Life's too short to eat bad food - Me

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic - Arthur C. Clarke

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Oh my God, they killed Molinaros! ...You bastards!

Well, just the nearby location.

After years of questing for a local pizzeria we could love, Molinaro's of Lockport opened nearby. It was love at first bite, and they hadn't let us down . . . until last night.

Look, I love making pizza with the girls in all our pizza incarnations, but there are times when you just have to order out - like when my back really goes out and the idea of standing at the stove is less appealing than a root canal. Like yesterday.

So, we called Molinaro's and just got a machine. Over and over again. Ultimately went back to our next favorite: Ying's ( a bizarre place that does Chinese, Italian, Greek, Mexican . . .). It's in the same strip mall as Molinaro's, which has, in fact, closed. It is getting replaced by another local brand, and we are keeping our fingers crossed.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Elegy From A Cook

My first (and only) shot at moving from Sous Chef to Chef at a another restaurant came at the urging of Fred Rzemek. I had known Fred for years, starting as one of his Lawyers (we even held our holiday parties at his various restaurants). He is the one who first induced me to enter cooking as a career, and when he decided to open Fredi, I was on board. Fredi was located in the quiet village of Clarence Center, part of the Town of Clarence – the next town east of here. Fred, and later Fred and Maggie lived in the coach house out back. The slogan “City Chic, Country Charm” summed it up.

My tenure there didn't last long – several issues had been building, including health and family. I would still pop in for the occasional shift when Fred needed me. At least until it caught fire a few years back, and Fred and Maggie moved back downtown.

Of more import, Fred operates a catering business called “My Personal Chef” and I still work with him there when called. Both the restaurant and the catering business attracted one-timers, but over the years we had the usual assemblage of miscreants and ne'er-do-wells common to the culinary industry. Perhaps not up to Anthony Bourdain standards, but colorful nonetheless.

Throughout most of my time with Fred, the one constant was Elly. The picture doesn't do her justice. She was a little slip of a thing – but very, very cute and totally vivacious (yeah, I am old enough to have been her father, but I am not dead yet!). She had a quick wit and an amazing sense of humor. She was smart, creative, funny and kind. If you pissed her off, she could curse in ways that would make a sailor blush. She could bring order out of chaos. You did not cross her.

In short, she was someone you wanted to be watching your six. She could negotiate between the front of the house and the back; run interference with Fred when he was getting on our nerves; or satisfy a guest in a way that made them think they were right. The best compliment I can pay her is that Elly never stopped until the job was done. That meant that at the end of a long catering gig, Elly and I were often side-by-side, doing dishes and putting stuff away while others were unwinding or seeking pay.

Were we friends? I would say so, and I think she would too. Not BFF's, but friends nonetheless – the kind born in the crucible of the food world. Every time we got together began with a hug and an inquiry about my family (I think she had a special bond with my eldest – also an “Ellie”). There was also always a hug and a peck on the cheek at the end of the evening.

I never had the opportunity, but I am sure I could have trusted her with anything. The conversations we had while doing the dishes tended to have a quite a bit of depth to them. We would speak of life and boyfriends and marriage and kids. We especially spoke of the law. Elly desperately wanted to be a lawyer, and she would have been a good one. I desperately tried to talk her out of it. There aren't many catering crews where the devolution of the practice of law over the past 40 years was a topic of conversation. But, Elly had her mind set on it, and a year and a half ago she started Law School in Jacksonville, FL.

I wish I had been more persuasive.

On Thursday, February 12, 2009, Elly was coming home to visit her siblings, her boyfriend, and to be her 4 year old nephew's Valentine at school. She boarded Continental Flight 3407 from Newark to Buffalo. It probably flew right over our house. At 10:19:34 PM, EST, the plane lost control. 26 seconds later it crashed to the earth, five miles short of the airport. Elly and 49 others lost their lives. Ellyce Marie Kausner was barely 24 years old.

If that weren't bad enough, Elly and the others died a mere ¾ of a mile from Elly's house, and about 200 yards from the building that once housed Fredi. Ironic, isn't it? I am not a big fan of irony.

So, when Fred called Sunday and said that Elly's Dad had asked him to cater her Memorial Service and that he was trying to assemble all of the old crew he could find, I of course said yes. On Monday, I joined Fred and Paulie and Lima and Jen and Lisa and Jeremy - 5 cooks, 1 server and a utility outfielder – to prep food. Some of us hadn't been together in years. It was a bit somber at first, as we concentrated on our tasks, but ultimately Fred started popping Champagne corks, and we started swapping Elly stories. (The hands down winner was Elly and the Scientologists!)

