Yelling at Clouds

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

I’ve been “Old Man Yells at Cloud” a bit more than usu­al late­ly.

That was my re­ac­tion to see­ing a pho­to of a $30 plate of ribs, coleslaw, pick­les & bread at Michael Symon’s new restau­rant, Mabel’s BBQ. It was the thin slice of white bread in par­tic­u­lar that drove me to such hero­ic lengths. My beef is, I think, le­git­i­mate. Foods that have been tra­di­tion­al­ly val­ued for their sim­plic­i­ty, tra­di­tion, & nos­tal­gia have been hi­jacked by haute cui­sine and pa­rad­ed around in gar­ish cos­tume.

I feel like the ex­pe­ri­ence of a cul­tur­al, re­gion­al, or eth­nic cui­sine is en­hanced by en­joy­ment of it in con­text. I’m an an­thro­pol­o­gist; I want the cul­tur­al ex­pe­ri­ence of get­ting amaz­ing, noth­ing-fan­cy ribs from a guy cook­ing them in a con­vert­ed steel drum at an aban­doned gas sta­tion on East 131st Street. I want to buy pou­tine in sub-ze­ro temps from a food truck in Kingston, ON that has been park­ing in the same spot and serv­ing the same lunch to the same group of peo­ple for years. I want black-pep­pered grits, ei­ther plain or cooked in pot­likker. I want to go in­to a restau­rant in Little Arabia or Ukrainian Village or Asia Town where English is a sec­ond or third lan­guage and take my chances.

I’ve iden­ti­fied two things about this that dri­ve me crazy, and a pret­ty sol­id rea­son why I’m be­ing un­fair, which I’ll get to in a minute.

  1. Branding/​Marketing. The suc­cess­ful haute cui­sine is so ag­gres­sive­ly mar­ket­ed and gran­u­lar­ly brand­ed that the ex­pe­ri­ence be­comes less about the food and more about the ex­clu­siv­i­ty of it. Everything is sold as if it is ar­che­typ­al — post­mod­ernist ed­i­bles.
  2. Safety. The suc­cess­ful restau­ran­teur these days seems to be a white guy who ap­pro­pri­ates a non-white cul­tur­al cui­sine and ad­ju­di­cates its pre­sen­ta­tion in such a way that the sur­round­ings feel safe and com­fort­able to oth­er white folks. That’s not an ad­ven­ture to me.

When I say haute cui­sine, I’m talk­ing about a kitchen that mansplains food. “You ple­beians, here’s how you should be mak­ing your poor-folk food.”

I took a course called Crucial Conversations a few weeks ago, and one of the things we learned is when to iden­ti­fy sit­u­a­tions where you’re telling your­self a sto­ry be­cause you lack enough in­for­ma­tion to re­al­ly know what’s go­ing on. So I tried to come up with an al­ter­na­tive sto­ry to why some­one might do things to foods that I love that I find com­plete­ly un­con­scionable. The eas­i­est em­path­ic path I was able to come up with is think­ing of a restau­ran­teur as an artist. The stuff they are do­ing to food is their art. I can at least un­der­stand that mo­tive, even if I think there’s a met­ric butt-ton of priv­i­lege in the im­ple­men­ta­tion. An artist would, can, and some­times should ig­nore cul­tur­al con­text if they are remix­ing an­oth­er art. This al­lows a food artist to ig­nore the fact that Wonder Bread is nap­kins and gravy-sop for poor Southern folks and cre­ate an ar­ti­sanal hand-ground, preser­v­a­tive and HFCS-free white bread to go with the $30 lamb BBQ. The thing be­ing val­ued is the ex­clu­siv­i­ty and remix, not the au­then­tic­i­ty. Damien Hirst as chef.

I can at least un­der­stand that, even if I think it’s dumb.

Most folks I know don’t think of me as par­tic­u­lar­ly con­ser­v­a­tive, but on the whole I tend to val­ue the ver­nac­u­lar — craft over art, things that re­main rather than things rein­vent­ed. Maybe I’m a mis­an­thro­pol­o­gist.

