Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Arty Wednesday: Art/Food in the Washington Post

Can food ever be elevated to the level of art? Even really great art?

Not a new question, right? Especially not here on this blog, where I've written about food and art more times than I can count. My take, very simply, is that yes, it can.

Blake Gopnik is not so sure. But Ferran Adria and Jose Andres are doing their damndest to convince him.

On the eve of the US publication of Adria's elBulli book, Food for Thought, Thought for Food, Gopnik, the Washington Post art critic, visits and eats with Adria at elBulli in Spain and with Andres at Minibar right in DC.

Gopnik eats a lot of crazy things that look like one thing but taste like another, or look like one thing and taste like that thing, but have a different texture, or look and feel like what they taste like, but are made in some unusual manner.

In addition to eating, Gopnik chats. He listens as Adria insists it's not about technique. But it's not exactly about the food itself, either - at least not how the food tastes. It's about what he wants to say with the food. The message.

He quotes Andres, who says, "We don't want to feed people, we only want to have a conversation."

Gopnik describes Adria' cuisine as, "a new language, yes, but without an identifiable homeland, and with the possibility that it will be radically reinvented at any moment. That instability makes it barely even count as a language."

None of this feels new to me, but I have been arguing with my family and friends about food and art and various related topics for a while now. The message-driven, not-quite-a-language status of this outsider cuisine reminds me, in a way, of conversations I've had with my dad about minimalism.

It's more than a little difficult to appreciate the minimalist movement unless you know a lot about the theory behind it and the history of all the art that came before. Yes, it's peaceful to look at a white canvas, but it's also easy to write it off as hackery. To enjoy it, you have to buy into the idea that theory's important when it comes to art (or food). My dad absolutely detests minimalim because he doesn't buy into the validity of theory-driven art. I have a feeling he'd do some scoffing at Adria's brand of cheffery, as well.

Ultimately, Gopnik enjoys his meals and his conversations. But he's not sold.

I, however, am not totally sold on his conclusion. I can't help but read it as art snobbery trumping food snobbery. Though he makes a blanket statement suggesting that, "of course food can be art," I'm not convinced that he's willing to open his mind to even consider food on the same plane as more traditional forms of art.

Finally, as a bit of an aside, the title makes the "palate/palette" joke that I'm sure I've used way too many times. And the video caption uses "Guernica" a shorthand, which I totally do, all the time. I can't figure out if Gopnik, his headline writer, and I are all kind of lazy, or if we're all smart, awesome writers. Until somebody tells me differently, I'm going with the latter. After all, why not?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

SciFi Food = Revolting

Revolting and not so far off. This post just made me lose my appetite. While eating Spaghetti-O's. Which, believe it or not, I love.

I know that there is a humanitarian argument in favor of genetically modified non-food. However, that doesn't make it any more appetizing in the traditional sense of the word. It creeps me out.

Stuff to Do this Weekend: Toyota Hybrid Farm-to-Table in Baltimore

I don't get to the Sunday farmers' market below the JFX nearly enough - but I'm headed there this Sunday morning, with Cooper and Dixon in tow. What's getting me there? The Toyota Hybrid Farm-to-Table Tour.

Toyota has been traveling to farmers' markets around the country to help promote local food products...and to show off the third generation Prius and the 2009 hybrid Highlander. It sounds like a fun event, with prizes and giveaways and fresh herbs (pictured at left, in Portland).

Toyota has partnered with local farms and chefs to showcase Baltimore-made products. The chefs will man booths throughout the farmers' market, on Toyota's behalf, giving away free sample tastings of dishes made with local farmers' products.

