Archive for the ‘Social Commentary’ Category

While 2 of my Brooklyn friends trek to the East Village to enjoy a nice, healthy Saturday night dinner at Caravan of Dreams, a lovely near-vegan restaurant run by spacey for real and would-be rastas, (consider the dialogue “I’m sorry, I forgot what you ordered. Could to tell me again?,” followed by an overheard conversation between our waitress and another table “I’m sorry, I forgot what you ordered. Could you tell me again?”) I decide to stay home, pack for ‘Home for the Holidays, 2.0,’ finish some work, and make myself a delicious salad with goat cheese.

Of course, I’d have to go to the store to buy some greens and goat cheese, since I don’t have anything but Christmas cookies and pantry goods in the house. So, I go to the store and throw the requisite Earthbound Farm Organic mix in my basket, but, as I’d feared, my just-down-the-street store doesn’t have goat cheese, the official cheese of gentrification. They do, however, have that delicious ‘no bread needed to fry it’ Queso Para Freir cheese. Being flexible about these sorts of things, I’m thinking I’ll make a mixed green salad with toasted almonds and some of that fried cheese with a nice super acidic with a little bit of honey vinaigrette.

I heated some canola oil in a pan, or started to, when I lifted the pan to, I don’t know what now that I think about it, and promptly burnt my chin on contact. Ouch. I’m already thinking this was a bad idea. I should have just gone to Caravan, but, I’m rolling with the situation. The pan is definitely hot, and that’s all I needed to know, so, you know, mission accomplished. I fry the cheese, drain the cheese, bla bla. Then I throw together a quick vinaigrette (dijon, balasamic, olive oil, honey, salt, pepper) and toss it with a large handful of greens and the almonds (bought them toasted; yes I’m alright with that). It’s at this point I notice sparse pieces of what would seem to be dill (it was) and think I might be in trouble. Yeah, there are more green things in the salad that aren’t lettuce.

I go for the fridge, find the package, “Fresh Herb Salad.” Shit. I’ve bought this before, a long time ago, and seem to remember this is not a cilantro-hater’s friend, this “Fresh Herb Salad.” Indeed, there is cilantro throughout. It’s unavoidable. I can’t pick out all the pieces, especially now that it’s been tossed together, and it’s all variations of the same color — even if I wanted to extract each piece of cilantro, finding them all would be a huge chore unto itself. And, I’ve stayed home to save time and get some stuff done, not spend an hour removing cilantro from my salad.

So, I eat the salad, doing my best to avoid the cilantro pieces. I fail. The salad was terrible. I got nice almondy-cheesy bites, but what I wanted was salad with stuff in it, not stuff with salad garnish. I realized I haven’t actually eaten cilantro in awhile; I do try to avoid it. I became mesmerized, focusing intently on a single leaf. How far away could I smell it from? (not that far, maybe 6 inches) How large was each piece in the salad? (ranging from 2-square millimeters to 1-square inch) What did it taste like? (terrible, just terrible). Did I still hate it? (yes, as much, if not more, than ever).

What gets me is how ubiquitous it’s become, cilantro. There are exactly three herbs in the Earthbound Herb Salad: parsley, dill and cilantro. Parsley seems a given — most people I know like it or are indifferent to it; you can put it in anything. Dill, I have to say, is an odd choice — I love dill, but I’m pretty sure not everyone does. This is a salad mix, I would assume, meant to please the general palate (I did purchase it in a store that doesn’t sell goat cheese). Cilantro, well, there’s just no need. I’ve come to expect it in my guacamole, salsa, saag panir, etc, but not in my supermarket salad mix. Between the dill and the cilantro, I would guess Earthbound is making some enemies with this salad.

But, the joke’s on me. I need to return to checking all labels, being more mindful, asking more questions in restaurants, lest another slip-up like this occur. As cilantro is more and more absolutely everywhere, I need to up my defenses against it, otherwise cilantro will have won.


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Rick Bayless, admired in the food world for bringing authentic but modern regional Mexican cooking to the palates of the Midwestern dining mainstream and foodie elite at Chicago restaurants Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, respectively, has also withstood (if not instigated) his own share of controversy in the same community.

Trouble came when Bayless was percevied to have ‘sold-out’ by starring in a Burger King commercial where he would seem to be enjoying a low-fat Santa Fe something or other chicken sandwich ‘served’ on a baguette. My opinion on the matter is it’s basically much ado about nothing — when it comes to calling people sell-outs, especially in the cheffing community, most people should, you know, move out of their glass houses or quit throwing rocks.

