Over on About Food Preservation, I’m offering up some alternative ideas for condiments and the relish tray for Thanksgiving. Not that there’s anything wrong with cranberry sauce, but why not think outside the box with chutneys, pickles, and more?
Not that you'd know it from reading this blog, but I write a lot. All day, every day, my job is to create content—or, more accurately, my jobs. Currently, I'm doing recipe editing and copywriting for Din, email marketing for California Wines, and I'm the Food Preservation Expert on About.com. Above and beyond that, I support my husband, realtor dpaul brown, with some blog and newsletter content, as well as my own DIY food site, Punk Domestics. Once in a while, I even manage to pinch out a freelance story or two. So in light of all that, the idea of writing on a personal blog is fairly ludicrous.
Yet, the very reason I started Hedonia nearly 10 years (!) ago is that I needed a place that was wholly mine, where I wrote for, of, and about myself. This is why, as I have done in a few years past, I am undertaking National Blog Post Month (NaBloPoMo), wherein I will post something each day in November.
This is not to say that I will be posting 30 new things on Hedonia. That's just crazy talk. Rather, I am taking this as an opportunity to shine some light on my other projects. I'll be writing about my recent trip to Italy over on Punk Domestics, talking about some fall preserving items on About.com, and even have arranged to do a guest post over on BlogHer.com.
That said, I do have plans to write a few things exclusively here, though I reserve the right to post the occasional Wordless Wednesday. If things go really sideways, it may turn into Mute Monday, Taciturn Tuesday, Thunderstruck Thursday, Fuhgeddaboutit Friday, Silent Saturday, and Shhh! Sunday. But I'll make an honest go of it.
Ages ago, I lived in Santa Fe. Ask anyone who knows me; I talk about it a lot, even though it's been almost 25 years. New Mexico is where I developed my addiction for spice, since green chiles are the condiment of choice on all foods, at every meal.
Specifically, the most popular chile of the region is the Hatch chile, a long, crooked green pepper. It is the quintessential flavor of New Mexican cuisine, and now is the season for them. So when I received an invitation from Mollie Stone's for their annual Hatch chile roast with a voucher for a free 10-pound box, I didn't hesitate to RSVP.
So it was on an uncharacteristically New Mexico-like Sunday that I arrived at the Castro store. As I stepped out of my car in the dry, sweltering heat, I was greeted by the roar of roasters and the smoky aroma of searing peppers.
After observing the roasting for a bit, I went up to place my order. Three types were on offer: Medium, Hot and Extra Hot. I have very little use for the medium heat, but I know too well that the extra hot would be positively fatal. To confirm my choice, I grabbed a sample of the hot chile.
At first I got the marvelous taste of the pepper itself—vegetal, lightly fruity, almost sweet. This was immediately followed by a searing heat that raced up my tongue and coated the interior of my mouth. My diaphragm convulsed in a single hiccup. My temples throbbed. Fat tears involuntarily squeezed out of the corners of my eyes and tumbled down my cheeks.
Hello, old friend.
"Too hot?" the woman behind the table asked. "No," I croaked, "just perfect."
I placed my order for 10 pounds of the little demons, and minutes later was rewarded with a box containing a bag, inside which my freshly roasted peppers were steaming off their skins. Once they cooled, we set to work slipping their charred skins off and removing the veins and seeds. Sane people would wear gloves; we did not. So, hours after the job, my hands prickled well into the evening. A glutton for punishment, I am.
A few have already made their way into some (spicy!) peach salsa, and I plan to make chile verde and some other salsas. The chile roast continues its way around the Bay Area through September, so check out the schedule if you want to get some fresh Hatches of your own.
I had the opportunity to interview chef Hugh Acheson over on Punk Domestics, wherein we talked a bit about his interest in and approach to food preservation. However, our conversation over breakfast at the venerable Sears Fine Food ran longer than that. In the interest of making the piece readable and relevant, I only included the bits about preservation. From there, we went on to talk about the state of food and dining in the South and beyond. (Photo: Andrew Thomas Lee)
ST: So in San Francisco I feel like we get a lot of talk and a lot of buzz about being a center for culinary innovation. But at the same time, I feel like in the last several years there's been this sort of widening of that sensibility everywhere. In what ways do you think the South is really innovating with food right now? What sets it apart?