The list of chefs is impressive - it's kind of a who's who of local ingredient-loving chefs:
  • Jesse Sandlin of Abacrombie
  • Chris Paternotte of Taverna Corvino
  • Patrick Morrow of Ryleigh’s Oyster
  • Michael Costa of Pazo
  • Spike Gjerde of Woodberry Kitchen
  • Ben Troast of Regi’s American Bistro
  • Kiet Philavanh of Pizzazz Tuscan Grille
  • Sandy Lawler of Feast @ 4 east
  • Rashad Edwards of Meli Patisserie & Bistro
  • Brian Martin of Kali’s Court
  • Bill Crouse of Sotto Sopra
  • Jason Gehring, pastry chef of Cinghiale
Not bad, right?

The event runs from 8 am to 12 pm. Really, is there a better, healthier-feeling way to start off a Sunday morning? OK, yoga. But this is pretty close, and way more fun if you ask me.

[Photo courtesy of the Toyota Hybrid Farm-to-Table Tour.]

Ideabook Tuesday: The First Meeting with Your Home

Houzz is running a contest - someone who comments on this ideabook with the story of their first "meeting" with their current home will receive a $100 Lowe's gift card. The comments are fun to read, too - people have really nice stories about their houses.

I guess that shouldn't surprise me.

The photos in the ideabook are from home blogger interviews that have been done over the past few months, and they're all paired with that blogger's "first meeting" story.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Vote for M&G at the Mobbies

Because I am a Master Blogger, M&G has been nominated for a Baltimore Sun blog award. They're called The Mobbies and are entirely based on reader votes...any and all votes would be much appreciated (click here to vote)!

Also, later this week: actual content. I promise it. I've got a posts-to-write list a mile long, including recent meals cooked and eaten, upcoming events, and more on the food-art connection.

Until then, though, we are all chicken soup and birthday cake around here. Dixon turns three tomorrow and is celebrating with a vicious cold. Good times!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Entertaining Friday: Garden & Gun

Consider this a PSA. Even if you aren't from the South, even if you don't like guns, and even if you don't do any gardening whatsoever, you should start reading Garden & Gun.

It's a relatively new magazine - just a couple of years old - and includes some of the best written pieces I've seen in print in a long time. The writers have their own voices and they're given enough space to tell real stories. I am not kidding when I say that this story - about croquet, of all things - had me more engaged than anything else I've read this year.

But in addition to the reading, G&G is full of fantastic ideas. The magazine's weekly email newsletters are actually worth signing up for and reading. They're full of interesting little tidbits and recommendations, like great cookbooks published by Southern authors, and notices about events that might be too far away to attend, but they're fantastic inspiration anyway.

The photo above comes from an invitation to a party called the Lowcountry Field Feast, which involves a James Beard award-winning chef cooking a family-style supper on a South Carolina farm. Sounds amazing, right? Plus, super-long outdoor tables covered in white tablecloths = my dream dinner party setting.

It will happen in my backyard one day. It will.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Old School Thursday: Pour Some Syrup on Me Edition

Today is National Cherries Jubilee Day, which actually seems sort of inappropriate, when you consider that the only other major food event of note to take place on September 24th is the death of Nancy Green (1923), also known as the real Aunt Jemima.

Green was hired at the end of 19th century as a sort of live spokesman for the brand. She gained major acclaim at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, where she was named Pancake Queen after the police were called in to control the crowds at the Aunt Jemima booth. Can you imagine that happening today? A hundred years ago, people cared that much about pancakes. And branding. It’s kind of heart-warming.

Anyway, Green kept up her role for another thirty years, when she died, sadly, in a car accident. And the cherries jubilee lobby wants us to celebrate with dessert? No way. It’s pancakes or bust today…

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Artsy Wednesday: Information Is Beautiful

Yesterday, my college friend Josh posted a Facebook link to this website, the aptly named Information Is Beautiful. Since I, obviously, agree with that sentiment, I couldn't resist spending some time browsing the site's amazing infographics, all created by its author, London-based designer (among other things), David McCandless.

This diagram, which shows the relative caffeine and caloric composition of a bunch of things, was the one food-related entry:
Somehow, the diagram neglects my primary source of caffeine buzz: Diet Coke. I wonder if DC consumption is less prominent in the UK than the US. I think that might be true.

