Food Haiku Contest!

Half of National Poetry Month has already slipped by! Doesn’t it make sense to use these last two weeks of April to create something poetic and tasty? As motivation, we’re holding a food haiku contest. Send us your best food-themed haiku by Monday, April 27th. We’ll post our favorites on the blog, and the top haiku will score its author an awesome prize.

You remember how to write a haiku, don’t you? You definitely learned in second grade. Here’s an example:

food poetry

Photo from Smithsonian Magazine

This onion bagel
Spackles the hole in my heart
With its thick cream cheese.

If any brave individual wants to experiment with more complex poetic forms, we will definitely post those endeavors, as well, but for the purposes of the contest, we’re just looking for the ol’ 5-7-5. Send your entries to submissions@pitchknives.com. Please limit two haiku per contestant. Happy poem-writing, everybody!

The Phoenix Rises: Proud and a Little Tipsy

Liquid Mansfield

Liquid Mansfield

Something wonderful has happened! Something amazing for my little Ohio town, in fact. Something that will bring people to the area and that will change people’s attitude toward our city. Something for all of us to be proud of. And yes, of course beer is involved: a brewery has opened in Mansfield!

Last Wednesday was a bright and giddy spring day. My skin was buzzing with the forgotten touch of sunshine and the promise of a good beer after work. At 5pm Ben and I took our tickets for the brewery’s soft opening and crossed the small brick parking lot that separates my bookstore from the dangerously close by brewery.

The Phoenix Brewing Company is located in a brick building built in 1914 that was originally a mortuary. Rather than ignore what could be taken as a morbid history, they have embraced it. When my sampler of their five beers arrived, it came on a coffin-shaped, wooden flight. The names of their beers, too, riff on the theme: Redemption IPA, Ferryman’s Stout, etc. (When they were first brainstorming names, “Embalming Fluid IPA” was bandied about. Apparently clearer heads and weaker stomachs prevailed.) Continue reading

File with the Takeout Menus

Last night, while I was struggling to pull myself together after a weekend out of town, I was reminded afresh of the bounty of the New York City take-out scene. With dozens of places willing to deliver until late, it’s a miracle that I ever manage to cook anything at all. But how to choose with so many possibilities? I made this flowchart to help me decide; feel free to use it if you live in the neighborhood or try making your own.

takeout flowchart

My Beef with Culinary Prodigies

mcgarry

Glamour shot of Flynn McGarry from the recent NYT Magazine profile

Being both a writer and a voracious eater, I work up a nerdy store of anticipation in advance of the annual food issues of The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine. So there was a little twinge of disappointment in my heart when I finished the cover story from this year’s NYT Magazine offering. It’s about Flynn McGarry, a fifteen-year-old prodigy chef, who aspires to own a New York restaurant by the time he is nineteen. Am I the only one who thinks that the editorial choice to focus on this kid, above all other possible stories from the world of food, smells kind of funny? Like something just went really rotten in the crisper?

Let me be clear, before the haters get all over my case: I have never tasted anything from the kitchen of Flynn McGarry, but I have no doubt that he is very talented (and cute—he kind of has a young Harry Connick, Jr. thing going on). And I totally buy the idea of culinary prodigies being a real phenomenon; the mix of physical and conceptual skills necessary for preparing inventive haute cuisine seems similar in many ways to those celebrated in musical prodigies. And we can even leave aside the fact that every quote from his mother, Meg, made me grind my teeth in irritation, because that’s just me being a judgmental jerk.

So why do I have a bee in my bonnet about this? I think what bugs me about McGarry’s story (and maybe all child prodigies’s stories) is that it seems engineered mostly to serve adults’ delight at a high-class version of a freak show. “Hey, look, the kid who made the asparagus gelée I’m eating can’t even drive a car yet! Dance monkey dance!” It feels a little icky to me. I buy that McGarry cooks because he loves it, and it’s cool for his parents or other people in his life to encourage that love. You want to grow edible flowers and micro-lettuces in your backyard? Go for it. You want to roast a couple of goats over a fire with the owner of Alma? Knock yourself out. But why the need for an eleven-year-old to start a weekly $160-a-plate supper club patronized mostly by L.A.’s rich and famous? Continue reading

Easter Green Garlic

green garlicAt the very end of making a miso-lemon glaze in which to bake tofu last Sunday night, I realized that I had intended to include garlic in the mix.  I quickly crushed a bunch of cloves, pressed them into the tofu, and closed the oven door.  When I checked on dinner half an hour later, I found the garlic a bright, Easter Basket-grass green.  What the hell?