But, Bayless has now put his name on something far worse than a $2.99 tasteless factory farm raised chicken sandwich — he’s put his name on the “Avocado Peeler” in Cilantro. I’ll leave the critique of the object’s functionality to whomever is running the “things_you_could_do_easier_with_a_spoon_than_a_twelve_dollar_object_you’ll_never_
use_you_stupid_moron” blog. What concerns me is something else entirely.

Most obviously and importantly, the scooper color is not cilantro ((when did cilantro become a color — we’re in real trouble?!) unless it were dried-out near dead cilantro, and, while I like the idea that that’s what was intended in naming the color cilantro, something tells me it wasn’t); the color could go by lime green (although come to think of it, limes really aren’t the color lime green — we have a crisis of color nomenclature on our hands here; when was the last time you saw someone puke in puke green?) or more accurately, Ecto Cooler green.

The color’s name is a lie, and so one must ask, “why the lie?” A couple answers come to mind. 1) Cilantro lovers are morons, so they won’t notice the color naming is wrong but rather be attracted to the device’s name without questioning its veracity (they no doubt will want to get their hands on the peeler as soon as possible in order to make cilantro-laden ‘guacamole’); Bayless & Co. are just going after their stupid target audience. Or 2) Bayless has himself become a moron by virtue of his intense cilantro love and has become so clouded he can’t even tell the color is not cilantro — he just sees it everywhere (by Bayless I mean the marketers and product developers who made this whole abomination happen — in reality he must have had nearly nothing to do with the whole endeavor — let’s hope). 3) This is a subliminal message meant to drive home the cilantro name to any moron willing to buy this product for any reason — they want more of their kind.

They want it so badly, they’ve gone so far as to not offer the product, or many of their other products in any color other than cilantro. If you want an avocado peeler, you’ll have it in cilantro, dammit. They’re forcing cilantro – the idea – on anyone who might be dumb enough to want to buy this gadget. It’s not enough that cilantro lovers are all morons, they’re trying to turn all morons into cilantro lovers too: “Well, no Suzy, you know, I don’t really like cilantro, but I just love the color cilantro, you know, the color of my new favorite avocado peeler by Rick Bayless, that guy from the Food Network.” Morons.

However you weigh in on it, you can’t argue, the morons have an agenda to attract more morons. And if we’ve learned anything from this presidency we ought to have learned that the only thing worse than a moron in a place of power is a moron in a place of power with an agenda. Boycott the Avocado Peeler in Cilantro.

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You know the old saying, and I’m paraphrasing here, out of lack of absolute knowledge as to whether .com(s) (brainyquotes, wisdom quotes, quoteland or quotationspage) has the most accurate records, equally doubting the veracity of them all in fact, whereby brainyquotes, for instance, accredits the quote to both Woody Allen and Groucho Marx (it’s Woody quoting Groucho in Annie Hall that commonly causes the mixup that it’s a Woody quote — it’s a Groucho quote) and in any case, it more or less goes like this, I’d never want to join a club that would have me as a member?

Right, so I find it mildly hilarious, even after time. I also think there’s some truth to it, probably why it’s so funny. Indeed, I’ve been on a Facebook group founding spree this week (having just joined the social networking situation a few weeks ago), feeling more apt to start a group called “I love mustard” then join one, but alas someone beat me to the punch and their tagline included roasted garlic mustard as one of the many in their fridge and, had I formed the group, that certainly wouldn’t have made the list. Loving mustard to me involves loving its purist forms, not buying dozens of artisan varieties, so, for now, I’ll love my kind of mustard on my own time, without the support of other mustard lovers.

Joining groups presents all kinds of problems because, inevitably, you won’t subscribe to all the group’s dogma, a conflict I would hope, but am less than sure, that the world’s faithful struggle with from time to time. For me, today, the question is whether to become a member of ihatecilantro.com. On the one hand, I do hatecilantro.com, on the other, their last news update is from early September, so I question their dedication to the cause. Then again, the site is well-executed, its tone just right. Their logo and commitment to cilantro hate publicity and awareness is worthy of my respect, and that of even the greatest lover of cilantro who still believes in the importance of the first amendment, although I’m willing to consider a correlation between not only cilantro love and moronicism, but also freedom of speech hating on-ism.

But back to the original problem, I’m not sure I want to belong to a group of a bunch of people just like me, a group that would have and encourage my membership. We could be, well, so obnoxious put in a room together. It makes me think of when I was vegan, making me a de facto member of the vegan club, a truly sanctimonious and utterly difficult to be around crew. Do I want to join a group of people who will, by virtue of being in the same group, assume they have more in common with me than they might? Do I want to associate with a lot based on hate, when I’m a member of exactly zero other groups (Facebook aside,*sigh*)? These are important questions I’m asking myself as I decide if I’ll be joining the 1,731 already existing members. I need to sleep on this for a few days, but I’ll be back with a satisfying conclusion.

