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Elsewhere This Week

While I've slowed down my posting a bit this summer
(also, there are still THREE MORE WEEKS left after Labor Day) I did write two
things this week elsewhere:

I praise the cashiers at Yip's in one of Eater's front of the house tributes.

I encountered haggis and more at Smith, a new
gastropub in Bangkok of all places. Read about it on Food Republic.

Crystal Light Cares


Appletini drunks no longer have to worry about inadvertently humping fugly dudes.

Le Self

Village buffet

Le Village Buffet photo via Where is Cat?

I've not been a Francophile for decades so my cultural understanding of the country is admittedly weak. Yes, I realize they are a thin nation and we are mostly chunks, but I'm pretty sure that when people talk about a certain French aesthetic, they really mean Parisian not the entire country.

Acclimating French women to Jenny Craig is no easy sell, as Susan Dominus' article in this past Sunday's New York Times Magazine points out. In particular I was struck by Valérie Bignon, the director of corporate communications for Nestlé France's irrational vehemence against cafeteria-style dining (I didn't interpret this as all-you-can-eat) a.k.a. "Le Self."

“You know what I find totally crazy?” Bignon asked, momentarily sidetracked. “Le Self. You know this system? It’s American. You take a plate, there’s a line, you take some salad. . . .” She was referring to what we call self-serve, an option so neutral to me that Bignon might as well have been decrying the rise of the photocopy machine. “In school cafeterias, there used to be a gentleman who made the meal and a madame who served it, and everyone ate together at the table, as they do at home,” she said. “But Americans hit on this system that is fast, it’s cheap, you take what you want — and now it’s everywhere in France!” she said. “I am anti-Self. It’s bad for rapport, and it’s bad for health — it’s too individualistic.”

But in the new issue of Saveur, a woman raised in France in the '60s reminisces about summer family road trips along Route Nationale 7. Author Sylvie Bigar writes:

Other times when hunger struck, we could count on the casual roadside restaurants that fed travelers, as well as truckers who drove the route year round. I remember filling my plate from their generous buffets with as much leg of lamb or entrecote as I wanted.

So, what gives? Le Self is clearly not a modern invention, nor strictly an American export. Buffets are viewed by Parisians much as they might be by a certain class of New Yorkers, which doesn't mean they don't exist.

Also, not terribly related: I feel like a bad person because whenever an article by an American writer mentions a pivotal family trip to Paris (which happens an awful lot–I can think of two off the top of my head in magazines this month, alone) that formed their ideas about food, my brain shuts off and I start feeling twitchy. Obviously, my aversion is born out of jealousy because the idea of a European vacation is unfathomable to me despite even the seemingly middle-class Griswolds partaking in the rite of passage. I am making a vow to hold back on kneejerk character assessment just because so many writers experienced kickass family vacations involving Michelin-starred restaurants.


Thai Worth Driving For

I'm not against car ownership in the city. The vehicle in my household can get from Carroll Gardens to Woodside for Thai food in 12 minutes on a good day as opposed to the two trains and 57 minutes proposed by Google Maps.

Which is why the most salient tidbit in that New York piece about cars not being the enemy was this:

"I can have a Thai lunch in Ridgewood and then hop over to Prospect Park, a trip that would otherwise present me with the preposterous choice of taking four subways or two buses, or else zigzagging through the Lower East Side."

One, there's Thai food in Ridgewood? And two, it's worth driving across boroughs for? Granted, my Ridgewood years were pre-millennium, and I lived in the more isolated German/Italian/Polish/Romanian/Serbian section, not the increasingly cool Bushwick borderland. So,  I wonder if it's Ridgewood Thai or Thai Village?

The Third Wheel

California almonds

This California Almonds ad raises similar issues as the original version of the (controversial, blog-wise)  Marie Callender's four-cheese lasagna commercial featuring Gael from Breaking Bad and two other women. The brunette disappeared in an edited version more commonly aired, making it more clear that Gael and the older blonde were meant to be a couple when originally relationship among the three was ambiguous. 


It also says a lot about how immune I've become to media's warping of reality that I automatically want to pair the man with the younger woman. (The only reverse example I can even think of offhand is Edie Falco's Nurse Jackie character being partnered with a husband who appears younger and perhaps disproportionately handsome–while I appreciate the swap, it doesn't read as wholly believable.)

But the confusing two women issue still remains with the West Coast almond-loving family. At first glance, I interpreted this to be a husband, wife, daughter, and grandmother, maybe the woman's mom. But is the woman in a tailored denim dress old enough to be the mother of one of the adults at the table? It's hard to gauge because no one is directly facing the camera. The woman on the right could be anywhere from late-20s to mid-30s while the shorter haired woman is impossible to parse. She could be an older looking late 30s or a youthful  50s–I want to say 45, for some reason, pure middle-age.

Then the dude has gray hair, as men are allowed to, which also throws off the dynamic and makes him seem over 40, and therefore more age appropriate (which like the gray hair, kind of means nothing–men often marry younger women and don't cover gray hair when it shows up in their 30s) for the woman sitting closest to him.

