The potato king of Rio

January 11, 2021 • 2:45 pm

This video was “suggested” for me on YouTube, and when I saw this title I knew I had to watch the whole thing. Now I want to go to Rio, if for no other reason than to go to Batata de Marcehal and get a giant portion of fries and meat!

Ademar de Barros Moreira is a man who takes pride in his work, and doesn’t cut corners.

What’s for dinner?

November 26, 2020 • 12:45 pm

I’m taking it easy today and am having a long, vigorous walk along Lake Michigan, followed by a shower and then dinner. Turkeys are too big for me (I wonder if those Butterball 20-pounders will go unsold this year), and so I am having a Jewish Thanksgiving: pork roast.

On the side there will be fresh biscuits and local tomatoes. But this modest meal will be washed down with a very fancy wine—the real centerpiece of the meal. It’s a great Rioja, a 2011 Prado Enea Rioja Gran Riserva from Bodegas Muga, which I bought as a three-pack (in a wooden box with a decanter included) for a pretty penny several years ago.  This is the last bottle of the three, and believe me, it’s ethereal. In fact, the food is just a vehicle to get this wine down:

Normally I’d be sharing this bottle with guests, but guests are rarer than hen’s teeth this year and so this puppy is ALL MINE.  I’ll drink half tonight and half tomorrow.

Of course the purpose of this post is to find out what everyone else is eating and drinking, on the holiday.  If you’re not American, though, you’re probably not celebrating.

Discussion thread

September 23, 2020 • 9:30 am

There’s not much interesting to write about today (I have one reading recommendation that I’ll post later): I haven’t found much intriguing science to talk about, the country is in turmoil with the pandemic and the upcoming election, and the big fracas about Trump’s Supreme Court nominee is fracturing America even further.  Plus I’m dispirited, as are many. Yesterday we passed 200,000 Covid-19 deaths in America (four times the toll of the Vietnam War), the rest of the world is about to exceed a million deaths, and a spike in the pandemic may be in the offing.

So here’s a discussion thread, and I don’t want to proffer a topic. Maybe people want to kvetch about their woes, or maybe they want to tell us what bright spots they find in their lives. Or tell us what you had for dinner.

I was lazy yesterday, so I made what I call “poor man’s Peking duck”, my own invention. I cook a chicken breast and shred it. Then I slice green peppers into shreds, and place the shredded chicken in a flour tortilla with some slivers of pepper. I slather the contents with hoisin sauce, and then roll up and eat the tortilla. Real Peking duck, of course, is crispy duck skin or meat heaped inside a mandarin pancake (flour, but thinner than a commercial flour tortilla), with scallion shreds and hoisin sauce added. In my version, the chicken mimics the duck (poorly), the peppers mimic the scallions, and the tortilla mimics the pancake. But it’s easy to make and very good.

Though normally I have beer with Chinese food, I had to finish a bottle of 2016 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and so I washed my concoction down with red wine. Not the best combination, but the wine wasn’t going to drink itself. After dinner I had my evening treat, which has become more abstemious and less calorific over the years. I’ve discovered that five plump and juicy Medjool dates (I buy these ones from Amazon, and they’re great) make a satisfying snack, even though they’re 40 calories per date (the recommended “serving size” on the bag is ridiculous: one date).

Or maybe you’d like to describe your last meal if you could have anything you wanted.

Or talk about something besides food. The world is wide.

VICE: Why veganism is racist

August 18, 2020 • 12:30 pm

I found this article, from VICE, mentioned in a public tweet from activist and atheist Ali Rizvi, who was aping the “first they came from the bird names. . ” craziness. This time, though, it’s not bird names, but veganism.

I suppose that anything these days can be found racist, like knitting and young adult fiction, not to mention bird names, but the idea that veganism was inherently white was alien to me. Perhaps that’s because I live in Chicago, which has a fair number of vegan restaurants run by African-Americans (many Black Muslims are either vegan or vegetarians). And a well known vegan retaurant run by blacks,  B’Gabs, is just a few blocks from me. The fact that veganism is seen as “white people’s culture”, then, surprised me. But Anya Zoledziowski, who is of Polish Armenian descent, and identifies as a privileged European, has seen fit to chide all vegans for racially “appropriating food” (click on the screenshot below).

