It’s the Potato’s Year

Yup, 2008 is the International Year of the Potato.

“A whole year?” I hear you ask. “Why a whole year and who says so?”

Well, I couldn’t quite see why it needed a whole year either so I went to check. Turns out it is The United Nations, that’s who and we know how tetchy they can get when no one listens to them. Seriously, no one ever listens to them and they are starting to develop a complex(1) so let’s throw them a bone and pay attention to what they have to say.

And besides, why not celebrate the potato? They are delicious, come in umpteen varieties, relatively inexpensive and – did I mention flexible?

Potatoes can be boiled, baked, fried, microwaved, steamed, or roasted, with or without their peels. They partner up beautifully with butter, sour cream, bacon, cheese, veggies, and so many other things we’d be here all day listing them.

They are also a much misunderstood veggies. Yes, you can pile them with all sorts of delicious, full fat toppings, grease them and fry them with an inch of their delicious lives but you know what? Left to themselves they’re quite low in calories and far from being culinary filler (as many people see them), they are loaded with nutrients.

Yes, the potato – of all foods – may very well need a longer celebration than most. And because I feel bad about missing the whole first part of the Spud’s annus mirabilis(2) – I am going to really go all out for National Potato Month (September in case you were wondering) and try and squeeze a year’s worth of starchy goodness into 30 days.

Stay tuned!

(1) and I don’t just mean the renovation of their offices though that project isn’t exactly small potatoes.

(2) no, go look it up.

Wine Whine

What the . . . What on earth is all that racket?

Oh! It’s just someone scamming Wine Spectator magazine out of an Award of Excellence. Oh, didn’t you hear? Everyone’s talking about it. And by everyone I mean – Epicurious, the Boston Globe, New York Magazine’s Grub Street (no less than 4 times in the past 2 days) and the Diner’s Journal at the NYTimes.

Yes, this year, the award was given to a restaurant that does not exist.

And these people went to some trouble with it, creating user profiles for Chowhound, posting about their experiences at a fictitious restaurant, etc. I’m not sure what was accomplished beyond the “Gotcha!” factor and the wailing and gnashing of editorial teeth on the mags forums. But I am still entertained – especially since it now explains a lot about their – in my opinion – flawed selection process. They don’t actually, ya know, GO to the restaurants. I can see not going to every one that nominates itself but come on – once you’ve got it narrowed down, surely the actual wine should be experienced and in context of the restaurant. Yes, that might incur expenses but apparently the magazine collects $250 or so from every entrant so why not use that?

edited to add: Robin Goldstein, perpatrator of the whole scam, can talk about doing this as part of an academic investigation but I’m sure the fact that it is boosting book sales comes into play as well.

When Is A Potato Chip Not A Potato Chip? Or Do I Mean Crisp?

When Is A Potato Chip Not A Potato Chip?  Well, according to the UK High Court, when it’s a Pringle. On Friday, Justice Warren ruled that Pringles are not potato chips- or crisps, in the British vernacular- thus keeping them exempt from VAT. Apparently, they just don’t contain enough potato, and certainly don’t behave in the right way.

Under UK law, most foodstuffs are exempt from VAT, except for food products made from potato, potato flour, or potato starch. This would include “potato crisps, potato sticks, and potato puffs.” The Inland Revenue had argued that Pringles- as they have a potato content of around 42% , and were originally marketed in the US as Pringle’s Newfangled Potato Chips and still are on their US website, fell within this exemption from VAT exemption.

Barristers for Proctor & Gamble, makers of Pringles, begged to differ. With UK sales of around £100 million, you can see why. VAT in the UK is set at 17.5%, which would have meant an annual subtraction of around £18 million from gross sales. No small change.

Now while I’m usually pleased whenever anyone legetimately beats the taxman, and have always been a fan of Pringles, I must admit that the arguments of Richard Cordara QC (appearing for P&G) may have put me off them for life. The case, you see, rested on the “potatoness” of a Pringle, and Mr Cordara’s arguments against this point were, whilst factually impressive, really rather un-appetizing.

