30 June 2007

Reflections on Succotash

I was thinking back to my childhood. My mother would be the first to admit she wasn't the 'cooking type'; nonetheless, we had edible homemade food on the table just about every night. Her staple was meatloaf or Salisbury steak with mixed vegetables or succotash. And mashed potatoes made from a box.

When I was a kid, I wondered why we ate so much of this horrendous food. Only later did I realize our cuisine was less dictated by mom than by mom's pocketbook.

So I got thinking about succotash. I remember when I was a kid that it seemed like something fancy. Like there was 'mixed vegetables' and then there -- presumably amidst a glowing aura -- stood succotash. There was something so exotic about the name that it obscured the fact that we were eating lima beans and corn.

'Succotash', in fact, is an Anglization of the Algonquin word 'msíckquatash'; Algonquin was the language of the Narragansett tribe who lived along Narragansett Bay and western Rhode Island. The word basically means 'boiled corn' (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004).

'Recipes Tried and True' (an old cookbook of the Presbyterian Ladies' Aid) has a recipe for succotash that includes pickled pork, sugar, and butter -- surely making a sweeter meal, but not betraying the fact that succotash gained its highest momentum as a cultural force during the Great Depression when scraps of all sorts of things were thrown together in the name of economic sustenance.

So I guess mom was really just part of a long tradition of folks making an inch go a mile. After all, every scoop of succotash today means there will be one more scoop of green beans available tomorrow.

29 June 2007

Jim Santo: winemaker

Jim Santo is lead guitarist in the NYC-based music ensemble The Sharp Things. They’ve been making a great fuss of complex and unapologetically glorious piano and strings driven pop songs for a decade or more. Their new CD, ‘A Moveable Feast’ has just been released on Bar/None Records. While Jim is known as a musician and self-described workaholic, he may be less well known as an astute winemaker. We talked about his hobby recently…

Shelly: Ok. Here's the starting point: How do you classify the wine you make... is it fruit wine?

Jim: Oh it's fruit wine, alright.

S: So, tell us about the process of making it.

J: Making wine is almost absurdly simple and the perfect hobby for someone who doesn't have a lot of time to devote to their hobby. Good results are easy provided you follow simple rules:
1 -- Keep your equipment spotlessly CLEAN.
2 -- Avoid exposing your wine to the air - AIR IS YOUR ENEMY!
3 -- Find a good recipe -- and follow it.

Just about any fruit or vegetable can be used to make wine, even carrots and turnips (I haven't the nerve to try those however). I have thus far made wine from peaches, apples, cherries and strawberries.

Each fruit requires a slightly different mix of ingredients and preparation but the basic approach is the same. Without going into too much detail, the process is:

1 - mash up the fruit and put the mash in a nylon mesh bag (for a 5-gallon batch, typically around 25 POUNDS of fruit)

2 - put the bag in a large CLEAN plastic bucket with a tight lid that has a little hole in it, into which is placed a fermentation lock that lets air out but not in -- this is your primary fermentor

3 - add hot water (for a 5-gallon batch, start with 6 gallons)

4 - add sugar (lots of it -- only grapes have enough natural sugar to make wine without adding sugar... for a 5-gallon batch, that means 5-6 POUNDS of sugar)… ordinary table sugar is fine.

5 - add other stuff. typically this would include:
- sulfites (a disinfectant, kills wild yeast among other nasties)
- pectic enzyme (breaks down the fruit mash)
- ascorbic acid
- tannin
- yeast food (kick starts the fermentation process)

6 - check your mixture to make sure you have the correct sugar content (use a measuring device called a hydrometer) and acidity for your recipe.

7 - seal the bucket and then, after 24 hours, add your yeast

The correct yeast is VERY important!

Basically, what happens in fermentation, is the yeast eats the sugar and pisses out carbon dioxide and alcohol. The C02 escapes into the air (via a one-way fermentation lock) but eventually the alcohol will kill the yeast, thus stopping fermentation.

It is therefore ESSENTIAL that your yeast have a high tolerance for alcohol (also an essential quality of the winemaker). Ordinary baker's yeast will die too soon, resulting in a too-sweet wine. There are many kinds of specialty yeast for winemaking. I prefer to use Champagne yeast, that gives me a nice dry wine.

