Monday, November 24, 2008
Okay, I’m going to confess… I had a life altering experience while watching daytime TV some time ago. Montel Williams was a guest on Maury Povich (I know! I had to watch!). Apparently, Montel wrote a book all about how he made his multiple sclerosis go into remission. When pumped for details, Montel got very still, looked intently into the eyes of Maury, and said, “I started eating more vegetables.”
Tucked in on my little couch, my eyed glossed over, and something inside me tipped. Here, a total douche said something so simple, touted by mothers, doctors, and now even the FDA. And for some reason, this time I listened.
Instinctually, we crave simple, abundant, raw food. Imagine if you will, meandering among the tundra say, 10,000 years ago, and you get a little rumble in the belly. Filling up on leaves and nuts would have been much less taxing than making cheese, raising a cow, or inventing a pizza bagel. Vegetables were the fast-food of back-in-the-day. Our bodies are most at home with them.
Critics argue, “I don’t like vegetables.” Well, your body likes vegetables! After a few weeks on the green train, my mood improved, I was regular as a utility bill, with the vigor of a born-again. Oh snap! Sorrel swathed the back of my front teeth with a lemony zing. Mexican avocados, like little black stones, fit inside my palm, buttery and fat. Cauliflower, in her white ruffled winter coat, sings a song when bathed in béchamel.
If you are still at a loss or where to begin, start seasonal. Shop at the farmers market and get in touch with the wonders of what each new month has to offer. Soon enough, the promise of springtime asparagus will be as exciting as Christmas morn. Further, your food will taste better. Out-of-season produce tastes like crap and we all know it. Finally, fresh, local, seasonal veggies have way better (yes, that is a scientific term) nutritional value than their foreign, cold-weather friends.
“You absolutely need this stuff. And you’re going to love it! Because it tastes like liquid heaven.” Montel Williams, ladies and gentleman.
The Vineyard Farmer’s Market
Northwest corner of Shaw & Blackstone
Wednesdays, 3 – 6pm
Saturdays, 7am – Noon
Friday, September 5, 2008
I just polished off another bunch of the snappy little red grapes from the Fresno State Farm Market. They are, by far, the best grapes I’ve ever had. Each nugget is like a rush of over-sugared Kool-Aid housed in a taught blushed skin. Amazing. While you are there, check out their butter, milk, and olive oil... not to mention their bacon, wine, and ice cream. These kids are pumping out the finest and what could be a better way to eat local?
Rue and Gwen Gibson Farm Market Store
5370 N. Chestnut Avenue
Fresno, CA 93740
Friday, August 22, 2008
"You go to the fair?" I get that a lot. If you were crazy enough to want to go back after you were a kid, it was likely that the shank-tastic ‘90's shooed you away for good. It's noisy, gritty, hot, mediocre, full of low-lives… and I love it. I even get a little restless lying in wait for the first days of October, so a few years ago, I got risky and drove out to the sticks to participate in a little something before the Big Fresno Fair... a little ditty in Caruthers.
Like pre-drinking before a big night out, I'm now convinced this is better than the real deal. Caruthers is known for two things: 1. it is the largest free admission (yes, you heard me) fair in the world. And 2. the freakin' food. This is not the place to get your foot-long corndog or deep-fried Oreo cookie. No, no, this is all down-home. Little church ladies, junior leaguers, elementary teachers, and the occasional blue-plate-special-fry-cook; carnies need not apply.
The gates open to a line of tic-tac white booths dotted with cardboard signs for (among others) Portuguese bean bowls, teriyaki, ribs, Polish sausage, NYC chicken sandwiches, Indian tacos, French fries, lasagna and the Templo Sinai Mexican dinner plate. It's all the real deal.
I cannot escape the hot dip turkey sandwich. Turkey in September is like sex in junior high... a little early but still so damn good. For a moment, that distinctive tug of the holidays takes hold of your tongue and suddenly there is a chill in the air and a hint of cloves on the horizon... but I digress. Pulled from the depths of a crock-pot line-up, they serve it up simple: slopped down in its own juice, stacked like wet blond haystack on top a chewy hoagie roll. You can go there with a little mayo or pepper, but really, it's good on its own.
