• Monday, July 31, 2006

    Leaf Lard - I told you it rocks, so did Elizabeth Dougherty, apparently.

    I really should try to read my local paper more, it's just hard to be so regularly disappointed. Now, I'm put in my place. After writing about my Layoff Pie in Suite101 and telling readers about the difference, I discover a week and a half ago, someone at the Globe scooped me. Read Elizabeth Dougherty's article It's Back to Lard for Old-Time Pies for more info. She even gives mail order sources.

    Locally, Savenor's can also order it for you. At least I can contribute something! They also carry delicious Cape Gooseberries (pictured).

    So I've been served my just desserts, how about some pie for you? I bested my mixed berry pie of last week, with a blackberry-gooseberry pie this week. Our visiting cousin Dave was made to eat so many slices, he'll probably never eat pie again!

    Sorry Dave, thanks for being such a good sport!
    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Sunday, July 30, 2006

    Good news is worth staying up for!

    Ready to head off to bed when I scan headlines. I have just finished posting a review of Teresa Barrenechea's Cuisines of Spain cookbook in my Suite101 column, when news from Basque country arrives in my email box. See the LA Times post Basques Try Recipe for Peace.

    Couldn't be happier, or sleepier.

    Good night and Good news.
    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Saturday, July 29, 2006

    Road Trips and Road Food

    I’ve always given directions that go something like this: “Go three blocks till you get to the Chinese takeout place on the corner, turn right, two blocks to the Irish Pub, by the way if you’re hungry stop there…”

    I love to “discover” an out of the way, hole-in-the-wall place with great food. In Seattle’s Public Market, I asked the vendors where I could get a good meal. Got steered to a great place (whose name I now forget) but which I later read about in food magazines. I like to think I discovered it first. In New Orleans, we asked the cabbie where he eats when he’s off shift. Where could we get real New Orleans food, not necessarily tourist style New Orleans food? He recommended Mother’s. It was great. The recommendations of locals will often lead you to a great places and great finds. I love the little Gumbo cookbook we found on one of those recommendations.

    I started to think about the recent crop of food shows connected to road trips. Interesting when you think about the price of gas, but maybe that’s what these shows are trying to capitalize on, people stuck at home who might otherwise be on a road trip. So we get to drive and eat vicariously. I’ll go for a spin, but hold the pickled pig’s foot.

    Tonight’s armchair food trip started with 's new show “Feasting on Asphalt.” It reminded me of some old food memories from road trips. We got a little lesson on the history of the American Diner and C. & I remembered old diners we’d been to, his was an upscale SoCal gourmet establishment, Veal Oscar, and such. He was a young kid and the memory of the fancy food, the unique building and his first after-dinner mint came right back to him.

    One of my favorite diners in college was one we referred to as “the Hunan Used Car lot” owing to the fact that the old retro diner functioned as the office for the used car lot that preceded the Chinese restaurant. It was just a kick to eat excellent Hunan style Chinese food, in an All-American steel and formica diner, on a former used car lot, in the middle of nowhere, upstate New York.

    Another favorite diner of my college years was a regular fixture in our lives as college students at SUNY New Paltz. One of the waitresses was so slow and forgetful, we quietly nicknamed her “Flash”. Another was a robust woman who always had a smile for you. She was like a surrogate mother to a lot of the students who were regulars there. Both Flash and Charlotte were great examples of what gives these establishments their unique charm.

    On my only cross-country road trip, I developed a rule for assessing a restaurant’s likelihood to disappoint. If they advertise the view, the food’s not that good. This has served me pretty well over time. That road trip also included a diner waitress who warned me that Wolf Creek Pass (where we were headed after dinner) was “so steep, when I drove up there, my dog looked out the window and threw up.” She tried to tell us that the all-weather radials might not be sufficient against the coming snow and steep, winding road. We were young, used to driving in snow in New York, what did she have to warn us about? (Okay, she was right. But we held onto our dinners. Barely.)