8 - within a few days of adding the yeast, the fun really starts as the mixture (called "must") will start to roil and churn and sizzle with rapid fermentation, exuding an incredible yeasty, boozy odor that will fill your home.

It's important to keep your must as cool as possible during this process, preferably below 75 degrees F. Fermentation generates a lot of heat, and that heat can kill your yeast prematurely. Measure the temperature frequently. Keep your bucket in a cool place. I fill big ziploc bags with ice and place them in the must.

9 - after about a week, fermentation will slow down to a low sizzle. Remove the bag of mostly digested fruit pulp from the bucket and discard it. Then siphon the must from the bucket into a CLEAN, 6-gallon glass container called a jarboy. Cork the jarboy with a fermentation lock, place it out of direct sunlight -- and forget about it for 2 months!

10 - after 2 months, a lot of sediment will have settled to the bottom of the jarboy. Siphon the wine off the sediment into a second, 5-gallon jarboy. Cork the jarboy with a fermentation lock, place it out of direct sunlight -- and forget about it for 2 months!

11 - after 2 more months, repeat step #10

12 - after 2 more months, repeat step #11

Keep doing this until the wine is clear. Be patient! Many winemaking books will recommend clearing additives or filtering. Fuck that. What's your hurry? Go to the liquor store if you need a quick drink.

13 - when the wine is clear, bottle it. You can actually drink it now, but it will be better in a couple more months. Don't keep it too long, though: fruit wine does not improve over years.

A 5-gallon batch makes 2 cases of delicious homemade fruit wine!

S: I once tried to make potato vodka. This was in the days before the Internet, so I sort of pieced together the info I could from Tolstoy stories and bootlegger commentaries I'd found in the library. Wound up three months later with a case of food poisoning and a plant growing out of an old bottle of Smirnov that kinda looked like the monster from the trash compactor in Star Wars. So in no uncertain terms, tell us: What has worked and what hasn't. Remember: you are our wine-making guru; the fortunes of our own fruit wines lie in your hands.

J: It's important to have a good recipe. My only real failure was an apple wine, and that was because the recipe called for chopping the apples. Not only could I not fit 25 pounds of floating apple chunks in my fermentator, but the chunks did not release all their juice, resulting in a thin, unsatisfying wine. I later found out the apples should have been ground up to an oatmeal like consistency. The apple wine was doubly disastrous because it became contaminated (I had failed to top off sufficiently, allowing too much air in the jarboy). I managed to save it by filtering, but in the end, the wine sucked. BE CLEAN! AIR IS YOUR ENEMY! So again -- keep everything you use CLEAN CLEAN CLEAN! Wash everything with a sulfite solution. Be totally OCD about it. If microbes get into your wine, well, you'd better like salad 'cause you'll have a lot of vinegar.

S: What is it that makes Queens such a perfect place to make your own wine?

J: Nothing. You can make wine anywhere. Although, had it not been for my neighbor's peach tree (now dead) dumping 25 pounds of peaches over my back fence, I would not have been faced with the problem of figuring out what to do with all that fruit -- and so would not have discovered the joys of winemaking.

While you are prepping your ingredients, take a listen to the new tracks from ‘A Moveable Feast’ and pick up a copy of the CD. You won’t be disappointed.

28 June 2007

Eve Risser's Philosophy of Food

If you’ve ever seen Jeunet’s 'Delicatessen', then you may be prepared to meet Eve Risser. A musician and composer who makes the term avant-garde seem quaint, Risser is doing her part to invert the paradigm on both sides of the Atlantic. Performing a solo improvisation for an electronic ‘Barbie Guitar’ last December at Baltimore’s Red Room, even the stoutest of jaws among the audience slackened in a mixture of awe and bewilderment. Her piano and drum duo ‘Donkey Monkey’ has just released its first CD on Umlaut Records and is touring Europe throughout the summer. She will be coming to the US for a stay at the Peabody Conservatory this fall. We are certainly looking forward to her visit.

Being a Parisian, Risser has a certain affinity for food. I asked her about the possible connections between food and art. This is what she had to say.

