Friday, June 21, 2013


We sad, and guilty, Los Angeles monoglots tend to feel uneasy about the existence of Spanglish: vocabulary substitution and code-switching between English and Spanish - “No problemo” or “Hasta la vista, baby’ - that kind of thing.  Some have argued that these phrases are actually mock-Spanish which, they say, is a form of covert racism (and in some cases not very covert at all). Jane H. Hill of the University of Arizona crops up as an expert on the subject, see her article “Mock Spanish: A Site For The Indexical Reproduction Of Racism In American English.”  I think she has a point, though surely Bart Simpson is no racist, covert or otherwise.

And of course food is a place where cultures meet and mingle, and where people sometimes feel playful, and so we have, expressions such as “the whole enchilada,” or “a hot tamale,” and I suppose you could say the latter was both racist and sexist.  Still I found to hard to be offended by, and even harder not to snap up, these cheese flavored snacks, or “El Snack con sabor Hispano” as it says on the pack.

Mucho Cheese indeed: it doesn’t get much more Spanglish than that.  However, as far as I can tell these snacks are Mexican through and through, made by the Si Senor brand, part of the Bokados Company, whose website is certainly monoglot Spanish.  If anything the name seems to be mocking Anglos.  Or maybe they’re just having fun.

 In fact these things are essentially mock-Cheetos, though a bit subtler and less synthetic-tasting than the real thing, though I suspect fans of Cheetos actually want their snacks synthetic and unsubtle.  Not that there’s anything very natural-sounding in the Mucho Cheese: FD&C colorings Yellow No. 5, Yellow No. 6, and Red No. 40 (that’s the one with the bugs), loom large in the list of ingredients.  But hey, nobody ever looked at these things and thought they were going to be eating nature’s organic bounty.

At the same supermarket where I bought the Mucho Cheese, I also bought this bag of “premium salted dried fish.”  Open up the pack and they look like this:

Of course my Russian is even patchier that my Spanish, and largely limited to words such as agitprop and intelligentsia, food words like Beluga and samovar, and possibly beatnik, that last being mock-Russian, I suppose.  Anyway, there’s not much mistaking that this is a dried fish to be eaten with beer, though I gotta say that woman does not look like my idea of a Russian.  She looks pretty much like a St. Pauli Girl to me, who's German.

There’s printing in English on the back of the packet, listing the ingredients, which are needlefish and salt:  that’s it!   And yes they go great with beer, and I’m sure they’d go just as well with vodka.  But the best thing about them is that they’re translucent, and if you hold them up to the setting sun they look like x-rays!  Hell, they look like art!!! 

Ugosh'ajtyes'!” as I believe the Russian say: I think it means “Treat yourself.”

Monday, June 17, 2013


So Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson have had a tiff (Chas’s word) on the terrace of a London restaurant, and it resulted in him grabbing her by the throat.  This, of course, is very bad and wrong, (and positively insane, when you think that paparazzi might be nearby), but tiffs - or full blown warfare - over dinner are not exactly a rarity.

When I was growing up, all the worst fights I had with my parents took place across the kitchen table, and if my wife and I are going to have a barney it’s more than likely to be across the sprouts and pork chops, so it becomes a self-lacerating event.  Everybody’s unhappy and you’ve ruined a good dinner that somebody, with greater or lesser degrees of love, has prepared.  However, in none of my own cases has throat grabbing occurred.  And there was definitely no nose grabbing.

Sometimes people don’t even get to the table.  Around Easter time this year there was a terrific story floating around about the Downey brothers, William and John, men in their fifties who were doing prep for an Easter meal at a relative’s house in Bridgeport, Connecticut.  They came into conflict because John thought William was making too many potatoes.  No throat grabbing here but a punch and a blow with a cooking pot.  They were charged with disorderly conduct.

Again one has a certain sympathy – family holiday dinners are pretty damn stressful - but punches and blows with cooking pots are also very bad and wrong.  I’m not even sure that a grapefruit in the face is actually acceptable these days.

Anyway Chas Saatchi got a police caution for his assault, which seems fair enough to me, though I’m sure many would think he should be put behind bars. Frankly I don’t even know what first attracted Nigella Lawson to multi-millionaire Charles Saatchi: maybe it was his love of gangsta rap.