He began by stating that potato crisps are made from slicing and frying a potato, while Pringles are made from a mix with potato content. He went on to state that the colouring and texture of your average Pringle “betrays its doughy origins.” He added that “The appearance and taste of a Pringle is not that of a potato crisp….It has a shape not found in nature, being designed and manufactured for stacking.”

It gets weirder. “A Pringle does not taste like a crisp, or otherwise behave like one. It is totally different. A Pringle is designed to melt down on the tongue. It is not designed to present the kind of jagged sensations associated with a crisp or similar product.”

All which leaves me a tad concerned about just how the Pringles in my cupboard behave when I’m not looking. Do they stack themselves out of the cannister and mock the potato crisps for their jagged sensations? Do the crisps then mock them right back for being doughy and yet with a shape not found in nature? Will Pringles now be considered the Mudbloods of the snack world?

Should I have both Pringles and potato crisps in my cupboard? Will that make me doughy to the extent that I will resort to having a shape not found in nature? Do I prefer being bagged or stacked?

And where will all this VAT hoo-ha for foodstuffs end? Hopefully with grape-derivative products being exempted from VAT. Then I can drown myself in wine whilst eating Pringles, secure that they will melt on my tongue long before they could possibly choke me to death in my alcohol-induced coma.

Green Carts in Gotham

I confess, foodie friends, that on a day like today – hot, humid and grey – I don’t feel especially inspired to do much beyond delving deeply into a dish of white chocolate raspberry truffle Häagen-Dazs (the key, I am sure, to living a long and happy life). But I am refraining from such activity for a bit longer so I can share some local (local to me anyway) food news with you.

Here in Gotham, mini-Mayor – known to the rest of you as Mike Bloomberg – can often be found pushing food-related legislation intended to improve people’s health or lives whether they like it or not. Sometimes I agree with him, sometimes I don’t.

As a non-smoker, I wasn’t terribly put out when the smoking ban made the smoking section in restaurants a thing of the past. Oh, some of my friends have been temporarily banished to the sidewalks on an evening out but they’ve managed just the same and I get to spend less time at the dry cleaners so there you are.

I didn’t care for the idea of restaurants being compelled to post the calorie count of every item. Not that I didn’t think people could use the information – but it seemed to me, to be a logistical nightmare for the restaurant owners. Not the big chains who control and/or dictate their entire ingredient flow and production process. I mean, the cafe owner who doesn’t know EXACTLY how many calories are in every single item he gets from every supplier or EXACTLY how many calories are in this slice of pie vs. the other one.

Besides, I didn’t want to be faced every single morning with the truth about my morning Starbucks and muffin. I know – knew, I should say – that there were better choices but a Venti Mocha Frappaccino made me HAPPY, DAMN IT! Then those hideous numbers came and denied me my plausible deniability. My morning routine became tainted by guilt, by the shame of the self-destructive. It was the same drink and the same muffin I had overpaid for lo these many years. But now, I was forced to face the fact that no only was I overpaying for what was essentially ice – I was also undermining any healthier eating later in the day because my overpriced ice was coated in chocolate sauce. Fine. I gave them up.

But just recently, one of mini-Mayor’s pet projects from a few months back has come into effect and it is one that I can get behind whole heartedly. The Green Carts Legislation. The city has created 1,000 new permits for street vendors who exclusively sell fresh fruits and vegetables. Of course, there are 9000 other food vendors who would like permits for the stuff they are selling – soups, hot dogs, pretzels etc. But these 1000 permits are very specific about the fresh fruit thing and are to be targeted in neighborhoods that are VASTLY under-served by major supermarket chains and where obesity and diabetes rates have skyrocketed way past the average. In fact, the official press release had some numbers that surprised me a great deal.

“A recent study by the Department of Health found that supermarkets in Harlem are 30 percent less common than on the Upper East Side, and that while 20 percent of Upper East Side bodegas carried leafy green vegetables, only 3 percent of those in Harlem could say the same.”