“I find connections between food and art when I think of ‘MAKING FOOD’. I often get those kind of ideas in my mind when I'm cooking, or when I see Joel cooking, or my mum, or my friends. I like to observe, compare, analyze the way they use different elements to make something good.

“For me food, is like everything else. The food of someone is like the state of one's desk, it's like one's home decoration, one's way of wearing clothes. I think it's one of the artistic aspects of taking care of Life.

“In music and any art there are ingredients. We all know that the more experience we have with ingredients, the more we will guess what they will give as a result [i.e. the better we know something, the less we rely on recipes]. That's why I like to compare food with musical improvisation. When you cook without a recipe, it's exactly like when you improvise and play music without a sheet.

“The more you progress, the more the food changes. It gives something different from your first idea, but something coherent. Same in improvised music. [Often] you change your sound texture just with feeling, intuition. [Well,] you do the same when you improvise food: more spinach? more tofu? more salt?

“You also learn how to make something with just what you have: saucepan and oven [is analogous to] instrument and venue. Time… gestation of time… gestation of space… of situations: what an Art!”

Eve Risser will be a featured performer at this year’s High Zero festival in Baltimore, MD. Listen to tracks from Donkey Monkey's new album.

27 June 2007

Finding the Perfect Maté: Pt 1

I am obsessed with a subtropical leaf: Yerba Maté, that is.

This is the first in a series of ongoing investigations into the mystery of the maté. For those uninitiated among you, maté is a drink superficially similar to tea in that it is steeped and either drank hot or iced. The leaf known as Yerba Maté is a species of holly that grows in subtropical regions of South America, where among locals the drink is ubiquitous.

The taste of a good maté could be characterized as a dry, pungent infusion similar to an oversteeped green tea but with a whole lot more earthiness. In these summer months I have taken to drinking it over ice, with no sweetener. If you like sweet drinks, stay away from maté; sugar and honey ruin its natural characteristics.

While certainly maté can be served in a tea cup, the traditional and more conventional way to drink it is from a gourd. This practice is really an art unto itself and I will not pretend to be a master. In our ongoing look at the drink, I hope to talk to some folks who make the gourds and bombillas (metal straws) used in drinking maté.

But this first post is all about taste and obsession.

I first tried maté a decade ago, sharing a gourd with a friend who had just returned from a trip to South America. I was fascinated by the process of brewing the concoction and I was literally mesmerized by the taste. The drink is caffeinated, but the effect feels different than either the rush of high-octane joe or the slow tinge of a black tea. Maté comes at you with a subtle saunter; the drink seems to layer and whereas on the watery top layer tiny bits of leaf meander, the deepest levels of the drink offer rich dry heartiness. The drink is a poem which upon deeper inspection reveals myriad layers of meaning.

In part II, we'll take a look at the history of the drink and the proper way to prepare it. In the meantime, here's a little more for your consumption.

26 June 2007

What's with the Appendix?

So, my friend Dawn and I are having an ongoing debate about the function of the appendix (not the stuff in the back of a book... the thing in your body). We both have a pretty good feeling that it's not used for much of anything these days, but where we differ is in what it may have once been used for.

She says it was designed for digesting animal bones.

I say it was made for digesting wood.

She's got her sources, I've got mine.

So I went to the experts to find out what they have to say on the matter.

Dr. Matthew Koenig is a neurologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital. We are old friends and I figured it wouldn't be a bad idea to tap into his brain for a conclusive expert medical opinion. So I ask. And I get a reply -- the reply of a Johns Hopkins physician to a question concerning basic anatomy. Here it is:

"I think it has something to do with digesting wood and other cellulose containing products and roughage that we can no longer digest but I'm not sure. Check with Wikipedia."


Thanks for the expert counsel, doc.

Well, at least now I had at least a partial case for the wood theory (though I really have no idea what roughage is...). So I started thinking: Hmm... I wonder if perhaps we still use the appendix but just don't realize it. I mean, how often might we be digesting wood and roughage and not even realize that we've consumed it?

So I started looking for food and beverage products that contain some variety of wood product -- which led me directly into the heart of glycerol ester of wood rosin.