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At the risk of offending, oh, say, 97% of my THOUSANDs of loyal readers, I’ll go ahead and say it: there seems to be a strong link between the love of cilantro and the display of moron-like characteristics, where moron will here be defined, as any self-respecting user of the English language would define it, as the American Heritage Dictionary does, as

“NOUN:1. A stupid person; a dolt. 2. Psychology A person of mild mental retardation having a mental age of from 7 to 12 years and generally having communication and social skills enabling some degree of academic or vocational education. The term belongs to a classification system no longer in use and is now considered offensive. ETYMOLOGY: From Greek mron, neuter of mros, stupid, foolish.”

I prefer the second definition, but far be it from me to use archaic or, even worse, offensive denotations; the first has a nice, curt, to-the-point, so easy even a moron could understand it meaning, and given my audience, well… Yes, I quite like “a dolt.”

Right, so, to the point, what makes these herb-lovers morons? Exhibit A (there will only be one exhibit in today’s post — I’ll build this case over time), is taken from an I Hate Cilantro.com Discussion Board and goes like this:

“Okay, I heard about this website from a friend and doubted it’s existince, but upon visiting the page I not only found out it’s real, I realized you “Anti-cilantro” people are insane.

First, off cilantro was not spawed from satan’s stomach, and angel’s did not trick us into liking it. Come on would angels trick us, that sounds like something the devil would do right so the human race gets brain washed into following the devil.

Second, it’s not something to get majorly offended by, like not being friends with someone because the served you cilantro, or being really picky at resturants because god you might eat some in pasta sauce.

Lastly, why pick on cilantro? Why not hate on foods like cod liver oil or limburger cheese? Foods that are actually offensive to the senses. Cilantro is not gross enough to merit an entire website and Haikus about it. It’s like orange juice I don’t LOVE, but don’t hate it. I wouldn’t go across the world to bet some, but if I had some I would use it.

Ok. Let’s leave spelling and grammatical errors alone. I’ll leave that to whomever is running the “I hate the rampant depletion of grammatical, spelling and self-copy editing standards in cyber English publication” blog. The larger issue here is that this cilantro lover is arguing the wrong point with the wrong logic.

1. While I don’t see any convincing evidence from Cilantro Lover, heretofore Moron, that cilantro wasn’t spawned from Satan’s stomach, its origin is hardly the point. I also don’t see a lot of cilantro haters citing Satan’s patriarchy as the cause for their hate, indeed we tend to be a fairly agnostic bunch, although it wouldn’t be a terrible hypothesis, I suppose.

2. I. I’ll thank you not to tell me what to get offended by. II. Any friend that would deliberately serve me something I hate, all things being equal, might deserve a reevaluation. That said, I don’t think too many friendships are lost on this issue. Cilantro haters, at least, are reasonable people. III. Please see “Basil is NOT Cilantro” Post. Cilantro is not found in pasta sauce. You obviously don’t understand this problem properly; you need to work on your empathy skills.

3. Why pick on cilantro? Why not hate other foods? I don’t know where to begin. Would anyone choose to hate cilantro. It’s not fun, it’s not an easy lot in life. It’s a burden. It’s an annoyance. It’s a cross to bare. But, we’re a strong people and we survive. We blame no one but cilantro itself. And why not hate others foods? One’s enough for me thanks. You don’t like orange juice, well, that’s just messed up. ihateorangejuice.com doesn’t even exist, man — for a reason — it rules. But, you don’t have to like orange juice. I just find flaw in the the logic that because you don’t like orange juice I should like cilantro. But, Moron, you just wouldn’t understand.

Finally, when you say “cilantro isn’t gross enough” you’re missing the idea of subjective palates. It’s not gross at all to you, but it is very much gross at all to me, and thousands like me. Mine is not an evangelical mission, as I have made clear in the past, but an effort to explain, to enlighten, to edify. And you represent a growing group of cilantro lovers or, a largely marginalized group of cilantro indifferenters, who seeks not to understand cilantro hate but to condemn and chastise it. You’re fighting a losing and worthless battle. Hating Cilantro is a solitary battle, united as we may be, each hater has to ultimately confront his/her hate on his/her own. You don’t know what you have, Moron. You just don’t see.