    Paula Deen’s boys now have their own road show, too. “Road Tasted” focuses on the small, Mom & Pop kind of shops, family food businesses that they helped their mother develop before “The Bag Lady” became one of the reigning queens of the Food Network. Jamie and Bobby bring that unaffected Southern charm to their show that is a large part of their Mother’s success. They show an open affection for real people making good food

    We’ve seen “Rachel Ray’s $40 a Day” Easier to accomplish if you (a) tip lightly and, (b) consider happy hour drinks part of the meal. (For the record, I don’t; and I do.)

    I have yet to read Jan and Michael Stern’s books on road food. How long can it be till they’ve got a road food show?

    Here’s an interesting website dedicated to the whole road food concept.

    A must read is the Cheese by Hand blog their motto is “Discovering American One Cheese at a Time”

    One of my all time favorite road trip meals was my picnic in an olive grove.
    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Thursday, July 27, 2006

    From France to China to Boston in a Box

    Mail order Produce can bring markets of the world to your door. Check out my Suite101 post on the yummy and weird called Bear's Head Mushrooms and the luscious, deep, sensuous pleasures of Charentais melons. Mail Order Produce - Around the World in Box
    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Wednesday, July 26, 2006

    "Layoff Pie"

    I keep hearing Eric Cartman saying "now get in the kitchen and bake me a pie!"
    In somewhat more pleasant fashion, but with no less urgency, I invite you to check out my latest post in Suite101 Layoffs, Cravings, Blueberry Pies.

    Friends Geoff and Patricia provided the best Maine blueberries for one of my earliest experiments, and many friends cheerfully ate the failures. I've got it down now, and I reveal the secrets.

    I'm off to Dewey Square for more farm market goodies. I feel another pie coming on....
    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Friday, July 21, 2006

    When foie gras is outlawed, only outlaws will have foie.

    Better writer than coder, but learning. Apparently, search engines don't like titles ending in question marks. HTML and I are not yet best friends.

    For those interested in the foie gras war, you might be interested in a piece that pre-dates the Whole Foods genuflect of the century. Just a few months ago, sane gourmands could openly lust after foie. It was only April when the McCarthyism of food was still just a bad dream.

    I thought I'd invite you to review my post from April, yes April...in case you couldn't find it. Eating a Whole Lobe of Foie Gras. It was prompted by my favorite eater/ author/ traveler/ chef/host guy: Anthony Bourdain. The episode in question shows him at Pied au Cochon in Montreal, under threat of death, eating multiple courses of foie. What a way to go, second only to... well you know.

    I loved Gastropoda's quote about too many mammograms to sympathize with death by feeding, this was back when the madness was starting to pick up steam.

    ...in Chicago, the City Council is more worried about ducks being force-fed. Clearly, the 48 of 49 cretins who voted to ban the sale of foie gras have never been to a dairy and seen what they do to cows. Maybe I’ve had too many mammograms, but I can tell you I would rather have corn endlessly rammed down my throat than stand in shit and be mechanically milked twice a day, without even memories of green pastures in sunshine to distract me.

    Brava, Regina!

    By the way, I just read something saying "P.E.T.A." actually stands for People Eating Tasty Animals. Senator McCarthy, I must admit. I am a member.
    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Tuesday, July 18, 2006

    We just got back from Penang! The restaurant, that is.

    I've been intrigued by the descriptions of indigenous Malay ingredients combined with the contributions of other cultures who settled there, contributing spices, techniques and foods of their own homelands, such as China and India. It's a truly multi-cultural cuisine.

    I’d read about Nonya cuisine of Malaysia in a recent food magazine, and learned more from June Chua who writes the Asian food column on Suite101 where I write about Gourmet food.

    After reviewing June's cheat sheets, Caleb and I decided to try out Penang in Chinatown. It’s one of several Malaysian restaurants in a chain that includes restaurants in New York, Washington DC, Philadelphia and Cambridge.

    Our Malaysian Dinner
    We started with Roti Canai with curry chicken dipping sauce. This is sort of a cross between Indian Naan and a French Crepe. A very light, thin crepe that comes hot off the grill; you tear pieces off and dip it in a cup of curry. The curry is a savory yellow curry that is distinctly different from Thai or Indian.