Then on to The Saviors Lutheran abelskivers. Thank God for the little pious ladies who tend to these perfect balls of fluffy dough, half fritter, half eggy-pancake, slathered in your choice of powder sugar, granulated sugar, or syrup. Blessed be.
And there are Frenchie's pies, where you'll have a hard time choosing between mincemeat, berry, apple, pecan, butterscotch, pumpkin, lemon, etc. I feel like I've got a fast track to the blue ribbon judging panel and there before me is the year’s best work ripe for my criticism.
And there is the Muslim fish fry shack where I went for a catfish strip delicately ribboned on a bamboo skewer, breaded and fried. It was like an earthy tab of butter that tipped its hat to the underbelly of the fish world. Honestly, the best thing I ate all day.
And finally, for the purists, there is one, and only one, booth set in ping-pong lights where you can get your caramel apple and cotton candy spun pink to carnival standards. All around you'll find a few cows and sows, wilting flower arrangements, seed art, freakish vegetables, shammies, and the other stuff that makes a fair tick. It's just enough.
At dusk the air hums with chatterbox church ladies and the ping of carnival whirligigs. Evening gnats on a gentle commute glow pink with the tint of the Farris wheel lights and the faint smell of animal life lifts above the last fried fritters. For a moment or two, I am home. A bittersweet memory of what life in this little brown town could be.
Friday, August 15, 2008
Kefir Cheese: better known as the Champagne of Dairy for its effervescent and tangy ping in the mouth. It’s smooth and creamy and tows the line between savory and sweet. I’ll slap the stuff on toast with jam in the morning and make a crazy dip with jalapenos, cucumber, and olive oil. Pick this stuff up at the Mediterranean Deli on Gettysburg and Fresno… or if you are really into local food, get it made fresh at Bedrosian’s Deli where it comes in an unmarked jar with a yellow lid and a yeasty whiff. It’s freakin’ fantastic.
Thursday, August 7, 2008
Tickets are going fast for the first ever Slow Food Nation event in San Francisco on Labor Day Weekend. Three days of bites, sips, and mind-expanding information all packed into quite possibly the world most food-forward city. Go to see some celebrity chefs, meet the farmers, and see all the other crazies who are obsessed with eating. www.slowfoodnation.org
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Are Otter Pops looking a little lackluster? Do you pine for luxury on a spoon? Enter Häagen-Dazs Reserve® Fleur de Sel ice cream. Sheer brilliance, this miniaturized French sweet is suspended in caramel cream and studded with erotic pings of salt for $6. As suggested by the maker, “…after a bucketful of fresh salty oysters, take the empty shells and scoop on dollops of Fleur de Sel Caramel ice cream.” Uh… I think that would go over huge on a first date.
Whole Foods. Obvi.
Friday, July 25, 2008
Pale, soft, and exudative… does a vision of chicken pop in your head? It should! These three words have bummed their way into the lexicon of the poultry industry as the biggest problem facing the original white meat. Go ahead, Google “chicken PSE” and see what comes up.
Apparently, as American demand for chicken has skyrocketed in the past decades (insert “I’ll just have a chicken salad” here), there has been an overwhelming change in the color, texture, and water holding capacity of the meat, defined as PSE. Growth defects, rapid chilling techniques, genetics, stress, and increased movement through the slaughter process all contribute to a change in pH which in turn gives us a weensy problem: quality.
So, is it possible to find a bird in town that resembles the mythic lore of the third-world chicken, or the American breed circa 1950…? What does such an animal taste like? How does the flesh perform under heat? Could it possibly be rich, robust, and moist?! Fear not my fellow Fresnans… the answer is yes!
One hot summer afternoon, I rounded the corner from McKinley onto Maple and took in the sight of a glistening statue of a rooster, chained to a fence in front of a squat building, framed in three languages: “King Poultry.” Some might be turned off by a vaguely marked ethnic building in an industrial park, but in search of chicken, I did a u-turn.