Tangentially, I read an ar­ti­cle to­day about co-sleep­ing and whether it’s good or bad. This is such a sil­ly ar­gu­ment to me — like ar­gu­ing whether cir­cum­ci­sion is good or bad. (If it wasn’t meant to be there, it wouldn’t be). It wasn’t that long ago that women were com­plete­ly knocked out when they went in­to la­bor and “med­ical pro­fes­sion­als” took de­liv­ery on from there be­cause that was con­sid­ered bet­ter than nat­ur­al child­birth. It wasn’t that long ago that for­mu­la was con­sid­ered a bet­ter op­tion than nat­ur­al nurs­ing. Currently, peo­ple in Western coun­tries think it is bet­ter to leave a new­born in­fant alone, in a qui­et room, for most of the day or night and to keep track of them via an elec­tron­ic mon­i­tor than keep them close for com­fort. Forget the fact that pri­mates have been:

  1. hav­ing nat­ur­al birth for mil­lions of years
  2. nurs­ing their off­spring for mil­lions of years
  3. not let­ting new­born off­spring out of their sight for mil­lions of years

By all means, keep the in­fant in a dark, qui­et, sep­a­rate room, com­plete­ly cut off from warmth, com­fort, and sta­bi­liz­ing in­flu­ence of their par­ents. I’d cry too.

Yeah, def­i­nite­ly a mis­an­thro­pol­o­gist.

Eating Better

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

There are lots of meth­ods that folks evan­ge­lize about in terms of eat­ing bet­ter. I don’t like to lis­ten to evan­ge­lists, I learn from mod­el­ing and men­tors. I learned some good things this sum­mer that have helped me eat bet­ter and they’re pret­ty ba­sic, so I want­ed to share. Not evan­ge­lize. I don’t ex­pect these things to work for every­one, but some of the ways of think­ing about food may help change habits.

My fam­i­ly is all in Indiana. They eat like ba­sic Hoosiers. Lots of meat and carbs. Basically every­thing from this cook­book would be right at home at one of my family’s din­ners. The on­ly veg­eta­bles like­ly to ap­pear are a sal­ad and green beans. But the sal­ad is a sev­en lay­er sal­ad drenched in ranch and cheese, and the green beans are in a casse­role. I start­ed mak­ing fruit sal­ads to bring to meals a few years ago. I can tell whether my friends or my fam­i­ly post­ed some­thing on Pinterest based on a glance at the pho­to. If it’s su­per un­healthy it was post­ed by my fam­i­ly.

When I moved to Cleveland, I took a fan­cy to cook­ing. I en­joy it. But for years all I knew how to make was Hoosier home cook­ing. I slow­ly grew fat­ter. This year, af­ter top­ping out at 205, I de­cid­ed to lose some weight. I’m down to 185 now, and here’s how I did it.

  • Portion con­trol. I put my meals on sal­ad plates and on­ly fed my­self as much as I fed my son.
  • Tactical willpow­er. Instead of hav­ing to ex­er­cise willpow­er at home all the time by avoid­ing junk food, I just used that willpow­er at the gro­cery. Don’t buy it there, you won’t have to re­sist it at home.
  • Easing in­to bet­ter choic­es. I didn’t just go all veg­gies all the time. I start­ed buy­ing av­o­ca­dos, and eat­ing half of one with a meal. I’d roast car­rots and broc­coli. I’d make the eas­i­est sal­ad imag­in­able: a hand­ful of spinach, a small splash of bal­sam­ic vine­gar, a dash of Parmesan. All easy, tasty, and un-in­tim­i­dat­ing.
  • Learning by ex­am­ple. I learned a great many easy things to do with rice and veg­eta­bles in a very short time by be­ing in the kitchen with some­one who knew how to do things I didn’t. Finding a friend or mak­ing a new friend with some­one who is handy in the kitchen in ways that you aren’t is great!

That’s ba­si­cal­ly it. After awhile I start­ed crav­ing my now dai­ly sal­ad. I look for­ward to mak­ing an av­o­ca­do, beet and goat cheese sand­wich. Hell, you just have to steam, peel, and slice the beet. It’s not hard. The fla­vors take care of them­selves. And be­cause my por­tion sizes are small­er, and veg­eta­bles slow­ly in­creased in per­cent­age, I’m eat­ing sig­nif­i­cant­ly less carbs and meat. I’m not be­com­ing veg­e­tar­i­an, but my di­et is much clos­er to a veg­e­tar­i­an di­et than it was. I don’t dis­dain junk food, the Pop Tarts I just had are proof against that. But the four lit­tle changes I made have added up to a big dif­fer­ence.

Food evan­ge­lists de­mand­ing a sea change in eat­ing habits did not af­fect me. Being around peo­ple who were good di­etary mod­els but not preachy about it and mak­ing my own small choic­es has made much more of an im­pact.