Sounds like the only thing they have less of than supermarkets is banks. But that’s another issue for another time. 30 percent? A lot. Of course, I’m not sure what is being done to address the price of these now more accessible fresh fruit and veggies. Putting them within reach physically but out of reach financially won’t help anyone. I’m still perusing information regarding this legislation to see if that is being addressed.

Food News Peruse – 5/16

Presenting our new feature: Friday Food News Peruse (previously known as Tidbits)

food_news1.jpg With all that is wrong with the world and the increasing evidence that slackers abound everywhere, it’s nice to see at least one beacon of over-achievement (and dare I say, ruthless competitiveness). Following a link from Slashfood, we find the tale of 15 year old Jennifer Sharpe who broke all Girl Scout cookie sales records by selling (are you sitting?) – 17,328 boxes of cookies!

You know, I was a Brownie (for a short period of time – don’t ask) and I only sold a few boxes. No point in bringing the sales sheet to school. Everyone did that. The market was saturated. Dad wouldn’t take the sales sheet to work and force his underlings to buy them, thus putting me at a disadvantage compared to the girls whose father’s happily shilled for them. My own dad muttered something about character building and doing things on my own. Cold comfort at the time.

What? Oh sorry – I got distracted. Yes, girl scout cookies. Records broken. Brava Jennifer!

Epicurious is asking “What’s the food-related topic you’d like to learn most about?” Yes, they want you the readers to play “assignment editor.” Not a bad idea. Perhaps I shall steal that one day.

Both Ruhlman and the New York Times Dining section are reporting on the return of foie gras to the menus of Chicago. The Times states that, “Chicago may have spent more time talking about foie gras than many of its residents ever did eating it.” and I think that’s probably right. But you know how Chicago gets. Political football is their “national” pastime and that’s why it became such an issue there as opposed to – oh, say California (which I believe also has legislation in place to ban the stuff by 2012) or New York (who isn’t banning it but was sued in 2006 by the Humane Society who want it banned.).

Speaking of New York, food festivals abound this weekend – including The Taste of Tribeca, the Cuisine of Queens and Beyond and a handful of others. Check out Serious Eats for the lowdown on the whens, wheres and whos.

I’d comment more on what Amy, of Cooking with Amy is up to but I am seething with too much jealousy at the moment because the key thing she’s up to at the moment is being in ITALY! Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! I wanna be in Italy. Harumph!

Well, wait. I will comment on the Orange Mango Smoothie she describes because a) it sounds delicious and b) there seems to be a smoothie/slushy trend in the culinary blogosphere happening (My Wooden Spoon has a Slush Punch I am going to try as soon as the weather improves) and I love me some cool slushy goodness.

Spotting Sandwich Trends

sandwichWe’re feeling quite ahead of the curve around here at the moment. See, back in October, the Fabulous Foodie pondered the truth and nature of sandwiches. What could be more personal than a sandwich? We all have our ideal ingedients, must-have methods and serving specifics.

Now the New York Times has turned it’s attention to the most portable of meals – the sandwich. It’s an interesting article – what makes a sandwich a New York sandwich, what makes it a new type of sandwich, how are sandwiches defined (the NYT has deemed wraps and burgers non-sandwiches). And I must say that I looked forward to trying some of these local treats very soon.

It’s a good thing you can eat these on the move. Some sound like they aren’t gonna do my waistline a bit of good. I shall have to walk them off as I eat them.

Famines = Not Fabulous

shortage.jpgI’ve been trying to think of something to post for days now and all I could think of was rice. (1)

“Argh!” I thought. “I am not going to get into a poli-econ rant about food riots, the short-sightedness of the World Bank, the relative inefficiency of ethanol, the shift in the national diet of China and other shifting societies, the fact that history repeats itself (pass the potatoes!) and rice shortages.”