What’s her beef? (Is that an appropriate question to ask about such an article?) It appears to be that veganism is racist because black people see it as a “white person’s habit”. And, says the author, it seems that black vegans have been ignored, though I’m not sure how. Finally, vegans are guilty of “appropriating” cuisine from other cultures, though why that’s a sin still eludes me. (Throughout the article, Zoledziowski confuses veganism with vegetarianism: for example, much of southern Indian cuisine is vegetarian but not vegan.) But somehow, says the author, since the murder of George Floyd, veganism is going through a “racial reckoning”. A few quotes:

When Afia Amoako became a vegan five years ago, she said she didn’t see herself reflected in the community, which was dominated by wealthy white women.

They often touted recipes—”African peanut stew” or “Asian stir fry”—that rely on racial stereotypes, said Amoako.

“One, they don’t look like you, and, two, they are appropriating your food. Those are ways to turn racialized people away.”

First of all, African peanut stew and Asian stir fry (which I often make) do not rely on racial stereotypes. They are foreign dishes, and that’s all. They are not “appropriated” but appreciated.  And if you’re turned off of veganism because some white people cook vegan or vegetarian food, you’re not a victim of racism but perhaps an exponent of racism.  Why do vegans have to “look like you”? And what are “racialized” people, anyway? That term is new to me.

Not only that, but black vegans are wary of white ones:

 “These white women, they are the gatekeepers of the vegan movement,” Amoako said. “We Black creators have been here this whole time.”

White women are starting to acknowledge Black and racialized vegans now, following a string of racial reckonings happening in several sectors and communities, Amoako said, but “I’m not gonna lie to you, some of us are still skeptical.”

Skeptical of what? That the “acknowledgment of Black and racialized vegans” (what’s the difference between “Black” and “racialized”?) is real?

The connection between racism and veganism grows ever more tenuous as the article goes on, as Zoledziowski must drag in vegetarianism to make her case. And “privilege” of course, makes its inevitable appearance:

In this post-Floyd world of racial reckonings, many vegans are starting to look inwards at their own privilege. White vegan influencers are urging people to follow BIPOC accounts as part of the #AmplifyMelanatedVoices campaign, while racialized vegans who have amassed large followings continue to post about Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Stories are surfacing in the vegan corners of the internet, highlighting vegan Black Instagram accounts and vegan Black-owned businesses.

The article then goes on to note that many “racialized” communities are “plant based”, but of course “plant based” is not vegan but vegetarian, at least in these examples:

In fact, several communities globally, most of which are racialized, are either plant-based or largely so. According to the latest counts, Brazil and India have the largest vegetarian populations in the world: about a third of Indians—375 million people—and 14 percent of Brazilians, or 29 million people, are vegetarian. TaiwanJamaicaMexico, and Vietnam also have sizable vegetarian or vegan populations. And while that’s not to discount the growing popularity of plant-based diets in predominantly white countries like Switzerland, New Zealand, Germany, and Australia, mainstream portrayals of vegetarianism and veganism are largely white.

. . . Almost one-third of Delhi, India residents identify as vegetarian today. A rich variety of lentil dishes—yellow lentil, brown lentil, and split chickpea dals, and mung beans cooked in different curries marked Siddharth Seth’s upbringing in New Delhi. Seth was raised vegetarian because his family identifies as Hindu and follows an interpretation of the religion that preaches nonviolence— Ahimsa—including towards animals. For Seth, who is now 40, vegetarianism was never a fad; it was just part of daily life.

Remember, the article isn’t about vegetarianism (which incorporates dairy food), but veganism (which spurns dairy). They have to drag Indian vegetarians into the mix to buttress their case. And most Indian vegetarians, as far as I’ve observed, are not vegans: they eat paneer (Indian cheese), yogurt, and milk-based sweets.  As for American vegans, why is their diet not “part of daily life” as well?

I really can’t go on with this article. . . it’s just silly, but I’m highlighting to show how virtually everything on the planet can be seen as a racist act if white people participate in it. The most bizarre quote in the piece, and I’ll end with it, is this, which was uttered by Emani Corcran, who runs a black vegan Instagram site:

“Showing that many dishes from around the world are already plant-based is a huge step for people of colour who are maybe intimidated by veganism,” Corcran said. “That’s what influencers are supposed to do: show what you like to eat. I’m a woman of colour, so I like to eat what women of colour like to eat, and that’s what I’m going to show.”

Putting aside the silliness of people getting intimidated by veganism because it’s seen as white, I find the notion that one should eat what those with similar skin pigmentation eat as crazy.  The fact is that most women of colour are not vegans, so why is she eating a vegan diet?

While the murder of George Floyd brought important focus on the persistence of racism in American society, it’s had the unfortunate side effect of allowing people to get away with racializing nearly everything. And that dilutes the message of movements like Black Lives Matter. My response to this article is to satirize its title: “Dear White Savior Zoledziowski: Get a grip.”