Glycerol ester of wood rosin is the purified natural rosin of pine trees. It also goes by the name of Ester gum. It's used widely in fruit-juice drinks and sodas where it keeps the flavors oils in the drink from settling to the bottom. Classified by the World Health Organization as a 'bulking agent' or a 'stabilizer', it is allowed at a ratio of 150 mg per kg. Apparently it's commonly found in sports and energy drinks.

Hmm. Didn't George Brett have a problem concerning pine wood rosin? Or was that pine tar wood resin? Hmm... Sport drinks, eh?

The FDA has no problem with the use of pine tree rosin in athletic beverages: "Wood rosin ester is approved for use as a direct food additive (21 CFR 172.735) for use in citrus oils that are added to beverages to increase the density of the citrus oil and to act as an emulsifier at a maximum level of 100 parts per million.... Wood rosin ester also is approved for use as a direct food additive as a plasticizing agent in chewing gum (21 CFR 172.615) and for use as an indirect food additive in the manufacture of articles or components of articles intended for use in producing, manufacturing, packing, processing, preparing, treating, packaging, transporting, or holding food (21 CFR 178.3870)" Citation.


Yes, folks. Next time you notice a wintry pine flavor in your spearmint gum, you'll know where it's coming from.

Don't worry, though. It is perfectly safe to consume the rosin of pine trees. How do we know? Through experiments such as this: "On the basis of the results of studies of faecal excretion by rats of unlabelled glycerol ester of wood rosin [identified as 'beverage-grade estergum'], the authors concluded that hydrolysis was minor" (National Institute of Public Health and Environmental Protection, Bilthoven, Netherlands Citation.

Think about it, folks: Dutch scientists examining rat poop so that we may drink Gatorade and Fresca with peace of mind.

Which brings us to an interesting segue: Does a rat have an appendix? The answer is yes, a rat has an appendix. Oh, the things we learn when analyzing the contents of the common sports drink.

Sorry, almost forgot the segue... so a rat has an appendix and we have an appendix (unless you've had yours out). Rats can process glycerol ester of wood rosin and so can we. Think this might have something to do with the use of the appendix?

Actually, it has nothing at all to do with the use of the appendix. That organ has been relugated to the position of a useless leftover awash in evolutionary bitterness. The amount of wood rosin in a can of Fresca is probably less than the wood-product you used to pick up eating those candy dots from the sheet of paper.

Alas, the debate goes on. (Last time I look for medical advice from a Hopkins doctor, though!)

25 June 2007

There are things that you just don't want to find in your food.

I am going to refrain from naming the restaurant at which MJ and I and two of our friends were dining. In fact, I won't even name the neighborhood in which the joint resides. The purpose of this blog is not to pass judgment or to embarrass people, let alone get some weak sort of 'revenge' for a poor dining experience; that is not the purpose in telling this story. Rather, I'd like to tell this story because it's a story about discovery. In this case, one of the worst discoveries one could make while eating a burrito.

In 1997, I moved to Washington, DC for what would be a three-year tenure in the nation's capitol. Baltimore and DC have a long standing history of one-up-man-ship probably dating back to the War of 1812 but certainly including the fortunes of our respective ballclubs and music scenes. It's a silly thing, but the relationship in some ways mirrors that of siblings close in age. Anyway, here I was -- a Baltimoron in DC -- and I really wanted to make something of it; the city itself is one of the most fantastic places and I wanted to find a niche I could call home.

Probably the greatest value DC has to offer is the free admission to such grand and inspiring public institutions as the National Gallery, the Hirshhorn, the Botanical Gardens, and the National Archives. I worked for a time as a dog walker. The job required me to meet the dogs in the morning and again around suppertime, which gave me the majority of the afternoon to explore the town. I spent countless hours in the art museums and galleries -- including the marvelous and under-acknowledged Phillips Collection in Dupont Circle. The second greatest thing about DC is the plethora of restaurants. I ate on the cheap, finding the best lunch deals throughout the city. If careful in one's research, it was possible to fill one's belly with the finest Indian, Ethiopian, and Mexican lunches for a little more than a roundtrip ticket on the subway.