And no, I do not mean the fact that you are limited to 3 ten-pound bags of rice at Trader Joe’s. I meant real shortages. (2)

And each time I ranted that at myself, I would search doggedly for something light and fluffy, something that required piffle not pontificating. Something amusing, clever, maybe a tad biting—but it a witty way. Even something quick—a sort of fabulous foodie “wham, bam, thank-you ma’am(3)

And all I could think about was famine. And rice. Oh and tomatoes because there’s going to be an issue with tomatoes in late summer when everyone suddenly realizes that the planting levels are waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay down since the farmers aren’t at all convinced there will be anyone on hand to pick them come harvest time. But all foods have their moment and the tomato will wait for now. (4)

At this moment – rice.

Yes, there are many factors at play in the current shortages. Yes, the shortages involve many foods not just rice – but rice is one of those building block staples (you could easily substitute the words ‘wheat’, ‘salt’, ‘soybeans’, etc.) so the impact is greater than say—a shortage in Clementines. (5)

  • It’s not just crop failures due to rising levels of rice blight and fungus.
  • It’s not just higher demand from previously smaller markets.
  • It’s not just that the price of fuel is skyrocketing faster than a lost helium balloon driving up the cost of transport, of fertilizer and of the umpteen other petroleum based items and operations across the agricultural world.
  • It’s not just worsening drought conditions (a daunting and terrifying problem in and of itself) and changing soil conditions (put down to – guess? go on! – you got it! Global warming)
  • It’s not just that the acreage formerly dedicated to growing the stuff is now being used for development thanks to crony-driven sales by grasping local governments and the desperate need to put exploding populations somewhere.
  • It’s not just that land was left to lie fallow as the world’s large rice exporters became rice importers on the economic advice of a world economic body that should have known better.
  • It’s not just bad decisions and bad “quick fixes” being used as stop gap measures as people decide between sending their children to school or feeding them.
  • It’s not just speculators. (6)

It’s not “just” any of them.

No, none of these individually or even two or them could cause food riots in 5 out of 7 continents. (7) It’s all of these things coming together, creating a sort of “perfect storm” of disaster. The BBC News seems enamored of the phrase “silent Tsunami” to describe the crisis sweeping across the globe. I hate it—the phrase I mean. Not the BBC News, of which I am by and large a fan.

So given that there are so many things in play here, why does it seem that the only solution being heralded about is reducing the acreage given over to ethanol-destined crops. I’m all for looking more closely at the practicality of that, by the way. Ethanol, as developed and produced in the United States (which seems to be the country everyone clangs on about re Ethanol) is not a terribly efficient fuel. Oh, it’s cheap enough to produce—or at least, to the extent that corn (again, I’m referring to ethanol re the U.S.) is cheaper and easier to get hold of than dwindling fossil fuels. But the question remains, is the resulting fuel (the quantities per acreage, how it performs, etc.) worth it? These concerns have recently been “hand waved” away by the U.S. Congress because they say that eventually it won’t be corn-based. It will be produced by something else (grasses etc.) that won’t compete for agricultural land the way corn does. Well, that’s dandy—for eventually. But what about now?

Let’s look at Brazil. No—let’s not. Suffice to say Brazil seems to have gotten its head around this ethanol thing better than anyone else and if I had a blog called the Fabulous Fuel Fan, I’d go on about it. But we’re food folks here.

My point is that while I think the impact and role of ethanol production in the current food crisis is in dire need to examination and re-dressing, it’s not going to solve the problem if it’s done in isolation. Everything else must be examined as well.

Hmmmm . . . .

I may have gotten this partially out of my system for now. Then again, having “thought out loud” about it in composing this post, I may have just given myself a rough outline for a series of new posts.

Worry not, regular readers. We shall still celebrate the fun and fabulousness of foodie. After all, there will always be a need to celebrate things like National Prime Rib Day (April 27). In fact, we may get two posts today—’cause I love me some Prime Rib.

(1) Note: This is not our usual fare. I wanted to be clever, funny, and witty and something kept getting in the way.