Turns out that crushing garlic releases an enzyme named Alliiase which in turn goes to work on a sulfurous compound named Allicin.  Allicin is garlic’s primary defense against pests and also the chemical basis for humanity’s long reliance on garlic to bolster health and fend of diseases.  When the flesh on the garlic bulb is torn, the Allicin breaks down into other sulfurous compounds, and when those compounds mix with an acid they form carbon-nitrogen rings that link together in various combinations to form molecules.  Continue reading

April is Beer Kicks Ass Month!

ohio_beer

The Heart of it All!

As I’m sure you all know, April is National Pecan Month. Tuesday was April Fool’s Day, tomorrow is Tell a Lie Day–I’m sure there’s a story there–and most importantly, the first week in April is National Read a Road Map Week. This is all according to a highly reputable website built in, like, 1998 that also advertises garden equipment.

But this whole map thing got me to thinking…about beer, mostly. I recently found a map that identifies all 101 currently operating breweries in Ohio. Despite the fact that I have spent 24 of my 32 years somewhere in Ohio, I am pretty miserable with Ohio geography. In my dotterage I’ve begun to study the map to stop confusing Mt. Gilead with Mt. Vernon. It makes me happy in that same old person way in which I enjoy the way a glass of red wine looks sitting next to a crusty boule of bread. Imagining the possibilities. So when I saw 101 dots on my little heart-shaped state, I started imagining.

Vandalia, Middle Bass, Hide-A-Way Hills. Kelleys Island, Buckeye Lake, Catawba Island. Where are these places and why haven’t I been there yet? (Perhaps because the first 18 years of being an Ohioan were spent plotting an escape. I’ve since gotten a tattoo that says “If found, please return to Ohio.) I recently discovered that Catawba Island, a place at which many inlanders vacation, is not an island at all! Oh the mysteries you hold from me, my sweet Heart of It All! Continue reading

More Gadgets from Nancy: Time Travel Edition

Yes, dear readers, some time has passed since I last posted. There are a few reasons for this, the most excellent one being that I was visiting my parents in Florida and communing with my spirit animal, the manatee (quiet, gentle, vegetarian, spends most waking hours eating). But the blog was on my mind while I was traveling, as my mother, Nancy, introduced me to a new batch of fun kitchen gadgets.

tasting spoonA couple of these were a blast from the past, like this rad hand-carved tasting spoon from the Berea College in Kentucky. This place is worth checking out; they give scholarships in exchange for work in their crafts studio, and the students make some beautiful stuff. But back to the spoon: you use the big end to stir with, and instead of slobbering all over it with your dirty mouth, you tip it backward and the soup or sauce runs backward along the channel where you can taste it from the little spoon. Apparently these have been used in France for ages, and the ones from Berea have a nice old-fashioned feel, meaning that they make great gifts for both those with Little House on the Prairie sensibilities (me) or germophobes (you know who you are).

baker's broomAnother find from Berea was this little baker’s broom that you hang in your kitchen. “What do you sweep with it?” you may be asking. Nothing! Ha! Got you! When you bake a cake, you’re supposed to snap off one of the bristles and use it to test if the cake is done. Seriously, how did my mom know that Jason tried to use a chopstick to test banana bread last week? Anyway, she thought that this might have been an old Shaker invention, and though I couldn’t find any proof of that, I believe her, the Shakers being notorious for their furniture-making, riotous dancing and cake-testing. Continue reading

Food News: Obama, Chicken, Crap Part II: The Shadowy East

Two weeks ago, I noted changes to the USDA rules regarding poultry that include as a solution to hygiene issues the spraying of chemical baths in lieu of washing all the shit off your dinner.

