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  • Michael Krakovskiy 2:51 am on November 27, 2007 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Cloud Atlas, , , Donald Westlake, fellow semi-autistic software developers, , , , , Offal, Pho, , , Timothy Cavendish, travel journal, , Vietnamese cuisine, Vietnamese noodles, weapons dealer   

    Bread and Circuses 1: Pho and David Mitchell 

    Let’s talk about what me and every other plebeian cares most deeply about: bread and circuses.  Like many of my fellow semi-autistic software developers and primitive cave people I fear the unknown in both food and entertainment. I have to make conscious efforts to try out new stuff and turn it into a source of comfort. I’d like to share with you some patterns I discovered for myself.

    Anthony Bourdain, the author of the awesome Kitchen Confidential likes to ask people on his slightly less awesome TV show about their choice of a last meal. Most people chose comfort food. Also, there’s the cliche  question about a book one  would take to an uninhabited island, but I am guessing most people would pick the most comforting literature as well. I’d like to make three cuisine/dish/author/book pairings in descending order of comfort they bring me.

    At the top of the list is Vietnamese cuisine and novels by David Mitchell. Vietnamese food has explosive flavor, amazing variety of textures and is at the same time very light, fresh and very filling. Same is true about Mitchell’s novels. 

    My favorite Vietnamese dish is Pho, which is basically a clear beef broth with herbs and spices topped with  noodles, thin slices of meats, onions, fresh cilantro, mint, basil and bean sprouts.  You can add some hot chili sauce and lemon juice to taste. Good Pho broth is simmered for 6-8 hours, and the meat from the broth bones is reserved for other dishes, but never Pho itself.  The main part, the spiced broth is umamiest thing ever. It’s like the explosion of beef on your tongue, the substance of the dish. It’s the toppings that add interest to Pho. When you order it, you get a wide variety of choices of thinly sliced meats. You can stick with traditional steak, flank, and brisket.  I very much like  cheap cuts and organ meats because they have better flavor and texture – tendon, tripe, liver, navels etc.  There’s something called “omosa” – I am not sure what it is,  but  I’ve had it many times and it’s way tasty.  Then  you have another level of  texture and flavor – noodles, cilantro, crunchy bean sprouts, fresh onions, basil and mint. All the topings are added just before eating. It’s a meal in a bowl, meaty, but not greasy, and oh so fresh. It’s kind of like eating a very good steak and a very good salad, but better.

    Mitchell’s novels are literary Pho. His books are both light and serious reading. The primary example of his work is his masterpiece, Cloud Atlas. Mitchell has a rare talent of flawlessly mimicking a wide spectrum of genres and styles, and he does not hold back. Also, he likes to play around with the physical structure of his novels in subtle and not so subtle ways.  He shaped Cloud Atlas from six stories that range in style from Victorian travel journal to a post-apocalyptic science fiction story. Furthermore, he sliced the five stories in half and wrapped them around a central story in a matryoshka doll fashion.  At first it is rather jarring to find that the short story you are reading is cut in the middle and a new one is starting coitus interruptus-style just as you adjusted to the places and people. But then you notice, that everything is connected and interlocked in various subtle and elegant  ways. First of all, in every story there’s a character with a birthmark that looks like a comet. The first story is a found and read in a book form by a character from the second story. The fourth story is watched in a movie form by the character from the fifth story. A character mentioned in the second story is… well,  I don’t want to spoil it for you, but there are many, many hyperlinks in Cloud Atlas.  Everything is further tied together with common themes: loss of freedom, violence, pacifism, betrayal, civilization vs barbarism, reincarnation.  Mitchell even uses cheap subconscious  tricks: certain words and expressions are repeated in different contexts in his books almost in every chapter (I’ll let you find out which ones).

    For some weird reason I am very attached to some Mitchell’s characters. He does this strange thing, where the characters reappear in different books, sometimes making an important contribution, and sometimes playing the most insignificant role. My two favorite characters – Mongolian hitman, weapons dealer and all-around villain Suhbataar, and publisher Timothy Cavendish make two appearances each in three different books. Suhbataar reminds me of the hitman in the murder that happened on the sidewalk which I wasn’t on during lunch only because I wanted to finish a piece of code before eating. Timothy Cavendish – I met a few people very much like him. One’s a villain, another – well, morally gray, yet strangely endearing. Both very, very real to me.

    I finished all of Mitchell’s other novels – Ghostwritten, number9dream, Black Swan Green. Now I really only reading other books just to tide me over until his next book is going to come out. In 2009! Really, not a day goes by when I don’t think about what it’s going to be like. It’s almost an unhealthy obsession.

    In short, go read some David Mitchell and go eat some Pho. I might like that Japanese gangster showdown in number9dream and that tripe in Pho, but you might find other things that will become your favorites.

    Tomorrow I’ll try to write the second installment, about Korean BBQ and Mark Haddon’s Agent Z series. The last one is going to be Japanese smelts and Donald Westlake’s Dortmunder series plus uni roe and Gideon Defoe’s Pirates! series (a two-fer!).

    Also, let me know what dishes and cuisines you’d pair with what authors and books (but no Harry Potter and Discworld – in my mind they go together with califlower and boiled onions – other people might like them, but I just don’t have the taste for them).

     
  • Michael Krakovskiy 11:57 am on January 4, 2007 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Asian cuisine, Asian culture, , buggiest search, busy web developer, Curry, , , food chain, , , , Indonesian cuisine, , Kashmir, lazy developer, Malay cuisine, Meat Council, Offal, Pakistani cuisine, , , site, , , ,   

    A Recipe for Disaster 

    Have any of you seen an episode of The Simpsons where Lisa becomes a vegetarian? If you haven’t, too bad, because it has a lot to do with my first paid review on this blog.