And the body language makes it seem that the three on the left are a unit and the longer-haired woman is a visitor or more peripheral relative, maybe the aunt, maybe a friend or neighbor.  And yet sartorially I would pair the man with the hoodie lady because they're both dressed more casually and a t-shirt guy would view himself as youthful and prefer longer hair on a woman.


Help! Why are thre so many women at the table together how is it meant to sell food? I eat almonds (origins unknown) all the freaking time so maybe it's working on me. I even picked up one those tasty, chemical-laden, preservative-filled lasagnas not so long ago and tried to gussy it up with instagram. Pretty?

Shari, Baby

Logo-1978I am surprised by all the vitriol (and large number of comments, frankly) on the 10 Most Annoying Restaurant Trends post on the re-launched (and apparently no-longer-NYC-centric) Zagat blog, but more entertained by commenter #4's suggestion to "Jesus, go back to Shari's then."

Does anyone outside of Oregon even know what Shari's is? I would not be insulted, though, because I miss the 24-hour pie-touting chain.

Also, I do not like dogs in restaurants either, so there.

Taking the Cake

Black swan cake
If I were a Tumblr type, I would post pics all day without commentary. Instead, I’m preoccupied and must make notes to myself that I quickly forget to blog about. Case in point: Doom Cakes, which I squirreled away months ago after first hearing about it and only now remembered while stuck on a couch in a head cold stupor, wasting away an entire valuable Sunday.

This site is devoted to  the “cinematic tradition in which any beautifully decorated cake serves as a harbinger of imminent catastrophe (often including the destruction of said cake)” and it is awesome.



In the late ‘90s I had a fantasy of writing a photo-driven book about candy bars, obscure and beloved, maybe with behind the scenes factory shots. It would be called Wunderbar and it would be awesome. At least it was in my mind, but publishing was a mystery to me (it still is, frankly). I didn’t even know where to begin. Obviously, crowd-sourcing and provide-me-with-content tumblrs were an unheard of concept at the time. Even Food Network’s Unwrapped hadn’t yet aired.

My go-nowhere concept faded from memory until 2004 when Steve Almond’s Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America, a kind of memoir, kind of a love letter to the little guys, came out. Ah, so this is how it’s done. Or rather, one way to do it. The same year Nigel Slater’s Toast, a memoir with candy-centric leanings, was also published.

I read Candyfreak at the time (it just now occurred to me to read Toast—I’ll put a library hold on it shortly) but as with many things in life, half-a-decade later and I’d completely forgotten how it was written or any details beyond the overall topic. I’ve been giving another once over as a refresher.

All was good until I reached page 135. In describing the Goo Goo Cluster factory thusly, “Joanne led me through the warehouse, gingerly stepping over palettes on the ground.” I had two gut reactions. It was exciting to see my bugaboo word in this context because it’s the one usage you never see mangled because it’s rarely used at all. But I’m fairly certain he meant pallets not palettes.

I tried to put the homophonal transgression out of my mind and focus on the story, but on the very next page I was sucker punched again!

The same was true of ABC Fruit Chomps. They tasted funny. But they tasted funny because my palette has come to define Starbursts as the standard of normalcy when it comes to fruit chews.

Once you spy a palate abomination, there’s no way of unseeing it or forgetting it. Two in two pages? And then in the next-to-last chapter, the crime occurred again, as if to make sure I was really paying attention until the very end. Oh, I was.

The American palette is accustomed, by this time, to chocolate and peanut butter. We think nothing of the combination, in part because both substances melt at the same temperature.

No! This was particularly painful because the candy being discussed, Abba-Zabba, is easily one of my favorite candy bars (why did I never see the green apple limited edition!?). I remained defeated for the final 18 pages.

The only salvation was seeing that quaint last-decade oddity, an appendix of websites with unwieldy URLs like and, attempting to capture the ephemeral in print.

Food Blogs…Blah, Blah

Bloggers Yes, I already posted about the ELLE food blogger article when it came out in print. No, I’m not trying to milk my fleeting minutes of fame (well, a bit maybe) but now that they’ve put it online I feel like it is my duty to link to the new format.

Print Is Not Dead

Ok, so it appears that I’ve been featured in ELLE magazine (no, not L Magazine, the first assumption from the few New Yorkers I’ve offhandedly mentioned this to). I’m as surprised as anyone.
What warms my heart the most is—no, not being referred to as “the best in the Gen X slacker”—that food totally takes a backseat to Henry freaking Thomas, a.k.a The Hankster, my raison d’etre of the ‘90s. Of course it’s now firmly 2011, but my life’s work is done. Dead serious.
Second best is seeing my favorite grocery store, the Western Beef in Ridgewood, Queens, in the background of my photos.
My mom is going to kill me for divulging her ‘80s penchant for eggs and bacon and taco salads for dinner. Thank god I didn’t tattle about her infamous peanut butter and margarine sandwiches.
No, it’s not online (oh, traditional print) so I’ve scanned the full article for visual proof, which is likely copyright-infringing (but, you know, anti-authority Gen Xer that I am...). Click images to see full-sized.

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