McCandless describes himself as an "independent visual & data journalist." Otherwise known as my dream job. Honestly, I had no idea that there was actually a market for that particular job title, but now that I do know, I'm kind of excited.

Kind of excited, and on the verge of sending McCandless photos of the giant food/art/major events in history timeline in my basement, just to see what he says. But that would be creepy, right? Right?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Ideabook Tuesday: DIY Wine Storage

Finally, a way to put all of my wine cellar knowledge to good use...with a houzz ideabook:

Monday, September 21, 2009

Mom's Birthday Party Redux

This is a big month for birthdays in my family. My grandmother's was on the 12th and my mom's was on the 17th. Dixon's is on the 29th, the same day as my grandfather's. In early October, my grandmother, Cooper's mom, and Cail all have birthdays. We're busy in the early fall.

This past weekend, we celebrated my mom's birthday with a party at her house. Like me, her birthday celebration of choice involves doing a lot of cooking herself, while holding off friends (and my grandmother) as they say things like, "But it's your birthday! You shouldn't have to cook!" Nobody gets it.

The food was excellent, with tenderloin and grilled lobster tail dressed in a simple, summery vinaigrette. The only minor food disaster came when my mom dropped an enormous bowl full of heart of palm on the kitchen floor. Fortunately, most of it stayed in the bowl. Also fortunately, I am not above eating heart of palm directly off my parents' kitchen floor.

I definitely get my cooking style from my mom - and neither one of us is a baker (that's my sister's department). So nobody got stuck with baking duty, we stopped at Patisserie Poupon on our way to the house, picking up a 12-inch round hazelnut chocolate cake (my mom's favorite from that bakery). Unsurprisingly, the cake was completely gorgeous, and it truly tasted good, too:

By the time we left (yesterday morning), the cake had been demolished and Dixon was still smeared with chocolate. In fact, he might still be.

Overall, it was a great birthday for everybody, not just my mom.

Trendy Monday: Basque Flavors

We might have said goodbye to Monsieur Mattin last week on Top Chef, but that doesn't mean we've seen the end of Basque-love. Actually, even with Mattin's presence on the show, the region got some lip service, but we didn't hear much detail about the cuisine. If Tom Colicchio's blog is to be believed (and I'd guess it is, since he was actually there for the judging), part of Mattin's downfall was that he didn't really employ Basque flavors in his cooking on the show.

But I have a feeling we're about to see and hear a lot more about Basque flavors in the months to come, especially as it gets colder.

For example, this morning's Chowhound recipe newsletter showcased chicken Basquaise, a one-pot dish that looks pretty good (and easy), and that gets its Basquiness from spice-of-the-moment, piment d'Espelette. It's a very straightforward recipe and looks great in the pot - great enough that I think I might even make it for dinner here tonight.

In the meantime, though, au revoir "Frenchie." We'll miss the neckerchief.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Entertaining Friday: Fall=Pigskin

It is no secret that pig is king here at Pollard HQ. Not only do we roast our own, we also call it in occasionally. Though it's probably for the best, there's no barbecue place on our street, so when we get the urge for pig-without-the-effort, we have to travel.

When we're in Severna Park or Annapolis, we're all Adams, all the time. Everybody down there is, and it's what I grew up with. But when we're at home, it's all Andy Nelson's (except for the occasional trip to Big Bad Wolf, which is pretty great).

I love going to Andy Nelson's - we headed up there with Jen and Bill and Alicia and Mike and Kyle this past Monday night. It's super casual and an easy place to take kids, since the outdoor seating involves picnic benches next to an outdoor garage. The benches are in the parking lot, which adds a little element of danger when you've got a toddler, but we like to live dangerously.