    For our main meal we ordered three dishes:
    Hot and Spicy Jumbo Prawns “Chef’s Special”
    Large prawns served in tomato, ginger, garlic, carrot and white carrot sauce. Though marked as a spicy dish, it was pretty mild so I asked for a side of hot sauce – sambal. This chili sauce is fantastic, again somewhat familiar but distinctly different. It wasn’t just heat, but along with the fiery chilies, you can taste a touch of sweet and a touch of garlic. Love it.

    Kang Kung Belacan
    This green vegetable is called convulus, I’d never heard of it. Also called ‘water spinach’, which makes sense since it grows near water. It has bright green tubular or reed-like stems and darker green leaves and may be called “ong choy” or "a choy" in Chinese restaurants. As prepared at Penang, it’s fairly soft thought the stems retain crunch. The greens are tender and less astringent than spinach and not quite as aromatic as water cress.

    The belecan sauce makes this dish. Belecan is similar to fish sauce in Thai recipes, or dried shrimp paste used in Chinese or other Asian cooking. Belecan begins with sweet baby shrimp which are fermented. It’s less fishy than the other Asian fish sauces and as represented in this dish, has a nice nutty saltiness to it.

    House Special fried rice or “Nasi Lemak”
    Nasi lemak a staple in Malaysian cuisine, is rice cooked with coconut and shrimp, ham, peas, peppers. I was worried the coconut flavor would be overwhelming but it was more of a subtle background flavor. Although it wasn’t listed as an ingredient, I’d swear that the rice was seasoned with turmeric.

    Final thoughts:

    • There seemed to be just one type of fish in the tanks (sea bass) but they looked vibrant and the tanks are some of the cleanest I’ve seen. I’m definitely going to try a fish dish next visit. In contrast to (light, steamed) Cantonese preparations these dishes suggest a fried preparation.

    • Dishes were served family style, so this would be a great dinner for a group. The menu was huge, so there’s bound to be something for everyone’s taste. With more diners, you’ll get to sample more dishes.

    • Check out June's articles which include an introduction to the basic flavors and ingredients and a handy ordering guide for beginner, intermediate and adventurous eating.
    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Saturday, July 15, 2006

    Adrià, Bloise and Steel - Innovation & Reflection

    Recently, I had the pleasure of eating at Wish, a restaurant in Miami's South Beach. Later, I was fortunate to steal a few moments of the executive chef's time for an interview you can read on Suite101.

    Some call Michael Bloise a "rising star." Reading the list of awards and noting all the acclaim he's earned, I'm inclined to drop the "rising". When we were talking about food and travel, one of his comments struck a deep chord in me. He states that he is not moved to re-create dishes he's had abroad. Instead, holds the experience of eating new dishes abroad as almost sacred. Rather than recreating them at home, he aims to replicate the feeling he had when eating the new dish or experiencing a new cuisine.

    Food can do more than sustain us, it can transform us. My chat with Chef Bloise reminded me of the excitement I felt viewing the recent Anthony show, I wrote about it here, Bourdain Encounters Adrià, Discovers More.

    Prior to that show, I'd only heard of "El Bulli" as a revered restaurant and an extremely hard table to secure. In the show, we see Bourdain (a well-travelled author, chef, TV host and experienced eater) in awe of familiar tastes, presented in ways that surprised him. This delighted Adrià and was a revelation to me.

    Tanya Wenman Steel, editor of Epicurious.com, notes some new restaurants and chefs who may be following or capitalizing on Adrià's innovation. Check out her post on the New Gastronomy and her thoughts on my comments "New Insights on the New Gastronomy".

    To me, both of these chefs and their work, while different, embody the essential power of food to help us explore three questions:

    • How can food reconnect us with our forgotten selves?

    • How can it be a bridge to our possible selves?

    • How can a meal, by definition - ephemeral, root us in a moment, even while we are consuming/enjoying it?

    This is why I write about eating and cooking. I invite you to join the discussion on Suite101, Epicurious or start one here.

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Wednesday, July 12, 2006

    One bad oyster - so what?

    Last night we ate at a terrific steak house that also does very good seafood. We started with oysters. About 30 minutes after the end of the meal I had that explosive bathroom experience that confirms without a doubt that, yes, that one oyster you ate that seemed a little skunky, probably was not good.