The omelette maker of Delhi

August 16, 2020 • 2:30 pm

Writing about Kamala Harris reminded me of this video I had waiting in the wings. It’s about an old man who sells omelettes (an “omelette walla”) in Delhi, a place I love. And the video also exemplifies many of the things I love about India: the dedication to one’s work and one’s family, the persistence—and cheerfulness—in the face of adversity, and, of course, the love of good food. It also calls up the grinding poverty of the country, something that one must come to terms with if one is to visit. If you go to India, you will either vow never to return or will want to keep coming back. I’m definitely in the latter group.

Do watch this 7½-minute video about Balbir Singh, who sells omelettes outside a metro stop in Delhi. Although there are footnotes, I adore the lovely lilt of Hindi. Note that, like many educated Indians, the narrator speaks a mixture of Hindi and English.

By the way, the price of an omelette or half fry, 50 rupees, is about 67 U.S. cents. (“Ghee” is clarified butter.)  I hope I get back to Delhi soon, as I want to try Singh’s eggs. Make mine a half fry!

If you love the food of India, Curly Tales has a lot of videos about it. Have a look at this one, featuring pre-Independence food joints that are still around. I’ve been to three of the 15 featured in that video: the Parsee place in Mumbai, Karim’s in Delhi, and Glenary’s in Darjeeling (a remnant of the Raj; the food is British and not that great).

Now I’m really hungry!

How they make mezcal

August 14, 2020 • 1:30 pm

It’s Friday, and that means that many of us will be starting the weekend with celebratory drinks, meals out, and gatherings with friends. Oh. . . . I forgot. . .

But if you’re at home, you can at least pour yourself a shot of one of my favorite hard liquors, mezcal, which I much prefer to its relative tequila. Both are made with agave, but tequila is made only with blue agave whereas mezcal can be fermented from any number of varieties. I like mezcal because it’s not as refined as tequila, and has a more smokey, vegetal flavor. (This similar to why I prefer the darkest, lowest-grade form of maple syrup over the more expensive and refined varieties.)

This fascinating video shows how it’s made, usually in small batches. The heart of the agave is harvested, roasted and smoked in a pit, and then is crushed, fermented, and distilled. It’s a labor-intensive process, and I feel sorry for the poor horse who has to turn the mill.

Arriba! Abajo! Al centro! Adentro!



Joey Chestnut sets world record in Nathan’s July 4 contest: downs 75 hot dogs in 10 minutes

July 4, 2020 • 6:19 pm

Every year I post a video of Nathan’s July 4 hot-dog-eating contest, and every year readers respond with a near-universal “ECCH!” And the results are nearly always the same. This year, competitive eater Joey Chestnut, 36, won for the 13th time in 14 years, beating his previous record by one dog. Remember, these are dogs with buns, and remember that the pace was 7.5 dogs per minute!

Here’s Chestnut’s world-record performance, conducted under pandemic conditions this year: no crowd to cheer on the gluttony, contest inside rather than outside, and only five contestants.

I do love my dogs (I’m from Chicago after all), preferably dragged through the garden.

The woman’s record was set by Miki Sudo:

The Coney Island tradition allowed betting this year. The coronavirus crisis forced some changes, too. Spectators weren’t allowed to watch in person. Competitors were separated by clear barriers. And the people bringing them fresh supplies wore masks.

“It was hard, but I knew I was fast at the beginning,” Chestnut said on ESPN. “The dogs were cooked really well today. At minute 6 is where I missed the crowd. I hit a wall. It took a little more work to get through it.”

Miki Sudo ate 48.5 hot dogs to win the women’s division and set a world record. It’s her seventh title, more than any woman ever.

Here’s Sudo’s new record:

Readers’ wildlife photos

April 2, 2020 • 8:00 am

Today we have photos from Chile by Joe Dickinson, who was kind enough to include food photos for my benefit. Joe’s notes are indented:

Here are some photos from a recent trip to Chile that we stuck with in careless disregard of CDC admonitions (i.e., that people of our age should in no circumstances get on an airplane).  Knowing that you are a bit of a “foodie”, I’ve also included some shots of former wildlife (mussels and clams) being converted into a unique and delicious meal.

Not exactly wildlife, this monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana) was one of several on the grounds of our hotel, which were set up more as a botanical garden than formal landscaping.

Black necked swans (Cygnus melancoryphus) seemed to be quite common.  It is the largest species of waterfowl native to South America.  Is that an oystercatcher in the foreground?

Of, I believe, two species of penguin found on the Chilean coast in temperate latitudes, we saw only the Magellanic penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus).