I always get the pork barbecue sandwich with a side of barbecue fries and a pickle (everybody else swears by the potato salad, but I prefer the fries). I slather the sandwich in AN's Bama barbecue sauce (they've also got North and South Carolina sauces, but I like the red, especially since the pork is already cooked in a vinegar-based sauce) - and I never, ever finish. Especially not when I also have Dixon's leftover cornbread to eat.

It's available for carry-out, too, which is kind of perfect for big fall parties - Alicia and Mike get the pulled turkey every year for their Halloween party and throw it in their crockpot to keep it warm.

My only complaint is that, this year, they've discontinued their Monday Night Football all-you-can-eat. For the past few years, they ran an all-you-can-eat special from 6-8 every Monday that had a football game. The buffet was set up out in the garage and included the pork barbecue, wet and dry ribs, a bunch of sides, and a cobbler dessert.

This past Monday, we showed up with appetites rarin', ready to do some damage (at the end of last year, Cooper and Mike demolished five plates each one week)...and we found the garage door closed and no sign whatsoever of the buffet. No word on why it disappeared, but this pulled pork fan is a little sad about it.

At least I still have the sandwiches, though. I guess that's really all I need.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Old School Thursday: Happy Birthday, Mom AND John Willard Marriott!

Today, in addition to being National Apple Dumpling Day, is my mom’s birthday! Happy birthday, Mom!

Plus, today is also John Willard Marriott’s birthday (1900). He was the founder of the Marriott hotel chain, which is headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland (side note: I once saw a deer in the parking lot of Marriott HQ, when I was there for a meeting. It’s not exactly out in the woods.)

Here’s why the dual birthday is especially interesting: Marriott started his hotel empire with the Hot Shoppe chain of restaurants, which he then expanded into airline catering, and finally into hotels. When my mom was in school, she worked at the Hot Shoppe on Wisconsin Avenue in Chevy Chase.

The last Hot Shoppe closed in December 1999, and I’m not sure I ever even ate in one, but we used to drive past the Wisconsin Avenue outpost at least twice a year, on our trips to Gartenhaus, where my grandmother stored her mink stole for the summer (talk about an industry that is probably not doing so well these days). My trips past got more frequent in 1996, when I spent a ridiculously great year traveling to Georgetown, on my way to hang out with my friend Suzanne and her roommate Brent in their P Street apartment.

That little stretch of road holds a lot of memories for the Babcock-Waskom-Pollard family - and, if the news reports about Hot Shoppe are to be believed, for a lot of other people.

So, to celebrate? Traditional diner food. Served with a side of birthday cake.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Artsy Wednesday: Patterns & Joy

Ingrid Fetell is one of my co-bloggers at Deep Glamour, and she's also writing a book and blogging about the "aesthetics of joy." I've long been interested in the connection between design and emotion/experience, and anything related to happiness research, so for me, her blog is a great read, full of thought-provoking (and really pretty) posts.

I love this one, especially, for its graphics, which I've posted above. Ingrid links to an Issue magazine quiz that asks readers to match patterns to the cultures that created them. Ingrid is especially drawn to the similarities among the patternsm, while I find myself just getting sort of lost in their design and color.

As I once told my sister, I would so love to be a textile designer. Unfortunately, I lack the artsy skills to make that happen. But I certainly can appreciate those who've got those skills.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Ideabook Tuesday: Nina van de Goor's Super-fun Dutch Home

Last week for Houzz, I interviewed Dutch blogger and Etsy shop owner Nina van der Goor. Her house, which has been featured in IKEA Family Live Magazine, is amazing. It might be the most fun place I've ever seen.

Nina was also a super gracious (and prompt!) interview - you can read the whole thing here. But if you just want to take a look at her fantastic home, check this out:

Monday, September 14, 2009

Trendy Monday: Bacon Backlash?

In culinary circles, bacon has, until now, been pretty uncontroversial. It tastes good, it adds flavor, it's got great texture. It makes dishes, from breakfast through dessert, taste even better.