    Would I call the restaurant? No. Would I forswear oysters? Never.The meal was great. To paraphrase a childhood icon turned latter-day freak, “One bad oyster don’t spoil the whole bunch girl…”

    It’s just an accepted risk of eating raw bi-valves in the world today. The other 7 or so were fine (we split a dozen). The Wedge salad was great, Iceberg, luscious tomato, blue cheese AND olive oil…black pepper…BTW, when, exactly, did we allow ‘experts’ to disregard Iceberg lettuce as worthy? (I have a sneaking suspicion this was the first wave of the annoying food McCarthyism that threatens my caviar, foie gras and lobster. Had we paid attention then ...but, I digress.)

    So, we were offered Pacific Coast oysters. Since my first Kumamoto, I have sort of unconsciously set the bar at a pretty high level. No flaccid, briny, Malpeques for me. A small, perfect, fresh, melon-y, cucumber-, gem of an oyster will beat all those big fat, diffuse East Coast varieties any day. I will gladly bear the occasional moment (or evening of distress) for the hours of dining pleasure on this flinty, clean, of-the-ocean, delicacy, especially if it’s West Coast or Pacific NW.

    I arrive at the table to a perfectly chilled martini and a few morsels of fried calamari, lovingly saved for my consumption. When I ask the waiter the rhetorical “did I marry the right man, or what?” he nods, bows almost imperceptibly, and excuses himself from the table.

    We enjoyed the hard-to-find-in-Boston perfect prime rib (rare, split for two), the wedge salad - iceberg, tomato, blue cheese, split a baked potato sour crème.

    A lovely evening made better by impeccable service and my observation of the most well-behaved 4 y.o. in a restaurant I’ve seen in ages, at the next table. She held her napkin on her lap, used it appropriately, tried new things (even an anchovy), never raised her voice, conversed pleasantly with her grandparents and the staff… no fussy entitled princess, she. I found myself mesmerized. Where has this endangered species gone?

    But back to our oyster – and I will say a few words here about raw seafood. My rules are common sense, not rocket science. Assuming healthy immune systems, one must eat it only at the most trusted places. Enjoy it completely and unimpeded by the awareness of risk. Other than egregious infractions, don’t bother to contact the restaurant if you should, in fact, have the occasional cleansing effect of a bad bit of bacterium. If this is too much to bear, don’t eat them. More for me.

    Such are the risks of eating raw seafood. To my mind, this is much less of a worry than the fully cooked meal that keeps you in the loo for hours – a sure sign of bad hygiene in the kitchen. People rant about “food poisoning” to little effect on me. Most all of our food related distress occurs from simple lapses in sanitation. A kitchen worker fails to wash their hands after going to the washroom. Lettuce is improperly washed and perhaps bought from a less expensive source that irrigates with questionable water.

    An occasional bad oyster is no one’s fault but mine. And I willingly accept the consequences. Some risks in life are simply outweighed by the momentary pleasure they allow.
    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Saturday, July 08, 2006

    Bourdain encounters Adrià – and discovers more.

    Decoding Ferrán Adrià
    If I had been able to stay awake in my freshman Philosophy class (8 AM, what was I thinking?) I could probably give you a spot-on philosophical underpinning for the concepts inherent in this title. Alas, I can only share observations from the vantage point of a life well-lived, if not well-read or well-educated.

    The recent Anthony Bourdain TV show “Decoding Ferrán Adrià ” was a gift. It was one of those exceedingly rare moments when the medium delivers on its potential. What can a TV show tell us about fundamental existential questions? We know what it can tell us about a celebrity chef. About a celebrity chef turned travel show guide. But just what might it tell us about ourselves when its topic is a highly acclaimed chef and his Michelin rated restaurant in Spain - a restaurant that is booked a year in advance?