A waiting room, clean and sterile, punctuated with petite red paper lanterns and a couple of chairs, gives way to a small glass window. Sidle up: behold! Workers in gloves and masks, hairnets, and booties, rhythmically working over athletically built chicken carcasses. They are beautiful! Lean, long, puckered thighs and rubbery feet, with pintails and entrails gracefully pulled to the side. If you are suave enough to linger at the window a bit, you can peek into an adjacent room stacked high with cages of red-feathered chickens, scratching, bobbing, and flapping before their last rights.
You can choose the sex of your chicken and its color. They run about $8 each, and are prized for there, as one worker described, “sticky” flesh. Now, stay with me. Think about the last time you had an amazing, bone sucking experience of a roasted or grilled bird, and lingered with the little snap of protein when you pulled your teeth apart or the ghost of tacky gelatin on your fingertips. That’s it. These fellas are free-range, vigorous, healthy breeds, fed a little corn and picking up a lot of grass and bugs along the way. This not only gives them a more pronounced chicken flavor, but indeed they are better for you! Imagine eating the flesh of someone who strictly ate Fritos, as opposed to one who ate a little salad now and then too. Who’s leaner? Who has a better cholesterol count?
As if this were not enough, you can sling back a sack of eggs- 20 for $3. White, ecru, brown, or mottled, lop-sided, freckled, beige, or squat, these little guys are a beautiful testament to biodiversity. Crack one open for an intensely orange yolk, nestled in a firm, glossy albumen. Stunning. If you dare, do a side-by-side of the old-ass eggs you have in the fridge. Dear God.
Take it all in. Stay local. Get outside of your hermetically sealed thinking. Turn a cold cheek to PSE chicken and consider the King.
On Maple, just south of McKinley in Fresno
Thursday, March 27, 2008
In a chorus line of ladies chirping out orders for double-pump sugar free, skinny, non-fat, lattes, mochas, and frappucinos, I got the nerve to let the words slip out: "a double espresso con panna drizzled in honey." That's right people. Caffeine (in its darkest form), fat (though not too much) and sugar (in her most natural cloak). This little trio is freaking amazing; each layer gently balanced atop the next, mixing only for a little brown fluff of brooding intensity. Stick it to those hacked "lite" drinks and order up the real stuff...
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Food is an evolving, sticky beast. It picks up bits of influence like a caterpillar inching humpbacked across the gritty lines of culture. Usually what is born is passable fusion: a banal miso-glazed pork chop or “salsa verde” Doritos. But occasionally, only the cream is skimmed from the DNA food pool of two cultures, and what you are left with is a delicate, moth-like dish, emerging from a cocoon of oppression. Enter the Vietnamese sandwich. Elusive, and distinguished, this little loaf contains the best of French bread-making skills with the indescribable balance the Vietnamese can thrust upon all five parts of the tongue.
I first heard about this joint on a recommendation not for the sandwich, but for the coconut cake. Like a Costco free sample, I took the bait, and there I was yet again, in another dive parking lot in south Fresno, stepping into a little box with bars on the windows.
I was packed into a pickle jar of a room jammed with people, a fish tank, TV, newsprint-topped tables, and mounted cakes displaying the latest Pokemon figurines knee-deep in frosting. I swerved my way to the counter and ordered a sandwich. For $3 you get a choice of “regular” or “hot” (an obvious choice) always served warm (in both temperature and spice). Within minutes I was handed a little hoagie swathed in wax paper and a rubber band. I was in for a treat.
The baguette is impeccable. Warm and crisp, with an interior tug of white dough. Inside, a smear of red chili sauce cradling an amazing mix of pickled carrot, cucumber, and radish spears on a bed of cilantro sprigs. This is in perfect compliment to the meats: a thin slab of roasted pork and a pâté-like slice, riddled with black pepper. One bite and your mouth will understand the delicate dance between sweet and hot, crispy and warm, salty and sour.
For $2.50 you can get a slice of the coconut cake ($0.50 more than its fruity counterparts) in a little plastic case to-go. The cake is green; a pale, minty hue that permeates from sponge to filling, only broken by a snowy whipped cream top. The cake is light and not too sweet, with a pillowy spring in each bite. The filling is custard laced with generous chunks of coconut meat. Cast aside your visions of the bleached rubbery shreds that stick in your gums. Imagine you’re in Belize, on the beach, and a humble citizen machete chops the big green fruit and serves it up. It is this incarnation of coconut, the tender morsels of ripe nutty flesh, that are hidden in your cake… and it is spectacular.