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When you’re 25, more or less making a living as a writer of various merits and degrees of seriousness, residing in New York City and haling from small college town Ohio, returning to New York after Thanksgiving in said college town Ohio (and it’s distant cousin, Southwestern farmland Ohio) to begin reading Philip Roth’s Ghost Writer with lines like, “Mother, I will not prate in platitudes to please the adults!” (a rare instance of exclamation point in the otherwise understated Roth punctuation situation) you kind of second guess how you’re going to write the ostensible would-be write itself “Thanksgiving: A Safe Haven From Cilantro in a World of Fewer and Fewer” that would go something like this:

People talk about all the familiar wonders of Thanksgiving: the turkey, the dressing (stuffing, whatever), candied yams (sweet potatoes, whatever), green bean casserole, mashed potatoes (which apparently are basically full-proof, apparently), the pies, the gravy (you can poor it on everything, it’s so good, right?) And the best part of all of it: no where, ever, ever will you find a scant piece, a dash, a chiffonade of cilantro.

Is this a coincidence I ask you? Well, of course it is, strictly speaking, but it is interesting that America’s favorite meal of the year, the one we all can get totally behind is the cilantro hater’s favorite meal too. There are some places, some meals, some traditions just too sacred, just too refined to be bastardized by the presence of that nasty, can’t even compete with sage, rosemary and thyme herb…

when what you’re really thinking about is, as Roth and many great “meta,” if you will, or don’t, that’s an obnoxious ivory tower term, or write about writing writers will tend to make you do, the place of the writer, the vanity of the question itself, the inherent narcissism of it all, the writing’s relationship to other people in the writer’s life, the question of its meaning other than to perk readers to say “that’s good,” “I get it,” “that’s funny” or be entertained. These are questions others have mused on, successfully – notably, Joyce, Hollingshurst and Roth himself. I’ll leave that discourse where it lies, dynamic and totally unanswerable.

What strikes me is something I would imagine affects everyone who writes, produces art, performs any job, really: that sometimes there are more important things going on than what you’re doing. (Sure, sure, this is a young liberal idea, I get that, but we don’t want to stop wanting to be important, or rather, to do important things, right?) Food writers, when they talk about their form, tend to take one of two positions: they write entertainment (maybe infotainment) or the work is very important because everyone eats and food matters to our cultures and our histories and connects people and so on (Ms. MFK Fisher is the incontrovertible paradigm here). I agree with both positions, and I really honestly sometimes totally agree with the second one, it’s just that damn sanctimonious tone always used to defend it.

Nate Zucherman, the great protagonist of many of Roth’s novels, including The Ghost Writer, talks with his mentor, the secluded (I’m thinking Pynchon-esque) EI Lonoff, who describes his own long days of writing as essentially creating a sentence, rearranging it, eating lunch, writing another sentence, moving it around, going for a walk, throwing away all the sentences, then starting over. Bumped into my lit.-loving friend Wells in Ohio who talked about David Foster Wallace’s description of writing as setting up a 9-hour day, 1 hour of writing, 8 hours of hating himself for not being able to write anything: indeed, poor bastards.

It’s a funny occupation and people who do it love to complain about it. But they all seem drawn to it as if to some kind of duty, but a duty to self, which gets complicated. Kind of reminds me of other professions, notably chefs, who are only allowed to complain on their own time, lest they get fired, stabbed, hated or, worse, never promoted. Complain they will, but love it, need it — absolutely.

It seems to me, at the end of the day, it’s all about pleasure. People write because they’re gifted and very often privileged enough to do so and they love the sweet agony of producing something good. People read for the same reasons (yes to learn, but people that really like to learn do it for pleasure, right?) Chefs cook for their own pleasure and for that of their diners. David Kamp talks about this in his United States of Arugula, that dining, above all else, should be pleasurable.

And back to Thanksgiving, which is one of the more pleasurable meals most of us will eat in a given year. Those crazy folks we call our families we often haven’t seen in awhile, the food that never wavers, and if it does can and should be a source of hot contention, the cheesy but awesome spirit of thankfulness, or, as I like to thank of it, luckiness. The pleasure the day’s chef gets from cooking the meal: basting the turkey, sweating the onions, seeing the smiling faces of everyone eating it, not doing the dishes. Then everyone sits back and does exactly as they would like to do: take a nap, watch the game, drink a little too much and zing your family, what have you. It’s all permissible. Anything goes.

Thanksgiving is a great day and a great meal because people find pleasure in doing what they want to do and feel basically thankful for the whole situation. The same pleasure can come from writing. When you get to write about food, you get to double up on your own pleasure, and, if you can share that somehow (like my Grandpa’s tried and true every year corn pudding), well, maybe that is something important enough, at least for a day’s work.

Also, I hate cilantro.

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