    Many of us will never dine at El Bulli or sadly, even make it to Spain. Most of us will not buy his books – huge tomes, both art and science. But any one of us could find immeasurable pleasure in his story, his mission, the things he devotes himself to. This was my introduction to Ferrán Adrià and for it, I will be forever grateful.

    is an icon in the restaurant/food world. His 3-star Michelin rated restaurant El Bulli is even harder to get into than Thomas Keller’s French Laundry. Adrià is probably best known for his use of a workshop or atelier. He is known for his team’s use of scientific principles to deconstruct and re-present food in new ways. Foam, people always talk about his foams. People talk about how he closes his restaurant for half the year to travel. Time Magazine hails him as an innovator. Many are in awe of him, others scoff at his innovation. Some understand his place (only) as a trendsetter. Many people, I think, fail to appreciate what drives him and what he contributes to world of gastronomy.

    Bourdain meets Adrià
    How delicious to see a cynic squirm. Bourdain was actually nervous before meeting Adrià. You have to pay attention now. Adrià begins his encounter with Bourdain by posing a simple question: Are you an eater or a diner? Bourdain professes to a moment or two of panic. (I don’t believe he actually had a second of doubt, but, hey, it’s a TV show, I’ll let him slide.)

    The question reveals much about Adrià. Is this (potential diner) a person who is enamored of artifice and pretense? Or, is he someone who is fundamentally open to and appreciative of the power of food? Is this someone who believes food has the potential to connect us to ourselves, to each other, to our history, to our future? I believe Adrià uses all his creativity and the innovation of his staff as a means to deliver one of the most meaningful experiences a person might have – an epiphany.

    How we handle the familiar and the new
    One of the fundamental struggles a person can face is to appreciate the utter solitary nature of one's existence as it coexists with the equally compelling desire to connect with another. We're usually trained to more "either/or" thinking, but the essential reality is "both/and." We are fundamentally alone in the world. And, it is in our nature to strive for connection, even while we recognize that connection as ephemeral or unpredictable.

    There are as many ways to cope with this dilemma as there are people on the planet. We can come face-to-face with the terrifying reality and choose to numb ourselves to its existence. We can adopt a lifestyle that taunts death. We can create a defensive shell to inure ourselves to the need which seems impossible to satisfy. We can ignore it altogether. These are just a few.

    When we choose a numb or safe existence, or we choose a buffered, lubricated or otherwise medicated existence, it is only the rare experience, or the most unique person, that can force open the door we've nailed shut.

    Giving us this experience is the mission, I think, of Ferrán Adrià . Reviewers who rail at the inaccessibility of his recipes or the over-reach of his application of scientific methods, miss the point entirely. Listening to him for the first time on the recent Bourdain show, I felt like he was giving voice to a phenomenon I've been lucky enough to experience. He is driven to help people experience the world through fresh eyes, a fresh palate. It's not really about the science. The work of the atelier, even his food as ultimately presented, are merely his tools, a means to an end. That end for him is to break through our cynicism, our safe, jaded existence and be in a moment, an Innocent. To experience something in a new way, even if it is a thing as familiar as a pea. His delight was apparent and inspiring.

    I’m always moved by the power of sharing a meal with someone, especially when the experience involves something new. The moment is precious because of its very nature. The meal can be eaten only once, the experience shared only once.

    It's presumptuous and possibly completely off-base for me to draw conclusions about someone I've never met...but I'd be surprised if I were too far off. Adrià is the rare innovator in life that, I'm quite sure, would have expressed himself in another medium had food not availed itself to him. I think this is where the comparisons to Dali originate.

    Encountering the familiar, as new
    I don’t believe his desire was to be an iconoclast, per se. It seems to me he truly delights in helping people achieve that sort of breakthrough his food enables. He’s like a Timothy Leary of food.

    This will sound ridiculous to some, nonsensical to others, but I firmly believe the joy Adrià expresses when none other than über-cynic Anthony Bourdain tastes something that upends his paradigm, surprises and delights him, makes him feel like it is the first time he’s tasted it…that was authentic joy I saw expressed by Adrià .

    It also makes perfect sense that he travels and his staff travels to keep refreshing their work. Travel is one of the few ways I’ve found to fight the natural tendency to creep toward competence, predictability and safety. When you allow yourself the experience of being in a new place where you cannot predict what you might see, taste, smell, or hear, you often find revelations in the seemingly mundane. The situation forces you into that child-like state of seeing the world as new. Maybe not a pure representation, but maybe as near an approximation as we can construct. It’s inspiring to see Bourdain undefended, re-discovering this sense of possibility in himself. It is what drives some of us to travel, to cook, to share. This, I believe, is Adriàs goal.
    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Thursday, July 06, 2006

    All Hot and Bothered

    Check out my steamy post on ...Heirloom Tomatoes - or Apples of Love as the French called them.