Queen Sandwich & Cake is another example of the humble feast bestowed upon our Valley. Eat in gratitude for the collision of nations that has brought you something as complex and modest as the Vietnamese sandwich.
Queen Sandwich & Cake
2318 N Fresno St, Fresno, CA 93703
Southeast corner of Clinton and Fresno
Friday, January 18, 2008
Are you hungry? No, I mean really hungry? Is there a man's hunger that stirs in you? Then why not try the new Big Bell Box Meal? Touted by Adam Corolla, this hefty box contains a volcano taco, beef burrito supreme, crunch wrap supreme, cinnamon twists, and a large soda. Surely 62 grams of fat and 1,900 calories should quell your empty belly rumblings.
It usually happens late at night, that I see an ad for some new, preposterous meal being served by a fast food chain. (Insert spokes person voice here… let’s go with Queen Latifa): “Having a craving for a little something sweet after your Pizza Hut? Add a cake to your order! KFC seeming a little messy? Let's put it in a bowl with gravy and cheese! Are your kids eating hamburgers with three patties? Then go for four… with bacon!” And every time, like an 11 year old boy with a vintage National Geographic, my mouth drops open, and I am stunned. They got me again.
This virgin fascination with the fast food industry’s seemingly unstoppable ability to one-up itself prompted me to do a little research. It all started when KFC introduced the Big Box Meal. Surely I had mixed up the facts that were slammed on the screen in a 30 second blip and this box was for a family, not one person (and being someone who loves the shock-and-awe of a good pop culture nugget, I wanted to get my facts straight). So I went online.
That’s when I entered the amazing world of fast food web sites. Like slipping through the rabbit hole, I was transported into a Willy Wonka world of giant chicken, glistening cheese, and secret sauce that curved around meat like a Victoria's Secret bra. Yum! The challenge is to find the illusive nutrition facts. Hmmm… Is it under “menu” or “about us”? One of my favorites is a site that makes you put all your items on a little plastic tray before calculating your fat and salt intake. “What kind of drink do you want?” prompts the screen, “and for dessert?”
The holy grail of these sites is no surprise: McDonalds. The USA site is typical: a couple of games for the kids, glossy slogans, some fluff about healthy food options… but go a little deeper and you will find a beautiful microcosm for the emerging global economy (listen up PoliSci people- there’s a master’s thesis in the making here!). Korea, Canada, India, Brazil. Each nation has its own unique McD’s site reflecting current ad campaigns, menu items, and kiddie schmaltz. Put on your rose colored glassed and watch the gentle fabric of each nation unfold: Russia has photos of patties rolling down the factory line; Israel's design is as crisp as lettuce backed with break-beats; United Arab Emirates has a dude with a Jeep in the sand; Sweden features a campy mix of Mexican pop to promote their "El Maco" sandwich… But the crown jewel in the golden arch is China. They’ve taken the red and yellow by force and produced a visually stunning firecracker of grassroots street style, chicken patties, and the Maoist zeal for order. I'm lovin' it.
I’ve come to look at fast food as a litmus of our society and greater world. We are marketed food that validates a fast-paced life without time for anything but hot, empty, comfort-filled calories. We are plagued with suggestions that tug at our primordial desire to be full. Fulfilled. Satisfied. Taco Bell is our Bob Dylan, leaking encrypted tales about our changing values as a nation. McDonald’s is the mouthpiece for our unsung youth. Watch for it. There’s a story to be told.
Ommegang! This is a little beer I discovered years ago after the founder was interviewed on Martha Stewart. It is, quite possibly, the best beer I've had made in the USofA. It's "Belgium style", which is basically, the shit. As all you Euro history buffs know, back in the day the fair county of Belgium was the center for the oriental spice trade in Europe. Banking on all their resources, brewmasters used toasted spices like coriander in their fermentations for an amazingly complex taste.
This guy is no exception. Full bodied, fruity, not too hoppie. Do it. Find it at BevMo.