    Lisa: They can’t seriously expect us to swallow that tripe.
    Skinner: Now as a special treat courtesy of our friends at the Meat Council, please help yourself to this tripe. [Class cheers and runs to table loaded with tripe.]
    Lisa: Stop it Stop IT! Don’t you realize you’ve just been brainwashed by corporate propaganda?
    Janie: Hmmph, apparently my crazy friend here hasn’t heard of the food chain.
    Uter: Yeah, Lisa’s a grade A moron!
    Ralph: When I grow up, I’m going to go to Bovine University.

    Joel Spolsky has his underpants in a bunch because spoiled grade A… I mean, A-list bloggers are currently being showered with fancy laptops, all expenses paid trips and other goodies by PR agencies. Next thing we’ll see is the Webbys attendees start getting Emmys-like gift baskets. It’s a widely known fact in the entertainment industry: if you want the A-listers to attend your crappy awards show, you better give them some stuff that they can buy with their pocket money.

    Since I am not an A-list blogger, nobody is trying to bribe me with a drool-inducing HDTV TIVO or a shiny new laptop, so if I want to shed some of my credibility, I’ll have to do some work. I decided to try out the very controversial http://www.reviewme.com.

    The deal is simple: an advertiser asks me to write a review on my blog, and if I do, I get some money. I do have pretty good pagerank and a decent amount of readers (aka blog juice), so after a month or so of waiting, I got my first paying reviewee, chefs.com. They want me to review their recipes. Fine. Off to http://www.chefs.com/recipes/default.aspx I go. I do like to cook, and I do use recipe sites all the time.

    The last time I searched for a recipe I was looking to do curry. See, I purchased this really awesome Maharajah Style Curry Powder from PENZEYS Spices. It’s pricey, but unlike curry powder that you might find in a supermarket, it’s made out of the best and freshest ingredients with a pound of Kashmir saffron for every 50lb of curry.

    So I type in “curry” into chefs.com and sort by cook time (a seemingly useful feature). What do I get? 133 results overall, which is not stellar, but a number of curry recipes that take 0 minutes to prep and 0 minutes to cook. A boon to a busy web developer and blogger like myself. Just to think that I was using Joe Grossberg’s How to Make a Simple Curry “Anything” that takes whole 15 minutes!

    Ok, so the supefast curry recipe turned out to be just a case of bad data, a lazy developer and a company (it could be that it consists of that one lazy developer) that does not use it’s own product(or does not care about it).

    Moving on. Some time ago I had to look up a recipe for another exotic delicacy, Ä°ÅŸkembe çorbası. It’s a Turkish soup made of tripe. I have it regularly at a Turkish restaurant near my house, and it’s extremely delicious. Tripe can be very tasty when prepared right.

    So I type in “tripe” into chefs.com. Here’s what I get:

    To my disappointment, the first result, “Lighter Fresh Applesauce in Puff Pastry” does not contain any tripe. Neither do the rest of them.

    From what I know, recipes are not really copyrightable. Because of that, it’s possible to get a couple of cds with recipes from somewhere or just scrape the web and start your own site. For instance, the recipe for “Lighter Fresh Applesauce in Puff Pastry” shows up on different websites with the same phrasing down to “Bake puff pastry shells according to package directions.” One of the sites even has nutritional info, but also omits the source of the recipe.

    To conclude my review, chefs.com has reviews available elsewhere with one of the buggiest search interfaces I’ve ever seen. The owner of the site probably used some Bovine U-trained developers, and not that the site is generating pretty good revenue, is looking for a way to improve the search engine positioning. He or she has no clue about web development and marketing. I could provide that clue, but it’ll take a bit more than the $50 I should get for this review.

     
  • Michael Krakovskiy 12:16 pm on February 17, 2005 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Andrews, , Brassica, , , , Haggis, Hamburger, Leaf vegetables, , Offal, Rutabaga, , , , St. Andrews bar, Turnip   

    Ach, Mate, Say “Australian for Beer”. Please? 

    I have a friend who married a Scot and moved away to Scotland. In fact marrying men from exotic locales seems to be a trend amongst my female Russian friends – another one married an Australian.

    It’s almost ironic that my favorite bar in New York is a Scottish bar called St. Andrews (which is also a place in Scotland where my friend used to live). St. Andrews the bar is characterized by an amazing selection of whisky, good atmosphere, good food (there’s a restaurant in the back), moderate prices and friendly kilt-wearing waiters with Scottish accents.

    Recently I braced myself and ordered haggis. It’s a widely known “scary” dish which is a sausage made out of various organ meats. It is served with obscene sounding “neeps and tatties” (mashed turnips and potatoes).

    At St. Andrews it was served the following way : a layer of the abovementioned “neeps and tatties”, then a layer of contents of haggis sausage (which is somewhat similar in texture to ground hamburger), then another layer of “neeps and tatties”.

    It certainly did not smell as some cartoons would make you believe. In fact it was very tasty. The puree/meat combination was very nice. The haggis itself tasted like very tasty hamburger. Low grade meats rule!

    St. Andrews bar is located at 120 W 44th St, Between 6th & Broadway.

    The most exotic Australian thing that I had was kangaroo jerky that my friend brought me from her trip to Australia. It tasted a lot like chicken jerky :)

     
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