(2) How I loathe the media sometimes. Their desperate need to create drama and crisis where there is none. It’s almost as annoying as their ability to ignore and/or dismiss genuine crisis on the off-chance that an Olsen twin or Paris Hilton may get a hang nail.

(3) As lunatic as that sounds if one a) knows him and b) tries to visualize that.

(4) But keep an eye on it.

(5) Which are, to the best of my knowledge, not in short supply so relax, Mother. Mother loves Clementines.

(6) “Speculating on the price of food?” I hear you cry. Yes, children. People speculate on anything and everything. Metals, oil, even things like say, oh – mortgages. And you see how well that went. According to the National Grain and Feed Association, 60 percent of the wheat market is current owned by an index fund. Enjoy your breakfast.

(7) Bully for Antarctica! No food riots there. Yet.







The Power of Cheese

cheesecave.jpgAttention all New York area foodies! Reservations are now being taken for tours of Murray’s Cheese Caves. Don’t know Murray’s? Then you don’t know cheese. Murray’s is cheese. Cheese is Murray’s. These tours used to be a rare, once a year occurrence but it’s now a monthly treat.

Hey! January 20th is National Cheese Lover’s Day. What better way to celebrate than to take the January 19th tour?

Yum. Cheeeeeeeeeeese.

Nit-Picking About Nigella

nigella_reflect.jpgwell, I hate to say we got there first – well, no, I don’t hate to say it. In fact, I’ll say it again. We got there first and we had a sense of humor about it.

The fab foodie blogged sometime ago about Nigella’s air of unreality and it seems that the Guardian is taking issue not only with the fakery but with the fact that the Nigella camp is defending it. They seem terribly up in arms about it – as if she’s sullied their very notion of reality, misled them in some really sinister way and tricked them into believing in Santa only to reveal the fake beard and belly.

People, of course it’s not her kitchen or her study. (I’m willing to bet that her kitchen and study are the ones we saw on her episode of Who Do You Think You Are). I imagine she lives in a lovely home that she would rather not have trampled and cluttered up with all the bits and pieces needed for television production – not to mention all those crew. If, in the context of the show’s narrayive – yes, even cooking shows have a narrative – they want to act as if the set is her house then OK. It is part and parcel of the entertainment. After all, cooking shows are entertainment not documentaries and not master classes.

Loosen up people. So what if that’s not her fridge and the same laptop she used to write her classic How to Eat. It’s not as if she’s faking the food. And isn’t that the point?

Tidbits – Nov 28th

food_news1.jpgOnce again, epicurious provides links that amuse and delight. This time they point the way to the Fake Gordon Ramsey blog. Go. Read. Laugh.

Slashfood (who really ought to come out with a calendar of Foodie Holidays) tells us that today is National French Toast Day! As it happens, my mother makes a fantastic creme brulee French toast. There are a number of places where such a recipe appears and they are all roughly the same. It’s a great “Weekend Guests” breakfast. Delicious, gorgeous and relatively easy. Just don’t think to much about the calorie count.

If you’re not ready for breakfast – ’cause you’re still up from the night before, it’s possible you have discovered the age of the cocktail parlor. According to the LA Times (so really, it may have no resemblance to the cocktail culture anywhere else), there is a cocktail renaissance going on and it’s all about behavior and policies.
Really? I thought the cocktail renaissance was all down to the reintroduction of absinthe. Oh, you didn’t know? My dears – it’s all anyone is talking about. At least on NPR.

And a quick round of culinary site seeing:

  • New York Magazine’s food blog, Grub Street: a great favorite of mine and a good read. They’ve also been snickering at the fake Gordon blog.
  • Mouthing Off, one of the blogs from Food and Wine magazine.
  • I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned The Food Section before but even if I have, it’s worth mentioning again.
  • The Food Museum Blog – which I actually found not through The Food Museum website but through The Food Section (which has led me all sorts of delicious places). Don’t get me wrong. I like The Food Museum – I just seem to have come to it slightly backwards