Monday, June 10, 2013


Proust had his madeleine – I have English Cheshire cheese.  A great English Cheshire cheese is very great indeed, but even a less than great one still resonates because it was so much a part of my growing up, and I still love it more than is sensible of even quite comprehensible.

And now my local Gelson’s supermarket is selling it:  Somerdale Golden Cheshire. Somerdale is a British Company, based in Somerset, “one of the leading exporters of cheese and dairy products in the UK” according to the website.  They also say they export to over “50 countries around the world, supplying over 250 cheeses.”

250 Cheeses!!?? Isn’t that a few too many?  Didn’t there used to be just 9 “real” British cheese.  Somerdale make up the numbers with oddities like, Wensleydale with Fig and honey, white Stilton with mango and ginger, Cheddar with whisky.  I find this all pretty redundant.  If I want whisky with my Cheddar I’m quite capable of arranging it myself, but no doubt others feel differently.

Cheshire, Somerdale tell us, “is a hard-pressed, open textured, crumbly cheese with a clean sharp flavor. It is defined by its moist crumbly texture and mildly salty taste. Made both white and colored, it is one of the oldest recorded cheeses in history.” Well, yes but … my Encyclopedia of Cheese by Juliet Harbutt, published in 1999, says, “fewer than a handful of cheese makers still make the traditional clothbound Cheshire using raw milk.  Most of the cheeses are factory-made and lack any real depth of character.”  I don’t doubt that this is true but oddly enough the lack of depth and character is precisely what connects it with my youth.

Anyway, for better or worse, I have been buying and eating Somerdale Golden Cheshire  a little bit obsessively – the store has been having a low introductory price, and I want them to continue selling it – and I fear it may not be to most American tastes.

My local supermarket, Gelson’s, used to be Mayfair Market – I have a mug somewhere celebrating the change, or perhaps celebrating the death of Mayfair.  Now those of you with eidetic memories may recall a great photograph by Philip-Lorca diCorcia:

It’s one of a series of photographs in which he approached street hustlers, asked them what their rate was for sex, and then paid them that rate as their modeling fee.  You may pick the morality/exploitation out of that one until the cows come.

DiCorcia also took the remarkable picture below, from the series A Storybook Life.

 You will notice in the background the magic words Continental Cheese Co. Inc.  How it all comes together.  And then in the New York Post I just found the headline, “Say cheese for good teeth.”    According to a study in the journal General Dentistry people who eat cheese develop a high pH in their mouth – the higher the pH, the lower the chance of cavities.  Like you would need a reason to eat cheese.

Thursday, June 6, 2013


So the pope has spoken.  In his weekly speech (known as an audience) in St. Peter’s Square, he said, “Throwing away food is like stealing from the table of those who are poor and hungry.”  This coincided with the United Nations launch of an anti-food waste campaign to mark World Environment Day.

According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, approximately 1.3 billion tons of food — that’s one third of the world’s food production — are lost or wasted every year.  I regularly read that in the United States, 30 percent of all food is thrown away, which I suppose means that the US is doing 3% better than the rest of the world, and that is frankly surprising.

But then again, I’m never sure what these figures mean.  Does that 30 percent include potato peelings, burned toast, overcooked food sent back in restaurants, the inedible bits of an artichoke?  I suspect nobody else knows either.

The Pope continued, “Consumerism has made us accustomed to wasting food daily and we are unable to see its real value,” and then he compared this to “our grandparents” who “used to make a point of not throwing away leftover food.”

It’s not often that I agree with the pope but I’m more or less with him here.  I certainly make a point of not throwing away leftover food  - I suppose it was the way I was brought up.  If food looks slightly past its best I eat it, if it’s actually rotting it becomes compost; though I’m not absolutely certain how these things actually benefit the poor and hungry.

Of course there is a good deal of bile and vinegar in the blogosphere about this man who lives in marble halls telling the world to save its leftovers.  Which leads us pretty much inevitably to the thoughts of Ron Swanson of Parks and Recreation fame.  

Ron says, “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Don’t teach a man to fish…and feed yourself. He’s a grown man. And fishing’s not that hard.”  So I agree with both the pope and Ron Swanson – how about that?