I first thought this individual had some sort of parasite, but I now believe it is just molting.

When I first saw a gull eating a starfish (which they swallow whole) I thought “this can’t end well for either party”, but it turns out to be pretty common.  I presume that birds have digestive and respiratory tracts that do not intersect in a way that allows choking.  I can’t identify either species in this case.

These are neotropic cormorants (Phalacrocorax brasilianus).  Such graceful birds.

Again not exactly wildlife, Chileans claim the oldest purebred line of horses in the Americas [JAC: “Criollos“].  Surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, the Andes and the Atacama Desert, the lineage has remained isolated since introduced by the Spaniards.

The Chilean mussel (Mytilus chilensis) was the main ingredient for a traditional meal cooked in a pit over heated rocks and covered with rhubarb leaves and then sod.  Some of the diverse local varieties of potato also were featured along with some pieces of pork and potato dumplings that looked more like pancakes.

Here is my share of the finished product.

Finally, neither wildlife nor food, this “Lady of the Lake” sculpture represents a mythical figure who gave fishermen clues as to when it was safe to go out.  She dances here in front of the Fugi-like Vulcan Osorno seen from Puerto Varas.

Pandemic consolations

March 31, 2020 • 4:40 pm

We all have reasons to be frustrated during this pandemic, though all frustrations pale before the illness or death of a loved one, or of losing a job or defaulting on a mortgage. But every one of my friends has complained about a different minor burden that the new restrictions have placed on them. Feel free to kvetch below.

My biggest frustration is not being able to travel. I was supposed to go to Florida, and that was canceled, and then lecturing on a CRUISE (oy!) to Gibraltar, Morocco, and the Canary Islands in April. That, too, is now defunct. I hope only that the fates may allow me to return to Antarctica this winter.

My consolations are these, in no particular order: ducks, good books, and wine. Tonight I’m making a honking big steak and will accompany it with a 14-year-old Rioja—a great steak wine. Under the philosophy that great wines are meant to be shared, I always try to save my fancier bottles to split with wine-lovers or those who want to learn about good wines, but such people are going to be few for a while. So I’ve decided to crack some of my good bottles, like the one below, to treat myself. I haven’t tried this one yet, but it’s supposed to be very good.

It’s not a substitute for penguins, but it’ll do, pig. . . it’ll do.

What are your biggest frustrations? And are you giving yourself any special treats as a palliative?

I went to the grocery store!

March 31, 2020 • 8:45 am

For me this was a big deal, as I haven’t been shopping since the lockdown started, and the scary videos you see on YouTube about how to sanitize your groceries made me apprehensive. Plus I’ve just hit the “old people” age, though I’m healthy. But after an e-lecture by my surrogate mother Malgorzata about the need to stop worrying, I approached this calmly and resolutely as if I were assigned to enter a war zone, or, as I’ve put it, “About to cross the River Styx.”

I checked with my doctor earlier this week about the need for masks and gloves, and he said I needed neither so long as I didn’t touch my face; but he added that if I had anxiety about it, I should wear a mask (he knows me well). Actually, I donned a cheap mask, a pair of latex gloves, and I wiped off the shopping-cart handle with isopropyl alcohol.

The store was our giant local Jewel-Osco, and I went at 6:45 a.m. to ensure fewer people. Once inside, my worries abated, as there were very few people, almost none of them wearing protective gear. I made sure to stay 6 feet away from people, and proceeded to do a large buy of staples, including milk, bread, eggs, peanut butter, black beans (my go-to “quarantine food”, eaten with rice and other goodies). The stuff like milk and ice cream were wiped down with 70% ethanol before being put in the refrigerator, while the non-perishables are sitting in my car trunk for a day to help them decontaminate.

Outside the store, I removed my gloves and my mask, having mastered the technique of removing gloves without touching their outside. I avoided touching my face, and, at home, I did a big scrub of my hands and even put ethanol on my keys, as I’d driven my car. Much of this may be unnecessary, but it makes me feel safer. It wasn’t onerous.

One note: although all the employees were wearing masks and gloves, almost none of the few customers were wearing either. I think some of them thought that my mask meant that I actually had the virus, because they looked at me oddly and stayed well away from me. One woman wouldn’t even pass me in the aisle with her grocery cart (that, of course, is less than six feet apart), but she looked frightened, and I felt bad about that.

At any rate, I made it, and don’t have to go shopping for perhaps two more weeks. Only time will tell whether this outing got me infected, but I doubt it and I’m not going to worry about it.

Photo from Vox‘s useful guide to grocery shopping during the pandemic; they don’t recommend wearing either gloves or a mask.