HA: I don't think it's innovation. I think it's a new kind of respect for what's been there. I think it's a look back to 80 years ago, before convenience food and items in the freezer aisle, then trying to figure out how they achieved a distillation of taste that was really good and really interesting and really forward-thinking. But when people think about innovation and interesting things happening in Brooklyn and San Francisco, a lot of that is just grabbing ideas from Southern food history. So I don't know if that's innovative. I think it's smartly curating, smartly giving credit — but as long as the credit is given. Sometimes it just takes a Brooklyn person to be making a shrub line for mixology to realize that: "Hey, wait a minute. Shrubs have been made in the South for 220 years. Why aren't we taking credit for it first before some guy cashes in with his parents' trust fund on making that new item, innovative mixology products that are essentially shrubs?"
In that sense it's innovative. I think there's cooking that's very real and honest, but that's happening everywhere. I can have a meal that will blow my mind in Minneapolis. Nobody was saying that 10 years ago. But now there's probably six restaurants that would blow my mind in Minneapolis. Same thing for Cleveland. You know, it's like same thing for Baltimore.
To me, that's the third rail of all things food. The second rail is big cities dominating above everything. That's where people flock to to go eat: San Francisco, New York, Chicago. It wasn't even L.A. five years ago. But the third rail is that young chef who became the sous chef at Benu who moved back home to Cincinnati and opens up a new place, then within three years has created a mini little restaurant row and a cultural shift in their 'hood.
ST: It's sort of the Chez Panisse effect, right? They got one core restaurant, and then all the alumni branch out and start growing things.
HA: And it's happening more and more, which is great. The other third rail we're seeing is — I equate to coffee as probably the most clear definition of it. Starbucks comes along and dominates the market, and everybody says, "Oh, we're going to lose all our independent coffee shops." Well, what Starbucks doesn't realize and those people making that comment didn't realize is that it was a fight.
The indies were pushed off to the side and the young generation of independents were like, "Wait a minute. They're very dominant, but they don't actually know that much about coffee. They're not really thought-provoking about coffee. They don't realize that what they're looking into is this much, and this is a topic that's massive. And it's beautiful and it's storied and it's about small, little plots of land in Guatemala and Belize and Tanzania that need to be shown off and explained to people and why it is different. So they nerded out on that, and that third rail became this $2 billion business of independent coffee shops now.
And that same type of thing is happening in everything. It's happening in the South, but it's happening everywhere. So to me, it's a really good time. But back to the most important thing to me, which is that we can't create all this stuff and think in these really amazing ways about food and celebrate it without realizing that we've ostracized 40 percent, 50 percent, 60 percent of the country into not having good buying options, living in food deserts for the most part, totally ripped them of their culinary heritage and their identity. So we've got to be careful and smart about it.
Even with the Blue Aprons or things like that, they just don't address the biggest pressing concern, which is that as we get more interested in DIY — when you're more interested in food at farmers' markets and blah-blah-blah — we are totally more and more ostracizing and abandoning a huge lower class, that basically it's not "Let them eat cake" anymore; it's "Let them eat a Happy Meal" and hope for the best. We're not teaching them where the values lie. And that just comes from the degradation of cooking schools over the years.
ST: I do some work with a company that delivers half-prepped meals that you finish. The guy, the executive chef, has a lot of cred. In a way, it really is solving a problem for people who really have a strong desire to cook but don't have time in their lives.
HA: And I like the idea of those things. I just think they're going to become the Lean Cuisines of our day and age. I think that unless you know how to prep the meal, then you don't really know how to cook.
We didn't go into it at that point, but one of the things I love about what we're doing at Din is actively trying to add value by teaching technique to enable home cooks to become more self-sufficient and confident in the kitchen. If ever customer learns one new thing each time they try a meal, over time they will suddenly discover they have a toolkit that makes them functional cooks. I know this, because a dot com 1.0 predecessor of Din did exactly that for me.
Today's the last day to catch Ai Weiwei's @Large exhibit on Alcatraz. In case you missed it, here's a few shots from our visit earlier this week.
As you enter the New Industries Building, you're faced with a tremendous, colorful dragon. The dragon is a symbol of power and freedom, and incorporated in the body of the dragon are panels with quotes from political prisoners.
In the next room, political prisoners are depicted in portraits done in Legos.
In the main prison, one block of cells was equipped with audio. Each cell had a different experience — readings, music — that you immersed yourself in as you entered the cell.
I hadn't been to Alcatraz in well over 20 years, and this was only my second visit. Living here, it's easy to relegate it to the list of things that tourists do, but it's worth a visit now and then.