But how much of a good thing is too much? Sad as it is to say, I think we're starting to max out on bacon. It's become an easy out for chefs and home cooks (and Top Chef contestants) who want to give a dish an edge. The problem is, when you use the same edge every time, it loses it's, well, edge.

We saw that this week on Top Chef. Kevin won the Quickfire with his fricasseed escargots garnished with bacon jam - and apparently that bacon jam was awesome - but Mattin's overly bacony veloute very nearly got him kicked off. It was a great example of too much being too much (also a great example of Gallic overconfidence).

So what's next for bacon? Probably more of the same. I mean, it's bacon, it's not going away. But maybe we will see a slight drop in fine dining dishes flavored with bacon. And I definitely wouldn't be surprised to hear some anti-bacon sentiment from chefs of the celebrity sort.

UPDATE: From Discovery Doug, who I'm sure agrees that bacon is good for all of us:

Friday, September 11, 2009

Entertaining Friday: Running with the Grapes

Ever since my first reading of Peter Mayle's French Lessons, I have been totally fascinated with the Medoc Marathon in Bordeaux. This year, the race happens to be tomorrow. Thousands of runners from all over the world will gather in Bordeaux to run 26.2 miles through some of the world's most venerable grapevines, passing over 50 chateaux in all.

Stops along the way are a far cry from the water tents found on the sidelines of traditional marathons. At points along the course, runners can stop for cheese, sausage, oysters, and of course wine. Tonight, in preparation for the race, runners will carb-load, just like in America, but they'll also drink and dance. Somehow, they'll still get up to don their running shoes (and in some cases, costumes). And they will actually run.

In 2002, American writer Ben Cheever ran the race, and he wrote about the experience in Food & Wine. A traditional American runner - this wasn't his first marathon - it took him a few miles to adjust to the idea of drinking en route. When faced with a glass of Chateau Lafite Rothschild, he stopped worrying (who wouldn't?). Ultimately, Cheever finished the marathon in just over four and a half hours - and he had a great time.

Even on my very best day, I am not a runner. I envy those who are (like Jen and Alicia, who have each run more than one marathon). But even more than that, I envy those people who make it to the Medoc this weekend. Lafite Rothschild? There is a chance that even I might run a few miles for a wine like that.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Old School Thursday: More Crazy Saints' Names

Woohoo, it’s Hot Dog Day! And St. Theodard’s Day! He is the patron saint of cattle keepers, and also the keeper of one of those crazy saints’ names. The big question is…which is worse, St. Theodard or St. Phocas?

In other news, today is the anniversary of the death of Thomas Nuttall (1859), a naturalist and botanist who collected plants around the Chesapeake. Today is also the eighth anniversary of the first reported case of mad cow disease in an Asian animal (it happened in Japan).

And that’s about it. So…celebrate with hot dogs, just not ones made in Asia, OK?

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Artsy Wednesday: What About Cookies?

Things are busy chez Pollard, so in lieu of posting about what we've eaten lately (surprisingly good fish tacos and sweet potato fries at Fish Tales, London broil dressed in several Bobby Flay-inspired sauces, baked shrimp in chipotle sauce), here's a link to Hans van de Bruggen's flickr page, where you'll find photographs of letters made of food that I seriously love for their simplicity and Sesame Street cleverness. Like this one:
K, in case you're wondering, is made of ketchup. P is made of pasta. No W as of yet, I think, so I can't do a full monogram.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Ideabook Tuesday: Ladylike

A few months ago, after spending some time with the Kips Bay Show House pictures, I was feeling very girly - so I put together a female-driven ideabook:

Friday, September 04, 2009

Entertaining Friday: At the Beach

In Fenwick, with a broken laptop. Feeling very thankful for Java Surf (and Blackberries).

Plans for this weekend include a major seafood feast and, I believe, some meat as well. And the kind of relaxing that's forced by a laptop that won't start.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Cream of Whatever Soup in the Hot, Hot Summer

On last night's Top Chef, hometown girl Jessie, along with Bob Marley-boy Ron, served New England clam chowder to 300 airmen and their families stationed in the desert just outside Las Vegas.