In all my jaunts around town, one little restaurant became my favorite. This place served what I esteemed to be hands-down the finest burrito in town. And this was in a city where there were at least a dozen places that could legitimately vie for that title. So, as was our custom, MJ and I took friends of ours -- a couple from Baltimore whom we have known for many years -- to this place of eating for the purpose of demonstrating to them what we considered the best in neighborhood dining.

Now, I digress. In the practice of restaurant eating, there is always a matter of trust the patron puts in the kitchen and in the waiter. I am sure that you have heard all of the urban legends and perhaps some true stories about breaches in that trust. And the reason we often react so harshly to that breach is two-fold. On the one hand, as a paying customer one expects a certain level of professionalism and consistency in the handling of food. This is not unlike the professionalism and consistency of service one hopes to receive when paying for auto-repairs or having a broken leg set. However, in the food game, it goes a step beyond that. No one really loves having his or her car towed into a body-shop. No one hurls himself or herself down a mountainside with the intention of landing in a doctor's office. But when we go out to eat, we are usually doing so because we WANT to. Food therefore, and the bond of trust between restaurant and patron, therefore becomes something more sacred -- something that at least the patron sees as a more personal act.

When we tell a waiter what we want to eat, we tell them something about us; we let them know something about what it is that we like. Eating at its core is a very intimate act and when we order food, we are offering up secrets about ourselves.

Perhaps that is why, more than any other breach of trust, people take a breach surrounding food as such an affront to civil society. Consider the example of Atreus and Thyestes... or later in Shakespeare's version of Titus Andronicus. Both tales contain a breach involving food that cuts closest to the core of what it means to be betrayed and abused.

And thus, many passions were to arise of this dinner with friends.

We were seated at a table of four nearest the kitchen. While some people are annoyed by a seat near the bustle of the kitchen door, I've always liked it. I worked in kitchens from the age of 16 to 21, and while many of those experiences will certainly comprise the topics of future blog posts, needless to say I've never really given up my sense of camaraderie with kitchen and wait staff. This is why I always tip well -- even when service is seemingly poor-- and why I always either wipe down or straighten my table before leaving.

We ordered off the menu and our meals arrived sufficiently late to let us imbibe for a bit on the house sangria and local beers. Conversation was lively and the mood of the evening seemed to me to be enhanced by this crowded little neighborhood dive. That is the best thing a restaurant can do: enhance one's experience. Even now, I can remember the smell and sound and bustle and feel of enjoyment more than I can remember anything we discussed that evening.

Dinner having been served, we were some ten minutes into our main dishes when I made the discovery. I felt something out-of-place between my tongue and teeth; as though something burnt were caught in my bite of burrito. Trying not to call attention to myself, I leaned back and wiped my mouth with a napkin. Surreptitiously, I spat out the foul particle.

In this moment there are two things one can do. Should I look in the napkin or should I let in pass?

I looked in the napkin.

And almost vomited.

My friend Matt who was sitting to my right shot me a funny look. "You alright?"

I gulped air trying to regain my composure. "Yeah. I'm fine."

"You look pale," he replied as leaning forward to put a hand on my shoulder.

My wife offered me a glass of water which I hastily drank down to the ice.

"What's the matter," she asked.


"No," she implored, "what's the matter?"

Perhaps I should have made up a story. Something about the sangria getting to my head or just feeling dizzy and dehydrated after a long summer's day. But looking at the three of them, I could not bring myself to falsify information. A breach had been made and I owed it to my fellow patrons to let them know lest they suffer the same shock. Without speaking, I handed my soiled napkin to Matt. He opened it. And saw the round, soiled Band-Aid.

His dry-heaving caused the rest of the table consternation. I stood to confront the host while my fellow diners tried to rid themselves of the local delicacies.

Finding the host, I took him by the arm and struggled to speak the following words: "I found this in my burrito." I handed him the soiled napkin and he looked inside.

Without so much as blinking, the host looked me straight in the eye and stated: "Sir, I will go right in the kitchen and find out who has a cut on their finger!"

I remember this story today as though it were happening right in front of me. I offer it to you, again, not out of a desire to embarrass an eating establishment, but to bring up this notion of trust and the level of relativity with which we the patrons and they the kitchen and waiters treat one another. I didn't get mad at the host. In a way, I reflect, his response was totally sobering. Rather, my party and I just calmly walked out of the restaurant never to return again. And I still miss those burritos and I still wish I would have straightened up that table before we split.