    Bewtiched, bothered and bewildered, am I.
    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Go Commando! Grill commando, that is...

    I love grilling.

    I love the heat, the smoke, the charring, the meat.

    I love grilled vegetables. I love grilled fruits.

    I love rubs, marinades, flavored oils for grilling.

    I love Weber grills. One day I will again have a proper outdoor grill space. Now, I love my indoor DeLohngi grill.

    I love – hate the military. I grew up a “military brat” and have always had a love-hate relationship with anything military.

    I was terrified of the first Marine I met. It was college and he was a brother of some girl in my dorm. Larger than many of the walls in the dorm, he described in his very measured and soft voice how he’d just learned how to kill a man with his bare hands. Suddenly, I remembered a test I had to study for.

    Now, I can say, I have scared an ex-Marine away. That’s a story for another day, perhaps.

    But here’s why today – I share renewed love for the Marines and resurrect my love for Weber Grills!

    As with many a grand idea, this one was borne of that special moment of insight spawned by burgers and beers. Representatives of Weber Grills and of the Marines hatched a plan to hold grilling competitions, create a cookbook and use the proceeds to support charities that support Marines and their families.

    Every cent of the $10 purchase price of the book will go to support four charities.

    Please check out the website, Command of the Grill and buy the book for your favorite grill master, grill maven, Marine, ex-Marine, yourself.

    For the price of a couple of beers, you can support soldiers and their families and get a couple of great new ideas for your next cookout, too.

    Photo courtesy of Weber grill website.
    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Sunday, July 02, 2006

    Well done is better than well said

    More words of wisdom from Benjamin Franklin. And no truer words have been spoken. Isn't it odd how few companies, restaurants, service providers get the importance of how they treat the people that enable their very existence?

    Christoper Carfi whose focus is helping companies "get it" offers a clever alternate headline to my Confessions piece. His suggestion: “Local Woman Starves While Waiting for Carryout”. I like it. As you may recall, the story was based on my traumatic customer service experience with a food delivery service.

    Reading his post about life wasted on hold reminded me of a few customer service traumas of late…

    From Cinco de Mayo:
    Just how bad is my Spanish? I thought Cinco de Mayo commemorated a courageous battle and translated to Fifth of May. Apparently, it means: "four managers to one waiter." Who knew? At least I got the cinco right.

    The night was one of those early summer evenings that draws you to the waterfront. We met our friends for a drink at the Boston Harbor Hotel. Lucky enough to score a table outside, literally on the water, we settled into watch the sunset and share a couple of drinks.

    We asked if we could pull a few chairs around the table and order some food and drinks. We waited. One person in our party got up to ask for service. Eventually, a manager came by to see if everything was good. We asked for someone to take our order. We asked for water. J. was getting nervous as C. was getting really hungry. I, as usual, was thirsty. I ordered a margarita in honor of the holiday.

    We waited. Another manager. Another wait. Another manager brought some of the food. We asked for our water. Another manager or server brought some of the rest of the order. We asked again for water. Eventually, we gave up. Then the water came.

    I wonder if that second margarita was eventually delivered to the new customers at that table.

    From a recent trip to Miami:
    Two concurrent observations in South Beach:
    1. service is nearly uniformly bad in even the best restaurants, and

    2. a service charge is almost always included in the bill.

    I had the same observation in Las Vegas, even at fabulous restaurants we ran into appalling service. The thing these two destinations share is this: without any effort at all, both locales will always draw customers. Does that mean they feel no need to cultivate return business? In a few places, they understand the fallacy of that assumption and pay attention to improving service. Too few, in my opinion.

    At one point, in South Beach my husband had to physically leave the table to find our waiter inside the restaurant (doing side work, it turned out.) He told the server we were ready to order, and the guy actually took out his pad, right there. We got him back to the table so the rest of the party could order, too.