An article on the site Nation of Change reminded me of something my man Reece, of Cluckin’ Awesome Coops, made me aware of last September: American chickens are going to China!

On one hand, I find this exciting.  All Americans should travel to the far abroad to expand

Yum yum.  I found this photo with a related article at The Gaia Health Blog.

Yum yum. I found this photo with a related article at The Gaia Health Blog.

their horizons and see how their fellow creatures live.  But in this case, the chickens will already be dead, so they will have no functioning eyes to take in fellow creatures or horizons.

The gist:

  1. New rules at Obama’s USDA will allow chickens raised and slaughtered in the U.S. to be shipped to China for processing before being shipped back to your neighborhood grocery.
  2. These birds will not be labeled.  You will not be able to tell which bird was prepared according to Washington’s hygienic standards and which according to Beijing’s.
  3. The USDA will inspect birds as they come in—perhaps according to the same rules soon to govern States-side poultry plants—but will not be present in the Chinese facilities.

The specifics: Continue reading

Extreme Beer and the Cute Dudes Who Make It

Mr. Calagione and a sign made from toast. As usual, thinking outside the breadbox.

Mr. Calagione and a sign made from toast. As usual, thinking outside the breadbox.

Sam Calagione is the president and founder of Dogfish Head, a brewery based in Delaware that is known for its “off-centered” ales, as they lovingly describe them. He is also good-looking (and knows it), charismatic, and a little bit nuts. Somehow the man is able to harvest all these traits and inject them directly into the wort of Dogfish Head brews, producing some of America’s most unique, imaginative, extreme, crazy-ass beers. All this is relevant because the Dogfish Head Brewery is sponsoring Beer Advocate’s 11th annual Extreme Beer Fest in a matter of days.

I have been to exactly one Extreme Beer Fest. (In my memory I was the only woman there, but that can’t be right…) It was there that I met and grazed the fingertips of the legendary Sam Calagione. As strange as some of his beers may be, I have always admired him because of just that, and also because he’s good-looking, as aforementioned. Also, he has an English degree like yours truly, and makes his living in beer, which is totally rad.

Now, when Mr. Calagione tenderly poured me a sample, filled it up to the lip and smiled as he expertly handed it off, I had a question for him. But despite my press pass and the hour or so of courage I’d been sampling, I couldn’t just ask it. Instead I fumbled the pass-off, stepped on the toes of a man behind me, and veered, beer-soaked, back into the fray of increasingly jovial beer extremists.

My question for Mr. C, then: Why? Continue reading

Anthropological Study of Brooklyn Male Making Banana Bread

anthropology

“It’s true that I wasn’t paying attention to the recipe,” subject admits. “My plan was to just mix everything together.”

4:58 p.m. Subject announces desire to “whip up” some banana bread. Makes telephone call to sister-in-law, the source of excellent banana bread recipe, to discuss some possible alterations. Subject is heard to become very distracted, however, and start talking about horses instead.

6:10 p.m. Observer enters kitchen to see if it will soon be clear for dinner preparation. Banana bread still in early stages.
“Do we have a sifter?” subject asks, eyeing the brown sugar.
“I think you’re supposed to pack brown sugar,” observer offers.
“Ah, right,” subjects says, and then adds sugar to dry ingredients.
“Doesn’t sugar usually go with the wet ingredients?” observer asks innocently.
Subject becomes bashful and starts to pick out chunks of brown sugar with a fork. Mentions that maybe it won’t matter since he is substituting Greek yogurt for butter. Observer begins to have serious doubts about edibility of final product.

6:47 p.m. Subject becomes very dejected about de-sugaring process. Decides to wait until after observer has cooked dinner to finish banana bread endeavor. Subject then remembers the foraged black walnuts that have been in the refrigerator for months due to both the subject and the observer being too lazy to hull them. Subject retires to front stoop to smash them with rocks.

8:30 p.m. Observer tries to assess subject’s confidence level. Subject responds: “You know, I’m feeling more confident than ever. I feel like you are losing confidence, but mine is only growing. It may have been a rough start in some ways to some people, but I’m not worried.” Continue reading