24 June 2007

A Dinner in Amatrice, Italy with Stefano

Amatrice is a small town in central Italy. It is most well known for its Sugo all'amatriciana pasta sauce. It's also the ancestral home of my friend Stefano.

Stefano lives in Rome where he passes time smoking cigarettes, reading the newspaper, and riding motorcycles (not all three at the same time). If Rome ever had an ambassador worthy of the title, it would be Stefano.

One afternoon, Stefano drove MJ and I out to the mountains to visit the little village of Amatrice and to get dinner at his favorite restaurant in town: Ristorante Roma. At the time, I didn't understand why we needed to drive several hours outside of Rome to visit a restaurant named Ristorante Roma; little did I know then that the experience would prove an evocative illumination of what Italian dining is all about.

Bulging grey clouds hung over the mountain as we made our way in the little Fiat Panda to the hillside diner. The stark white sign bearing the establishment's moniker stood in contrast to the lush evergreen surroundings. We followed Stefano to the door where we were greeted by a short man wearing a sharp white dress shirt.

The first thing I noticed was the picture of the Pope. Now, throughout Italy it is not unlikely to see a photograph of this or that Pope on any given wall in any given establishment. But upon closer inspection, I could make out that this was a picture of JPII and he was standing next to a fellow in an apron in Ristorante Roma itself. I asked Stefano who the man was standing next to il Papa; turns out it was the chef of the restaurant "He has the nickname 'Gamon' because his father likes gambling poker and when he did a good score he said as a jive in English 'come on'... 'come on'. So 'Come on' or 'Gamon' became the son's nickname".

Besides pasta sauce, the other thing Amatrice is known for is producing chefs that go on to work for the Pope. From the look of the picture, I guess il Papa was doing some hiring.

A man came out of the kitchen dressed in a black vest. Without asking what we wanted to eat, he placed a bowl of pasta and an aperitif in front of each of us. Stefano made a toast and joked something to the waiter in Italian... only to find out that the waiter was a distant cousin! This family connection turned into a joyous celebration of pasta and fish and liqueurs made of liquorices and lemon. No menus. The waiters just kept bringing whatever the chef decided to make. And I wasn't complaining.

About forty-five minutes into our meal, the room is invaded by a cacophonous band of octogenarian revelers. Trumpets, tubas, and bass drums blast through the restaurant and there is a lot of commotion and shouting in Italian. The waiters herd the band into a side room where dozens of carafes of Cerveteri Rosso are rolled in. The band plays a raucous blend of what to my ears sounds like a mixture of Italian folk music, om-pah beats, and sea shanty sing-a-longs. Stefano translates for us what they are singing; it is a song describing the joy and pleasure of the local wine. It turns out they are like a roaming glee squad bent on singing and drinking the fruit of the local vines! They sing and play until it becomes difficult to keep a beat and then straggle and stumble out of Ristorante Roma and onto the next diner in town.

This is eating in Italy. This is eating as an event.

I recently talked to Stefano about that trip into the mountains. Turns out that 'Gamon' has since passed away, but his brother 'Little Strawberry' has taken over the duties. I ask how the new chef got his nickname. "Because he looks like a little strawberry!" comes the reply.

All is well in Amatrice.

23 June 2007

All Hail, Frank Epperson!

Frank Epperson died in 1983, but his dream certainly lives on here at the Blake-Plock house.

Epperson was the inventor of the ice pop -- more commonly known in these humid summer environs as the almighty Popsicle. The year was 1905. A young San Francisco boy is experimenting with soda-water and leaves a glass and a stirring stick out on the porch overnight. The temperature dips precipitously. In the morning: one big old popsicle. Fast forward to 1924 where the adult Epperson patents his ice pop and works out a business deal with the Popsicle Corporation. Alas, that fateful year: 1929! Epperson's future in the popsicle world was not to be; the Crash forced the man to liquidate his assets -- and he pulled out of the popsicle dream a broken man.

Around these parts, however, we just won't let the ice pop dream die.

