Saturday, December 13, 2008

Chicago My Home

It's now less than a week before I return to Chicagoland for Christmas. A few finals, a train ride, and then I'll be in the heart of the city. I'll be cooking and, maybe, baking, and I'll be eating a lot. I'm not sure what my holiday will look like (I may end up spending a few days in Louisville, which would be an amazing, if tiring, trip), but I'll be sure to post on any interesting culinary experiences I have.

In other Chicago-related news, Obama named his HUD secretary today. As a long-time believer in the importance of cities as cultural and economic centers, and having watched in agony as the last two administrations pursued short-sighted and ultimately doomed policies, I hope that Mr. Donovan can take us in the new direction which we so desperately need to head. I am hopeful (imagine that!) given what Obama said:

"We cannot keep throwing money at the problem [of affordable housing], hoping for a different result. We need to approach the old challenge of affordable housing with new energy, new ideas, and a new, efficient style of leadership. We need to understand that the old ways of looking at our cities just won’t do. That means promoting cities as the backbone of regional growth by not only solving the problems in our cities, but seizing the opportunities in our growing suburbs, exurbs, and metropolitan areas."

Cities are the most economical way to house a large population: apartment blocks are energy efficient, as is the centralization of services and markets. The flight from urban centers by many in my parents' and grandparents' generations has taken a toll on the US that is becoming more and more apparent.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Happy Day!

It may have nothing to do with food - beyond the celebration parties which should be held in the coming weeks - but Rod Blago has made a very public face-plant!

All of Illinois cheers!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Vive la France!

Articles like this have become all too frequent. While reading this one, I was struck by the peculiarity of the subject matter, especially here in America.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Turkey-Day Palin

What am I thankful for this year?

I'm pretty gosh-darned thankful for this.

Especially at 2:26.

I'll let it speak for itself.

Update 22.Nov.2008: After rereading this post, I think I need to point out that it is not a political statement per se; I posted this link because of how it relates to the Sky Full of Bacon podcasts. (Although 2:26 is too sublime a moment not to point out.)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sky Full of Bacon

I've been busy the last few months, partly dealing with the stresses of studying a subject I have no interest in, but mostly getting over the Cubs hang-over (something which is quickly becoming an annual October "occurrence").

I've discovered a small but thriving community of passionate food bloggers based in Chicago. The Local Beet is a site dedicated to everything about eating locally-grown food in Chicago, and one of the contributors there also runs a blog called Vital Information. There is also a site named Sky Full of Bacon. It's run by a guy who makes very well produced podcasts about food, usually with a focus on Chicago restaurants and the stories behind their chefs. It's really something special and I highly recommend checking it out.

The newest podcast at Sky Full is actually a two-part series. You can watch part 1 here:

Sky Full of Bacon 05: There Will Be Pork (pt. 1) from Michael Gebert on Vimeo.

The second part here:

Sky Full of Bacon 06: There Will Be Pork (pt. 2) from Michael Gebert on Vimeo.

The series follows three pigs from farm to abattoir to butchery to table at a dinner hosted at Blackbird (in Chicago). It's an incredibly wonderful statement of the care that can and should be taken (but often is no longer) in raising and slaughtering animals. I think the most important part of the video lies in the discussions with the farmers themselves about the importance of raising these heirloom breeds, the emotional connection they have to the animals, but the necessity they see in raising them to be eaten. As one of them points out, it's not the job of a farm to raise zoo animals.

When I first started reading widely and deeply about food, I was always struck by the obsessiveness so many of the writers I read placed on being a part of the slaughtering process. Videos like this podcast, as well as articles like this one just didn't make sense to me. I didn't think they were mistaken - respecting the animals we eat is something I was raised with. What struck me was how novel the idea seemed to them and how much garment-renting went on. Whenever numerous writers (Bourdain, Pollan, even Gordon Ramsey) wrote about their experiences, I felt left out of their reasoning and emotions when I usually followed it so closely. Their descriptions of the emotional trials they endured during the blood-letting always struck me in the same way as Troylus' whinging about his love of Criseyde.

At first I thought it was me; maybe a faulty ethics switch somewhere or too many years of indoctrination in the prepackaged meat culture. I found the same problem when I spoke to vegetarians in college; when they spoke of ethics, I just didn't get what they were talking about. With the food writers, the disconnect was on a more emotional level, but it came from the same place. Taking an animal's life struck everyone else as something barbaric and unknown, while I didn't feel that way at all.

I've thought about this a lot over the years, but it wasn't until this podcast that it struck me why I feel that way. During part 2, which is much harder and much more important to watch, chef Jason Hammel talks about how the experience of watching the slaughter wasn't what he thought it would be; there was no moment when life ended, rather life was ending during the whole day. His words caught my attention and stirred up memories that I'd all but forgotten about and I knew why I've failed to connect to much of the writing on this topic over the years: I've already gone through the ethical and emotional turmoil which is so new to these writers.

A little background explanation might be useful. I'm from a northern suburb of Chicago and I really identify with the urban side or the area. I'm also pretty liberal, so I've run in left-leaning circles since before college. I haven't fired a gun since I was a senior in high school, and I haven't gone hunting since I was 14. So, the years between then and now have made the memories of that period of my life hazy. But, as I'm sure you know if you're reading this, those last two sentences are not normal for an urban-dwelling liberal. And that's something I forgot; I come from a strange background for someone in the Whole Foods marketshare.

