is smell, and I definitely know what aggregate soap smells like, so that adds to the idea that I know what soap tastes like as well. Despite a general idea of this, I only vaguely taste it when eating cilantro.

Again, what I really taste is awfulness. From it’s texture, (cilantro-y awful), to it odor (pungently offensive) to it’s flavor (Platonic idea of terrible) it’s just sort of vaguely herbaceous and, here’s one of the main problems, completely overwhelming.

I hate cilantro with a consuming passion. I think it’s important to determine why we (the royal we) hate things, you know, in the spirit of fairness. Why we love things can (and maybe should) remain a mystery, lest we deconstruct the epistemological foundation on which that love might not have known it stood. But hate, that’s a “bad thing” or, certainly a lot of hate is really bad. Perhaps if we figure out why we hate a thing we can 1) quit hating it 2) come to terms with that hate or 3) if the hate is valid, spread that hate with the utmost determination.

Jury’s still out for me on where this hate will go, but, I think I’ve figured out the nature of my hate:

1) Platonic ideal of “tastes bad”
2) Overwhelms every dish it’s in with its badness
3) Increased popularity in kitchens (both home and professional) across the country, counter-intuitively paralleling the rise in educated food consumers with discriminating palates
4) Frequently served with what would otherwise be some of my favorite dishes/cuisines: salsa — LOVE tomatoes; everything Indian, everything Thai, everything “South of the border”
5) Makes me an outcast, constantly chastised by my bigoted friends

and I would urge any of you cilantro haters out there to do the same.

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