Nothing says 'summer' like glazed ice and corn syrup. The lower mid-Atlantic being one of the more unforgiving humid climates on the East Coast, we take our ice pops seriously. Though the more traditional popsicle on a stick is certainly never turned down when offered, much more common around my house is the streamlined Fla-Vor-Ice pop. This is the concoction that comes in the cellophane tube. It requires a bit more work, but in my opinion pays out better dividends.

All summer, the kids and I cut the tops off these cellophane-encapsuled wonder drugs. One of the most iconoclastic things about the Fla-Vor-Ice is how the several of the colors (especially blue and red) actually fail to correspond to any natural fruit flavor known to humankind. They exist solely for the purpose of injecting cold corn syrup into young (and old) bodies. But, man, they are good. I found that one can reach a certain nirvana (or perhaps 'freeze-induced delirium') by racing through a small handful of sticks. Caveat emptor, however: the withdrawal is downright nasty.

As I watch my three kids eating the pops and racing around the yard, I am reminded of my own childhood. The thing that made the Fla-Vor-Ice seem such an attainable dream was that it was affordable even to us kids. Cutting a single lawn would haul in enough money for a week's worth of sticks. Alas, it seems that Epperson's popsicle has become the mainstay of a more Epicurean class, for a recent trip to the grocery produced the unpleasant awareness that I -- as a thirty-two year old man with a steady income -- could not afford anything more than the most vile and slimy underbelly popsicles available on the market. In the present, it seems that fruit juices and vitamins have won out over the injectable corn syrup and soda water of the popsicles' origin. But that's alright. I'm sure that Mr. Epperson would be happy to see nutritious benefits (or at least less hazardous by-products) that the good-for-you popsicle market offers.

As for me, I'll continue to live in the wake of the young Epperson's 'Eureka' moment. And I'll keep cool this summer on a steady diet of glazed ice.

22 June 2007

First Post

"If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world." - J.R.R. Tolkien

First entry: Stating the objective

If it is in the best interest of the blogger to be pithy and of sharp wit, then I foresee this foray into electronic journaling as something of a failure; if however, a blog may represent the pleasantness inherent in one's sitting down to reflect upon a given preoccupation, then I do believe that this avocation may prove worthy of the time I allow myself for contemplation and work. Rendered into good old fashioned Chesapeake English: I get off track, my mind wanders, I go off on tangents, sometimes I lose focus and sometimes I focus to the point where the law of diminishing returns is not only cited by the prosecution, but to wit is admitted to by the defense. Nonetheless, writing this blog is something I have wanted to do for some time and I figure 'if not now, when?'

If I get off track, sorry. Just hang in there, it usually just takes me a minute or a paragraph to get refocused.

There. Refocused.

That's the way my mind works and if you are reading this you should be made aware of the fact right off, lest I ever be accused of attempting to deceive you into thinking that I'm actually the pithy / witty connoisseur of blog-speak you may expect out here in Internet-land. I'm a guy who has as much trouble maintaining a logical trajectory in person as I do in writing. So, I apologize in advance for any consternation this little journal might cause you; I advise taking it in gradually increasing doses. But then, I've been dealing with the twisty tracks on which the train of my thought runs for some time now.

So much for an introduction.

This is a food blog. Why have I decided to write a food blog? I can't say exactly. What I can say is that I've been thinking a lot lately about the ways in which people interact with one another -- on an individual basis / a global basis. And it seems that the way those relationships play out has everything to do with the way each of us feels about the fine lines between sustenence and famish on the one hand and pleasure and gluttony on the other. And food is one angle on understanding the big picture here.

It's my objective to try to present 'food' in all of its myriad meanings. I'll be talking to people about food, talking about food, and most importantly trying to understand how other people think about food. If I appear to get up on a high horse about any of this stuff, call me on it. My intention here is not to pontificate. I just want to find out more about the way people think about food.

The picture above was inspired by the photo-essay a few weeks ago in a BIG MAGAZINE that looked at what people around the world ate in a given week. This is a picture of my family. We go through about $170 of groceries and beverages in a week. That's East Coast USA money. How much do you spend on groceries? What goes into your tummy?