    Our group, full of service industry types (restaurant owners, bartenders, frequent customers) had a lively debate – does the fact of not striving for tips create poor service? Is it included as in other tourist hot-spots to compensate for the International travelers who aren’t used to tipping? Is it appropriate to cross out the suggested, included tip? What do you think?

    A Bank of “Higher Standards”? Just how low was the bar to begin with?
    Over the past few days I tried in vain to dispute a charge on my BOA account. About 20 people, over four hours, misdirected my call, misinformed me, made me queue and wait yet again, only to find I was speaking to the wrong person, again. All the while, I had to listen to the new motto. Apparently, they’re now “the Bank of Higher Standards.”

    After a while, I began telling each successive (wrong person) about the number of minutes I had been on hold, and how absolutely insulting the motto came to feel. In case anyone really cared. Call it a big, fat deposit in the bank of irony.

    For other customer service related stories see:
    • Revelations and Mysteries for an experience at a great specialty gourmet store that prides itself on treating customers like friends. Oops.

    • And, I share observations on the relationships of servers/bartenders to customers. I include the insight offered by an obtuse and unethical CEO as well as insights offered your favorite erudite barfly and writer (me) in
      I feel sorry for people who don’t drink.

    What are your worst customer service stories?
    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Saturday, July 01, 2006

    Okay. First it was Caviar, Next Foie Gras, now Lobster and Crab?

    This is madness. I cannot sit idly by without putting in my 2 cents’ worth. Let’s be clear, I value thoughtful reflection. I really do want people to be ethical and make decisions based on good information. I hope people will continue to develop a sense of social responsibility and I know every small change we make can make some difference but let’s just do a reality check here, can we?

    Stop me if I’ve told you this story before: Out with a group of friends and the new girlfriend of one begins lecturing the roommate of another about how ‘evil’ it is that she (roommate) is eating a hamburger. On and on she (new girl) prattles: smoking a cigarette, drinking a beer and wearing leather; reprimanding the poor dear with the burger. Never mind the second hand smoke we were forced to inhale; never mind her Natural American Spirit brand smokes do not support Native Americans anywhere. (Natural American Spirit cigarettes are owned by Reynolds. Yes, that Reynolds, not a Native American tribe, as many erroneously believe.) Her assumed superior ethical position as a “vegetarian” entitled her to lecture anyone eating meat about their inhumane treatment of sentient fellow creatures. Of course, I pointed out as frequently as possible that fish are not vegetables. She seemed okay with eating fish.

    We are disconnected from the sources of our food and many of our consumables. It is a fact. One might be forgiven then for overlooking the possible inhumanity that begat one’s leather sandals. And, I have no bone to pick, not even a teensy weensy fishbone, with someone who chooses for health, religious, or any reason at all to cease consuming meat. But let’s just take big deep collective breath, gather our wits, and think for a minute. Despite what PETA might tell you, there are far more inhumane practices going on in the world than the boiling of lobsters. Even allowing for their position (and I will defend their right to voice it, forever) a rational person has to allow that any food consumption decision might be viewed as an individual choice in arbitrary line-drawing. I say it is arbitrary because I do not believe that makes it less important or less valuable or less value-driven. It is simply to signify that my evil is not your evil. Nor does it have to be.

    One only has to visit a cattle farm or processor to understand that the shoes we wear were not made with leather from a cow that passed away peacefully from old age. The fish many of us eat may well have died a fairly gruesome death. Eggs are often harvested in pretty grim conditions for the poor hens. I applaud more humane farming practices. I believe people can and should think about societal costs and impacts and when it is feasible for them to do so, vote with their purchasing power. I choose local farmers' markets and independent shops whenever I can. The food is better, the service is better and I'm supporting someone with a face, not a distant corporate entity.

    I believe we can and should re-think how we use resources that might serve more people and preserve or at least not irreparably harm our earth. But, when did we allow the likes of PETA to dictate values for the rest of us?

    Another position, voiced by Anthony Bourdain (one of my favorite snarksters) goes something like this,

    “Hey – I’ve got the opposable thumbs, I’m higher up on the food chain and if it wasn't smart enough to avoid ending up on my plate - I'm okay with calling it dinner.”
    AddThis Social Bookmark Button