Tuesday morning (sans Paulie) we donned our finest chefwear and assembled again at her Church. This time we weren't going to cater with Elly, but for her. I am pretty sure she'd be happy with the result. It was the least we could do to remember one of our own.

So, if your a prayerful person, remember Elly and the other 49 souls lost last Thursday. If you are more like me, hoist a glass in their memory. Though it may have violated some Church rule, we did so Tuesday. Elly would have joined right in!

Here's looking at you, kid!!!!!

Monday, February 16, 2009

United States Food and Nutrition Agency (or Department)

Back in January, I did a post on Nicholas Kristof's call for changing the name the Department of Agriculture to the Department of Food. Again, his words:

Renaming the department would signal that Mr. Obama seeks to move away from a bankrupt structure of factory farming that squanders energy, exacerbates climate change and makes Americans unhealthy — all while costing taxpayers billions of dollars.

That just isn't far enough to untie the gordian knot of food policy, and a much more comprehensive answer is needed.

The USDA has the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (where the Pyramid comes from), the Food and Nutrition Service (which oversees nutritional assistance, including the National School Lunch Program), as well as the Food Safety and Inspection Service, and rip them away to be put in a new agency.

Take the F out of FDA in the form of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition and put it in the new agency. You can add authority over advertising regulation held jointly by the USDA, FDA and the FTC and put them in the new agency.

Now add oversight of farm subsidies that impact all of the above issues, stir in a copious dose of Congressional testicular diameter, and season VERY, VERY generously with a firewall mantaining decisions based on facts and protecting from interference from Congress or lobbyists from any food industry and consumer groups and you migh have a recipe for success.

As it is, I'll belive that meaningful change will happen when monkeys fly out of my butt.

ETA 3/29: today's Buffnews has an Editorial endorsing this in part.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The idle spear and shield were high up hung - John Milton

Idle or not, I could use a good shield now. Better yet more than one, as in Shields Bros. A local institution for a generation with its location on Main Street, and later on Niagara Falls Blvd. in Tonawanda.

Let me digress. The last scion of the Shields Bros. to operate the business - Rob - was a friend I've lost touch with. I seriously dated his sister-in-law for a year or two. With my now wife, we did a real estate closing for a cottage on Keuka Lake that included winery tours, good food and lots of laughter. Heck, if one of the partners hadn't come back to the office early, things might have started sooner. But, we are both pretty certain that was for the best.

So, why do I bring up Shields Bros.? Shields Bros. was the local repair shop for just about anything. Clocks, radios, small appliances; they fixed them all. Still under warranty - Shields Bros. was pretty much guaranteed to be an authorized service representative. No warranty - Shields Bros charges were never onerous.

Shields Bros. is gone now, a victim of our disposable society. We have lost much of intimacy in our world, nowhere more noticable than in the world of food. Gone is the local butcher or fismonger who knew your needs. Gone the neighborhood greengrocer who would dispose of product, rather than be known for selling vegetables past their prime.

Gone is the local authorized service center - you now have to pack it up and pay for shipping even if under warranty, at a cost so high that buying a new one is pretty much cheaper that excercising ones rights under a warranty.

So, why this rant at this time? My trusty 6 year old 6 Qt. Custom Edition 500 watt KitchenAid stand mixer is on its last legs. You can sort of see in the photographs that the "head" is working loose from the "neck".

Our stand mixer is well used, making bread a few times a week (at least), and other sundry preparations on a regular basis. The meat grinder/sausage stuffer attachment are out at least once a month. Yes, we are shopping for a replacement, but like all kitchen tools, we have learned all the strengths and weaknesses of this one. No, we have never named it, but we did put googly eyes on it. But, instead of being able to give at a vacation at Shields Bros. for a week or two, it will be consigned to a ride in the back of a garbage truck, and we are going to have to start again.

Not all progress is progress.

Here endeth the lesson.

That Didn't Last Long

He giveth with one hand and taketh with the other. Ah well.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

There may be hope after all.

Tom Vilsack sounds good.