Hammel's words about the process reminded me of the first time I helped my dad with a deer. It was November in the northern Wisconsin woods, a brisk day, but the sun was still giving warmth. I remember the pile of guts, the split-open carcass, the blood-stained leaves. Blood pooled along the spine of the upturned deer, and the bluish glean of fresh meat is something that I have never forgotten. Dad and I carried the carcass by the hooves - me at the back - to the car and hoisted it up onto the roof. There was, as Hammel said, no clear cut moment of ending, no moment at which you could say that the disturbing part had happened and on either side it was merely a deer and then meat. The whole day was infused with a sense of malaise, but there was also an excitement to it. And you'd be a fool if you thought any part of that deer was wasted.

It's important to know that killing is disturbing, very much so. But it's an important process. Eating a vegetable will never give you the same sense of thankfulness as eating an animal you've seen butchered. Meat deserves its revered place at the center of the meal because life was given to place it there.

I know where meat comes from. I've known for a long time and that knowledge, without my even realizing, has influenced my opinion on the meat industry and meat-eating. Gebert's podcast clued me in to that, which is a testament to how good a piece of journalistic art it is.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Play-Off Tipples

Anything as momentous as a World Series title for the Cubs deserves both alcohol honors and a properly codified and complex rule system regarding those tipples. I submit the Play-Off Beer Laws:

0) There are 11 victories needed to clinch the Fall Classic.

1) At the conclusion of the regular season, two six packs of beer will be purchased. These six packs are to be designated the Play-Off Beers. These play-off beers are preferably locally produced in or near the city of the competing team (which should and always will be Chicago), but must necessarily be of the highest quality. The two six packs can be of the same type or different, but they must be bottles, as only bottles have the necessary level of quality necessary to propel a stinking team of farm league rejects through 11 victories against clearly superior pitching and fielding talent.

2) On game days, one bottle of play-off beer is to placed in the refrigerator for the possibility of consumption following the game. The bottle may only be consumed in the event of a victory by the team for which the play-off beer was purchased. Only the one bottle is to be consumed. One bottle of play-off beer is to be consumed the night of each victory during celebrations. Consumption of alcohol on game days is not exclusive of other beverages, but the consumption of a play-off beer is compulsory in the event of a victory.

3) As there are eleven victories required to win the NLDS, NLCS, and the World Series, and there are twelve bottles of play-off beer, the twelfth bottle must be poured onto the ground following the eleventh victory. This is yet another of the many superstitions required to propel a team of incompetent hacks through a field of much better teams to claim a trophy they have no business winning. Do not disrespect the twelfth bottle by consuming it. Much like talking about a perfect game during said game, drinking of the twelfth bottle at any point in the future will cause the team to lose all remaining games in the present. [Accidental consumption of the twelfth bottle by a third party while said bottle is being poured onto the ground is not to be considered infringement of the third law.]

4) In the unlikely event of early elimination (i.e. loss of any of the three postseason series), all remaining play-off beers--not including the twelfth bottle--are to be consumed by the owner of the play-off beer in a timely manner. The twelfth bottle must be poured onto the ground in any event.

5) Play-off beer must be consumed exclusively by one person, although the consumer need not be the purchaser. As always, drink responsibly and stay off the roads.

Note: Budweiser, Miller, nor any affiliated brewery may not be chosen as the play-off beer for any Cubs postseason appearance. Also, please note, as Inbev is now the owner of the Budweiser name, all Inbev-owned breweries are to be considered off limits for play-off beer.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Back at School, No Friends

My life right now is pretty dominated by the fact that 1) I have returned to Gustavus for what is apparently my last semester and 2) everyone I know in more than passing has either graduated or gone on sabbatical. Which means that I am 1) very alone on the Hill and 2) looking forward very much to my breaks.

This isolation, at least in this first week, has also helped me focus on myself in a way I've not been able to do for quite a while. In many ways, it's like my first semester in England, except I've so far been spared the intense depression and homesickness of that fall. I've found that I'm concentrating more on my school work, that I am eating healthier than usual, and that I am drawn more into my philosophical musings which have gone unheeded since the spring of 2007.

To that end, I've started thinking about nonviolence and pacifism again. Namely, I'm starting to wonder how I am exemplifying the pacifist beliefs which I so strongly hold. The truth is, I really don't know if I am. Obviously, I'm not going around and picking fights, but pacifism goes beyond that sort of tension-releasing violence. Pacifism, as I once described it, is constant action in order to prevent the occurrence of violence. Am I doing this at all?

I'm also not cooking right now, but the last few mornings, I have awoken to the most treasured thing man has ever given another man: domesticated coffee beans. Now, I've had coffee before, but it's been months since I drank it on a cool morning, in my preferred manner of Turkish grind and boiling water. Those months nearly made me forget just how wonderful a pleasure warm, nutty, rich coffee is, about an hour after waking, about an hour before the day's activities start. I think it's entirely possible that, given a stack of books, a larder of beans and rice, and a lot of green coffee beans, I could spend a year almost anywhere completely alone.

But why would I want to?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

It might be possible, I'm not completely sure, by my initial feeling is that is is a very big mistake to try to flavor bread with curry powder.