Bắc — Restaurant Review

Sunday, 14 February 2010

This was the open­ing week­end for the epony­mous Bắc, the new Asian food place in Tremont. I’d spent most of the day yes­ter­day tramp­ing around Cleveland in the snow, so it was a wel­come change of pace to spend some time in a warm room with great at­mos­phere and cute wait staff. The change in the space from what used to be La Tortilla Feliz is re­mark­able. Gone is the yel­low-or­ange paint, and the stuc­coed walls are now a sooth­ing green. All of the dé­cor was picked by some­body (I’m as­sum­ing Bắc him­self) who un­der­stands that classy looks, com­fort, and util­i­ty do all go to­geth­er.

When I met Bắc at the Velvet Tango Room a few months ago, he said that his goal was to cre­ate a place where you can get an ap­pe­tiz­er, a drink and a din­ner for around $20. He did a good job. The menu is struc­tured in such a way that you’ve got an ar­ray of op­tions that meets this goal, and an equal ar­ray for a din­er who wants to shell out a bit more. There’s even a cus­tom cock­tail menu (most run around $7), and $2 PBR’s that are $1.50 dur­ing hap­py hour.

I want­ed to get every­thing on the menu, but whit­tled it down to the Banh Mi sand­wich ($8) or the pad thai ($11). The Banh Mi sand­wich sounds de­li­cious, so I’ll get that next time I go there. I got the pad thai, “fam­i­ly-hot”, and since Bắc’s fam­i­ly is in the kitchen mak­ing the food, this was hot. Also, since Bắc’s fam­i­ly is in the kitchen, the hot­ness was such that it en­hanced rather than over­pow­ered the fla­vor of the pad thai. The spring roll ap­pe­tiz­er ($5) was al­so amaz­ing. Fried just enough, but not greasy, the in­ter­nal bits were chopped fine­ly enough that you didn’t pull them all out when you took a bite, and the roll had enough ten­sile strength that it didn’t dis­in­te­grate once one end was bit­ten off.

Look, I can’t em­pha­size enough that Bắc’s fam­i­ly is in the kitchen mak­ing the food. So we’re talk­ing gen­er­a­tions-old fam­i­ly recipes here.

Since to­day is Chinese New Year, we were even served com­pli­men­ta­ry co­conut jien duy (a sesame seed dumpling) af­ter din­ner.

Bắc hits all of the restau­rant sweet spots. Go there.

Pierogie Pile

Sunday, 4 January 2009


  • 1# kiel­basa, sliced
  • 1 box frozen piero­gies
  • 1 green pep­per, diced
  • 1 red pep­per, diced
  • 12 red onion, diced
  • 8 oz. frozen corn
  • 2 T. but­ter


  1. Put the but­ter in a 13×9 inch casse­role dish and stick it in the oven. Preheat the oven to 400°
  2. Prep the oth­er in­gre­di­ents, and toss them to­geth­er in a large mix­ing bowl.
  3. When the but­ter is melt­ed, re­move from the oven and make sure the bot­tom of the dish is ful­ly coat­ed.
  4. Put the piero­gies in the dish.
  5. Layer the oth­er stuff on top.
  6. Cover the casse­role with alu­minum foil and bake for 40 – 50 min­utes.

Pierogie Pile!

Goat Roast 2002

Monday, 22 April 2002

to­day was the an­nu­al Anthropology Department Goat Roast. At nine in the morn­ing some an­thro ma­jors and the profs, us­ing stone tools pro­duced in the Lithic Technologies class, butchered a goat and a sheep. keep in mind that prop­er­ly pro­duced ob­sid­i­an stone knives are some­thing like 5times sharp­er than a surgeon’s scalpel. so the ac­tu­al cut­ting part was pret­ty easy. then they were mari­nad­ed, ke­babed and grilled to per­fec­tion. not to men­tion the oth­er great foods that ac­com­pa­nied it: goat cur­ry, chili, sal­ad, noo­dles, pota­to dish­es, and won­der­ful peanut butter/​ choco­late bars. when an­thro peo­ple get to­geth­er the par­ties are great. es­pe­cial­ly since most of the side dish­es were recipes from around the world. i’m go­ing to buy the new an­thro club tshirt too its pret­ty nice. i got to do some flint knap­ping my­self, but since i have nev­er tak­en the class, i’m not too good at it. how­ev­er, i did get a nice sharp flake that i cut my thumb with. i would have died very ear­ly if i had been cro-magnon. cleanup sucked most­ly be­cause we were all numb with cold but hey if that is the price you pay to be an an­thro nerd with all the oth­er an­thro nerds (profs in­clud­ed) so be it. hot damn i had fun!