Gong Hei Fat Choi

Making friends with your neighbors is always a good thing, even a fun thing. And when that friendship extends to food, it's even better. Invite me to a weenie roast - great. Call for recipe help - no problem. But, if you invite me to share a piece of your ethnic heritage, you will be my best friend forever. So, when our neighbor Yanhai Du and his wife Jai invited us to celebrate Chinese New Year with them, we jumped at at the chance.

Their son Kevin is in third grade with our Alison, and we see one or the other most days while waiting for the school bus. However, we had never spent time in their company. This evening was delightful, full of fascinating conversation, lots of laughter and really great food!

The menu included: Poached Chicken topped with greens; Stir-fried seafood with baby bok choy; a julienned salad including green papaya; various steamed dumplings; sweet and sour pork; a soup with seaweed and tofu -it was fabulous.

Now we have to return the favor - we are thinking Passover!

Welcome to the year of the Ox!

Mental Health Break

My girls are exposed by us to more than just cooking. Classic art, literature and music among them. Lately, that have taken to spontaneously erupting into Cole Porter's "Anything Goes." Of course it's the version by the "other" Cole Porter.

I love those two! wink

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Peanut Butter [is] the Pâté of Childhood - Florence Fabricant

It is almost two years since the great Peter Pan Peanut Butter recall for Salmonella. My first reaction to the was: Holy Frak, what will Alison eat? Ellie ate (and eats) pretty much anything, but the Beez was not only limiting herself to PB&J for School Lunch - it had to be Peter Pan! It was my favorite too. But, once the initial shock wore off, I was like "how can they do this to my kids". OK, I made jokes about the fact that that people who bought preformed burger patties should expect anything, but the bottom line is that the failures of both the food industry and the food inspection regime hurt not just us but our kids.

I am hopeful that the new President's approach to the overarching problems of our food policy will be extensive, but, in the mean time, he seems to be coming from the same place. Money quote:

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I — I think that the FDA has not been able to catch some of these things as quickly as I expect them to catch. And so we're gonna be doing a complete review of FDA operations ... at bare minimum, we should be able to count on our government keeping our kids safe when they eat peanut butter ... that's what Sasha eats for — for lunch — probably three times a week. And, you know, I don't wanna have to worry about whether she's gonna get sick as a consequence to having — having her lunch.

But, anything will help. It turns out that the President of the company that is involved with this latest outbreak is a volunteer on a USDA Peanut Standards Board. No it is not charged with food safety, but this fox in charge of the henhouse attitude has to end.

I want my kids to have safe and nutritious food. Is that hard?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Cooking With Kids V - The Final Horror

I have been writing about cooking with kids since I started blogging. I think it is one of the greatest undertakings a parent can engage in. Since the beginning, I have referred to these posts as "Cooking with Kids". No more. Over the holidays we came up wiith a new name, all because of my daughter Alison - age 8.

Just look at that adorable face! My Mom calls her a gute neshome - Yiddish for a good soul, and she really is all that. However, she has also traced a path of havoc and destruction never before seen in human existence. For this, her nickname since infancy has been Beezil (short for Beelzebub) .

All kids have disasters in and out of the kitchen. When she has them they are just always worse than you'd expect - with splatter patterns that would make Gil Grissom proud. So we were stressing getting ready for the Holidays, Alison decided to drop an egg. It struck the slightly ajar cabinet door beneath and splattered over a stack of nested Pyrex bowls, coating all of them.

As an homage to the unbelievable Executive Transvestite Eddie Izzard, we have now decided to call our family cooking experiences:

We love you Beez!

In The News

I got a mention in an article by Andrew Galarneau in Saturday's BufNews on how to deal with Winter in Buffalo. My part:

• Make soup.

With a pot and a knife, and a trip to the grocery store, it’s a snap, said Scotty Harris, author of “Cooking in Theory and Practice,” an Amherst-based food blog.

The intimacy of feeding yourself and others with care nourishes in more ways than one, said Harris, who cooks for his wife Trish and two daughters. “There’s nothing in the dead of winter that’s more comforting than the smell of soup cooking on the stove, or bread in the oven.”

Put a tablespoon of vegetable oil in the pot over medium high heat, and add a cup of chopped onion and a half cup each of carrot and celery. Cook until soft. Then add a quart of chicken broth, and a teaspoon of dried oregano or thyme.

When it comes to a simmer, add half a cup of barley and simmer for another 20 minutes. A spoonful of sour cream or a squeeze of lemon is optional.

What fun.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
- Arthur C. Clarke

Life's too short to eat bad food -