Ron and Jessie obviously did a decent job with the soup - the airmen liked it, plus they managed to avoid the Judge's Table - but during the course of the episode, a couple of people commented on the wisdom of serving a hot, creamy soup in 100 degree heat. Tom started the discussion, which Gail picked up on, saying that she doesn't mind the hot, but does mind the cream. Preeti, while scrambling at Judge's Table, tried that old "throw somebody else under the bus" routine, mentioning that she didn't think clam chowder was a wise choice, considering the location.

After hearing all these comments, I was left wondering why it never occurred to me that clam chowder was a bad choice. Then I remembered: oh, right, I live in Maryland. Where summertime is crab season and, therefore, summertime is also cream of crab soup season.

In early August, Elizabeth Large did a top 10 cream of crab soups on her blog. She timed the post to coincide with Restaurant Week, when several area restaurants participated in a crab soup cookoff in the Inner Harbor. I found this in the comments:
Cream of crab soup in August? Can we expect Top Ten ice creams in January?
This used to be the only time you could make it, when crabs were in season. So Baltimoreans think of this as the right time to eat it. EL

The summer after I graduated from college, my friend Alison and I made it our job to discover the best cream of crab soup in Annapolis. While I'll always be partial to Annapolis Seafood's carryout, my favorite in-restaurant version comes from Carroll's Creek Cafe (which made it on Elizabeth Large's list). And the best way to eat it is sitting out on the CCC deck, watching the boats in Spa Creek. I must've done that ten times that summer, and the heat never bothered me once.

So I'm going to have to give this one to Jessie. She's a Maryland girl through and through, so why wouldn't she go the chowdah route? Cream in the summer? That's just how we roll.

Reminder: if you're looking for more Top Chef coverage, we are all over it at All Top Chef. ALL over it.

Old School Thursday: Random Odds & Ends Edition

Today is National Welsh Rarebit Day. Just when I think I am so jaded that no “national day” will shock me, something like this comes along. It’s not like we’re in Wales. That would at least make sense.

In other news, today in 1881, Lorenzo Delmonico died. He founded the first truly famous NYC restaurant, Delmonico’s, which, sadly, was a victim of Prohibition.

And in 1912, the first cannery opened in England. It supplied food to the Royal Navy. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that modern canning was only really getting its start 100 years ago, and yet we have already come full circle. Canned food is still a staple of many diets, of course, but not nearly the way it was 50 years ago. History moves fast.

So clearly, celebration today has to involve Welsh rarebit. Right?

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Non-alcoholic Glamour

A few weeks ago, I put on my mixology hat to come up with some non-alcoholic cocktail recipes for Deep Glamour's first birthday party. The marketing people at POM Wonderful and Dole were nice enough to hook us up with free juice and the party attendeees (sadly, I was not one of them, since the party was in LA and I was, at the time, in Miami) dressed up the party with more hats than Four Weddings and a Funeral.

A good time was had by all, and you can read about the drinks part of it here.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009


Ideabook Tuesday: Back to School

I left for college sometime around August 20, 1993. Sixteen full years ago this past summer - a whole person that can drive.

It's been a long time, but somehow the horrors of my freshman dorm room haven't faded. The furniture was bad - bad quality veneer in a really ugly brown color, crazily heavy (to make it that much easier to rearrange, and too big for the room, without actually providing enough storage space.

Unfortunately, my roommate-imposed decor was worse. I lived in an un-air-conditioned triple with one wanna-be drama chick who ended up honing her theatrical skills via medieval battle reenactments (the outfits were very strange) and another girl who's good cheer was so unrelenting it made me want to shoot something. I generally like people, but it was a trying year, and our Disney poster-covered walls didn't make it any better.

But at least my dorm room horror stories provided me with some recent inspiration:


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